Northern Swap

Flip flops for slippers

Swimsuits for fleece

Charcoal for salt

Blonde for brunette

Sunshine for candlelight

Fireworks for Christmas lights

Open windows for crackling fires

BBQ for casseroles

Playgrounds for trampolines

Speed for caution

Noise for serenity

Summer’s memories stored

Winter awaits

Walking and Gawking in Michigan

BBI shoreFor the next six weeks I will be walking and practicing with my new camera in preparation for a trip to Ireland.  Walking is a bit boring really, compared to lithe runners with their snug running shorts and pretty shoes.  My jazzy shoes rival any runner’s, but that is about all the competition I can provide.  Have you seen the articles that say you can simply walk off excess weight around your middle?  Yes, I saw the headlines at the supermarket, too!  So, I will perform my own experiment, and it will not involve eating kale.  My diet is mostly natural foods, however I still inch up a couple of pounds every few weeks.  The reasons are valid and can be confirmed by witnesses, but how I got here is not nearly as interesting as where I am going.  Honestly after sporting a boy body all my life I feel powerfully curvaceous with a B-cup.  It is not the weight that I mind, but the pudgy bulges when I sit down, and standing for hours on the beach is tiring.  Sitting down I look like I am wearing a flotation device around my middle, and some of my pants no longer fit over the floaty part.  For the record I would like to keep the butt.  And the B-cup. I will not cut calories, but will walk at least a mile 5 days per week for the first 3 weeks.  Writing about my progress may cause a bit of a Hawthorne effect, so I must be diligent about eating sugar to protect the integrity of this experiment.

Something tells me that my current two walks a week is not sufficient conditioning for 7 days of trekking around the Emerald Isle.  Arduous hikes are not part of itinerary, however the cumulative effect of a few hours walking per day could hobble me, and what a shame that would be.  A six-week timeline also coincides with the number of summer days remaining here in Michigan.  Winter is always coming.

This well-intentioned idea came to me while on vacation, where so many great plans are born, yet never make it back home.  On the first day I walked down the gravel road and later along the shore of the island where we vacation.  Each walk an easy mile, I walked with spring,  buoyed by my new plan.  Another benefit of walking outdoors in Northern Michigan is that the black flies and mosquitos spur me on and keep my heart rate up, like tiny coaches.  A mile is easy because I worked my way up to that 8 months ago after my last RA flare.  After limping to the bathroom for a couple of months, it seemed like a prize to walk that far at a good clip.  It is time to move on now.

A local giant says goodbye

Frederick Meijer, the founder of “one-stop-shopping” died on Friday at age 91 after suffering a stroke earlier in the day.  Fred, as he was known in the community, was a free-thinker with common sense values who with the help of his friend Earl Holton built a small empire of Meijer retail stores.  In 1934 Fred’s father Hendrick opened a grocery store in Greenville Michigan at which Fred worked 40 hours a week while attending high school and where he met his wife Lena, who was a clerk.  In 1962 Hendrick and Fred opened the first Meijer Thrifty Acres.  Every child that grew up in Michigan after the mid-sixties remembers riding the mechanical horse at the front of every store for a penny.  I just noticed the other day that there is still a horse at the front of my local Meijer and amazingly it still costs a penny to ride.

My admiration for Fred was born when I went to work at a newly opened Meijer store in the late 90’s.  I was hired as an “everything gal” for the store and met Fred several times during those few years.  His favorite ice cream was blue moon and he would hand out pennies to children so they could ride the horse when he came in for a scoop.  He always had a pocket full of pennies.  Occasionally I was asked to deliver gallons of milk and other sundries to Fred’s friends’ homes when they were ill.  I thought it was nice that they shared this personal information with an errand girl, but it was not surprising.  I was such a believer in Fred Meijer and Earl Holton that after a year I became a Hiring and Training Manager.  Earl was President of Meijer and had started at Meijer as a bag boy.  Fred’s Dad Hendrick was not nearly as fond of Earl as Fred was because it bothered him that Earl always had a smoke when he retrieved the grocery carts from the parking lot.  Up until a few years ago every Meijer store had a smoking break room so that customers never saw employees smoking out in the lot.  Earl’s approach to customer service was inspirational.  In the early years a customer asked him for a fry pan that was locked in a storeroom.  The only set of keys were with the store manager who had left for the day, so Earl removed the door from its hinges to get that fry pan for the waiting customer.  Fred empowered his employees and trusted their judgment because he believed that he could not possibly know everything.  Thanks to his wife Lena, all of the store’s bathroom doors swing out so that you don’t have to touch them with clean hands.  I’m surprised that sensible idea hasn’t caught on.  Sam Walton said he got the idea to include groceries in Wal-Mart from Meijer, and several other chains followed suit.

Fred and Lena Meijer kept the company family owned, choosing not to take it public several times over the past 30 years.  Their philanthropy is well-known throughout our community with the Meijer Heart Center and 125-acre Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park standing as living testaments to their generosity.  I am positive that there are many individuals who remember small acts of kindness from Fred.  I will always remember him as the billionaire that did not act like one, who spoke to me as if I was his equal.  It may be cliché, but it is fitting to say that they just don’t make them like Fred anymore.

The value of a good bartender

There is a tavern on the shores of Bois Blanc Island, Michigan that feels like home.  Barb’s Boblo Tavern is a meeting place for island folks where I can hear the surf of
Lake Huron and drinking is not required, but encouraged.  What are island folks?  Well, the island is a different sort of place and likewise attracts many of the uncommon characters in my novel life story.  There are year-rounders, usually about 60 of them, which live and work on the island and travel to the mainland over an ice bridge in the winter.  There are the seasonal islanders, most of which can tell you stories about their ancestor’s primitve adventures on the island.  Looking for a unique perspective?  Head over to Barb’s and I guarantee you will find one that has nothing to do with your rung on the income ladder and everything to do with your philosophy.  There are more interesting stories to be told within this small population than there are bar hours to hear them, many rich with the history of the island which was opened to settlers in 1884 .  The seclusion from mainstream America lends itself to conversations that simply are not heard in polite company (the best kind), yet people have no problem bringing their kids to the tavern for dinner and a game of pool or shuffleboard.  We all just try to limit the cussing when kids are there.

Barb Schlund, the owner of the Boblo Tavern, has created a comfortable place where someone will offer to drive you to your cabin if they see you have imbibed too much and are unlikely to keep your truck between the trees, and new visitors are welcomed like old friends, at least until they prove themselves non-island material by asking, “what is there to do here?”.  There is no sense in making friends with them because they will not be back.  What there is to do is evident to islanders that appreciate the over 30 square miles of undeveloped forest and dirt roads, many of which are only tracks, and it is not shopping.  Our friend, Dan Reynolds, is a singer/songwriter who also plays the guitar and created a CD of island songs titled This Ain’t the Mainland.    My favorite is “Ring that bell”,  a ditty about a red bell in the tavern that sports a sign “Ring the bell, buy the house a round”.  We are fortunate that Dan is a true islander that plays at the tavern without charging us a dime, because he loves being a part of the fabric of Bois Blanc.  Even if he became famous, he would still play at Barb’s and graciously take requests from drunkards that sometimes ask him to play The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald more than once in an evening (sorry, Dan).

My husband and I have been the only islanders in the tavern and have been two in a crowd of dozens, yet received the same excellent service from a team of bartenders that somehow maintain a laid-back friendly demeanor even when rushing to insure no one runs dry and the food is delivered hot and timely.  Barb is a demanding boss whose
team of bartenders says they love their work because they love her and because she works as hard, if not harder, than they do.  From the expansive menu to the anything-but-weak drinks, her attention to detail is as obvious as her desire to provide her patrons with a clean, inviting place to swap stories.  This past Saturday we, along with approximately forty other people, watched the Michigan State versus Michigan NCAA football game at the Boblo tavern.  Barb and Jen fed us while keeping our drinks full, all without breaking a sweat.  They even visited with many, not out of a sense of good business, but just because they seem to genuinely like their customers.  Barb and her team have taught me that the value of a good bartender reaches far beyond serving drinks, into the familiar ground of caring.  A simple gesture – Barb giving me her bar stool earlier this summer when the bar was packed and standing room only – is only one of many that have led me to love Barb, Jen, Courtney, Tom, and Lani, the most talented, fun-loving, and genuine bartenders/island folks I have ever met. 

My Interpretation of ArtPrize 2011

ArtPrize is an annual arts festival and social experiment showcasing 1,582 artists in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The monetary awards are the largest in the world and the competition is decided solely on the general public’s electronic vote.  The goal is for the community to explore new ideas and form relationships with the artists.  I often think that the DeVos family just has too much damn money, yet am grateful for their philanthropy in my home, which is considered one of the most depressed states in the country.

I developed a taste for art in my 20’s.  In my 30’s I began to step out of my impressionist comfort zone.  In my 40’s I seek to find the vision of the artist, to understand the intended meaning of the work and incorporate it with my interpretation of a piece or performance.  With this approach I have discovered the emotional facet of art, finding joy and haunting sadness in unexpected pieces that I was previously unready for.  Including a friend in artistic excursions, I am gifted with a contrasting view that leaves me appreciative of what I gain from being open to other’s visions.  Besides, I always laugh in the company of dear friends and there is no greater joy than that.