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What do you see?

             In Traverse City, Michigan, they say “A view of the bay is half your pay.”
            But it is cold in Michigan so I’ve taken to spending winters in Florida where I can usually manage to find a water view. This year Steve and I have outdone ourselves. Our sixth-floor condo is right on the gulf. From our balcony we can hear the surf, look down at the ribbon of beach stretching as far as we can see.We can even watch dolphins play.
            It’s not just the balcony that has a great view. From the breakfast table I can sigh over sun dancing on the ripples.  I can enjoy a sunset from the living room sofa. I can even see a wide expanse of surf  from my bed when I first open my eyes in the morning. I know. It is almost too perfect.
            But my favorite view is that little kitchen window over the sink. Whether I am fixing dinner or cleaning up afterwards, I can look out and there’s all the glory of the seashore. It makes every routine task extraordinary.
            That little window reminds me that it’s not the work we must do in this life, it’s seeing the world beyond.

Crossing the finish line


This calico clucker has been roosting in my sewing box for 40 years.
       When I began the project I was living in Toledo, a stay-at-home mom caring for my toddler son. Sewing projects were my creative outlet. Remember those crocheted dolls that used to disguise a spare roll of paper on the back of the toilet? Well this homespun hen is from the same genre: kitchy coverings with a useful purpose. This quilted fabric chicken is designed to perch atop the bread basket to keep fresh-from-the-oven biscuits and buns nice and warm. To get a bun, just lift a wing and reach into the basket.
        Unfortunately, over the years I have started many more projects than I finished. This crumpled hen, lacking only a few finishing touches,  was under a stack of fabric scraps with several other unfinished embroidery and needlepoint. I’m embarrassed to admit I have hauled that box of sewing stuff to six homes in four states, through my divorce and journalism career and into 10 years of retirement.
        Last summer I opened the box searching for a piece of fabric. I realized, reluctantly, that I should pitch all those unfinished projects. But I just couldn’t. Each piece I picked up rekindled that spark of interest that had inspired me in the first place.
     The de-clutter edict says to get rid of anything that doesn’t give you joy. To my surprise, since opening that box I have found enormous joy remembering simpler times, solving the conundrums that caused the projects to be set aside, and completing pieces that joyfully add to the clutter of my couch and kitchen.

Where ya headed?


If you are getting tired of all the anger on Facebook, Twitter and the nightly news, turn it off and go on a trip.
      It doesn’t really matter where you go, just some place different where you’re surrounded by people you don’t know. Strangers. I took a day trip on an Amtrak train from Grand Rapids to Chicago this week to enjoy a play at the Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. It’s a long and grueling day –18 hours from start to finish. Yet the trip reminded me over and over how nice and friendly strangers are.
       I’m pretty familiar with the Windy City but I still need to consult a map now and then or read a street sign. Whenever I would do so, some friendly soul — unbidden — would smile and say “Where ya headed?” People are eager to be helpful.
        “Oh, you can’t walk all the way to Navy Pier, ” said a woman on Michigan Avenue. “That must be five miles. You want to take a bus, right over there. Get the 124.”
          She didn’t know how much the fare was since she uses a bus pass, but another guy overheard our conversation and interjected “It’s $2.50. Correct change.”
        Helpful strangers don’t limit themselves to directions. They will show you how to work those complex train seats. Suggest a favorite place to eat. Even stop what they are doing to offer to take your picture when the selfie isn’t working out too well.
          When we took the bus back to Union Station after the play, the stop wasn’t the part of the terminal we were expecting.
        “Just take this walkway about two blocks,” said a commuter in a business suit rushing for the stairs.
          Looking around the terminal I saw a cross section of America, every age, race and religion. There were a couple little boys chasing a pigeon. There was a large group of Amish in black, including a man with a beard so long and wild it looked like a cheap Halloween costume beard he had tied on. A dark-skinned man in a turban was quietly reading a book. A mother and daughter from Texas were struggling with half a dozen suitcases enroute to a wedding in Grand Haven.
            No one was talking about Impeachment or Syria or Mar-a-Lago. I don’t know or care about each person’s political party or who they voted for in the last election. We’re just people, waiting our turn, helping each other if we can, smiling and sharing small talk.
             No matter what social media says, this is the real America.



“Choose the path of most persistence.”
      I’m not one to plaster political bumper stickers all over my car, but that one from the Elizabeth Warren campaign made it to my bumper. It’s not just because I support the candidate but I also identify with the sentiment.
        I thought of that today as I unloaded a folding table, stool and giant book bag for a local author event at an area bookstore. Selling books is about as frustrating and time consuming as a political campaign. And it takes a lot of persistence. Authors need a double dose of ambition to stick to their guns and get that book written in the first place. But that’s just the beginning. Then you have to find the buyers. And that can be slow going.
        So why do we do it? For that one reader who says my story was too scary to read alone at night. Or the one who said she could imagine it being a television series. Or that Italian reader who claimed my characters’ response to a serial killer was “so American.”
         We write because these characters talk to us. The only way to silence the voices in my head is to write them down. As a mystery writer I HAVE to figure it out. How did the criminal do it? Why did he/she do it? And how will my protagonist solve it?
          We write because we chose the path of most persistence. As Robert Frost would say, “that has made all the difference.”

Thoughts on prayer


           I can’t read the news without praying. I pray for a family in Minnesota that is struggling to keep a farm that has been in the family since 1888. I pray for a black couple in a Philadelphia suburb who were hassled by a new cop for driving in the upscale neighborhood where they live. And all those people who were shot in El Paso and Dayton! OMG!
         Then there are the emails. Two wonderful ladies from my church are in hospice. And the Facebook posts about illness and depression and the death of a younger brother.
         With all these new requests popping up daily I try to remember the general prayers for the hungry and the persecuted.
          And of course prayers for the powerful. I pray for Mr. Trump every day because I believe in God’s ability to transform anyone. I don’t agree with most of Trump’s policies and certainly can’t approve of his behavior, but when I pray for him I find my heart softened a little. It calms my anger and kindles my compassion. Even for Donald Trump.
          All too often, however, I forget the purpose of prayer.
          A Hindu friend — yes, Hindus pray too — told me once that too often we treat prayer like a trip to the mall. Gimme, gimme, gimme. Heal this one, change that one, comfort another. We skip praising our amazing God. Slide past thank yous for all our blessings. And ignore the real communication: confessing our failures, opening up about our fears and listening for his guidance.
          To paraphrase Kennedy’s famous line: Ask not what God can do for you, ask what you can do with God.

Waves of wonder


Living by the ocean makes everything else seem small.
         I  have only been in Panama City Beach for less than a month, but I’ve already observed a few of the ocean’s many moods. From roaring storms to mirror-like mornings, diamond-studded afternoons and sumptuous sunsets. The power and enormity of the ocean drowns out hateful headlines and Facebook furor.
          Shutdown? Neither President Trump nor Nancy Pelosi have the power to interrupt our country the way wind and water can. We had an example just a few months ago with hurricane Michael. Panama City Beach survived with only a few scars, but across the bridge in Panama City whole neighborhoods were flattened. Huge churches and restaurants and stores are crumbled heaps of bricks and beams and twisted metal. Makes a border wall seem pretty insignificant.
          When I arrived on New Year’s Day a rivulet wound its way through the famous sugar-sand beach behind my 20-story highrise. One of the residents told me it was a drain from a wetlands on the other side of the road that had to make its way to the sea. The flowing water had dug its own mini-grand canyon through the beach creating walls kids would climb and seniors would curse.
            One day, in a sand box fantasy, a bulldozer arrived and smoothed away any evidence of the curvy canyon, replacing it with a simple straight ditch. It seemed so logical and orderly, but before 24 hours had passed I noticed that wind and waves were already changing the course of the man-made ditch into a slight curve. Within a few days the curvy canyon was back and getting a little deeper each day. Seemed like the persistent rivulet had won.
          Then today a strong wind erased the walls and blew the sand smooth again faster than any bulldozer. The rivulet will have to start carving again tomorrow.
           I know mankind has been mean to the ocean. Discarded plastic straws, bottles and bags are piling up and creating islands of trash in the sea. Emissions from our cars and smokestacks have created a greenhouse effect that is causing the oceans to get warmer, melting the polar ice and bleaching the coral. These problems are not small by any measure.
             But as I watch the mighty ocean adapting to every weather whim, I am confident  she will survive any onslaught we devise.  Mankind, on the other hand, may not.

Winter Re-boot


Several years ago I bought some snow boots at the Tent Sale at the Wolverine shoe company in Rockford. They were smart-looking and drastically reduced. Best of all, they were my favorite brand…with a familiar name… Merrells.
           Never mind that I’ve been spending winters in Florida for almost a decade and hadn’t seen measurable snow in almost as long. These boots were a bargain!
           And perhaps someday they would come in handy.
           I stashed them away in the guest closet, kicking myself for buying something I would probably never use.
           Well, this has been the year to reboot my winter wardrobe. Last April after we returned from Florida I had to leave my car in the shop overnight. And wouldn’t you know it, the next morning when it was time to walk a mile to the shop to pick up my car there was enough snow on the sidewalk that the boots were a necessity.
            Now it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet, more than a week before we leave for Florida, and I had to pull the boots out again to finish the winter yard clean-up and bring in the hose.
            There’s a lesson there somewhere: Never pass up a bargain.

Tale of two pinkies

      When I was nine years old — which would have been about the time “You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog” was a hit on the radio — I was playing wagon train in the basement with my brothers. A wooden chair toppled and caught my left hand between the table leg and the concrete floor cutting off the tip of my little finger.
       My mother snatched the sheet that decorated our “covered wagon” and wrapped my bleeding hand and dangling digit. It was a Sunday afternoon so Dad drove to the hospital emergency room. They called our family doctor at home and he told us to just return to the office and he would open it up for us.

Dr. Heibert’s office was more like a living room with stacks of old magazines and mismatched chairs. He sat me on the edge of the vinyl lounge in his exam room and placed my hand on one of those rolling tables. He pulled over a big lamp bright enough to give us a sunburn. Mom distracted me with a Little Golden Book she had found in the lobby, “Little Engine That Could” if I remember correctly. She held it up so neither she nor I could see the doctor’s needlework. Under that heat lamp Dr. Heibert reattached my finger tip, while talking to my dad about the difference between suture thread and fishing line.
       Fast forward more than 60 years.
       Last Saturday I tripped while walking down a neighborhood sidewalk and broke my fall by extending my right hand. I was thankful that I didn’t break my glasses or skin my knees, but by the next morning my hand had swollen into a black and blue catcher’s mitt. And I had no idea what to do. Daddy has been in heaven almost a decade and Mom is too many miles away to comfort me, so I called my son and daughter-in-law.
       “Just put urgent care into your cell phone,” Angela suggested.
        She was right. A list of options popped up complete with hours of operation, distance and directions. Within a few minutes I was standing in line at a MedExpress I never knew existed. And then I was getting irritated because they wanted me to sign a little black box not once but 4 times supposedly verifying I was being informed of this right or that. Wonder how legible a shaky signature from a swollen hand could possibly be?
        The friendly X-ray tech  posed the catchers mitt in positions that would have been acrobatic even in a less painful state, with a grid of fine red lines marking the positions like lasers on a target. The high tech x-rays were read by a well-equipped radiologist somewhere who spotted a break at the base of my right pinkie.
       “Too close to the joint,” the clinic doc said. He gave me a shiny slip-on sorta cast to protect my finger from bumps and a referral to an orthopedic hand specialist. I waited two days for the referral scheduler to call, and then the call was from an office in Holland instead of Grand Rapids. It would be three more days before a doctor could see me, or almost a week after the break.
       In the meantime my catchers mitt is healing and slowly returning to flesh color. I’m learning to brush my teeth and start the car with my left hand. And that shiny space age cast that is supposed to keep my pinkie from getting bumped sticks out so far that the little finger is constantly under assault.
       I know I should be thankful I didn’t break a hip when I fell. And I know I should be pleased there was an urgent care center nearby that’s open on a Sunday afternoon. And I should be happy that science has progressed to the point that there are physicians that specialize in treating hands.
      But when you are waiting a week for basic treatment it’s hard to call it progress. I miss Dr. Hiebert.

Bye, bye Mickey D


Thanks McDonald’s. You may have broken my junk food habit. 
      I try to eat healthy when I am at home, but when I am on the road I reward myself with the tasty, high-fat offerings of McDonald’s. I look forward to it.
      Today I was driving home to Grand Rapids from Ann Arbor, and even though my friend Kym had sent me off with a fine breakfast of granola and fresh fruit, about an hour into the rainy trip I was searching for golden arches. I spotted a billboard and took the next exit. But just as I was about to pull into the lot I slammed on the brakes. It was closed for remodeling. As I turned around on the street that held no other traffic, I saw two other motorists make the same mistake.
       I was angry. They advertise to get us to pull off the highway. Don’t they have some obligation to mark that billboard “Closed for Remodeling” instead of pulling us off the highway for nothing? My ire was fueled by the fact that I had a similar experience in July as I was making my monthly jaunt from Grand Rapids to O’Fallon, Illinois. The McDonald’s in Joliet where I usually stop was closed for remodeling. I figured the work would be finished when I took my August trip but no, it was still closed.
         I guess I should be glad that the company is trying to keep their locations up-to-date, but I hate to be inconvenienced. That’s why I like fast food in the first place!
        So I was grumbling to myself this morning as I continued my rainy trip. A few exits later I saw another sign for McDonald’s and took the exit. Again I slammed on the brakes. It was closed for resurfacing of the parking lot.
        “That’s it,” I shouted as I pulled into the Subway across the street. I ordered my first ever breakfast sandwich from Subway with options to choose green peppers and pepper jack cheese to spark up my morning ham and egg. The double whammy of closed McDonald’s has sent me in search of a new purveyor of travel treats to merit my business.
          Brand loyalty is influenced by many factors. Over the years I have abandoned several merchants after fairly small slights. For decades I purchased all my clothes at JC Penney. About nine years ago, after a credit card dispute, I vowed never to return and I haven’t. I discovered Younkers instead. The quality of the clothes is better and the “Yellow Dot” sale supremely satisfying. I became a big Younkers fan. Unfortunately my purchases were not enough to save the Younkers store at Rivertown Mall, and I am very sad to see it close. But I have no doubt I will find another store worthy of my money.
          And I will find another reward to nibble on the road. No more McDonald’s for me. A customer’s loyalty should never be taken for granted.

Sparky lights up World Series

     Chicago writer Patrick T. Reardon is one of those stylists who can’t answer a simple Q&A for the Writers-World Series. He has to turn it into a feature story. And when you read the list of books under his belt, who’s to argue with success? Here’s a little introduction to the work of “Sparky” Reardon.  His talents are more numerous than his monikers.


Name:   Patrick T. Reardon, aka the Paulina Palooka, the Billikin Bomber, the Count of Clout, and Sparky.
Home team: Chicago  
Position:  Utility writer — historian, poet, literary critic, essayist, novelist, reporter, theologian, book reviewer. 
Batting average:  The Loop: The “L” tracks that shaped and saved Chicago (forthcoming from Southern Illinois University Pres   Requiem for David (Silver Birch Press) , Faith Stripped to Its Essence: A Discordant Pilgrimage through Shusaku Endo’s ‘Silence’ (ACTA)  DailyMeditations (with Scripture) for Busy Dads (ACTA),  Woven Lives: 100years in the story of the St. Gertrude faith family (St. Gertrude),   Edith Wharton:Illuminated by ‘The Message’ (ACTA), Starting Out: Reflections for Young People (ACTA) Catholic and Starting Out: Five Challenges and Five Opportunities (ACTA)  Love NeverFails: Spiritual Reflections for Dads of All Ages (ACTA)


Opening Pitch:


    Throughout a long career, “Sparky” Reardon has demonstrated the ability to play virtually every position on the field, including editor-manager, and produce a high wins-above-replacement figure. 

     The Count of Clout spent more than 30 years in the Journalism League, nabbing several Peter Lisagor Awards for investigative writing and art criticism and several nominations for the Pulitzer Prize.  In fact, in 2001, he was a member of the Chicago Tribune team that took home the Pulitzer for explanatory journalism.

     In the Author League, the Billikin Bomber published Requiem for David, a book of poems that focused on his childhood and the suicide of his brother.  He has authored several meditation books, and an in-depth literary-theological study of Shusaku Endo’s famed novel Silence.As an essayist, he has hit home runs for Crain’s Chicago Business, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribuneand National Catholic Reporter, as well as Reality in Ireland.

      Interviewed recently after an exhaustive session of revising his long poem “The lost tribes,” to appear in June in Under a Warm Green Linden, the Paulina Palooka was asked if he’d prefer playing every day at the same position, such as historian or essayist. 

      “Not really,” he responded wiping the sweat from his face.  “I enjoy the challenge of playing all these different positions, and I think, in a real way, I bring the skills of all the other ones to any position I’m playing.  For instance, there’s an element of poetry in my writing of history, and almost a conversation between my essays and my poems.  And meditations?  They’re basically a hybrid of poems and essays.”

      The free agent market has been good to Sparky, landing him a contract with Southern Illinois University Press for his groundbreaking book about the impact of the elevated Loop on the fortunes of Chicago.  He also has several smaller manuscripts under consideration from publishers, including a novella.

      “I love being on the same playing field as my present-day heroes, Robert Caro, William Cronon and Haki Madhubuti, all of whom I’ve had the chance to meet and get to know,” Sparky said. 

       “And just the history!  Taking the field in the same stadiums as Slammin’ Saul Bellow, Edie Wharton, Mark-the-Shark Twain and Wild Bill Shakespeare — well, who could ask for more?”