‘Tis the Season

I finished shopping more than a week ago and the last gift arrived by mail. (Hooray for used book stores!)

My youngest sibling, our parents, and I exchange gifts. They’re usually practical or, as my mother says, “Consumable.” They give us the pleasure of taking turns opening wrapped packages in the company of the giver.

Baby Bro and I got in the habit of buying each other a childlike gift in addition to a regular one. Tree ornaments have been my go-to choice; e.g. Curious George ornaments in memory of his beloved childhood pal. He buys me the oddest things, from a frosted souvenir glass of the sort that were popular when we were tots to a children’s book of verse containing “The Owl and the Pussycat.”

It occurred to me many years ago – even before I settled into La Casa de Tontería that I really didn’t want anything for my birthday or Christmas. I mostly want people to be with me or, if that’s imposdible, to think of me.

The Covid-19 pandemic – which closed my school yet again – has intensified that sentiment. Presents aren’t as important as people.

Imagine my confusion when I received an unordered package. In it were two funnels and a silicone mold. Then my friend M’e the Fashionista texted “Happy Marmalade Day!” That fictitious holiday is her excuse to spontaneously buy something and send it to a friend. What she sent was an icecube tray that makes huge diamond-shaped iceballs. It’s ridiculous and unpractical, but it’s in the freezer now.

Thanksgiving

I’m thankful for truck drivers who drive at a steady pace on the interstate highways, so strings of cars can follow in their tracks through the sloppy snow. I am also thankful for road-graders. But most of all, I am thankful that I survived a white-knuckled drive through a snowstorm and arrived safely at my destination.

Morning in my childhood home.

The whitish area at the top of the shot is ice forming. The darker area is slush. You can see trails through the slush where ducks meandered eastward.

Hold the Congratulations

This is about politics, so feel free to skip.

Shortly after the election, friends from other countries began congratulating me on my new president. I had to explain that no, the media declaration doesn’t count. It’s official in December, after each state’s governor signs and sends its Certificate of Ascertainment to the US Archivist and the Electoral College electors meet.

December 14. That’s when.

Then some asked (scoffed, frankly), “You don’t feel there were problems with the election, do you?”

Of course, I don’t feel that. I live in Michigan. I know that.

In 2016, Green Party nominee Jill Stein demanded a recount in the Michigan. Ultimately, a court order halted the expensive recount, but not before turning up massive irregularities in Wayne County. Specifically, Detroit precincts tabulated more ballots than the number of actual voters. Why? Human error.

Human error was also responsible for Biden being reported as the winner in Antrim County in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. (Fun facts: It’s home of beautiful Torch Lake and Hayo-Went-Ha, the oldest American summer camp that sits on its original site.)

Then, of course, there’s the completely sloppy way the voter registration is handled, not to mention groups actively opposing any sort of voter identification at the polls. My Mexican relatives were stunned that their system is more fraud-proof than ours. I told them about receiving an unsolicited form for an absentee ballot during the initial Covid-19 shutdown. The Secretary of State’s office sent to the last known address of each registered voter. As someone who moved four times in three years and currently maintains two mailing addresses, I’d rather restrict absentee ballots to direct requests.

To anyone who has read this far and is curious about how our system differs from your own, here is a good overview: Who formally declares the winner of the US presidential election?

Writing Crapola

I read a lot of writerly advice. (I’m currently savoring You’ve Got a Book in You, which I am about halfway through.)

One I struggle with is READ WIDELY, EVEN OUTSIDE YOUR GENRE.

May I be frank? Oftentimes, something pushes me out of the story and makes me think, “Why am I reading this when I could spend the time writing?” Or, more specifically, “Why am I reading THIS CRAPOLA instead of writing something less awful?”

I think it’s because I’ve gotten in the habit of reading for the sake of writing.

Ray Bradbury once described how, as a kid, he asked the family doctor about weird lumps in his wrist; his doctors congratulated him on discovering his own bones. I can often see the “bones” of the story poking through its skin, and it puts me off. Even worse, so many writers slavishly follow the Joseph Campbell structure, I feel a sense of deja vu even with books I know I haven’t read before.

Street Art 2

In keeping with the spirit of my first foray – inspired by Sheree at View from the Back – I took a daytrip to Marine City, Michigan. Until recently, a ferry ran between it and Sombra, Ontario, Canada. (A recent update on the plight of the Canadian ferry service is here.) It remains a pretty riverside city that’s grown even lovelier thanks to imaginative citizens.

It’s home to the Snug Theatre and the Riverbank Theatre (a repurposed bank) and good restaurants. It’s an integral part of both The Bridge to Bay Trail and the paddlers-pleasing Blueways of St Clair. Most of its street art is on the main drag.

Local firefighters are remembered in a memorial park quite close to the sidewalk.
One of the mosaic plaques recalling the city’s maritime past. According to Great Lakes historiography, Marine City was once the largest ship-building community on the Lakes.

On the riverside, it’s impossible to separate art from landscaping. Here’s the entrance to River Park aka the Civic Women’s Club Park. The club dolled it up a little with cornstalks and gourds.

Turn into the park, and you’ll find a sitting area centered around a mature tree. The art is an accent; the river and its environs are the focal point.

The sunny benches near the water beckon.

The mural below always makes me smile – not just because it’s one of my favorite places for Sunday brunch. When the owners renovated the restaurant, they let its original mural of Peche Island Range Lighthouse play peek-a-boo with passersby.

On the inland side of the street, there’s a mix of commercial art and storefront displays.

Reflected in the window below is the Peche Island Rear Range Light, which has a rather interesting history. It’s named after Peche Island or Isle aux Pêches (French for “Fisheries Island”), which is a Canadian island located where the Detroit River meets Lake St. Clair. It always tickled me that a beat-up old lighthouse moved upriver to “land” in Marine City.

Below is art on the side of Marine City Music & Collectibles. It looks every better in person, up close.

The marque on the Mariner theater is a new addition done in the style of the ’20s. Can you tell where the new blends with the old on the building? Me, neither! If you’re wondering about the Titanic Exhibit, that’s a permanent feature. It centers on a 1:48 scale builder’s model of the RMS Titanic which the owner “brought home” after it went around the world (including London and the National Geographic Society’s Explorer’s Hall).

There is more, but I will end with two sculptures from near the Marine City Fish Company.

Fall Already?

For the last two weeks, the maple in the back yard has been dropping leaves. It’s accelerating now. Sadly, I can’t see the colors through the greenery below, but the fallen leaves are spectacularly red and yellow this year.

Peak color is two weeks off, by my reckoning, but storms are coming later this week. Saturday was warm, sunny, and breezy – in other words, a perfect autumn day.

Decked out for Fall.

I ran errands in the morning and swung by Marine City, where I spent a couple hours just enjoying the sights. My favorite coffee shop has already started serving pumpkin spice latte (with nondairy creamer!). It was a nice treat made sweeter by meeting an older couple who chatted with me outdoors for a while.

Afterwards, I came home and tore up the garden.

The neighborhood varmints ate half my zucchini. Literally. They ate the bottom half and left the tops to rot on the vine. Imagine reaching to pick a beautiful squash and feeling it squish between your fingers because inside the skin is nothing but rotten mush. Curse you, cute but destructive rodents! I picked whatever was intact, no matter the size or color.

The delicata, a winter squash, had withered from the roots outward, giving no more nourishment. Normally I’d leave them out to harden, but I couldn’t chance the squirrels. The cherry tomatoes were various shades of green, but gardening friends assured me that if I put them in a paper bag and let them sit, they’ll ripen in a few days.

I spent several hours pulling vines, pulling weeds they’d been hiding, and cutting off the remains of flowering plants. Everything was stuffed into three bags for the community compost.

This week I’ll do the more onerous tasks: transplanting flowers, digging up and resetting pavers, and landscaping the now-empty ground around the shed.

The Importance of Word Choice

When yesterday became too dark for gardening and too Friday for housework, I decide to watch a movie from my half-forgotten watchlist. I chose Inception, a ten-year-old blockbuster I hadn’t seen. As usual when watching music-heavy videos, I put on closed captioning. It certainly helped in certain scenes. However…

*spoiler ahead*

As the story reaches the climax, the protagonist holds his dying wife in his arms and gently kisses her face. Or as the caption puts it: Smooches.

Smooches? Smooches!

After I stopped laughing long enough to stop the film and go back, I watched it in a completely different state of mind . Disbelief, suspended until then, came roaring back with its drinking buddy Hilarity.

“Kisses tenderly” or “gently kisses her face” or plain old “kisses” would have been better captions. Why use a word completely out of keeping with the mood?

Street Art 1

Sheree at View from the Back posted an interesting set of photos of Street Art (Murals, Graffiti, 3D Grafitti, Poster art, Sticker art, Sculptures and Sidewalk Chalk art). I wanted to follow suit because I enjoy statuary and decorative arts.

When I first moved the Bluewater Area, I was surprised that even small towns have public art. Algonac, a city of about four thousand, hosts an art fair on the waterfront. It also boasts seasonal displays.

The oldest statue is the Civil War Memorial, located between the boat launch and the ferry to Canada (which is, if I recall, the smallest border crossing between the US and Canada).

The original Civil War memorial was updated to include Armed Forces flags and Missing in Action (MIA) remembrances.
Ojibwe (Otchipwe)/English addition to the War Memorial.

Most street art reflects the importance of the waterway to life and industry.

The Garfield Arthur Wood memorial celebrates the inventor and industrialist who also was the first to travel over 100 miles per hour on water. Chris-Craft Boats was born here, a joint enterprise by Christopher Columbus Smith and “Gar” Wood. The white building behind it started as a doctor’s house, hosted the original public library, and currently serves as the historical museum.

Another statue depicts past and present navigators of the St. Clair River. The Native American faces the water; the European, inland. There was too much shadow to focus on the details on the other side, like the string of fish.

The Spirit of Algonac by Alexander Buchan, dedicated in 1989.

Some art is less formal. In the spring, local artists began painting the concrete bases of lightpoles and spiles (single mooring posts on shore – in this case, on the inland side of the boardwalk). The theme is nautical; the execution, whimsical; and the effect, pretty.

This doesn’t fit the definition of “street art,” but I want to include ribbons, since they serve a decorative purpose as well as drawing attention to community groups. These teal ribbons, part of the Tie Michigan Teal campaign, were put up by volunteers with the Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance. They will remain throughout September.

I enjoyed taking photos so much, I may take a daytrip to another town!

Little People

As I prepare for the new, improved sanitized new year at The Young Human Factory, the little ones are squeezing in all the fun they can manage before this extraordinarily long summer vacation ends.

I heard a child’s yell of outrage in the morning. A girl of four had come up my driveway, dumped her bike on the lawn, and was walking back to mom. Seems she JUST got the training wheels off and was having trouble steering.

I went out and chatted with her mom. I tried VERY hard not to laugh at the oh-so-serious little girl. She had a doll, and her daddy mounted a doll carrier to her bike so she can take Dolly for rides. Dolly will keep her company when her sibling enters full-day school.

The Middle School Mafia, once limited to bikes, electric scooters, and the occasional dirt bike, has acquired a golf cart. It isn’t clear who commandeered it from grandpa, but they were running the road with five kids on it. Next week, their little band is breaking up. Some of them will be attending school; others are taking the online option.*

For my part, I am prepping for the weirdness to follow an abbreviated school year and continued restrictions. And I remind myself: I have to keep an upbeat attitude!

***

*NOTE: Families have two weeks to decide if their child is enrolling in an online class or attending in-person classes. Frankly, I hope a good number do the former, since the rosters are ungainly: 29 to 35 students cannot social distance.