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What I Learned This Week – 5/1/16

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This week I ran into a woman I hadn’t talked to in years. She used to work at the bank when I was a little girl. When I was young I lived in Riga. My mom would be like “we are going to run errands. We are going to go to the bank and the post office.” They were both on the same road we lived on, not a half mile away. Having never known anything else, I just assumed this was normal for everyone. For the grocery store and the laundromat, we did have to turn left and drive about two miles.

The woman, I’ll call her Mrs. B, had her husband with her.  Mr. B was like “Who’s this?”, which I found slightly amusing. Mrs. B said, “This is Lorie’s daughter.”

My first thought was “Lorie who?”  Then I remembered that my mom said that everyone used to call my dad Lorie. My mom told me this because of course she didn’t like it, so she called him by his full first name Loren, which I have never understood. It’s not like his nickname was Stinky or something. If that is what he went by, why didn’t she just call him that too? But I know why. Because she didn’t want to.

Just as a reminder, my dad died before I was born. I know it is terrible to day, but days go by where I forgot that I have a never parental figure that I never met. Another reason why I like Memorial Day so much, because he is a part of it.

That is what it is like in a tiny town. Everyone knows each other. I don’t know what my dad was like. I only have snippets of stories my mom has told me that I must then transform into memories that are not mine. Stories of him wetting down his hair before walking to his one-room school in the winter time, only to have it freeze by the time he arrived. I’ve heard that he used to get the mail off the train when it arrived and carry it over to the post office. Not a fancy job, to be sure, but for a kid who loved trains, it sure sounds interesting. And I have spent years wondering if the mail came on the old Erie and Kalamazoo line that is still there, the first railroad west of the Alleghenies, that is still there today or the Toledo & Western interurban line that has long since been removed, known to locals as the Teeter & Wobble. Did my dad ever ride the Teeter & Wobble? I would assume so. The T&W is such ancient history that they put on programs about it at the county historical museum. I guess that must mean my dad is ancient too.

Toledo & Western engine

Toledo & Western engine

“Lorie’s daughter” is something I almost never hear. Once in 1997 when I worked at the gas station which was geographically Riga adjacent, an old farmer asked me, “Who’s your father?” out of the blue, for no reason. And that was perfectly normal in my small town. Everyone was just used to knowing everyone. I told him, not expecting him to know me from Adam.  He said, “Lorie? Well I grew up with him.” The cleaning lady overheard this conversation. She had been a year or two behind my dad at the Riga school, which was so long ago it didn’t even exist anymore. (They tore it down to build the bank, which I think presently has been turned into a church building of some sort.) Her and I became good friends after that. I’m sorry to say she is in ill health these days.

And it literally has probably been twenty years since I have had the experience of someone realizing they knew my dad. And with a dad who would be 95 years old if he were still alive, how often is that going to happen again? Very possibly never. I NEVER knew my dad, and soon all the links of people who did know him will be gone.

Mrs. B left telling me that I had made her day. But after I left and kept smiling, I realized that she had really made mine. And the kicker? She saw me in the local paper and says she would like to buy my books. Maybe my dad would be proud?…

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
Be Careful What You Wish ForAVAILABLE NOW!
When You Least Expect It THE CONTINUING ROMANCE!
The Wind Could Blow a BugWHERE IT ALL BEGAN!

My Earliest Memory

MEMORY-green fog

My earliest memory is of being awake super early in the morning standing in my living room. Like, maybe 5:00AM. It is the only time as a kid I can remember being up that early. Captain Kangaroo was on. It was only on very early in the morning. That was the only time I ever watched it. (And it was kinda weird.) I remember the screen on the color television being kind of greenish, because it didn’t work right and the tubes were going out on it or something. I looked out the tall window at the end of our living room in our old farmhouse, and there was a wall of green fog outside. It was so thick I could not see our next door neighbor’s house. It was as if an alien ship had landed outside, the lights from their ship reflecting off of the fog. It was strange and frightening, but also exciting at the same time.

That might all sound super fake and trippy. And, I will admit there are probably inaccuracies in it as my brain has been rotted over the last 35 years by too many Pop-Tarts and watching too much Beavis & Butthead while I was in college. I would say I was probably only three or four years old when that all took place.

But I know there is some truth in it, because my mom remembers that day too. Just a little differently than I do…

She remembers it as a day when, in a fit of stubbornness the night before, I told her I was not going to go to sleep. And, well, apparently I didn’t. (Most every kid threatens it, but very few follow through. I was a determined little Capricorn!) She says it was incredibly foggy that morning and there was an eerie green glow to everything. She needed to go to the post office that morning, so she loaded me in the car…where I promptly fell asleep.

Now, this was Riga, Michigan, a quaint but tiny farming town. The post office was literally a 65 second drive from our house.

I find it interesting that even at that young age I would defy her on purpose, just to be difficult. I guess that proves there is no hope for stopping that habit now.

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
The Wind Could Blow a BugAVAILABLE NOW!
When You Least Expect It NEW RELEASE!

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The Riga Flood

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We are all just the sum of our stories, right? And while one person might see my stories as boring and insignificant, another might just find them relatable and moving. Certain childhood events stand out on the virtual timeline more than others.

The flood of 1981 in Riga, Michigan is one of those events in my life. The River Raisin crested in nearby Blissfield at a record 687.10 ft. (Flood stage is 683 ft.) It is actually a much cooler story from my mom’s point of view. After all, I was only five years old when all this happened. I just did as I was told, and followed my mom’s lead. [Only recently have I realized that she must have spent my entire youth faking strength. She should have been an actress.]

As my mom tells it, she was asleep on the couch in the living room. Our dog Ginger was fussing around in the middle of the night. My mom woke up and swore at the dog. She wasn’t in the mood to get up and let her out. Then my mom sniffed. The dog didn’t want to go out. She was reacting to the weird smell in the air. My mom got up and checked the basement. The weird smell was water flowing into the furnace. The rain combined with the spring thaw of snow was causing water to pour through cracks in the basement walls.

It is probably useful to mention at this point in my story, for those unaware of local history, that before Riga was settled in 1843, it was all swamp. The swamp was drained by digging deep ditches. Deep ditches remain there still, alongside country roads lined with open, flat fields. Too bad that the night the flood first hit, all those ditches were already filled with water. So was the River Raisin.

My mom did what was most logical to her at the time, and waded down into the basement in her nightgown to turn off the furnace. After all, that is an expensive piece of HVAC equipment to have to replace. A little later, as the water only continued to rise, she waded down again to turn off the electricity to the house. Only in retrospect would she realize how easily she could have been electrocuted, leaving a clueless, sleeping child to later find her floating, bloated body.

She called her mother, who lived in nearby Adrian, to come and get us. By this time, water surrounded our house and our car. This must have been when my mom woke me up, told me what was going on, and told me Gramma would be here shortly. I wondered how, in the time since I had gone to bed, our front yard had become a lake.At this point our house had no heat and no electricity. With no power, we had no well, meaning no drinking water, either. My mom opened the door so that I could look into the basement. By this time, the water had made it up to the top basement step. The basement had filled up with water to ground level. Where there used to be an entire flight of stairs, now there was just muddy, brown water.

Our flooded basement, Riga, MI, 1981

Our flooded basement, Riga, MI, 1981

Things that are silly to remember about the flood, but they are what I remember because I was a kid:

1. As a kid, I didn’t have pajamas. I usually slept in just a T-shirt (and underpants, you sickos). Many of these were shirts my gramma had brought back from vacations as souvenirs for me. Maybe that was my mom’s way of treating them as second-class clothing. We called them my “sleep shirts.” They were kept separate from my other T-shirts, due to the fact that my mom said sleeping in them stretched the necks out. I never wore them during the day to leave the house. Ever.

Except for the first day of the flood. My mom just put my jeans, socks, shoes, and coat on me, and left on my sleep shirt. That is how I knew something very major and upsetting was happening.

Our flooded house, Riga Hwy, Riga, MI, 1981

Our flooded house, Riga Hwy, Riga, MI, 1981

When my gramma arrived, she stayed in the car at the road. It was still dark outside. My mom wore her winter boots as she carried our clothes and things out to the car through our front yard that was now a lake. Too bad that the water was higher than the tops of her boots. Next, she carried me out to the car. I was at the age where I still wanted her to pick me up, and she would always be like, “No, you are too heavy.” So, it could not have been easy for her. Finally, I sat in the car and watched as she carried the dog out. Ginger was some type of poodle mix. Guessing, she had to have been at least 45lbs. When my mom tells the story, she says how the whole way she was talking to Ginger, willing her to not twist and writhe and jump out of my mom’s arms and land kersplat into the water. But Ginger did not. She made it to the car.

Our flooded neighbor's house, Riga Hwy, Riga, MI, 1981

Our flooded neighbor’s house, Riga Hwy, Riga, MI, 1981

We ended up sleeping at my gramma’s house for the next ten days: my mom on the couch, I on the loveseat. In my memory I was in kindergarten at the time, but there is no way I could have been at that age. Just one of the ways our memories play tricks on us.

US223 bridge at Blissfield, MI, 1981

US223 bridge at Blissfield, MI, 1981

My mom spent her days heading down to the house, while I stayed out of her way at my gramma’s. Instead, I was in my gramma’s way, cramping her style. My mom would come home at night with stories about how the main bridge through town was blocked by the cops because the flood waters were hitting the underside of the roadway, and how she begged them to let her through to work on her house. She had tales of the neighbors helping with sump pumps. She had to wait for the water to recede, then the furnace guy to come, then the electrician.

Flooded Park in Blissfield, MI, 1981

Flooded Park in Blissfield, MI, 1981

2. It was not lost on me, even then, that everyone had lived at my gramma’s house before, except me. I had seen the old 8mm home movies many times to prove it. My mom had grown up here. Ginger had lived her puppy years here. Even my dad who died before I was born lived there for a time when they were newlyweds. I was the odd man (girl?) out.

Flooded Riga Hwy, Riga, MI, 1981

Flooded Riga Hwy, Riga, MI, 1981

3. It was the first time I would ever get one of those big PAAS Easter poster kits that came with markers to color. My mom bought me a steady stream of new activities to try to keep me out of my gramma’s hair. I got a puzzle featuring a little girl in a blue bonnet and a baby chick. I got a new huge activity book, which I still had not completed years later. But I always remember the PAAS posters the best.

See the railing for the foot bridge?  That goes over Floodwood Creek.  Ironic, isn't it?

See the railing for the foot bridge? That goes over Floodwood Creek. Ironic, isn’t it?

4. I remember being sick and watching Fridays starring Michael Richards and Melanie Chartoff with my mom on TV as I hacked away. Fridays was like SNL, but better and didn’t last nearly as long. I am positive it was the only time that particular program was ever watched on that television.

My mom always reminds me how my gramma came out of her bedroom and said, “Don’t you know you are keeping Gramma up?” And she wasn’t talking about the TV. She was referring to my loud coughing, which couldn’t be helped.

Flooded Park in Blissfield, Michigan, 1981

Flooded Park in Blissfield, Michigan, 1981

The River Raisin has risen many times since then, but never as high. My mom sold the house in Riga when I was 8 years old. I married into a family whose ancestral home sits on the flood plain of the very same river. Sometimes my in-laws have to be evacuated, and my husband and I are happy to be able to provide them refuge.

US223 bridge closed in Blissfield, MI, at River Raisin due to flooding, December 2011. I would let that hotty stay at my house!

US223 bridge closed in Blissfield, MI, at River Raisin due to flooding, December 2011. I would let that hottie stay at my house!

Other parts of the country worry about earthquakes or lava or hurricanes. Those of us who reside on a former swamp worry about flooding.

And a little about tornadoes.

And Sharknadoes…

And there is more…

I wanted to post this entry in the spring, maybe on the anniversary of this big flood or at least during flooding season. But I was busy working on my new book, and it didn’t happen. But, well, I am not too late after all…

This is my mother-in-law’s shed behind her house yesterday, as it floats away. This yard was dry enough to mow at 1:00PM on Sunday.  24 hours later, this is what the family saw as they evacuated.

Flooding on Franklin St, Blissfield, MI, June 29, 2015

Flooding on Franklin St, Blissfield, MI, June 29, 2015

And here is video someone in Blissfield must have taken with a drone:

Looks impressive, huh? And will certainly cause lots of costly damage. But just imagine, it is still 1.2 ft lower than in 1981. I think the crest of 6/29/15 will be the second highest historical crest for the River Raisin at Blissfield since 2/20/1981.

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THE QUARANTINE

RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!


I live in a small town in Southeastern Michigan called Adrian. While it is small by New York, Chicago, Detroit standards, approximately 44,600 people live here and it is the county seat. So then, you would think, when they make major road construction plans that they would make sure there is still a way in and out of the city that isn’t blocked.

A map of Adrian showing the construction projects of 2012, as compiled by me.


Think again. Great government minds at work.

You also have to realize that there are small towns around Adrian that have no Walmart, Meijer, Lowes, or Spotted Cows. Hence, people come from far and wide (Blissfield, Riga, Deerfield, Palmyra) to go to Adrian (when they don’t feel like driving to Toledo or Ann Arbor).

Now, to get to Adrian from the East, you have to cross the River Raisin. The River Raisin is no ordinary river. Ripley’s Believe It or Not deemed it the most crooked river in the world. (Or so they tell students in the local high school science classes.) There are a limited number of bridges to cross the River Raisin from the East. (This is really inconvenient when the river floods and closes several of them.) The main crossing between Blissfield and Adrian and the most convenient is in Palmyra. Which is now a one lane bridge due to construction. It has been since, like, April. No end in the forseeable future. My brother-in-law even contacted the Michigan Department of Transportation via Facebook to ask if they would be finished soon. They only answered that they were on schedule. And that means our grandchildren will have a new bridge?

A map of Lenawee County showing all the 2012 construction projects, that I gathered myself.


Many locals take a road north of the Palmyra bridge construction to get into Adrian. Or they did. Until they started resurfacing that road, going so far as to close it completely some days.

This leaves only a southern detour to get to Blissfield, even involving a stretch of gravel road.

My asbestos friend, in utter frustration trying to reach the grocery store recently, texted me that Adrian must be quarantined, because it was almost impossible to get to it.

I laughed very hard and realized she was totally right. My husband doesn’t get it.

This summer’s construction has been really miserable and it isn’t anywhere near over as they begin new projects every day. IN OCTOBER!!!!!

We have 2 seasons in Michigan–Winter and Construction. Winter is here. It is time for Construction to END!

Damn right!

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I designed the Riga Township Flag

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You’ve probably never heard of Riga, Michigan (population 1,439). I wouldn’t have expected you too. But that is where my Dad lived when he married my mom. She moved in to the old family farmhouse with him. That’s where they lived when he died. That’s where she lived when I was born. And that is where I lived for the first eight years of my life.

Riga is…small. There is one blinker light where Riga Hwy hits the main road, US223. No other traffic lights. Oh sure, sometimes the train comes through and the railroad flashers get stuck on, so it gives that illusion. There used to be a church for every bar in town. Then one of the two bars burned down. The post office and the bank were on the same side of the road, with only a few houses between them. As a kid, I could never remember which was which.

Riga is all about agriculture. So in the 90’s when some idiot decided that former swampland would be a great place to build a low-level nuclear waste dump, everyone banded together to stop it. They sold burn barrels painted with the “No Nuke Dump” slogan. High schoolers came into middle school classrooms to give the students a list of all the local, state, and federal politicians and their addresses. Being the good little letter-writing middle schooler that I was, I wrote letters to them all to protect my hometown. My mother always told me not to write to the President, for fear the Secret Service would show up on our doorstep. I wrote to George Bush anyway. The nuke dump proposal was chased the Hell out of town:)

So, in 1993, in the Blissfield Advance Newspaper, I saw an ad for a contest. Riga was going to have a Sesquicentennial Celebration. They were having a “design a Riga Township flag contest”. Something instantly clicked in me, that this was something I had to do (I have had those moments now and then throughout my life). So, I got a piece of poster board at the local pharmacy within walking distance, cut it to the required size, and chose colored pencils as my medium of choice. I did a rough draft first (which I almost NEVER do). I only did one rough draft design and that is what I used for the final design. When I think of Riga, I think of farmers, barns, livestock, people waving hello. I worked all that into my design. I sort of ripped off the United States flag, replacing the field of stars with an actual field. The house on the flag slightly resembles my old house. It was required to say “1843”.

I finished my masterpiece and turned it in at one of the listed locations, the bank within walking distance. I didn’t entirely trust the bank employees to turn it in to the proper authorities. And they probably all unrolled it and laughed at it.

The original drawing was in color.


I would have gone to the judging, but that night I had an academic awards ceremony at school. (That year I cleaned up.) So imagine how nice it was to come home and hear on the answering machine that I had won the flag design contest and the first prize of a $75 savings bond. I learned that they were going to make a physical version of my flag, but that they would cost like $50 each to purchase. Kind of steep for a seventeen year old with no job. When they gave me my savings bond at the July 4th Sesquicentennial Celebration, they gave me one of my flags for free. I found out they had other contests, like “design a postmark”. The same woman won all of those contests, but her flag came in second to mine. Somehow that made it a sweeter victory.

Now my flag hangs in my guest bedroom. (And, I assume, at the Riga Municipal Building.) It might make me a giant dork, but I think it is sort of cool to have designed a township flag. Maybe generations from now the people of Riga will look at their flag and wonder about who designed it. Or maybe they will have a new contest to replace it.

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