It’s early morning. The sun is making a splendid appearance coloring the sky shades of pink and purple. Too many gradations to discern where the pink turns to purple and the purple to blue. It is really and truly a lovely sight, but nothing seems to lift my spirits these days. The house is like a forty by forty tomb because of his absence. I look for him in his favorite spots, but of course he is not there. I grieve as if my loss was a person. It’s silly really – he was just a dog. My heart is broken nonetheless.

His favorite thing was a walk. I can’t bring myself to walk without him. I know I won’t enjoy it though the veil of tears. Will time release me of this suffering?

I have to walk again. It’s ridiculous to sit here and feel bad. I may as well feel bad outside. Do I have everything I need? When we walked together I always carried poop bags, and a bottle of water, tissues, and phone. I won’t need any poop bags this time.

I was fine until I turned to corner to head up the hill and realized I was crossing the road where it made the lease sense to cross, but the exact spot he would always cross. Tears started to flow. Suck it up buttercup. He’s gone. Face it.

I trekked up the hill not noticing anything but my pain. I’ve decided I’m going to do this every day and celebrate the day I can do the walk without the tears.

I love this part of the walk where there are fewer houses. He liked it on this stretch as well. What a sniffer he was. Nose driven.

There he is. He looks up at me with a question in his eyes. Why are you stopping here? I reach down to rub his ears and he is gone. Onward I march absent of his love.

I see his cheerful countenance at every turn of the road. The memories are precious, but now I turn around and head for home. Enough for today. Tomorrow is another day.

A great grief only comes after having a great love.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Grandma was the smartest person I ever knew. Her formal education included a degree from Mount Pleasant Normal School, but her knowledge went much deeper. She loved games, and turned every one into a lesson. It could be a lesson in reading, math, or how to get along, but I don’t ever remember her letting me win. I had to earn it. 

She often sang as she worked; I remember a favorite of hers was “In the Sweet By and By.” Her Christian faith went deep; she didn’t just profess it – she lived it. 

Her father was Prussian, and a very stern man. Her cousin shot and killed my great-grandfather during an argument. Grandma’s cousin went to prison for a long time. When he was released, he had no where to go and no job to support himself. Grandma and Grandpa took him into their home and helped him get a fresh start. 

I was very young at the time, and he was scary and strange as I remember. I wondered why my grandparents let this man who scared me live with them. Some in the family were critical of my grandparents because they helped this man – a felon. Grandma said she could never forget what her cousin had done, but she forgave him. She said, if God could forgive him, who was she not to forgive. 

Grandpa retired from years of work at the city power company, and it seemed that as soon as he retired he got sick. He was sick for a long time, and Grandma was his nurse. She even missed her beloved church on Sundays when he was not doing well, but her sacrifices for him were given with love. 

After he died, Grandma got depressed. This was so out of character for a woman who was always positive and energetic; her mental state was alarming to me. When I asked her, “What’s the matter, Grandma?” She would just hug me and cry. I felt her pain, but had no power to alleviate it. 

She finally conquered her depression, and the twinkle in her eyes returned. There were games to be played and children to love. 

I learned the most important things about life from my grandma. She looked at everyone and everything with love. I thought I was her favorite for sure, but then I realized that we were all her favorite.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What’s the best thing next to independence?

Gathered at the edge of Lake Independence is Big Bay, Michigan. Big Bay is called “the best thing next to Independence.” The lake empties into and is separated from Lake Superior by a strip of land on the north. Independence laps up to the edge of Perkins Park – an RV park run by the county of Marquette. The town, the park, and the nearby Lumberjack Tavern reached the pinnacle of their fame when a murder happened in the bar and a local lawyer wrote a book about it called Anatomy of a Murder. 

The short version of the story is a soldier and his wife had a trailer in the park, and one night when the soldier was on duty the wife got bored and went to the Lumberjack Tavern for some entertainment. When she was ready to leave Barney said he would give her a ride back to her trailer. Instead, he took her into the woods and raped her. When her soldier husband got home and learned what had happened, he went to the bar and shot Barney Quill, BOOM! Dead.

The story then centers around the trial, and the setting changes to Marquette and the courthouse. The players in the drama are the soldier, his wife, the lawyer who defended the soldier, the lady who worked at the bar and lived with Barney, and various others who had connection to the crime or the state of mind of the defendant.

The lawyer, played by Jimmy Stewart, got the soldier off with a defense of temporary insanity or as the judge called it – irresistible impulse.

The movie came out in July of 1959 and put Big Bay on the map. 

The actual murder occurred at the Lumberjack Tavern, but the movie company built a new tavern in Big Bay for purposes of filming. The new place was only a block down the street, and attached to the Thunder Bay Inn. Both businesses now claim a connection to the movie in order to impress visitors.

The Lumberjack has memorabilia of the crime and more importantly the movie, and when they remodel they have been known to shoot new holes in the wall to show the evidence to new people to town that the crime actually happened there.

The Thunder Bay Inn has framed newspaper articles, and pictures of the stars: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, and George C. Scott. It was a pretty big deal at the time with these famous stars, but now anyone under the age of 50 would not recognize them.

To add to the trivia – Otto Preminger directed the movie, and the music score was by Duke Ellington.

That’s Jeopardy material right there.

As far as I know there has never been another murder in Big Bay. They are still making use of that one crime of passion from the 1950’s.

The campground has changed a lot since they filmed the last scene of the movie showing the caretakers house in the park. That building is still there, and provides a home for the seasonal manager.

The location of Big Bay and Perkins Park is what people might call off of the beaten path. You don’t decide to stay here because it is right off the highway on your way to somewhere. If you are camping at Perkins Park it is because that was your destination to begin with.

People who enjoy woodsy camping love Perkins Park. The park is wooded and the sites are for the most part large. There are trails to hike and walk the dog. The beach is nice white sand, and the lake is good for swimming, boating, and fishing. The town, the bars, and the churches, are within walking distance of the campground. Often people who find this little haven come back year after year.

The two bars in town have good food, adult beverages, and sometimes the Lumberjack has live entertainment. The two churches give balance. Visitors welcome.

If you want to experience the next best thing to independence you will need to make your reservations early – the choice sites fill up fast.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

At the turn of the century there were lists of the 100 best books written in the last 100 years found in many different publications. My oldest daughter and I decided we would take one list and read all of the books on that list in the next year.

Turns out it was far too ambitious a goal. I think it took us two years – or maybe more. I read every book on our list with the exception of Finnegan’s Wake – I just couldn’t make it through the obscure language. I had to settle for the Cliffs Notes.

There is undoubtedly disagreement whether those 100 are really the best written in the 20th century, but I have never regretted reading those books.

Ulysses by James Joyce was one that I never would have picked up had it not been on the list.

I started it then stopped and picked up another book on the list. I went back to it, and stopped again for a different book on the list. Soon I was nearing the end of the list, and it was put up or shut up. I purchased an audio of the book, and listened to it in my car morning and night on my way to and from work. At the time my commute was more than an hour, and that helped with continuity.

After one round of CD’s completing the audio version, I was able to pick up the book and read it cover to cover. Of course it was like reading it a second time, and I appreciated things not noticed on the first go. I listened to the CD’s again, and after all the books on the list were read, including only the Cliffs Notes on Finnegan’s Wake, I picked it up again and read it for what was like to me the fourth reading.

They say the sign of a classic in literature is a book you can read more than once, and get something different out of it each time.

Once the book got under my skin, I could never let it go. I always think I may read it one more time. I ask myself, “Why?”

I think, for me, it is mainly the character development. The three main characters, Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom, and his wife Molly seem like old acquaintances.

Joyce gives us a window in which to view one day in Dublin with them, and it is extraordinary. None of the three are without faults; they could each use a good psychologist.

Molly Bloom’s affair with Blazes Boylan, and her explicit descriptions of bodily functions reveals to the reader a unique perspective on her character. She has confidence in her womanhood, and satisfaction in her voluptuousness.

Leopold Bloom is basically a good person although a little strange with some faults scattered throughout. I guess that’s just human. He does many good things in the story, attending a funeral, helping the widow, helping a blind man, and so forth. But then there is the voyarhism, and resultant masterbation on the beach. Nobody’s perfect.

Poor Stephen seems like a stuck up little brat at first, but his life and psychological well being was affected by watching his mother die. The poor man never got over it.

Stephen’s friend Buck Mulligan is a lesser character and sort of a villain in my estimation, but has a likable personality. After making fun of Stephen’s Greek name (Dedalus) as being absurd, he makes fun of his own name – Malachi Mulligan, two dactyls! I admit that on my first reading I had to look up what a dactyl was, but I have never forgotten.

The connection between Ulysses by Joyce and Odysseus by Homer is evident in places and obscure in others. It is my opinion that James Joyce purposely clouds his writing making it a challenge to assign definite meaning to much of what he writes. That’s part of what makes it different each time you read it.

There must be significant numbers of academics who have an interest in Ulysses as there are tours available in Dublin to each place on the route for that one special day. I didn’t have time to do the tour when I was in Dublin, but I did see one of the Martello towers. The simple act of viewing an actual Martello changed the view I previously had in my mind of the opening scenes in the book. I can picture Buck Mulligan standing on the gun rest on top of the tower with his bowl of lather, and the sea breeze blowing his nightshirt.

What do I think that I gained by reading Ulysses by James Joyce – cover to cover?

The development of the characters in the story is extraordinary. It has been said that the character of Leopold Bloom is the most developed character in the history of literature.

One day, 16 June, 1904, in the life of Leopold Bloom, Molly Bloom, and Stephen Dedalus, is a story told in a very different narrative style as well.

Joyce lets us inside the minds of his characters. We listen to the flow of their thoughts. Banal thoughts such as those describing the smell of lemon soap, or kidney frying in the pan. We are inside the mind of Leopold as he considers masterbating in a tub of water. We are with him in the outhouse and know his thoughts on fecal matters.

Then there are the unimaginable thoughts such as those by Molly Bloom. She thinks about menstration, and she describes breaking wind. “Wherever you be let your wind go free.” What was the point of adding that to a story? She has thoughts about her pending assignation with Blazes Boylan, and more thoughts after the adultery.

Having said that, if you haven’t read Ulysses I think you should. It’s a challenge as a read, but as a writer it demonstrates character development extraordinaire. The stream of consciousness narrative is intriguing.

Using the technique can reinforce a story and strengthen a character.

My simplified attempt at this is from the mind of my beagle in Road Trip With Remington Beagle: Michigan to Alaska and Back.

Try using the Joyce method, and see where your characters take you. Can they break wind?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Do you love to hear the words Road Trip? I know I do, but before the words are spoken I know a road trip is imminent. Squirrels scurry, and so do humans. In and out of the house, up and down the stairs, opening and closing of doors and cabinets, and moving things around. Yup. We are going somewhere.

I’m not good at reading maps, so I never know the destination until we get there. Whenever possible, my head is out of the window. I obviously can’t do this at high speeds, but Dave always puts the window down while driving through towns or at stop signs. I love the window down when we drive over the bridge. It’s the Mackinac Bridge, but people in Michigan just call it “the bridge,” like it’s the only bridge there is. In defense of Michiganders, it is a pretty spectacular bridge. It’s five miles from one side to the other spanning the straits of Mackinac. Humans will talk about the amazing vistas such as being able to see the famous porch on the Grand Hotel, watching the ferry boats, and sometimes a freighter or two. A dog’s focus is of course on the smells. It’s heaven. The moisture in the air, whiffs of fish, rotting seaweed, seagull poop – I’m geeked!

It didn’t take us long to get to where we were going. We set up camp in a campground, and right on the bank of a river. I like it. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a water dog. As far as I’m concerned water is only good for one thing – drinking. What I love about this place are of course the smells. They are different and intriguing. A common one of course is dog pee. I know right off that there are at least two different dogs nearby. I am soon introduced to one of them, and I like her right away. I always let my instincts lead me when it comes to whether or not I like another dog. This one was small and calm – two characteristics I prefer. I also could tell that she liked me as well. The butt sniffing and face licking commenced.

It wasn’t long before I saw another dog. This dog is not a big dog, so it was not his size that alarmed me. It was his attitude. The hateful energy coming off of that dog was palpable. The hair stood straight up on my back. I want nothing to do with this one. I’m sure he will bite. I turned away from him and went to sit by Val. If he comes this way I will protect her. Not sure how…I’ll start with a growl for sure.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Oh, the sweet smells of Christmas! There are so many I can’t decide which one is my favorite. Right now I smell gingerbread cookies, and it is overwhelming because Val just took a batch out of the oven. Gingerbread might be my favorite. I can’t decide if it’s the molasses, the brown sugar, or the spice, that makes me salivate in anticipation. The cinnamon candies are pretty special as well as the simple white frosting Val uses to complete these culinary masterpieces. Each little man is a work of art. Work of art or no, if he wanders within my reach he is dog food.

I hear that hot cocoa is very good with cookies. I can’t give a personal recommendation with regard to the taste because chocolate is very bad for dogs, and so I have never been allowed even a taste. The smell on the other hand is very nice. Although Val will never be known for her cooking skills, every once in a while she makes an attempt at a rendition of Martha Stewart. She tried making the hot cocoa using 100% natural unsweetened cacao, whole milk, cane sugar, and pure vanilla extract. It smelled nice – I’ll give her that, but I knew right away it was a failure by the looks on the faces of the kids. “Don’t you have any Swiss Miss,” they asked.

One thing she almost never fails at is the Christmas caramels. That is an amazing fact because they do take a certain amount of skill. The ingredients must be added in order, and cooked on the stovetop to firm ball stage which is 245 degrees on the candy thermometer. After the sweetened condensed milk is added, the mixture must be stirred continuously until it reaches the sublime 245. Next stir in the vanilla – Val only uses the pure vanilla extract and complains each time about the cost. She pours the completed concoction into a dish she has used for this purpose for 50 years – or so she says. Then the stuff cools and firms up. Now comes my favorite part…the cutting and wrapping. I position myself under the table and out of the way. I am on high alert during this time in the process because cutting the caramels in little squares and then wrapping them in wax paper sometimes results in one of those little sweets getting away from Val and landing on the floor. If I am quick enough I can get to it before Val and YUM!

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without sugar cookies. This is where Val is at her best. She knows how to make them from scratch. She has tried various recipes, but why would anyone go to all that trouble when you can buy them from Gordon’s all cut out and ready to pop in the oven. She tells the kids it’s Grandma Gordon’s recipe. They are not sure who Grandma Gordon is as they have never met her, but they do like her cookies so they don’t ask many questions. Anything with frosting on it is good, so add some canned frosting and colored sugar or sprinkles and done. The sham continues because she sends the kids in Ohio baked undecorated cookies, and she includes in the box the frosting and sprinkles with a note telling them that this is their own do-it-yourself cookie decorating kit. She has no shame.

The smell of what humans call party mix is not sweet, but the smell is another seasonal favorite. Anytime you add butter, garlic, and Worcestershire you have a smell that will make your mouth water for sure. Party mix is Dave’s area of expertise. This has something to do with a batch Val was making being burned beyond recognition some years ago. All that butter, mixed nuts, and cereal costs too much to be burned up by Val, so Dave took over. If I venture out for a stroll around the yard and come back in to the smell of party mix – BOOM – I’m hungry. If I sit by Val when she is snacking I can usually get some. I think I like the nuts the best.

Val and Dave have human children that are all grown up and have homes of their own. They all have their own holiday favorites, some new and some old. I guess that is the way with all humans. My point of view is that I am the luckiest beagle around, because with or without all these goodies my human pack loves me, and cuddles me, and cares for me. Who could ask for more?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment