It’s That Time Of Year Again! 9th Annual Gateway To Writing Workshop

I participated in this workshop in years past and can’t begin to tell you all I gained as a result.  It is put on by a local writing group, of which I’m now a member.  If you live in mid-Michigan and are interested in writing, check it out.  I always come away learning something.  I will be there!

Saturday, September 28th

Northeast Arts Council Building, 3233 Grove Street Rd., Standish, MI 48658

9:00 a.m. – 2:15 p.m.

Cost — $25.00 (lunch and materials included)

Keynote Speaker:  Marla Kay Houghteling

Keynote Address: Writing Close to the Bone:
Transforming Personal Experiences into Written Language

Workshop Session with Marla Kay Houghteling:
Rules of Writing That Can Be Broken

Workshop Session with Angela Cook-Hoekwater:
Flash Fiction: The Essence of the Short, Short Story

Roundtable Discussion – Come with ideas on writing process,
groups, contacts, publishing outlets, reading suggestions

Sponsored by Mid-Michigan Writers, Inc., and Northeast Michigan Arts Council
For more information call: 989.846.8211 or 989.846.6546 or 989.482.9005

Happy July!

Garrett and Sunny playing fetch at the Russell Canoe Livery dock.

Garrett and Sunny playing fetch at the Russell Canoe Livery dock.


Once again I find myself trying to get back into blogging.  Last month I’d hoped to write daily about my roots.  It just didn’t work.  Don’t be surprised if I do finally get around to exploring every nook and cranny of that topic in the near future.  Working at my parents’ canoe livery, Russell Canoes, this summer, organizing old family photos and memorabilia, and living in my Dad’s childhood home have all conspired to bring back wonderful childhood memories.  Did I mention that I love working at the canoe livery?  We truly do have the best customers and employees, past and present.

Here are a few vintage Russell Canoe Livery pictures I recently shared on our Facebook page.  I took the pictures above the other day.  I love getting to work with my little brother!  We had fun playing fetch with our parents’ gold retriever Sunny as we waited to take out canoers and tubers.  Happy July!

Grandpa Owen summer 1973.  Love this pic!  It shows our main location in Omer prior to any store.

Grandpa Owen summer 1973. Love this pic! It shows our main location in Omer prior to any store.

Company tubing trip circa 1985.  My Dad is the driver's seat.  Loved his old truck!

Company tubing trip circa 1985. My Dad is in the driver’s seat. Loved his old truck!  Also includes a couple of our first buses – Buses B and D.  Grandpa Owen back by the tailgate.

Another view of the tubing crew.  My Mom is in the passenger seat.  Circa 1985.
Another view of the tubing crew. My Mom is in the passenger seat. Circa 1985.



Book Review: “The Return Of Catesby” By Bob O’Connor

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It isn’t every day that I come across a book that inspires me on several levels.  The Return Of Catesby by Bob O’Connor did just that.  The rest of my review will explain how and why.  If you enjoy historical fiction, I can’t recommend The Return Of Catesby enough.

Over the last few days I’ve spent some time thinking about how The Return Of Catesby inspired me.  First, I have to admit the style in which the book is written is one of my favorites.  I love journals and believe this technique is particularly suited for this type of historical fiction.  As a reader, I am always looking for my next book.  After learning a little about Bob O’Connor’s work, I knew I wanted to read more.  The Return Of Catesby serves well as a sequel to Catesby:  Eyewitness To Civil War, as well as a stand-alone read.  While I don’t feel the need to read Catesby:  Eyewitness To Civil War to fully appreciate The Return Of Catesby, I am now compelled to read the first book due to Catesby’s experiences discussed in the sequel.  All other content aside, the topic, genre, and organization of the book would’ve been enough to draw me in.  But there is so much more.  I simply don’t remember the last time I read a work of historical fiction with such heart.

Why The Return Of Catesby inspires me is an easy question to answer.  There is, of course, the character of Catesby himself, a fictionalized version of a real blacksmith who lived during the Civil War era.  In the book, he comes across as the most authentic, inspiring teacher imaginable, despite having never stepped foot in a classroom prior to his first day of teaching.  His wife, Marcia, truly comes into her own at the end of the book and is Catesby’s constant helpmate in every sense of the word.  Perhaps most inspiring of all is the insatiable appetite for learning exhibited by some of Catesby’s students.  They simply couldn’t get enough, despite the fact that the town of Harpers Ferry wasn’t exactly welcoming.  I envy the community created around the school.  They truly cared for one another and even sought to learn the history of the tension between the community of Harpers Ferry and the school.

Harper's Ferry, West Virginia

Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

The Return Of Catesby by Bob O’Connor will stay with me for some time.  I am honored to have hosted an interview with him and to have had the opportunity to review the book today.  If you have any interest in historical fiction at all, I highly recommend The Return Of Catesby.  Do not be surprised if I review more of Bob O’Connor’s work in the future.

Antietam National Batllefield

Antietam National Batllefield

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Why I Write: Every Life Has A Story

Let’s start at the very beginning: Why Write At All? « The Collaborative Writer

As of late I’ve come across some great material that got me thinking about why I write in the first place.  The article above from The Collaborative Writer gets it exactly right.  I admit it:  I am my own worst enemy.  I tend to over-think everything and spend too much time planning what I’d like to do when I really should be writing.  I.  Just.  Need.  To.  Write.  Why is that so difficult in practice?

The thing is that I truly believe everyone has a story.  No one has a perfect life.  Everyone is struggling with something and conflict is the heart of any great story.  Not only does that simple premise – everyone has a story – get to the heart of why I write, it is also the reason why I love to read.  I am drawn to biographies and autobiographies or any good plot driven by realistic conflicts dealt with by well-rounded characters.

Again, I keep going back to asking myself why it has to be so hard.  I love to create.  I know what I like to write.  I always feel more myself when I write.  Why don’t I write more?  I think we all need to ditch the excuses.

The video included below I came across as part of training for my position as a clerk.  I love the message of the video.  It is all too easy to forget that everyone is struggling with something.


G and Sunny

While I normally don’t share a lot of personal pictures here, I just had to share this one.  The golden retriever is my brother’s dog Sunny, who happens to be one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever known.  In fact, I’m not sure whose dog she actually is.  While originally she was supposed to be my brother’s dog, he was 14 when she came into our lives.  My parents quickly laid claim to her too.  She follows my Mom everywhere.  When my brother went off to college, Sunny stayed home.

I spent the last week sitting Sunny while my parents took a trip to the Caribbean.  I miss her already.  Again, I just adore this picture, which includes two of my favorites:  my little brother G and Miss Sunny.  I meant to take a picture of her on one of our walks in the woods behind my Grandma’s house, but forgot my camera.

Goodbye Pontiac


A week ago yesterday, I picked up my new car, a 2013 red Chevy Malibu.  Sad to say, it just seems like an end of an era in my life.  In the 16 years I’ve had my driver’s license, I’ve owned and driven two Pontiacs – a 1989 red Grand Prix and a silver 2002 Grand Prix.  That’s it.  I tend to hang on to cars.  I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that I believe my 1989 Grand Prix saved my life.

July 24, 2002 I was in a bad car accident in Austin, Texas.  I was driving on highway 290 on my way to work at Applied Materials.  I was almost to work when a big white moving truck made a left-hand turn in front of me; I had the green light and was traveling 55 MPH.  The other driver did not see me.  I slammed on the brakes so hard I broke my big toe and fractured the metatarsal.  I was lucky.  Most of the front end of my car ended up under the side of the truck.  I hate to think of the possible fate of any front-seat passenger I may have had.  Fortunately the only other injuries I had from the crash was a bad cut behind my ear from the molding on my driver’s side door and a small cut on my knee.  Despite not having airbags, I did not get bombarded with glass from the windshield.  Fortunately the safety glass held.  At 5 ft. 0, airbags might have made things worse prior to smart airbag technology.

Ironically I originally planned to sell that car after the end of my co-op with Applied Materials.  Instead I found myself car shopping for a new Grand Prix in Austin, Texas with my Mom.  There are so many memories of that 1989 Grand Prix though, I was very sad to see it go, despite its quirks.  My parents purchased the red 1989 Grand Prix new in 1989; I was 8 – and excited for a new family car.  Prior to that car, my Mom drove full-size vans that doubled as canoe livery vehicles throughout the summer.  Suffice to say my Mom was very happy to have a car again!  I was just as excited to go car shopping with my parents.  It was a 2-door, red, and sexy for its time.  Of course it was love at first sight.

One snowy Christmas Eve a year or so after my parents purchased the car, my parents, my sister, and I found ourselves helping a young woman who ended up in the ditch.  As we drove home from festivities at my grandparents’ home in Standish, we were nearly home when my parents saw a set of headlights in the ditch.  My Dad backed up the car and helped the driver, a young woman on her way to her parents’ home for Christmas.  My Mom, in her gorgeous fox coat, which my Dad had trapped for her, climbed into the backseat with me and my sister.  As the driver wasn’t badly hurt and didn’t want medical attention, we drove her to her parents’ home.  It is one of my favorite childhood memories.  When you are just newly 9 years-old, I suppose it passes for adventure.

I think the intention always was to hang onto that car until I was old enough to drive.  In the 1995 model year, Pontiac came out with an entirely redesigned Grand Prix, the wide track.  At the time my parents were friends with a couple who owned the local GM dealership.  Mr. W knew what he was doing and drove one of the new Grand Prixes over to my parents’ house.  All of us fell in love with that car.  Hook, line, sinker.  My Mom ended up with the car and the 1989 Grand Prix was put in the pole barn until I could drive.  At the time, there weren’t many 1995 Grand Prixes on the road yet, and my Mom got plenty of looks in her new car (of course it was red too).  At 14, I have to admit I was envious.

Now I had a car of my own!  I had nearly a year to play around with what would become my car, drive it in the campground, and set it up exactly as I wanted it.  I couldn’t wait to drive, even if it meant driving my little sister everywhere too.  A few months after I got my license, I ended up in my first fender-bender in that car one icy February morning on my way to school.  It was the first car crash my sister and I had ever been in.  We both just absolutely burst into tears – and then drove on to school and called Mom.

In many ways, it was E’s car too.  It seemed as though each school day my sister and I would fight over control of the radio and tape deck.  There were certain single tapes I had in the car that she insisted on playing over and over again; it drove me crazy.  I hate to admit this, but I used to make E pump my gas.  It was a while before I did it myself.  On cold winter nights, I picked her up from 4-H ski club, along with her skis, which we would have to put through the trunk into the backseat.  She even drove my car throughout my freshman year at Michigan State and had her 5 CD changer installed in the trunk.  Eventually, though, she ended up with my Dad’s old Jeep, which is an entire post on its own.

After my sophomore year at MSU I ended up with an internship at IBM out in Rochester, Minnesota.  There was only one problem:  I still wasn’t comfortable behind the wheel.  On my first day of driver’s education, back in June 1995, my cousin A, who is only 10 months older than me, ended up being hit head on by a drunk driver.  Fortunately A survived; the other driver did not.  A owned a white 1988 Grand Prix, and it too probably saved her life.

As one can imagine, her crash left an impression on me as a new driver, especially since we grew up together and went to the same schools.  I simply didn’t trust other drivers.  Things were better by my sophomore year at MSU, but the idea of driving out to Minnesota for the summer was daunting.  My Grandma ended up riding out to Rochester with me and then flew home.  By the end of the summer, I looked forward to the drive home by myself.

My drive home from Minnesota is one of my favorite memories of my 1989 Grand Prix.  I loaded up my sister’s 5 CD changer with my favorites and drove through Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the UP of Michigan.  It happened to be a gorgeous August day, and I was anxious to start getting ready for my year of adventures in Ecuador and Spain.  After all those years, I finally started to feel comfortable behind the wheel.

1989 Pontiac

If I learned how to drive in my 1989 Grand Prix, I learned to love to drive in my 2002 Grand Prix.  That poor car:  I put it through a lot!  It has a few trips from Michigan to Texas and back again on it, and almost exactly 183,000 miles when I turned it in last week.

The thing is:  It was not the original car I wanted.  My Mom talked me into it.  Sure, I wanted another Grand Prix, but I wanted a sexy gold 2001 with leather seats and a sun roof.  The cars happened to be about the same price.  My Mom talked me out of the gold 2-door though.  She brought up the fact that I’d probably be moving at least once after college and the 4-door gray would be infinitely more practical.  She couldn’t have been more right.  I moved several times with the help of that car.

The funny thing is that the 2002 I owned echoed some of the styling of the Grand Prixes of the 1970s.  As a child, the Mom of one of my best friends owned a chocolate brown late 1970s Grand Prix – a boat of a car.  I remember thinking how deep the backseats were back then.  The same goes for the 2002.  In fact, three of my little cousins, all siblings, ended up getting carsick riding in the backseat of my car.  I doubt any of the three could see out the side windows at the time.

2002 Grand Prix

Oddly, I can’t say I have any memories of dating in either of my cars.  I didn’t date in high school, and when I finally did date in college, we always ended up either not driving or taking my date’s car.  I do have very fond memories of my boyfriend Brian’s old Pontiac 6000 though.  It wasn’t particularly sexy or great looking, but Brian more than made up for that.  It was just a great car with even better memories.  Originally owned by Brian’s Grandma Menja (Marie), Brian drove the 6000 throughout high school and college.  Brian totaled the car in 2001 only to have it fixed up and continue driving it until after we graduated from college in 2004.

In fact, most of our first date – the worst blind date I’ve ever been on – took place in that car.  It happened to be a rainy, freezing late February night in 2000, and since we couldn’t decide what to do next on our date, we spent a good share of the evening just driving around Bay City, trying to get warm and dry after getting caught in a freezing rain walking along the riverfront.  After we finally got together in 2004, we always seemed to find ourselves driving around in that car.  We drove all over Lansing, East Lansing, and Michigan State.  I loved that car too and was sad to see it go.

One of the best memories I have of that car is coming home to my apartment in East Lansing on graduation day to see him sitting on the trunk of his Pontiac looking like the best graduation gift ever.  My family couldn’t come to the graduation ceremony for my Spanish degree from the College of Arts and Letters, they were coming the following day for my graduation from business school, so Brian decided to come.  Memories of that last semester of college and that spring are some of the best of my life, thanks largely to Brian.

Yeah, you could say that I liked Pontiacs.  I will never understand GM’s decision to kill the brand.  If they ever bring it back, I will definitely take a look at what they have to offer.  Since Pontiac’s demise in 2009, I’ve heard time and time again that the Aztec was to blame.  I have to admit, it is quite possibly the ugliest car I’ve ever seen, although I don’t think it was the sole reason why GM decided to kill Pontiac.  Unfortunately, Pontiac’s untimely demise left a huge hole in downtown Bay City.  Dunlap Pontiac closed its doors in downtown Bay City after 85 years in business.

I love cars, and I’m not sure if I could truly call myself a Michigander if I didn’t.  Last week I not only said goodbye to a car I owned for over 10 years, I said goodbye to a brand I loved.  I’m just glad my Mom still owns her 2007 Pontiac Solstice.  I loved my Pontiacs.  I love my new Chevy Malibu too.  What I really love is the freedom a car represents.  I think it is time for a road trip.  Feel free to share your car memories in the comments.


I’m In Love


I am in love.  I’m in love with the Kindle Fire I received from my parents for my birthday.  Earlier this fall, I came up with the crazy idea that I’d love a Kindle Fire for my birthday.  The idea seemed crazy at first because I received a Nook Color last year.  The thing is that I love my Nook so much I wanted to compare the Kindle Fire, discuss various features, and share everything with all of you.   So, here it goes:

So why do I love my Kindle Fire so much?

The experience of setting up the Kindle Fire blew me away.  All of a sudden I had access to my MP3 collection, which I’d largely forgotten, right on my Kindle Fire.  Free apps such as Kindle Buffet have already helped me create huge library of great books to discover, largely for free.  I also discovered a great, free YouTube video downloader.  All of that is just the beginning.

I have to admit, I haven’t exactly been fair to my Nook Color.  I’m going to have to spend some time exploring some of its capabilities.  Over the last year I largely used it as an e-reader and to play a few games (Words with Friends, etc.).  I’ll do a direct comparison of both devices soon.  I will say this though:  It is hard to compete with Amazon’s selection and service.  I’ve been nothing but happy so far.