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Faith over fear

 Open letter to Alexis Kuijken, Sioux Falls, S.D.

Dear Mrs. Kuijken, 

Sioux Falls lifted its a mask mandate recently, after you and your daughter complained at a council meeting that you were being harassed for not following the city’s mission to enforce CDC guidelines. Like many who refuse to wear masks you said the mandate is based on fear and you believe in faith over fear. You said going without a mask was not tempting fate like standing in the middle of a busy highway because Covid has a 99 percent survival rate (your figure).

We’ve all heard these arguments before but somehow you are missing the point. Let’s start with the busy highway. It’s a good analogy. But we are not standing on the highway watching cars buzz by. We are the cars, zooming along, rushing about our business in a miraculously orderly fashion. Most of the cars follow the rules. They observe the speed limit, stay in their lane, use safety precautions. Now you may say the rules of the road are too stringent because the survival rate on the highway is much better than the 99 percent you cite for Covid. But it is exactly because most people follow the rules that all those cars can go so fast without running into each other. We can zip across the country, merging and exiting, pausing only rarely to eat, sleep and refuel. As long as everyone follows the rules we all get to our destinations safely. 

But every highway has to have a few who ignore the rules. They think the speed limit is too slow. They think they are better drivers than the rest of us.Their time is more valuable. They weave in and out of lanes, ignoring a safe distance between cars.  Sometimes they get by just fine, impairing the smooth order only a little. But eventually the rule breakers will cause a collision. Just like those who refuse to wear masks  spread the disease that has killed more than half a million Americans this past year. 

It’s true some of the cars follow the rules of the road out of fear–the drivers are afraid they will get a ticket if they go too fast. But mostly people follow the rules of the road out of faith–.they have faith in the rules and faith in their fellow drivers. They know if everyone follows good, safe-driving mandates, everyone benefits. 

So you are right; it is about faith. I have faith in you, Mrs. Kuijken. I know you would not intentionally put others’ lives at risk. I know you wouldn’t want to be responsible for even one death per 100 because you failed to put on a simple mask.

Bragging rights

 Remember back in college when we used to brag about “doing shots?”

You know. A shot of tequila with a lick of salt and a squeeze of lime. Or if you were a real drinker you might have a boilermaker (shot in a beer) while the tamer crowd would try sweet and colorful “jello” shots.

It’s been many years since I’ve had much more than a glass of wine with dinner. But now us senior citizens are once again doing shots, even if our choice of poison has changed. 

 Covid shots are all the rage among the over-65 set. We call our friends to report “got my shot today,” or post it on Facebook. Not to be outdone, friends respond that they’ve already had their “second shot.” 

 We share every detail of the scheduling ordeal, all the computer crashes and then that miracle moment when we finally got through or received a surprise phone call. An appointment. A line. Everything in order. Maybe a slight prick. 

Instead of a hangover from too much whiskey, the effects of Covid shots are more likely a little swelling or soreness. Maybe a headache or if you hit the jackpot a day or two of illness. 

We brag about the adventure, just like we survived a boilermaker. We call friends we haven’t talked to in years to recommend they join the parade. We’re so excited to be doing shots because we can see this year-long nightmare is starting to wind down. It’s not over yet, but we are on the road home.

 At last.

Be Best


Have I told you recently how lucky I am? Not only do I spend my winters right on the beach but I’m on the best beach in America. 

           Perhaps you read recently that Trip Advisor named St. Pete Beach the best beach in the country. Technically St. Pete Beach is six or seven miles south of me. When I open the gate of my condominium complex I step onto the pristine sand of Madeira Beach, which comes in number nine in Trip Advisor’s list. That’s right, two beaches within sight of each other (You can see a long way as the shore winds around) are in the top 10. And that’s where I wake up every morning. 

         Now I know that any Top Ten list is very subjective. Next year neither St. Pete or Madeira may get a mention. But considering four of the beaches on this year’s Top Ten  list are in Hawaii I consider the competition stiff indeed.

          In my years working for newspapers we were always wary of superlatives. How can you prove something is the first or the last or the best? In sports they solve the dilemma with a score. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the 2021 Superbowl Champions, but we stop short of saying they are the “best” football team. 

         When hyperbole hits home, however, it feels fantastic.

Hear me roar


Women have lost a lot lately. 

   First it was Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18. Long before she was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993,  she championed gender equity. Thanks to her work, and 1974’s  Equal Credit Opportunity Act, women can get credit cards and mortgages without a male co-signer. She made it possible for me to buy a home in my own name after my husband left me with a son to raise.  

    She fought for equal wages, protection for pregnant workers, and for widowers to receive the same benefits available to widows. Life was a little easier for single moms like me because we knew Ruth was fighting for us.

     Then this week we also lost Helen Reddy, the Australian singer who championed women’s rights not  in a court of law but on the stage of public opinion. She taught us to raise our voices with pride:

        “I am woman, hear me roar/ in numbers too big to ignore/ And I know too much to go back an’ pretend 

Cause I’ve heard it all before /And I’ve been down there on the floor/No one’s ever gonna keep me down again.”

    But the final blow came from India. A 19-year-old girl died after she was gang raped and mutilated as a political statement by one caste against another. Although Indian law doesn’t allow the young woman to be identified, she represents so many women in the world who face discrimination and abuse. She reminds us that we are not invincible as long as any woman anywhere can be tossed aside like a piece of garbage.

        We are Ruthless and Reddy. Hear us Roar.

Dang those miserable masks


    I woke up coughing and I couldn’t stop. Oh no, I thought. What have I done? 

    I have to admit I’m not fond of wearing my mask. Nor am I much for quarantine. I’ve fudged the guidelines more than once. I’m not a anti-masker by any means. I try to behave. But I try to have a normal life too. 

     I visit my 92-year-old mother, who would be insulted if I didn’t give her a hug. The church ladies have organized a weekly meeting in the park. We try to wear masks and stay six feet apart, but it is so hard to understand what someone is saying at 6 feet with a mask on. I try to do my part for the community. I worked the polls in August even though I was scared to death I would get infected. Somebody needed to do it. 

    So when I woke up coughing I figured I had fudged once too often. I was overcome with regret. What had I been thinking? If only I could have a do-over. 

    A racking cough shook me out of the bed. I hunted through the bathroom drawer. Where was the thermometer? I unwrapped a cough drop. What should I do? Call my doctor? Look up the nearest testing site? Oh, shoot. What about my weekend plans? Well that would need to be canceled. I wouldn’t dream of taking a chance on giving it to someone else.

     A sip of water, another cough drop. Maybe the cough was settling down.I finally found the thermometer. No fever, 97.4, not even 98.6. 

    Within an hour the cough was gone. I figured pollen must have set off post nasal drip. Not Covid. Maybe this was my do-over, my second chance to be careful.

What’s that smell?


        An acrid odor grabs my attention. Something’s burning. The toast. Oh darn, I forgot to check the setting..

          As I scrape the charred bits off my breakfast I realize I’m more relieved than irritated. My nose still works … which has become the “canary in the coal mine” test to assure us we haven’t caught Covid-19.
          I treasure my sense of smell. Imagine missing the sweet scent of chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven. Or a just-snipped rose from the garden. What would summer be without that unmistakable aroma of newly mowed lawn? And who can resist the salty sweet allure of kettle corn at the farmer’s market?
         Life and good health are precious; we cling to every moment. The sights, the sounds, the smells. Covid-19 has taught us to appreciate so much we once took for granted. Freedom to assemble, to shop and sing. The chance to see a play or a baseball game.
         But most of all Covid has made me notice the smells. Even offensive odors like the boxwood hedge that always smells like cat urine to me or that whiff of gas that alerts me I have bumped the knob on the stove and the burner is not lit. Just today I went to the store to purchase some parsley for a recipe. I grabbed cilantro by mistake but the smell made me realize my error.
          So here’s to all the smells of summer, good and bad. May our noses keep on working!

What’s next?


Six years ago this month, on a full-moon Friday the 13th, I released “Full Moon Friday,” the third mystery in the Jordan Daily News series. In addition to lots of full moon madness and a world-threatening finale, “Full Moon Friday” heats up the love lives of the four main characters. The book ends at a satisfying spot. 
          Fans and friends asked when the next mystery was coming out, but I decided to focus on writing the stories of my ancestors. It just so happens that one of them, Capt. Benjamin Merrill, was hung for treason 249 years ago today. I stumbled upon many more heroes and horrors in my family tree. Thanks to the Covid quarantine I finally managed to finish my research and print a book this month to give to my relatives.
          So once again the slate is clean. Should I return to the Jordan Daily News mysteries?  Or should I finish a whole different story I started years ago? Or should I start on something new, an historical series inspired by some of the exploits of  my ancestors?
         It’s always hard to decide the best course of action; impossible to look ahead and imagine what will be. I wonder what ggggreat-uncle Ben thought when they strung him up on June 19, 1771. He probably just assumed the British governor would always be in power, never dreamed that some ragtag Sons of Liberty stood a chance against the powerful British empire. How could he foresee that those revolutionaries would build a country that would become the most powerful on earth? Or that 250 years later that wealthy country would still not be able to provide justice and equality for all citizens.
         Like Uncle Ben, I have no idea what’s next.  

Here Comes the Sun

Green growth squeezes out blossoms as the orchard rushes into summer.

  When you live in a northern state like Michigan, summer is extra special. Winter is so long, and summer so short, that we can’t waste a minute of sunshine.
              The landscape transforms almost instantly. Last week the bare branches felt light snow and killing frost; this week the forests are greening up as if an artist were slapping on paint. Just yellow-green buds yesterday, swaths of leaves today, full shade by tomorrow.  The beloved cherry orchards barely had time to show off their blossoms before the green growth took over.
              Sleepy little towns like Leland, which are virtually abandoned in the winter,  become bustling tourist centers starting around Memorial Day. This year the transformation is even more dramatic because the Covid-19 lockdown closed business across the state for two months. Just a few days ago Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that restaurants and retail in the northernmost counties could reopen this weekend, as long as safety precautions were practiced.  Village streets are jammed with delivery trucks as merchants unpack boxes and restock shelves.
            Summer anticipation is always tinged with a bit of apprehension. Will it be a good fishing year? Will the lake be too high or will summer heat tame the wet spring?  But this year the questions are are bigger and bolder. Will the tourists from Detroit and Chicago return or will travel fears keep them away? Is the Covid virus waning or will a second wave hit fast and furious like a summer squall?
              None of those fears can dim the excitement, however. The sky is blue.  The shimmering water is so inviting. And, ooooo,  that sun feels so good.

Yakety Yak, Don’t talk back.


I used to talk to Cloudy. He was a good listener


Do you ever talk to yourself?
         No, of course not. That would be silly.
         See what I mean?
         I have been divorced most of my life. After my son left home more than 20 years ago, I have pretty much lived alone. I always had cats and I would ask them what we should have for dinner or comment to them about the feasibility of whatever we happened to be watching together on television. Granted I also sought their advice on more weighty matters such as which car to buy or where to invest my savings.
         Although my last cat died about five years ago, I still talk aloud in my empty house sometimes. Verbalizing my thoughts seems to make it easier to find a misplaced phone or appreciate a spectacular sunset. Sometimes I even speak with an appropriate accent such as pulling out a bit of an Irish brogue the other day to comment on “a wee pair of lovely Orioles pecking at the bonnie grass in me yard.”
           Today’s technology has spiced up the silence in my home. I can ask questions of Alexa and actually get intelligent answers. I love telling her to time the cookies or put nutmeg on the shopping list.  I admit, however, it turns into a shouting match sometimes when she keeps misunderstanding my song request or when she can’t hear my command to turn down the volume.
           At the risk of sounding like a crazy old lady, I have accepted my habit of talking to myself and have no plan to stop. But I have been thinking I should be more careful what I say. It is too easy to be overly critical. “What did you do that for? You are such a dunce.” “Look at you, fat slob.” “Clean up this place. It looks like a crime scene.” “You blew it again.”
             I need to be the encouraging voice I want to hear. “What a lovely morning!” “Well done. That was a good idea.” “Aha, that looks nice.””You’ve got good taste.” “Praise God. Thank you Jesus.” “Keep it up. It’s working.”