Thursday, December 25, 2014

A gift from the past

       For this very special Christmas edition of Throwback Thursday, I want to share the story of a gift my son Ryan received that was made more than a century ago.
       The red, white and blue quilt was crafted by a woman with the patriotic name America. She was born in Kentucky in 1839.   By 1860 she had moved to Missouri and married  George Hall.
      While the Civil War was tearing Missouri apart, America Ashley Hall was having babies. And making quilts.
       One of her sons, John Albert,  who was born in 1870, grew up and married Laura Louise Mockabee. They had a daughter named Maxie whose son, Ken,  was Ryan's father.
       I'm not sure exactly when America made the quilt or when she gave it to John Albert and Laura Louise. Perhaps when they married in 1897. But the quilt ended up with many others in an old wooden trunk on the second floor of the house where Ken grew up.
       After Ken's parents died and the house was sold around 2000, Ken's sister Carol sent the quilt to me to pass on to Ryan. I stored it for more than a decade, waiting until Ryan and his wife Angela were settled in their home. This year I decided to pass it on.
       I learned from a quilting friend, Kathi Watkins, that the patchwork pattern is a variation on Seven Sisters, a pattern that was developed in the early years of the Civil War to honor the first seven states that seceded and the first confederate flag.
        As I mentioned before,  it's often hard to research female ancestors because their names don't show up on military rolls or land deeds. But they leave messages in the crafts they make. Missouri was a border state that voted to secede from the union but was prevented from doing so by the invasion of Union troops. Political sympathies were divided. I don't know whether George and America favored the North or the South. But I know America chose to make a quilt using a pattern that was inspired by the Seven Sisters.
         I also know that George and America lived in Callaway County which became known as the Kingdom of Callaway during the Civil War. In October of 1861 about 600 Federal troops camped on the northeast border of the county. In self-defense, the men of the county gathered an equal force -- including great grandpa George no doubt -- and tried to appear better trained and armed than they were.  They sent an envoy stating that if the federal troops would leave the county alone, they would not fight. The Federal Commander, General John B. Henderson, agreed and the federal troops left.  The county proudly claimed the U.S. government had negotiated with them like a sovereign state and began flying their own "Kingdom of Callaway" flag.
        I should add that the Seven Sisters patchwork pattern enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the late nineteenth century so America's choice of that pattern may have had little relationship to the earlier war. But the quilt makes me think about America ... the lady and the country.  I can't help seeing that hardy pioneer woman in every tiny stitch.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Royal Relatives


James Madison
For many genealogy researchers the goal is finding the connection to royalty. Although I haven't found any crowns in the closet, I have stumbled upon the American equivalent: a relationship to not one but two Presidents.
       My mother was a Coleman.  Last year I found a document that filled in a lot of blanks in the history of the Colemans. I discovered my earliest Coleman ancestor shows up in Virginia in 1638.
         I also discovered that the Colemans were neighbors of John Madison II, great-grandfather of President James Madison. My ancestor, Robert Coleman Jr., and John Madison attended St. Stephens Parish in New Kent County, VA. They were both listed in a petition in 1688 to replace the vestrymen at the church. In 1714, Robert's brother Daniel Coleman and John Madison were granted 2,000 acres as co-tenants in King William County.
        Robert's grandson, my ancestor James Coleman, married one of John Madison's daughters, Eleanor. Her brother, Ambrose Madison, was the grandfather of the future president. Ambrose had a plantation called Mount Pleasant on the property that would eventually become Montpelier, President Madison's home. In 1755, when the future president was just a toddler, James Coleman was godfather to his baby brother, also named Ambrose Madison.  In 1764, when the future president was just a boy of 13, his father James Madison was a witness for James Coleman's will.
       This week, as I was digging a little deeper into the documentation and deeds involved, I discovered that the 2,000-acre property that became Montpelier was a gift to the wife of Ambrose Madison, Frances Taylor, from her daddy, Col. James Taylor Jr.
        Now here's the genealogy jackpot of the day: Frances had a brother named Zachary. He wasn't the Zachary Taylor who would become president in 1849. Nope. That was Zachary's  grandson Zachary.
Zachary Taylor
        In other words, Col. James Taylor Jr. was the great grandfather of two presidents: James Madison in 1809 and Zachary Taylor in 1849! I'm sure this relationship has been well noted in presidential genealogy circles, but I never knew it. Obviously  the Bushes were related,  and the Roosevelts and the Harrisons. But I never guessed Madison and Taylor. The presidency really is a family dynasty.
          Through  gggggggreat grandma Eleanor, I have a blood relationship to the Madisons. But my relationship to Zachary Taylor is strictly "in-law." He's one of the relations that shows up at the Thanksgiving dinner table and you call him cousin Zach but you don't share any DNA.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Traitor or Patriot?

For my second installment of remarkable relatives I turn to good ole Uncle Ben who was hung for treason in1771.
        Captain Benjamin Merrill was a farmer, gunsmith and captain in the Rowan County Militia in North Carolina. He lived on the Yadkin River in an area called Jersey Settlement. Like most of the people in that area, Ben had come from New Jersey where he watched the Royalist Supreme Court take away his family's property saying the proprietors that sold it to them didn't have rights to the land and  the deeds weren't properly registered. High school history books make it sound like the colonists revolted against the British over the cost of tea, but my ancestors tell me the the British abuse of power was much more severe.
          Ben flourished for 15 years in the backcountry of North Carolina. He was a deacon in the Jersey Baptist Church. He built a waterwheel to power the machinery in his gun shop. But in the 1760s Ben became involved with the Regulator movement to "regulate" the corrupt local officials.Thousands of men banded together to protest corrupt practices and defend people whose property was taken by unscrupulous officials.But from the government's point of view, the Regulators were outlaws.
          In  1771 Governor William Tryon announced he would hold court in Hillsborough to deal with the Regulators. He arrived in May and set up camp on the  Alamance Creek with about 1500 troops. About 2,000 regulators showed up but most of the men were unarmed. They didn't come to fight. They thought they could meet with the Governor and explain their grievances. But when they sent a representative to meet with the Governor, Tryon personally shot and killed him and ordered his troops to attack. After a few hours of fighting, Tryon claimed victory. Nine of his troops had been killed and 16 injuried compared to 20 of the Regulators dead and more than 100 wounded. One account says the troops set fire to the woods where the Regulators were hiding so the wounded had no chance to get out alive. In his "Neglected History of North Carolina" (1905), historian W.E. Fitch called the Battle of Alamance the first battle of the Revolution.
         Good ol' Uncle Ben, who would have been 40 at the time,  was enroute with about 300 militia to help the Regulators, but he got sidetracked by a confrontation with another British General Hugh Waddell. He was still a day's march away when he heard how Tryon had beat back the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance. Ben and his troops returned home. On June 1 Ben was arrested at his home and dragged in chains with about 30 prisoners as Tryon toured the backcountry burning homes and crops and forcing people to take an oath of loyalty to the British Crown.
          Fitch's history says Tryon's troops camped at Ben's place and let their horses graze, hanging a bell around the neck of each animal so it could be found later. In the dark, some of the pillaging soldiers knocked over a bee hive in Ben's apiary. The swarm of bees stung soldiers and horses who came stampeding back into the camp with the clanging of 100 bells and Tryon thought the devil himself had attacked.
          In June, a trial was held at Hillsborough. Twelve men were charged with treason. Six of them, including Benjamin, were hanged on June 19. The exact sentence was the traditional British sentence for treason: "That the prisoner should be carried to the place from whence he came; that he should be drawn from thence to the place of execution and hanged by the neck; that he should be cut down while yet alive; that his bowels should be taken out and burned before his face; that his head should be cut off, and that his body should be divided into four quarters, which were to be placed at the King's disposal, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul."
           We have no indication that the prisoners were actually drawn and quartered but we know they were hung. My ancestor, Daniel Merrill, would have been a 16-year-old boy watching his uncle's execution.
          Fitch reports that Ben professed his faith in Christ and sang a psalm before his execution. He said he had converted 15 years before and felt he was freely forgiven and ready to die. He asked only that his estate be spared for his wife and eight children.
        "I entreat that no reflection be cast upon them on my account" he said. Supposedly  one of Tryon's soldiers was heard to declare that if all men went to the gallows with a character such as Captain Merrill's, "hanging would be an honorable death."
         Tryon offered amnesty to all Regulators who would lay down arms and submit to authority. Within six weeks he had received 6,409 requests for pardon.

Friday, December 5, 2014

It's all relative!

My latest project is compiling a narrative genealogy for my family. I've been combing the Internet looking for ancestors with stories to tell and I've found some doozies. I thought it might be fun to share some of these tales on my blog.
      The accomplishments of male ancestors are often recorded in land deeds and military records, but it's harder to find documentation for female ancestors. That's why I was particularly pleased recently to discover my ninth-great-grandmother survived an Indian attack,  raised 10 kids and helped start New Jersey's first Baptist church in her kitchen.
        In 1640, Penelope Van Princis was a blushing bride of 18. She was immigrating from the Netherlands  to New Amsterdam (later known as New York) when her ship ran aground near the point that would become. Sandy Hook, New Jersey.  Evidently the other passengers headed out on foot for New Amsterdam leaving Penelope and her feverish husband on the beach. Indians attacked, killing the man (John Kent in some versions of the tale) and leaving Penelope for dead. She  had a skull fracture and was partially scalped. Her left arm was mangled and her abdomen so badly slashed  that her intestines were exposed. She crawled into a hollow tree where she survived for several days. An older Indian found her and patched up her wounds  with a fishbone needle and vegetable fiber thread according to some accounts. .

       She lived in the Indian village about a year learning the Indian language and ways, until some white men came and took her to New Amsterdam. She married Richard Stout there in 1644. Stout started exploring the the area in New Jersey where Penelope had been shipwrecked.In 1648, he and eleven others purchased a large area in East Jersey from Gov. Nichols. The area became Monmouth County.
      One day the old Indian who had saved Penelope came to warn them that an attack was being planned. Penelope and the other women packed up their children in canoes and left. Richard gathered the other men to prepare for battle. The Indians attacked at midnight but because the settlers were prepared and armed with guns, the Indians soon retreated. Richard and the Indians hammered out a peace treaty and on January 25, 1664, the settlers paid the Indians for the land. Gov. Nichols issued the Monmouth Patent guaranteeing them religious freedom.
        In 1668, Richard and Penelope, along with other families, organized the state's first Baptist Church in Penelope's kitchen. Richard and his oldest son John were among the 18 charter members.  They built a log cabin to house the growing congregation in 1688.
        Richard lived until 1705. According to some records, Penelope died in 1712 but most records claim she lived until 1732 which would have made her 110. (see dates on commemorative coin.) Family legend says Penelope always wore a cap to cover the scar from nearly being scalped and she had no use of her left arm.
        Penelope's grandaughter, Penelope Stout Jewell, married my seventh great grandfather, William Merrell, about 1729.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

D-Day is here!

D is for disaster! That's what my room looks like as i try to select what I'll wear over the next four months. I simply have too much stuff. Remember Little House on the Prairie when Laura  Ingalls had two dresses?  Somewhere along the line our lives got a whole lot more complicated. Packing for me means trying on clothes and jewelry, trying to work out the best mix and match possibilities for the most variety. D is for decisions!

Clothes are just the beginning. I have to decide what kitchen implements I can't live without like my garlic press and my zester. This year I added a rolling pin in case I want to make pie or cookies. In previous years I have slathered grease and flour on a wine bottle and pressed it into service rolling out dough.  I also need to decide what to do with the remnants of food. And what medical or financial records I might need over the next four months. And all the bug balms I've collected over the years, (Not that anything works).

Finally! The fridge is empty and wiped clean. The van is packed. The leftovers have been dropped at Ryan's. D is for done.

Better go to bed and catch a few winks.Steve will want to hit the road early tomorrow morning. We have three long days of driving ahead of us. By the third day it will be t-shirts and shorts.D-lightful!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Countdown crazy

Yes, folks, this is the same tree that just a few weeks ago was in flaming color. Now it's almost lost in the flurry of flakes. And the countdown to winter it going off like an alarm clock.

 Time's up!

Technically we still have two weeks before we leave for Florida but winter is pushing us out the door. That doesn't mean I'm ready. This is the week for the final paperwork. Finish all the tasks I promised at church, put AT&T on vacation hold, get the mail forwarded and  submit the final payrolls for my freelance work.

It's also the last hurrah for book sales. I need to check with all the stores that carry my books to be sure they have the necessary supplies to carry then through the winter. Then I finish the week with two big sales events. Friday night is our second annual Holiday Book Bash at Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake. That was a great party last year and features even more authors this year. Then Saturday we are scheduled at the Muskegon Farmer's Market.

The hectic holiday season is about to begin.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A storm is brewing

      A cloudy sky framed the bare tree yesterday as I took my walk. Even the most stubborn leaves had been torn from the branches. Winter is almost here.
      If you've been following my weekly updates on this particular tree, you know the count is down to three weeks from today. That's when we leave for Florida. But that final week I'll be celebrating Thanksgiving at my mother's house so there's really only two weeks left to get ready for Florida.
      Like the winds that have picked the tree clean, I have been picking away at the home tasks, trying to get this life in order before I move on to my Florida life. I've made amazing progress. My bathroom redecorating is finished. It looks a little like purple grape juice has stained one wall, as well as towels and shower curtain.I even cleaned out the linen closet yesterday, a job I have been putting off for years.
      The kitchen cabinet cleaning that I have been postponing just as long moved to top priority when the silverware drawer fell out again. It's too heavy and the hardware pulls right out of the screw holes. I stuff broken toothpick pieces in the hole -- Daddy used to use wooden matches but I don't have any of those -- to make the screw tight again. The drawer is back in place for another year, but cleaning it out made me consider a lighter arrangement for that drawer, new homes for the less used pieces.
       Once the kitchen is back in order, it will be time to concentrate on this week's tasks: The first preparations for Florida. I need to renew the insurance policy on my convertible which is in storage in Florida and pick up license plates. While I'm at it, I need to change my supplemental health insurance.
      It's also a week of celebrations. My son Ryan and his wife Angela celebrate their 10th anniversary on Tuesday with a Vow Renewal party. Then next weekend we'll squeeze in a quick Christmas celebration.
      I'll close the week by reviewing "Mary Poppins" at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, my final review before Florida.
      I can almost smell the snow. It's coming!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Countdown continues!

      Yes, this is the same tree that was so beautiful two weeks ago. Now only a handful of stubborn leaves remain.
       And as of today only four weeks remain until we leave for Florida. Naturally I have added projects to my to-do list. With leaves falling all around outdoors, I decided to bring fall indoors and have been stripping wallpaper in my bathroom. The leaves fall much more effortlessly, I can assure you. My blue sky and angel decor, which I installed 10 years ago on top of the original pink stripped paper,  is going right down to plain paint. That means scoring and spraying and scraping, and scoring and spraying and scraping the next layer. Then washing down the walls to get off the paste residue. After a week of bursts of work each day, I finally have smooth, white walls which will become "Hazelnut Cream" and "Plum Good"  tomorrow.
        But the other projects to prepare for leaving have been taking a back seat to the bathroom project. So I still need to prepare the church library for my winter replacement. Give my final speech in the Competent Communicator book at Toastmasters, vote, review a couple of plays, (did I mention vote?) feed my son's cats while he's on vacation and rake some of his leaves. And vote, of course!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Blowin' in the wind.

      When I walked by this tree today, the same one I posted last week, I realized how very fast the countdown to winter is going. Branches that were bursting with color are now bare.
        Oh, there's still some leaves left. Some glorious days of sunshine and blue skies. But the wind is howling, like the clock ticking loudly, reminding us that these sunny days won't last long.
        As for my countdown to get ready for Florida, I've made some progress. Took the cat to the vet to be checked out, sorted out my supplemental health insurance and prescriptions,even made those pillows for my outdoor furniture in Florida and packed them away! One box down!
       And I have good plans for the week ahead: reconnecting with friends I won't see all winter, getting the church library ready to turn over to another volunteer, making holiday plans with my son Ryan Wallace and his wife Angela.
     This will be our sixth winter in Florida and the longest visit yet...a full four months.You'd think I'd  be an expert at packing by now, or at least have a full proof list, but every year requires something different. No sense taking exactly the same clothes every year. And I plan different projects. This year I'll be working on a family genealogy. In fact, I'm so interested in the genealogy project that it keeps getting in the way of my countdown projects. No dessert until you eat your veggies!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Before the last leaves fall

          It was my great pleasure this weekend to drive up to Traverse City and explore all the way along Mission Peninsula, to the 45th parallel (halfway to the north pole!).The colors were indescribably  beautiful. At times it felt like the landscape was ablaze and I was driving through the flames.
          But already some of the trees are spent, their branches almost bare, their colorful life scattered on the ground below. It reminds me that the countdown has begun. For some of you, that is the countdown to the first snowfall. For snowbirds like me, it's the countdown to Florida. We leave six weeks from today.
           That's six weeks to finish all the projects around the house that haven't gotten done over the summer. Time to get the church library in order for the winter months. Six weeks to make those final doctor visits, the last hair appointment. Time to make the rounds to visit the relatives and friends I won't get to see over the winter. I need to squeeze in my last visits to local theater,  file my final reviews for The Press. Six weeks to finish my pre-holiday book sales events and have my holiday celebrations with family in advance. Buy my Christmas gifts, address my cards.
           And time to pack, of course. To remember all the things I forgot last year and sort out all those items I took last year but never used. To clean out the fridge and prepare the house for winter.
            It sounds so overwhelming. But the leaves fall a few at a time and so the tasks that remain will fall. The countdown begins.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bookin' it!

      "What library are you from?"
As I perused the displays at the Michigan Library Association conference in Grand Rapids today, that was the question every vendor asked.  How to answer?
      Should I say the Grandville Library which hosted the kick off party for Full Moon Friday last June or the Sparta Library that welcomed me for a presentation on Laughing for a Living just a couple of weeks ago? Perhaps I should say the Cedar Springs Library or the Traverse City Library which carry my books. Or the Joliet and O'Fallon libraries in Illinois, that also stock my books.
       Or maybe I should say the library at Grandville United Methodist Church. I've been volunteer librarian there since I retired from The Press five years ago.
        Or maybe I should say the Akama Public School library on Epi Island, Vanuatu, South Pacific. Our church raised $900 to stock a new library for that school.
        When I think about it, I've had a lot of libraries in my life. The one at McKendree College where I read Bruce Catton's books on the Civil War for a research paper in high school. The one at Southwest Baptist College where I went to read daily newspapers when the USS Pueblo was taken in North Korea in 1968 and my boyfriend was serving in South Korea. Or the library in Toledo, Ohio, where I read about Cystic Fibrosis after my son was diagnosed in 1979.
        There was the library in Richmond, Va., where my son used to go to reading group and the one in Joliet, Ill., where I checked out old black and white movies to share with him back before we had a VCR. There's the library in Kentwood, Mi.,  where we looked up college information for him.And now the one in Grandville where I stock up on books on CD whenever I take a car trip.
         Libraries are my life.They have kept me informed and entertained. I'd hate to imagine life without libraries.
         What library are you from?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Full Moon Monday

The moon wasn't quite full tonight -- 95 percent the chart says-- but it sure felt full in terms of things going wrong.
       My presentation tonight at Sparta Carnegie Library started off like one of the catastrophe chapters in Full Moon Friday. I arrived about 6 p.m. for the 6:30 presentation, knowing that's running a little tight when technology's involved.
        The room was all set up, including apple cider and great pumpkin cookies. The video screen was in place, as was the projector. First we couldn't find the plug to connect the projector to the electricity. Once that was located, we inserted my flash drive that contained the power point presentation, but the projector couldn't find any of the Windows-based programs on the flash drive. It could only see the jpegs.
         No problem. I'd brought a computer along and with the help of Librarian Nicole we connected it to the projector. It's an older computer that had the right connection to match the projector. It turned on and then zap... turned off and simply wouldn't turn on again.  After trying several restart procedures, Nicole went home to get her laptop.  In the meantime, I managed to get my computer to turn on but it insisted on a "startup repair." Major delay.
          As the guests began arriving, Nicole returned with her computer. We hurriedly connected it, added my flash drive and voila! Power point!
          The rest of the evening went off without a hitch. Cheryl Currier of the library staff gave a great introduction. The crowd was small, but we enjoyed talking about movie star interviews, favorite plays and creative cursing.
          Much thanks to library director Lois Lovell. And thanks to the almost full moon for setting just the right mood!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Happy Birthday!

I grew up knowing I was a very special person. My parents and grandparents doted on me. I had the respect of my little brothers. And everything centered around my birthday.
         In those days, the new TV season usually began on October 1. The new model cars were released on October 1. There were billboards and television announcements and full-page ads in the newspaper. It was practically a national holiday.
          It was, after all, MY birthday.
          Yes, I really am self-centered enough to think the television networks and car manufacturers chose October 1 because it was the true beginning of the year. The beginning of me.
          Years  later I found an even better reason to celebrate the day. It's not only my birthday but also the birthday of Jimmy Carter. I was a Republican until Jimmy Carter came along. He's one politician I can respect. He's honest. He's a real humanitarian not a caring-for-the-cameras humanitarian. He's a Christian that not only knows the Bible, he lives it.
           Not to mention he's a nuclear scientist. And the author of 28 books. He volunteers at Habitat for Humanity. And paints. He's a devoted husband, father and Sunday School teacher.
          I know the pundits like to criticize him, but I don't usually agree with most pundits.
          I'd never want the thankless job of President of the US, but when I grow up, I want to be as good a person as Jimmy Carter.
         Happy 90th Birthday Mr. President.

Monday, September 29, 2014

When the moon says I love you...

         Every time I see a musical I notice things I didn't notice before.
         Last weekend I went to the Looking Glass Playhouse in Lebanon, Il., to see "The Addams Family." I'd seen the Broadway tour in Grand Rapids, but I was anxious to see what a small community theater would do with it. Although this community theater is not up to the professional level community theater that I routinely review in Michigan, my mother and I enjoyed several of the performances and songs.
          One song that I overlooked before, "The Moon and Me," caught my attention because of my recent release of Full Moon Friday. I guess you'd say I've become a moonie of a sort always looking for moon trivia.
         This number, if you haven't seen the show, is a love song between Uncle Festus and the Lady in the Moon. It's such a ridiculous, Addams Family sort of premise. It fits the script perfectly.
         I went online to find a copy of the song to share in this blog, and to my surprise I found a performance I absolutely love...and it is from a high school production! The soloist is a freshman of all things! And the staging is fantastic. I hope you enjoy.
         It IS a dream that's coming true when the moon says "I love you."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Building a boat

What I like most about a quiet little drama, such as "The Boatwright" at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, is that it starts the wheels turning in your head. Days later, I find myself thinking about ideas the play has planted.

Written by Virginia playwright Bo Wilson, the script won a national play writing contest sponsored by the American Association of Community Theatres and is receiving its world premier production this month at Civic. It's the story of a retired widower who combats loneliness by building a boat in his garage.

It sounds like a ridiculous project for someone in the middle of Kansas with practically no sailing experience. But it got me thinking about the "boats" all of us build as a means of coping. One person might take up golf.  Someone else might plant a garden. I usually take on more projects than I can possibly accomplish. Like buying a pottery wheel and turning out bowls and mugs for Christmas presents. Or getting a dulcimer and never taking time to practice. Or writing a series of mysteries. Ah, yes. That's like building a yacht.

Is building a boat -- or whatever project a person chooses -- a healthy coping mechanism? Or is it "tilting at windmills" like Don Quixote?  Does the way we spend our time need to be logical? Should our hours be meted out to activities that will accomplish the most good, be that financial gain or health improvement or world reform? Or is it okay to build a boat that will never make it out of the garage? And who decides what's okay and what's a waste of our precious time?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Mooning over the Moon

Isn't the moon beautiful tonight? Thin wisps of clouds streak across the face, like a bridal veil. Oh, yes, this is a lady moon. Peeking through shyly. You can only imagine the beauty, the shape, with the edges blurred by clouds. And then all and once the clouds part. She is beaming boldly, round and full. A woman, unafraid. Disarming. Dangerous.
     Tonight is the romantic moon poets write about, not that insidious evil moon that drives people to do crazy things. That beckons the werewolf out of hiding. That bedevils emergency rooms and  police dispatchers. Not the kind of moon I wrote about in Full Moon Friday. No, not this moon. Surely not this moon.
      And yet, here am I.  Sitting on the deck admiring the moon. Wishing I had some wine in the house to open. Forgetting the cookies in the oven. It's just so beautiful. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Are you listening?

           "Don't hang up! This may be the most important call of your life!"
             I'll bet most of you have received a recorded call that began just like that. But was anyone listening beyond that point?  Anybody?
             I don't think so. Most of us can barely be polite to telemarketers. And if a recording is calling, we don't have to be polite. We can't hang up fast enough.
           I can't imagine anyone actually listens to a recorded call. And if you did, would you actually purchase a product that was advertised in such an irritating manner? Would you actually vote for a candidate who had such low regard for your intelligence that he/she would invade your personal phone with a recording? . I doubt it.
            Which begs the question: Why do so many marketers use recorded phone calls? Sure they are cheap, but if no one listens to them, why bother? Somebody must be listening. Marketers must have some statistic that shows some degree of effectiveness. Not only is somebody listening, somebody is taking the desired action.
         Okay, fess up! Which one of you is actually listening to recorded phone messages? Did one of you actually buy a product advertised on a recorded phone call? Did somebody actually vote for a candidate who insulted you with a recorded message?
         Step forward, whoever you are. Explain yourself!
         Oh, I know we are supposed to be able to avoid nuisance calls by signing up on a do not call list. Maybe I should give it a try. But I tend not to trust such lists any more than I trust recorded phone messages.
          What I want to know is : Who is listening and why?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Show off what you're reading

           Summertime and the reading is ...public!
           That's right. Whether you are on a jet plane headed to Europe or lying on a sandy beach in Pentwater, Mi., chances are good you've got your nose in a book. And holding in front of your face the best advertisement any author can get.
           Nothing like a satisfied customer to attract new readers. Haven't you ever noticed what the stranger next to you is reading? If you ask, they'll definitely give you an honest opinion and the next thing you know, it's on your reading list. Isn't that right?
           A few weeks after Full Moon Friday was released in June, I had to get some work done on my car. Two hours of work. I took a copy of Full Moon Friday. Of course, I didn't need to read my own book so I tucked another novel inside the cover -- a trick I learned back in high school when I wanted to read fiction instead of chemistry.  While I waited in the service center and a nearby McDonalds, dozens of people passed by. No one stopped to ask about the book, but they saw what I was reading.
          My good friend Cheryl Currier had her picture taken reading my previous book, One Shoe Off, and used it for her Facebook profile for a couple of years. She got all sorts of comments.
          I hope you are headed someplace a lot more fun than the dentist's office or the automobile service center. But wherever you're going, I invite you to take along a copy of Full Moon Friday, or One Shoe Off or Great News Town. Read my books in public!  Money can't buy better advertisement.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Rocky Road Reject

      Rocky Road is my favorite ice cream flavor. But when it comes to the paths of life, I prefer to avoid rocky roads. That's what I learned about myself at a week-long hiking camp in the Adirondack Mountains. The "adventure" scheduled four hikes but I only made it through two.
     I know discomfort and danger are practically part of the definition of "adventure." I was expecting the week to be challenging. I knew each day's hike would climb the elevation equivalent of walking up the stairs of the Sears Tower. I expected to be out of breath. I purchased hiking poles and a hydrating backpack to help me make it. I prepared for months ahead of time replacing my usual 1-mile daily saunter through the neighborhood with a 3-mile hilly hike at a nearby park. But I didn't realize i should have included a month of training on a military obstacle course.
     The "trail" on both the mountains I climbed was more like a rocky creek bed. I don't mean an occasional rocky patch in a winding trail. I mean half-mile, uninterruped obstacle courses of rocks, rocks and more rocks. Boulders! Patches of normal "trail" in the traditional meaning of the word were the exception.
        I've done some hiking before. I spent a week on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park and walked many steep and winding roads to awesome vistas. But I have never come across stoney stumbling blocks anything like those I encountered in the Adirondacks. 
       Now, I must admit that most of the 24 people in our group handled the rocky road very well. My friend Mary Kay and I were the stragglers. Hikers that were older than us, or heavier, or less experienced passed us by. The more experienced hikers used the rocks like stepping stones, gliding along as gracefully as gazelles. Blame my short legs or my shortsightedness, but I couldn't perceive a possible path in the stumble jumble of rocks. Those stones crushed any bit of fun or satisfaction in my efforts.
        The trip wasn't a total waste from my perspective. I met some nice people. I will keep that 3-mile hilly hike at a local park as part of my regular routine. The equipment I purchased will come in handy  on other hikes I'll take on more navigable terrain. But I won't be returning to the Adirondacks and I won't apologize. I admire those who have accepted the challenge and  enjoy those trails, but I don't envy them.
         You see, the rocky road didn't reject me, I reject the rocky road. I have other ways I prefer to spend my time, other hills to climb. It's one of the advantages to living 65 years. I no longer feel like I'm a failure if I don't enjoy what others enjoy.
         Make this my sermon on the mount: Blessed are they that climb for they will know the satisfaction of the summit. Blessed also are they that decline for they will discover other stars that shine.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Beer for my horses

Thursday night's triple-header concert at Interlochen --with country legend Willie Nelson, Grammy record holder Alison Krauss and Union Station, and rising star Jason Isbell -- was more than we could have hoped. It will probably go down in my memory book as one of the best shows I ever attended. It was as if we had ordered "Whiskey for my Men" and the bartender threw in "Beer for my Horses."

That's the way Willie did his set, singing half the lyrics and waiting for the crowd to fill in the rest. And they did, gladly. At 81, Willie's voice isn't as strong as we fondly remember. He talks more than sings, and not always in rhythm. But his guitar chords make up for any failing in the vocal chords.He blended one hit into the next for a continuous retrospective of his bountiful repertoire.

Alison Krauss and Union Station were in rare form, full of playful quips about each other and the best, most beautiful bluegrass ever, with plenty of clear harmonies and no nasal tones in the bunch. Jason Isbell opened the evening with a selection of his songs, all new but tunefully done, with enough bass to make the speakers reverberate.

The weather was wonderful, cool enough to be comfortable. My only regret is that I had allowed my phone to run out of power so I wasn't able to shoot any photos from our second-row seat. And I'm also regretting that I may never get another chance to see Willie perform. Here's to you, Willie! Thanks for another memorable concert!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Laughing overtime

        What a rough life.
         Wednesday morning I reviewed a new children's show, "The Doll People" at Hope Rep. It's brand new, written and directed by Jahnna Beecham. It's such fun to be on the  ground floor of a good show. I can imagine this  being picked up by all the local theaters. It's fast-paced with some catchy music. I loved the ensemble doing hand jive in a circle on one number. And I really loved the pacing at the climax. Every little kid in the room was looking at those scary cats eyes. But no one was crying. They were too caught up in the story and song. Very well done.
           Then Thursday night I went to Circle Theatre to review "One Man, Two Guvnors." A real tour de force for that One Man...Dylan Harris. Quite a role. He's running around in circles and talking out of both sides of his mouth. Very funny. And so were many other performers.Old man's walking too slow? Just turn up his pacemaker. Hilarious!
           On Friday night it was back to Holland to review "Hot Mikado."  Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta has been adapted to '40s fashions and music, with big band horns, jitterbug, tap dancing and Zoot suits. What fun! The music and dance is so startling that I almost forgot the real humor Gilbert packed into his illogical stories. Making flirting a capital offense! What a crazy idea. And having a Pooh-Bah with all the government titles rolled into one...he makes the laws, enforces the laws, judges the guilt, investigates the crime, ... no disagreements. It's so ridiculously funny.
           This is what I call "Laughing for a Living." Three days in a row. Getting paid to have a great time. And I'm supposed to be retired.
           Tomorrow, I'm headed to Chicago to see the final performance of "The Last Ship," a new musical by British pop rocker Sting. It will open on Broadway in the fall.  I'm not getting paid to see this one. I'll have to buy my ticket, pay for my trip. I'll leave the house about 7:30  in the morning and not get home until 11:30 at night. But a chance to see a new show before it goes to Broadway? Wouldn't miss it for the world.
             It's a rough life, but somebody has to do it!

            P.S. Sting surprised us -- not only by creating a moving stage musical "The Last Ship" but also by showing up at curtain call and singing the title song! Loved the show. More Celtic than rock. Perhaps too dreary for Broadway but says a lot about the relationships between fathers and sons, and a broader statement about workers vs. industry. Maybe because I'm seeing my own life's work on stormy seas now, I can relate to the end of an industry.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Proud Papa

          When you give birth to a new book, it's not unusual for the baby to get all the attention. Recently when I was invited by Schuler Books to participate in a local author panel, I was asked to provide the store with 15 copies of my latest book, Full Moon Friday. The third book in the Jordan Daily News Mystery Series, it's about a day when everything goes wrong.
          Full Moon Friday sold well, but we failed to realize that many fans of a mystery series want to start at the beginning. We didn't have enough copies on hand of the first book -- Great News Town -- and quickly sold out.
        Great News Town is the papa of the series, the story that had to be told. It was inspired by a series of murders that happened near Joliet, Il., when I worked for the Joliet Herald-News in 1983. The whole series grows out of recreating a spunky newspaper staff that solves mysteries in the pre-DNA, low-tech world before you could hold the internet in your hand. 
       Although the books don't need to be read in order, Great News Town is the perfect introduction to the fictional Chicago suburb that seems to attract more than its share of big news stories.
       In April, Writers' Digest Magazine gave  Great News Town an honorable mention in its Self-Published Book Awards. Recently Windy City Reviews published  this review. I didn't realize until I read the review, that the reviewer actually grew up in Joliet during the events that inspired the story.
        All my books are available on Kindle, but Great News Town is also available for Nook, Itunes, Kobo, you name it.
        Full Moon Friday garners all the ooos and ahhs of a "cute" newborn, but Great News Town is the proud papa passing out the cigars!


Monday, June 30, 2014

Support Independents

        This is the week Americans focus on Independence.
        We make sure we tell the vets we appreciate their service, even if we don't always agree with the politicians who put them in harms way.
         We bow our heads in a crowded McDonalds to thank God for our burger just because we can.
          And we buy American-made products at small local stores because that's the American dream.
         Nothing can be more independent than a self-published author, unless it's the small independent books stores that sell our books. Twenty years ago there were more than 4,000 independent bookstores in the U.S. Today there are less than half that number. In just the past two years we've seen Schulers Books and Music, our favorite Grand Rapids bookstore, go from three to one location in Grand Rapids.
         That's why I'm delighted to be celebrating Independence weekend by selling and signing Jordan Daily News Mysteries at Travelers Trunk Book Store in Cedar Springs from 2:30-4:30 Saturday, July 5.
        Travelers Trunk is owned and operated by Amanda Litz, an independent children's author and mother of four. She's the author of the Sam and Pam series for early readers. She also wrote "The Great Gumshoe: The Case of the Missing Bear" and The Traveler's Trunk series. 
         Litz runs Traveler's Trunk publishing, which will be sponsoring an Authorpalooza on July 17 with a dozen local children's authors at the Children's Museum in Grand Rapids. Her store features used books as well as local authors, so you can find lots of bargains under $5.
          If you are looking for a quiet break from all the hot and hectic holiday activities, drop in at Traveler's Trunk Bookstore, 25 Main St., on Saturday afternoon. Meet a couple authors, pick up a mystery for Mom, an easy reader for the kids, and a couple bargain books for Dad. It's the American way!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Don't believe in full moon madness?

         I wrote the book on Full Moon Friday the 13th.The third book in the Jordan Daily News Mystery series, Full Moon Friday is about one of those days when everything goes wrong. I decided to try a crazy marketing scheme as well: doing a book signing at my neighborhood garage sale on June 13, a rare date when the full moon coincided with Friday the 13th.
I should have known the double whammy would attract some weird customers to our sale, but even I wasn't prepared for the parade of unusual characters. Now more than ever I believe the full moon is a beacon to the insane, attracting them like a magnet attracts steel filings. 
Each of my unusual guests walked up my driveway and into my garage as though drawn by some unseen force. I felt like they were angels on a television program visiting me personally.
My first unusual customer was a gregarious guy in jeans and a flannel shirt. Barely taking a breath,  he told me one story after another about his career in dumpster diving. How he once found $1,000 in an envelope. And prize-winning lottery tickets. Sure, he had run-ins with the cops, but once you know the schedule and the regulations in various communities, you can make a good living dumpster diving, the guy said.
           The second unusual man was an Hispanic gentleman probably about 70, wearing tight jeans and a beautiful white cowboy hat. He came up the driveway and walked behind my table into my dark garage.
                “Are you feeling OK?” he asked in his heavily accented voice.  I must have said “What?” two or three times because the question seemed so out-of-place.  He repeated his question until I assured him I felt fine. Then I inquired about his health.
                “I have cancer,” he replied. “I almost died two years ago.”
     He proceeded to tell the story of his brush with death,  even though his accent obscured much of what he was trying to tell me.
The strangest character of the day arrived about 4:30. He walked directly up my driveway and stood next to me. He was in his 20s, painfully skinny, wearing white jeans and a paint-splattered shirt.            
“Can I help you?”  I asked.
“I need a place to sit,” he replied. 
Once again I felt like the visitor was an angel and I was being put to the test. 
“Oh, you can have my chair,” I said, rising to my feet.
He took my chair and quickly helped himself to my glass of ice water.  “Are these free?” he asked, motioning to a basket of moon pies left over from my Full Moon Friday launch party.
“Sure, help yourself,” I said, backing away.
  I decided to let him rest a while. I had some calls to make. I was searching the Internet on my phone when the young man said, “That hurts me.”
“That device.It messes with my brain,” the he said.  He held his head high, his jaw set as if he had just said the most logical thing in the world.
“ I can respect that,” I said, turning off my phone.
“I would buy a book if I knew where my money was,” the young man said.
“What happened to your money?” I asked.
“I don’t know,”  he said, folding the cellophane wrapper from the moon pie into an ever smaller package. “I left my bike at the computer store. Maybe the backpack is there too.”
“The computer store?”
“Around the corner.”
There’s no computer store around the corner.
I looked at him as a mother might. He was exasperating, hurting, maybe dangerous. But he was somebody’s son. Lost. Confused. And full moon crazy.  What could I do for him?
I was distracted  when he spoke again. “What did you say?” I asked.
“I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to him.”
“The man in the car over there.”
I looked across the street. There was a man sitting in a car, probably waiting for his wife.
“Are you here with that man?” I asked.
“No.  I don’t know him. But he heard me.”
The boy looked at me with a piercing stare, as if daring me to contradict him. I didn’t.  I walked a few steps away and used my phone. When I turned around the young man was standing  up holding his hands over his ears. He walked down the driveway and toward the imaginary computer store.
           At five o’clock we gathered our goodies from the driveway and closed our garage doors. The sale was over. I went inside and called a friend to describe the crazy customers.
“Lock your doors,” my friend said.
I wasn’t afraid. None of the people had been threatening, even the final customer. But my friend’s advice stuck in my head.  My front door was open with just a screen. I went to it to see if there was a way to lock the screen. In my driveway stood the skinny  boy in the paint-splattered shirt. He was looking around as if wondering where the people and sale items had gone.  He turned and walked down the street. 
I locked the door. The full moon would be coming out soon.