I am ashamed to admit it, but I have yet to fully read one of Anne-Marie Oomen’s memoirs or books of poetry, even though I own two of her books (signed) and have attended a couple of her writing sessions (one for teachers and other, this past spring, open to the general public), as well as a reading from her latest book, As Long As I Know You: The Mom Book. I’ve only read and heard snippets of her work … so far.
What I’ve read and heard thus far is wonderful, and knowing the topics/subjects/genre included in many of her books, I know that I will love them. How could I not purchase a book titled Love, Sex, and 4-H? Then there is As Long As I Know You: The Mom Book. I can’t wait to read it. The passages that she read during her author event, along with the anecdotes she shared about herself, her mom, and writing the book, definitely left me hooked.
What I really want to discuss today is her capacity as a teacher. Just over a month prior to the shutdown orders signaling the official start of the pandemic, I had the opportunity to attend a day-long writing program aimed at teachers. Titled “Homecoming: Coming Home,” it was sponsored by the Saginaw Bay Writing Project. Anne-Marie Oomen happened to be one of the presenters that morning.
During her allotted time, she taught us the term ekphrasis – a method of using different works of art to create various forms of writing, whether poetry, personal essay, or short story. Imagine studying a painting and then creating a poem from your experience. That is ekphrasis.
After explaining the process and providing us with examples of her own work, Anne-Marie Oomen had us create our own art inspired piece. She brought with her a large collection of postcards. I chose one with a portrait of Annie Oakley on the front, “little sure-shot.” I enjoyed the experience and still have a digital copy of her presentation from that day. I left realizing that I could easily create vision boards on Pinterest to gather my thoughts and ideas for various writing projects.
As wonderful as that experience was, a few months ago I learned that Anne-Marie Oomen was to be a guest scholar at Saginaw Valley State University. During that time, she conducted a similar writing session open to the general public at the Marshall Fredericks Museum on SVSU’s campus. I am so glad that I attended. It made me look at one of my favorite museums in an entirely different light. I left with a notebook full of ideas and even a rough draft. The following evening, Anne-Marie Oomen held a reading at the Wirt Public Library in Bay City, sharing snippets from As Long As I Know You: The Mom Book. I’m so glad that I attended as I brought back so many memories of the short few months I had living with Grandma Reid before she needed more care than I could provide. It is never easy watching someone you love age and decline.
I took something away from each of Anne-Marie Oomen’s events. On top of sharing her love and knowledge of writing, she is a wonderful teacher. Better yet … she is a Michigan author willing to help aspiring writers and teachers.
Lately, the cottage has been on my mind. In Michigan, many families have a “cottage” or “cabin” Up North, however you define it. Minnesota may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but Michigan actually has more, only outnumbered by Alaska. As a true Michigander, I am drawn to water in all of its forms. The cottage in my mom’s family, going back at least five generations, still plays an important role in our family.
Actually, there are two. The “old cottage,” which belonged to my great grandmother, Leona Clara Forward Buttrick, otherwise known to her great grandchildren as Great (I wrote about her life in Family History), had character to spare. Dating back to the 1930s or 1940s, the “old cottage” looms large in my childhood memories. It was the site of numerous weekend get-togethers with extended family, particularly my Buttrick grandparents, cousins, and aunts (and their husbands). Great spent most of her summers at the “old” cottage on Sage Lake, which made these early memories extra special.
Once Great passed away in 1993, it was decided that we needed a cottage closer to the lake, a new place to make new memories. Thankfully, this cottage is still in constant use during the summer and still the site of countless family summer gatherings. Still, there is something special about the “old” cottage, warts and all. It is still there, largely unchanged, to be enjoyed by a new family.
If anything, I would have to say it was Great herself that made the cottage special. She was always there, smiling and laughing. She seemed to just take it all in, surrounded by her granddaughters, great granddaughters, son, and daughter-in-law, among others. She always had a tin filled with Hydrox cookies for her great grandchildren and would look the other way while we snuck them.
It was a treat to spend the night at the cottage with Great. I believe that my mom, sister, and I stayed overnight with Great at the cottage a handful of times. I loved waking up near the lake, having toast with real honey from the comb and an individual box of cereal for breakfast. The “old” cottage may have been located on a large bluff overlooking Sage Lake, making swimming and boating a workout, but the view was second to none.
As Great’s birthday was in late August, I vividly remember driving up to the cottage to take Great out to dinner. Mom, Erica, and I pilled in Great’s huge seafoam green Caddy to take her out for frog legs, her favorite. We all adored Great, but the relationship that my mom had with her grandmother was truly special. It must have been for my mom to pack up her two little girls and drive over half an hour each way to take her grandmother out to dinner for her birthday. I am so grateful for all the time I got to spend with Great. As I was 13 when she passed away, I knew her well Not everyone gets the opportunity to know a great grandparent in such a wonderful, detailed way.
The thing about going to the cottage during my childhood was that it was a process. Yes, there may have been times when I actually traveled to the cottage with my parents, but that is not what I remember as well. What I will remember most is all the fun I had piling into my grandparents’ huge 1980s station wagon with my older cousins. At one point, Grandpa B. owned one of those coveted wood paneled station wagons that had a rear facing seat. Of course, as kids, we all piled in the “way” back. My sister Erica, our cousin Abby, and I spent the entire 20 minute trip making up songs, playing silly finger-snap games, and hoping that we would be the “first one to see the lake.” Getting there was half the fun.
Actually, in those days, my parents presence at the cottage didn’t register much. No. The cottage was all about playing with cousins. We would climb the tree in the front yard, create dance routines on the parking pylons and the torpedo towable, and swim. There were trips to the pop shop and pontoon boat rides too. Grandpa could never understand why I would always pick out baseball cards (normally Topps ‘87s) instead of candy at the pop shop. I think it amused him.
Swimming and boating at the “old” cottage required a little planning. The obstacle to lake access was a large, steep set of stairs. If you were going down to the lake, you stayed there for a while. If anyone was heading up to the cottage and planned to return to the lake, she automatically played waitress. It wasn’t kind to head up without asking if anyone needed anything. It is the one thing that I do not miss about the “old” cottage. If we weren’t down at the lake, we were hanging out on the large covered porch in the front yard, facing Second Ave., the lake behind. This was the site of all of our games.
Of course, no description of cottage life would be complete without a description of the food. For dinner, there was chicken, burgers, and hotdogs on the grill with plenty of sides and salads, you name it. What really stands out, though, is so simple: Grandma B.’s fruit platters. Even us kids devoured mounds of fresh watermelon, cantaloupe, bananas, and blue berries. As soon Grandma brought out the fruit tray, it was time to take a break from all the fun.
Then there was the cottage itself. It was small and pine paneled with lots of windows overlooking the deck with the lake below, decorated in a mix of mid century cottage style. Even though there were only two bedrooms, it never felt cramped to me as a child. It largely smelled of fresh air and the lake, with Great’s Airspun powder lingering in the bathroom. Overall, it is a place where I made countless memories that I will always carry with me.
I am grateful that my brother Garrett takes his kids to the cottage often. For him, it is all about catching air on Sage on a wakeboard. Both of his kids, both under 10, adore wakeboarding and tubing behind the speedboat. Yet, I feel for Garrett. He has little to no memory of the cottage atmosphere I just described – the one seared in my memory, the one that started it all. While he definitely knew Great, she passed away when he was only two years old. It saddens me because the image of how fiercely my toddler brother adored our great grandmother is among one of sweetest things I have ever witnessed in my life. I’m just glad the cottage still lives on. The cottage is still a place where cousins make memories.
Restarting my conversation with all of you here has been on my mind for quite some time. As with so much in my life, things became bogged down during the pandemic. It is telling that my last posts described my feelings at the beginning of the shutdown – my experience as a new teacher suddenly thrown into the great unknown and then a two-part series on the pandemic and the canoe livery. The survival of that constant in my life weighed so heavily on my mind during the darkest days of the shutdown. It was almost unspeakable.
And now … Well, I feel as though I just witnessed the end of an era on Friday with the death of Betty White. I watched The Golden Girls during its original run. Yes, I am that old. Even though I was a child and tween during that time, there always seemed to be something timeless about that show and the principal actresses as well. I spent many Saturday evenings watching with my grandparents. Grandpa Owen adored Sophia, and of course, we all loved the humor. Out of the remaining three actresses, Betty White’s Rose reminded me the most of Grandma Reid. However, there is one huge catch: Grandma was never, ever even close to being that naïve (or dumb)! Yet, Rose’s willingness to help anyone and everyone fit the bill and her constant positivity reflected my experiences with both of my grandmothers. I think it is that kindness, reflected in both Betty White’s character Rose Nylund and anecdotes of Betty White’s generosity towards her colleagues and fans, that I am sensing is gone. It is also a longing for a simpler time.
If I am honest, the feeling that it is the end of an era started before Friday. This past fall, one of my Grandma Reid’s last remaining friends passed away (although there may be a few left). It hit particularly hard because Ginny was such a positive person. I have fond childhood memories of visiting her home during Halloween, at which time she would show me her vast porcelain doll collection and shared stories about working for my grandfather. As an adult, I saw her often as she volunteered at the Skilled Nursing Facility where Grandma Reid lived out the last few years of her life. I can only hope that I will be around to volunteer in my 80s and 90s! I remember her as so full of life. Again, the world could use more positivity at this point.
In fact, I am done. There are so many times I’ve wanted to write that simple sentence, and I now know how to explain it a bit better. I am done listening to the negative, which, let’s be honest, is everywhere now. I’m also done spending any time or energy on people who only focus on what could go wrong. It is time to finally move forward after the last nearly two years of hiding in the shadows and not living to the fullest. Yes, I truly believe that there have always been ways to do so safely.
We can get back to ourselves, but we might find that we have discover ourselves once again. As I work on decluttering my life, I will hopefully make even more room for what is truly important. I still have important to decisions to make, but I am finally once again headed in the right direction. There is hope for me yet (see article below).
So, thank you. Thank you for staying with me through all the craziness that is my life. Thank you for still reading even if I am nothing but inconsistent. Thank you for letting me share a tiny piece of my life.
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!
I will never forget Friday, March 13th, 2020. I teach middle school at a small, rural Catholic school, and we had just had an unexpected day off due to a boiler issue. Late in the day on Thursday, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer mandated all schools closed as of Monday, March 16th. Suddenly we were all faced with an undetermined amount of time off. Not only did teachers and administrators not quite know what to expect, students looked to us for answers and we had none.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. After school on that Friday, we were supposed to have an after school event for March is reading month, Prime Time Live Friday Night. Games, dinner, and prizes all cancelled. Our once full March calendar suddenly free. Now, our last Stations of the Cross is the last school memory I will have for a while.
I can’t help but think of all my 6th through 8th graders through all of this. Are they OK? How do I help make sure they are still learning? What can I do when I can’t assign any graded work as not everyone has internet access? I’ve worked my way through a crash-course on creating Google Classrooms, learning by doing.
Oh, the events! I so looked forward to so many events this spring! We had one field trip planned to Lansing in May, and I was in the process of booking another to the Michigan Science Center and the Detroit Institute of Art. We were just beginning the novel Esperanza Rising as a middle school. Oh, and the poetry unit I wanted to do. Then there were the professional development opportunities now cancelled. I looked forward to learning to become the best possible middle school teacher I can be. I am hoping that I have the same opportunities next year.
Then there are the longer-term questions. When will we return to school? What to expect when we do? When will society return to “normal’? How will things work with our seasonal family business, which is due to start Memorial Weekend? In fact, I’ve been splitting my time between trying to round up resources for my students and using this opportunity to get some business done.
Watching and observing how we have all come together as a profession (teachers are the best!), a church, a community, a state, and a country is heartwarming. Ultimately, we will all become stronger through this adversity.
Lately, I can’t stop thinking about my life in September 2009 and all the changes it brought with it. I can safely say it remains among the worst times in my life. That month, I lost two people close to me, both of whom I knew most of my life, and my ex lost his job at a time when I found it impossible to find one. The aftermath of that particular month still haunts me with unanswered questions and things left unsaid.
It started with Joyce. She passed away on September 2nd. It left me in shock as it was her husband who faced serious health issues at the time. The thing is Joyce and I always had a special bond. She babysat me from nine months of age until I was old enough to stay alone. We always referred to her as the “babysitter,” but she became so much more to me, my sister, and my brother. The truth is more complex. She and her husband were essentially another set of grandparents whom happened to live next door. When it came to grandparents – biological and otherwise – my siblings and I won the lottery.
As an adult, I tried to talk to her about subjects such as infertility and faith, but I never found the right words. I found her increasing pessimism as she aged hard to take at times, even though she had every right to feel the way she did. I knew that she would have wisdom to share, but I could never bring myself to ask her the hard questions. Now, a bit older and wiser, I would love to have those conversations with her.
Shortly before or after Joyce passed away – that time frame is still fuzzy in my mind, even though I am fairly certain it all happened within days – my ex lost his job. He just came home one morning when he should have been work, completely devastated. It turned out that the company he worked for at the time slashed their workforce by 20%. Only a few months prior to the layoffs, I had hoped to work there as well. They never filled the position I so eagerly sought.
In fact, nothing I did during the years 2006-2009 seemed to matter much. There were openings in my field. Unfortunately, those positions would remain forever unfilled or I would be competing against someone with 20 or even 30 years of experience – for an entry-level job. There simply were not enough jobs. Period.
As cruel as it sounds, I wish I would have known then that things weren’t meant to work out for us. My ex and I spent years trying to make it all work. It never did. As soon as things appeared to be getting better, something would happen to force us to start back at square one. Out of all the years we were together – 2004-2014 – we both held jobs only one year. One year out of ten. The rest of the time, one of us remained unemployed, even though both of us held college degrees (three between us) and had plenty of work experience, not to mention looked continuously for jobs in our fields. Still, both of us were far too stubborn to give up. After all we had been through together, it took two years of our relationship essentially unraveling before we finally had had enough, although the end wasn’t nearly that nice or simple. I haven’t looked back.
Just when I began to adjust, one of my oldest and dearest friends passed away. To this day, I think of him all the time. I came home from work only for Brian to tell me that Derrick passed away. It is the closest I’ve ever been to experiencing shock without physically being in shock. Derrick and I went back so far I can honestly say I have no idea when we met – elementary school or possibly earlier; I don’t know. What matters is the fact that I don’t remember life without Derrick prior to September 25, 2009. We experienced so much together from elementary school to college. I tried to capture our memories here.
First, nothing prepares you to lose a good friend who happens to still be in their 20s. Nothing. I didn’t know how serious his issues were. Now, of course, I’d like to think that I would have been able to help in some small way. Second, when you are unable to attend a close friend’s funeral, it does affect you – family or not. I still remember trying to keep it together because I had to work the day of his funeral. Later, I still found it difficult to be around his great aunt E. Memories came flooding back as soon as I would see her. I became so uncomfortable that I didn’t see her nearly as often as I should. Now that she is gone too, I regret it. Finally, I still see Derrick and I sniping at each other 50 years in the future, somehow managing to end up in the same nursing home. Frankly, I feel cheated knowing it is simply not possible.
Ten years later, I am not the same woman. I’ve experienced more loss in those years – and a lot of happiness. I know myself better and worked hard towards new dreams and goals. Still, when I think of those awful days of September 2009, I’d like to think that Joyce and Derrick both somehow know where I ended up. I can only imagine the conversation Derrick and I would have had in the aftermath of my awful breakup with Brian. He had been so happy that I’d finally found someone. I can also imagine how happy Joyce would be to know that I am now a teacher and how deeply her faith affected me. To Derrick and Joyce, I still love you both.
I love nicknames. They play a big role in my family life, and frankly, it is how we show we love one another. Some of my best and earliest memories involve various nicknames Grandpa Buttrick gave me as a child. In fact, I distinctly remember him actually calling me by my given name when I was about 10 years old. It stood out because he never called me Lindsey. In fact, he called me everything but (see list below). I thought I was in trouble! Fortunately, I wasn’t.
Well, somewhere along the line Mom picked up the nickname habit from her dad. The latest nickname she gave me is “Little Bo.” I love it. My dad’s name is Bob (aka Bo), and I earned every bit of that nickname. I am very much my father’s daughter. When I feel strongly about something, people know. So, in honor of my newest nickname, I decided to compile a list of nicknames I’ve been given over the years – and the people who gave them to me and the stories behind them.
Lindo – Perhaps my most common nickname, mostly used by Mom’s family and probably given to me by Grandpa Buttrick. Bonus: It means beautiful in Spanish, even if the masculine form.
Ed – Given to me by Grandpa Buttrick when I was a baby. I have no idea. Ed happened to be the name of his best friend.
Ankle Biter #3 – I am the third grandchild on the Buttrick side. My cousin Abby bit my dad’s ankle when she was a toddler, and none of us lived it down. Again, given by Grandpa Buttrick.
Rifle River Rat #1 – I am the oldest Russell child – and we are river rats. Again, Grandpa Buttrick.
Lonzo – Only Dad can call me Lonzo. Period.
Buckshot – Grandpa Reid gave me this nickname when I was an infant.
Gypsy – Grandpa Reid always called Grandma and I his gypsies. I am still always on the go.
Sugarfoot – Grandma Reid somehow came up with this one. Since she passed away in 2017, Mom decided to bring it back.
Rosie – Given to me by Grandma Reid due to my complexion.
Itchy – My brother Garrett gave me this nickname years ago. I have no idea why. I have taken to calling him Scratchy ala The Simpsons.
Little Bo – Given to me by Mom because I can channel my dad all too well at times.
Mother’s Day will never not be emotional for me. I am continuously torn between celebrating the wonderful women in my life who made me who I am today – not just Mom, but both my grandmas and Joyce, my childhood neighbor, babysitter, and essentially adopted grandmother – and struggling with my own path to motherhood. All those women helped shape me morally, spiritually, and intellectually.
Mom, of course, continues to do so. I still crave her advice. I am so grateful for her friendship; her example, not only as a mother, but as a teacher, business woman, Christian; and her unconditional love. All of it. Somewhere along the path to adulthood, she also became my best friend.
Mom, Dad, and I ~ 1983
In the past, I dreaded Mother’s Day. Working retail in my 20s, strangers wishing me a “Happy Mother’s Day!” broke my heart and left me feeling empty. They all meant well. That’s the problem: One never knows who is struggling with infertility, pregnancy, strained relationships, loss, etc. For the longest time, I felt the same way at church on Mother’s Day, until I no longer did. A simple acknowledgement that some struggle with a whole variety of issues relating to motherhood made all the difference. Watching others grieve and acknowledge the loss of their own mothers made me realize that I am far from alone.
If I am completely honest with myself, recent events have made me question whether I do want to adopt, my only path to motherhood. In fact, it is part of the reason why I have been so silent here lately. Fortunately, my parents support me no matter what I decide, but what I wouldn’t give to be able to talk to my grandmas and Joyce right now. I could use their advice and wisdom now more than ever. All three would have something to say – all different – and force me to think of something I had overlooked.
Grandma Reid and I ~ 1985
If I do decide not to adopt, the hardest part will be having to change my perception of myself. I do not remember just how young I was at the time, but the first thing I remember wanting out of life is to be a mother. Fortunately, that is the beautiful thing about all of this. If I decide not to adopt, in many ways, I am still a mother. I have a great relationship with my nephews and niece. Spending time with my niece the other evening, she randomly told me that she wanted to come spend the night at my house. It didn’t work out that evening, but a sleepover is in the works once school is out. I want to be that aunt. My niblings are finally reaching the ages where I can be that aunt.
As a teacher, I influence children every day. I truly care for all my students, even if I am just their substitute teacher for a day or two. It doesn’t matter. So many students do not have much support at home. As a teacher, I can put my maternal instincts to good use. I can be the teacher that cheers them on at school. I know for a fact that I have already made a difference. I just need to step it up as I truly start my teaching career.
I may yet decide to adopt, but I need to give myself time and space to make that decision. I finally concluded that it isn’t the end of the world if I do not. When and if I do decide to adopt, I can say with certainty that I have thought of all possibilities and outcomes. If it is meant to be, I know that my son or daughter is out there waiting for me.
There is no escaping it. This topic keeps rearing its ugly head. Last night, we discussed it in book club. Are people meant to be in a certain place? You can find my take on the topic here. That question keeps haunting me. What if somehow I missed my chance to be wherever it is I am supposed to be?
Am I supposed to live in Omer the rest of my life? I wish there were a simple answer. The reality is that there isn’t. I love my family, I’ve always wanted to be a part of the canoe livery, and I enjoy spending my summers working there. Yet, do I have what I need? Frankly, the answer is no. There are few people my age around, and those who are around are in a different stage of life. With one notable exception, all are married and/or have families of their own. It would be nice to at least have the possibility of dating in my future.
What are my alternatives? None of them are good. Either I deal with the issues before me and continue on this path, or I start over someplace new. If I stay, a part of me will always be someplace else. If I go, I would miss my family and the canoe livery. At least in Omer I am needed and loved.
The truth is I am going nowhere. The canoe livery and the Rifle River itself are too much a part of who I am. I want to watch my niece and nephews grow up firsthand, and I want to be there for my parents as they get older. None of that means that there aren’t sacrifices and complications that come with that decision. None of it changes the love/hate relationship I have with Omer and Arenac County in general.
What saddens me is the reality of where I live. Over the last two decades, so many people left not only Arenac County, but Michigan as well. Many were left with no choice thanks to a one-state recession followed by the Great Recession. I graduated in 1999, and due to the fact that so many classmates moved out of state, I doubt we will ever have a true class reunion. Most Michigan State business students I graduated with in 2004 headed to Arizona or Texas, including me. No one seems to care. Few planned on helping their children create a life for themselves here during that time frame and the years that followed.
While we may be on the path to recovery, we are not there yet. What bothers me is a general aura of denial that stubbornly resists any change. Yes, I agree we need change, but we also need to keep what is working – and there are things that are working. Unfortunately, we do not support those things. So many people seem to want to change nothing or change everything at once. Neither approach will work, but no one seems to address this.
What about businesses? What are we doing to attract new ones? Absolutely nothing I can see. No, instead we keep piling on more unnecessary regulations that do nothing except add costs. Instead of making it easier for those just starting out to get started in a career, we make it next to impossible. Today, we still tell high school seniors that a four year college degree should be the norm when we are setting them up for tens of thousands of dollars of debt before they even start their career. It is wrong and needs to stop. We need to attract more businesses and encourage trades. What about entrepreneurship? Again, we do little to support those who wish to start their own business. New businesses and new growth are exactly what we need, but they cannot survive if not supported.
I am angry. I want to believe in my hometown and live here, but many times, it feels next to impossible. If it weren’t for my family, I would have never looked back. I am tired of feeling torn, and I am fed up with everything else about the area pushing me away.
Ever since I left MSU’s beautiful campus a few days after my graduation on April 30th, 2004, I’ve longed to give back to my fellow Spartans. My years at Michigan State were among the best of my life, and that is due to the wonderful opportunities I had as an undergrad. Not only did I heavily participate in study abroad and alternative spring break programs, I later worked as a peer advisor in the Office of Study Abroad, now Office of Education Abroad.
Through the umbrella Multicultural Business Programs (MBP) organization, I became an active member of Multicultural Business Students (MBS), eventually serving as publicity chair on the executive board, and the Women in Business Association. In fact, my connections to MBP goes back even further to the summer after my junior year of high school. That summer, I attended the Broad Business Student Camp (BBSC) (created and run by MBP), and I fell in love. I fell in love with Michigan State’s campus and what I envisioned my college life could be.
BBSC wasn’t the only factor in my decision to attend MSU, but it left a powerful impression. A few years later, I served as a camp counselor for BBSC thanks to arrangements made with my employer at the time, IBM. When I arrived on campus in August 1999, eagerly pushing my parents’ out the door, I already had a home on one of the largest college campuses in the United States: MBP. This is just a snippet of some of the opportunities I took advantage of while at MSU. It is now time to give back.
Even though I wanted to give back, I am not in a position to give monetarily at the moment, nor do I think that would be the best way to do so. Fortunately, I happened to stumble across a couple of great opportunities.
In fall 2017, as an alum of the Eli Broad College of Business, I received an email outlining the Alumni Wisdom Project. In short, the project, a component of a communications course on campus, pairs current MSU business students with Broad alumni. It is meant to be a one-time face-to-face or Skype informational interview focusing on career and experiences at MSU. Students then complete the assignment for class and share what they have written with alumni. I loved my first experience, so I signed up for another. It is exactly the type of experience I was looking for that would allow me to somehow give back to current MSU students.
Spartans Helping Spartans
I only learned of Spartans Helping Spartans a few months ago when I responded to David Isbell’s LinkedIn comment asking if there were MSU alums who were interested in reconnecting with the university. Dave Isbell works in alumni relations at MSU. I met him online several years ago when I first moved back to Michigan.
After my initial interest in reconnecting with MSU, Dave and I spoke on the phone. He described the idea behind his website Spartans Helping Spartans – alumni sharing their experiences with current MSU students in an informal podcast format. I was hooked. In our conversation, he told me that he remembered a little about my background, and I filled him in on what I am currently doing. Next thing I know, he interviewed me for the podcast and my first podcast was born. Check it out below.
There is much more to come. I am currently writing a series of blog posts highlighting study abroad for Spartans Helping Spartans. I will share them once they are on the website. In addition, I have had such positive feedback from this podcast, I am toying with the idea of creating a podcast myself. Stay tuned. All because I said yes.
Beal Botanical Garden – Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan