The Suitcase Lady


July 16, 2019, 11:16 pm


Here’s a tricky trivia question. Where is the only place in North America where the Euro is the official currency?

You would have to travel to the tiny French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon about 12 miles off the southern coast of Newfoundland to spend those Euros. In a concession to their geographic location, the locals do accept both Canadian and American dollars.

France’s empire in the New World once covered a vast swath of land. At its peak in 1712, it extended from Newfoundland to the Canadian prairies and from Hudson’s Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. This territory encompassed all the Great Lakes. By 1873, defeats in wars, treaties and other circumstances reduced France’s sphere to the 87 square miles of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.

These extremely wind-swept islands were settled by fishermen from Brittany, Normandy and the Basque region of France. For over a century they caught and salted the plentiful cod. But in the 1920’s, a more lucrative business flourished, bootleg liquor.

America passed prohibition, and Saint-Pierre became the epicenter for smuggling Canadian whiskey, Caribbean rum and French wines into the States. Fishermen abandoned the fish in favor of running distilleries and smuggling operations. Even Al Capone spent some time in this Prohibition hot spot.

With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the smuggling business collapsed. But the island’s most important historic moment was yet to come. On Christmas Eve, 1943, De Gaulle’s exiled Free France Government (the resistors of Vichy France) secured the island in a bloodless coup thus denying the Axis Powers a foothold in North America.

Today the islands of 6,000 French citizens are bastions of French culture. The tourist industry predominates…French restaurants, bakeries and wines are irresistible draws.

But if I need a French fix, I probably will not visit these islands. They are over 2,200 miles from my home, a bit more than halfway to Paris. And transportation costs are about equal.

Then again, life is full of surprises. If I ever find myself in Fortune, Newfoundland, I’ll definitely take the ferry ride over. I never turn down a genuine croissant in my vicinity.

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July 9, 2019, 11:00 pm


My knowledge of physics is almost nonexistent, but there is one principle that I grasp: Objects in motion tend to remain in motion.

I am one of those objects and I love to keep moving. Nothing beats a sunny day, an open road and a drive to places I’ve never been. I’m not a risk taker, but I’m a born traveler with unending curiosity for the wonders of the world, both natural and man-made. “Are we there yet?” was not something I said as a child. I was too busy checking out the scenery and playing the license plate game.

I’ve often wondered if a love of travel is a learned behavior or hard-wired in the genes. Whichever it is, everyone in my family, both young and old, is always ready for a trip. One of my aunts went to a World’s Fair in Montreal when she was in her seventies. When I asked her if she was going on a tour, her reply was, “Of course not, I don’t want the old people to slow me down.”

Currently, the pleasure police are hard at work trying to give all us vagabonds a big guilt trip about the environmental evils of traveling. Confining myself to my own acre and the small towns near me, as much as I love my home places, would not be good for my spirit.

I will continue to hit the real road, not the guilt trip road. And, incidentally, I have been averaging 44 miles per gallon this summer while doing it. Yesterday, I hit 49.1 mpg. on my way to work. I’m going for 50 next.

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July 2, 2019, 9:38 pm


Note: Although I purposefully do not venture into politics in my weekly blog, I make one exception each year during the week of the Fourth of July.

“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Samuel Johnson
“Patriotism is your conviction that your country is superior to all others because you were born in it”. George Bernard Shaw

Although these quotes are witty and insightful, I believe that patriotism can be a positive value. For most of my life, I was proud to say, “I’m an American.” That is not to say I have been unaware of my country’s faults. Japanese Americans were in internment camps when I was born, Joe McCarthy was destroying lives with his lies about a red scare when I was in grade school and the Civil Rights struggles were waged when I was a young adult. Yet with all our faults, I never doubted that America was always slowly moving forward to higher ideals. I never doubted the basic goodness of most Americans. Until now.

At this dark moment in American history, I believe Americans do have a patriotic duty. That duty is to squarely face the fact that our country is no longer a democracy. We will not be able to reclaim the vision of our founders if we are in denial that our democratic principles are being egregiously eroded every day.

The list of assaults is devastating: refugees fleeing tyranny are being treated like criminals, corporations are writing the laws of our land, the Citizens United decision allows politicians to be bought and gerrymandering is allowed by the highest court in our land. These are not the hallmarks of a Democracy.

One of the wisest observers of the American scene, Alexis de Tocqueville, said, “The greatness in America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather, in her ability to repair her faults.”

We have much to fix. Patriots (not the scoundrel and flag-waving variety) are needed.

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June 25, 2019, 1:48 pm


Last weekend we met the Eastern branch of our family in Cincinnati, Ohio, the halfway point between our homes. Having one day together to explore the city, we hit the jackpot when we discovered an illuminating, electrifying and exciting attraction.

Going by the unassuming name of the American Sign Museum, it is anything but bland. All three generations of us agreed it was dazzling…in the literal sense of the word.

The American Sign Museum covers the history of commercial American signs from 1870 through 1970. Starting with hand carved signs sporting gilded letters, the displays continue to electric light bulb signs, neon era signs, metal signs and modern plastic signs.

Visitors can also walk through the adjacent neon restoration shop where old neon signs are brought back to their original splendor.

This grand museum is the creation of Tod Swormstedt who worked on SIGNS OF THE TIMES, the trade magazine of the sign industry, for 28 years. His great-grandfather was the original editor of the publication which began in 1906 and continues in print to this day.

In 1999, Mr. Swormstedt’s desire to save, restore and archive old signs led to his opening of the National Signs of the Times Museum. This morphed into the American Sign Museum in 2005. Because of the need for a huge space to display his massive and growing collection, a move was made in 2012 to the current location in a former industrial complex. Plans are now underway to double the size of the museum in the near future.

Be forewarned: older visitors to the museum should be ready to embark on a massive nostalgia trip. Here is a short video my husband and I made in an attempt to capture the feel of this amazing museum. We’ll be back when the expansion is completed.



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June 18, 2019, 9:58 pm


About forty years ago, my husband and I decided to buy a lake lot. We looked at properties on inland lakes and rapidly concluded they were totally beyond our budget. Then we turned our attention to the world’s fifth largest lake and hit the jackpot.

We drove along the Lake Michigan shore and spotted a For Sale sign on a lovely piece of property. The sign was so old and decrepit that the phone number on it was almost undecipherable, a sure clue that something was amiss. That something turned out to be a 70 foot cliff at the end of the lot with a sheer drop off directly into the lake…no beach. We bought the lot.

Our faith in Mother Nature paid off. The only constant about shorelines is constant change. A few years later we had a beachfront property. Twenty years later, we built our current home on that piece of land.

Daily observation of the effects of waves and weather on the shore has been a fascinating experience. Our biggest surprise is the speed at which the changes occur. One day we looked down to discover a perfect cove created by shifting sandbars directly in front of our bluff. “We should call our house ‘Cat Cove’ “, I joked. (Stray cats had been turning up on our doorstep with great regularity.) Cat Cove vanished three days later, but the name stuck.

In the twenty-three years we have lived here, we have had beaches as wide as a football field or as narrow as a deer path. The cliff has fluctuated between being totally covered with vegetation to raw earth.

This past May has seen sensational changes. The waves have taken half the cliff, almost all the trees and half our stairs. The raw cliff is sending huge chunks of earth downward almost daily. And at this moment the crumbling bluff has created a new Cat Cove which shelters a perfect little beach. We will enjoy it while it lasts.


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