Because why wouldn’t I spend a ton of time and money on a Halloween costume that only one trick-or-treater would see?
Polar Vortex Redux
It’s finally winter. Really and truly winter. We’ve gotten around 6 inches of snow today in Lansing, Michigan, give or take, and expect a little more tomorrow. Starting Tuesday night and running through Thursday morning we are set to have wind chills down to around 40 below zero, with some Midwest cities likely to be colder than Antarctica and frostbite possible on exposed skin in as little as 5-10 minutes.
So yeah. Winter finally made an appearance.
You know what else was late in coming? Last week’s episode of Your Face Is Crooked. I blame it on tech issues, followed by severe illness for a couple days, and then the need to recover and catch-up on work and home stuff. Oh, and throw in another book event as well!
At any rate, just like winter arrived today, so has the next episode, in which I am made to look the fool because I didn’t know anything about alcohol until I was in my late thirties.
First Booksigning Is in the Books
Last night was my first live event to support the launch of We Hope for Better Things.
Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was a perfect venue. Not only is it the retail arm of my publishing house, it is a fantastic space with lots of room for events like these.
I didn’t count, but I would estimate that there were around 50 people who came to listen to me jaw on about the importance of knowing our history in order to improve our future.
There was family — my mom and dad, my aunt, my husband and son, my mother-in-law and father-in-law.
There were dear friends — girls who were on my Little League softball team and stood in my wedding, and fellow writer-friends I met through WFWA who actually made the trip from Chicago (with two more of their friends) to surprise me (and boy I was surprised!).
There was a sweet old lady from the church I attended in my early twenties when I lived in Grand Rapids. There were members of my publishing team and people I’d worked with for well over a decade. There were fellow writers I met through my involvement with the Breathe Writers Conference and the Capital City Writers Association.
And there were lots of people I’d never met before. Several of them grew up in Detroit during the 1960s, which is where the book is partially set. One of them actually went to the same high school as my mom did in Detroit at the same time she was there. Those who had already read it said they really enjoyed seeing their childhood come alive in the book. That was really gratifying to me because it means I not only did my research but I got it onto the page in a compelling way.
All in all, it went well and I know I’ll be less nervous for my next event coming up on January 24th at 7:00pm at Schuler Books & Music in Okemos, MI.
Also, I want to take a moment to point you to a new page on this website. This events page is where I will be putting information about where I will be in the future, just in case you want to connect in person. You can also find it through the media page in the header of the website, along with pages that link to reviews, interviews and articles, and resources for book clubs.
Thanks for reading!!
Before Starbucks: Remembering the Late-Nineties Independent Coffeeshop
Starbucks may have been founded in the 1970s, but it didn’t make its way around Michigan until the early 2000s. Before that, the quirky local independent coffeeshop was the only game in town.
Here’s a little taste of the long-gone coffeeshops that fueled my late teen years in the late Nineties.
Prepping for the Porkies
This week, my sister, Alison, and I are preparing to walk about 26 miles of some of the most beautiful and remote wilderness Michigan has to offer. We’re buying food and stuffing packs and gassing up cars.
Our path will take us up and down gentle mountains, along and across two rivers, past seven waterfalls, along the shore of the largest freshwater lake in the world, beneath old growth forests, and past abandoned copper mines. We will sleep the shortest nights of the year (just seven hours from twilight to twilight) to the sound of running water and waves and wind. We will be off the grid the entire time.
We will pay for this privilege with sore muscles and dirty hair.
Such a small price for utter bliss.
Anticipating the 2018 Festival of Faith & Writing
In just over two weeks, I’ll be leading a workshop at Calvin College’s esteemed Festival of Faith & Writing. I’ll also be attending a number of sessions and panels that promise to be stimulating (and some of them possibly controversial).
If you are attending FFW2018 and want to connect in person, here are some likely places to find me!
9:30 am – Self-Editing to Take Your Writing to the Next Level
I am leading this 2-hour workshop about revision and editing. Participants learn: how to do an effective, targeted revision; how to edit on sentence, paragraph, and chapter level; how rewriting can shape your voice; how planning on rewriting frees you to finish a first draft; and more.
1:45 pm – Navigating Faith and Religion in Writing
Explores how a writer can approach personal religious beliefs or those of others while writing for general audiences. How to show spiritual feeling rather than just telling the reader about it, how to use detail to evoke spiritual spaces, and how to demonstrate what religion means to a character without including the entire history of the religion. Also considers whether faith or lack of faith affects the stories writers choose to tell and how to navigate real or imagined religious restrictions on creative writing.
4:30 pm – The Risks of Writing on Race—and the Obligation to Continue
Do white writers have an obligation to use their influence and privilege to serve as allies to people of color? These writers argue yes, despite the fact that painful mistakes are inevitable. They discuss the personal cost, what it means to serve with an open and humble heart, and how to respond when things get ugly.
8:30 am – On Finding and Growing Ideas for Fiction
Christian publishing needs new and exciting voices who are able to write outside the currently marketed boundaries. But fresh ideas for novels or short stories sometimes seem hard to come by. In this workshop each attendee cultivates their own ideas for fiction writing by beginning with character creation and then working through setting, conflict, and the formation of a plot.
10:00 am – Religious Readers and Sexually Transgressive Fiction: “What Does Your Husband Think?”
“What does your husband think about your work?” What inherently sexist assumptions are buried in this question? Why is art that depicts illicit sexual desire offensive, specifically, to the church? Does Matthew 5’s “thinking = doing” apply to the reading and writing of fiction? Explores these questions in the context of the current socio-political polarization in America, in which secular readers find serious treatment of Christian themes ludicrous, while readers on the “evangelical” right find explicit sexual content related to spirituality obscene, even blasphemous.
11:30 am – Truth Has Stumbled in the Streets: Writing Faithfully about Social Issues
The prophet Jeremiah said that when truth stumbles in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Writing from Mississippi during the Civil Rights era, Eudora Welty pondered a question, “Must the novelist crusade?” When writers take up social and political issues, how do we aim to create art rather than propaganda? A narrative journalist, a novelist, and a poet grapple with the tension between conviction and proselytizing, frankly discussing times when they felt they succeeded as well as times when fear of stumbling made the work more difficult—and crucial.
2:00 pm – Why Don’t Men Read Women Writers? Closing the Gender Gap in Christian Publishing
Women read relatively equally between male and female authors (54%/46%), whereas men are much more likely to read male authors than female authors (90%/10%). This panel explores reasons for this gender gap as well as practical ways in which women writers might gain a broader readership among men.
3:30 pm – In Others’ Words,
The co-writer is tasked with a particularly difficult form of writing: that of getting down some other person’s words, some other person’s story. How does one go about doing such a thing, practically speaking? Artistically speaking? This panel explores these questions plus the economics of co-writing and the ethics of ghostwriting.
8:30 am – Do I Have to Be a “Christian Writer?”
If we believe in the exclusive claims of Christianity, are we obligated then to be “Christian writers”? How do we reconcile the command of Jesus to “go and make disciples ” with the aesthetic demands of good Art? Leslie shares her own wobbling path through the limits and the possibilities of writing from faith, offering a third path that honors and embodies both Art and Gospel.
11:30 am – Writing the Wrinkles in Time
Sarah Arthur, author of the forthcoming A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, explores what Madeleine’s life and books have taught her about writing from the stuff of your life when life doesn’t go as planned—whether it’s surprises about your topic, plot twists in your personal circumstances, or feedback that requires rebuilding a project from the ground up. Special guests include Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughters, Léna Roy and Charlotte Jones Voiklis, coauthors of Becoming Madeleine: A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Her Granddaughters.
2:00 pm – Sentiment without Sentimentality: Women Writers Who Won’t Stay in Their (Inspirational) Lane
For those who don’t fit the standard definition of what it means to be a religious writer in this day and age, this panel explores how to get published when you are religious but not inspirational, how to be sad in a publishing world that rewards tidy solutions, and transcending the traditional boundaries of genre, religion, class, and gender.
The 3-Month Painting of Manido Falls
Hello, stranger! It’s 2018 and I have a moment to breathe. In fact, it’s my 38th birthday, which means I have the day to myself. Because of winter break, I never went to school on my birthday, so when I joined the working world, I decided I would never work on my birthday either. I take the day off and putz around. It’s marvelous, especially after the craziness of Christmas, my wedding anniversary, New Year’s Eve, and taking down the Christmas decorations. Added to it all this year were two and a half trips to Grand Rapids, with much of the way during one of those trips being in near-constant white-out conditions; one trip to Bay City; two funerals, which were emotionally draining; and a low-level sickness of some sort almost the entire time.
BUT, it’s my birthday today so I’ll do what I want to.
And I wanted to paint.
Back in October, before the kitchen renovation project got underway, I started a new painting.
I got this far.
And then I screwed up. I had to paint over my mistake and wait a couple weeks for the paint to dry so I could continue. Then the holidays happened.
Today I dove back in head first. I added the waterfall I had previously botched.
And when that seemed to go well, I added everything else.
I’m really happy with the results. The subject is Manido Falls, which you may remember from this post about the tail end of my epic Upper Peninsula road trip this past June.
It’s not an exact representation but an interpretation. I’m trying to break myself of attempting to recreate photos and instead consider a painting on its own terms. In this case that meant added red tones to the rocks that weren’t that strong in the original photo in order to complement the greens of the trees.
Once this is dry I will list it in my Etsy store, Erin’s Artful Life.
Hiking the Jordan River Pathway, Day 2
Day two of hiking the Jordan River Pathway started well. Because we hadn’t been overly ambitious the first day, we were both feeling good the next morning and ready to take on the day.
The weather was nice and cool. The path was rather flat, which is good on the knees and the balls of one’s feet, and on this side of the river there continued to be good scenery and good conversation.
We were even treated to a few overlooks, which we hadn’t really had on the other side of the river.
There was that moment the trail got lost in the overgrown raspberry canes and asters, which were still wet with morning dew, which (the dew) quickly found a new home in the fabric of our pants, which (the pants) became exceedingly cold and heavy until they dried.
But that’s okay. There were signs of fall to admire, like the sumac changing color.
And there were pretty woodland flowers.
And there was more Indian Pipe, this time in a big clump.
We lunched at the riverside, happy to be rid of our packs for a spell and to feel the cool breeze on our sweaty backs. In fact, it soon got so chilly I draped my sweatshirt around my shoulders. It was the last time I would feel cool until we were in the car, blasting the air conditioning.
We did get to walk through my favorite kind of woods — tall deciduous trees with little undergrowth where you can see for some way.
And there was a huge open meadow as well, bouncing with grasshoppers.
Though the afternoon with no shade was rather hot.
We passed and sampled some wild blackberries.
And then things got soggy. We were headed down to the river again and toward some wetlands where there was a nice, flat boardwalk before our final climb out of the valley and into the car.
Or rather there should have been a boardwalk. There used to be a boardwalk. But, as is their wont, rather than fix it when damaged, whoever keeps this trail up thought it would be easier somehow to cut a detour. Which meant more distance and a lot more up and down hills. And, since it was newly cut and not well-trodden, lots of tiny stumps and roots and rocks to trip on at the end of your hike when you are already exhausted.
And so this is the last photo I took. After that, the heavy camera went in the pack and we trudged on. And on. And on. Until what should have been an 8.4 miles hike according to the map became more than 11 miles according to my FitBit.
The last hill was absolutely endless, and we were the only ones taking the trail “backwards” as one person put it, so we continuously passed fresh, clean, bright-eyed people with their intrepid dogs as we slogged our way out of the valley.
There was more to our trip than I’ve shared so far, but that will keep until next time…
Hiking the Jordan River Pathway, Day 1
Once again, this year the Annual Sisters’ Hike was in the Lower Peninsula, largely due to time constraints. And since we went on Labor Day Weekend this year and the Mackinac Bridge was closed for six hours on Labor Day as a new safety measure for the Annual Bridge Walk, hiking in the LP meant fewer traffic snarls.
On Friday, September 1st, I got on the road before 7 am, watched a gorgeous sunrise, and reveled in that end-of-summer light.
There was mist in the low places that morning. Blushing trees and burgundy drifts of Joe Pye weed. Fields of beans and corn tinged with the yellow tips of its drying leaves. Rolling hills of sheep, cows, and horses pulling at grass. Sunrise reflected in wetlands dotted with birds. Thin clouds lit up with the color of morning.
During the drive I saw far more wildlife than I would see hiking, including sandhill cranes, flocks of wheeling blackbirds, and one of the biggest Vs of Canada geese I’ve ever seen. I also had a coyote run across the highway about fifty feet in front of my car. He was large and sleek and completely focused on whatever it was he was chasing on the other side of the road. Totally unconcerned about the car barreling down on him. Thankfully, he timed it right and I had only just had the sense to touch my brakes and then he was gone in the underbrush.
Alison and I met up at the parking area for Deadman’s Hill Overlook (above), left my car there, and drove hers to Landslide Overlook about six miles down the trail. Though we weren’t supposed to park there overnight, I didn’t fancy doing nearly 10 miles of hiking the first day. I wanted an easy 4-5 miles for day one and we figured people probably weren’t ticketed much there. So we left it to chance (and it turned out just fine).
One of the first items of note on our hike of the Jordan Valley was this little white plant, which I’ve only ever seen once or twice.
Indian Pipe is a native wildflower that has no chlorophyll, doesn’t make its own food, and gets its sustenance from decaying plat material through a mutually beneficial relationship with a fungus (so you cannot, repeat cannot grow these in your garden so don’t dig them up). And we saw a ton of them on the slopes near Landslide Creek and Cascade Creek. Interestingly, the flowerhead turns upright after it is pollinated.
We also saw a ton of baby spiders making their perfect little webs all over the place.
The trail was generally well groomed here, though there was the occasional obstacle to be traversed.
These stairs down toward one of the creeks were in very good shape, though of varying heights, which made for some surprisingly shallow or deep steps along the way.
Alas, it wasn’t long before we ran into our first detour (there would be more…several more).
It seems that in so many state parks there is a tendency to put up a sign rather than repair a failing structure, like those helpful “BUMP” signs you occasionally encounter while driving. Okay…why not fix the road so it doesn’t need a sign?
But I digress…
Like many of our other hikes, part of the Jordan River Pathway is also part of the North Country Trail, a network of trails that stretches from New York to North Dakota. The Jordan River Pathway portion is, surprisingly, the only point at which whis trail crosses the 45th Parallel, the halfway point between the equator and the north pole.
Inside this little sign/house thing is information about the NCT and information about a Facebook page on which you can post your selfies with the sign above. It was obviously created before everyone carried smart phones because it suggests to the hiker that he or she can rest their camera on the part that pulls down and makes a horizontal surface.
And because two signs is not marker enough for some people, there of course was a rather substantial cairn a few feet away. It wasn’t interfering with photos or natural water flow, so I let it be.
We stopped for a while at the 45th Parallel to eat lunch. Last year during our trip to the Manistee River, my sister inexplicably brought a can of Spaghetti-Os to eat–cold–because she “saw them in the store and they sounded good” to her. I made fun of her pretty mercilessly and asked her if she needed a stick and a red bandana to carry her things while she hopped a train. So this year she brought them to spite me, which was a strong move.
After lunch we encountered this interracial tree couple that had grown together in several spots. I’d never seen anything like that before.
One nice feature of the Jordan River Pathway is the varied landscape. It’s not just all trees and forest. There are a number of open meadows, including this one that was absolutely alive with buzzing bees.
And there are openings in the trees that are largely populated with tall ferns…and the occasional tiny butterfly.
When we got to Pinney Bridge, I was surprised to see how small the Jordan River actually was. I know I’ve done this hike before with my husband, but it’s probably been at least fifteen years, so there wasn’t much I remembered.
After the bridge, it’s a short walk up to the campsite. Along the way we spotted the changing leaves of some wild columbine…
…some touch-me-nots with the exploding seed pods…
…and lots and lots of wild asters of some variety.
Now, earlier on during our hike, we came across a young, spry couple who told us that the night before they had stayed in site 3 at the campground and that it was a nice one and they’d left some unburned firewood there. So we decided that’s where we would stay. One of the first things I saw was one of these:
I don’t know why, but these little flossing tools seem to seek me out. They are in every parking lot, along every sidewalk. And now, at our campsite. I’ve considered starting a Tumblr that is nothing but photos of these things because I encounter them so often. And they always leave me with the same unanswered questions.
1.) Why do people feel the need to floss their teeth on the run?
2.) Why isn’t regular floss, which is just waxed string that will biodegrade, unlike this molded plastic, not good enough for them?
3.) Why is it acceptable in their minds to throw these things on the ground?
I would imagine this one was just an oversight. Surely hiking people wouldn’t litter on purpose, so hey, I’ll cut them a break. They did tell us about the firewood situation after all. What they did not tell us, because I’m sure they were not aware, was that they had left a live fire behind.
This was what I saw upon arriving, probably six hours after they had left in the morning. Again, an oversight. But a potentially dangerous one. Luckily, the northern Lower Peninsula has gotten far more rain this summer than the area where I live in the southern half, where an unattended fire could have some serious consequences.
Pro tip: Covering a fire with the ashes does not necessarily put the fire out. In fact, in Ye Olde Days, people who heated their homes or cooked with wood or coal fires would “bank them” at night, piling up the ashes, so that they wouldn’t go out and would be easier to start again the next morning. The way to get your fire to go out is to spread the embers as far from one another as you can, not pile them together. And if you’re in a forest you have a responsibility to get that fire out before you leave your campsite. Use water if necessary.
The Pinney Bridge campsite is quite nice. It’s a collection of 15 scattered sites arranged around a common green, a water pump (no filtering!), and two pit toilets, a.k.a. “The Gateway to Hell.”
Alison made one attempt but came back out almost immediately saying, “It’s like a horror film in there.”
“In what way?” I inquired.
All she said was, “Flies.”
This may be too much information, but my sister and I always prefer using the facilities in the woods when we go hiking for precisely this sort of reason. But enough about that. On to the flowers!
This big Queen Anne’s Lace flowerhead was going to seed, while the ones below were perfectly catching the evening light.
It certainly was no horror film most places you looked. More like the setting of a fairytale.
September is truly a lovely time of year and evening is a lovely time of day. One of the reasons I didn’t want to hike 10 miles the first day. I wanted to be able to enjoy the time with the packs off our backs for a while.
We pitched the tent, gathered more firewood, had dinner, read books, took pictures, and chatted about life as the sun sank lower in the sky.
It was a beautiful, marvelous, magical evening…
3 Waterfalls, 2 States, 1 Big Spring…and the End of the Road
As I mentioned in the last post, no matter the time zone, we woke up early after camping in the Porcupine Mountains. Superior was calm and blue and the day ahead was largely going to be spent in the car.
But first, I had a couple nearby waterfalls to check off my list.
We drove not far from our campsite, parked, and headed down a short trail in the woods.
The sun filtered through the thick canopy of green. The temperature was crisp. It felt good to be walking off the stiffness of a cold night in the tent. And then we ran into a little trouble…
Early June being so very early in the season in the Upper Peninsula, it appeared that not all the repairs that might be needed in the very large Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park had been made yet. Or maybe that tree had only just fallen that week. Or perhaps park personnel were following in the footsteps of many a state park I’ve hiked through, many of which have seemed to fall into disrepair (I’ll talk a bit more about that when I get to this year’s Annual Sisters’ Hiking Trip in a later post…)
Intrepid explorers that were were, the boy and I simply made our way around the bridge, down into the ravine, over the stream, and up the other side. Our reward was two waterfalls (and actually very well-kept trails and stairs alongside them).
Manabezho Falls was quite a nice little drop, like a miniature Upper Tahquamenon. But up river a ways we reached Manido Falls, which was my favorite of the two.
I love the pattern and angles in the rock riverbed there. I think I have a thing for falls like this, that don’t simply drop but instead wind their way down various levels.
Manido Falls from another vantage point even reveals little baby waterfalls (on the right, closest to the camera) which I quite liked.
About an hour down the road in the heart of Ottawa National Forest is Bond Falls. I was surprised by Bond Falls. I’d see plenty of pictures of it, but I never appreciated the size of the falls. And in early June, Bond Falls was rushing.
Bond Falls is on the middle branch of the Ontonagon River, a river system that sprawls over a huge chunk of the Western U.P.
One cool thing about Bond Falls is that you can go quite a ways up river along lots of rapids, which we did. And along the way you can find lots of large rocks to climb, which the boy did.
After spending the morning at waterfalls, we had a long drive ahead of us, which included trying to find a city with decent cell service so we could connect with Zach via Skype. I believe at that point his 10-day trip to Israel was getting rather long, at least when it came to being away from his family. We tried in one town (Crystal Falls) and when the connection was bad I could tell from Zach’s voice that this wasn’t going to cut it for his only communication with his family that day. I told him I’d reroute and head for Iron Mountain, which was the only “big” city around. This detour took us, ever so briefly, into Wisconsin (about six or seven miles of US Route 2 runs through it). It was my first time in that state.
We were able to connect with Daddy in Iron Mountain (which looked like a really cool town I’d like to visit on purpose someday) and we all felt a lot better. Still, all three of us were getting to the point where we were ready for our traveling days to be over for a bit.
The boy and I drove on, listening to our U.P. Road Trip playlist, toward the city of Manistique on Lake Michigan. But before collapsing at the hotel, I had one more U.P. attraction I wanted to see. Kitch-iti-kipi.
Kitch-iti-kipi, often called The Big Spring, is the largest natural freshwater spring in Michigan. The spring is equipped with a self-serve raft that travels along a cable by means of cranking a large metal wheel. This raft takes you out over the spring and has a hole in the center of it so you can look straight down into the crystal clear water, which is full of trout and other fish. Can you see in the photo below where the sand is disturbed? That’s where the water is flowing in. (BTW, that is really the color of the water. No filter.)
This sign on the raft explains how the spring works.
And this sign answers all your questions about it.
For the past five days, we had experienced freighters going through locks, eight beautiful (and loud) waterfalls, a guided boat tour of incredible cliffs, seeing black bears, going into a mine, climbing over rocks on top of windy mountains, and camping outdoors (the boy’s first time). During most of the (at that point) 24+ hours in the car, we’d been listening to music. After all that, Kitch-iti-kipi was a very quiet end to an epic trip. We had the raft all to ourselves, though there were about a dozen people waiting to get on when we brought it back to shore. I’m glad we did. I don’t generally care for being around a lot of GP (General Public) when I’m exploring outside.
It was just me and my boy and a serenely beautiful place. I felt lucky to be there. Lucky to have made this trip and these memories. Lucky to live not so far away from such beauty.
That night we had the dinner buffet at Big Boy. The TVs (why are there TVs in every restaurant now?) were playing the news on mute, catching me up with all that had occurred while I was mostly offline, including the terror attack on London Bridge. Back to reality, which seems more unreal every month.
After dinner we walked along Lake Michigan, enjoying the perfect weather and the thought of sleeping in our own beds the next night.
And when we saw the bridge the next day, it was a welcome yet bittersweet sight. Truly, once we crossed that five-mile span and touched the Lower Peninsula, the adventure was over. There would be no more surprises.
We knew this road well.
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