bell ringer 2014Tonight was my first experience volunteer bell ringing for the Salvation Army. When I arrived outside Macy’s main entrance at Fashion Square Mall just before 6 p.m. Leroy was finishing his shift – one that had started a little before 7:00 that morning!
While we waited for Heather, the bell-ringer coordinator, to come by and pick up Leroy, trade out his red kettle for an empty one, and give me a Salvation Army apron to wear, Leroy offered me a second bell. I watched him open doors for ladies and greet everyone coming and going. His kettle was bottom heavy with coins and top heavy with bills. Someone brought him a cup of hot coffee from the nearby Bob Evans.
Soon Heather arrived and I said goodbye to Leroy and was on my own. It was snowing lightly. The snowplow service truck drove by and spit salt pellets up by my feet. People came and went and many gave.
A young girl about the age of my husband’s third and fourth graders eagerly slipped her donation through the kettle slot. A couple of minutes later she passed by in a pickup truck, waving at me.
A tall, handsome young man reached into his wallet for a couple of bills to stuff into the kettle. He told me his name was Lonnie.
“I used to be a bell ringer,” he told me. “Thank you for doing this.”
He asked me if I knew where Erika was ringing. I told him I was sorry, but I didn’t know. He told me not to worry, he would find her, and pulled out his phone. He thanked me again for ringing.
Before long, Jack stopped by to pick up my kettle and apron and bell. I headed out for a hot cup of coffee. I think I’ll be seeing red all season this year – Salvation Army red.


It was a like a bad break-up. No, worse. It was like being served divorce papers after a silver anniversary, 25 years of what you thought was a happy, successful relationship.

Come January 2012 I wasn’t good enough anymore. My coupon-loving, bargain-hunting ways were no longer welcome at J.C. Penney. The new pricing model went into effect and I was dumped for a younger woman.

But emails and an occasional print piece telling me about JCP’s new, wonderful everyday low prices kept coming to my computer and home. After three attempts via email and phone to end the painful reminders void of sales and coupons, JCP finally removed me from their marketing lists.

Life with the mistress hasn’t been rosy for JCP. Sales have declined. “For the year ended February 3, the company reported that comparable store sales dropped 25.2%, revenue fell 24.8% to $12.985 billion and Internet sales were $1.02 billion, a plunge of 33% from the previous year.” ( It appears women of all ages like sales and coupons.

Myron Ullman returned as CEO in April 2013, replacing Ron Johnson and attempting to bring the chain out of the failed makeover.

A we’re-sorta-sorry, we’re-listening-to-you television commercial aired briefly in May. ( I wouldn’t call it an apology. The company acknowledged making some mistakes and assured the audience (no woman in the commercial appeared to be over 35 years old) that they were listening to them. Apparently they’re not sorry they alienated the mature end of their core female demographic. (I’m 54. Not exactly over any hill.)

The commercial wasn’t a real apology and it wasn’t enough to bring me back. A sincere apology in a commercial that included someone my age would have been a start. Along with an invitation to rejoin JCP online (for coupons and sales information) as well as in-store for shopping. But it wasn’t there. And so I continue to take my dollars elsewhere. I’ve established new shopping habits.

Will Ullman turn the company around? I don’t know. 24/7 Wall St. named J.C. Penney in its “Ten Brands That Will Disappear in 2014.” I’ll be watching from afar.

Our youngest daughter Natalie left last August to teach English in a Christian school in Goyang, a suburb of  Seoul, South Korea. At the time, I thought of U.S. military bases in the area as locations for her to buy items hard-to-find in Korean stores. Now I look at those bases as her best friends. (According to BBC News, 28,000  U. S military personnel are based in South Korea and another 40,000 in Japan and Guam, a U. S. territory near the Philippines.)

Natalie doesn’t seem too concerned about the recent threats from North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un against the United States and South Korea. She tells us that her coworkers and friends tell her the North Korean rhetoric is not uncommon, especially when a new South Korean president comes into power. (South Korea’s first female president, Park Geun-hye, took office in February.) This pattern of North Korean rhetoric was also recognized April 2 in an article by BBC News:

Natalie says her school staff discussed whether or not they should run emergency drills relocating students to the shelter of the basement. They decided it wasn’t necessary at this time and would only frighten the children.

According to The Washington Post, South Korea’s stock market took its largest daily fall of the year Thursday. ( Yet “Even the segment that is concerned about the North is far from panicking. During a crisis 20 years ago sparked by North Korea’s announced intent to withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, some in South Korea rushed to stock up on canned goods and water. This time, grocery-store shelves remain full.”

During undisciplined moments my mind wanders to Natalie and how quickly she could get out of South Korea if the threats should escalate into a conflict. Which friend(s) could help her? Where could she go initially if not home to the States?

My husband Gary’s mind becomes preoccupied, too. He wonders if perhaps Natalie should transfer more money to her U.S. bank account and how much she should keep in her Korean bank account.

We pray for peace and safety, and trust God’s hand in Natalie’s life and the affairs of the world.

“Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.” ~Psalm 31:24

Natalie on a fall field trip with her students.

Natalie on a fall field trip with her students.


Our Mid-Michigan weather the past few days does not suggest the calendar trumpeted the arrival of spring nearly two weeks ago. But let me assure you – spring has indeed arrived.

As I checked out at Meijer this evening, a mother in a pink sweatshirt and jeans merrily rode the penny pony. Her two daughters, one a young teen and the other a pre-teen, giggled incessantly as they shot video on their smart phones of their mother’s spring-break equestrian adventure. (As my girls read this, they are thanking God that I was not the mother on that pony.)

So while other Mid-Michigan families are spending thousands of dollars for tropical cruises or a week on a Florida beach, this family raided the change jar for an evening of wholesome entertainment. Maybe there’s something for all of us to learn in that. Now to find our change jar …

1 bag trail mix – 1 lb. 8 oz.

6 decorative snowflakes – 4 oz.

1 cardigan sweater – 8 oz.

4 candy bars – 12 oz.

1 pair pants – 8 oz.

1 chap stick – 2 oz.

1 magazine – 1 lb. 8 oz.

1 bag coffee – 12 oz.

… and the list goes on.


In early December I had spent 45 minutes of one lunch hour (do the math) at the post office, filling out paperwork so I could send a package to Natalie in South Korea. I’d sent her two packages earlier that fall. Neither of the two previous visits had eaten that much of my lunch hour.

I had had to create a separate list of everything I packed in that rectangular medium flat-rate box. (I know how to pack a box.) And I had had to note how much each item weighed. Hmm, I didn’t remember having to do that for the two previous packages I had mailed. A much more general list (that fit on the form) had been sufficient then.

Natalie’s address in Goyang (outside of Seoul) doesn’t begin to fit in the space provided on the form. Spaces between words, you say? Sorry, I run out of little boxes for the letters. Squeeze them in. Two letters in some boxes.

I’m convinced the person who created that form never packed a box for South Korea (or anywhere else outside the U.S. for that matter). It’s like pantyhose. I’m convinced they were invented by a man, who never had to wear them. But I digress.

This time I’ve come prepared. It’s January and I’ve returned to my Girl Scout roots with the motto “Be Prepared.” I now keep blank mailing forms at home. I had completed one, along with the list of weighed, boxed items, before I left for work that morning. (So thankful for that antique kitchen scale from Grandma Libka’s house.)

I comment to the postal clerk that this whole listing-each-item-along-with-its-weight thing is a bit much. “What dealer mailing illegal drugs is going to note it on the list?” I ask her. I can see it now: “1 package Cocaine, 5 grams.” Not. The bad guys aren’t going to list illegal items they’re mailing. The process is punishment for the good guys – at least those of us who know how to pack a box.

The gun control issue is much the same. Beware of legislation that punishes and restricts the good guys. Most of the bad guys are going to get their guns illegally anyway.

I’m not saying that policies like background checks at gun shows don’t need review and change. But let’s not respond to tragic shootings with a knee-jerk reaction that punishes the good guys and better enables the bad guys.

When something devastating happens like the mass murder at Newtown, our immediate reaction is to DO something. Let’s make sure that what we do is right and will effect change. Let’s review our mental health policies. Ask what needs to change in the video game industry. Most importantly, let’s look at what’s wrong with American culture and the American family, and address change there.

Meanwhile, let me know if you need any help mailing packages overseas.


I have a history of surviving hot summers. “How?” you may ask. Sunsuits and a canopy for the tractor; lawn chairs and suckers. Summer 1960 with my sister Brenda Toyzan and a friend.Pow-wow on the tractor (summer 1960)

I have a love/hate relationship with airports. I love them when they bring my children home to me; I hate them when they take my children away.

It all started nearly nine years ago when my oldest daughter Kristen decided to continue her education at Pensacola Christian College in Pensacola, Florida. Talk about going from one end of the country to the other.

Air Tran Airways services Flint Bishop Airport to Pensacola Regional Airport via its home hub at Hartfield-Jackson in Atlanta. Might as well get the Air Tran Visa, we decided, put as many expenses on it as possible (as long as we can pay it off every month), and reap the benefit of some free flights.

Neither snow, nor sleet, nor … you get the idea. I’ve made the drive to Flint Bishop in less than ideal conditions to get daughter number one, and eventually son number one and daughter number two to the airport to catch a flight back to college.

It was a January day during Kristen’s sophomore year, and she was heading back for a second semester at the close of Christmas break. The weather was cold, but otherwise uneventful.

These are not my favorite days; when the kids leave home I try to keep busy the rest of the day just to ward off a case of the blues. I blessed her, hugged her, fought back tears, tried to smile, and headed back to the parking lot as she successfully maneuvered security.

It was as if the the atmosphere around the airport sensed my grievance and pulled a peace pipe from its breast. As I drove slowly toward the exit, snow began to fall gently and a rainbow, so unusual in the winter sky, appeared in the east.