Working on Mackinac Island for the Summer

I am not living or working on Mackinac Island now…except in my mind. Hopefully, you have had a similar experience — you travel to some place you enjoy or you have some experience you treasure, then you re-live it in your head for quite awhile after the moment. Maybe even call up specific moments from that time and place when you need them to de-stress. That’s where I am these days. Not at Mackinac, but not completely in lower Michigan either.

There’s no way to fully explain what I did or why it was so memorable, so needed, or so life-giving, but I’ll try.

For five and a half months, I worked for Mackinac State Historic Parks on Mackinac Island. My title was Guest Services Representative which means I worked at Fort Mackinac selling tickets and souvenirs, at the Visitor’s Center answering guest’s questions and selling souvenirs, at the Biddle House (Native American Museum) and Blacksmith Shop, and at the Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum. Some days, I gave my colleagues breaks at those places too. The variety of jobs and locations helped make the days (and the summer) fly by. I had not worked full time for six years (since I retired from teaching), so that was a transition — not difficult, but borderline-routine in the way full time employment can be. Except that I was on “the island” and everyday is a good day on the island.

I think highlights may be the best way to convey this experience:

  • I arrived on Mackinac on April 27th and by the end of the month, I tested positive for COVID. I spent five days in isolation, then five more wearing a mask everywhere. It was a crazy way to start. However, it wiped that possibility off my list for the rest of the summer (in my mind) and I didn’t wear a mask at all after that.
  • Suzette, Alice, and Liz trained me and then Courtney, Suzette, and (later) Ava were available via text or phone if I had a question…of which I had many during the summer. Most of the questions had to do with selling tickets to the fort; there are at least two dozen ways to get into the fort and many times that gray area between them necessitated a text or call. All the people I worked for (and with) were absolute gems — always willing to help, never judging, and friendly to the nth degree. I had to count my cash drawer at the beginning and end of every shift. I never knew there were so many different ways to count to 300. Usually, I balanced…fortunately.
  • All the State Park workers lived at Mission House. Living in an almost-200 year old historic building was a trip all by itself: uneven floors, dinky bedrooms (though I did have my own), and stories of the basement being inhabited by ghosts made it interesting. Most of the other workers were in their twenties and used vocabulary that was foreign to me. I enjoyed bringing up to them that not everything was “fair enough” and began writing down as much of their vocabulary as I could. They were a very social group and welcomed this old guy, thankfully. For the first few weeks I had no idea that they were getting together — they used SnapChat to communicate…so I eventually became a snapchatter. The cookouts, potlucks, swim times on “hot” days, Grand nights of dancing, Rum bar getaways, and talks on the porch were priceless.

  • The island is a community of caring people. I felt welcomed in so many ways. Since it’s so expensive to eat on the island (the only market, Doud’s, can be pricey…though I shopped there dozens of times), local folks made it doable for island employees. Free dinners were available on certain nights of the week at several locations throughout most of the summer: the Mackinac Arts Council had community dinners and music a handful of times (Eastern European, Jamaican, Upper Peninsula fare…), St. Anne’s Church on Wednesdays, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts late in the week (often with a kickball game), and the Bible Church on Fridays. It helped so much — financially, emotionally, and socially.
  • Exploring the island became a mission of sorts. I found trails, both walking and on my bike, that I had never seen before. By myself and with new friends, hiking the island was a joy. Sometimes spiritual (like sunrises) and sometimes surprising…I couldn’t get enough.
  • I overheard many humorous comments during my time on the island. Here are some:
    • the young boy, crouched on the sidewalk, who said to his parent, “You mean it’s going to smell like this the whole time?!”
    • during the yacht race craziness, I overheard “I put a new element on the raycor…it didn’t help.”
    • I was working at the Sutler Store in Fort Mackinac and a parent ducked her head into the doorway and said “We’re not going in there, that’s a trap…that’s a trap!” The eyes on her young daughter were popping out.
    • I was on my bike, riding on the west, outer edge of the island. There was a worker cleaning the outside of the street lamps. He was up on a ladder with a swiffer. Somebody came by and said something like… “Lookin’ spiffy…how you doin’?” The worker guy said “I’m not good. This is shit man.”
    • I was walking at night with some young friends and one of them looked up and said “these are some nice ass stars.” I said “Yes, the stars do have nice asses.”
    • Park-Ops Emily (we had five Emilys living in the building) said “teamwork makes the dream work” then added… “Don’t use that in a poem because it’d be really corny.”
    • Ava said, referring to her aunt’s situation, “the house closing took five-ever” and that made so much sense to me.
    • Our first house manager, Justin, had a way with words…
      • “how can you not love a sloth with five squeakers?”
      • “live your best fucking life.”
    • At the Visitor’s Center, people were always asking if we had a map of the island. This one woman with an English accent changed it up by asking “Have you a map of the island?” which I found hilarious.
    • In October, a woman used her Heritage Pass to get into the fort (it’s a family pass for the season) that she had bought in May. It was fun to recognize my own handwriting on her pass — I had sold it to her.

I can’t say this next aspect was a highlight. But it happened and it was important. I was on the island partly to check it off my bucket list — working a summer on Mackinac Island. Also, though, it was a getaway from the divorce process. After 38 years of marriage, I left Judy in February. We had tried counseling and I felt it helped with communication a little. But we had grown apart and I felt it was time to move on. It was not an easy decision but it was a necessary one for me. On the island, I attended a zoom courtroom. We closed on our house with me getting some documents notarized at a bank on the island. Those aspects of my time there were other-worldly, emotional, and odd.

And then, a female friend from my past found me on Facebook Messenger. That was a bonus from the summer. A kismitty, hopeful miracle of sorts.

I did a lot of journaling and wrote some poems on the island. Also, thanks to Robin Boswell, we published a book for teachers right at the end of the summer. It’s on Amazon now and will be available at Schuler Books soon. Please check it out and share it with a new teacher who needs some encouragement.

I do plan to go back to Mackinac…maybe even next summer. Not to work, but maybe to volunteer (if you volunteer four hours at a State Park site, you can stay overnight at the Mission House) or just be a tourist again.

If you have more time and would like to see my photos from the summer, here’s a link.

2021 Video Wrap-up

I’m not really in a writing mood. Here are some videos I’ve enjoyed lately — some are funny, some are interesting, some are good for dancing or singing along with…

If you have videos that you recommend, please put them in the comments. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

July 2021 Haikus

July 2021 haikus

Fell asleep to fireworks;
Late-night bluejay-like annoyance
burst through closed windows

July the fifth bliss —
simple silence everywhere,
Sunshine explodes forth

Empty bird feeder
longs for company, until
squirrel hangs hoping

Bumblebee on screen
doesn’t move for days and days
then gone; curious

Are bird-feeders filled
on a kismetty schedule
across this whole town?

Mosquito inside
gets highest priority,
heightens awareness

I become Zen-like,
quiet myself, listening,
waiting for the buzz

and strategic, this murder
is sweet victory

Heat I can handle
but humidity sucks eggs:

Inflation hits haiku
Climate changing, pandemic life
makes haiku 6-8-6

Take My Books, Please

Maybe you have read all the good books in your house. Maybe you need a new perspective on teaching or on God. Maybe you just want to help me clean out my bookshelves. Please peruse this list/photo of books and let me know if you would like one or two or more. Feel free to Facebook message me or email me at and we’ll work out someway for you to get them over to your bookshelf.

These are non-fiction sources that I’ve used for information, inspiration, and assistance over the years; each title is a link to an explanation and reviews of the book.

Even Hockey Players Read: Boys, Literacy, and Learning by David Booth
Cityscapes: Eight Views from the Urban Classroom by Members of the National Writing Project Urban Sites Network
Zigzag: A Life of Reading and Writing, Teaching and Learning by Tom Romano
Writing to Live: How to Teach Writing for Today’s World by Lorraine Wilson
Growing Minds by Herbert Kohl
Teaching and Assessing Writing by Edward M. White
The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren
Christ in Crisis by Jim Wallis
Jesus, CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership by Laurie Beth Jones
Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age by Bill McKibben

The Last Day

I’ve been watching a lot of movies these days.
This morning, I considered the fact that if my life were a movie, I might nod off to it.
There’s not much of a compelling plot to this flick.

Let’s say I titled my movie The Last Day. If you’re reading this on December 31, 2020, then there’s some context to the title; any other day and the title could make you wonder if there’s going to be a murder in this story or if it’s one of those end-of-the-world scenarios. Maybe it’s the re-telling of the last day on the job for this guy that’s retiring after 30 years working at a job he was ready to leave 10 years ago. What might he do?

Or if I was to disappear one day, the police may think this title could offer clues as to my whereabouts. I happen to be reading a new book called Anxious People that is a compelling, though rambling, detective mystery. It’s much more interesting than the movie I’m living. It involves a bank robbery of a cashless bank, an unintended hostage situation, and tremendous amount of backstory (interrogations, solitary people on bridges, messed up family dynamics)…some of which is informative and amusing, though some seems like filler. I’m not saying I’d prefer its plot to mine. It is, though, more of a page turner.

In my movie, most every day seems like the previous day. Dialogue would include the pivotal scene where the main character asks “Why is everyone putting out their trash today? Isn’t it Tuesday?” When in fact, we learn that it was Wednesday, trash day. Wow.

Then, there’s a scene where the main character texts his son about his day. Soon after, for no apparent reason, a poem appears in his head that he jots down quickly.

I will never know
the labor of pregnancy

the way it makes one crave
odd combinations of foods
or how it feels to have
a second heartbeat

winter in Michigan
must be similar though

almost nine months of hunkering down
moving more slowly
as its weight can be seen
its heaviness felt daily

all the reading in the world
doesn’t help one cope
as we keep layering on

at the end, however,
I don’t have anything positive
to show for my effort

He reads it to his wife who offers encouraging comments, so he saves the poem.

Much of the movie is spent watching the main character twirl his hair. He is unaccustomed to having hair to twirl and it passes the time. He wonders if his twirling comes off as a lack of confidence. He seems to be worrying about something. He isn’t. Though he is wondering when the plot will thicken.

Still Learning, Still Teaching

The election is over — even though the biggest loser doesn’t want to admit it — and I’ve been thinking about ways I’ve been teaching and learning lately. One thing I’ve re-learned from this election is the power of cults, mobs, and groups in general to deny reality. I am reminded of Gladwell’s notion of thresholds and wonder what our threshold is for this aggression that Trump is aiming at the country. Both Democrats and Republicans have a type of mob mentality going and each has a point at which they won’t take anymore…and then they act.

Republicans have these components more noticeably since they met for a convention, had many in-person rallies, are stoked by widely watched shows on Fox News, meet with guns-in-tow at protests, and are usually more black-and-white thinkers. They are in their bubbles of Parler, Fox, and even their churches and so far they’ve mostly kept their threshold in check (no overt violence in response to the election)…using denial to stir the stew. Democrats of course also travel in packs, but this year (due to our belief in Science and precautions over COVID-19) our mob has been mostly virtual. Not much excitement from a virtual convention. The campaigns’ of Democrats this year focused on using phone calls and other distant strategies to get out the vote and to emphasize to voters that their choice to vote early was essential to the party’s victory. What’s being tested these days is our threshold response; when will Trump’s denial of Biden’s victory cross a point that requires the Democratic mob to react? Possibly as a riot, possibly more civilly with Democratically-governed states sending out their troops to enforce the law…still provocative to be sure.

I’ve learned that decent, intelligent people can buy a bill of goods that goes against common sense and past conventions. I’ve seen a Presidential-led, Senate-supported, government official-allowed denial of election results. Millions of people saying “let’s pretend it didn’t happen” and allowing this un-truth to leave millions more (you know, the majority that won the election) anxious. Things haven’t fallen apart as much as some predicted…yet.

The next month or two will be very telling for us as country.

While this (above) did appear on Fox, they also refuse to refer to Biden as ‘President-elect Biden’ and have many articles doubting the results.

What I really want to talk about is the ways I’ve been teaching and learning lately (two of my favorite past-times). Here’s an overview:

* If you’ve been a frequent visitor to my blog, you know I love to juggle for its meditative, fun vibe. I have a couple videos on how to do it, but the best way to learn it is to try it…drop the balls…and keep trying.

* I also have a lesson posted on the Red Cedar Writing Project’s Writing Enrichment page. It was fun using a presentation tool I had not used before. If you go to that link and scroll down, my lesson is called “Writing Friendly Letters.” I happen to believe that, as the Carpenters said lo those many years ago, what the world needs now (besides love sweet love) is to write a personal letter to a friend. It slows the world down around you. The letter will be incredibly appreciated and you’ll most often get a written response. The link above has other activities for K-12 students; if you’re looking specifically for high school enrichment, try the Greenrock page.

* I presented a short, Zoom session on Limericks as a Coping Strategy for the Michigan College English Association conference last month. It’s fun if that’s what you’re looking for.

* I’m tutoring one fourth-grader virtually as part of an initiative by our church to engage more with our local community.

* As a member of the Lansing Poetry Club, I will be leading a poetry workshop in March on Poetry of Witness. Stay tuned to our Poetry Calendar for more information on that workshop and monthly workshops between now and then.

* This week, I begin co-leading Stephen Minister Training at the Peoples Church of East Lansing. Stephen Ministry is a lay ministry employed by many denominations across the country and world to offer companionship to people going through tough life events. My years as a Stephen Minister strengthened my faith in God and my recent training as a Stephen Leader gave me the skills and confidence I needed to facilitate this ministry. It is a blessing in my life.

* I definitely learn a lot from writing. Whether it’s in my journal, here on this blog, with my writing group, in my recently released book of poems (My Name is Aram, Too), or writing a novel in a month with NaNoWriMo, writing pushes me to think and to consider what it is I believe and feel.

In conclusion, we need to keep learning and some of us need to keep teaching. One guy who embodied those qualities was Alex Trebek who died this past week. Jeopardy won’t be the same without him…meaning he’ll be missed…not that I fear change.

Here’s a wonderful tribute to him. It’s kind of long and seems to include commercials (though I worked around them by refreshing the page). If you’re interested in how Jeopardy runs and some of Trebek’s thoughts on life, I recommend it.

What’s Going On In Armenia?

It is difficult these days to get a handle on what’s going on in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Being Armenian-American, I feel both concerned about it and disconnected from it. Disconnected because the conflict is not reported on regularly here in the states and I don’t make an effort to check in on it. Concerned, too, though because of the loss of human lives on both sides and the threat of more involvement from Turkey or Russian escalating the conflict.

Here’s a bit of history if you need it. The following information and the map, below, comes from a website called Political Geography Now. There’s more history on the website if you are interested.

“What is Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh?
The status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region is disputed. The UN and its member countries generally consider it part of Azerbaijan, but separatists there declared independence during the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the area has been ruled separately from Azerbaijan for over 25 years now.

Originally calling itself the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, the region’s self-proclaimed government now officially prefers the name Republic of Artsakh – “Artsakh” being an Armenian-language alternate name for the area. Founded by culturally-Armenian locals who didn’t want to be part of Azerbaijan, self-ruled Artsakh is heavily integrated with neighboring Armenia as far as military defense and day-to-day administration. But it still technically considers itself an independent country, and Armenia maintains a formal separation, neither recognizing Artsakh’s independence nor officially making it part of Armenia.”

Recently, according to some sources an Armenian jet was shot down over Armenian airspace by a Turkish F-16 fighter. Both sides are accusing each other of attacks. I feel conflicted about Armenia’s ownership of the disputed land but know that when both sides feel like it belongs to them, a peaceful resolution is far away. I will continue to keep an eye on news from the region and pray for an illusive and needed peaceful solution.

The U.S.A. Needs to Grow Up

FYI: My new, header photo at the top of the page is from our garden. I like the clarity of the photo as well as how it alludes to an openness, a hopefulness. Photographer: me.

As a country, the United States of America is still in a rough draft, test stage. We are in the middle school years of our life. We like to think we are middle aged with some wisdom but I think not.

Our current president is an indicator. He leads like a head bully. He personifies this country’s lack of maturity. He’s always been the self-centered, fragile, macho teen bully that the other kids (senators) are afraid to defy. You remember the type from middle school; no one really approves of the guy but the group tolerates him…to a point.

Other ways we act like middle schoolers: too often, we make judgments about others without knowing much about the situation; we are curious, but not great listeners; depth is not our strength; we like to try on “adult” actions with little success; we don’t appreciate the wisdom of adults (older countries…or even historians).

In order to grow up, people generally need a wake up call. Some eye-opening moment that requires self-analysis, that begs for a change of behavior. If the country hasn’t been having wake up calls lately, I’m not sure what these have been. Between injustices and murders of Black people by our police forces to denial of climate change in light of increased forest fires and rising oceans to rampant disrespect of women to the way some can’t follow safety guidelines to (insert your examples here) things seem a bit out of control and juvenile these days.

Growing up does not mean becoming liberal or conservative. It does mean moving on from those juvenile qualities of our early days: it means doing more listening for understanding, more learning and less judging, being more confident and comfortable with who we are and less likely to take things personally.

Empathy should not be political. It’s a human skill. QAnon is not an example of empathy…it is juvenile, paranoid, ridiculous…and way too popular. There are signs that empathy is still alive and well in our country and lately I’ve been seeking them out.

I recently took part in my first Living Room Conversation (albeit virtual). These are structured ways to have civil conversations with people from a variety of political beliefs. Here are the ground rules …

I found the time to be a useful exercise in listening to others. Though there weren’t as many conservatives in the conversation in which I participated, we did talk a lot about people’s varying ideas about our core values like freedom, access to work, and rising to a challenge. Some spoke of how the promise of America is so different than the reality for most people. People from around the country shared notions of balancing our hyper individualism with interdependence and our high hopes with a lowering of expectations; how understanding and tolerance may be more reasonable goals for us.

Another resource that I happened on is a book called Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide by Tania Israel. This book jumped out at me as I was dropping off a couple books at a Little Free Library near my house. Someone had left an Advance Preview copy of this 2020 book that’s on the market now. This book dovetailed nicely in with the online conversation I had. For example, the diagram from the book, below, points out some tips on having a meaningful dialogue. Though somewhat simplified, I found it a good reminder that we are more alike than different.

Both Living Room Conversations and this book focus on understanding the other side. They focus on tolerance for each other’s views. You may not think that’s enough or possible or worth it. I think it is. We’re not going to change each other. But in a peaceful society, we need to practice civility. We need to understand and appreciate each other. Respect our differences.

If we don’t aim for at least tolerance, the air in our bubble becomes quite stale and practically non-existent. And beyond tolerance, I wonder if another concept could be helpful. From the Living Room Conversations website, I learned a new word: sonder. Sonder is the realization that everyone has a story.

Be well my friends.

I recently read White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson; here’s part of my reaction in a poem.


I am not white

The edges of my eyes
are my only actually white part

Some call my skin
Mediterranean or olive
or Middle Eastern
but that’s really just
avoiding the question

Yes I am white
in that
white male white privileged way

Some people see me
as a white, Ford F450
with perpetual right of way
in their way

And acquaint me with a long line
of dead white guys
who wreaked havoc
(that is, death and destruction)
while playing
the Christian card

I don’t like being put in a box
with those guys

I do like being me
which is akin to hating
my truck but liking that it
gets me places

I don’t think I live like a Ford F450
but that doesn’t seem to matter
I need to accept my label
and hug the shoulder
so non-white folks
can get by



* The Storycorps Project and Listening is an Act of Love by Dave Isay

* Elayne Griffin Baker’s insightful list of what we’ve lost in the White House

* The Living Room Conversation piece on Sonder

* How to Recognize and Deal with Emotional Immaturity…while not about the USA, seems to fit.

* Immature Leadership: Donald Trump and the American Presidency and a reminder of what he’s done

Poetry Book Footnote

Isolation has given me time to put some of my poems together. I’ve self-published My Name is Aram, Too through Schuler Books press in Grand Rapids!

The title is a reference to one of my favorite books of all time, My Name is Aram by William Saroyan. It’s a collection of short stories, not poems, and Saroyan set it in Fresno, CA, not mid-Michigan; I love his playful writing style and the Armenian community he created.

Here’s the cover that our niece, Megan, drew (the individual drawings refer to poems in the book):

Nice job, Megan!

It’s meant to look similar to title art Don Freeman created for William Saroyan’s book My Name is Aram:

If Freeman’s work looks familiar, he’s also the artist that drew the cover of the Corduroy books and Rainbow of My Own, among many others.

Here are some options if you want to get a book:

* It’s available online at the Schuler Books website.

* After Wednesday, Schuler Books in Okemos at the Meridian Mall will have copies available.

* I do believe in bartering, so if you want to stop by our house, I have copies. (close family and friends, please wait so I can give you a copy…I have many)

* If you are very patient, I will probably post a pdf of the book on this blog in a year or two.