Great Water


My ancestors came to Michigan as victims of a con artist who sold them “rich Michigan farmland” that turned out to be little more than pine trees and beach sand.  Despite that shaky start, I am proud to be a true Michigander, born and raised in this fabulous place, and I want to share a few lesser-known facts about our state with all of you.

First, the word Michigan means “great water.” That’s sort of a given, considering the fact that we are surrounded by lakes. Every child in this state learns around third grade how to remember the names of all five Great Lakes: HOMES. Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior.  Lake Champlain was a Great Lake for brief time in 1998, but we Michiganders were quick to stifle that. I’m sure Lake Champlain is a great lake, but it’s not a Great Lake. 

I’d also like to point out that Michigan truly is shaped like a mitten. Some folks argue that Wisconsin is the mitten-shaped state, but those folks are just wrong. Plain and simple. Unless your mittened hand has been mangled in a random wood-chipper incident, that is.

Any questions?

Those of us from Michigan never need a map to show anyone what part of the state we live in. We simply hold up a hand and point.


Okay, sure, we’ve got that whole mutant-shark-dolphin thing going on up there in the U.P. but that’s a different subject.

And that brings me to another point. Here in Michigan, we don’t waste our time saying “Upper Peninsula.” We call it the U.P. Actually, those who live up there tend to call it “da U.P.” but I digress. Those hardy souls who live up there are called “Yoopers.” Not to be confused with the game they play called Euchre, which I believe was something our ancestors had to learn as a requirement for statehood.

Because the two parts of our state are joined by the Mackinac Bridge, Yoopers have been known to refer to those of us who live south of the bridge as “Trolls.” You know, as in “living under a bridge.”

By the way, tourists who visit Mackinac Island are known as “Fudgies” because Mackinac Island Fudge is a treat that should never be missed. Ever. Doesn’t matter if you buy it from Ryba’s or Murdick’s; just buy it. Buy a lot of it. And eat it quickly.

It’s that good.

And speaking of all things Mackinac, please don’t ever come to our fine state and pronounce it MackinACK. Oh, heavens no! It is pronounced MackinAW. MackinAW Island, MackinAW Bridge, MackinAW City.

(Just an aside here: What is wrong with people who pronounce our neighboring state as IlliNOIZE OR IlliNOICE? It’s IlliNOY, people. Hearing it pronounced that way grates on my nerves as much as hearing people saying they get books at the liBERRY.)

Another thing you should know before visiting our fine state is that we treat almost every minor illness with copious amounts of Vernor’s Ginger Ale.  Upset tummy? Vernor’s will fix it. Fever? Vernor’s will make it go away. Bad day at work? Vernor’s with a shot of whiskey will give you a whole new perspective. For a serious attitude adjustment, one can always try a delightful Vernor’s concoction known as a Naughty Gnome, but I wouldn’t recommend drinking more than one of these unless you are a 300-lb fullback with the constitution of a freight train.

We don’t drink soda here in Michigan. It’s called pop. And we often buy it at a “party store,” which is basically what everyone else in the world refers to as a “convenience store.”

When we drive, we have to learn to avoid deer, potholes, and the dreaded Michigan Left. Nearly everyone I know has managed to hit at least one deer in their lifetime. And the potholes are often the size of a small Volkswagon. There’s a pothole on my street right now that’s bigger than the kitchen in my apartment. As far as the Michigan Left is concerned, well, it’s sort of a convoluted go-straight-then-left-to-go-right kind of thing that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

And now that some genius city planners have tried to add those ridiculous roundabout things in the middle of roads for no apparent reason, I’m scared to death that I’m going to segue from a Michigan Left into a roundabout and end up spending eternity on some endless Moebius Strip circling the same series of potholes for all time.

That’s a big part of why I don’t drive much any more.

Michiganders also like to add a random “s” to end of words, making them possessive when it makes no sense to do so. Out of state visitors shop at Meijer and Kroger, but we go to Meijer’s and Kroger’s.

Most of all, we talk fast. Really fast. We like to cram as many words as we can into as few syllables as possible. In high school debate class, I once gave a twelve-minute speech in three minutes and twenty-two seconds. No one even blinked.

Probably because they didn’t have time.

We’re pretty tough here in Michigan. We have to be. We’ve got mosquitoes and deer flies and these horrible little biting things that no one has ever really seen. Hence their name: Noseeums. Original settlers in the area even had to worry about Malaria. We have bats and snakes and all sorts of slimy, nasty things to worry about. It’s not unusual to see a five foot long blue racer, and unfortunately even less unusual to see me wet myself when one slithers across my foot.

In this part of the state, we’ve got storms that gather strength as they roar across Lake Michigan. In the winter, they can dump snow on us by the foot, and in the summer, the thunderstorms can be pretty impressive. I grew up with a “tornado bag” packed and ready to grab on my way to the basement, just in case.

When I was married and lived in a house with a Michigan half-cellar, I refused to go into the basement when the tornado sirens went off. Those places are half-cellar, half-evil, and 100% horrific. I told my ex-husband and children that I’d rather go up with the house and hang out with Dorothy and Toto than go down there.

To give you an idea of just how powerful a Michigan storm can get, let me tell you about my niece, who lived in Seoul, South Korea, for three years. One morning, she woke up to discover that a storm had knocked out the power. She battled the raging wind and rain to get to work, only to find her stunned co-workers gaping at her in astonishment. “We can’t believe you made it to work in a typhoon!” they said.

“That was nothing,” my niece told them. “I grew up with Michigan thunderstorms.”

So if I haven’t scared you away, and if you’re feeling adventurous, please come visit my lovely state sometime. We’ve got Hell and Paradise, Iron Mountain and Motown, water as far as the eye can see. If you can’t find something to like in Michigan, it can only be because you’re not looking hard enough.




Sunday Morning


If we were having coffee this morning, I’d invite you to sit in the rocking chair by the window so you could see the glorious sunlight on this beautiful morning. We’ve just had our first snow of the year, and brilliance of the sun gleaming off that pure white surface is a wonder to behold.

Aw, who am I kidding? I’d give you the rocking chair because whoever sits there will be blinded by the glare on sunlight on new snow, and I have a headache.

Yes, I am a horrible hostess. Does that really surprise anyone?

I hate snow. Loathe it. Despise it. Awful, nasty, slippery stuff. If I didn’t love Michigan so much the rest of the year, I’d head south at the first opportunity. But not too far south – my sister lived in Florida for a while, and she told us horror stories about Palmetto bugs and lizards dancing on the screens.

I have to admit that the first snowfall of the year always puts me in a nostalgic mood. It really is beautiful. As long as I’m safe and warm inside and don’t have to go anywhere.

The funny thing about winter is that everyone seems to have stories about how bad winters used to be. “These storms nowadays are nothing like the ones we had when I was a kid!” they’ll declare, and I have to wonder if it’s a symptom of Global Warming or if we all just get selective memory as we get older.

My mom used to tell stories about the Blizzard of ’67. It was so warm that morning that Dad went to work in his “shirtsleeves” as she put it. In other words, coatless in January.  She and Grandma sat outside in their slippers watching the baby play on a blanket, as the story goes.

Over the years, I’ve figured out that there were probably no slippers involved; that was just her way of saying that it was nice enough to go without boots. I’ve also figured out that the baby playing on the blanket must have been me.

The snow hit so hard and so fast that there were people who didn’t get home from work for days. They stayed where they were when the snow hit. Seven people died statewide as a result of that storm.

For me, though, the biggie was the storm of 1978, when I was in seventh grade. It was known as the “White Hurricane” and lasted for five days. I lived in Portage at the time, and we knew it was big because they closed Western Michigan University and Upjohn. Nothing ever made them close Upjohn.

I remember that specifically because my mom worked for Upjohn, and that meant she stayed home with us for all of the snow days during that storm. All of them.

Nobody could drive in that nightmare.  After a few days, some of the dads collected money and shopping lists and drove their snowmobiles to the nearest convenience store for things like milk and bread.

The snowdrifts almost reached the roof of our little one-story house. I really wanted to leap from the roof into the deepest drifts, but our neighbor, the minister, was keeping a pretty close eye on me and kept calling Mom every time he thought I was trying something too dangerous.

I had my first kiss in that snowstorm. All of the neighborhood kids bundled up and met in Lexington Circle for snowball fights and games of King on The Mountain. We played until we were numb and the streetlights came on, and someone dared Donnie to kiss me under a streetlight. I remember that there were runny noses and chapped lips involved, and I went home wondering why people made such a fuss about kissing.

Where were you to stop that dangerous activity before it started, Reverend Buwalda?

We really don’t seem to have winters like that anymore, but they’re still bad enough. I hate driving in it or walking in it or knowing that the people I care about are out in it. I hate bundling up in layers and smashing my hair under a hat, and I really hate the fact that I’ve already slipped and hit the ground hard already once this year.

But for today, safe and warm and cozy in my too-warm apartment, I have to admit it’s awfully pretty out there.

I wonder if the neighbor kids will play King on The Mountain or exchange sloppy kisses under the streetlights.

What about you? What are some of your favorite winter memories? What’s the biggest snowstorm you remember?

Be sure to visit Diana over at Part-Time Monster to link up and see what some other bloggers have had to say with their weekly coffee share.  Thanks to Diana for hosting the #coffeeshare posts!

Funsuckers United

I am absolutely no fun at all.  Let’s just get that out of the way, right from the start.  My daughter likes to tell people that I am a funsucker because, as she puts it, I can “suck the fun out of anything.”

From where I stand, deep in the middle of something called a Polar Vortex, I would have to agree.  I want to have fun.  I want to play with my kids and enjoy these extra days of Christmas vacation from school.  I want this storm to be memorable in a good way.

But . . .  it’s cold out there, guys.  Really cold.  As in “you go outside, you die” cold.  As in “wind chill negative thirty-three degrees” cold.  As in “hell no, you are not going outside to play in this” cold.  As in “give me an afghan, some hot tea and a good book, and leave me alone” cold.

Too cold!  Get back inside!
Too cold! Get back inside!

There are times when I hate being The Mom.

I would love to bundle up my Little Man and send him out to play in the snow.  Hell, I played in the snow as a kid – without the thermal snow pants and protective gear that’s available today – and I survived. A pair of long johns, a couple pair of jeans, and a few layers of clothing under a hand-me-down coat, and I was good to go.  There were times my fingertips or toes burned and tingled for hours afterward with what was probably frostbite, but I didn’t care.  Sledding, Fox and Geese, King of the Mountain, snowball fights . . . there was just too much to do to waste time worrying about things like safety.

Come to think of it, I had my first kiss behind a snowdrift in the midst of a killer game of King of the Mountain under the streetlights.  What in the hell were we doing playing in the snow after dark?  Did we not have parents?

More to the point, what was that boy’s name and why didn’t we ever kiss again?

We had cold weather back then.  I’m sure we had temperatures just as low as we have now, but we didn’t have Polar Vortices.  We had cold snaps.  We were apparently too stupid and scientifically challenged in those days to realize just how dangerous the weather really was.

There was a week-long blizzard when I was in seventh grade, but there was no cable or satellite TV back then, no videogames.  So our choices were either playing outside or dying of boredom inside.   I specifically remember planning to step from the highest snowdrifts to the roof so I could jump off into the deepest part of the back yard, just to see how deep it really was.  If not for the minister next door calling my mother at the last minute to order me inside, I might have actually put that theory to the test.

Now that I am the mom, I have to be the sensible one.  And being sensible means that I am not letting my five year-old go outside to play when they are blasting out all kinds of warnings every time I turn on the TV. No.  It’s not happening.  I don’t want to have to take my baby to the ER for frostbitten cheeks or toes.  I may be sucking the fun out of his winter, but the boy is safe.

So near . . . And yet so far
So near . . . And yet so far

Unhappy, bored out of his mind, hating me, but safe.

See?  Total funsucker.

We have played Trouble and Candyland and Monopoly Junior and Sorry and Hungry Hungry Hippos until my brain has gone numb.  We have baked cookies and cakes and homemade bread until I can’t stand the smell of baked goods.  And we have watched basically every Disney Movie ever made.

I am not sure of the scientific theory behind it, but I believe that snow days do not have 24 hours like other days.  Snow days have at least 693 hours each.  Minimum.

In short, I am bored out of my mind.  I am even more bored than my five year-old.  If it gets up over ten degrees out there today, my boy and I are hitting the snow.  We can’t get into the barn to get his sled, but that’s okay; the snow is so deep and so soft that he would probably sink and be lost until spring anyway.

I think the shovels are in there.
I think the shovels are in there.

When my sisters and I were young, Mom used to tell us to “get outside and shake the stink off!”   Yup, that’s the plan.  I hate being cold, hate wading through snow that is deeper than mid-thigh, hate the fact that these frigid temperatures are sheer agony for every bone I have ever broken.  But the boy and I are shaking off our stink today and getting outside.

I’m just hoping one of my teenagers sends out a search party if we’re not back in a half hour. Because that’s the kind of thing funsuckers like me worry about.

Bring It

It’s 10:30 on Day Six of my resolution to post something here every day.  I’m tired and my brain is absolutely empty.  And I’ve taken a painkiller for my neck pain, so it’s anybody’s guess what I’m going to come up with.

The Big Guy and I cleaned out the shed today, with lots of help from out four-year-old.  We hauled out bikes and scooters and sleds and snowboards and camping gear until I started wondering if some other, more active family has been storing their things in our shed witout our knowledge.  For a few crazed moments, I thought that perhaps we had discovered some Midwestern version of Dr Who’s TARDIS, but it finally sunk in that no, we are just a family of pack-rats.

We found three high chairs, two strollers and a crib mattress, which is odd because we gave away all of our baby things long ago.  I specifically remember giving the older kids’ things to a needy family after a housefire in our neighborhood.  The Big Guy and I argued about it because he thought we should hold onto all of it but I swore we would never need it again.

Since I found out I was pregnant less than two weeks after that, he likes to say the he won that argument.

We gave all of that baby’s things away last summer.  He had turned four and graduated to a Big Boy Bed and a bike with training wheels, so the crib and stroller went to a cousin with a new baby.  There was no argument this time; tubes have been tied and we both agree that we are done.  So done.   With a four year-old, fourteen year-old and fifteen year-old, we had better be done.

So the baby gear in the shed is confusing.

But apparently the older two had a lot more outdoorsy fun than I remember them having.  I can’t wait for snow this year so we can play outside together on all of those sleds!  My eight year-old nephew has just moved here from Florida and this will be his first real winter; I can just imagine his squeals of delight riding one of those sleds down our hill!

I called his mother today to reserve him for the first snowfall.

So my brain is empty and my shed is well organized.   And I’m going to bed soon with dreams of sledding and snowball fights.  My big kids may be too old for that sort of thing, but life has given me my bonus baby and my little nephew, and we are going to have a great winter.

Bring on the cocoa and marshmallows, Old Man Winter.  I’m ready for your worst.