These last few weeks have been eventful, and frankly, fun. While my parents were in Ireland, I house sat for them. First, I love my parents’ house. It is comfortable and, next to my own house, is a space where I can just be myself. Housesitting for my parents during the early part of the fall means checking our Crystal Creek Campground as well. Crystal Creek is adjacent to my parents’ house. In fact, the house – my home from ages 3 to 18 – sits behind our store. It is hard to separate the two.
There is something about the empty campground, with the promise of fall in the air, that gets me every time. It is gorgeous and my favorite time of year. I can’t help but think of all the time I spent playing in the campground as a child after the campers left for the season. The land itself is forever a part of me.
During the great shutdown of 2020, I lived with my parents. It didn’t make sense for me to live alone at a time when no one knew how long it would last. Those days were largely a challenge for a variety of reasons, but the campground helped. Even though we had no idea when would be able to open up for Summer 2020, my parents and I spent time getting the campground ready. It was something tangible we could do. Mom and I picked up sticks and garbage daily while my dad and brother took care of most of the brush. It gave me a new appreciation for the land and the river, especially after we had the 500 year flood in May 2020 and rebuilt to open in mid-June.
But, home is so much more than just my parents’ or my home. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to return to Michigan State’s unrivaled campus – the home of some of my best memories. My brother, sister, sister-in-law, and I made sure my nephews and niece had a great first experience at Spartan Stadium. While wonderful in many ways, unfortunately my niblings didn’t get to see the Spartans win. Still, just being on campus brought back so many memories – the kind of memories that can only be relived when you’re home.
Over the last few week or so I’ve finally started writing again. What was I waiting for? I’m not quite sure, but I do know this: I missed it. It isn’t that I haven’t written at all since the pandemic, it is just that I’ve been selective and focused on other things.
So, why do I keep coming back to writing? There are so many reasons …
It is my creative outlet.
Some people make beautiful music, others play sports, and yet others draw or paint. I am not good at any of those things. Writing is something I can do fairly well. I know how to improve. It is a nice mix of being able to accomplish something and yet striving to make it the best it can be. If I tried to play a musical instrument, I would want to give up before I could get anywhere.
It allows me to practice the art of storytelling.
Both of my parents are wonderful storytellers. There is nothing I love more than a good story (hence my love of reading). In my opinion, there is something comfortable about writing down a story before perfecting the art of telling it to others. Writing allows me to get it right before I share it with others.
I can curate many of my favorite things – and share that them with others.
Blogging can be so much fun. I actually started “blogging” before it was known as blogging. I used to use an online notebook/diary to keep track of my favorite websites, poems, photos, memes, and more. I have enough content now that I can go back and reread things I wrote years ago. Some of which I have long since forgotten. It is always fun and gives me ideas for future projects.
It is a challenge.
The writing process is never quite finished. At some point, it is time to let go. Frankly, like a good challenge. As with so many things, I know just enough to be dangerous!
It goes hand in hand with another favorite pastime – reading.
I’ve always loved books. In fact, I’ve written extensively about my first love – books! I outline some of my favorite childhood books here. My love of writing, as with so many others, grew out of my love of reading. I can’t imagine trying to separate the two. In fact, I’ve thought about starting a book podcast, just for fun! I’ve read so many great books this year. I have yet to discuss any of them here. The reasons why I write – and my love of writing – is a topic I revisit from time to time. You can read earlier posts here, here, and here.
As I have said before, I have a love/hate relationship with Labor Day. I am always happy to put the canoe livery to rest until next year, and yet, summer always seems to go by way too quickly. I only made it out on the river once this summer (our annual company trip) … so far. While there is a part of me that wishes we always had summer weather here in Michigan, I know better. As a lifelong Michigander, I definitely need the change of seasons. Both times I lived in Texas, I missed it. In my soul. It never felt natural to hang out on patios in December, needing only light jackets. Where was the crisp fall weather, the smell of burning leaves, visits to apply orchards? It just didn’t seem right.
I came home today to see all of the canoe livery buses and mini buses parked in my backyard, safe from any flooding. The store is condensed and ready for us to close in a month or so. All of the picnic tables are stacked, put away until spring arrives yet again. Just a few weeks ago, we were packed at both locations and had several hundred people go down the river on Saturday morning. Now, we have the place all to ourselves once again. It always catches me by surprise how quickly we go from beyond busy to ready to close up for the year.
I can’t imagine the canoe livery not being a part of my life. I thought about it earlier this summer, and I realized that it truly was my first home. Until I was three years old, my parents, my sister Erica, and I lived in a mobile home at our main location in Omer. It was located where our large pole barn is now. I’ve literally watched my parents build their business my entire life. My brother and sister saw much of it as well; however, I am just enough older to have witnessed a bit more than either one of them. It is interesting, and frankly, I’m not sure it could have been done today – at least not in the same way. I remember my dad making annual spring trips to Minnesota to purchase more canoes, the original three buses purchased after my parents married in 1977 (they made the best forts when not in use!), and the tiny walkup store we had prior to our current store in Omer.
So many of my childhood memories are tied up with the canoe livery. One of my first memories is of playing the card game war with Grandma Reid in the old store. Another early memory is of Grandma and Mom playing two-handed Euchre, snacking on MadeRite cheese popcorn, waiting for people to come off the river. I would spend hours playing in the river and by the dock, not getting out of the water until I was completely waterlogged, trying to ignore my goosebumps. I distinctly remember being excited when the calendar changed to March and April – and yet being SO disappointed that it wasn’t nearly warm enough to go swimming in the river. I can’t think of a better way to grow up.
I love the fact my niece and nephew are growing up right near the canoe livery. They visit me at the store several times a week. I can’t begin to describe the nostalgia I feel watching them play. They are fish, and there are many times I have had to warm them up after they have spent a little too much time in the river. I have to remind them to put on shoes in the store constantly – reliving the time I found a bee with my bare foot at age 6. One day this past summer, my niece decided that she wanted to take a shower in the showerhouse at the campground, nevermind that she could take a shower in her home (a two minute walk at most). What cracked me up most is the fact that I remember doing the exact same thing at her age. It was a production. The forts, the pooling of money to purchase items in the store, leaving bikes in all the wrong places – sigh. So fun. I’m glad I’m in a position to spoil them a little bit. I hope that they enjoy every minute.
I refuse to settle. I refuse to give up on my dreams. It is that simple and that complex. What I want out of life has been on my mind so much lately, especially when it comes to family. The beautiful part of it all is that I will be fine no matter what happens. Inspired by former classmates who have shared their intense personal struggles, I would love to do something similar here.
That said, I want to make a few things clear. I’m not going to dwell on the past. I have no intention of airing dirty laundry – or anything that involves anyone other than me. It will be my story that I will share here. As I have stated earlier in other deeply personal posts, my intention here is to help others not feel so alone. Nothing more, nothing less.
Now that that is out of the way, here is what I envision for Rambling of a Misguided Blonde moving forward. I want to largely focus on three things I adore: 1. Writing and the writing process; 2. Reading, including emerging adult novels, young adult, and even children’s literature – and much more; and 3. Music, particularly how lyrics have inspired me as a writer and memories tied to certain song/artists, as well as concerts/live performances. I will also bring in art from time to time, along with whatever happens to be on my mind.
There are a few things you will not find here. I won’t be discussing education or the educational system. I could fill several different blogs on that topic. I have strong opinions, I see so much room for improvement, and I want to keep things here positive. As a result, I will skip discussing issues in education. I also plan to stay out of politics for the same reasons. I want this to be a place to fully explore things I love deeply, art that has truly carried me through just about anything and everything – good and bad. I need this. We all need to do more of what we love. I have so much to share!
It is no secret that fall is my favorite season. The hustle and craziness that is the canoe livery during the summer comes to a swift end once school starts. There is nothing quite like it. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. No matter what I am doing, there are always new routines come September. While I will eventually be returning to the classroom as a substitute teacher (within the next few weeks), I am taking this year to tie up several loose ends, namely my teacher certification in English (secondary). I have two classes yet to complete – the first of which started on Tuesday. I admit it: I LOVE being a student, even if taking classes at the undergrad level makes me feel old. It is sobering to realize that I am old enough to be my classmates’ mother. Although, as my mom pointed out, I would have been a young mother. As for my plans, there are also some surprises in store, so stay tuned!
This year, I want to take the time to put things in place for the canoe livery next summer. I’m in the perfect spot to do so. I have the knowledge, time, and interest. I just hope that it all pays off. Frankly, I am proud of what I have accomplished in the ten years I’ve been back at the canoe livery. I’ve created Facebook pages for both of our locations, which are thriving; redid our website, and then outsourced it once I realized my limitations; and implemented Canoebook. We’ve grown, evolved, and faced huge, unforeseen challenges as a family. I’ve also worked on our supply chain. I will always look at things from a supply chain perspective (much more on that later). Hopefully, after some tweaks, Canoebook will be even better. Yet another project to complete before May. Let’s face it: I am the IT department of Russell Canoe Livery (with a little help, of course). Thankfully, I enjoy it.
As I thought about what I wanted to write today, as I reread some of my previous blogposts, I kept coming back to the same themes: 1. Writing about the writing process, 2. My love of new beginnings, and 3. Carpe Diem (seize the day – cue Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society). I can’t help myself. The writing process fascinates me, and I am constantly learning, even when I wasn’t active here. This point in my life truly is a new beginning – or it at least feels like one. As for Carpe Diem, well … I lost a dear friend this summer to pancreatic cancer and recently a former classmate and her family lost everything in a house fire (including her husband, another classmate). I’ve watched over the last couple of years as my dad wrote and then published a book on his life. Speaking of my dad, he continues to set a great example in terms of going after what one wants out of life, even if we don’t agree on everything. I just need to follow it. It is time to get to work.
Thank you for reading, for staying with me. Welcome back!
By mid-June, things were starting to come together at the canoe livery … but would our customers return? Boy, did they! We had a wedding at our main location in Omer towards the end of June. After the wedding, with one more weekend in June left, we became increasingly busy, experiencing volume rivaling what we normally experience mid-to-late July or even early August. True to form, we remained busy right up until the mid-August.
Normally, this would be welcomed and wouldn’t have been an issue. However, this year, thanks to COVID, we didn’t have adequate time to properly prepare. During a “normal” year, we have much of June to prepare for the crowds. Things ramp up during June until it becomes crazy from the 4th of July until mid-August. Well, we lost that time to hire and train. We had a week, maybe two, before we started to become that busy. Add in the pressure of new safety precautions, difficulty in getting merchandise, and rebuilding from the flood, and one gets a sense of why it became so stressful. I feel as though I have been running a marathon since May.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am eternally grateful that our business not only survived but grew during COVID. I refrain from saving thrive because it would not be sustainable long-term. Simply too many hours and too much work in such a short period of time. Still, it haunts me that so many small businesses didn’t survive or are in danger of closing permanently. All I could think of this spring is the decades of work the canoe livery represents – my family history and my personal history. It would not exist if not for the hard work, dedication, foresight, and planning of my parents, my grandparents, and now my brother and I, along with countless others over the years. So much in my life simply would not have been possible without the canoe livery. In it, I see my future. Whether I like it or not, the canoe livery and the Rifle River is a part of me. The very idea of it no longer existing is unimaginable.
If nothing else, I do hope that I have turned the corner and truly have a fresh start this fall. It feels that way. I could use some routine and consistency in my life – along with a healthy dose of “normal” – whatever that is now. It is time to figure out exactly what it is that I want. I know that I have returned to that theme dozens of times here over the years. Yet, I still don’t know.
Who is to say that I will be content to spend the rest of my life alone? If I met the right man – and I repeat here, the right man – I can see myself in a relationship again. Yet, I have a difficult time seeing how I would meet him. Same goes for children. I would love to be a mother. I know I would nail it. Yet just the mere thought of the foster and/or adoption processes is enough to make me want to break out in hives. I know what can go wrong all too well. Maybe it will be time to “jump” sooner rather than later. I do know that I do not want to regret what I didn’t do in my life. Until then …
I’ve always loved fall, but somehow, this time of year just means more this year. I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster (more on that in a minute, and not all entirely COVID related) since mid-March. I want OFF! NOW. I never dreamed that I would help run a business and teach middle school during a pandemic, but here I am. Something I never wanted to add to my bucket list.
As I am smack-dab in the middle of returning to in-person classes for the first time since mid-March, it is SO nice to have some normalcy, particularly after a summer and spring that was anything but “normal.” I missed my students deeply, and I enjoy just observing kids being kids.
So, about this spring and summer … Well, of course, it all started mid-March – that ill-fated Friday the 13th to be exact. As the shutdown deepened, I began to worry about opening the canoe livery for the season. Worry about the survivability of the family business #1. Frankly, it didn’t look good. Just as we, along with pretty much everyone else on the Rifle River, made the decision to open for self-contained camping only during Memorial Weekend, the other shoe dropped.
May 18th-20th, we received close to 7 inches of rain. Dams in nearby Gladwin and Midland counties failed. Fortunately, we did have a little warning thanks to another livery on the river. My parents, brother, and I were able to save much of our technology and merchandise in our store in Omer. Good thing we had that warning. We ended up with 3 feet of water in the store. That wasn’t even the worst part.
During the shutdown, I made the decision to stay with my mom. I don’t think either of us wanted to be alone in our own homes for an extended period of time. My dad was at their cabin in Canada when the shutdown happened, and he didn’t come home immediately. I was over at my parents’ house when the stay-at-home order dropped. Then, it just became habit. What was I supposed to do at home by myself that entire time? Normally, I am rarely at home. I am usually at work, running errands – all kinds of things – none of which I could do during the lockdown.
Anyway, my parents and I watched in May as the Rifle River filled our Crystal Creek Campground near my parents’ home. It nearly reached Pinnacle Bridge, which is amazing in and of itself. Then it happened. I read a Facebook post that stated that the Forest Lake Dam broke. We evacuated my parents’ home. While the Forest Lake Dam isn’t directly on the Rifle River, it would feed into the nearby river if it did break. There simply was no way to predict what would happen if the dam broke. My parents feared losing their home of nearly 40 years, not to mention their business of nearly 45 years. I can still hear the panic in both of my parents’ voices. I hope to never experience anything like again it in my life. Same can be said for most of March through August.
Fortunately, the dam held. We returned to my parents’ home later that day when we received word that the immediate danger had passed. While I haven’t made a habit of watching the local news in decades, I did watch that evening as local affiliates reported as the Edenville and Sanford dams collapsed, devastating Gladwin and Midland counties. I know the area. I used to manage a convenience store in Sanford. I traveled M-30 across the Edenville dam many times. Wixom and Sanford Lakes are no more, and the Tittabawassee River reclaimed its original path. It so easily could have been my family. My parents could have easily lost their home – MY childhood home – and their business that day. So many in Midland and the surrounding area did.
When we were finally able to survey the damage, we were lucky. The flood mainly damaged our main location in Omer this time. Keep in mind that we suffered devastating flood/ice damage – along with tornado damage later that summer – at our Crystal Creek Campground in 2018. In Omer, we lost our propane tank, our ice chest, fencing, and a campsite. Yes, you read that correctly. When our campground – a former mill pond – flooded, the water drained in one area, completely eroding one of our campsites. We had to get excavation work done in order to rebuild. All of this on top of 3 feet of water in our store, bathrooms, and pole barns. The cleanup took nearly a month, delaying our opening. When we were finally able to reopen in mid-June, we didn’t know what to expect.
I will leave off here for now. There is so much more to the story. While I will discuss some aspects of what happened after we reopened another day, there is much more that will have to be left unsaid. So much of what made this summer truly horrendous isn’t even my story to tell.
In my family’s experience with the flood, I watched my parents, my brother, and I come together to make things happen under unprecedented circumstances. COVID made things much more difficult than they needed to be. Something as simple as ordering merchandise for the summer became a nightmare. Yet, it worked. We somehow made it work. That is precisely why I wanted to tell this story.
Above all, I hope all of us – every last person affected by COVID, which is the entire planet – finally get some semblance of normal. We deserve it!
If I have learned anything over the last few weeks, it is that I crave structure. I need it to be productive. I am slowly working on getting back into some type of routine as everything has shifted over the last couple of weeks. Right now, I’m not even sure what it would look like.
I’d love to put tons of time and energy into my Google Classroom now, but Michigan just closed schools for the rest of the school year. Up until this point, I was unable to assign anything for a grade. I could share things I would like my students to look at and do, but that was about it. I did come across some great stuff that I will be using with my students moving forward. Unfortunately, that is the point. Until we can figure out what distance learning will look like at our school, I’m not sure how we will handle students without out devices and internet access. Hopefully, we will know more next week and will be able to move on from there.
I miss and worry about my students. My heart breaks for my 8th graders who will be heading off to high school next year. Will they be ready? We did not get to send them off in the way they need to be sent off – not yet, anyway. I worry less about 6th and 7th graders. I can put things in place to help us fill in gaps next year. It may not be fun, but it might be necessary. I still miss them though, and they are certainly missing out on so much. When we left school on Friday, March 13th – a day I will never forget – I was in the middle of planning a field trip to the Michigan Science Center and the Detroit Institute of Arts. My 6th graders were also supposed to go to Lansing on another field trip in early May – a field trip that never happened last year. 8th graders are also missing out on their last dance, usually put on by 7th grade. Not to mention track and field day, the last events surrounding Lent and Easter, and the wonderful chaos that is the last week of the school year. Oh, and I could cry when I think of what we had planned for March is reading month, most of which never took place, including Prime Time Live Friday Night (originally slated for that ill-fated Friday the 13th) and a poetry café, among so much else.
Then there are the student council events. I am the student council advisor, and my students pleaded with me to plan an end of year event. A trip to an escape room and laser tag were in the works. We were also supposed to have a carnival for younger students during March is reading month, all sponsored and put on by student council. I’m now trying to figure out how we are going to do elections for next year, which take place every spring. I may be able to come up with something there. The point is that everyone who works in or deals with education day-in, day-out – teachers, administrators, volunteers, staff, parents, and certainly students – lost so much over these last few weeks.
I feel as though that goes double for students in Catholic schools. I am not Catholic, and I do not teach religion, but I know what my students are missing at a time when they could use their faith the most. They need guidance when it comes to faith formation, and that is what they are lacking now. I keep thinking … 20 years from now, how I will I explain these times to my students? There are times when I feel at a loss when I try discussing September 11th with current students who were born longer after 2001.
This is not what I wanted or dreamed for my first full year teaching. It just isn’t. I do hope that next year will bring a “normal” year. During the 2018-2019 school year, those of us in Michigan experienced a record number of “cold”/snow days. Something no one experienced before. Now this. I think everyone could use a return to “normal” at this point.
Then there is the canoe livery. Fortunately for us, we don’t truly begin to get busy until the end of June, early July. August keeps getting busier and busier every year. This time of year, we get things ready for opening on Memorial Weekend. We will see what happens. While we can make some progress, in other ways, it is difficult. For example, I can’t finish ordering our t-shirts and sweatshirts at this point. Would it be wise to do so right now with so much uncertainty? Same goes for other merchandise in our stores.
There are so many summer scenarios that are running through my head. I can’t help but think we’d be especially busy if things start returning to normal by early June. If it is towards the end of June, that might put more pressure on already extremely busy weekends. Should we extend our season? Time will tell.
I do know that I will survive. My family will survive. The canoe livery will survive. We’ve weathered so many storms in the past. I keep telling myself how bleak things looked in 2018 in the wake of massive 100-year flooding due to ice. We made it and came back better than ever. Eventually a path will be made clear, and there will be a new “normal.” We all just need to hold on until then.
Why do I write? I write because I must write. I have a story within me that must be told. There may be other ways to tell that story, but writing fits me – and more importantly, it fits the story I need to tell. I’ve dabbled in many forms of writing over the years, everything from daily throw away articles to blogging to academic papers. I view it all as preparation for writing a larger story.
More than anything, writing allows me to organize all the seemingly random thoughts rambling around my head. I love reading what I wrote years ago as it normally takes me back to a certain time and place. It is a way for me to see just how much I’ve grown over the years, both personally and as a writer.
As a teacher, it saddens me when students tell me they hate to read and write. In my mind, my love of writing grew out of my love of reading. I loved to read as a child – and I still love to read. Reading and writing are so intertwined in my life that it is difficult for me to tell where one begins and the other ends. For example, something I plan to write will inspire me to read a certain book. Other times, a book I pick up because it looks good will inspire me to write. One of my all-time favorite books, Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose, sums up the symbiotic relationship perfectly. In fact, it changed how I read as a writer in every sense of those words. As long as I have books, paper, and pen, I will never be bored.
Writing, to me, also means a sense of community. I’ve taken writing classes at the local community college, spent years as a member of Mid-Michigan Writers, Inc., and attended workshops and seminars for writers. I have yet to meet one writer who didn’t have something to offer others, whether it be a new critique technique, a new source of writing prompts, or information on various programs for writers. As with teachers, writers are happy to share. We can all learn from one another.
The wonderful thing about writing is that it can be personal or shared, solitary or social, and organized or spontaneous. There is room for all types, and there is no one set of rules that apply to everyone. I love that young and old have access to reading and writing. Unlike many sports, there is no expiration date. There is no real barrier to entry other than basic literacy. I like to think that my writing will just get better with age, like a fine wine. It inspires me that many writers did not find their way until late in life. Above all, there is no stopping a great story.
Let’s face it: Good storytelling isn’t going anywhere, whether that means books, movies, television, or something else entirely. As long as there is hunger for a good story, there will be writers. I am proud to be a part of that tradition.
Ever since schools closed on Friday, March 13th, so many people have posted about spring break trips, proms, graduations, and so much more being cancelled and/or postponed. I’ve watched others shame those same people truly grieving their loss by stating things such as “at least you’re healthy” and “how can you think of things at a time like this?” What awful things to say!
While graduations and field trips certainly aren’t the sickness or loss of a loved one – no one is making that comparison – most of us are suffering from loss at this point. We have lost our “normal” and working like hell to get to a “new normal,” whatever that may be. As a teacher, I’m in awe at how teachers have come together. I belong to a Google Classroom group on Facebook, and the activity I’ve witnessed over the last few weeks is unreal. So many strangers, all teachers or in education, coming to help one another help students across the United States and the world. In fact, I’ve had my own crash course over the last few weeks. In fact, that is precisely why I am a teacher, I love to keep learning and then share what I’ve learned with my students.
When all this madness is over, and things return to “normal” – and they will – it is my hope that we are all kinder and gentler with one another. Hopefully this will bring many people closer to God. I also hope that it brings everyone, students included, a new appreciation for their everyday lives. It already has for me. As stressed out as I was at the end of last trimester, I’d love to be worried about planning all the fun things for March is reading month and the end of the school year again. So, I am taking some time to grieve my loss of normal – and you should too. When this is over, we are all going to love on each other and support our neighborhoods, small businesses, and cities, towns, and villages like never before. Personally, I am hoping for a great party out on the river!
All I can say is that there will be time to reschedule those missed spring break trips, make those memories with your seniors, and generally make up for lost time. I am looking forward to that day, and I expect to be so busy that I will be tempted to complain. Until then, I will just keep plugging away.