A Flowering Birthday.

posted in: Family, Luv 17
A picture of a birthday flower bouquet with “Happy Birthday!” featured prominently…in German. Thanks, Wikipedia! You shouldn’t have.


My birthday this year was so good, it’s going to go down as one of the best in my life. I don’t make such a statement lightly. Birthdays can be just the absolute pits, some years. This one wasn’t at all.*

There were so many perfect things that happened. I think the first thing I’ll tell you about is the flowers.

So there I was, sitting in my jim-jams and robe yesterday morning, reading a book at the kitchen bar, idly chatting with my family, sipping tea; you know, all that strenuous Island work.

There was a knock at the door. Deducing that we had company (it seemed logical) and that it was sub-optimal for me to receive guests in my ‘jams, I leaped up and scrambled into the shower.

Shower complete and dressed like a person should be dressed at that hour of the day, I peeked my head out of the bathroom to see who had come to call. But there was no guest. Instead, Mom, Rebecca, and Jack, the three of them there in the living room, turned my attention to an absolutely enormous bouquet of the most gorgeous flowers I have perhaps ever seen: Black-eyed Susans, crown vetch, lilies, tiny-purple-flowers-I-don’t-know-the-name-of, mini-cattail thingies, lush greenery, and more. In its generous vase, that bouquet measured about as tall as I am from my waist to the top of my faux-blonde head.

I was confused. What? How did —? Did they come from my aunt? That was nice of her, but… The peanut gallery flapped their arms and pointed and said, “Read the card! Read the card!

Slowly, I turned back to the flowers and inspected. There, tied with a ribbon wrapped around the glass, a simple message on a small, white square of paper: “Happy Birthday, Mary — With Love, From Claus. xoxo.”

What would you have done?

Me, I made a little squeak and blinked back the tears instantly springing to my eyeballs. I had a towel around my shoulders to dry my wet hair and I kind of pulled it up and over my head. I needed to hide for some reason. I still peeked out from the top of my head-towel burrito with big, wide eyes, scanning every petal.

“Claus sent me flowers?” I said, and a big, fat tear rolled down my cheek. I looked over at my family. My heart was like, foofing around, doing some sort of foofing maneuver.

“Nice guy,” Jack said, and went back to the newspaper. “I always liked Claus.”

“Rebecca helped him arrange it all,” Mom said. She kind of sing-songed it. “Flower delivery, on an island, on a Sunday morning. Not baaad.”

I looked back at the flowers. They just didn’t seem real at all. My sister Rebecca was at her laptop on the couch. I asked her if it was true, if she worked on this with Claus. She nodded and said, “Sure did.”

Later in the day, Claus and I skyped. We’ve been doing that a lot lately, video chatting across continents. It’s so hard to love a person so much and they’re not here and you remember the last time you saw them wasn’t so great but that person is great so then you think you’re nuts but then you just feel so sad when you’re in contact but have no semblance of any next step, exactly, except/and then you remember how this person is not perfect but then you remember you’re not, either, Mary Fons oh my good lord in heaven, and then you feel like throwing up your hands and then you just feel like throwing up and then you get flowers, on your birthday, across an ocean and a lake. And that person sent them.

What then?

There’s no florist shop on the Island. Claus and Rebecca worked with the lady who simply “does the flowers” up there. That means that all those perfect blooms and blossoms were culled from fields and gardens on Washington Island. They were all local. They were of — and in — the moment. Just like me. And Claus.

That’s the flower story.


*There’s even more birthday to come. Sophie, the World’s Best Birthday Celebrator, has plans for me on Friday. Zounds…!

The Thanksgiving Bowl.

posted in: Day In The Life, Family, Sicky, Travel 0
A cheerful greeting from the Apple Valley Lanes website.
A cheerful greeting from the Apple Valley Lanes website.

Thanksgiving is on WiWi this year, and I am presently nestled in a nook.

The nook is the cozy, upstairs reading room at our island cottage; the nestling is due to me sitting in an over-stuffed chair (replete with ottoman), a well-worn quilt wrapped around me so that I am a quilt burrito. It would be great to have armholes in this quilt burrito but it’s bad for my reputation to go around cutting armholes into quilts. I adjust.

We couldn’t get from Chicago to the last ferry boat last night, so we had to stay on the mainland; “we” is me, my younger sister Rebecca, and her fiance (and my friend), Jack. We have a favorite little motel in Sturgeon Bay but it was too early when we got there to turn in for the night. The options for movies were lackluster at best, and I have no idea what possessed me, but when my sister said, “Well, what should we do tonight?” I blurted out, “Let’s go bowling!”

Rebecca and I both took bowling in high school. At Winterset Senior High, bowling, square-dancing, line-dancing, and tinikling for some incomprehensible reason. I remember being pretty good at bowling and liking it, but I have not kept my game up since.

We found a wonderful bowling alley very close to our hotel. The Apple Valley Lanes in Sturgeon Bay gets two thumbs way up. The proprietor was friendly, the onion rings were scalding hot, the shoes were sufficiently deodorized and Lysol-ed, and best of all, there was room for the three of us to have our own lane, our own computer to keep score, and a table for our drinks.

Jack was excellent; Rebecca was quite good, once she warmed up. I was excellent to begin with but in the second of three games, an evil spirit entered my bowling ball. My last game, I bowled a twenty-seven. Twenty-seven! I can hardly admit it.

My body has been absolutely in agony the past week. The stress of the move, the upheaval, the changes in work — the ol’ girl’s run ragged, I’m afraid. Terrible nights turn into excruciating mornings and I beg for sleep only to wake again, run to the bathroom, weep, bathe, and do it all again 30 minutes later. I say this because a) writing it out here it makes it not feel like a nightmare that only I see; and b) it makes three hours at a Sturgeon Bay bowling alley not just fun but fundamental.


Swan Lake.

Swan Lake, book cover. Prague 1970.  Illustrated by Ludmila Jiřincová.
Of all the pictures I found, this one captures the light right now the best. Swan Lake book cover, Prague 1970. Illustrated by Ludmila Jiřincová. 

I am watching swans.

We’re here at the Island cottage to enjoy Thanksgiving. We call our place Sunrise Cottage because it’s on the easternmost side of the island and the house is all window on its east side, so when the sun comes up over Lake Michigan, the house is bathed in gold and white palomino sparkles. There is pecan pie on the counter this morning, there is a turkey brining in the dining room, but it has been snowing through the night; there is no sun.

There is instead a steely, ice crystal sky that blends with Lake Michigan at the horizon so that the whole world is just a big bowl of winter. And I am looking out at all of it from the sun porch, swaddled in jammies and a robe, a down comforter and two quilts piled on me. I’m a soldier this holiday: I took the couch on the porch so that the friends who joined us this year could have their own bedrooms. My seemingly selfless act is really not, though. Even if I have to wear two pairs of socks out here, this is the best room in the house. 

I woke up pre-dawn and made a pot of coffee. As I was drinking it, looking out, the world began to lighten and I sat up in my nest. There were huge white birds out on the water, swimming between the ice floes that had formed already. Were they…? No. They were geese. Surely. They couldn’t be… Mom had gotten up by then and was in the next room, but there are many people still asleep in this house. I called, softly:


“Yes?” she called back, also softly.

“Mama, do we have swans?”

“Yes.” Mom padded onto the porch. “Are they out there?” I nodded and pointed, and we looked out at the white-gray world, at a pair of the devastatingly elegant birds floating along, languidly inserting and re-inserting their necks into the freezing water. Breakfast comes to Door County.

“They look like ice,” I whispered.

“They look like pillowcases,” Mom whispered back.

This Thanksgiving, my family is up here in a snow globe. We’ve got love, victuals, a collectively wicked sense of humor, liquor, and freaking swans. I’m happy. It is my fondest wish that you feel happy today, too.