Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Passing understanding

One of the best things about being a Christian is the unexplainable sense of peace that accompanies trusting Jesus. Ask anyone who has let go and let God take over.
         The great apostle Paul explains it this way in his letter to the Philipians: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
           I remember distinctly one night, many years ago, when my teenage son was out driving his car and it was past his curfew. I was sick with worry. I prayed, and the moment I accepted that God was in charge, my worry lifted like a bird fluttering away. I can't explain the peace that came over me. 
           I still worry needlessly, and try to fix things my way. But then I remember. Just let go and let God. 
           In this season when there seems to be so much strife in the hectic holiday schedule, and the angry political campaigning, and violent headlines, I believe the secret to Peace on Earth begins with that simple acceptance of Christ on a personal, individual level. I know it is incomprehensible that something so complex as International Peace could be rooted in something so simple accepting God's gift, but I think that is where it needs to begin. 
         As the song says: Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. 

Let it shine

          It's been many years since I went to a peace rally, but there was a good one tonight at First United Methodist Church where about 100 people gathered  for a show of Unity in the Face of Fear.    Members of the silent majority spoke out, even if it was just hearty "Amens" echoing through the room.  "You can't be silent," said Grand Rapids City Commissioner Ruth E. Kelly. "We must speak out against the fear mongering."
            Representatives of several area churches spoke briefly about about peace  and justice for all people regardless of race or creed. They defended immigrants and refuges.  "We're all one," said Methodist Bishop Deborah Kiesey.  She reminded the crowd that Baby Jesus and his family were refuges when they fled to Egypt to avoid King Herod.
            A spokesman for the local Muslim community quoted the poem Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt. In that poem Abou asks to be counted in the book of life as one who loves his fellow man. The evening ended with a candle lighting in the parking lot, a moment of silent prayer for unity and singing the song "This Little Light of Mine."
            Funny. It was the shortest day of the year, made even darker by clouds. But the light is beginning to shine. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Stand up for Peace

      We lit a candle for peace today at Grandville United Methodist Church, as part of the advent celebration. Christians have been doing the same thing for centuries, but sometimes it seems like it isn't working. It seems like the hate mongers are much louder than the quiet peacemakers. 
      "Pray for Peace," said pastor Tom Pier-Fitzgerald. But that's not all. He suggested we attend a Unity in the Face of Fear rally Monday at First United Methodist Church. Maybe it's time the peace makers were a little noisier.
       People of all faiths are encouraged to gather in the church parking lot, 227 E. Fulton, at 5:30 p.m.  Speakers from various faiths will talk about treating all people with love and respect, instead of spewing hate. Fear chips away at peace; unity can help rebuild relationships.
      Join us.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Puzzle piece

       No one should ever become famous for shooting innocent people. There should be no prize for terrorism. Yet it happens all the time.
       Sixteen years after the massacre at Columbine High School, most of us could name the pair of misguided teens who killed 12 students and one teacher. But how many of us remember the name of one victim?
        It's happening again with the San Bernadino shooting. We read every detail about the two shooters, who I refuse to name, but much less about the 14 victims. People like environmental health specialist Robert Adams or mapping expert Hal Bowman. Or Issac Amanios who immigrated to America from Eritrea; Vietnamese refugee Tin Nguyen or persecuted Iranian Christian Bennetta Betbadal.
         You can blame the media, but the media provides information on both the shooters and the victims. It's just easier, and maybe perversely more interesting, to talk about the shooters. We can change that. 
          Quick: who was responsible for the slaughter at the Alamo in 1836?. A few Jeopardy players may remember the Mexican general, but all of us "Remember the Alamo." You may not know the names of all the victims who died there, and you may have some misconceptions from the movie versions, but the focus is always on the victims. "Remember the Alamo" became a call to action, not because of the media reports but because of the public groundswell.
         It's a behavior modification technique every mother knows. Ignore bad behavior, praise the good. Don't give shooters the attention they crave. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Prize of Peace

Every year the Nobel Peace Prize, which is being awarded Thursday in Oslo, honors some of the world's outstanding peacemakers. This year the recipients are three men and one woman from Tunisia who helped to save their country from civil war and collapse in 2013. These four -- Houcine Abbassi, Wided Bouchamaoui, Abdessatar Ben Moussa and Fadhel Mahfoudh -- aren't politicians or government leaders. They are business people, leaders of four non-government organizations -- a labor union, an employers' association, a human rights organization and the bar association. It wasn't their job to broker peace in their country. But they did it. Peace is everybody's job.
           Afterwards, they were nicknamed the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet. Dialogue. What beautiful music this quartet makes.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Pieces of Peace

Peace on Earth is the promise of Christmas. It's the elusive gift everyone asks for.
       Yet it remains a puzzle.
        As the final days of 2015 wind down, this is the topic I want to think about, talk about. So I will share little pieces of peace as they come my way.
        Just the other day I heard on the radio that the two-finger V for victory sign -- which my generation kidnapped in the '60s and renamed the peace sign -- actually dates to the 1200s. The longbow, which was the atomic weapon of the period, helped the English fight off the French during the Hundred Years War. When the enemy captured an archer  they would cut off his first two fingers so he could never pull back a bow string again. So if a person held up those two fingers it was a victory. His fingers had survived.
         It's a beginning. We still have our fingers. We can choose to use those fingers to aim arrows at our foes or we can offer a sign of peace. Choose peace.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Small Business Saturday!

Don't you love how every day has it's own title: Black Friday, Cyber Monday and now Small Business Saturday? 
            No business is smaller than the independent author. Authors are always gathering at book fairs and farmers' markets, selling their wares and signing books for soon-to-be fans. Several West Michigan authors will gather Thursday night for the third annual Holiday Book Bash in Spring Lake.
            Unfortunately I can't make the Book Bash this year because I'm reviewing "Dogfight" at Actors' Theatre. (Community theater, talk about a small business that needs your support!)
            I am offering a book special for the holidays: A nifty set of  all three Jordan Daily News Mysteries for $29.95. That's 40 percent off the usual retail price of purchasing the books separately. You can give the trio to one mystery fan, or divide them up among three names on your list. And if you live in the Grand Rapids area, I can probably arrange delivery, so postage and handling won't eat up all your savings. To order, email merrellsue@gmail.com.
             Service with a smile. Just one of the benefits of dealing with a small business.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gunning for laughs

I don't honestly remember the Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun, but the world of Ralphie Parker and "The Christmas Story" feels like home to me. Grand Rapids Civic Theatre's stage production, which continues through Dec. 20,  is even funnier than the 1983 movie..
              But the best part is the innocence.
               My brothers had lots of toy guns. Westerns were the icons of 1950s television, so we always played shoot 'em up. If somebody didn't have shiny Lone Ranger pistols, they would pretend with a twig or a finger. But we were never scared of guns. Never imagined that someone would actually use one to hurt another person.
              Dad and my brothers always went hunting on Thanksgiving morning while the turkey baked. It seemed right. I remember frozen rabbit packed in cardboard milk cartons in the freezer. My brothers would tote their shotguns with them when they walked to a friend's house and no one ever called the police. Why would they?
             When I became a mom, my son was in the Star Wars generation. They fought with light sabers. Some of my friends banned their children from having toy guns. But kids still played shoot 'em up with a twig or a finger, and couldn't imagine guns really hurting anybody.
             And then something changed. Somebody brought guns to school. Real guns. And people were killed. In schools, in movie theaters,  at fast food restaurants.  And our innocence was gone.
            You can't take a water pistol to school anymore. And I'm sure a kid carrying a shotgun would be considered a community threat in most of today's neighborhoods.
             You can blame political correctness or the NRA or "lousy libs." But we aren't in Indiana anymore...at least not Raphie Parker's Indiana.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Home Sweet Home

To be honest, the city lights below us didn't look any more familiar than all the glittering webs of light we had flown over during the hour flight from Washington DC to Grand Rapids, MI. But when the gear hit the runway I breathed a sigh of relief. I was home.
          It felt so comforting as we taxied from the runway to the terminal because I knew exactly where I had left my car. It was already dark, but I knew what roads to take home. And most importantly, I knew the Sunday evening traffic would be negligible.
          I don't know if you've visited our nation's capital lately but the traffic there is horrendous. There's a gridlock on the Interstates that rivals the impasse in the Congress. (hmm, wonder if that's related?) It's nothing new. I lived in Richmond, Va., more than 30 years ago and Interstate 95 from Richmond to D.C. was a 90-mile parking lot then. It hasn't improved.
          I wasn't surprised that it took two and a half hours to drive the 50 miles from Dulles to Fredericksburg for my nephew's wedding, though it was a little frustrating that a simple three-mile drive from the hotel to the wedding could take 30 minutes on a Saturday afternoon. I started the return trip at 1 p.m. Sunday. It was as bad as any rush hour. Solid back up. I probably covered 10 miles by 2 p.m. My plane was leaving at 5:20 so I did something rash. I headed off-grid. My printed map of Virginia was sketchy and my GPS was drunk, or at least a little tipsy, imagining roads that simply weren't there.
         Nevertheless, I headed away from the Interstate, going northwest in the general direction of Dulles. I asked the GPS to take me to Manassas, and I was afraid there for a while that I might never get there. The roads kept getting narrower and more winding. State routes turned into barely paved country roads. But once I came out in Manassas the roads finally looked normal. Busy but not frozen. I had no trouble following the signs for the airport and was ecstatic to have avoided the paralyzing traffic on I-95 and the Beltway.
         I got to the airport in plenty of time. The plane was oversold and the agent kept trying to entice someone to give up their seat. First she offered $400 plus hotel, dinner and another flight to GR the next day. Then the offer went up to $500, $600, $700.  I considered it because my Monday commitments were light and it might be fun to have an extra day to see the Newseum in DC. But just thinking about all that traffic. There simply isn't enough money on earth to make that worthwhile. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Friggin' Special

My nephew is getting married Saturday so everybody in the family is flying to Virginia on Friday. Everybody except me, that is. I'm flying on Thursday. If you didn't notice, Friday is the 13th. I'm not really superstitious,  but why take chances?
      Besides, after writing a wild and crazy book like Full Moon Friday, I have a healthy respect for Friggatriskaidekaphobia.
      If you'd like to read a fast-paced mystery about all the things that can go wrong when the full moon coincides with Friday the 13th, here's your chance. The Kindle version of Full Moon Friday will be 99 cents on Friday in honor of the auspicious date. Reduced prices continue through the weekend and return to the regular price of $3.99 on Monday, Nov. 16.
       Friday the 13th could be your lucky day!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Trail or trial?

        This Friday night's  "Trail of Michigan Authors" is an ambitious collection of 50 local authors at one bookstore -- Barnes and Noble Booksellers in Muskegon.
        Maybe it's my dyslexia acting up, but every time I see the title of this event I imagine 50 Michigan authors  on TRIAL. And I guess in a way that's what a book-signing is, a trial of authors where the readers are the judge and jury. The author has a chance to testify and present evidence. The reader decides whether an author is guilty of writing a book that sounds too interesting to pass up -- or a book that would be the perfect gift for someone on the Christmas list. .
        And with 50 authors lining the aisles of the store, it should be the TRIAL of the century.
         Order in the court. Order in the court. The trial...ah, trail....is about to begin!

Friday, October 30, 2015


         Halloween is high season for the Jordan Daily News Mysteries. I just finished the Night at the Bookman author event in Grand Haven and next week I'm headed to the Trail of Michigan Authors at Muskegon's Barnes and Noble. 
           But it is hard to say which of my mysteries is the spookiest.  Great News Town is the bloodiest by far, considering 14 people get murdered. And the fact that it was inspired by actual events, makes it even more horrifying.
          One Shoe Off is the closest to ghosts and goblins. City Editor Josie Braun is haunted by the spirit of Zelda Machinko, another newspaper editor who disappeared 30 years before leaving only a shoe behind. 
           Full Moon Friday is a monsoon of madness when the unexplainable influence of a full moon collides with the bad luck superstitions of Friday the 13th. Eerie!
           I suggest you start with the blood bath of Great News Town for a horrifying Halloween. Get a copy of One Shoe Off  signed in Muskegon next Friday. And you should be just about ready for Full Moon Friday when Friday the 13th strikes in two weeks!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Long and short of it

  My genealogy research has uncovered all sorts of fascinating information, including the meaning of a word that was popular in my childhood as the longest word in the English language.
      Antidisestablishmentarianism can no longer claim to be the longest word. Evidently there's some protein enzyme with 267 amino acids so its full name has 1,913 letters. Don't worry, I won't try to spell it. And there are several other contenders with more letters than the 28 in antidisestablishmentarianism.
      In studying my son's ancestor Elijah Craig and his work for religious freedom in Virginia, I came across the term "disestablishment." The constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia "disestablished" the Church of England as the official church in the colony.
      Not everyone agreed with that. Patrick Henry, for instance, who defended the rights of ministers of other faiths to speak their conscience, was concerned that without an "established" church no one would take care of the the poor and fatherless and the citizens would fall into moral decay. So you could say that Patrick was "antidisestablishment" -- a perfect example of double negative creating a positive.
       But cousin James Madison pushed for a separation between the government and the church, so there would be no "established" church in the colony of Virginia. "Disestablishment" soon became the rule of the land.
       At least this land. The Church of England is still the "established" church in England, for very much the same reasons Patrick Henry gave. As recently as 2014, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron disagreed on the subject.
       Antidisestablishmentarianism may not be the longest word anymore, but it is still a valid point of view.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

TBT: Has it only been four years?

      Leave it to Facebook to remind me that just four years ago on this date, Oct. 15,  I was featured at an Author Fair in Joliet, Illinois.I reconnected with friends from the 1980s and sold 24 copies of my first mystery, Great News Town.
     As I prepare for tomorrow night's book signing at The Bookman in Grand Haven, I am astounded that this all began only four years ago. Since then I have released two more books in the Jordan Daily News mystery series -- One Shoe Off and Full Moon Friday. I have received recognition from Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Awards and the Writer's Digest Self-Published Awards.
      And I have attended more book signing events than I care to count in Illinois, Michigan and Florida. The signings often require a lot of preparation and promotion and get in the way of the real work of writing.
       Four years? That's the standard length of a college program, and I can testify that these years have indeed been an education. Self-publishing is a whole career unto itself. But there is no graduation, no degree that says sufficient learning has been completed. Writing is a continuous learning process, ever changing and growing. I'm excited to see what the next four years will bring!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Birthday Wish

In 67 years I have had some fantastic birthday celebrations, including a dinner in Rome on my 60th birthday. But today's celebration is the best so far. Today my son starts taking Orkambi.
       This expensive drug -- which costs a quarter of a million dollars every year -- may not be a cure for Cystic Fibrosis but it is the closest thing so far. It's actually a double drug. A couple of years ago, a Boston company, Vertex,  released Kalydeco (ivacaftor), a drug that helps correct the genetic defect in about 5 percent of CF patients. Orkambi, also released by Vertex,  adds lumacaftor to ivacaftor to expand the effectiveness to the vast majority of CF patients. Clinical trials showed the combination to be somewhat effective, increasing lung function about 4 percent, but not as effective as the 10 percent increase that Kalydeco delivers to patients with the rarer genetic defect.
      Nevertheless it's a huge dose of hope to CF adults, whose days have been filled with medications and therapy treatments since they were infants.
       First of all, I want to thank God for keeping Ryan safe through 38 years, way beyond the predictions, so he could live long enough to see this medical advancement. I want to say thank you to everyone who ever supported me in one of those annual CF walkathons because your donations really did help provide research. And I am grateful to the scientists who have made these discoveries. Of course I appreciate Vertex for producing the drug, but I am concerned that the outrageous price is more about greed than need. I pray that  wisdom will prevail and this life-saving drug will be available to all who need it.
       As I blow out the imaginary candles on my fantasy cake (thanks to Diane Carroll Burdick for the ones in the photo!!)  I wish for this drug to work its magic, to go into every cell and make those ion transfers work so the mucus that lubricates my son's exocrine system will no longer be sticky and trapping infections. And God's masterpiece machinery will be returned good working order.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

All art starts with story

       For the third year in a row the Cascade Writer's Group has published an ArtPrize Anthology.This year's book, published in cooperation with the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters, features poetry, essays and stories submitted by writers from across the country. A few of the local writers read their works Saturday night at a launch party. It was a great celebration of the art of writing.
        Although the book is released in conjunction with ArtPrize and includes Cari Povenz's photograph of one of last year's ArtPrize entries on the cover, the anthology isn't an official part of the competition. It's too bad that ArtPrize doesn't have a writing component. ArtPrize has expanded over its seven years to include film and music, but not writing.
        What a shame!
         All art begins with story. It's what the painter strives to capture, what the melody conveys. It's what moves the movies.
        These writers don't have a number for you to punch in your vote, but you can support the art of writing by picking up a copy of "Imagine This!" for $16 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum or the Art Prize Hub.
Michele Smith-Aversa reading her submission. Photo by Lawrence Heibel.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Half a star short

     I wouldn't have made a very good publisher. Unlike that stingy Joseph Pulitzer, who's the undeniable villain in "Newsies,"  Broadway Grand Rapids' season opener this week at DeVos Performance Hall. How can he not be moved by these determined, talented kids?
      And yet, you might ask, how can I deny them half a star? Why did I give this show a 3 1/2 star rating instead of the full four? In my review in the Press, I call it a high-energy spectacle that makes you want to cheer. What else is there? Dare I expect more?
      These are the debates I have with myself in the wee hours of the morning. Four stars is like falling in love. When it happens you know it. You don't have to explain it.
      And that's the way I feel about "Newsies" most of the time. Thrilled. But I'd be lying if I didn't say it disappoints sometimes as well. There isn't one song that stands out, that I'm still humming on the way out the door. The score is adequate but a little too much like many other scores. The lyrics in "Carrying the Banner" are "It's a fine life carrying the Banner," with the whole scene echoing "It's a fine life" in "Oliver!"
      These newsboys certainly can dance, reminding me of the striking miners in "Billy Elliot." But the miners use dance to deliver a terrifying fight, while the newsboy's brawl is about as convincing as a paper tiger's growl.
       I know, I sound like a miserly Pulitzer counting pennies instead of seeing the big picture, which is an inspiring tribute to the little guy's never-ending battle for respect. So keep your eyes on the prize and enjoy "Newsies." Don't allow half a star to dim your fun.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Great GRCT

        Grand Rapids Civic Theatre is a swell theatre. From the best of the Bard to the most outrageous "Forbidden Planet," to "Peter Pan's" Neverland and the sewers of Paris in "Les Mis", Civic has been a passport to stage fantasies for almost a century.
          But if you are wondering what was jiggling back when Civic produced its first show in 1925, look no further than this season's opener, "The Great Gatsby." That's right. F. Scott Fitzgerald's infamous tale and Grand Rapids' iconic theater are both celebrating their 90th anniversaries this year. Isn't that just the bees knees?
          Actually that's Costume Designer Robert Fowle's knees in the photo above as he described some of the spiffy "Gatsby" fashions Tuesday night for a dizzy "Dish" of local media and theater fans. Imagine, that's how the theater's original patrons dressed and talked. Makes one wonder what those early productions were like.
         The show opens Friday so get a wiggle on! You don't want to miss this one!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A new semester

David Kiley of New Roads Media
As summer slips into September, I remember this is the month of new beginnings. A new semester, my ex-husband used to say. A clean new notebook, sharpened pencils and the pledge that this time you would take neat, readable notes, and turn in every assignment on time, and not get messy or fall behind, like last semester.
         With a clean notebook, anything is possible.
          I thought of that last night as I visited my friend Kym Reinstadler at her new place in Ann Arbor. Kym and I had been coworkers at The Press for 20 years. But a few months after my retirement in 2009, she was caught in the cutbacks and has been looking for steady work ever since. With a new Masters in Library Science, she landed a position with ProQuest, an international company that aggregates information and databases. Gee, it's even a new language.
           We spent the evening at the Wilde Awards in West Bloomfield. The annual event, sponsored by Encore Michigan, celebrates professional theatre across the state.. I've been reviewing shows for Encore Michigan ever since I retired from The Press but this was my first time to travel across the state for the annual shindig. It's a big year for Encore Michigan. Just when it looked like it might fade away, a new owner, David Kiley, came along full of enthusiasm for assuming the arts coverage that has been dropped by mainstream media. He even has plans to partner with Detroit Public Television to get theater before the masses.
          One of the big winners of the evening was Kurt Stamm, artistic director for Mason Street Warehouse in Saugatuck. Kurt received the Founder's Award for theater dealing with LGBT issues. I remember when Kurt and his business partner Tom Mullen called me at The Press back in 2002 and said they were going to build a professional theater in a former pie factory. I visited the site and the task seemed insurmountable. It was a big refrigerator! But it had a good location right on the bay next to downtown. And they had a vision of putting on really good theater. Now, I can't imagine Saugatuck without Mason Street Theatre, it's that much a part of the fabric of the town.
          Life is all about starting over, reinventing yourself, the new semester.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Baptist bourbon

The most famous ancestor in my family genealogy project is probably Elijah Craig, my son's gggggreat uncle on his father's side. Many of you probably recognize his name as an expensive bourbon, and some of you may have heard he was the inventor of bourbon -- a title he probably doesn't deserve.
        But my respect for ol' Elijah has gone up a notch because my research shows he played an important role in establishing freedom of religion in this country.
        Like his brothers Lewis and Joseph, Elijah was a Baptist minister when Baptist wasn't cool. Before the revolution, the Craigs lived in Virginia where Anglican was the established church. Baptist was considered a radical faith in those days. Baptists were accused of child abuse because they didn't believe in baptizing infants, and they were considered immoral if they were not married in the approved church.
         Like his brothers, Elijah was thrown in jail for preaching without a license. But along the way he attracted the attention of his Orange County neighbor James Madison. Even as a young student at Princeton, Madison was appalled by the persecution of people of other faiths and wrote letters to his friend, William Bradford about it.
         According to Madison's correspondence which has been preserved online, when Madison represented Orange County at the Virginia convention of delegates in May, 1776, Elijah was there too, as a representative of the association of Baptists. Elijah wasn't a voting delegate but he was an advocate for freedom of religion. In June, Madison wrote to his father that "Mr. Crig" was on the way home with a packet of information to share with Madison Sr.
         The constitution of the Commonwealth of Virgina, which those delegates approved, included freedom of religion. The original wording called for "toleration" of other religions, but Madison said "toleration" wasn't enough. With Madison's input the wording was changed to "all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience."
Years later, Virginia congressman James Madison would propose the Bill of Rights which assures freedom of religion throughout the county. Even for Baptists and other "radical" religions. 
Thanks Uncle Elijah.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Once in a Blue Moon

     By now you've probably heard that Friday's full moon is popularly called a "blue moon" because it's the second full moon in a calendar month. The technical definition of a blue moon is much more complicated, but since it's mostly just for fun, what difference does it make?
      It should look about like any other full moon -- beautiful. But since it is rare, and it happens to fall on a Friday to boot, I decided to celebrate by offering my latest mystery, Full Moon Friday, free on kindle. All day July 31. Just go to Amazon, download and enjoy.  Even it you don't have a kindle, you can download a free Kindle App so you can read Full Moon Friday on your phone or tablet.
      Such a deal!
      Now my writer friends may be wondering, what's the advantage of giving books away?  Word of mouth is the best advertising you can get, and I expect the people who read this book for free are going to like it so much they will tell their friends. Many of my readers have been spreading the word. Who knows, they might like it so much they will suggest it to their book club. It's happened before. In fact a book club in Angola, Indiana, is reading Full Moon Friday right now on the suggestion of a fan. And a book club in Jenison, Mi., came to the Full Moon Friday release party last summer.
      So don't miss your chance to read this fast-paced, whacko mystery.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Family cemetery roundabout

         As my regular readers know, all last week was throwback Thursday for me as I visited sites in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia that relate to my genealogy.
         The biggest surprise was the Merrell burial ground at the old home place on Old Mountain Road in Randolph County. This photograph of the 1813 marker for my ggggggreat grandmother was taken there thirty years ago by family historian C. Phelps Merrell. The mountain top area was described as beautiful and covered with periwinkle.
         Other family members reported that the stones were pretty much gone now. The old cemetery was supposedly in a woods behind a home. I checked Google earth for that address and found a trailer.
         I was expecting to find this trailer all alone on a country road. When I got there, I could see where the trailer had been, but the lot is vacant now. I was able to roam to my heart's content but I didn't find anything that resembled a family cemetery, just a lot of refuse and downed trees.
         Although the neighboring lots had trailers or ramshackle homes, fancy subdivisions came within a half mile of the old homeplace. Just a mile away, Old Mountain Road meets Finch Farm Road in one of those fancy new roundabouts. It's easy to see that the fancy subdivisions are moving up the mountain and it won't be long until a beautiful home is on that site.
           When Daniel Merrell buried his mother there, he no doubt imagined the farm would be in the family forever. But his sons moved on and the stones crumbled with time. Hopefully the periwinkle will bloom again.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Genealogy Tour

This week's Throwback Thursday is a visit to Abbeville, S.C.  I've never been here before but I'm counting it as a throwback because my Tullock ancestors on my mother's side lived in Abbeville County before the revolution. I'm here on a Genealogy Tour.
        I was able to find an 1810 document this afternoon in the County Administration Center.  Samuel Tullock, 51, had died without a will, leaving a 33-year-old widow and six young sons. The yellowed, crumbling pages list the inventory of a life -- from cups and saucers to hogs and cows.
         From the leather and shoemaking tools in the inventory, I can surmise that Samuel was a cobbler.
          I paid $2.25 to make copies of the nine pages, which is about what two sows and four pigs brought at the sale of Samuel's "estate."

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Women at the Well

Polly Hawkins Craig was my age —66 —when she risked her life to save a fort full of settlers from an Indian attack. And I’ll bet she didn’t hesitate. After all, she’d just finished hiking across the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia to Kentucky.
 Some of my son’s ancestors on his father’s side were known as the Traveling Church. One of Polly’s sons, Lewis Craig, was a Baptist minister in Virginia where it was against the law to be anything but Anglican. In 1781 Lewis decided to move to Kentucky, and 400 church members followed him. The group started out with wagons, but at Ft. Chiswell the road became too narrow and steep. They had to walk; the horses carried their stuff.  They walked from September to December.
In addition to Lewis, Polly had 10 more grown children. Many of them and their kids and grandkids were part of this Exodus to Kentucky. When the Traveling Church reached Kentucky, they built Craig’s Station near Boonesborough  and spent the winter. In the spring, some of the group moved into an abandoned fort called Bryan Station near Lexington. 
In August, 1782 --  almost a year after Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown and the official battles with the British were over -- about 300 Indians and Canadian soldiers crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky to attack Bryan Station in one of the final battles of the American Revolution.
About 150 settlers, including 64 children, took refuge in the fort. Most of them were part of the extended Craig family. But there was one little problem. The only water source was a spring about half a mile away.   They couldn't survive a siege without water. And the fort could burn down if the Indians used flaming arrows and they didn't have water to put the fire out. 
But they didn't want to send a wagon of armed men to get water, because the Indians would surely attack. If they sent women and children, as usual, the Indians might believe their warriors were unnoticed.
Early on the morning of August 16, Polly led a group of about 20 women and girls down to the spring. They carried one musket and a lot of buckets. The spring was so close to the woods that they had to pretend they didn’t see the Indians lurking there. No matter how much their knees were shaking, they had to walk back up that hill without spilling their valuable water.
They made the trek and returned without incident. A few hours later the attack began. Flaming arrows set some of the roofs on fire, but the precious water put out the blazes. The attackers destroyed the crops outside the fort and killed the livestock, but the people inside the fort were unharmed. A scout told the attackers that the local militia was on the way to help the settlers, so the Indians and Canadian soldiers left before dawn .
           Daniel Boone was among the militia that arrived to help Bryan Station. The next day about 180 militia followed the Indians right into an ambush at Blue Licks. About half of the militiamen, including Daniel Boone's son Israel, were killed.
            Many years later the DAR erected a monument to Polly Hawkins and the women who went for water and saved the fort.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

What the soldiers say

      As the Fourth of July approaches, my genealogy project is snagged at the American Revolution. One of the best resources I've found is the pension applications. Years later my ancestors who served in the Revolution went to a courthouse somewhere and told the story of their service so they could receive a pension. They described the war in their own words.
          Here's what an Benjamin Merrill said of a battle on Sept. 19, 1776, at a gorge on the Coweecho River in North Carolina called the Black Hole:  "A considerable battle with the Indians and Tories in which we lost 11 men."
            Here's how Magnus Tullock, a 14-year-old fifer from my mother's family, describes the siege of Augusta in 1779: We were stationed on the opposite side of the river where we torn up a battery. No officers higher in command than captains... We remained there until the British evacuated Augusta (February 14). We were then marched through the town and on down to Brier Creek and joined Gen. Lincoln.“. 
           Benjamin Merrill was at the battle of Brier Creek on March 3, 1779: We had an engagement with the British commanded by Major Turnbull in which we were defeated before General Rutherford could get his Army over the Savannah River to our assistance and a great number of our men were drowned endeavoring to cross the River and the most of us lost our horses, guns &c and were permitted to return home."
          Magnus Tullock reported on the Siege of  Savannah, Sept. 16-Oct. 18, 1779: The siege at that place continued three weeks. We lost hundreds of men and were defeated.”
          When I look at the fireworks this year, I'm going to be thinking of Benjamin and Magnus and all the others who fought in all the wars. Thank You.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


As I am working on my narrative genealogy I love finding something solid, an actual building that one of my ancestors built. Something that survived the centuries.
        I found just such a building in South Carolina.
        Back during the revolution some of my ancestors lived in Old Ninety-Six. That's a village in South Carolina which was so named because it was estimated to be 96 miles from the Cherokee town of Keowee.
         It was a trading post in 1751. In November of 1772, workers completed a courthouse and a large brick jail at Ninety-Six. The symbols of civilization for backcountry South Carolina. The first Revolutionary battle outside New England was fought at Old Ninety Six in 1775.
          One of my ancestors, Andrew Logan, was a member of the Petit Jury and his family lived above the courthouse. Andrew listed the courthouse as his home on documents in 1778 and 1779. A reconstructed census for 1780 says Andrew's son Hendrick, also my direct ancestor, lived there, and it seems pretty likely that Hendrick's daughter Jemima, who married my ancestor Samuel Tullock, was born there in 1777.
           But in 1780 the British arrived to reclaim the town.It became a staging area for the British troops and a fortress. In May, 1781, a thousand patriots under General Nathaniel Green surrounded the fort. The month-long standoff became the longest siege of the Revolution. When the British left, they burned it down and the village never recovered.
           In the 1960s, Greenwood County created an historic site at the old fort. That's also about the time a log cabin was discovered when the siding was ripped off of a house in Greenwood.. Turns out, the well-preserved two-story cabin had been built by Andrew Logan after Ninety-Six was destroyed.
           The cabin was moved to Ninety-Six where it stands today. Old Ninety-Six became a National Park in 1976, and Andrew's cabin is open to the public.
            It's on my list of places I have to see.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fanning the flames

Everybody needs a nemesis. Without the Joker, Batman would be suffering in that hot rubber mask for nothing. And Superman would have to go back to Kryptonite if it weren't for Lex Luthor.
       Working on my narrative genealogy I discovered that the nemesis makes the story work. I've been trying to figure out the puzzling death of William Merrell. No, not the William Merrell I wrote about before who was "killed with lightning." This is his son, the fourth William Merrell in a row. I just call him Bubba.
        According to his great grandson, Orson Merrill, who reported family history in his Personal Notes in 1886, Bubba was kidnapped from his home by "British Soldiers" one night in early 1782. My history books said the British surrendered at Yorktown in October of 1781. What were soldiers doing kidnapping people out of their beds six months later? Didn't they get the memo?
         That's when I heard about David Fanning. After the "regulars" marched out of North Carolina in 1781 and finished their fighting in Virginia, the Loyalist militia under Col. David Fanning continued fighting those dang patriots. Fanning was considered a military genius. During the revolution, he managed to kidnap the Governor of North Carolina and the whole state assembly.
      But by 1782 his Tory War was down to terrorizing the folks of Randolph County, North Carolina which happens to be where Bubba lived. In fact, when Randolph County was formed in 1779, Bubba was one of 15 county justices on the first county court.
      Reading up on Fanning and the Tory war, I came across an article in last month's issue of the Journal of the American Revolution about "Bloody Sunday" on March 10, 1782, when Fanning and his band killed two men in front of their families and burned several homes. The names of the victims sounded eerily familiar. Two of them sat on that same county board with Bubba. The names of the creeks and rivers where they lived sounded familiar too. This was Bubba's neighborhood.
      Two of Bubba's sons, John and Dan Merrell, were mentioned in the article as Revolutionary era soldiers. But the article doesn't say Bubba was one of the victims of that Sunday rampage. Yet North Carolina archives show that 10 days later, March 20, 1782, Bubba's oldest son Benjamin filed to become the executor of the estate of his father, "deceased."
      I don't know if Bubba was kidnapped on that "Bloody Sunday" or some other day about that time. But I know his strange disappearance wasn't an oddity in those times. And I am somehow pleased to read that when North Carolina pardoned the Loyalists after the war, Fanning was one of three men who were not pardoned and had to leave the country. He went to New Brunswick, Canada, until he was found guilty of raping a 15-year-old and was run out of New Brunswick to Nova Scotia.
       Wow, what a nemesis he turned out to be!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Revolting relatives

I've been spending Memorial weekend reading up on relatives who fought in the American Revolution. Like cousin Jimmy Merrill. He was only 16 when he was shot on August 27, 1776, at the Battle of Long Island, the first major battle after the Declaration of Independence and the largest battle of the war in terms of the number of soldiers involved. Letters home to Hopewell, New Jersey, reported that Jimmy's wound was healing, and he was getting better. Then word came that he had died. "Slain in ye field of Battle contending for our just rights," reads the stone at Old School Baptist Church in Hopewell. 
Magnus Tullock, a ggggreat uncle on my mother's side,  started serving as a fifer when he was just 13 years old, and had only lived in this country for two years. He served under Capt. John Bowie. Magnus piped that company to battle at Brier Creek in Georgia and Stono Ferry near Charleston, S.C. Little did he  know that among the 1,500 patriot soldiers in the South Carolina marsh was Benjamin Merrell, another gggggreat uncle on my father's side. 
Benjamin's brother, Daniel Merrell, my direct ancestor, was back in Randolph County, North Carolina where the war had turned to guerrilla tactics. Even after he had been discharged from the official military, Daniel was called up regularly to help arrest bands of Tories who were terrorizing women and children and burning homes. On one of these short tours -- April 15, 1781-- Daniel's horse was shot out from under him and he was struck in the head with a broadsword. The wound must not have been too bad. Daniel lived another 63 years, fathered six children and married four wives!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Everything changes

Today, on the way to visit my son at Spectrum Hospital, I drove past the remnants of the Grand Rapids Press building at Monroe and Michigan. It almost made my heart stop.

I worked in that building for 20 years. In this photo of the southwest corner, the destruction of the second floor stops just shy of the window that was closest to my desk. During the annual Festival of the Arts I could watch the kids swinging on the Di Suvero  outside that window. In the fall I watched the Celebration  fireworks from that window because that was always the weekend we were working late on the Season Preview. When it snowed I watched the cars sliding down the Michigan Street hill, and when spring came I saw the trees blooming just outside. It was my window on the world for 20 years.

I was sitting there on 9/11 when two planes flew into the World Trade Center. Now The Press Building looks like a photo from that tragedy.

After visiting with Ryan, who is in the hospital for a routine treatment of his cystic fibrosis, I walked down the hill to get a couple of photos of the building. It reminded me of the many, many times I had made that walk between my office and that hospital, where Ryan is often hospitalized. I used to think how lucky I was that the hospital was so close. On a lunch hour I could visit my son, grab a burger and get my exercise. Every second counts when you're a single mom.

I watched the Van Andel Institute being built. I saw the hospital mushroom and absorb the Burger King and every parking lot in sight. Never in all my trips up and down that hill did I ever imagine that Ryan would outlast the Press building. His life expectancy was in the teens. Now he's facing forty in a couple of years and still going strong.

Nothing is permanent. The strongest institutions have to fight to survive, just like the most fragile among us.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Easy to be soft

         The narrative genealogy I have been working on for the past few months is called Faith of our Fathers. My ancestors were Baptist going all the way back to the 1600s and their religious beliefs had a major impact on their history. It's why they left England and traveled to the unknown colonies at the first opportunity. And when Baptists were not welcome in most of the original 13 colonies, they headed west in search of religious freedom. 
Lewis Craig,  one of my son's ancestors, is probably the most famous. He was arrested numerous times in Virginia for preaching without a license from the Anglican Church. At one such arrest he surprised the jury by gladly accepting his fate:
        "I thank you, gentlemen of the grand jury, for the honor you have done me. While I was wicked and injurious, you took no notice of me, but since I have altered my course of life and endeavored to reform my neighbors, you concern yourselves much about me. I shall take the spoiling of my goods joyfully.”
      A crowd gathered outside the jail, and he preached through the bars. And when he decided to move to Kentucky for more freedom, hundreds followed him.
     As time passed, and religious freedom was guaranteed by the constitution, the Baptist church grew into one of the largest denominations in the country. I have become soft. I expect religious liberty.
     But certainly that is not true everywhere. Twenty Coptic Christians were beheaded last month in Libya. More than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria to avoid "sinful" education.We've become accustomed to such atrocities in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, much the way we've become soft about expecting our own religious freedom in this country.
      I'm a Methodist now -- I have the freedom to choose -- and today my minister read a letter encouraging us to speak out about the persecution of Christians. She also encouraged us to pray about the problem, but she said we need to pray humbly.  All of us are guilty of having prejudices and misconceptions about others' religious beliefs.   We want religious freedom but only for the "right"  religions.
        So I will pray for gratitude for the freedoms I have, tolerance for beliefs I don't like, justice for the oppressed and forgiveness for the oppressors.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Kiss me! Just found out I'm Irish!

For 27 years -- from my wedding in 1971 until I returned to my maiden name in 1998 -- I was Sue Wallace. My son still carries the surname of his father. We never had any doubt his ancestors were Scottish. Ryan has a plaque with the clan coat of arms as well as many pieces made in the distinctive red, black and yellow tartan of the Wallace clan.
         Remember the movie Braveheart about the Scottish hero William Wallace? In the final scene when everyone is chanting "Wallace, Wallace, Wallace" my son turned to me and said, "Makes you proud just to have the name."
          Then last week, working on my genealogy project, I put in the earliest known Wallace ancestor, Joseph, who was born in Virginia in 1762.  Then I checked Ancestry.com. Seems Joseph had a father of the same name, born in 1730 in IRELAND! I couldn't believe it! I guess it's good for a swig of green beer this week, but what am I going to do with all that Scottish tartan?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Expo Extras!

         Jordan Daily News Mysteries will be featured this weekend at the West Michigan Women's Expo in Grand Rapids. Great Lakes Authors, a group of 32 writers from various genres, will be hosting a booth for the three-day event.
           Although my books will be making an appearance, I won't be there. I'm still enjoying my winter in Florida. I know it is warming up in Michigan, but I'm not ready to leave the Sunshine State. I knew you would understand.
             I'm posting the following FAQ in case you have questions about the series. I hope you'll stop by the expo and pick up one of my mysteries as well as books by other local authors including Charles Honey, Tom Rademacher, Tricia MacDonald, Janet Vormittag and many more.
Jordan Daily News Mysteries
Does this series have recurring characters?
Yes. The mysteries are solved by the staff of a small town daily newspaper. Single-mother city editor Josie Braun leads the staff including investigative reporter Duke Dukakis, smooth talker Nick Davidson and crusader-for-the-underdog Becky Judd.

Where and when does this series take place?
The mysteries are set in the fictional Chicago suburb of Jordan in the pre-internet 1980s.

Is this stuff true crime?
No, this is fiction. The author was inspired, however, by events that happened during her newspaper career. Great News Town, for instance, is inspired by a series of murders that took place in 1983 when Sue Merrell was working for the Joliet Herald-News and One Shoe Off is inspired by the 1957 disappearance of Joliet newspaper editor Molly Zelko.

Do I need to read them in order?
No, each mystery stands alone. But as with any good series the characters and the relationships grow and change from book to book. If you start with the second book, One Shoe Off, you’ll see a city editor who is much more confident than in the first book, Great News Town, and you’ll know the status of her love interest from the first book.

I don’t like too much violence or bad language. Are these books offensive?
Great News Town is about a serial killer with 14 murders in one summer. But the thrust of the story is the lives that were lost and the community’s reaction, not the gory details. Although there are a few deaths in One Shoe Off and one in Full Moon Friday, the stories are more about the anticipation of violence than the actual events. Foul language is kept to a minimum. Part of the humor of the series is that Duke invents a new curse phrase every time he feels like using a four-letter word.

I don’t like graphic sex.
The secret to a sexy scene is in the imagination, not graphic details.

So which one should I buy?
Great News Town introduces the series and the characters with lots of murders to solve. It’s the first in the series and was an honorable mention in Writers’ Digest 2014 Self-Published book awards. One Shoe Off was a finalist in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Awards in 2013. Most readers love Zelda Machinko, an opinionated editor from the past who haunts the newsroom. Full Moon Friday is about all the things that go wrong when a full moon coincides with Friday the 13th. It’s for anyone who’s a little superstitious. This fast-paced tale takes place in 24 hours.