River to Skate Away On

Becky at 5 with new skates
Becky at 5 Years with New Skates

Like most children growing up in Northern Michigan in the Fifties and Sixties, I learned to ice skate. I wasn’t talented, since my ankles were rather weak, but I enjoyed the activity. The holiday season transports me back through the years to the ice ponds of my youth. The current temperatures here in Texas have even stayed low enough to help the temporary rink at the corner stay frozen, and I enjoy watching the skaters from my second-floor perch.

In childhood, we often skated to music at the large ice rink in a neighboring town. Memories of frozen toes and the song “Sugar Shack” surface when I think of those years. Before the climate started to change (and before we knew it would turn into a crisis), a winter recreational area called Silver Valley, in the Huron National Forest situated near my hometown, offered toboggan runs, skiing, and frozen ponds for skaters. Being a cautious child, skating was the only thing I wanted to try, and I remember the rinks being much too crowded for my taste.

Log Warming Shelter at Silver Valley

Even closer to home, we had several other options. My clearest recollection is the time my dad shoveled the snow off a large area of ice on the creek behind our house. My mother was prone to worry, so the creek was a place she often warned her children to avoid during the other seasons, for fear we would slip into the water. With that same fear in the back of my mind, the idea of skating on that frozen version still seemed scary to me. I imagined the snapping turtles, snakes and minnows underneath the crust just waiting for me to fall through. My brother and sister agreed to try nature’s ice, along with a group of neighbor kids. Who was I to chicken out, so I finally agreed and followed my father toward the creek.

The surface was a bit bumpy, but I was just hitting my stride when I heard Dad yelp in surprise. My worst fear had come true, and he’d fallen through the ice! With a pounding heart I skated his direction, near the bank. As it turned out, his one leg had gone through just to the knee. He said it was a mushy spot in the ice caused by some running water entering the creek. Not sure if it was from a natural spring or some type of city pipe. That was all I needed, and I hung up my skates for the day!

One year, my dad made an ice rink right in our back yard. Just as he would come home from work in the warm seasons and turn on the hose to water the flowers, that winter, my father often got out the hose to add more water to form a new layer on our rink. That was also a little bumpy, I remember, but it was fun to skate in our yard and quite a novelty to share with our neighbors. I asked him about that, years later, and he admitted it was a lot of extra work, but he knew we liked it, and he hated to give it up once he got started.

1961 – Big Sister, Terri, and Becky  Skating in Yard

I couldn’t possibly write about ice skating without including one of my favorite songs, “River,” by Joni Mitchell. Sad but lovely.

Lonely Road

This time of year, especially during a cold snap here in Texas, I often think back to my harrowing trip when I moved to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My story, “Lonely Road,” was first published in U.P. Reader in 2017. I hope you enjoy it!

Lonely Road

“It probably won’t snow much,” he assured me. His voice was confident, but concern flashed in his eyes behind wire rimmed glasses. Was that worry connected to the driving conditions or to the direction we were taking our relationship? I sat on a bench outside the mom-and-pop restaurant in Munising and quickly exchanged shoes for fur-lined boots.

Since we had no good way to communicate on the road, before cell phones, we agreed ahead of time to meet there for lunch. The waitress had alerted us to some messy weather on our intended route along the lakeshore, at the same time she offered dessert of apple or raspberry pie.

I was moving from downstate Michigan to join him in the Upper Peninsula city of Marquette, where we planned to give our marriage another try. He waited for a large logging truck to pass, waved a little salute, and then carefully pulled his dark Jeep and the trailer that carried my belongings onto the road.  I followed in my small, silver car and watched the first flurries of the season begin to decorate the landscape.

While I drove, I focused on our future together and hoped we had made a good decision. Typically a nervous winter motorist, I tried to push away any anxiety about slippery roads.  Fewer vehicles shared the two-lane highway with each mile, and the area became increasingly remote.  Pine and bare hardwood trees were thick, and homes or businesses became scarce.  The few towns and villages we passed were each marked by a lone stoplight or blinker. The flakes fell faster, blown by escalating winds.  For better concentration, I turned Van Morrison down a bit and switched my fan onto high for more heat.  Rarely catching sight of the Jeep through the thickening white, I reduced my speed to keep the car from sliding.

When I passed the first snowplow, I was relieved the county was prepared for the early blizzard.  Even so, they seemed to be having trouble staying ahead of the swiftly falling snow.  I fought the wheel to hold my course and regretted that my vehicle was so light.

Weather near Lake Superior is famously extreme and can change drastically without warning.  A perky voice on the radio suggested Marquette would receive only a dusting, and I expected to be out of the worst of it before long.  Although the clock read early afternoon, the sky was a deep leaden-gray.  A pickup with darkened headlights passed me, and I flashed mine, hoping they got the message. I stared ahead and followed imprints of tires that shifted with each gust.  Time slowed to a crawl.

The Jeep must have been well ahead of me, since I hadn’t seen it in quite a while. My fingers gripped the steering wheel too tightly, going numb, and I tried to relax them.  I shifted by body forward in an attempt to see the road more clearly through the effects of the howling wind.

Any expectation of heat for my toes long abandoned, I diverted all warm air toward the defroster to retain a clear view.  My wipers laboriously worked to clear the expanse of glass, but to no avail.  Ice began to form on the blades, and portions of my windshield became opaque.

I followed what seemed to be a single vehicle track, at times, and avoided the disappearing ditches. I wondered occasionally if I was even on the right side of the road in that tunnel of white.  Minutes felt like hours.  Although my teeth chattered from the cold, I detected droplets of sweat trickling between my breasts. Heart pounding in my ears, I knew pulling off the road was a magnet for trouble, but finally felt there was no choice.

In the stilled car, I turned on my emergency flashers and wondered how he fared.  His Jeep with four-wheel drive was more suited for the weather, but hauled that unfamiliar trailer.  Through the span of thick whiteness, I saw a barely visible, blinking light moving toward me.  Another plow, I guessed, and prayed its driver could see my vehicle where it sat.  In relief, I determined it was well on the opposite side, as it crawled closer.  When it stopped across from my snow-covered car, the driver cranked down his window and motioned for me to do the same.

“Broken down, ma’am?” the ruddy-faced man hollered.

“No. I can’t see where I’m going,” I called back.

“Good,” I was surprised to hear him respond, over the sounds of the gale.  “There’s a place back a bit, from the way you came. A parking lot to get off the road.”

“Didn’t see it,” I responded, shaking my head in the negative.

“Turn around, and I’ll lead you there,” he yelled and rolled the glass closed before I could answer.

My whole body vibrated from cold and fear. I searched both ways through the whiteout for any oncoming traffic and held my breath.  The car struggled for traction and finally completed a slow u-turn, while I joined the giant machine in a wintry parade.  After a mile or two, the driver reached his arm out the window and pointed a gloved hand to the left.  I spied a parking lot that held several cars covered in white, tooted my horn in thanks, and turned.

Through deep drifts exposing few traces of recent activity, I drove close to the building.  After my engine was quieted, I first heard a loud ringing in my ears, followed by silence only the insulation of thick snow and ice can provide.  I grabbed my hat and gloves from the seat and started the short trek up to what the dilapidated, crooked sign announced as the ‘Tioga Tavern.’

At a small table near the dancing fire, I took off my gloves and held a cup of coffee for comfort, more than anything else.  I assured the welcoming bartender that I wasn’t interested in something to eat. His eyes seemed curious about my situation, but he didn’t ask. Peanut shells embellished the floor, and a silent, old-fashioned jukebox rested on the other side of the scarred, wooden dance floor.  It must have been quite the hot spot on a Saturday night.

Not sure what to do next, I waited for the adrenaline to subside and willed the weather to clear.  I hated making him worry, but knew he might be driving on toward Marquette without realizing my absence.  I also feared he may have slid off the road and needed help. If I called the police, would they look for someone missing in the storm?

Besides the bartender, the only inhabitants that stormy afternoon were a few ancient men in flannel shirts and suspenders, who played some sort of a card game at a table, and several talkative couples at the bar.  While I sipped the hot, bitter liquid and argued with my inner self over what action to take, I heard a jingle from the door. A burst of cold air followed a laughing, young couple into the room.  They climbed onto stools at the bar and ordered hot chocolates fortified by peppermint schnapps. After they took turns visiting the restroom, they settled in to sample their drinks.

“Man, it’s nasty out,” the young man said to the bartender.  “Would you believe, we passed a crazy guy walkin’, back there! He was tryin’ to find a woman’s car. Said she might’ve gone in the ditch, and he needed to walk so he wouldn’t miss her.”

“I wonder…” started the man behind the bar, glancing my direction.

Jolted by their words, I took a deep breath and joined them. “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but overhear.  Can you tell me what the man looked like?” I asked the newcomers.

“Hard to tell under all that winter gear, but he seemed to have a reddish beard,” the young man answered.

“He wore glasses,” his female companion said, “They were kinda frosting over.”

I grabbed my gloves, headed to the door, and opened to the wailing blizzard.  Like frozen sand, it stung my eyes and I raised my hands to protect them.  Peering beyond the expanse of the parking lot, I saw a hooded figure in a heavy winter coat adorned by patches of white. He trudged alongside the road with his head bent against the icy onslaught.

Wild laughter of reprieve bubbled up from inside, and I yelled against the wind. I ran toward him through peaks and valleys of snow, like in a dream where movement is almost impossible.  Since he didn’t see or hear me, his head remained down as he plodded determinedly ahead.  When he finally sensed movement, his head jerked up to meet my familiar face. He veered off what was probably the shoulder of the road and headed toward me. Finally close enough, I leapt at him, and he caught me in his arms.

“Are you okay?” he asked, in a voice nearly stolen by the wind.

“Now I am,” I answered, so sure our life would be good.

I solemnly looked toward his eyes.  He gazed back, removed his mitten, and tenderly touched my cheek.

In the many years spent together, we often traveled that same isolated stretch of highway. The sign for the Tioga Tavern still hung lopsidedly from the front of the building. No matter the season, the windows remained dark, and no visitors were seen approaching its door. Had that warm building and the helpful people within been real, or were they figments of my imagination? I may never again feel the complete certainty about anything as I did on that day.

I’m no Juliet but sure enjoying my new balcony!

Cool breeze, dappled sunlight, rustling leaves, cooing doves, and the aroma of popcorn from across the Square. Evening brings a view of the sunset and appearance of white lights tucked away in the trees. Most importantly, I now have my own outdoor space in which to exercise my hopefully still green thumb!

My sister surprised me by sending the great book, pictured below, as an “apartment warming” gift. Several of you offered helpful suggestions for gardening in a small space, as well, when I wrote about my impending move. With these resources and a few other books I have about container gardening, I’m making plans here in Texas!

Watching and waiting more than 3 years for “the right apartment,” my time has finally come. I’m all moved in and mainly have just books left to unpack (which is about half my possessions:) Even though I only moved to a different apartment in the same building, it was still a lot of work, of course. Happily, I managed to keep up with my editing for pay work (motivated by that pesky budget) AND managed to write a new section for a chapter book in progress (motivated by my wonderful critique groups).

Now, if I just could get these boxes of books unpacked and placed on the shelves…

 

 

 

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #6: Rose Franken’s “Claudia” Series

I should be packing for my upcoming move, down one floor to my new, balconied apartment. Fellow book lovers know exactly what happens when you start going through your shelves. I’m lingering and looking each book over before placing it in a box! While paging through my “Claudia” books by Rose Franken, I decided to stop and write this post.

When I was in high school, a friend loaned me a book that had originally belonged to her mother. It was already decades old, but named after the couple, Claudia and David, the blue and gold cover appealed to me. At that time, I wasn’t an avid reader and probably didn’t start it right away. That might be why I hung onto it, taking the book with me when I moved after graduation. (Please note, I’m much better about returning books these days. Marilyn, if you’re out there, email me your address and I’ll send this treasure back to you:)

As a young mother, I did finally read the book and loved the world of Claudia and David Naughton, as they moved from New York City to suburban Connecticut. One afternoon, while my baby napped and I dusted furniture, I switched the television on to encounter those very same characters! I realized the movie, Claudia, must have been based on the first in a series. The search was on for more books!

Over the years, I’ve been lucky to find several more titles from the series, like those above, in used bookstores. The one on the left is an omnibus, containing the first title, Claudia, and the second, Claudia and David. Come to find out, both of those were made into movies with Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young, pictured on the red dust jacket. I also love my paperback versions, shown below.

Knowing of the collection, my sister found and surprised me with the “Armed Services Edition” of Another Claudia. During WWII, many complete books were printed in a special size and shape to fit into the pockets of those in the Armed Forces. The book has water damage, and I always wonder if that’s from the conditions where it was taken during the war. Other books in the series are more challenging to find, but I’ve borrowed many from libraries in order to read and enjoy the complete series of eight.

Research tells me the saga of Claudia, her architect husband and their children began as stories by Rose Franken that appeared in Redbook and Good Housekeeping magazines, from about the late Thirties to late Fifties. In addition to the movies, “Claudia” was a hit play on Broadway and also appeared serialized on radio and for a short time on television.

By today’s standards, I suppose the stories are rather sentimental and melodramatic. They do address many important and timeless themes, such as marital temptation, gender issues, serious illness, war, financial woes, racism, and grief related to death and dying. There is always an underlying lightness, however, and a certain sense of redemption. Claudia grows up and comes into her own throughout the course of the series, and David evolves, as well. Both husband and wife are examples of strong individuals who aren’t afraid to lean on someone else when that’s what life requires.

Rose Franken 1895-1988

In addition to her writings about “Claudia,” Rose Franken was a well-known playwright and director who also wrote and successfully published many other novels. She was born in Texas but grew up in New York. A single parent, her first husband died of tuberculosis, and she drew upon that experience when she wrote about fictional David suffering from TB. She eventually remarried a lawyer, with whom she moved to Connecticut and collaborated on successful serial fiction and many movies. I found her autobiography, When All is Said and Done, to be as enjoyable as her novels.

I don’t really need more books, unless I plan on investing in some new bookshelves. However, while revisiting online sources today, I was reminded that map backs aren’t just for mysteries. I see that a paperback version of Young Claudia was published with a map on the back, so I may need to keep looking…

Don’t Get Tricked into Passing Out Palm Oil This Halloween – from ‘Sierra Magazine”

What was one of the scariest stories of 2019? The massive wildfires that were visible from space as they raged across the vast Amazon rainforest, spreading from Brazil into Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru. The crisis followed the election of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing ideologue who swiftly weakened environmental protections and encouraged deforestation of the Amazon.

Beyond being the world’s largest carbon sink, the region is home to one in 10 species on Earth. When tropical rainforests burn down, or are destroyed to develop industrial plantations for palm oil—which is added to chocolate and baked goods, turned into fry oil, and added to all manner of snacks, cosmetics, and soaps—these tropical creatures are pushed from their habitats and driven closer to the brink of extinction. The equivalent of 300 football fields of rainforest is destroyed every hour to make way for palm oil plantations, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature—and in the African and Southeast Asian rainforests, this has decimated the populations of vulnerable creatures including tigers, elephants, and rhinos. Orangutans and other primates are particularly besieged, as studies suggest that most areas suitable for growing palm oil overlap with their habitats. Palm oil production impacts humans, too—Indigenous people have been forced from their lands, and plantation workers sickened by pesticides and contaminated water.

According to the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), palm oil appears in roughly half of packaged grocery store foods. (US Food manufacturers increased their use of the world’s cheapest vegetable oil after the FDA started enforcing limits on trans fats in 2005.) The good news is that consumer purchasing power can play a major role in rainforest health.

One step you can take to curb deforestation is to get wise to the details on product packaging. Fewer ingredients mean you’ll have less of a chance of a palm oil encounter, which has dozens of ingredient list aliases—vegetable oil, palmate, cocoa butter equivalent, glyceryl stearate, sodium lauryl sulfate, and glyceryl stearate, to name a few. Of course, you can always demand that your favorite food companies clean up their acts by either finding alternatives to the stuff, or sourcing their palm oil responsibly. (Check out RANs handy scorecard, which keeps track of product manufacturers that have pledged to limit deforestation,—and contributions to the climate and humanitarian crises—by switching to more sustainable forms of palm and other oils.)

Thanks to consumer action and grassroots activism, the candy industry has made some strides in recent years, with major corporations including Nestle and Hershey removing palm oil from many beloved Halloween staples. How can you help keep Big Candy accountable? Here’s a handy list of classic candies that are nostalgic and easy to pass out but that do not contain palm oil, compiled with help from Products Without Palm Oil( which provides fantastic free resources for consumers). Remember to stay vigilant for labels’ hocus pocus, as ingredients can vary within a single brand’s offerings (looking at you, M&M’s and Reese’s), and don’t be tricked by those discount bags of mixed candy: Stick to one type (or make your own mix), and it’s easier to shirk the dreaded industrial palm oil.

Safe* Trick-or-Treat Classics

Atomic Fireballs

Boston Baked Beans

Black Forest Organic Fruit Flavored Snacks

Brach’s Candy Corn (including all Candy Corn varieties, and Mellowcreme Pumpkins)

Dots

Dove Milk and Dark Chocolate Promises

Dum Dums

Endangered Species chocolate bars

Ghirardelli chocolates

Goobers

Good ‘n Plenty

Haribo gummy candy

Hershey’s Kisses, Bars, and Nuggets (Milk Chocolate, Skor, and Special Dark are safe, but keep on eye on slick Mr. Goodbar; versions with and without palm oil are both in stores. And don’t buy bags of mixed nuggets—the assortment contains a flavor with palm oil.)

Jolly Ranchers

Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups

Kirkland Signature Organic Fruity Snacks

Lindt truffles and chocolate bars

M&M’s (Plain, Dark, Almond, and Pretzel varieties are safe for the moment, but last year, Mars changed the Peanut M&Ms recipe, which now includes palm oil, as does Dark Chocolate Peanut.)

Nerds

Nelly’s Organics (all chocolate bars)

Nuubia Chocolate

Raisinets

Red Hots

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (Read labels to be sure, but bagged, individually wrapped snack size, and standard-sized cups and generally palm oil-free.)

Ring Pops

Tony’s Chocolonely (all chocolate bars)

Saf-T-Pops

Sno Caps

Wholesome Organic Lollipops

Yum Earth Candy (including Organic Pops, Organic Candy Corn, Organic Hard Candy, Gummy Bears, Gummy Worms, Organic Sour Beans, and Gummy Fruits)

York Peppermint Patties

*For the purposes of this story we mean “safe” in the context of palm oil. Many of the candy options on this list are high in sugar and use plastic packaging. For a healthier, less cavity-inducing Halloween, seek out dye-free, low-sugar options that are free of corn syrup

Talking with Kids about Severe Weather and other Disasters

After a long night of weather warnings and a tornado ripping through nearby Dallas, I’m reminded that some children (and adults!) have an overwhelming fear of extreme weather and other types of disasters. Although many aspects of these scary occurrences are out of our control, as adults, we can stay well-informed and plan ahead as much as possible to help alleviate part of the worry. Kids have the additional challenges of not fully understanding the various situations and not knowing how to prepare for or deal with these events. Maybe you’d like a great book written with children in mind to get an open and informative discussion started!

The ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children), a division of the  American Library Association (ALA), has compiled the Get Ready Get Safe Book List, with titles about preparing for emergencies, monitoring weather or other types of disasters, and overcoming fears in general. A short description of each book is provided, along with the recommended ages. Many topics are addressed, including blizzard, fire, hurricane, tornado, tsunami, earthquake, hailstorm, flood, and blackout. Parents, teachers, and grandparents can surely find a book here that could help.

On a bit of a lighter note, I love sharing the book, Thunder Cake, by Patricia Polacco, with kids. It’s set in my home state of Michigan and tells how a very smart grandmother keeps her worried granddaughter’s mind off an impending thunderstorm. The book includes themes of empowerment and personal strength.

I hope you find something here to share with your favorite youngsters!

 

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