Category: Family


“Springer Barn” Photo by Carl Johnson

I met Evelyn Johnson in 2006 while speaking out in support of saving the barns at Maple bay during a city council meeting.  She was full of energy and described herself as “the barn lady.”  Later, I purchased her book, The Barns of Old Mission Peninsula and Their Stories, and found myself immersed in a delightful series of stories stored for years beneath the rafters of these great structures.  

Earlier this year, as I began research for my own historical narrative on Old Mission, I received and invitation from the barn lady to work on quilt barn squares for some of the historic barns out on the peninsula.  Quilt barns can be found throughout the Appalachian States, where they originated as a way for people to tell the story of their community and family history and display it proudly on the side of their barns.  These barns are found traditionally off the beaten path and quickly spur the most adventurous to explore less traveled roads to learn more about the region.  

We’ve been painting all week alongside some wonderful people from our own community, all committed to sharing our story with future visitors to the Grand Traverse Region.  Yesterday, my mother-in-law, an artist, accompanied me and helped detail a square featuring cherries at its center.  It’s wonderful to see this coming together and in the next few weeks, as the remaining squares ascend, we’ll see the beginning of a new chapter in our history – a manifested adventure for people from young to old.

Photos by S. Tengelitsch


A vision takes shape.DSC_0005

Anne and Christy demonstrate their technique to Popo.


Evelyn, Tina and Samantha work to finish the first coat on a square.DSC_0007

Windmill pattern.

Choosing yellows.DSC_0012

Popo at 2Ladds Winery overlooking East BayDSC_0022

Stacia works on the cherries.

The tape still adhered, two squares take shape.

A close friend of ours was recently diagnosed with cancer.  She’s a farmer’s wife who has always been good to us and treated us like family.  She’s a second mother to me and the news hit with a ferocity unmatched by my own diagnosis.  I say that because, as with most things in life, we know what we can handle, but when the same infliction is paired with someone else, the doubt we shelved on our own behalf is more easily recovered.  

And then there’s an anger that resides in the memory of what it was like to survive cancer.  The horror of it, the fear that will emerge and the knowledge you can’t fight it for them.  At the same time, the experience of cancer can draw out strengths we didn’t know we had and it’s a comfort to know our friend will experience, in her hardest battle, a courage that everything else will, eventually, surrender to.  

When you are diagnosed, your battle isn’t to fight the disease, but to fight to remain in the moment; to stave off the need to know what lies ahead, to find solace supplied by each breath unaware, as we all are, whether ill or healthy, of what future we’ll meet around the next corner.  That is primary.

Secondary is our need to survive by whatever means we find acceptable.  And for those co-survivors, there are no sidelines.  It’s our duty to our loved ones that helps us focus on the here and now and survive alongside them.  We find our own courage – a word that reflects a strength that does not come from muscle or brawn, but from the heart.  And again, as I discovered emerging from my own illness, we find ourselves feeling fortunate having come to some understanding that we are all in this together.  And that is something cancer will never destroy.

Child of the Sea

County of Michilimackinac, 1st day of October, 1850

Dwelling # 242

Andre Courchane – 48 yrs old. Fisherman born in Canada
Abigail – 24 yrs old, born in Ohio
Lucy – 8 yrs old, born in Mich
Emily – 6 yrs born in Mich
Margaret – 4 yrs. born in Mich

I was looking through some older posts and came across one about our family tree.  Above is the Courchaine family (“Heart of Oak”) and listed are my great, great, great, great, great grandparents and their three daughters.  Andre and Abigail died five years later on St. Helena Island (just west of Mackinac) during the cholera epidemic of 1855 and were buried on Round Island.  Margaret, the youngest, moved with her older sisters back to Mackinac Island where she grew up and later met Captain Alexander Ranville.  Together they began the Homestead Hotel and the rest, as they say, is history.

I was noticing the similarities to our own family.  Even some of the names are the same, the spacing of ages, all daughters and we are still near the Straits.   In her book Child of the Sea, Elizabeth Whitney Williams writes of the Courchaine family from her recollection as a small child leaving St. Helena for Beaver Island:

While more people were coming as more help was needed to finish the ship, all was busy bustle among the neighbors for there was to be a great gathering to watch the launching of the ship.  Soon another family came, old friends of my mother’s, a Mr. and Mrs. Courchane.  The man had come from Montreal, Canada, to Mackinac Island a few years before and there met and married pretty Miss Abbie Williams.  Aunt Abbie we children always called her.  Mother was so happy to have her friend with her.  They had three little girls.  Mr. Courchane was a ship carpenter by trade and came to help finish the vessel.  They were very kind neighbors to us.  Their little girls’ names were Lucy, Emmeline, and Margarette.  They lived just a few steps from our house; we children were all very happy together.  …

I remember it now, so white and clean with mother sitting near in her sewing chair, sewing and joining in the singing.  Then pretty Aunt Abbie coming in; she always looked to me like a picture, with her great dark eyes and black hair braided so smoothly and pretty red cheeks with white teeth just showing between red lips.  She, too, would join in the singing, which was pleasant to remember.  …

I remember our neighbors coming to the beach to see us off.  Aunt Abbie took me in her arms; the tears fell fast on my face.  I thought it was raining and held out my hand, as I had seen father do to catch the drops, but no, it was not raining, it was tears falling from our dear friend’s eyes.  When father called out “all aboard,” I was clasped in another tight pressure of her arms.  …

Mother said afterward I looked everywhere calling “Aunt Abbie,” and cried when I could not find her and Baby Margarette.

It’s something special to read of your ancestors in such detail at a time when there were no photos to capture the image of a person down to the subtleties of their smile.  I consider this text a gift and it is the only description I have of Abigail and her family.  

Without ever knowing the history of our family, I have always felt a special connection to the Straits of Mackinac and specifically to the islands.  It’s hard not to, but my mother always said, “It’s in your blood,” and now I know precisely what she meant.  


I’ve spent the last several months trying to come to terms with Bill’s death.  And when I say this, I don’t mean his death alone, but the complexities of our former time together, how things ended, my behavior, his behavior, our separate paths and what might have been a good pairing of friends, his decision to end his life, the method he chose, his last postings, Facebook, how networking sites function to superficially bridge gaps, etc, etc, etc.  

My textual artifact is the suicide note; my last assignment involved another textual artifact pertaining to suicide and my first assignment was no less cheery.  In all of this, I had spiraled into a functioning depression; struggling to reconcile so much without anyone to talk with who really knew anything about Bill.  

Somehow this mattered to me.  I process through talking and in this case, I just couldn’t find my voice.  In finishing up this final project, I feel like I am finally letting go of everything Bill has represented in my life.  There were wonderful warm feelings, but there was also a lot of regret and wishing I could have ended things with more maturity or handled my life at that stage with greater dignity.  I’ve found myself obsessing over it – night after night of dreams filled with visions from the past, but with no sure way of venting my feelings other than to funnel this process into my schoolwork.  

I’m really fortunate to have patient friends and family.  Though Erick wasn’t around and only met Bill once in passing, he’s been a good support.  He can’t speak to who I was, but he’s wonderful about reminding me who I have become.  And in winding up the semester, and with spring offering a gentle nudge, I’m finding the strength of character to let go of the past and to move on.  

I’ve finally come to accept that Bill may truly have gone to his grave not liking me very much and this was really, truly hard for my ego to acknowledge.  At the same time, it’s so like Bill and that was one thing I loved about him.  I’ll not let go of the positive memories I have of our time together, but the grieving has ended and is being replaced with a renewed sense of responsiblity to those I love.

Yesterday afternoon, we headed over to Empire to witness the release of an adolescent eagle back in to the wild.  Despite not having the characteristic coloring of an adult eagle, she was still a beautiful, powerful presence.  A few hundred people were there and we all cheered as the magnificent bird soared skyward.  


Following the eagle, Erick and I took the girls over to the big lake and collected stones and watched a lone freighter pass quietly in the distance.  The water was a vibrant hue – a turquoise blue.  



The sun was setting as we left for Boones in Glen Arbor (yum).  And on the way back, I captured my farm at dusk.  The wind turbine moved slowly on a light breeze.  Love that place.  


The girls were sleepy on the way home.  

And finally, a photo of Grandpa and me at Thanksgiving.


Yesterday, the bat kept flying into my life.  When the bat flies into your life, it is a signal it is time to bury some old part of yourself that has long ago died, but you have continued to carry.  Last night I was thinking about a time in my life when I was homeless and sleeping on a stiff bench in the Art Department building on campus.  I remember waking up to a class beginning and concerned students leaning over curiously poking at my arm.  The not knowing what will happen day-to-day is exhausting.  

That moment reflects a period of my life when I was filled with a sort of listless wanderlust.  Wanderlust minus destination and purpose.  At the time, I couldn’t afford an apartment of my own and had seriously irked my parents over something.  

A week into my ordeal, my now-husband invited me to Nashville and I quit school and headed down south for a few months.  When I returned, I was offered a beautiful place to live rent-free, which I immediately and shamelessly accepted.   I felt enormous gratitude, but I was still without purpose and a constant thorn in everyone’s side.

In a very real way, I didn’t “grow up” until I got married and settled with my husband into a home of our own.  Our marriage, though rocky in the beginning, offered the kind of security I hadn’t felt before.  And as we began having children, I slowly began to explore my purpose on this planet.  Over the last ten years I have shed my old skin (or killed off cells with chemo), and now it is time to bury that part of me without direction, without hope.  

Partly, this moment is inspired by the election, but I also believe some internal cycle ended long ago was carried along unnecessarily in the form of guilt or shame or an unwillingness to connect with the people of my past.  At this point in my life, though much remains uncertain, I am filled with gratitude and a feeling of hope that accompanies each new, promising hint of change emerging daily.  I feel much like the butterfly bush whose old-growth skeleton as the new shoots come up through and flower.  I have weeded out those branches that no longer serve my purpose for growth.


I bought this froggy as a storage compartment for all of the snuggly-toys the girls have collected over the past year, but my youngest prefers to carry it around like an over-sized teddy bear. While the other girls were sick, the Gug brought Froggy “mebicems” and took its temperature with a pen. Here she has sat it down beside the couch on its very own chair.

This train appeared on an area of track that leads to grassland and a broken rail-line. It was brought to the area for a reason, and I’m determined to find out why. I would love to purchase one of the cars and convert it into a work area or retreat. It’s beautiful. The “Metropolitan” or the Metro.

What’s black and white and likes knock-knock jokes? Our friend, Mr. Woodpecker.

Ta-da! The kitchen in the lower-level is finally complete. It’s cozy and cute and I’m amazed at all of Erick’s ingenious thinking that made it possible (and in only a few weeks!).

Bedtime ritual

We’ve been having a lot of trouble getting the girls to fall asleep around their bedtimes.  Typically, they talk and play for a few hours, morphing the 8 o’clock bedtime in to a 10 or 11 o’clock bedtime.  In fact, they keep us up.  

Fortunately, Erick downloaded a “white noise” application for his iPhone.  Each night, we customize the sounds to help ease the whole family into a blissful night’s sleep.  It amazes me how nicely this works for the girls and how quickly the soothing sounds shift their focus from play to rest.

I recommend it to all moms, regardless of age.

What exactly does it cover?  I have a great vision plan (thanks), but no coverage for any of the scans I should be getting quarterly and today, while at an office visit with my sick child, I learned I have no coverage PERIOD at our local hospital – the main hospital for all of Northern Michigan and the upper peninsula.  I paid nearly $300 just for our Urgent Care visit ($98 for my child + $98 for me (these charges included the discount for payment up front) + $65 in prescriptions. 

So, the next time someone asks me how anyone in this country is uninsured or why anyone would have medical debt with “full” coverage with a major insurer, I’ll scream first and then tell them.  It’s enough to make you sick.

Quote of the month

“No, Wolfy, that’s not Harry Potter…  It’s John Lennon.”