Fireworks

I remember celebrating the Fourth of July in South Haven, Michigan, with my family when I was a kid. My aunts’ cottage was right on the North Beach, so we saw some of the worst traffic, especially during the years when the town held volleyball tournaments on the holiday.

Despite the crowds, we were able to enjoy the day on the beach. As evening drew near, we dug out sweatshirts and picked out the perfect spot over in the sand. Sure, we had a great view of the fireworks from our front porch, but we wanted the full experience. Instead of a nice, comfy chair and a tall, cold glass of lemonade, we dug out a trench in the sand. At one end of the trench, we’d mound up the sand to create a pillow of sorts, and then we’d cover it all up with our oversized towels.

When the work was done, we’d lay back in our makeshift beds and gaze up at the sky, waiting. “Is it starting?” one of us would cry. “Nah,” another would answer. “That’s just somebody shooting off their own fireworks.”

We’d sigh with disappointment and settle back again until the next flicker of light started the whole round of questions again.

Watching the fireworks was never about the fireworks. It was about the experience. Ooohing and ahhhing over each explosion, listening for the appreciative gasps and applause rising up from the crowds around us. Seeing the boats out on the lake and hearing them honk and blare their horns along with our applause. Squealing when the occasional cinder floated earthward and covering our hair with with our hands as though our fingers were fireproof.

And when it was over — oh, the grand finale shot off the end of the pier! All the whoops and hollers, and then the satisfied throngs of beachgoers gathering up their things and nodding over a successful holiday.

They still shoot off the fireworks in South Haven every year, but my kids will never experience it the way I did. The town has grown, and so has the celebration. In fact, last night’s fireworks were expected to draw anywhere from 70,000 to 80,000 people.

80,000 people. Holy crap.

Guys, this is a town that normally has a population of less than 5,000.

The last time I took my kids to the beach for the fireworks, an officer from the Allegan County Sherrif’s Department kindly suggested that I take them home because it was just not a safe place for kids. For a few years after that, we watched from the safety of the front porch, but it gradually evolved from a night of celebration to a night of guard duty. Our little house was under siege as drunks stopped to pee on the walls or hurl beer cans at our windows. Our flower pots were smashed before our eyes.

Fights broke out every year, and we saw police drag away people in handcuffs. The very last year I spent the holiday at the cottage before we sold it, I lost track of the number of unconscious, drunken teens and twenty-somethings I saw being carried out by their inebriated friends.

And last night?

Hey, South Haven made the national news. Police evacuated the North Beach —my beach — due to increasing violence. People got hurt. Friends who were there have told me about near-riot conditions and multiple arrests.

 

So let me see if I understand this correctly. To celebrate America’s birthday, the popular choice is now to go to a lovely little resort town on the shore of Lake Michigan and get hurt or arrested. Instead of watching the million-dollar fireworks display, it is apparently more fun to get blindingly drunk and fight with other drunken idiots.

Forget about watching the fireworks with kids and seeing the joy on those little faces! No, these people would rather riot, thank you very much. And while some folks in this world may riot over some social unrest or political issue, here in South Haven they riot because . . . well, apparently because it’s a beautiful day on the beach and that’s great reason to hurt people, destroy property, and get arrested.

I think back on the Fourth of July celebrations of my childhood, and it breaks my heart to think that the same beach is now unsafe for families. Instead of watching the fireworks with our kids, we have to keep the kids inside to protect them.

Last night, there was a lot of talk of cancelling next year’s “Light Up The Lake” fireworks show. I don’t think that can happen; the town depends too much on the money that comes in over the holiday weekend. Local police tried to get a handle on things by enforcing the “no alcohol” rule this year, but that obviously wasn’t enough.

So, what can we do?

Look, I’m just a dumb romance writer. I don’t know anything about crowd control. But maybe it is time to shut down the show for a couple of years. I mean, sure, the tourists bring a lot of money into the town over the Fourth. But think about the money spent on increased police presence and clean-up afterward. When all the numbers are crunched, does it really add up to a big profit?

Maybe it’s time to follow through on all those arrests that were made. Impose stiffer fines or longer jail times or whatever.

I just don’t know how to fix it. But until they do, Fourth of July in South Haven is a weekend to leave town. Lock up your valuables, gather your loved ones close, and pray your homeowner’s policy will cover the damages inflicted on this night.

Happy Fourth of July, South Haven. Hope everyone makes it to the fifth.

 

Friday Celebration

celebrate

About five minutes ago, I got my email confirming that my entry in this year’s Writer’s Digest Competition has been received.   And I got it in early enough to qualify for the Early Bird Discount.

Which makes me both brave and frugal.

Or possibly just deluded and cheap.

Either way, it’s done.  I’ve decided that I’m only going to enter one or two contests per year now because they are so expensive.  And I limit myself to only those contests that will look good on my resume and could possibly open some doors for me.

I’ve entered this particular competition many, many times before; it’s no longer about the prize.  No, this contest has become that one big, seemingly unbeatable challenge.  Like Ahab and Moby Dick.   Earnhardt and the Daytona 500.

I just want to place.

I took a risk this year and entered two stories in categories I’ve never tried before.  I entered a Young Adult story and a Genre Short Story (Humor).  Kind of pinning my hopes on the funny story because it seems like everyone submits their most heart-rending, tear-jerking, literary stories.  So I’m taking a gamble that maybe my funny story will stand out from the crowd and get noticed because it’s different.

Then again, “different” may not be a good thing.  It may get terrible scores for being fluff.

Which is why also submitted my most heart-rending, tear-jerking, literary story to cover my butt.

What about the rest of you?  How many of you enter writing contests, and how do you decide what stories or poems to submit?

Go, Cardinals!

I think my kids go to the best school in the world.  I am so proud of them, but I am also proud of myself and my husband, for making the choice to keep them in this particular school system.

Early on, I faced a lot of criticism from certain people in my life who felt that the school was just too small to be effective.   Then, when a nearby town offered the “Promise” of a free college education to anyone who graduated from their public schools, I faced huge pressure from those same people to transfer my kids.  The implication –sometimes not a very subtle one—was that I was a bad mother for not switching schools immediately.

A few years later, our little school ended up on a list of schools that were struggling.  Once again, I was hit with pressure to yank my kids out of their school and enroll them in another.  I’ll admit I shed a lot of tears over the nasty phone calls and emails from folks who felt that I was clearly not focusing on my children’s best interests.

Now, our school is on a few “best” lists in our state.  Their scores are steadily improving every year, and the kids have the added bonus of being part of an educational community that is small enough to focus on more than just standardized test scores.

You know, I never heard my high school principal speak until he stood at the podium at my graduation.  I met the Assistant Principal a few times (usually during second hour German class when I got mouthy with Fraulein Johnson), but Mr. Evans was a mystery.  And forget about meeting the Superintendant!   We had all heard stories about him, but many of us wondered if he really existed at all.

At my kids’ school, the principal and the superintendant have both done crazy things like taking turns in the dunking booth at different fundraisers, or riding donkeys at donkey basketball games.  They join the teachers in interacting with the kids in school as well as at community events.   Basically, the entire staff strives to make themselves relatable, approachable, human to our kids.

Maybe I’ve got it backward, but that’s every bit as important to me as high scores on standardized tests.

This past year, our school participated in Challenge Day, a program whose mission is “to provide youth and their communities with experiential programs that demonstrate the possibility of love and connection through the celebration of diversity, truth, and full expression.”  Challenge Day urges kids to “Be The Change”, to reach out to each other.  For more information on Challenge Day, go to challengeday.org.

This past week, the staff and administrators of our little school took this a step farther.  They put together a hilarious video in which none of them is afraid to look silly.  From the P.E . teacher’s Elvis impersonation to the drama teacher’s willingness to laugh at her own . . .ah, vertical challenges, to the principal himself –who really shows how to rock a bathrobe and black socks, by the way –the video shows the kids that adults aren’t afraid to step out of their comfort zone.

The caption to the video reads as follows:

Be the change in your school. Our teachers opened themselves up to demonstrate their willingness to “Be the Change” at Bloomingdale Public Schools. Can you make a difference in your school?

Challenge yourself to leave your comfort zone. Improve your school by working harder in class, being nicer to one another, take care of the building–have pride in your school. If you won’t don’t expect others to change first.

I am proud to be the parent of three Cardinals.  Here’s hoping the video goes viral:

It’s All About the Numbers

celebrate

My celebrations this week are rather small, but pretty big to me.

As of today, I have officially hit 1,000 views of my blog; I also hit the 100 mark with comments on my blog. That’s pretty small for some of you who get that much traffic on each post.  But for me, it’s kind of awesome.

I also finally noticed the little numbers at the bottom of each post.  Okay, so observation is not one of my more impressive skills.  I was shocked to see that some of my posts have been shared on Facebook a dozen times or more!  That really left me feeling somewhat gobsmacked, honestly.  People I don’t know have shared my stuff on their Facebook pages.

Wow.

Pretty cool.

Of course, some of the things I have written were awfully personal or opinionated.  Gah, I put my picture in one of them!  And to be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure I was wearing a bra in that picture.  Oh, dear.

I also shared links to my blog with my husband and with my mother-in-law this week.  Not easy.  My husband is a wonderful man who loves me, but he would rather gnaw off a cherished body part than give praise; his mother is someone whose opinion I respect deeply.  She is kind, but she is honest.

And I am nervous.

Is it odd that I am comfortable pouring out my heart to strangers – and their facebook pages, apparently – and yet I am terrified of sharing my writing with the people I know and love?