Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2010 Reading Wrap Up

My 2010 Reading Wrap-Up

  • Jan. 2nd, 2011 at 5:00 PM
A look back at a year in reading….
I read 207 books in 2010, seven more than I finished in 2009. From that total, 88 of the books are from a book series, either young adult, mystery or romance. Some are new series that I got sucked in to this year; others are from series that I’ve been following for years. I read a lot of romances in 2010, and reread quite a few books. Books are my escape, and I really needed one in 2010.

By the Numbers
Total: 207
Number of books that I'd read before: 45
Non-Fiction: 10
Mysteries: 26
Romance: 112
Sci-Fi/Fantasy: 18
Young Adult: 19
Anthologies/Short Story Collections: 6
Here are the books that stood out for me in 2010...
“A Matter of Class” by Mary Balogh. Balogh writes a great romance, but this novella, released near the start of the year, was so good that when I finished my library copy, I went online and ordered a copy of my own. And then I reread it this month when I was looking for an escape.
Other good romances include “A Lady’s Guide to Improper Behavior” by Suzanne Enoch, “A Countess Below Stairs” by Eva Ibbotson, “Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake” by Sarah Maclean and “Love in the Afternoon” by Lisa Kleypas, the finale in her Hathaway family series. I recommend reading the series first, all the books are excellent.
Charles Finch has a series about a gentleman named Lennox, living in Victorian England, who solves mysteries. The first is “A Beautiful Blue Death” and there are at least three more, all of which I inhaled this year. Lisa Lutz has a great series that begins with “The Spellman Files.” If you like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, you will like the Spellmans.
Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” will haunt you long after you put it down. Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants” was fantastic, and you should read it before the movie comes out this year. I finally read “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman, and damn, was it good. A series written for the young adult market by L.A. Meyer begins with “Bloody Jack – Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary Jack Faber, Ship’s Boy.” It’s a lot of fun.
Michael Perry’s “Population: 485 – Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time” was a fun, yet tough read. You get quite the vocabulary lesson from it, and Jace did a book report on it this winter. He said Perry uses too many metaphors. If you grew up in a small town, you will probably appreciate “Population: 485.” Other books to consider reading are “Discord’s Apple” by Carrie Vaughn and “The Secret of Everything” by Barbara O’Neal.

What’s ahead for 2011? I have a few library books to get through, and then I’m going to embark on my seven-month countdown to the final movie in the Harry Potter series by reading one book a month until the movie comes out. I may take on the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy, and maybe I’ll finally get my Mom off my back by reading “The Power of One.” Or not. I’m contrary that way.

2009 Reading Wrap Up

My 2009 Reading Wrap-up

  • Jan. 3rd, 2010 at 2:35 PM
While looking back on the 200 books I read in 2009, I found it fascinating how some of the books are still so vivid in my mind while there are others I’d forgotten that I read. The books that shine brightly for me feel like I just put them down yesterday, instead of many months ago. I read most of them in the second half of the year, as I had not hit 100 by July 1. A lot of reading happened in August, when Jace was away.

People have asked how I am able to read so many books. Yes, I do read pretty fast, plus I usually have more than one book going at a time. That allows me to pick and choose what to read depending on my mood or how tired I am. Books I call "brain fluff" are easier to handle when fatigued. You'd think after all these years, I'd know better than to pick up a thriller or mystery at bedtime, but no. There are still nights when I stay up almost to the hour my alarm is set to go off because I could not put a book down. It's hard to sleep when I want to know "whodunit."

By the Numbers
Total: 200
Number of books that I'd read before: 28
Non-Fiction: 13
Mysteries: 35
Romance: 55
Sci-Fi/Fantasy: 57
Young Adult: 23
Anthologies/Short Story Collections: 11

I discovered several new authors (to me anyway) and series this year. I liked books by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, she calls her books "historical horror" and they follow an ancient vampire through different periods of history. I finally tried Jasper Fforde's "Thursday Next" novels about a woman who is able to jump in and out of books. I discovered Georgette Heyer, who pioneered the historical romance genre, and loved the few titles of hers that I read, especially "Devil's Cub" and "The Grand Sophy."

Here are the Top 10 books (or authors) I read in 2009, in no particular order...

- "Love Walked In" and "Belong to Me" by Marissa de los Santos. (She's a poet, and her books have a lyrical quality that I admire, and she creates characters you fall in love with. "Belong to Me" is a sequel to "Love Walked In.")

- "Till There Was You" by Lynn Kurland. Kurland writes some great time travel romances. This one revisits characters from earlier books and introduces a whole new cast of characters that I hope there will be books written about. She's got a great back-catalogue of titles. Start with "A Dance Through Time."

- "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" by Alan Bradley is the introduction of a young British girl who is fascinated by chemistry and has an uncanny talent for getting herself in trouble and solving mysteries. The next book comes out this year.

- "Chosen By a Horse" by Susan Richards is a memoir of a woman with a rough past who adopts an abused horse. If you are half as horse-crazy as I am, this book will break your heart.

- "Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends" by William "Wild Bill" Guarnere and Edward "Babe" Heffron, with Robyn Post. Two men from Easy Company, whose story was shared in "Band of Brothers" share their side of the story.

- "Land of a Hundred Wonders" by Lesley Kagen. Kagen wrote "Whistling in the Dark," one of my favorite books from 2008. This one is part drama, part mystery and part romance, and it adds up to an incredible story.

- "What Happens in London" by Julia Quinn is another great romance and moved into my Top 3 favorite books by Quinn.

- "Let Me In" by John Ajvide Lindquist. The novel that the movie "Let the Rights Ones In" was based on. Creepy and horrifying and brilliant.

- "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana de Rosnay. The story jumps between modern day and World War II as an American journalist living in Paris tries to solve the mystery of what happens to a Jewish girl who once lived in the apartment the journalist's father-in-law grew up in.

- "Another Life" by Andrew Vachss - the final book in his Burke series. It is a dark series about a "family" of crooks with a vendetta against those who abuse children.

Honorable Mention - "An Echo in the Bone" by Diana Gabaldon, which might have ranked higher if she hadn't left readers dangling off so many cliffs. It's the latest in her series about Claire Randall Fraser, a World War II nurse who travels through time.

2008 Reading Roundup

Wrapping up my 2008 reading list

  • Jan. 2nd, 2009 at 5:18 PM
October 2000

My 2008 reading list of 225 books includes at least 36 books that I read for a second (or third or more time), including books by Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison and Charlaine Harris. Sixteen of the books were non-fiction, 26 were written for the young adult/kid’s market and 12 of the books were anthologies of short stories or novellas. I tend to read a lot of books that could be called sci-fi/fantasy, but can also be classified as a romance or mystery.
I discovered several new series this year that I really enjoyed, including the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, Toni L.P. Kellner’s Laura Fleming mysteries, and Nancy Martin’s Blackbird Sisters mysteries.

Of my non-fiction reads, my favorite was “Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World.”
My favorite books of the year include Lisa Kleypas’Sugar Daddy and Blue-Eyed Devil.” She has a third book coming out in 2009 that is a companion to those two. She usually writes historical romances, but these are contemporary romances which I usually don’t like. I loved hers. Julia Quinn released two books: Lost Duke of Wyndham and Mr. Cavendish, I Presumethat I enjoyed.
The Tales of Beetle the Bard by J.K. Rowling was a fun, quick read, but doesn’t fill the gap left by the end of the Harry Potter series. Curse her for creating a world I want more of, NOW. At least there’s fan-fiction.
My favorite book of the year is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Please read it and let me know what you think.
I’m not going to try to forecast my reading for 2009, but I do hope to have the discipline to read the books I have and buy fewer books. I keep track of upcoming releases on my wishlist that helps me order copies from the library early to avoid waiting too long in the queue. I welcome recommendations from others on titles to read.
I began tracking the books I read in January 2007, and now wish I'd started doing it long before that. I'm sharing my reading wrap-ups here, since my LJ account where I track my books read is set to private/friends only.

2007 Reading Wrap-Up

  • Jan. 1st, 2008 at 12:17 PM
Well, I didnt' finish Colbert's book on NYE, but I did read at least 176 books in 2007. I may have missed a few along the way, and only counted HP7 once.
My 2007 reading list includes at least 43 books that I read for a second (or third or more time), including titles from the Trixie Belden series, the first six Harry Potter books, and a few romance authors that I read in my teens. Twenty-three of the books were non-fiction, most read during Lent.

I discovered at least three new series this year that I really enjoyed, including the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, the Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson and Stephenie Meyer's trilogy.
Of my non-fiction reads, my favorites were
"The Greatest Game Ever Played"
"Ghost Soldiers"
"The Great Raid" by William Breuer
"Point Last Seen" by Hannah Nyala
"True Grace" a biography of Princess Grace of Monaco.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" was my favorite book of the year. "From a Whisper to a Scream" by Charles de Lint was fabulous. The first novel by Hannah Nyala, "Leave No Trace," was engrossing.
The reading forecast for 2008 will likely include me diving back into the works of Tolkein, and I want to re-read "The Right Stuff."
I have a long, long wish-list on of books that will be released in 2008 by some of my favorite authors, as well as a lengthy list of non-fic books that appeal to me. I have many books on reserve at the library, I'm just waiting for my turn in the queue. I am also surrounded by stacks of books at home that need to be read. In 2008, I hope to replace quantity with quality.

I finished my first book this morning, something I picked up at the Evil Empire last night on a whim. It's the third in a trilogy by Mary Balogh that has been re-issued, "The Devil's Web." It was a bit dark, but it wrapped up the story of characters introduced in the first book. It's not a book I anticipate rereading.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Carving out a memory

(A column originally published in December 2005)
It stands in the corner of the boy’s room, ready to be called into action to slay dragons, engage in a duel, or defend the castle. A sword, carved out of wood and highly polished, that looks like a cross between a cutlass and a saber.
The little boy had asked for this special gift, and watched as it was carved. He stood in a basement woodshop, lined with workbenches and machines, with tools hanging on the walls and a large window letting in light. Warned not to touch the saw or tools, the boy looked on in wide-eyed wonder as a piece of wood plucked from the lumber pile became a sword.
A pencil was used to sketch the basic shape of the sword on the wood, and a saw cut it out. The sword was carefully smoothed to prevent any splinters from piercing small hands before being presented to the boy.
Other examples of the woodcarver’s craft are in the boy’s room. A small wooden dog stands on his bookshelf and a finely detailed silhouette of a Native American warrior hangs on the wall near his bed.
The hands that lovingly carved the sword are idle now, and the woodshop is dusty with disuse.
My grandfather, the woodcarver, turns 85 this month.
Alzheimer’s has slowly been taking him away from us. The only blessing is that he still knows my grandmother, his anchor to the present. The moments when a familiar twinkle return to his bright blue eyes are few and far between.
The little boy, my son, says he remembers watching “Big Buppa,” his great-grandfather, carve the sword. I’ve told him stories about the active man I remember from my childhood. A veteran of World War II who worked as a teacher, school principal and for the Community Action Agency. He would delight young grandchildren with his rendition of the ABCs, jumping up and being silly when he got to the letter P. I remember getting tractor rides and watching him use a bulldozer he had bought at auction.
Grandpa would stride around the farm where he raised his large family, always with some project to work on. Tending the vegetable garden and raspberry patch, cutting wood for the sauna or fireplace and making magic in his woodshop kept him busy. Those who borrowed tools and didn’t put them away risked his wrath. He loved to travel, and a trip he and Grandma took with my family in the Southwest is a treasured memory. Home movies document the trips he took his family on, out west and even to Alaska. Other home movies show family sleigh rides in winter, kids sledding in front of the house, and the day my mom rode her pony to school.
It has been a few years now since Grandpa has recognized me, and most of his extended family and friends are now strangers to him. But those who know and love him remember the man he was, and my son has his wooden sword, and the memory of “Big Buppa” carving it for him.

In loving memory of Tom Vizanko

(A column originally published in July 2007)

Helping to write my grandfather’s obituary was one of the most difficult writing assignments in my life.
Grandpa passed away at home with his beloved wife, my mother and several more of his daughters at his side on the first day of this month. My father called at 4 a.m. to share the news. Later that morning, Dad E-mailed the first draft of the obituary to me. It was an honor to take the details of my grandfather’s life — his birth, education, service to his country and community and the family he created with Grandma — and weave them into a brief story.
Nothing prepares you for the reality of losing a loved one, though Grandpa had been slipping away from us for years because of Alzheimer’s. My grandmother’s devotion to him never wavered as she cared for him at home. It is a testament to the power of love that even after Grandpa could no longer remember his grandchildren and children, some part of him still seemed to recognize his wife.
My grandparents met in early 1941, at the front desk of the junior college library where Grandma worked. Library patrons were not allowed in the stacks then, and after Grandma had assisted him, Grandpa asked her, “Do you cook, too?”
Grandma remembers their first date was on Valentine’s Day, and they watched a Henry Fonda movie. They married on Sept. 12, 1941.
When the United States entered World War II that December, my grandfather left college to go to work. He then joined the Army Air Corps, serving with the 433rd Troop Transport, the 69th Squadron in the Pacific Theatre, from New Guinea to Japan. He was discharged in March 1946. My grandmother still has the letters they wrote to each other during that time.
After the war, Grandpa continued his education, earning first an associate’s degree, then a bachelor’s and a master’s. He began working as a teacher, then became a school principal. He left the education field to work as the executive director of the newly formed Community Action Agency, but education was still important to the family. After giving birth to 13 children, and with the youngest starting school, my grandmother went to college and earned a degree for a career in teaching.
Grandpa and Grandma bought a former dairy farm nestled between two hills north of Ironwood, Mich. during Memorial Day weekend in 1960. Maple Hill Farm became a second home for their grandchildren. Being the first to spot the television towers on the back hill was always a part of trips to visit them. The towers served as a beacon home.
My grandparents loved to travel, visiting Alaska four times, criss-crossing the continental United States to visit family and friends and making several journeys overseas to visit Finland, Australia, Europe and Asia.
My grandparents’ love and devotion to each other for over 65 years of marriage humbles me. They brought 13 children into this world, and worked hard to provide a home for their family, supporting each other as they continued their educations. They mourned together after the loss of an infant son. Their relationship is an example to all of what true love means.
After so many years of traveling with his wife and family, my grandfather made the trip home alone. Left behind to mourn his death and celebrate his life are his wife, 12 children, 28 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, three great-great grandchildren, three sons-in-law, two daughters-in-law, a sister, a sister-in-law, a brother-in-law, two nieces, a nephew and many extended family members and friends.
I had the week off, so my son and I were able to be in the Upper Peninsula to spend time with our extended family. Almost all of Grandpa’s surviving family members were on hand for a memorial Mass on a sultry Friday afternoon. We sang his favorite hymns, listened to a haunting and lovely rendition of “Ave Maria” and to a brief eulogy delivered by his eldest son. After the service, family and friends gathered for a meal. Photographs of Grandpa, family and friends were on display and flashing on a screen in a digital slide show.
Sunshine from a bright, blue sky filtered through the trees, dappling the cemetery with light last Saturday morning as the family gathered for a final goodbye. Several generations gathered around Grandma in a circle of support during the brief inurnment service.
She didn’t want to watch his ashes lowered into the ground, so many of us joined my grandmother on a pilgrimage through the cemetery, visiting the graves of her parents and brother-in-law. My mother stayed behind, and the city worker standing by to replace the soil and grass over Grandpa’s grave shared a story with her.
While he was there to dig the hole, he saw something he doesn’t usually see at that time of day. An eight-point buck in velvet appeared in the cemetery near the place my grandfather would be laid to rest near his infant son and his parents. Grandpa finally got the buck that had eluded him during many hunting seasons.
May God bless you, Grandpa, as you watch over your family from above. The legacy of your life carries on in the hearts and memories of all who love you.

With rocks in my pockets...

(A column originally published in August 2007)
Some might call me crazy for wading into Lake Superior with my jeans rolled up past my knees on a hunt for agates. Many say the water is too cold, and even my son howled when he ventured in.
Many hot summer days in my childhood were spent at a sandy Lake Superior beach. The south shore of the lake is home to some of my favorite places to visit when I’m in the Upper Peninsula - McLain State Park, the mouth of the Presque Isle River, Black River Harbor, Misery Bay, Saxon Harbor, and Little Girl’s Point. Each site has a magic of its own.
It was a Friday evening, and my son and I had driven out to the lake from my grandmother’s house to watch the sun set over Lake Superior at Little Girl’s Point, which is located over 20 miles north of Ironwood. The area is named for a Native American legend of a lost daughter of the Chippewa who disappeared in that area before her wedding.
The trip was made so I could fulfill a promise made when we were in the Upper Peninsula at the beginning of the month. My son wanted to go out to the lake, but with family coming in for my grandfather’s memorial Mass, and getting things ready, we had no time.
The road out to the lake winds through trees that reach out to each other over the asphalt, sheltering the road in a tunnel-like effect. Trips to Little Girl’s Point aren’t complete without a stop at a spring that is piped up along the roadway. Visitors fill bottles with some of the best water you’ll ever taste.
I was the first to spot the blue line on the horizon, and we were soon pulling into the parking lot of the beach at the county park. We made our way down the path to the lake, to a beach not suitable for bare feet. I didn’t want to mess up my favorite pair of sandals, so I slipped them off and gritted my teeth to walk across patches of rock to the lake. My son wore water shoes and had no trouble navigating his way to the water.
The first shock of cold water quickly fades away. I was bent over, peering through the water and reaching out for any rocks that caught my eye. The water lapping at the shore often distorts the view, but my pockets soon filled up. It is not possible for me to leave the lake without a few stones, I’ve been carrying rocks home from the lake since I was small.
My son, who changed into his swim trunks, was exploring the beach and having fun pushing a big piece of driftwood out into the lake, then watching the water effortlessly move the driftwood back to shore. We weren’t troubled by bugs, and the beach was almost empty, the only other people there was a family about 200-yards down the beach.
The lake was calm and mirror-smooth, ideal for skipping rocks. As the sun dipped lower towards the horizon, I began taking pictures. Lake Superior never fails to leave me in awe at the power of nature and humbled by the beauty of its shorelines. The stress of everyday life is stripped away and I was renewed by the magic of a summer night on the lake.
The sunset seemed to last forever, and I was enthralled by the way the light shifted, at the path of gold paving the way from me to where the sun was settling in for the night. My son and I decided to stay longer, gathering driftwood into a hastily prepared fire pit and borrowing matches from the family nearby to start a beach fire. We kept the fire going as the sun slipped away. There was not much of a moon that night, so we soon put the fire out and made our way back to the car before the last lingering traces of sunlight vanished.
It was a quarter to 10 when I started the car for the drive back. The open sky near the lake was soon replaced by a canopy of leaves, as the headlights traced our way back, winding through the trees and past the occasional field or yard. In the distance, the light caught a shadow along the edge of the forest, a bear that changed its mind about crossing the road and disappeared back into the dark. Our headlights did not deter an enormous porcupine we came across a mile later, fortunately he was in the other lane and we had the chance to slow down and admire him.
Street lights soon appeared and the road straightened out in the final stretch home. We pulled up in front of the house and I walked in the front door with rocks in my pockets and peace in my heart.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

All dogs go to heaven

Originally published Feb. 28, 2008

I didn’t want a dog. It was early 1994 and my sister and Dad wanted to get a puppy. Our Siamese cat, Riley, had to be put to sleep the year before because of organ failure brought on by undiagnosed diabetes, and I would have preferred a kitten. I was outvoted. A good friend of my father’s had a Gordon setter, Maggie, with a big litter of puppies. Dad wanted a bird hunting dog
What we got was Katie.
The litter of black and golden-tan puppies were supposed to be purebred Gordons, but as Katie and her siblings grew, it became apparent that some other dog had been a bit too familiar with Maggie. We’re not sure who her father was, but Katie’s tail looked more like it belonged on a German shepherd than a Gordon.
Puppies are a big responsibility. My father had a nearly one-hour commute to his job each way, my mom’s office was 10 minutes away and my sister was in high school. The community college I attended that spring was about a mile from our house. Ironically, the person who least wanted a dog wound up being the one who had to take care of her during the day, driving home on my longer breaks between classes to let her out.
Katie was a scamp, and I’ll admit I didn’t like her much at first. If she wasn’t on a leash when taken outside for potty breaks, she’d try to dash up the hill that separated our house from my grandparents’ farm house. She loved to roam the farm with my dad.
My grandmother dropped off an apple pie late one afternoon, still warm from the oven. My sister and I resisted the urge to dive right in, and virtuously went downstairs to finish our chores first. We came back to the kitchen for our treat, only to find Katie with her paws up on the counter, eating the crust off the top of the pie. Katie repeated that trick to get into take-out pizzas.
Eventually, Katie won me over with her cuteness and her big, soulful brown eyes. I’m convinced that babies, be they animal or human, are adorable for a reason. It’s their secret weapon to make you love and take care of them, and it works.
During her first year, Katie would get over-excited when company came over, greeting them with a puddle on the floor. Though she came from a big litter, she never liked being around other dogs. I’m not sure she knew she was a dog, she was such a people-puppy. She liked to lick, and would often come up and lean against you, laying her head in your lap.
In 1996, my son was born, and we spent his first week at my parents’ house while I recuperated from his arrival. Katie appointed herself his special guardian and would sleep under his crib. If anyone but me approached the crib, she let out a warning growl. She adored children.
My parents moved to Wisconsin later in 1996. When they were preparing to leave on trips back to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, they would ask Katie, “Do you want to go to the farm?” She would not budge from the car door, waiting with her tail whipping in excitement to be let in for the trip north.
Katie loved car rides unless she figured out the destination was the kennel. She listened best to my father, but never quite worked out as a bird hunting dog. A flock of wild turkeys passed through the yard of my parents’ neighbor one brisk afternoon. When the birds were nearly to the safety of the tree line, we opened the front door to let Katie out, asking her “Where are the birds?”
She took off in the opposite direction.
Katie never lost her puppy face, and continued to delight, amuse and confound us with her puppy-like antics. She considered it her mission in life to kill the squeak in any noisy dog toys, her favorite a hedgehog toy. She’d bring one up to you and want to play fetch or tug-of-war.
Until the last year or two, the only hint of Katie’s age was a bit of gray around her muzzle. Then her eyes got cloudy, and she lost most of her hearing. She used to be waiting at the door when anyone ever arrived at the house, but in the last year, we often had to go looking for her, and she could usually be found curled up on her bed in my father’s office.
It became harder for her to lie down and get up, as she began having pain in her hips. The vet gave my parents pain medication for Katie, but in the last few weeks she began having some really bad spells, including one that required her to get an IV to prevent dehydration. We didn’t like to see her in so much pain and knew a hard decision would have to be made.
Last Thursday, I brought my son to my parents’ house so he could say good-bye. Katie was not having a good day. She was barely eating, ignored the treat my son offered her, and kept pacing around, exhausted because it was so hard for her to lie down. Animals may not be able to clearly verbalize their pain, but I could see it in her eyes. Watching her slow, agonizing effort to lie down that night made my heart ache. My son’s last glimpse of Katie came as we were backing out of the driveway when mom let her outside. From a distance, she still looked like a playful puppy.
When a beloved pet ages, you try to ready yourself for the loss and the need to make that hard decision that will end their suffering. While you can try to get ready mentally, there is no preparing your heart.
Last Saturday, I got up early and drove to my parents’ house with the sun rising behind me, and the moon dropping to the horizon ahead of me. There were patches of fog, and the trees were covered in crystal-like frost.
When I arrived, Katie was having a good day. I think it was because she was happy to see my father, who was home from Ohio for the weekend. During the trip to her final veterinary appointment, my parents and I only talked about how lovely it looked outside, and how thick the fog was in patches. I was with Katie in the back seat, where she rested her back end against the seat as she licked the seats, the console and my hands.
We stayed with Katie, stroking her fur as the vet administered first a sedative, and then a final shot. I know that this decision was the right one, having seen the pain in Katie’s eyes lately, but it was so incredibly hard to lose her. Her suffering is over, but we will bear the pain of her absence for a long time. It will ease in time, helped by 14 years worth of memories — the good, the amusing, the frustrating and the sad.
My parents’ house seems so empty without our beloved black mutt wagging her goofy-looking tail, laying her head in our laps, and blatantly begging for treats. You could not have asked for a more loving or loyal dog than Katie. When we get her ashes back, they will be brought to the farm she loved to roam.
For a dog I didn’t want, I failed at trying not to like her. Good pets become members of the family, and Katie will always be in our hearts.

Celebrate the remarkable women in your life

Written for Mother’s Day, 2008

There are a lot of remarkable women in my family who serve as role models for me on how to live as a woman and as a mother.

I come from a large family — between my father and mother’s sides I have 10 aunts related to me by blood, and have had five women who are my aunts by marriage.
I could write volumes about my maternal grandmother, Ethel. She continues to amaze and inspire me with her passion for life and learning and her devotion to her loved ones.
On my father’s side, my grandmother Jacqueline passed away when I was 8. I treasure the few memories I have of her. I remember her mother, Blanche, better. She was with us until 1997, although dementia took her away earlier. I have three great aunts, each a unique and lovely lady who speaks her mind and shares great family stories.
My father has two sisters. One died before I was born, and I have been slowly solving the mystery of who she was and the choices she made. His other sister, a gifted musician, lives in the U.P. with her teenage son.
My mother has eight sisters, ranging in age from their mid 60s to early 40s. It is always fun to see them together. Each is unique and beautiful in her own way, but they are undeniably sisters.
The bonds of sisterhood extend beyond blood. My mother’s three brothers have brought more aunts into my life. My oldest uncle married a lovely woman whom I am getting to know much better as an adult. My youngest uncle’s first wife holds a special place in my heart. The end of a marriage doesn’t cut the ties of the heart. I look to her as an example of how to raise sons.
There are the aunts I adored when I was a child, and still love dearly. There are other aunts who I appreciate more now that I am an adult and a mother myself.
My grandmothers and great aunts lived through the Great Depression and World War II, and raised children though tumultuous times. My aunts and mother are Baby Boomers, and have grown up and lived during a time when the role of women at home and in the workplace has been redefined.
The women in my life are survivors. They have been widowed, served in the military and fought leukemia, breast and other forms of cancer.
The women in my life have been through many of the issues women are faced with — from infidelity, domestic abuse and divorce to unplanned pregnancies, miscarriages and giving up a child for adoption.

The women in my life are teachers, business women, homemakers and much more. Some of my aunts and my mother are now grandmothers. One is a great-grandmother.
And there is my mother, who has worked as an advocate for children caught in custody disputes and for the victims of crimes. Her compassion and caring humble me.

Turning into your mother is not the insult I pretended it was when I was a teenager.
Mother’s Day is Sunday. Celebrate the women in your life and give thanks for their compassion, care, hard work and self-sacrifice.

Most of all, give thanks for their love.

Since I wrote this, my beloved Aunt Kathy and Great-Aunt Helen passed away, as did a family friend who I love dearly.

When strawberries bloom

One of my favorite columns, published May 31, 2008
When we lose a loved one, we carry them with us in our memories and in our hearts. Sometimes they leave behind other reminders of themselves. It could be opening a closet and getting a whiff of their cologne, or finding an old letter or photograph tucked into in the back of a drawer, or a note written in a book.
My son and I spent Memorial Day weekend in Ironwood, Mich.
On Sunday, my son and I climbed the back hill of my grandparents’ farm with my cousin and his two children. We climbed to Castle Rock, a formation of rocks visible from the kitchen window of the farmhouse. My son and his second cousins represent the third generation of children to climb Castle Rock to enjoy the view. A small white pine tree grows near Castle Rock, and I began digging a hole under it.
When the hole was as deep as I could make it with a garden trowel, we brought out the ashes of Katie Dog and buried them. I planted daisies on top, and in July we may come back and build a cairn of lake rocks to mark the spot.
Earlier that day, we drove to the cemetery to tend the graves of family members with my grandmother, aunt and my grandmother’s sister. The first stop was to the grave of my great-grandparents, the parents of my grandmother and her sister. Great Grandpa Waino and Great Grandma Alma died in the 1960s. My grandmother talked about the last time she spoke with her mother.
“She told me ‘I’ll see you tomorrow, we’ll go picking strawberries,’” Grandma said.
Great Grandma Alma died later that night.
At our feet - blooming around the graves of my great-grandparents - were wild strawberries.

We buried my father's ashes near Katie Dog's resting place, and marked the spot with a mosaic garden tile.

Summer blooms

My Aug. 2, 2008 column

Last summer, I tried to maintain a container garden on my back patio. Since I rent, I can’t really dig a garden in my back yard, and the little patch of tillable soil already has plants. A previous tenant planted bleeding hearts and bachelor’s buttons, which come back every year.
I bought planters, and visited several local garden centers and bought zucchini, lavender, rosemary, lamb’s ear and more. I planted seeds for jalapenos, tomatoes, cilantro, basil, catnip and black-eyed susans.
I grew to love summer squash as an adult, having refused to touch it as a child. What finally hooked me was a casserole my mom concocted with zucchini, onions, tomatoes, red pepper flakes and lots of cheese. I soon find myself grilling squash to eat on its own or serve on a veggie pizza and even deep-frying it.
I planted jalapenos, tomatoes and cilantro because I love to make pico de gallo. The cilantro was harvestable, but I never had a tomato, and the only jalapenos came from the plants I brought to my parents house. The peppers thrived in a pot on their driveway. My parents must have harvested about 30 peppers.
My son gave the lamb’s ear to his grandmother on Mother’s Day. Little did we know then that they’d be living in a new house a year later.
I brought the rosemary and lavender inside for the winter. The rosemary did not survive, and I nearly killed the lavender. It’s starting to thrive again in a pot on my back stoop. The catnip did not last long. My cat rolled herself on top of the first seeds that sprouted. We tried to hide subsequent plants from her until they could be moved outside, but the little addict needed her fix.
Nothing came of the black-eyed susan seeds I planted, or so I thought. I was debating what to plant in a huge black pot on my patio, when something sprouted on its own. I decided to let it grow, and was rewarded with black-eyed susans.
The front of my duplex is all asphalt, as I share a driveway and parking lot with my duplex neighbors. A few weeds pop up in the gaps where the driveway meets the stoop and the house. There is a raised bump that has cracked open between my stoop and my neighbor’s. Every summer since I have lived in this duplex, an orange daylily sprouts up there, growing thicker and taller each year.
It’s a late bloomer, given that my duplex faces north. Similar plants along roadways and in a neighbor’s yard bloom weeks before mine does.
I admire the persistence of the plant. It forces its way through and refuses to be held back by its unpleasant environment, bringing a spot of color and grace to my doorstep. The leaves remind me of yucca, a plant I saw often in Western Colorado, which thrives in a high mountain desert environment.
This daylily grows in an asphalt desert.

Perhaps it is a metaphor for life.

We may not be in an ideal environment, and have to weather less than pleasant circumstances, but it is still possible to bloom.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A tribute to my father...

In loving memory of Jay Lutey
As delivered June 25, 2011, in Ironwood, Michigan

We Luteys were fortunate for several years to live close together. And then seven years ago, Sarah moved to Indiana... and three years ago, Mom and Dad moved to Ohio.
So home became wherever we could be together.

A Lutey tradition during the holiday season is to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We love Clarence the angel, who taught George Bailey that

“No man is a failure who has friends”

and told him:

“Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?”

Standing here today. . . surrounded by so many who knew and loved him. . . I feel that my father was the richest man I’ll ever know.

One of my earliest memories is riding on Dad’s shoulders up the hill to watch the Michigan Tech Huskies play hockey.

Dad spent his life lifting us up — with his strength of character, his strong work ethic, his commitment to his family and friends and through his unique and witty sense of humor.

There’s a perfect expression for it, but we’re in church, so I’ll call him a smart aleck.

Dad had what he called the imp of the perverse in him, from his puns, to practical jokes like burying a neighbor’s car in snow, to picking up his nearly empty dish of Mom’s chocolate mousse and licking it clean in front of company, and then looking innocent over his lack of table manners.

Sarah and I were so blessed to have him for a father.

Dad was the steady hand on our backs as he taught us to ride a bike. A firm grip on our hands as we walked from house to house trick or treating on Halloween. And a gentle touch washing our hair. Mom was always in a hurry to rush us through a bath and get us into bed… so we’d raise a fuss and demand that “Magic Hands” wash our hair.

I bought my first camera when I was nine, because I wanted to be just like him...

He had the patience and creative eye to capture some gorgeous photographs — from waterfalls, to sunsets over Lake Superior, to mountain views and lots of family portraits.

If you have a photographer in your life, grab the camera now and then to snap a few pictures of them. For every picture on display today of Dad, there are at least two dozen pictures or slides without him.

Dad taught us to be self-reliant. He made us learn how to change the oil in the car, how to change a flat and how to drive a stick shift.

He taught us the value of fiscal responsibility, which became especially useful as we inherited Mom’s shopping instincts.

When a sisterly squabble broke out — and there were some epic battles — one of us might complain that something wasn’t fair.

Dad would tell us that life isn’t fair.

I don’t think we needed the lesson carried this far.

When I have any decisions to make in my life, I can ask “What Would Dad do?”

And the answer will be the right choice.

Dad was very organized and always trying to improve himself.

He kept a planner, where he tracked his life in his neat, precise print. He logged his exercise routines, and kept a list of his references and business contacts. He stored a copy of his favorite margarita recipe in his planner, and tucked in a photo of Teresa and a love note from her.

He kept a list of his friends – most of whom are in this room today, or whose families are here.

Dad wrote down his values — from having close relationships with Teresa and his family and friends, to having security and a meaningful job and having free time to enjoy his hobbies.

Dad also wrote down his dreams.

Perhaps someday we’ll understand God’s plan in not giving him enough time to achieve them all.

If we can learn anything from losing him, please let it be this…

Writing down your dreams and goals is important, but don’t wait for some future date to pursue them.

Buy that home in the mountains or on a lakeshore.

Travel to Alaska… Yellowstone… England… or France.

Visit the Apostle Islands.

Drive a Corvette Stingray.

Live each day as if it may be your last, and always let those you love know how much they mean to you.

We know how much Dad loved us, and how much he loved his grandson, who shares his first name. I treasure the memory of the first time Dad held Jace, or his smile whenever a little voice called him “Buppa.”

Thank you, Dad, for telling me how proud you were of the job I’ve done raising Jace.

The greatest gift Dad ever gave us, though, was the love he shares with Mom.

I wish every child could grow up surrounded by that much love.

Dad loved it when Sarah and I returned from a trip to Chicago, where our great aunt Helen, affectionately known as Hudgie, filled our ears with the story of how Mom chased him shamelessly.

Those who knew Dad in his youth know what a great athlete he was.

He let her catch him.

There are those who’ve asked if I’ll ever get married. I don’t think my standards are too high, I’m holding out for someone who will look at me with at least half as much love as the way Jay looked at Teresa.

I miss you already, Dad… but you don’t feel that far away because I’ll carry you with me in my heart forever. 123



Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pass it on

Too often we forget the importance of kindness in our lives. I never truly appreciated the impact of committing random acts of kindness until I found myself the recipient of one.
My son and I set out on Good Friday on a trip to the U.P., to spend the holiday weekend with my grandmother and an aunt. We pulled into the drive-thru lane at a fast food restaurant in Portage to order a light lunch, something to tide us over until we could sit down for dinner at my favorite pizza place.
When I reached out to pay for our meal, the fast food employee surprised me by pressing change and a receipt into my hand. She told us that the customer in the car ahead of us in line had paid for our meal, and asked that we receive the change. We had no idea who was behind the wheel of the white car with Minnesota plates. We smiled and waved at the driver as they pulled out of the restaurant.
The four-hour trip north passed by quickly while I came down from the emotional high of such an unexpected gesture of kindness. I temporarily set aside my own troubles while trying to think of ways I could pay it forward. Just like a great comeback pops into your head hours after a confrontation, the most obvious solution didn’t occur to me until we’d been on the road for an hour.
I should have passed the change back to the drive-thru clerk and asked her to use it for it the car behind me. She’d looked both surprised and delighted to play a part in that stranger’s act of kindness.
The next day, after catching up with three classmates over coffee while we brainstormed ideas for an upcoming class reunion, I left money with the barista. I told her I was buying coffee for the next person to order, and why.
Harold Kushner said, “When you carry out acts of kindness you get a wonderful feeling inside. It is as though something inside your body responds and says, ‘Yes, this is how I ought to feel.’”
He’s right. It feels good, even better than being the recipient. I’m already plotting future acts of kindness.
You can, too.
Pay the toll for the car behind you, or drop money in a parking meter about to expire.
Drop off baked goods for police officers, firefighters or teachers, with a note letting them know how much you appreciate their service.
Leave an extra-large tip after eating out.
Finding ways to commit random acts of kindness don’t have to be monetary. Smile at strangers, hold doors open, wave at the people in cars that pass you by or let someone ahead of you in line at the grocery store or bank.
Be generous, but sincere, with compliments.
The Rev. Henry Burton wrote, “Have you had a kindness shown? Pass it on;’Twas not given for thee alone, Pass it on.”

Think twice before starting new year with a new look

(Originally published in 2005)
Many start the New Year with a resolution regarding their appearance, like trying to lose weight. Health and fitness changes are good for you.
I don’t recommend trying to make a drastic change, though, to other aspects of one’s appearance. I speak from experience.
At my family’s second Christmas in Marble, Colorado in 1987, I received three gifts that stand out. One was my first diamond ring, which still fits. Another was a makeup mirror that has not stopped working in 17 years. The last gift is memorable in its own way.
That present was a frosting kit. Not the kind you spread on a cake. This is a kit to “frost” your hair. My mother had taken pity on my efforts to lighten my mousy hair and bought the kit as a present.
You see, when I was in middle school, a geek with glasses and braces, I was convinced that I’d be so much better looking as a blonde. I’d tried using a bottle of spray-on lightener to little effect. The spray is activated by exposure to sunlight or, in my case, the heat of a blow dryer. This is not good for the health of one’s hair.
One school night in January of 1988, my father was out of town and my mother, sister and I were looking for something to do.
“Let’s frost your hair,” said my mother.
I got the kit from my room and we set up an at- home salon at the kitchen table.
The kit came with a plastic cap, a pick that looks like a knitting needle and hair lightener. The cap fits tightly over the head and has little dots on it, where you can stick the pick through to pull out a strand of hair. This is so just a few select strands will be exposed to the lightener.
My mother, bless her heart, is not the most patient of souls, especially when it comes to dealing with hair. As a child, having my hair brushed or put into pigtails or a ponytail for school was not something I looked forward to. At bath time, we used to beg her to let dad wash our hair, because he could do it without excessive tugging. Mom’s technique left a lot to be desired.
So there I was, wearing the cap, with my mother jabbing the hook at my head. Ouch.
Once she was satisfied that she’d yanked enough hair through the cap, she applied the lightener.
“It burns,” I said.
“Oh, it is supposed to do that,” was her nonchalant reply.
When the timer went off, I got into the shower to rinse the dye out of my hair.
Stepping out, I looked up to see my mom backing away from me, an expression of horror on her face. She was repeating, “I’m so sorry” over and over again.
I looked in the mirror to see what was wrong.
My hair was white.
Instead of a few highlights to brighten up my color, the reverse had happened. Now I had a few streaks of my natural color while the rest of my head had no color at all.
To make matters worse, my hair was mush, completely over-processed.
Keep in mind that my hair then was past my shoulders in length, with big 1980s bangs and lots of layering.
“We have to move!” I wailed, dreading the idea of going to school like that.
It was now after 9 p.m. Mom had a friend who was a beautician, so we piled in the car and headed to her house after calling to explain the emergency.
My hair had to be almost completely chopped off. I went from looking 13 to being able to pass for 60.
I’m not sure how I made it through school the next day, and have a blessedly vague memory of it. I do recall many odd looks, plenty of questions, and laughter when my back was turned.
Very few photos exist of me from that time, because I’ve destroyed the ones I got my hands on. By October of that year, my hair had grown out enough that only the ends looked frosted.
That incident cured me of doing anything crazy to my hair for many years. I tried a few more times in college to lighten my hair, but finally decided to live with the color I was born with.
It must be a hair color passed on from my mother, although we can’t be sure, as she was a bottled blonde up until the past year. My father has dark hair, and, at 52, has so little grey that friends accuse him of coloring it.
I’ve had my share of hair catastrophes, but nothing was ever as bad as me with white hair. My sister had her share of catastrophes too. She was the victim of an unfortunate perm that made her look like a well-known singer from the 1960s, a well-known male singer.
What lessons did I take away from the granny hair?
First, that my mother gets absolutely zero input on what my hairstyle or color is.
Second, that if you want to make a drastic change to your hair color, visit a salon.
The most valuable lesson is one that took me years to understand. Happiness does not come from appearance, but from within. Learn to love yourself for who you are, not who you think you can be.
Have a happy new year and don’t make any dramatic changes to your appearance. Consider a new lipstick instead.