Boo Boo’s 15 Minutes of Fame

National Walking the Dog Day – Who knew there was a special day on the calendar to celebrate walking the dog?! When I saw this announcement,  I thought back to a newspaper picture from 2012 I had saved in an old, decorated picnic basket. On the day captured above, I took my dog, Boo Boo, for a walk near what was then my home in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. I remember that autumn afternoon in mid October was beautiful…sunny and mild with plenty of colors remaining on the trees and ground cover. I can still smell that musty scent of fallen leaves.

A gentleman from The Evening News drove by and stopped to ask if he could take our picture. I agreed, thinking this would somehow immortalize my aging Shih Tzu. I spelled our names for the man, and he went on his way after clicking this photo. As you might notice, when this was published in the newspaper, my name is misspelled, but Boo Boo’s is not. Seems only right, since it was my faithful friend’s 15 minutes of fame.

I loved taking this sweet dog for walks, even in cold and snowy weather. We both benefited from the exercise and fresh air. It gave us time to be alone. I often talked with him about the things on my mind, and he was a wonderful listener. We had some adventures on our strolls, as well, such as near misses with skunks and snow plows. Over the years, we met many cute kids and sometimes scary stray dogs, who always wanted to come close and say hello. I was lucky to share many hours with such an affectionate and determined little guy and miss him more than I thought possible! I still walk, but it’s just not the same.

Younger Days with a Shorter, North Carolina Haircut

Children’s author, Elizabeth Stevens Omlor, and illustrator, Neesha Hudson, have captured the joys of walking our furry friends in their adorable book, Walk Your Dog. Important themes of teamwork, cooperation, and patience are beautifully addressed. You might want to look for it at your local library or bookstore!

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.

Heikki Lunta and Story Publication!

fantasy Heikki Lunta (2)

For many years, I lived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I wasn’t a native “Yooper,” however, and never heard of “Heikki Lunta” while living in the Lower Peninsula. In the past, people had come to the U.P. from many different countries to work in the copper mines. There’s still an especially recognizable Finnish influence in many areas.

Finland
Finland

When I first heard of Heikki Lunta, I assumed that it was a mythological Finnish goddess or god. I was on the right track, but not quite right. Ukko is a god of weather, and Vellamo is a goddess of storms. There was no supreme being specifically for snow, which seems surprising, given that’s such a snowy part of the world.

Fast forward to 1970. As the story goes, U.P. promoters for an upcoming snowmobile race were concerned because not much snow had yet fallen that winter. A record was aired on a local radio station in which the singers pleaded with “Heikki Lunta,” a snow god of sorts, to send more of the white stuff. The whole idea took off, or “snowballed,” you might say.

Heikki Lunta sign (2)

These days, businesses like this one on the right often put up signs asking that deity for more snow. By spring, there are sometimes signs asking him to stop! At least one town in the Upper Peninsula has named its yearly winter festival after Heikki Lunta.

What does all of this have to do with my story being published, you might ask. Now living in Texas, I’m struck with the fact that many of the children here (and sometimes the adults) wish dearly that it would snow!

A few winters back, we did get a pretty healthy dusting, here in the North Dallas suburbs. My two youngest granddaughters were thrilled, and my daughter let them stay home from school to play in the snow. That’s the day my idea for a meeting of reality and myth, in “Welcome to Texas, Heikki Lunta” was conceived. I’m thrilled to report that my fictional story for kids and families, alike, now appears in U.P. Reader #3.UP Reader #3

Texas snowman
Texas Snowman

cowgirl boots b&w

Recipe Notebook from the Past

Laurium House
Vintage photo of unknown neighbors and what years later would become my home. The border is formed from wallpaper recovered within the kitchen walls!

Decades ago, my former husband and I bought a fixer-upper home that had been built around 1900 in a small town of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The house needed tons of work, and we basically lived upstairs while we began remodeling the first floor. When I say “we,” I mean mainly that he did the carpentry, and I cleaned up during and after the work was completed.

Since the kitchen was on the first floor and needed to be functional as soon as possible, that room was one of the priorities. While taking out the drawers in the kitchen for painting and new hardware, a small notebook was found jammed into the deep, dark depths of a cabinet. The booklet’s pages were somewhat discolored, and the brown, waxed cover bore the words “Memorandum Book.”

Within those lined pages, I discovered a delightful collection of handwritten recipes and helpful household hints. Some of them were even affixed with what must have been the names of the owner’s friends who had shared, as I recognized several of the last names of families living in that and the neighboring town. The penmanship style was similar to that of my mother or aunts who reliably sent letters to keep up on family news. I felt like I had struck gold.

Many of the recipes were desserts, although some were of casseroles or various types of vegetable and meat dishes. Two different versions of the Cornish meat pie regional specialty called the “pasty” were offered. Household hints ranged from a mixture that could be used to soften a hardened paintbrush to a home remedy for cough syrup.

When we said “goodbye” to that house some years later, the notebook found a new home in my paternal grandmother’s wooden recipe box and left with me.

I was recently encouraged to see that an online author acquaintance, Karen Musser Nortman, had put out a call for camping and/or Upper Peninsula recipes to accompany her current Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mystery, which is set in the area. I’m happy to say that the directions I submitted for pasties, “cry baby” cookies, and pasta sauce, all copied from that old notebook, now appear in the fiction book, Real Actors, Not People. What a fun way to recycle a few of those rescued recipes!

~Becky~

Inspired by a Dream

winter scene from Pixabay.jpg no attrib. req.It began as one of those dreams where the setting and events that were unfolding seemed simultaneously familiar yet unfamiliar. Instead of watching the vision like a movie, I was taking part and looking out through the woman’s own eyes toward three children gathered around a kitchen table. A snowy scene beyond the window was as well-known to me as the back of my hand.

The mood was both comforting and uncomfortable. I started to waken, but willed myself to remain in that place. Every inch of the room was recognizable to me, as were some of the occupants. As I held onto the dream, I knew without a word being uttered what had happened to these people and what their futures held.

Next, I just needed to wake up and write the story!

Several years after that writing, the resulting short fiction, “Slip of the Lip,” now appears in the 2018 edition of the UPPAA’s anthology, the U.P. Reader. That publication is an intriguing mix of fiction, non-fiction, prose, poetry, and photography, with its roots planted firmly in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I’m proud to have my writing once again included, along with so many talented contributors.

UP Reader 2nd Edition

How Mrs. Wishy-Washy Saved the Day: a former teacher’s reflections

Mrs. Wishy-Washy

Becky as Mrs. Wishy-Washy
Becky as Mrs. Wishy-Washy on Halloween at her last school!

 

When I moved back to my home state of Michigan about fifteen years ago, I jumped at the chance to teach kindergarten at a Pre-K/K early learning center. That public school was in the Upper Peninsula and part of the state’s most northern K-12 school district. My recent teaching experiences were with upper elementary students, and it had been years since I worked in a preschool or completed a short stint in kindergarten during my student teaching. To say that I was nervous is an understatement!

Imagine my excitement when I discovered a dark cupboard full of colorful ‘big books’ the first day I visited my new classroom.  Many of the titles were written by the prolific New Zealand author, Joy Cowley, whose books I hadn’t previously encountered.  During that school year, I learned to love her books just as much as my students adored them!

All of Ms. Cowley’s books are great, but Mrs. Wishy-Washy was the most popular character, hands down. Here’s some background about her:

  • Who is Mrs. Wishy-Washy?  One of Joy Cowley’s most-loved characters
  • What is very important to her?  Cleanliness!
  • Where do she and Mr. Wishy-Washy live?  In a rural area in the state of Washington
  • When does she get grouchy?  When something gets in the way of her washing
  • Why do her animals sometimes look sad?  They are tired of being washed!

Besides tales of keeping other characters and her surroundings clean, other antics involve a farm fair, birthdays, gardening, baking, and appearing on TV. The students loved chiming in during ‘shared reading’ time and then reading on their own with the small-book versions of the matching titles.

 

Ms. Cowley’s books are very conducive to a wide variety of literacy lessons:  beginning and ending sounds, blending, rhyming, story elements, sequencing, building words, spelling patterns, sight words…the list goes on and on!  Beyond that, many of them also lend themselves easily to tie-ins with other areas of the curriculum, such as science, math and social studies.

It’s no wonder that I again sought out Mrs. Wishy-Washy and friends some years later, when I found myself teaching young learners in another U.P. location. In relief, I found the school library housed many of her big books for the teachers to share, and that the smaller versions were already on the shelf in my classroom.

For those of you who write for kids, this author has a wonderful book titled Writing from the Heart that I’ve found to be a great resource for my own writing. If you’re teaching or have young children and haven’t met Mrs. Wishy-Washy and Joy Cowley’s other books, you may want to check them out. I’d love to hear about your favorite picture book characters OR about your ‘go-to’ resource books for writers!

barn-no attrib. required

Memoir Publication and Garden Update

UP Reader

The U.P. Reader, which includes my memoir piece, “Lonely Road,” is now available in print and e-book! This literary magazine is published by Modern History Press in conjunction with the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association (UPPAA). The publication also contains fiction, humor, poetry, history, and more.

When I read the call for submissions, my first instinct was to write a fictional story set in Michigan’s U.P., where I lived for many years. What about my own, personal tales, just waiting to be told? I decided that memoir was the way to go.

As Barbra Streisand sang in one of my favorite movies, “The Way We Were,” memories really can “light the corners” of our minds. But, when too much pain is caused by remembering, we often choose to ignore and wall-off those sections of our brains. Writing memoir can be like taking the partitions down and letting the light shine, once again, onto those remembrances. The act can bring questions, heartache, revelations and healing.

Lonely Road” relates an evocative experience during my wintertime move to the Upper Peninsula, with the purpose of giving a faltering marriage one more try. The story is also a metaphor for the journey of life, with its pleasant surprises, difficult challenges, and safe havens. That “one more try” to stay together spanned several additional decades. Success or failure? Guess it depends on how you look at it. This was a very difficult piece for me to write because of all the emotions to which it gave rise. I would like to say that I felt better once I had it down. Saying it well and true did give me a sense of satisfaction. The sadness over our loss still remains.

I hope that you’ll consider reading about my experience, along with sampling contributions from other writers with connections to the Upper Peninsula, in the beautiful state of Michigan. The book is available from the publisher, through Amazon, and at several retailers in the U.P.  Reviews are welcomed!

                                                                                                                   

GARDEN UPDATE

The Community Garden is looking quite bountiful these days! Cucumbers and zucchini are already producing. Today, I also spotted tiny green peppers and tomatoes. Giant sunflowers provide a lovely backdrop. My little plot contains huge marigolds and abundant basil. I’ve already taken several bags of the herb over to the food pantry. Basil is great in curries and salads. Pesto, anyone?

The rosemary is a bit on the small side, and I’m afraid the watering that’s helping the basil thrive may be somewhat of a negative for those plants, which often prefer drier conditions. They’re growing, though, and I snipped the ends to encourage even more growth. Did my molasses and orange oil concoction succeed in the fight against the fire ants? Yes and no. It worked well enough to drive them over to the other side of the little garden bed. At least they stay off the plants!