The Suitcase Lady


June 15, 2021, 9:22 pm

Do you like your address?

I’m not referring to fondness for your home, but rather to that unique combination of numbers and words that mark your unique spot on the planet.

Not having a particularly good relationship with numbers, I consider myself lucky to have had three words in our first home’s address and also three in our current one. Honey Creek Drive and Lake Shore Road both leave no doubt that we love to live near water.

Liking my own address does not preclude noting other street names near to us that I wouldn’t mind having as my return address. Playbird Road conjures up images of happy, fluttering birds, while Grandpa Road must be filled with happy memories.

Our daughter lives on Clove Drive in Madison and the streets around her home are well seasoned. You can cruise down Basil Drive, Sage Circle and Chive Court.

Our son, on the other hand, used to be surrounded by gems and minerals when he lived on Felspar Street in Pacific Beach, California. Note that those city fathers spelled both feldspar and hornblende incorrectly. Here are the neighborhood gem streets in order: Agate, Turquoise, Sapphire, Tourmaline, Opal, Beryl, Chalcedony, Diamond, Emerald, Felspar, Garnet and Hornblend. If I could afford to live there, Turquoise would be my pick.

I recently drove past Zuzax Road on the outskirts of Albuquerque. This certainly would be a very zippy address. I also encountered Butter and Eggs Road, Pancake Boulevard and Sugar Street in Kansas. I’m guessing these might be addresses a foodie might crave.

We have a friend of many years whose house is on an extremely short street. Her town actually let her pick the name of the street. Most of us don’t get this option. What a delight it must have been for her little boy named Russell to grow up on Russell Court.

Post Script….I thought this blog was finished and ready to be posted tonight. But today I had a program for kids at a summer school two-thirds across the state from our home. And on my three-hour drive to get there, I spotted an unusual street sign in a tiny, tiny rural town. I was intrigued and checked it out further on my way home. This is what I found!

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June 8, 2021, 9:35 pm

Anyone who has ever taken a road trip out West has probably noticed a strange phenomenon. Westerners love to put giant letters on their mountainsides. These humongous initials are called “mountain monograms” or “geoglyphs”.

The first geoglyph was a super-sized “L” created by students at Lahainaluna High School in Hawaii in 1904. Plants were cleared to shape the letter, and then lime was put down to prevent the regrowth of vegetation.

In 1905, the second letter was a “C” constructed of concrete. It was made on Charter Hill by University of Berkeley students in California. As of today, around 500 hillside letters can be found around America, almost all of which are in Western States. The top lettered states are California at 81, Montana 80, Utah 78, Arizona 59 and Nevada 47.

While reading about these geoglyphs, I came across a big surprise. My home state of Wisconsin, an extremely non-mountainous state, hosts a giant letter. To be more precise, it is the biggest “M” in the world.

Our “M” was built in 1937 at the University of Platteville by students in the Mining Engineering Department. The area around Platteville is famous for its historic lead mines. Because of this heritage, our state flag even includes a picture of a miner.

The project began when students simply put foot tracks in the snow on the side of Platteville Mound to make a big “M” for the School of Mines. The snowy “M” was so popular it was replaced with limestone rocks when the snow melted. Picks, crowbars and wheelbarrows were borrowed from a local CCC camp to accomplish the task.

Throughout the years, the letter has been illuminated for homecoming by various means. In 1949, 250 cans with corncobs were torched to outline the letter. More recently, wicks in kerosene-filled coffee cans have been employed.

My newfound knowledge of this inevitably led to a road trip across the state to see the “M”. After all, that is my initial, too.

The “M” is visible for miles around.

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June 1, 2021, 11:03 pm

When I was in my early teens, my parents let me take Saturday morning art classes at the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee. I cannot thank them enough for all the times they drove me there and paid for the classes and art supplies.

My teacher for those classes was Lois Ehlert. I could not have been luckier. She was about 23 years old at the time and an art student herself at Layton. She made Saturday my favorite day of the week.

Lois went on to be a world-famous illustrator and writer of children’s books, winning a Caldecott award in 1990. But fame came late. For many years she was a commercial graphic designer. It was not until her 50’s that she began creating children’s books.

Above all, Lois was a colorist and a lover of folk art. With scissors, vibrant colored paper, fabrics and collage materials, she would cut out and paste down eye-popping pages for her books. At heart, she was always a brilliant graphic designer.

Lois was generous with her time, making frequent appearances at libraries and community events. Many of my fellow art teachers and I were able to be part of some of these workshops. Lois would walk into the room with her huge smile, colorful jewelry and hand-made outfits and make creativity run rampant in all of us, young and old alike. Being part of her library “Poetry Concerts” was an unforgettable experience.

And I have a personal Lois story to tell. My husband and I were at an outdoor sculpture exhibit by a Wisconsin folk artist, Ellis Nelson. We ran into Lois who was also there to see Mr. Nelson’s large, bent wire animal figures.

“You know, Mary”, she said, “you should buy one of these. He’s terrific.” Lois lived and worked in a very colorful apartment near Lake Michigan…but she had no yard. We took her advice and bought a rabbit and a dinosaur. They now run (in place) perpetually through our meadow.

Lois Ehlert died last week at the age of 86. She has left behind an enormous legacy of color, kindness and joy.

My favorite book which was both written and illustrated by Lois is Feathers for Lunch.

Ellis Nelson’s Rabbit

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May 25, 2021, 9:41 pm

This weekend, Memorial Day, marks the start of our 25th year of living in our current house on the shore of Lake Michigan. That move was a right and happy one.

One of the factors that led to us living in the country was elephants. Elephants are not, of course, indigenous to Cleveland, Wisconsin. But they were, nevertheless, important motivators.

The journey started many years ago when I decided to have an “Elephant Week” at the preschool and kindergarten where I was teaching. I began by inviting several artist friends to make a piece of art with an elephant as the subject matter. I further suggested the work should be made with materials on hand in their studios and not take much of their valuable time to conjure up. They generously created elephants that I could show to my students as examples of the variety of styles and materials artists bring to a topic.

Francisco Mora’s Happy Elephant

Next, I rounded up a big stack of elephant books to read throughout the week. Horton, Dumbo, Babar and Elmer would all make appearances. I also brought my collection of folk art elephants and toys made by artists around the world.

At this point in my preparations, I suddenly realized that something was terribly missing. I needed to tell the kids some true science facts about the real animals that had inspired all the wonderful artwork and storybooks I had gathered.

I researched and wrote “5 Things We Should Know About Elephants”. I wasn’t trained as a science teacher, but that is the moment I got hooked on natural science. I immediately wanted to learn more facts on all sorts of animals, especially those that lived in my own backyard. From there, it was a short jump to wanting to create more habitat that would welcome animals into our yard. And, finally, my husband and I realized that the best way to do that was to move to the country. And we did.

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May 18, 2021, 10:23 pm

Many people enjoy keeping journals to mark the events of their days, months or years. Since time passes quickly, memory is fickle, even a trickster at times, a journal is a lovely way to preserve one’s history.

I, however, do not keep a journal. I keep my life in my upper kitchen cupboards. I’ve been doing this for many years now. It’s a joyful system and one which keeps memories from getting muddled.

I’ve always regarded the inside of my eye-level kitchen cupboard doors as being ideal bulletin boards. But the advent of cameras on phones and iPads opened up an entirely new dimension for me. With no cost for film and only a slight cost for printing (9 cents or less), photos can mark the progress of my days and seasons. Plus, my cupboards are most accommodating. I have four doors, meaning each can hold three months’ worth of pictures. January, February and March are next to the stove: the rest of the year marches down the remaining three doors on the adjacent wall.

Every time I open a door for dishes or food items, happy memories greet me. The pictures stay up for a year and then are filed away in a dated envelope.

This system has a special benefit. It’s a reminder that life should be lived fully every day and season. We create our individual timelines. And we also create our own happiness.

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