Friday, November 22, 2013

All Those Years Ago

I am gonna bake a cake. I hope I don't screw up the icing this time because last year, I did. Last year, I used regular granulated sugar. I thought sugar was sugar!  And I wanted it to be a surprise, so I didn't ask for help. I was eight then. Now I am nine. Almost all growed up, right? So I think I will try again, only this time, my sister will help me and we will surprise Gramma and Grampa.

Today is their anniversary. They were married in a little town in Ontario called Thessalon. There was no big wedding, just a priest and a couple of friends. Probably in the library at the Rectory. It was a Wednesday, such an odd day for a wedding, but probably the only day they had free. I know what dress Gramma wore. It had tiny blue and white dots. She had a hat with a veil that grazed her eyebrows. Grampa wore a suit; probably the only suit he owned . After all, who needs fancy clothes when you work in a lumber mill. Gramma was the cook/housekeeper there. Grampa worked hard (even with a bad heart).

For some reason, I am home from school today-maybe chicken pocks recovery. So mom has me go to the grocery store with her. It is on Clio Road in Flint. We get there about 11 o'clock in the morning, dad driving us so we could be done before he goes off to work 2nd shift at 3. I select the cake mix and the sugar-the right kind of sugar this time. I am so excited and I get one of those little tubes of icing to write Happy Annivesary on the icing. I selected red, of course. Only I never get to make the cake. We never get to celebrate Gramma and Grampa's special day. 

We are in the checkout lane when someone starts to cry, and then more and more do the same. My little baby brother is in the buggy seat and it upsets him to see mommy crying. I didn't understand, "Mom, what is going on"? Over the loud speaker, the store manager announces something that sounds garbled to me but everyone goes silent. The president is dead, he says. His voice crumbles. And he says it again. Then the wailing rolls out from the back of the store to the magic-open doors in the front. They need to close the store for the rest of the day, so please make your purchases and thank you for shopping with us.

Dad (who always stays outside in the car listening to the radio until mom is done shopping) comes in and pays for the bags of food and we leave. We go home to a small black and white TV to see Uncle Walter as we call him, talking and trying not to cry.  I still didn't understand what has happened. Who would want to kill the president and take away the daddy to those two cutie pie kids we always see in Life Magazine?  WHY would anyone do that?  The TV is barely off for the next 4 days, school is cancelled and we all spend a lot of time in church, praying, comforting and trying to understand.

Gramma asks to be taken to St. Mike's church and she prays her rosary for hours, Grampa later joins her from his job at AC Spark Plug. He gets off the bus at the corner of Saginaw and 5th Avenue and goes inside to sit with her. They light some candles and then slowly walk the 3 blocks home together. It is their 41st anniversary and they would do no celebrating. 

And I would bake no cake ever again for them. They never celebrate publicly their special day  again. Two and a half years later, Gramma dies on Good Friday just a year after we move to a new house Grampa has used his retirement savings to buy, so us kids could be safer and we could all live together under the same roof.  

I can close my eyes today and remember all the sights, smells and sounds of that day in November 1963. For some reason, good or bad, I have etchings inside my brain that are permanent snapshots of everything that happened that day and could draw them out for you. I think this day  is my first step to no longer being a child, learning of  adult events that make life not so nice. The saddest part was knowing no one could fix it. Like we depend on our parents or grand parents to kiss a boo boo and it won't hurt anymore, or glue the dolly and she will blink and cry her tears again. Only, the hurt will come again and the dolly ends up in the garbage can and a few years pass, to more whys and pain and anger. 

We try to protect our children from similar events but they WILL happen. I remember going thru some with my kids, such as Challenger, wars, 9/11 and family deaths. The best we can do is tell them the truth suitable for their ages but most of all, love them and assure them, that love will never go away. Even if I never got to make that cake for my Gramma and Grampa, I was assured of one thing....that they loved me. That is what I want to pass on. So all those years ago, even in a sad, dark time of my life, I learned something worth celebrating. It may not be with a cake or gifts or a party. It is actually very quiet. But it's there.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Heat Of The Matter

I hate the cold. I don't think I have ever met anyone that that piece of news hasn't come up in about the first 10 minutes of conversation. It may  be the only thing anyone takes away from the encounter-this freak woman is paranoid about turning blue from the temperatures falling under 80F. I wear long pants and sweat shirts year round with layers of tshirts under it. I hate air conditioning. I use the heater in my car even in summertime. There is always tissue in my pockets to deal with the constant drip I get when my nose gets too much iciness, which for Michigan is pretty much all but 6 weeks  out of the year.

So why do I wait so long to turn the heat on in my home each year and turn if off probably too early? Some say it's because I am cheap (I prefer frugal). I don't want to make the energy company (and their monopoly) any richer than need be and I don't own any stock in it, either. The game starts pretty much the end of August or Labor Day weekend to see how quickly others brag of putting the heat ON and I just add another shirt layer.

October 1 was the cut off for years, as the kids were still here but I just knocked down the temp from 68F to 66F to lower. Soon those wonderful programmable thermostats came out and jeepers, the contraption  did its thing after just a few seconds of me bossing somebody around to plug some data in. Worked for me! If by chance the cold got here before it should, I sometimes let it run for a few hours, but not the full cycle that we normally did. I was doing this to save money but I also did this to put myself in a position of knowing what if felt like to be cold. Bone cold. 

I pushed the boundaries until I was into November at times. Hubby was working all the time, I turned off the heat in the unused bedrooms upstairs and just kept the family room and kitchen areas going open vent. At night, when I would use my four hours of dial up Internet, I often could not bend my fingers as I neared my last half hour of time at my desk tucked in an unheated bedroom, looking at the blue splotches on my legs and waiting to crawl into the spot of bed when hubby rose up for work and the furnace was programmed to come on just enough to heat the chill off and tone back for daylight as if by itself in a world of winter dreams.  I would later leave for the gym, and the house would be warmed again in time for my return to start the cycle over and turn off at 11, when droopy eyes and early alarms mandate.

The farthest I ever got was November 15 about 7  years ago. Last year, it was November 11. This year, tonight, November 14, I gave in. I wanted to keep going but it was for other reasons,as something changed  4 years ago. It wasn't any longer a contest just to push the date farther and farther but to experience what many others do on a daily basis in many parts of this country because they can't afford to heat their homes or they have no homes. What started out as a cheap game (frugal) became an act of empathy. And it hit very close to home. 

I found out after the death of my sister that there was no heat in the house she lived in. There was no running water. The electricity was still on because the electric company has a rule they won't cut all utilities in the winter for the elderly. My mom had died the previous winter and no one informed the local power company, so when they cut the gas for non-payment, they left the one that was most usable on, thinking mom was still in there and alive. By having electricity, my sister had a space heater in the living room. Nothing else. No gas to cook with (only a microwave), not water to flush the toilets with, nor to take a bath or shower. She had had bypass surgery and the powers that be decided she could go "home" without the normal check from social services. Had they done the jobs we pay them to, maybe she would still be alive. I think in part she froze to death. It's not a pretty picture and the guilt I take with me the rest of my life is something I wish on no one. Sadly, I had no contact with her the last 10 years of her life because of a controlling brother. Shortly after her death, the house caught fire and that brother nearly died. The fire was concentrated around that space heater. To this day, there is no admission of what really was going on and never will be.

I realize how lucky I am to have ready available heat, running water and electricity.  Many people struggle to keep just one of them on, often using an electric oven or gas stove to heat their homes at night, giving up one to keep another. Water can be bought in grocery stores or borrowed from neighbors in buckets. Gas for heat isn't so easy, only those with fireplaces maybe have a third option-they might even burn their own belongings simply to keep the winter creep from their bones and spend many more hours bundled in beds or sofas just to while the time away. This could be your own family. It was mine.

As I said, guilt has a lot to do with this heat issue, even if I could do nothing about it all. I can't fix what I didn't know about. Plus being brought up Catholic sure adds fuel to the fire! I lived in a household where the winter temperatures as a child were kept at 80F. That is just plain not healthy and when I saw that still happening after I became an adult and learned more, I tried to let my family know, but turning back to 72F would only last an hour and the heat and humidity inside the home led to mold, peeling paint and lots of lung issues from cigarettes, dust  and lead paint over the decades.  Plus lots of heating bills not being paid. Thousands of dollars.

Last year in Michigan was pretty mild. I saved half what I normally would have paid to heat the house in dead of winter to 68F and nighttime 60F. This year went cold very fast and we sit at below normal temps other than an occasional out of sync 70F. I still did not turn the heat on, running an occasional space heater if it became unbearable.  I vowed I would not turn the heat on until the people on the East Coast had their electricity back after Hurricane Sandy. Since I could do nothing else for them other than be with them in heart, I wanted to do something, even if they would never know. I wanted to feel what they were feeling, to be thankful for what I have and to remind me of what I could have done had I known. 

Guilt is a very powerful thing. I am trying to make it positive by turning it to empathy. I just get carried away sometimes and really, that is okay.  As I sit here battling a horrible cold (not from being cold but from daycare germs), I find myself "with" many families who tonight have no heat, are wrapped in blankets by fireplaces (assuming they have a home left standing) yet they are trying to stay positive, even with no turn on date after many promises. I hope the end of the week brings some relief for them.

My house is currently reading 60F at the desk near the kitchen, where it will sit until 8 AM when it heats to 68F. This morning the inside temp in the kitchen was 51F with 22F outside. I said enough, not so much for me but I did worry about pipes. I hear a warming trend is coming. I look forward to the day when no one need worry about being so cold their bones hurt and tears freeze on their faces. Until then, I share some empathy with them. And hope the day comes when the guilt leaves my soul.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Just Because I Am One.

Lucky you! My cute little face will be up here for a while as gramma writes other stuff to publish. Could be a day or a year. No matter what, she can't beat this for cuteness!

It's my day and I am gonna party!  Just because I am one!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Magical Crazy Time

It's 8 AM on the last Saturday in August.  For thirty straight years this was  a magical, crazy time  in my life. I would get up very early, before the sun rose to blind me from my bedroom window and start a ritual.   The normal routine of most days like teeth brushing and hair combing was interspersed with once-a-year procedures. From the precisely laid out ritual offering of the night before, I draped myself in silken shorts, a sleeveless top and well worn shoes. That could have been nothing special but the labels on the clothing were a little off the normal brands I wore, which were usually store branded. These items for the magical time bore the monikers of New Balance, Asics and Bill Rogers. 

I then would tie my hair up, somehow getting it under a hat or in a braid. I didn't want to deal with it for a few hours. As I donned my shoes, I made sure to dab bits of emollient between my toes, pulling my socks tight and double tying the laces. In later years, I also added a plastic tag to the shoe, so someone somewhere might keep the numbers straight. At least I thought that was part of the fee I paid to be a part of this magical time.  The last part of the early morning ritual was the adding of the paper bib to my chest.  I now was really a number! 4 safety pins, one per corner (one always with a dollar bill poked thru as a safety net). 

I set off for the 15 mile drive, sometimes thru extreme fog and redirects thru town for parking. The magical time originally started on the main road leading into the local community college.  Over the years, it became so crowded, it was moved into the downtown area for both the beginning and the end of the magic. The bright blue line that guided hundreds and then thousands of locals, all 50  state visitors and Olympian internationals of all colors and talents, was a year round presence for us, and a stepping stone to conversations for anyone who inquired of it.

This was the quest. The red bricks of Saginaw Street was the end of a long and winding road thru Flint. Nearly every economic level of life in the area had a neighborhood that correlated to the paychecks and you would run, walk, crawl and dance thru each one. 10 miles. Never one step less. The magical time was 8 AM on the last Saturday in August. The event was the Bobby Crim 10 Mile Road Race. The prize (at least originally) was a wooden Popsicle stick, handed to you as you crossed the last painted wedge at the end of the blue line. In later years, you were handed a metallic amulet on a bright ribbon. You had earned the right to wear the totems of the magical time, including a brightly embossed shirt, and the metal totem. You also earned the blisters and the bruises and sometimes, even a trip to the local medical tents and forced fluids by IV.

Many would plan for months for this magical time, spending hours a week getting faster and thinner by running in neighborhoods in their own cities and towns. Some ran on tracks at high schools, some ran on trails along the river or local wooded areas. Many took to marking the sides of their local blacktopped roads as they made each foot plant count toward a weekly total that climbed as the months passed. Some who had to deal with detrimental weather like heat and ice, ran indoors at the local gym or high schools, keeping track of each mile, along with the temperatures, what they ate before running, even what music they had on  cassette players, which segwayed into Cd's, and later iPod. There were many rituals for each participant. 

One of the rituals was to NOT have new shoes the day of the magical event. You had to have the shoes broken it, with hard earned asphalt miles making tiny cracks in the bottom, which made for better gripping should the day be hot and humid, or in one case, turn into a monsoon, where rain fell by the inches per hour, and everyone was glad for a dry towel at the end.

The anticipations of the participants each year were quite unique. Some were looking for glory , often coming thousands of miles for the chance to set a world record for time, and in the process picked up thousands of dollars in prize money along with the cover of Running Times or Runner's World. Some used this as a warm up for a fall marathon or "light" training for the next year Olympics. Quite often the challenge was just to finish, STANDING UP and being able to talk about it after the fact. In between were dares, celebrations and tears.

My first year of participating in the magical crazy time in August 1981, I told no one. I snuck out of the house before sunrise, entering the challenge only the day before, when I had seen an ad in the local paper and wondered what it was.  I had only run one 10 K before that, (and promised myself I would never run one again!), but something drew me to this event. In part, it was the fact it was a fundraiser for Special Olympics. I have always felt blessed I had healthy kids both mentally and physically, so I emptied my pop bottle cash jar, tore off a check and entered the unknown. Pure guts got me thru it, even though I had been running for quite some time.

I sit here at my desk, with tears in my eyes as I type this. The magical crazy time is not on my calender this year.  I decided that 30 years of toeing the starting line was enough. I have been dealing with a knee problem for awhile but I could have toughed it out, even if I did more damage to it, eventually the darn thing will need to be replaced, as I have fallen so many times on it. I have been thru much worse, including a trip to the hospital after one event.  The decision to stay home came not by my body giving me a challenge but from the loss of what should have been a small recognition last year. I don't ask for much. I don't like anyone citing me for something I have done that is positive for them. If I gift, a quiet thank you and smile work for me. I even am accepting of hugs, but really I don't need much. 

The decision to give up the magical crazy time, started a few years ago.  At that time, I came across a newspaper memo, asking that those who had participated in 25 years or more of the magical toeing of the line, contact a person to get their name and years of participation. I did this and at that time, I was informed that at least 4 of the years I did run, they had no record of. These included the first two years of my participation (long before electronic mats and  beaming of info from a chip on your shoe or embedded tags sent times at various check in points along the route). Everyone originally got the same start time, even in years when the participants took up to 8 minutes to cross the line on the bricks.  Popsicle sticks and later tear off tags were the only way to keep you in order as a giant clock ticked off the seconds over your head.  

The hardest to deal with were the missing participation of one, the year I had my second best running time and the tear off tag was handed to a person at the finish line who did not like me. Sounds petty but my finish never even showed in the local paper, and I knew from instinct, she disposed of the tag. I never thought it would matter. I knew I had run, I had my finish medal/certificate and I was off to see dad, who always called me his wet rat after being doused with sprinklers for 10 miles. But the most hurtful run, 1995, was the last time I saw my dad. I stopped over after finishing the race, showed him my medal and never saw him alive again. He didn't call me his wet rat. And I turned and said "Bye Dad", as I left the kitchen at my childhood home. I knew.

Somehow I still kept up my streak, thinking it was still a streak. Thru a two year illness with multiple hospitalizations, loss of friends, lingering lung and pain issues, I kept ticking off the years, dedicating each magical crazy time to those who were no longer with me, either at the start or the finish. But I was heartbroken when my participation could not be verified, as this was such a personal achievement for me. I did this for me! So last year as the names were called, and mine was not one of them, I decided that along with the fact hubby was no longer working and I was unable to make my normal large donation to Special Olympics due to medical expenses, I was done. The last Saturday in August was no longer mine to anticipate and the magical crazy time was history. I was at the mercy of the keeper of the records. No amount of cancelled checks, credit card slips, t shirts (now being made into a quilt), finish certificates and medals can find the missing and restore the official. For me, it was like going thru school and getting set for graduation and they say you can't, because they can't find your records. So no diploma. It hurt and still does. So I decided to end the run on my terms. 

There will be no more laughing thru painful hills at the sideshow of humanity, who show up each year, and cheer us on or are puzzled by the craziness of the day (or the ordinary of the day).

There will be no more piles of cups from lukewarm water that tastes as if it comes straight from the Flint River which is dispensed by volleyball playing frat brothers from GMI/Kettering.

There will be no more dispensing of the beer at 8AM at the Peanut Gallery, a large group of obnoxious drunken friends (I don't say this with affection, as they are very hurtful verbally to those who are struggling), and the cloud of smoke won't be missed one bit.

Altho I may still have to occasionally drive this road known as the Bradley Hills or a trip into Hell-this is just the first of the three hills rising up toward the halfway mark of the race-I will not miss the debilitating pain in my quads and being forced to run backwards to get the cramps out of them.

This sign that marks the halfway point of the race, on the west side of the city, was always a topic of theft. There were years when my friends David Jones and Bryan Coleman conspired with me to steal it. We could not finalized cutting it down or unbolting it, and seeing as Bryan was a city cop, well, I don't think I would have gone thru with it and ruin his career.  But it was great conversation and at least you felt sort of grand knowing you got halfway thru the race and it was all downhill from there (a lie! a big fat lie!).

The mass of humanity, both from those participating and those who volunteered hours and days to help us achieve our day of magical crazy spread over the city, singing, preaching, dancing, banging drums and spraying you with water from hoses and buckets of ice cold Gatorade. It would not be the success it is, without all of them. 

And it was all done to get one of these. A cheap piece of metal with a colorful ribbon, a totem to display around your neck as you puked in a bucket at the finish, or stood under a shower in the middle of the brick road. Sometimes you found a cold beer or a melting Popsicle to share with others who had the same quest of the magical day. Just to finish and have a good time. 

The day of magical crazy will go on for others and perhaps there is another streak to be had for me in another town on another day on another last Saturday but today I call it a wrap. The wet rat will be dry but the memories linger. I would not have had the times of my life without so many wonderful people. My kids Courtney and Ben started doing shorter fun runs to later accompanying me on the crazy, even doing one year on a dare for a hundred bucks with no training (I still have the photo on the mantel Ben). The entire Bentley family Jennifer, Michael, Jamie and Amanda (the above twins) and big sis Jessica who could not be seen with us stragglers were always just plain fun, but mostly mom Karen, the person of courage with the Crim on her bucket list that I was a witness to and thru the next 12 years, I carried a yellow rose in my pocket in her memory as I dedicated the race to her. The photo of her family and mine crossing the finish line in 1998 is still on my mantel. Then we have Jim Blackhurst, a participant of many years who let the entire clan invade his yard and pool post race along with his wife Karen, the keeper of the kidlets while we ran, and let them all swim in the Flint River with the carp! I certainly will not forget the pasta dinners the night before the race, imbibing a bit too much and having hangovers at the start line. All those strangers along the race route, the silly conversations with old, young and the littlest ones shoving cups of water and high fiving-and really, who had the biggest grins, them or me? How about Earl from Hurley Fitness barking his Marine commands for me to get my ass in gear at the 6 mile mark after he could not run anymore because of health reasons. Of course, the Shriner's clown who saw me struggle only to pull a  trophy out of his pants and pass it to me as I ran the last half mile  would know it's now a 20 year dust collector on my bedside dresser along with a running shoe dipped in plaster holding all the medals received. All the crazy weather, the time I lost my shoe, the frat boys with the beer wagon and the Marines in cadence with full gear.  The guy dribbling the basketball for charity and the former soldier who carries the POW flag for every DAY he runs and every MILE he runs. These people and events never leave my mind.

Mostly, there was hubby, who made me do the last two miles one year even when I begged him to go get the car. He was a spectator that year, hanging out in front of the School for the Deaf, and telling me it was far easier for me to finish (it was all downhill from there -more lies!) but that kept the streak going past 15 years, and later he joined me when I feared to do it alone, as I recovered from illness. He had the nerve to say hi to Don Williamsom! The nerve!  But I got to 30 because of him, so I guess I will forgive him. 

This band aid will be used someday, should I have another foot blister as I know it WILL occur. I will keep looking for more magic and fun somewhere on the roads or streets of Michigan or wherever I hang my stinky shorts. The magical crazy of the Crim is worth your dedication should you so choose it, just think of me at the five mile mark-as it's all downhill from there (lies, lies lies!).

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

For the kids of Norway and everywhere .  

Help! I NEED These Lights For My Kitchen!

I am looking for strings of lights like these. The larger of the flower is maybe the size of a softball. The smaller flower is maybe the size of a baseball. I don't care what the colors are at this point but these would be perfect. These are strung at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on the west side of Flint called Pesto's. I would love these in my kitchen when I finally get it finished, but like I said, color at this point doesn't matter. Just this style or something really close. 

My son-in-law Chris also thought they were pretty neat and even better, he liked the eatery!  I wish we had more places locally where the food was this good and you want to steal the scenery!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Flooding In Downtown Area Flushing, MI May 2011

The Flood Flushing, MI 2011

Random photos of the flooding in Flushing, Mi on May 19, 2011. I found it particularly funny that the local outdoor pool had little water and a sump pump attached, and the parking lot to the pool had more water than the pool itself. I tried to chase down the duckie, but hubby got there first. No close up. :(  The river thru Flushing is usually pretty laid back and the River Walk follows along the meander of water. Old man Flint River had a mind of his own this spring day. Flood stage is expected to crest sometime Saturday night. All the trees in the "river" are usually on land. Some dry summers an island appears in the middle and kids boat or swim out to it. Not today!