The Suitcase Lady


March 20, 2018, 8:14 pm

I could say that my beach glass addiction is altruistic and that I am ridding our beaches of litter; smashed beer and wine bottles and various other glass items that are tossed into Lake Michigan.

That statement, however, would be untrue. I am simply in love with treasure hunts. Beach glass is not the only thing I search for. No week is complete without a trip to a thrift store. Searching for well designed, carefully made items amidst loads of not so great stuff is a pleasure for me. It is a joy not shared by my husband who, if we are together, indulges in the pleasure of a cat nap in the car while I enjoy the hunt.

However, we both concur on one of life’s most rewarding treasure hunts, travel. We define travel as moving out beyond our own backyard. Exploring all the parks, woods, shores and trails near our own home provides endless sources of discovery. The natural world is full of surprises waiting to be observed.

We are equally enthusiastic to explore man made environments, the world’s great cities and towns. Strolling in downtowns, uptowns and historic districts is rife with serendipitous discoveries.

Fortunately, we have a wonderful resource for discovering the hidden treasures in many cities both here and abroad. One of our family members is an ardent traveler and chronicler of the built environment.  Exploring by foot or bike, he is a true urban enthusiast. Here is a link to one of his travel blogs. Pour a glass of wine…..Tim does not write one minute blogs as I do.


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March 13, 2018, 10:18 pm

One of the oddest and most unforgettable conversations I ever had took place at my uncle’s assisted living apartment many years ago. A male acquaintance of my uncle stopped by, and my relative introduced me saying, “This is my niece Mary from Wisconsin.”

The elderly gentleman looked directly at me and said, “Are you blood or law?”

It took me a few seconds to grasp his meaning. However, I did recover quickly enough to reply that in my family it didn’t make any difference, but, for the record, I was “blood”. The fact that I had come 1,200 miles to help out my ailing relative would apparently have been diminished if I had been a “law”. I couldn’t have been more surprised if he had asked me, “Are you gay or straight?”

I am extremely happy that my husband and my families don’t view the world and our relatives as a large caste and clan system based on blood lines and categories. In fact, we even claim relatives who aren’t technically ours because we enjoy seeing them so much.

I suspect other families do this as well. Here is one of the many ways these relationships can happen.

When your aunt or uncle gets married, you call the spouse uncle or aunt as well. However, the sisters and brothers of your “married-into” aunts and uncles aren’t related to you. And their children aren’t your cousins. No matter to us, we call our non-cousins, cousins anyway. They are wonderful friends plus we share a common relative.

We are lucky to have many of these unidentifiable relationships: our niece’s mom and dad, another niece’s sister or my cousin’s aunt who’s not my aunt.

The English language should have a word for these special people. Blood lines be damned…..we are all family.

Brilliant Star Magazine

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March 6, 2018, 8:42 pm

The car is gone. I am referring to the car on the ice on Lake Michigan at our Manitowoc Marina. It now resides on the bottom of the lake…..presumably forever.

Years ago, I would listen to Prairie Home Companion’s Lake Wobegon stories. The fictional residents of that fictional town would haul a junker car out onto their iced over lake and place bets on when it would sink. Little did I know that this was not merely a storyteller’s great yarn, but rather a grand tradition in the upper Midwest, a.k.a., the tundra.

At the end of January, I read the following headline in my local paper, “Rotary Club Puts Car On Ice For Fundraiser”. Residents were encouraged to buy tickets and guess the month, day, hour and minute the car would sink. First prize was $1000, and second prizes were cruises to the Bahamas, where, presumably, there is no ice.

Rest assured that this bizarre fundraiser is not an environmental nightmare. The students at our local technical college stripped off and drained out any possible pollutants from the car. What is left is best described as a car carcass.

The 1989 Ford minivan went under on 5:19 a.m. on February 28. The Rotary got more money for their charities, the lucky winners got their prizes and we all got increased hope that spring might arrive.

I must also report that Minnesota has us outclassed in their car sinking events. Then again, Minnesota has us Badgers outclassed in almost everything they do these days, except their nickname. I couldn’t handle being a Golden Gopher.

The Cass Lake, Minnesota, Lions Club has put a red Ford Escort out onto the lake for the last ten years….the SAME Ford Escort. They attach a hook and cable to the car’s frame and drag it back up on shore when all the ice melts in late spring. True recyclers.

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February 27, 2018, 9:45 pm

A small bit of sanity has returned to the world of airline travel. United has announced a tight new policy on animals traveling in the cabin.

Animal lover and owner that I am, I am not in favor of being seated next to barking dogs, terrified cats or a four foot long boa constrictor. It’s hard enough being seated next to children whose parents have convinced them that they’re the center of the universe.

The pet that drove United to change its lax pet policy on E.S.A.’s (Emotional Support Animals) was a peacock named Dexter. His owner, a performance artist who lives in Brooklyn, took Dexter to the Newark Airport and attempted to board with him. United took a stand and sent Dexter packing. He and his owner are now driving to LA and sending pictures of their journey via Instagram.

The E.S.A. scam began with a 1986 law forbidding discrimination of both physically and mentally handicapped air travelers. The intent of the law was good, but the implementation was not. Only a doctor’s note or email was necessary to get a “service” pet on board sans a carrier or $125 fee.

As the New York Times reported, “A cottage industry sprung up in service of low-level fraud. For $30 on Amazon you can buy a bright-red dog vest that reads, EMOTIONAL SUPPORT. With a quick web search you can find a therapist to diagnose you long distance. Fill out a form, and suddenly you’re certified as having an illness that requires animal attention.”

When in airports, my husband and I have often remarked, “There goes another emotional support animal”. We would be looking at some small lap dog with a big rhinestone collar tucked under the arm of its equally jewelry bedecked owner.

Admittedly, airport travel definitely will be duller without all those emotional support dogs, cats, turkeys and reptiles. But perhaps we are taking a small step forward to the return of the common good of both people and pets.

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February 20, 2018, 8:41 pm

If you would like to start the New Year over again, now is your chance. Starting last Friday and continuing for two weeks, Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival is being celebrated.

The first day of the lunar calendar occurs on the second new moon after the winter solstice. The festivities conclude two weeks later with the Lantern Festival.

The ancient lunar calendar has one huge advantage over our much younger solar one. No paper calendar is needed. The “calendar” resides in the sky: simply look up at night and follow the waxing and waning of the moon.

When a lunar calendar is used, a leap month must be added every 30 lunar months. The leap month may come at any time during the year except the 11th, 12th or 1st month. If this adjustment isn’t made, the seasonal cycles would go out of harmony.

The numerous Chinese New Year’s traditions are all ways of inviting in good luck and prosperity. And who doesn’t want good luck and a fresh start? My German American grandmother certainly understood this universal desire and always ate herring at midnight on January first to assure a year of good luck.

The Chinese simply have scores of ways to invoke the luck, and many traditions involve eating foods that look or sound like something lucky. For example, in Cantonese, the word for “Orange” and “gold” have the same pronunciation. Therefore, everyone eats oranges (in pairs or even numbers) to get rich.

We celebrated the arrival of Chinese New Year last Friday with a shrimp and vegetable stir fry accompanied by orange sections. We toasted the arrival of the Year of the Dog, the eleventh animal in the twelve year cycle. However, we did not let our cats know what all the celebrating was about. That would have been uncharitable.

But there is a wonderful corollary here. I just found out that the Vietnamese lunar calendar does include a Year of the Cat. It is the fourth animal in the cycle where the rabbit would be on the Chinese zodiac. The next cat year will come around in 2023. The party at our house will be gigantic.

By Made by Fanghong


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