Blog

Let the Adventure Begin…

I have long wanted to see more of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula than the eastern end I have been fairly familiar with through a childhood trip, a mission trip with our church’s youth group, and three hiking trips with my sister (you can find out more about the hiking trips by poking around in the earlier years of this blog). And I have been keen on getting my son up there while he is still young so that he can fall in love with it as much as I have. So when it was decided that my husband would be going to Israel for ten days I thought that was the perfect time to plan a road trip. I didn’t want us to be stuck at home for ten days without Daddy, bored and lonesome. Much better to distract ourselves with some of God’s natural wonders — and with some of man’s innovations to navigate and utilize those natural resources.

On his last half-day of school on Friday, we headed north over the Mighty Mac to go exploring…

The first stop on our whirlwind tour of the Upper Peninsula (hereafter referred to as the UP — that’s U-P, not “up”) was Sault Ste. Marie (pronounced Soo-Saint-Marie) to visit the Soo Locks, which allow commercial shipping between Lake Superior and the rest of the Great Lakes, and, by extension through the St. Lawrence Seaway, the rest of the world. Here’s where you’ll find them:

Sault Ste. Marie is a rather industrial little town, not “pretty” by most standards, but it has a charm all its own. Growing up in the Bay City area as I did, I tend to like anything to do with boats and shipping. The Saginaw Bay and Saginaw River (which you will find between the Thumb and the rest of the Mitten in the map above) have been important shipping channels for generations. Though downtown Bay City is getting a face lift — the mountains of gravel and big cranes are giving way to new loft housing and a revamped riverfront — the sailboats and freighters and drawbridges are all still there. And now that I’m rather landlocked in the middle of the state, I get a bit of a thrill to see something like this:

That is the Lee A. Tregurtha coming in from the Huron side to pick up iron ore pellets from a Minnesota port on Superior. Huron is the lower of the two lakes, so once this beast gets into the lock, the water level will be raised (powered only by gravity and strategically opened and closed valves) to the Superior level, which takes 22 million gallons of water. Then the doors on the Superior side will be opened and the ship will go on its way.

This spot used to be solely rapids and had to be bypassed on land, which limited what you could ship. Native Americans and French voyageurs and fur traders had to lift their canoes and boats out of the water and carry them to the next lake. Now 7,000 boats and ships pass through the locks each year carrying an average of 80 million tons of cargo.

The long elevated bridge you can see in the next photo is the bridge to Canada, and there are also locks on the Canadian side.

Being so close to Canada, you may see signs like this on local businesses:

Growing up on the east side of the state, we regularly used Canadian coins interchangeably with American coins when they showed up in our pockets. No one ever questioned it. Then when I moved to the west side of the state in college and tried to use a Canadian quarter, the clerk treated me like I was a criminal trying to pull one over on her. She didn’t even know what she was looking at. I was quite taken aback.

But then, Michigan is a very large state, as my son and I found out! More about our adventures in the coming weeks, but in the meantime click here for more interesting facts about the Soo Locks, along with a good aerial shot.

One Small Taste of Coming U.P. Delights

My son and I have just gotten back from an epic trip around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I have more than 500 photos to wade through and edit, and I’ll be sharing them in this space over the coming days (maybe weeks!) so stick around!

These Early Summer Days

The last few mornings have been picture perfect. Calm and bright at sunrise, with birds and squirrels and one little bunny spotted in the dewy yard.

Beams of pure sunlight break and scatter when they hit the trees, whose leaves are fully green and fully extended now.

The sky that begins as a thin blue canopy deepens to full summer. Clean, puffy white clouds skid across the blue in the quickening breeze.

The trees rustle as morning gives way to day. And we busy ourselves with the last week of school, loads and loads of laundry, and watering the garden transplants.

Summer is coming, faster than we imagined it would back in March. It’s still light at 9 PM, and morning follows fast on evening’s heels. I turn the calendar page and marvel.

Gussying Up the Garden

I’ve spent most of this holiday weekend outside — weeding, transplanting, and mulching until the front yard looked pretty spiffy and the backyard was a step closer to where I want it to be and the strip of skin between where my shirt ends and my pants begin is getting a respectable, though awkward tan.

Some plants aren’t all that bothered when you move them.

Some are. Deeply.

They need extra water and extra love for awhile.

So that’s what I’ll be giving them.

Not everything got schlepped around the yard. The peonies on the southwest corner of the house are at their height.

The clematis niobe are looking rather lovely, though their bluishy-purple jackmanii cousins have not started blooming yet.

The various roses look like they’re getting ready for their entrance into the grand garden drama, as does the lavender. The mint patch is robust. The shade gardens are thriving.

The only place that looks sad and forsaken is the south side of the house.

I’ve been pilfering good plants from this bed to move to the back and spraying or digging up weeds that remain. This hot, dry spot will be undergoing a revitalization this year, but for now it looks pretty pathetic. I’m thinking of trying some Russian sage, landscape fabric to combat the weeds, and lots of mulch. But it may have to wait until fall. Hot summer weather is finally upon us, which is not exactly ideal for establishing new beds.

Plus we’ve got lots of summer plans coming up — international travel for my husband, a road trip for my son and I, camp, friends coming to stay overnight. Before we know it, the summer will be over, the weather will cool, and the transplanting will resume. Until then, we’ve got laundry to do, suitcases to pack, routes to plan, and hopefully lots of relaxing to do as well.

 

Why I Forked Over $55 for a Copy of Mein Kampf

I mentioned yesterday that the last book I found at John King Books was the one that broke my budget. It became its own post because I felt I needed to offer an explanation as to why I shelled out $55 for this 1939 printing of the first unabridged English translation of Mein Kampf.

As the introduction explains, the text is fully annotated to explain the history behind events Hitler mentions in the text and to correct false information.

Click on the picture and enlarge to read some of what the editors of the annotated edition have to say about their work.

Now, why on earth would I want such a book? I’m not a neo-Nazi or a white supremacist, though a card tucked in the pages which we discovered once we were back home certainly suggests that those people are active and looking to recruit like-minded people…

I have smudged out the contact information, but in case you’re curious, this group is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Whatever my other reasons for buying this book, at least I have prevented the possible recruitment of another racist SOB.

One of the reasons I bought this book is that I am a student of history, particularly of the 20th century, and I am deeply interested in how historical events led to the world we live in today. I am also researching Adolf Hitler and the geopolitical realities of his lifetime for a series of books I hope to write someday. Thus, it is invaluable to have this pre-WWII view of the book and the man that changed the course of history. The editors are not looking back at Hitler through the historical lens of WWII and the Holocaust, but from the standpoint of what were to them current events. The introduction to this book mentions the reasoning behind the timing of this edition, and a preface even makes note of the tremendous speed at which they felt pressured to produce it.

In some ways, producing this book is a bit like people buying The Art of the Deal or other Trump-authored books after the election to see just what kind of man had come to power. This introduction was certainly written before the invasion of Poland in the fall of 1939 as it makes no mention of it. The world knew Europe was headed for conflict after Germany’s 1938 annexation of portions of Czechoslovakia, but it had no inkling of the scope of the war that would engulf the entire globe over the next six years. Seeing how they saw these events as they were unfolding rather than simply reading history from the standpoint of someone looking back in judgment — How could they have thought they could appease Hitler? How could they have turned a blind eye to what he was doing? — is vital for an honest, non-revisionist understanding of why world events happen as they do. It removes the “hindsight” glasses we are always inevitably wearing when we study history and allows us to see with the biases that the people of that time had.

When you read portions of Mein Kampf that deal with the question of race, and especially the Jewish people, you wonder how on earth anyone could believe any of it. While Hitler can even sound reasonable in some of his views of more political questions (even if you disagree with him, there are logical underpinnings to his arguments in this sphere), the logical leaps he makes when talking about race sound utterly absurd to us. How could anyone have followed this guy? We’ve all seen the newsreels. He was a raving lunatic. They must have all been brainwashed. I’ve even heard an acquaintance of mine say that she thought they must have been eating something bad or the water must have been poisoned for them to blindly follow him.

But that kind of talk removes responsibility from the real people who carry out horrific acts, and it makes those of us in the 21st century feel quite sure of our intellectual and moral superiority to those in the past. We would never do such things. No one could fool us the way Hitler fooled them.

Really?

The fact of the matter is, if you study even the century that led up to World War I, what do you find? Rampant antisemitism. What do you find after WWI? Rampant antisemitism. Leaders like Hitler cannot lead without a following. He struggled for years to gain his, but once he found the right combination of political views (including blaming the Jews for WWI and for the Marxist revolution in Germany after the war) and built the right kind of propaganda machine (which he talks about extensively in Mein Kampf) he found a very willing audience to listen to and applaud and follow him. They wanted someone to blame and they wanted someone to make Germany great again. He wasn’t a lunatic. He was a very clever man who knew how to convince people that he was going to fix everything that was wrong.

We live in a day when our president throws a lot of blame around. When it has been suggested that we register and track people of a particular religion. When the working class population is hard-pressed and suffering from long-term joblessness and wage stagnation. When we vote in someone from outside the establishment in order to shake things up. Our times are not so unlike those that led up to two of the most deadly and destructive wars in history (approximately 100 million people died as a result of WWI and WWII combined — that would be like the entire populations of California, Texas, New York, and Illinois combined…dead).

Now, I’m not equating Trump and Hitler. Trump’s a bumbling idiot muddling through a job he’s perhaps realizing he didn’t really want to do after all. Were Trump a decent orator, maybe (maybe) I’d be more concerned about him. (Aside: Imagine the crazy tweets Hitler would unleash if he’d had Twitter.) No, sir. Trump is no Hitler.

I’m simply saying that it’s important to study our history and to resist chronological snobbery, which suggests that since we live in a later time we are more enlightened or savvy or moral than those who lived in the past. We’re not. We must always be on guard against bad leadership and we must always be on guard against our own capacity to do evil…especially when we have convinced ourselves we are doing good.

Because the more pressing question, the more disturbing question is: Could we regular, everyday Americans be more like all those regular, everyday Germans in the 1930s than we think?

John King Books Is My Graceland

On Saturday, my sister and I took our first trip to John King Books in Detroit.

It was everything you want in a giant used bookstore housed in an old factory.

Full of charm and mystery.

And beautiful books.

I wanted to take all of these home with me. But I had given myself a budget. In a place like this, you kind of have to.

I brought home this book to read before, during, and after my upcoming trip to the Upper Peninsula.

I built my growing collection of fantastically lovely volumes of poetry printed in the 1800s.

I found Byron last year in a Lansing antique shop, and he is now joined by Burns and Longfellow.

I added yet another green-bound classic to my stacks (green, it seems, was the favorite color of these 1930s printings).

And I found a curiosity or two. This is a copy of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow written in shorthand.

I have a book that teaches you how to write shorthand from my grandmother’s library and this slim volume will go along with it (uh oh…I sense another collection coming into being).

The last book I found — the one that busted my budget and ended my shopping day — is something I’ll tell you about tomorrow…

 

Talkin’ Mothers & Welcome, Erin Bartels

You can find me talking about cherishing the season of writing you’re in right now over at Jody Herpin’s blog. Come join the conversation!

Jody Herpin

happy-mothers-dayWith Mother’s Day approaching, we spotlight our mothers whether they are still living or have passed on, and remember fondly how these women have impacted our lives. My mother who was a unique yet troubled woman, taught me life lessons I will never forget.  I, being a mother myself, can only hope that I’ve been able to fool my grown children into thinking I’ve passed on some of my positive qualities. (Fingers crossed)

But in my humble opinion, I honestly think most women represent motherhood. It doesn’t matter whether they’ve given birth or adopted a child or not.

One definition of motherhood is “the quality or the spirit of a mother.” Well, I firmly believe that we, as strong women, all have that spirit within us. I have to brag on my daughter here. She has not birthed an offspring so to speak, but she exceptionally defines the term motherhood. She is a teacher, which by the…

View original post 858 more words

On the Death of a Beloved Teacher

The first message, email, or notification I saw this morning was one telling me that one of my favorite high school teachers had died. The youngest of all of my teachers, I doubt he was even fifty years old. He left a family and many former students behind. I cannot picture him any other way than smiling because he was so rarely stern. He was excited about teaching, passionate about his subject, and always kind and patient with his students.

I was his teaching assistant for one semester my senior year and that afforded us more time to chat about things beyond school subjects. We talked about our experiences in the church — mine positive, his negative. He listened to the CDs I brought in because I was excited about the bands. We even talked a bit about how ridiculous high school could be. He was one of the men in my life (the other being my father) who told me that guys were intimidated by me (more about that here). He took every opportunity to pour his positive energy into me and every other willing student he found.

When I graduated from high school I didn’t want to have a standard graduation party. So many of my closest friends were older and had graduated a couple years before. There were so many other parties people had to go to. And I was not a big partier myself. But I did want to do something. Something different. So I asked several favorite teachers out to dinner at a nice restaurant (yep, I was that student). And he was among them. Later, I felt beyond honored to be invited to his intimate backyard wedding.

Back then there was no social networking. No Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. And when I went away to college, we lost touch. A few years ago I connected with his wife online, but he wasn’t in any of her pictures. I didn’t want to pry, but it was clear that over the years something had changed. I discovered he was no longer teaching and that he was dealing with some difficult personal problems.

In January I reached out to his wife, hoping perhaps he and I could meet for coffee sometime. I let her know I was praying for him. In the back of my mind I knew I was unlikely to get a call or text from him saying, Hey, next time you’re in town let’s chat. But I wasn’t ready to hear the news that he died only five months later.

Grief is always hard. And it’s hard in different ways. I can’t feel the intense grief that this man’s wife and children do. Or his closest friends. My grief is distant and regretful and feels small and futile and very personal. I told my husband and my sister the news this morning. They both had him as a teacher and loved him. He was a “cool” teacher, after all. But somehow I don’t think the news, though sad, brought them to tears as it did me. He is not the first of our teachers to die, and my husband took it much harder than I did when two of his favorite teachers died a few years ago, teachers that weren’t generally considered “cool” and that many people actively disliked.

Just last year I pulled out my senior yearbook when some friends were over so we could laugh over how intense and sincere and clever everyone was back in high school. Amid the joking, I was deeply touched when I ran across this teacher’s note to me.

It was probably not something I needed to hear back then, when I was also very impressed with myself. But it was something I dearly needed to hear nearly twenty years later, when I was questioning my performance in my chosen career path, which has reached a dead end, and my writing, which comes with a lot of rejection and waiting and wondering if I am fooling myself. People expected big things of me back then. And I didn’t feel I’d measured up to the standards I’d set for myself or those set for me by others.

This teacher could have written any number of clichés — Great to have you in class! Have a nice summer! Best of luck in college! Study hard! Instead he gave me a little flame of encouragement that would brighten my outlook twenty years later, even when things were dark in his own life. And maybe that’s what I grieve. Because I don’t feel like I gave that back to him. I wanted to. But it was too little, too late.

How much our teachers give, and how little they so often get in return, even from the students who adore them. If there is someone in your life — a teacher, a babysitter, a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, a music teacher, a relative, a mentor — whom you have neglected to thank in a while, who poured into you when you were young and self-centered and too busy to notice, rebuild your connection with them starting today. Send a note to tell them how much you appreciated them. Because someday, you won’t be able to.

The Clock Ticks Ever On

If I’ve been lax at regular blog posts of late it’s probably because life is in a busy season. The end-of-school-year activities are picking up. The vigorous growth in the yard needs tending. We’re at the height of another catalog season at work. The articles for the WFWA newsletter need to be written and edited. And most of my spare time at the moment has been claimed by freelance editing and writing projects.

There’s a lot to prepare for in the coming weeks. Both my husband and my son have May birthdays.  I’ve been invited to speak to a large group of Nepali and Bhutanese women on Memorial Day as part of an event devoted to women and mothers in the church, so I need to start working on my message. Our summer travels are coming up fast, which means packing lists and playlists need to be created.

I’ve had little time for leisurely pursuits, like painting or taking photographs, though I am managing to read and wind down with a little Netflix now and then (Master of None at lunch, Better Call Saul or Brooklyn 99 in the evening). And I even watched a couple movies I’d had on my queue for months: The Imitation Game (amazing) and Sarajevo (quite good).

Life barrels forward. It seems with every new month I’m surprised that the last one is already ended. Were someone to find a way to slow it down to the pace of childhood, when every day was a lingering one and every summer hung on for eternity…Ah, but then we should complain that the future did not come fast enough.

Time is such a funny thing. Always a constant in reality, yet always slipping and shifting in our experience of it. And never enough of it, though it is infinite.