Monday, July 31, 2006

Sam's funeral

My friend Sam was buried today.
Sam was a good man. He had his demons, as we all do, but for the last decade or so, he seemed to have conquered them.
I first met Sam shortly after we came to Mount Pleasant. He was a short, wiry man in his 50s. He had a lot of energy, a lot of focus.
His main focus was on taking care of his elderly mother. His mom, whom I've never met, apparently was quite demanding; I suspect she has Alzheimer's. He and his mother had been on my prayer list for about three years. He struggled.
I hadn't seen Sam for a while; then I saw his obituary in the paper. He was 61 years old.
Apparently, it's not unusual for an Alzheimer's caregiver to die before the Alzheimer's patient.
His casket was draped in the flag. His toughest battle was not with the enemy without, but the enemy within. His children and friends were there, and our prayers were, and are, with him.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Fluffy Kitty, 2005(?)-2006

Fluffy Kitty, despite his name, was one tough tomcat.
He was a survivor, battling on his own terms. What he couldn’t battle was feline leukemia, and rather than suffer a harsh, debilitating death, he died peacefully Saturday.
We first became aware of Fluffy Kitty last summer. He seemed to appear out of the forest. He was a long-haired, blond cat, with curious, close-set eyes.
Fluffy Kitty seemed to be an adolescent kitten. My first impression was that he had to belong to somebody.
Cinnamon, the regal Siamese who has been Kissy Missy’s constant companion for more than a decade, was very standoffish about this occasional visitor to the deck. But Kissy Missy had cautioned me that I had “married the Cat Lady,” and as fall grew colder, Kissy Missy put out some food for the blond tomcat.
Her ultimate goal, I think, was to adopt this animal. I still wasn’t convinced he didn’t belong to one of the neighbors.

Winter arrived, and Fluffy started appearing, almost like clockwork, when I got up in the morning and before I went to bed at night. He was eating well, shnarfing down Whiskas cat food two pouches at a time.
One cold morning, he came into the house. Cinnamon was aghast at this intruder. Fluffy wanted to chase around and play; Cinny is elderly, and just doesn’t get along with other cats.
Still, on the coldest nights, Fluffy sometimes stayed inside. He cuddled with me. Cinny didn’t get much sleep those nights, and when dawn broke, Fluffy always wanted back outside.
Fluffy seemed to like Cinny’s food, and when the door opened, would make a beeline to Cinny’s dish. That just wasn’t acceptable, and when the weather warmed up, we went back to feeding Fluffy on the porch.
He’d somehow made it through the winter. I don’t know where he stayed, how he stayed warm, of if anyone else was feeding him. But the outdoors is not a forgiving environment for a cat, and we figured that he needed a home.

As the weather warmed, we found Fluffy just lolling around on the decks, sunning himself. He became much more affectionate, ready for any and all attention. He started leaving food behind in his dish. It looked as if he got into some sort of a tussle with another animal.
Kissy Missy made an appointment for him at the Cat Clinic (that’s the name of the veterinary practice that specializes in cats) and she and Kathy caught him, put him in the cat carrier, and took him to town for a checkup.
The news was not good. Feline leukemia was at the top of the list, but he seemed to be losing his ability to fight off infection. He had several wounds that apparently were well-hidden by that mop of blond hair, and intestinal parasites had taken hold.
This would not be pretty. Fluffy was an outdoor cat, through and through, living in the wild. He had a pretty good food source, so he didn’t have to hunt. Yet he could infect other cats with the virus, and there would be no way he’d survive. Nature is calmly efficient in culling out the weak and the sick, and Fluffy was weakening, and would weaken further.
He loved the Cat Clinic. His last night was spent in the Cat Condo, and Kissy Missy and Kathy played with him Saturday morning. He was happy.
None of us know how Fluffy Kitty got here. Perhaps he was a stray from a family who still misses him. Maybe he was the kitten of a feral mama cat. Maybe somebody dumped him in the forest as a kitten, and against all odds, he made it through as long as he did.
But he was sick, getting sicker, and he even though he was himself a predator, he would have fallen victim eventually.

Fluffy, my friend, my eyes filled with tears when I heard the news, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to cuddle with you one last time. When I make my coffee, I’ll remember your little mews beyond the screen. You were one tough cat.
Rest in peace, little predator.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Blue Line

One of the definitions of news is information that affects the reader personally or touches the reader's life. That's why I'll be following the probe into an accident on the Chicago Transit Authority's Blue Line that happened earlier this week.
Kissy Missy and I rode that train in from O'Hare and back on Friday.
Personally, I like the CTA. It's inexpensive, convenient and clean.
But there were some things about our ride that bothered me. The cars swayed, big time. I recall looking at the car ahead of us, and being stunned by how much it swayed, and how out-of-synch the swaying was with our car.
"Should it be this bumpy?" Kissy Missy asked at one point. My reaction was that it was a smoother ride than the Paris Metro, but yeah, it was bumpy.
I want to ride this train again. I don't want my picture in the Sun-Times for being evacuated.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My little town

The Spartanette just posted a wonderful piece about culture shock. She's a Michigan State University student and a fabulous blogger. I could certainly relate to her reaction to her hometown residents' reaction to a newly expanded chain Mexican restaurant.
I just found it amusing, but then again, I chose to live in a little village where the house is almost in the woods.

This could say something about 'Merica. Down in Holland, Mich., on our way to Chicago, Kissy Missy and I stopped for lunch. Next to each other, sharing a parking lot and road access from U.S. 31, were a Panera Bread and a Culver's restaurant.
Think about this: The prices are roughly equivalent. The access is equal. The calorie count probably is equivalent.
But in the Culver's lot -- a restaurant that features burgers and deep-fried everything -- all but one of the cars was American: Fords, Merkeries, Chivvies, and we count Dodges as 'Merican, even though they ain't. In the Panera lot, about two-thirds of the cars were Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans.
A wise school superintendent once told me that to stay in touch with reality, educators need to sit outside Wal-Mart and watch the people for a while. Those are the people whose children we educate, the real 'Mericans.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Twelve hours between camps

We got home about 5 p.m. Sunday, and Robert and I were up bright and EXCRUTIATINGLY early Monday morning to get him to Boy Scout camp.

Andrew was already there. He convinced his boss at Wendy's to take him off the schedule for this week, so he would have a chance to work on the merit badges he needs to become an Eagle Scout. He stayed with friends Friday and Saturday, and went up to the Tall Pine Council's Camp Tapico Sunday morning.
Robert did his laundry, picked up a tent and mess kit, and we were off to the North Country.

I had never been to Camp Tapico. It's west of Gaylord in the hill country of Kalkaska County. The Michigan Department of Transportation has put up a sign on M-72 pointing to it; I never would have found the place otherwise. It's even more isolated than the Lake Huron Area Council's Paul Bunyan Scout Reservation.
Camp Tapico is billed as 1,200 acres of woodlands and a nice lake. Grass Lake does seem like a nice inland lake, and the camp sites are spread out in the woods around it.
The place, however, seems a little tired and ramshackle. That's sad. What I found somewhat disconcerting was the fact that Tall Pines serves the Flint area, and I don't remember seeing any Scouts of color. I did spot numerous Scouts wearing troop fleeces from suburban units, but admittedly, I was there only a short period.

After checking in, Robert and I went back to the camp site, past the "poison ivy" sign by the trading post (how welcoming!) around the lake.
The site is a 15-minute walk from the main camp, through the swamp (every Scout camp MUST have a swamp) around the lake and back into the woods. I didn't get to see Andrew; I assume he already was working on Environmental Science Merit Badge.
And everybody's home on Saturday.

Boys ... and girls

Kathy and Robert had been home for less than two hours late Sunday.
Robert put up his feet and turned into a temporary vegetable, watching old "Star Trek" reruns. Kathy ran for the phone, and her first call was to Ryan, her heartthrob.
He didn't answer the phone, but in a few minutes, he texted her.
The news was not good. He dumped her. In a text message.
How gauche.
Kathy, of course, was utterly devastated. She's had it bad for this guy since she was in the play this spring, and it looked as if this relationship might be going somewhere. Then she left for Europe.
Long separations are relationship killers, particularly for the emotionally immature, like teenagers.
I took her over to her friend Allyssa's house. On the way, she got the Dad talk. Then she got the girl talk she really needed.
I hope that Kathy will take this opportunity to start buying into the idea that she can be a woman who doesn't need a male to define her. She is such a strong personality that it wouldn't work for her to be defined by a male, anyway.
But that comes later. First, the drama must finish.

Blue Lake

Robert is completely taken with Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.
Karen, Kathy and I drove up from Chicago on Sunday. He was utterly exhausted, but utterly thrilled to have been a part of the experience. Robert said he couldn't believe how quickly it had gone.
He was part of the Blue Band, a concert band that performed Sunday afternoon at the Stewart Band Shell.
The lake breeze was brisk, and it did a great job of cooling off a scorching day. The girls and I sat under a tree near the back of the seating, relaxing, enjoying the music and the day.
Kathy, of course, saw a lot of her friends from last year and ran off for girl talk. That is. She did see her brother perform -- including in a piece called "Clarinet Hoedown" -- and thought the band was pretty good.
So did I.
And I now am the proud owner of a fleece with a Blue Lake logo.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

She's back!

Kathy's back.

I have never seen Kathy so happy.
She arrived back from Europe Saturday afternoon, bubbling, excited, dog-tired and with a made craving for Taco Bell.
Kathy was full of stories.

The bus broke down in the Alps. She loves the Eiffel Tower and Paris (but of course!). She drew the line at trying paté. Her host family in Kellinghüsen sold Amway. She wants to study German. She loves Daimler-Chrysler's Smart car. She wears a size 40, but her shirt size is 172.
"I didn't feel like I was in another country," Kathy said. "German people and French people are just like us."
That's the whole point of the exercise, isn't it?
"Our last performance was, like, the best ever," Kathy said. "It really was. It was really amazing."
And she misses the Alps.
She liked the small towns better than the larger cities.
"It reminded me of home," she said. "Everybody knows everybody."
Kathy missed television.
"I didn't watch TV all the time I was there," she said.
And she wants to go back.

How ya gonna keep her down on the rez, now she's seen Paree?

Saturday, July 8, 2006


I almost feel as if this should have a dateline on it:
CHICAGO -- This is the part of O'Hare International Airport that gives it its "international" appeal.
Kissy Missy and I are in the international terminal, waiting for the arrival of Air France Flight 50. She should be on the ground in just a few minutes.
Kissy Missy and I came down yesterday, taking advantage of the opportunity to spend a little time in one of my favorite cities.
Every bad thing you've heard about Chicago traffic is true. Take the boat, take the plane, take the train but the freeway traffic is awful. We were stuck on one short stretch of the Chicago Skyway, "The Fastest Way into the City," (yeah, right) for more than an hour, stuck among three 18-wheelers moving at 3 to 5 mph.
But on the plus side, Kissy Missy used Priceline to get a nice, comfortable place near O'Hare for $45! She's good.

We took the CTA Blue Line to the Loop, went up to the Skydeck at the Sears Tower, and had Giordano's deep-dish Chicago pizza for dinner.

Today, for lunch, she zoomed in on what turned out to be a fabulous Bulgarian cafe in Schiller Park. It's called the Cafe Mirage, and it's real. The food is truly authentic, because it serves an immigrant population. I think we were the only people whose native language was English in the place.
The chicken soup was fabulous, the dish Kissy Missy ordered was fabulous -- sort of a Swiss Steak in chunks over mashed potatoes and rice -- and the Euro hamburger I got -- grilled ground beef on crusty French bread with cucumber -- was great.
Kissy Missy commented that every woman in the place was beautiful. I'd agree.
More later when Flight 50 lands.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Wise advice

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Happy Independence Day!

The image is original with me; the ink tank is in Morning Star Publishing's print shop. I've tried to track down who said the quote, but I have not been able to do that. Many sources credit it to Mark Twain, but that doesn't seem to be correct. Simpson's Contemporary Quotations, accessed through, credits a wonderful version to AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland, but he said it in 1985, and I'd heard the line long before then.
Call it folk wisdom.

This and other images, most suitable for printing up to 20 by 30, are available from the Kodak Gallery.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Speaking truth to power

In all my dealings with politicians, and there have been many, they keep saying, "Write me a letter" when a constituent feels strongly about something. It matters.
Comparatively few people do. That takes work. That takes thought. Most people, unfortunately, recoil at the challenge of stringing more than five words together. Perhaps they know instinctively that it won't make sense, or perhaps it's just easier to grump and whine in the coffee shop.
Or maybe they're a little afraid of the politicians, these oh-so-powerful Washington or Lansing or courthouse types. There's really no reason for that; the successful -- read: re-electable -- political leaders I've met are approachable, open, willing to listen and generally pretty smart.
The Boy Scouts require Scouts working on the Citizenship in the Community merit badge to write a letter to the editor, or write a letter to a political leader or board commenting on some issue. It's our right as Americans to do that, but precious few of us do. When we don't, that opens the door for organized, special-interest groups to pretend to represent everyone.

Andrew recently finished Citizenship in the Community. He cast around looking for something to write about, and considering he and his family are on the county roads every day, his letter went to the Isabella County Road Commission.
There's a stretch of road west of Mount Pleasant that just simply is awful. He wrote about that, encouraging the road board to find the money to get a new surface on this increasingly busy road.
He spent a lot of time on the iMac composing, revising, brainstorming, got it approved by his merit badge counselor, and got the badge. Citizenship in the Community is required for Eagle, by the way. Knowing how to make your voice heard is a clear requirement for a leader.
Will they jump? Of course not, but knowing it's an issue, and people care, will
keep that near the top of the priority list when it's time to set the budget.
Fuzzy also recently sent letters off to Michigan's U.S. senators, and encouraged his friends to do that same thing.
I talked to a man over the weekend, a Native American, who wants to change the rules the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe regulates fireworks sales on the reservation. He's involved, and even though progress is slow, he's continuing to push his ideas. Ultimately, I think, he'll get results.
Most politicians don't bite. But if we don't show up, write letters, make our voices heard, people like Jack Abramoff will be more than happy to fill that role.
Happy Independence Day. It takes work to keep it.

Sunday, July 2, 2006


Lake Isabella is a small community of only about 1,200 people, but this year, it put on one heck of a good fireworks show.

The setting is very nice. The fireworks are launched over the lake, and usually, hundreds of boaters sail to the north end of the lake to watch the show from the water. This year, a strong south wind turned the lake pretty choppy, and a number of pontoon-boat owners decided to watch this one from the dock. There still were more than 100 boats anchored out on the lake, full of people watching the show.

Tim Wolff, the village manager, worried that with Mount Pleasant cancelling its show, that Lake Isabella might be overwhelmed with people looking for an excellent show. That didn't seem to be the case. The crowd control was very good, with the township marshall, the sheriff's department, the state police, Tribal police and Lake Isabella security all contributing manpower.

The show itself was truly excellent. The sky was cloudy, the air heavy and moist, and the village -- with funding from private donors -- put on a fabulous, 30-minute show.
Many of the most spectacular displays were low, designed to reflect in the lake. That worked to perfection.

And the grand finale was one of the grandest I've seen. It was intense, fast-paced and just an absolute pleasure to watch.
Andrew and I watched it from the east side of the lake, just off the golf course. We couldn't get access to the dam this year -- apparently, there's a serious liability issue, but where we watched was directly across from the launch site. Perfect!
And the breeze kept the bugs down.
Just a thought: Does it say anything about Americans that we celebrate our national holiday by blowing things up?