White bear, white bear, what do you see?


Like bears holed up in their dens for too long, we jumped at last week’s unusual day of sunshine and ambled outdoors to stretch our limbs. We dressed in many layers and headed to our favorite winter destination to walk off a few calories: The Detroit Zoo.

Within that destination is a favorite place: The Arctic Ring of Life, a simulated polar habitat that is home to arctic foxes, polar bears and seals. The animals here come to life in the colder months. This past December was one of our coldest, snowiest and iciest in nearly a decade. During our visit, the bears were practically dancing on their simulated polar ice cap.

One of the best features of this exhibit is the underwater viewing tunnel. I love how the shafts of sunlight shimmer through the blue water. I love how on one side of the tunnel, seals swoop and twirl in the current like flocks of birds while the hulking polar bears bounce like astronauts doing the moonwalk on the other. (The seals and bears do not intermingle, for obvious, food-chain related reasons.)

In this scene below, a bear sits with its back to the many human visitors watching from the tunnel. Within seconds, the bear plunges under the surface and swims directly toward Girl from the East. For a heartbeat, they are nose-to-nose at the glass. Girl then lets out a little shriek and jumps into my arms. The bear then paddles upward and stands atop the glass tube, looking down at us, swiping its massive paws at a seemingly unreachable human snack buffet.

The guy next to us shoots a question out the room: “Hey! What if that glass broke? We’d all be lunch!”

Nice observation to make in a room full of preschoolers. Even if we were all thinking the same thought.



Most wonderful time of the year


Mother Nature, you’re so funny.

When I submitted a request for holiday weather, I was thinking of gentle white flakes of snow cascading to the earth in time to “The Little Drummer Boy.” And when those gentle flakes reached the earth, they would gather in a neat configuration on the grass and the dirt, politely avoiding the paved areas where they would get in the way of  walkers and drivers.

The fluff would then attach to bushes, tree limbs, fenceposts and rooftops like a frosted accessory, blanketing the landscape in a sparkling woolen coat. It would be so picturesque.

Apparently weather patterns cannot be compared to department store window dressing.

Mother Nature knows she’s the only one in control; she decided to be a rhymes-with-witch and send us her holiday potpourri. Too lazy to handcraft the appropriate holiday weather, she apparently went to Wal-Mart and grabbed some pre-mixed horror show in the bargain bin and tossed it overboard. Sort of the ultimate Chia-Pet gift from above.

In the past week we have had, in succession: light snow, heavy snow, more snow, rain, pouring rain, ice pellets, sleet, subzero temperatures and high winds. Then, more rain and melting followed by refreezing. This weekend we should be on the lookout for “thunder snow.”

On my last shopping sojourn, I traveled with a snow brush, a snow shovel and an umbrella. Our house’s eaves sprouted giant icicles that stretched nearly to the ground, threatening to tear the gutters from their mountings. And this formation of heavy and thick ice preceded a freak warm-up to 40 degrees that then melted the snow like butter in a microwave oven, but not the ice in our gutters, which then forced the liquid to seep between the walls of our house and trickle into our basement.

Thank you Mother Nature, thank you.

What? It’s not your fault we didn’t get our roof fixed? You warned us, you say?

What do you mean I could use the exercise and shoveling is a good cardio-vascular workout? I have a gym membership I don’t need you as a cardio coach!

What’s next? A hurricane of icicles? A tornado of snow? Fireballs plummeting from the sky?

I know you’re under a lot of pressure lately, what with so many threats to your well-being and all the bad media exposure. I suppose you think I’m asking too much to request a particular type of weather when you are inundated with such queries from around the globe. Perhaps I should back off and let you straighten out your disposition. 

Meanwhile, don’t look for me. I’ll be in my basement, wrapped in a blanket, under a tarp, wearing rubber boots and gloves. And I’ll be laughing because you are so funny.

Leaves of wrath

I spent the better part of yesterday outside raking/scraping/digging fallen leaves encrusted in snow and ice from my lawn to the curbside for pickup.

I do not appreciate this mixing of the winter into the autumn. Snow is not supposed to fall until all the autumn clean-up is done. Did someone not get the memo? Hmmm? It’s like throwing a party before you clean the house, before you shop for food and drinks.

But leaf raking/scraping/digging proved to be the grueling physical chore I needed yesterday to clear my head, which was buzzing with scary information and worry.

I’m worried and scared about the fallout of the auto companies in distress. If they don’t get the help they need — which I think should only come with very specific conditions that would both bolster the economy and move auto companies away from their outdated ways of operating and producing.

If the Big Three don’t get any help and fall, the ripple effect here and elsewhere is going to be profound. Knowing that something big and bad is about to happen is scary enough. It’s when you don’t know what that bad thing is that makes it all the worse.

As the daughter of a skilled tradesman, I grew up knowing of economic ups and downs. There were times we went on vacation and had a new car in the driveway. There were times we were living on hot dogs and dad had to leave the state to work. But I can’t recall a time in my life when it seemed the entire foundation of everything was teetering on collapse.

Toss in more bad news: I learned from a former co-worker that our employer is poised to belly-up at year’s end. I guess the ax fell really hard and most everyone is out of a job. Add these folks to the growing line of unemployed populated by people at all education and experience levels.

Oh, hey, did I mention I’m supposed to be looking for a job?

I can’t help but think about the fictional Joad family packing up their stake truck and heading down the dirt road toward the green valleys of opportunity that were “just around the next bend” or maybe  “over the next hill.”  Will be soon we watching a procession of Joads heading West out of Michigan?

We’re tiptoeing on thin ice here, dreading that a sudden move will open a fissure and suck us all under.

Somehow, getting grouchy about an early winter, about having to rake/scrape/chop snow-encrusted leaves seems manageable, solvable, trivial.

Surprise visit

Winter paid a visit last night.

Did anyone around here see this coming? I’m guessing not because when I left the house at 6 a.m. the roads were slicked with ice. Nary a granule of salt on them.

While the commute to Girl from the West’s school was marked by above-mentioned icy roads, I was surrounded by maniacal drivers going well over the safe speed. Fine, pass me, idiot, I yelled at the windshield. I’ll wave when I pass you crashed into retaining wall a few miles up the road. Ha! Who’s the big shot then, huh?

On the way back, however, when the roads seemed mostly clear of ice and the salt trucks had made their appointed rounds, suddenly everyone was now driving 5-10 mph. This is an annual head-scratcher for me. The first snow always brings out two things:

The reckless drivers who go way too fast, inevitably crash into someone or something and then clog up the expressways with their wreckage for hours, thereby messing up everyone’s commute.

The wide-eyed, both-hands-death-gripping-the-steering-wheel driver going significantly slower than necessary on the interstate because a few soft flakes are cascading earthward.

Needless to say, it is Michigan and snow is a natural part of the weather pattern in November. So, too, is the learning curve for snow and ice driving. We know this. It happens every year. Yet it never ceases to shock us.


Earlier this year I boasted about our amazing garden and how it produced so much food for us that we had to give a lot of it away. We’ve been spoiled. So many of the meals I prepared and put on the table came from our garden and not the store.

We’ve enjoyed vegetables and herbs as they should be: fresh and free of pesticides and other chemicals.
Yesterday we sliced the last mini- watermelon, munched the last of the grape tomatoes and chopped the last stalks of celery for a salad. We have a few ripening tomatoes lined up for duty on the window sill. And then … that’s it.
Kind of sad for us all. Most of all for Girl from the East, who discovered the joys of the garden this season.

We captured the above picture of her a few weeks ago carrying in the day’s harvest. She has been an active participant in the garden all year. She helped drop the seeds into the earth this spring, and checked almost daily for sprouts — proof that the planting was successful. She learned how to pull weeds. How to water the plants. Most recently, she perfected plucking the fruits of all her labor from the stalks and placing them gently into a basket. 

It just may come naturally to her. I sent this picture to a friend I have in Nanchang, China, the nearest large city to where my baby girl was born. She wrote back that with her interest in growing and eating vegetables, my baby is truly a Jiangxi girl. What little we know about baby girl’s roots is that she came from a rural, farming community. I’m grateful to have this one connection to my girl’s origins.

Break-up story

National Geographic Society


The signs of trouble are always right in front of me. Do I see them? Or do I choose ignorance?

In this relationship, our time together grows shorter with the passing of each hour. Sometimes my love slips out the door shortly after dinner. The bloom of our love fades by the day, from the vibrant green of infatuation to the faded gold, red and brown of neglect. Our once-solid foundation hangs on a frayed thread.

Each year Summer and I break up as intensely as  a first love. Yet each year I find a rebound guy pretty fast.

Autumn is cool. He’s colorful and fun. But Autumn is more of a whirlwind romance. He blows into town on a tropical depression, sucker-punching Summer to the sidelines. Autumn takes over fairly fast, rearranging the landscape and lighting to his tastes. And just as we’re getting comfortable with each other, drunk on cider and doughnuts, playing dress-up and overindulging in sweets, he slips away in the dead of night, leaving behind a note scribbled in frost:

“Watch out for Winter; she can be a bitch.”