Tuesday, October 25, 2016


The view from my pillow.

Ranger can't use the stairs anymore.

After a lifetime of heading upstairs every night to sleep at the foot of my bed, this has been a huge problem.

For a few weeks this summer, when he still had the strength to wobble his own way down, we would airlift him up by means of a blanket.

But then my poor brave dog lost his nerve for coming down. As he stood one day at the top of the stairs, trembling and whining in protest, I knew the end had come.

So now Ranger sleeps downstairs. And I sleep downstairs with him.

For awhile, he was content to let me snooze on the couch while he laid on the floor at my side. But then he got lonely.

So now I sleep on the floor next to him. Every night. All night long.

He is happy.

He sprawls out next to my improvised nest of blankets; sometimes, when I get up, he still has the sass to move in and hog the whole thing.

He likes to stay close to me; almost always, he rests one of his paws over my leg or foot, his own private alarm system to alert him if I dare to move away.

He sleeps like an angel; no more does he toss and turn as in months gone by, waking every few hours to pace and whine.

He is content.

And so am I.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Back Home

Look who managed to find his own way back home. 

When your mom dies
The world goes a little topsy turvy.
You have to figure out
How to lay your own life aside
And go home
To celebrate her life.

...all the complications
...the unexpected costs
...and a ferocious cold

Cross the country and deal with
...rental car snafus
...delayed and disconnected flights
...and your bag that got lost in Chicago.

But when all is said and done
And you're back home again
With a heart full of memories
You just know
That everything
Is going to be alright.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Rest In Peace

My mom died on Saturday afternoon.

Alone in her room
Tucked into a freshly made bed.

I'm glad of that. She always loved clean sheets.

And while I'm saddened at her passing, I take comfort in knowing that her long battle with Lewy Body Dementia is over and she is safe in heaven with her parents, first-born grandson, and loyal dog.

This is my mom's neighbor's Michigan flag. Hers looks exactly the same 
but she would have never left it out in the rain. 

My mother was born in the fall of 1930 and grew up in Cassopolis, Michigan. Despite the hardships of the times, she lived a happy childhood, swimming in nearby lakes; mastering the piano, violin and trombone; and dreaming of dancing with Fred Astaire. Though she earned degrees at a number of colleges and universities, Mom took tremendous pride in her years at University of Michigan. She carried a lifelong passion for Michigan football, flying her maize and blue flag every game day and faithfully cheering her team on through good seasons and bad.

After considering careers as a chemist and a pianist, my mom settled into teaching and spent 23 years at Spencer Road Elementary School in Brighton. Known for her quick wit and no-nonsense manner, she helped plan the school from the ground up, penned the school fight song, and tamed a full generation of fifth-graders. These accomplishments gave her immense satisfaction and well-deserved pride.

This was her favorite photo of us. 

But her deepest commitment was always to her family. In our home on Ore Lake, my mother single-handedly raised my three brothers and me, and we formed the nucleus of her world. Eventually, our spouses and her eleven grandchildren increased that joy. My mom brought endless energy and creative play into her grandchildren’s lives, and nurtured in them her deep love of reading.

Our Kelly. Mom always called him the "dog of dogs" and she loved him with her whole heart. 

Dogs were a special joy for my mom. From her spunky Irish Setter, Kelly, to her various grand-dogs, and even those animals she met only briefly, Mom drew great companionship and compassion. She was well-known for showering her beloved furry friends with endless ear rubs and countless snacks, and they all loved her just as she loved them.

I give thanks to the Lord for my mother’s long and loving life. While I mourn her passing, I rejoice that she is now healed and whole.

Mother and daughter. Death does not divide us but simply brings us one step closer to eternity. 

And I know that my mother will always be with me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tiny Habits Of Patriotism

"We are what we repeatedly do." - Will Durant

We all have those moments.

Goose-bump rising
Lump in the throat
Tears in the eye

Moments where our love for country is real and tangible and alive

When I was growing up, very school day began with the Pledge of Allegiance. Standing aside our desks, hands over our hearts and all eyes on the flag, we droned through the single sentence with little apparent passion. But deep inside, I felt the sparks of my own little patriot's heart stir to life.

I'm the littlest Girl Scout, fourth from the left. I was chosen from a large group of girls 
to pose for this photo and my mom was so proud. 

Girl Scouts love flag ceremonies. I listened with hushed reverence as our Brownie troop leader, Mrs. Jarvis, explained flag etiquette and walked us through the particulars of our Court of Honor. White gloves, lit candles, and the careful execution of the triangle fold were all rituals of our weekly meetings and I loved my part of the pageantry. The embers glowed brighter.

With great gusto, my elementary school classmates and I would belt out the great American patriotic standards.

My Country 'Tis Of Thee
You're A Grand Old Flag
When Johnny Comes Marching Home
This Land Is Your Land
The Battle Hymn of the Republic
The Star-Spangled Banner

and my personal favorite, America the Beautiful.

Sometimes, the words were just words and I didn't really understand what I was singing. But often, the lyrics stirred passion in me, and my patriot's heart burst into full flame.

You're the emblem of the land I love, the home of the free and the brave. 

Nowadays, when I hang my flag for a holiday, or stand for the national anthem at a ball game, or note the passing of another anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor,

my eyes unabashedly fill with tears
I get a lump in my throat
goose bumps rise up on my arms
tingles run up and down my back.

The tiny habits of patriotism, performed faithfully over the course of a lifetime, make me who I am today.

An American.

* * * * * 

As I prepare to vote in the hotly contested 2016 presidential election, I find myself reflecting on the moments and milestones of my life that have shaped me as an American citizen and contributed to my worldview today. 

For more stories on this topic, read:

Clara's Golden Door

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
- from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

My grandmother was seventy-five when my grandfather died and in many ways, that is when her life began.

Grandpa was a good man, though certainly a product of his times. He preferred for his wife to spend her days at home, working the garden, baking rye bread, canning peaches, and wearing a red dress - his favorite color - if at all possible. For fifty years, Clara played that role to a T and quietly bided her time.

Here is my grandmother, quietly biding her time with me. 

It was just a few months after her husband passed that Clara wiped away her tears, grabbed her pocketbook and drove down to the local Grange headquarters where she applied to become an English tutor. In short order, she nailed down the basics of the Laubach method of literacy learning and hung out her shingle as a volunteer.

In her fair city of Three Rivers, Michigan, this offer attracted a steady stream of immigrants.


Quiet, hard-working, hopeful people came and went from her tidy white home, growing not only from Clara's weekly lessons but also from her casual conversation and genuine friendship.

My grandmother, for all her sweetness and cultural sensitivity (in the days before we talked about such things), had a firm mind about learning English as a second language. A daughter of English-embracing German immigrants herself,  Clara preached that in order to take full advantage of all that the United States can offer, newcomers must leave their old languages behind, and speak exclusively English. "After all," she would insist, "they are Americans now and they should act like it."

Clara also insisted that her brood of newcomers should become United States citizens, and she tutored them fiercely to help them pass their citizenship tests. In addition to speaking, reading and writing in English, the test covered a wealth of civics topics: American history, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, geography, landmarks, holidays and the flag. Drilling her students on the practice list of one hundred possible questions, Clara never gave up or gave in until each and every one of her students became a naturalized citizen. That was a fact of which she was most proud.

Though her own finances were lean, Clara never took a penny from her students. Gracefully, she came to accept their gifts which usually reflected their home culture and her own home took on an international flavor. This bed covering was from Cambodia, that paper lantern was handmade in the Vietnamese style. One of Clara's most dedicated students, Mr. Tang, owned the Chinese restaurant in town and often came to her doorstep with a bag full of fresh egg rolls. They were delicious.

It's no stretch to say that my grandmother's new calling transformed her life. She still ran a neat and tidy farm home but now the kitchen chores and garden duty took a back seat to her students. I always remember my grandmother as happy and content but now I saw her as truly fulfilled.

For two decades - yes, she tutored well into her nineties - my grandmother continued on her mission. And while teenage-me took her work in stride as just the sort of thing ordinary grandmothers do, I soon came to see things differently. Clara's calling was nothing less than holding high the lamp of American citizenship, and ushering her students into our culture through the golden door of her teaching.

My grandmother, Clara Minnie Marie Belz Lewis, was a real-life Statue of Liberty, and for her foresight, determination, generosity and profound patriotism, I am grateful and proud.

* * * * * 

As I prepare to vote in this hotly contested presidential election, I find myself reflecting on the moments and milestones of my life that have shaped me as an American citizen and contributed to my worldview today. 

For more stories on this topic, read:

Monday, October 10, 2016

Speak Out

As I prepare to vote in this hotly contested presidential election, I find myself reflecting on the moments and milestones of my life that have shaped me as an American citizen and contributed to my worldview today. 

* * * * *

Growing up, my inner circle of adults rarely discussed politics. Occasionally,  I would catch snippets of opinions in passing conversations - George Wallace was a raging racist and LBJ was running the country into the ground. But even at family gatherings and holiday meal tables, that was as far as it went.

By contrast, the larger world around me was full of  political voices. One of the key takeaways of my childhood and adolescent years was on the importance of speaking out.

Speak out.  The Vietnam War deeply affected the first fifteen years of my life. On our weekly trips to Ann Arbor, we often drove in and around the University of Michigan campus and my child's eyes saw firsthand the passion of college students protesting the war. Groups gathered around granite porticoes, handmade placards waving in the air, a young man with a bullhorn leading chants. I saw these protests not as special events but a regular part of university life and I was struck by the commitment of the students who made their voices heard. I wanted to be like them when I grew up.

Speak out. Good men were killed during my childhood. JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy: all were shot down in cold blood for their political vision, their ideals, their words. But as confused and upset as I was by their assassinations, I understood that they would have never backed down. Good leaders speak out for justice and truth, no matter what they cost. That was these heroes' legacy to me.

These were not the pajamas I was wearing at my windows in 1967. But they were much the same, hand sewn by my mom.

Speak out. During the 1967 race riots in Detroit, I was barely tall enough to see out my bedroom windows. But on those nights, after I had been tucked into bed, I would slip to my window where I could see on the distant horizon, some forty miles away, the golden glow of inner city flames. I knew that black people had set those fires because they were frustrated by unfair treatment, but I also understood the difference between speaking out and acting out. Even my childish mind knew that no good could come from anger-fueled destruction, and the lesson learned as I stood in my yellow seersucker baby doll pajamas made a deep and lasting impression.

Speak out. I was too young for the Woodstock generation but my youth was colored by musicians expressing political opinions through their art. Most impressionable for me was the band Chicago whose early albums burst with passions regarding the war, the environment, and the scandalous presidency of Richard Nixon. My mind was transformed not just by their opinions but the boldness and clarity with which they expressed themselves. For my high school government class, I wrote an essay about how Chicago's critical messages had awakened and informed my own political thinking, and my teacher was impressed. He gave me top marks and encouraged me to keep speaking out.

And so I do. In my own way, in my own time, on issues that matter to me, I do my best to express my opinions thoughtfully, respectfully but with unapologetic boldness. And I encourage everyone around me to do the same. I believe all Americans should.

Speak out. 

* * * * *

For more stories on this topic, read:

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Fall At The Mall

It might have been my fresh haircut that put the extra bounce in my step.

Or the soft breezes and sweet autumn sunshine, swirling the scent of unfamiliar conditioners and styling oils, that stirred my senses.

But for whatever reason, as I left the salon on the east side of Alderwood Mall on my way to the bus stop on the west, I impetuously decided to ditch the obvious shortcut through the building for a rambling outdoor route instead.

And I'm so glad I did, because every few steps brought me a fresh glimpse of autumn's unfolding glory.

Now I'm not exactly calling this a walk in the wilderness. But as I slipped into my seat on the bus and flipped through my camera roll, I was surprised and delighted to see these colorful little splashes of fall at the mall.