Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Michigan mystery writer Richard Baldwin continually finds joy in telling a story.

By Susan G Parcheta
Note: First Published Dec. 16, 2011 at LivingstonTalk.com, now 

Assassination at High Speed is the latest – and 12th -- Michigan-based Lou Searing detective novel from this writer’s pen.

Here’s the scenario: “The State of Michigan is awarded a huge federal contract to build a speed-rail line from Port Huron to New Buffalo. In celebration, the U.S. President, the Prime Minister of Canada, and the Michigan Governor board the train and set off on a Victory Ride… but who won’t make it to their final destination?”

The book, dedicated to “train lovers of all ages,” features stops at Michigan towns along the rail line. The Michigan settings make Baldwin’s book fun for Michigan readers, as you recognize and can often picture exactly where things are taking place, as if you were there. The newest novel is timely, with high speed rail being a hot topic for national debate.

Nearly a decade ago, I interviewed Baldwin for The Mid-Michigan Reader (May/June 2002 Issue Two  -- a magazine of Profiles and Observations, published by Steve Horton (currently publisher of Michigan local newspaper, the Fowlerville News & Views). Baldwin was becoming established in the murder mystery genre, having written his first three novels about Detective Lou Searing: A Lesson Plan for Murder, The Principal Cause of Death, and Administration Can Be Murder. His fourth book, Buried Secrets of Bois Blanc: Murder in the Straits of Mackinac, was just off the press (Buttonwood  Press).
There’ve been other articles about the books in between. Perhaps you’ve noticed one of these Lou Searing titles on a Michigan bookstore shelf: The Marina Murders, A Final Crossing: Murder on the S.S. Badger, Poaching Man and Beast: Murder in the North Woods, The Lighthouse Murders, Murder in Thin Air, Murder at the Ingham County Fair, Murder in Tip-Up Town.

Since the tenth anniversary of our first interview is coming up next year, I thought it would be fun to reprint the back story that I uncovered then, about this amazing and prolific Michigan writer.

Monday, January 16, 2012

ZuZu & me: Celebrating an epiphany, angels & acorns

She scampered jauntily into my life one beautiful, warm day in September.

I couldn’t know at that moment, but I was headed for one wild roller coaster ride. An adventure of the heart that I’d be looking back on nearly four months later, as one of those life-transforming,  “what happened to me?” experiences.

I’m writing this on Jan. 6, the day of the Feast of Epiphany. It’s the day my dad was buried – the 12th day of Christmas. The day I contemplate the cycle of life…birth, death, beginnings and endings. And I try to understand where I fit in it all.

Especially this past autumn, when my heart got run over by a little yellow fur ball. She spotted me from across the road, as I walked to my mailbox.  I heard the definite meow of a kitten. Uh, oh, I thought, “We don’t need another cat.”  I figured it must belong to someone, but when she saw me, I could tell that she was on a mission.

The feeling, I admit, was that I was the subject of this mission; and she was determined to be here.  Something  like Clarence, the angel in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” – on a mission to help George Bailey.  I named her ZuZu after George Bailey’s little girl.

Friday, January 6, 2012

La Flor de Noche Buena: Christmas Eve Poinsettia weaves its beautiful winter magic

By Susan G Parcheta

Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart. ~ Washington Irving

Nothing kindles my heart at Christmastime and the New Year like the poinsettia. La flor de Nochebuena — this beautiful plant native to Mexico — is truly the Christmas Eve flower in our family.
Shades of red, pink, green, cream, crimson, orange and white…it’s always been the star flower of Christmas night.

 From the time of Franciscan friars 17th Century celebrations to 21st Century churches everywhere, the brilliant star-shaped flowers symbolize the Christmas Star, the Star of Bethlehem…and to me the magi and their Star search.

The flower is named after the first United States Minister to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was also an amateur botanist and introduced this beautiful plant into the United States in 1825.

My favorite is pink. I’m not sure why, except that each color seems to express an aspect of the feeling of Christmas.  Red, of course, symbolizes the blood sacrifice – for ancient Aztecs, to the sun, and later to Christians, of crucifixion of the Christ.

 Pale green poinsettias bring a light freshness of all things new and healing at the New Year. Cream touches on the gentle spirit of the season; and white, its purity. I’ve not seen many orange-toned poinsettias, but they’d express, to me, the wonder of creativity and of new insights and resolutions at this time of year.
The heart of Christmas...make it last all year long
The heart of Christmas...make it last all year long
I love the brilliant, rich red poinsettia my husband brought home for Christmas.  Having the plant on the table for family dinners offers the touch of tradition, beauty and meaning to the annual celebrations.

For many years, along with others in our church congregation, we’d order a couple of huge poinsettias .  They’d grace the altar in banks of wondrous pinks and reds until Christmas Eve, and then at that late night service, we’d take them home.  There is something special about that tradition, as well, bringing the poinsettias home on Christmas Eve.

Yes, my husband is partial to the deep red flowers.  I’ve often wondered why I take to the pink tones. But in recent years, I think I’ve discovered the reason.  Pink, rose, fuchsia, ruby represent to me the colors of the heart. The heart of Christmas, which for me, means making the feeling of Christmas last all year long.

"Starflower" is my image of this 
Henry Reed Feb 3, 2011 Daily Mandala
Yes, the soft pink tells the story of the magical attribute of Christmas, the beauty of the hospitality of the human heart, which expresses itself most outwardly at Christmastime.
Putting all these colors of the poinsettia together, you have all the harmony of Christmas that you can carry into the New Year. I can nurture my Christmas poinsettia along throughout the coming weeks of winter to remind me.

The starflower’s beautiful blossoms nourish my heart with joy in the midst of wintertime, weaving its magic ith promise of blooms in spring…symbolizing emergence of a new heart within, healing and peace all around us.

La Flor de Noche Buena – the Poinsettia
Joel Roberts Poinsett, US Ambassador to Mexico
The beautiful Christmas starflower story and legends
Caring for your poinsettia after Christmas
The Daily Mandala Archives

(Published Dec. 31, 2011 at LivingstonTalk.com)

John Lepard’s ‘wonderful life’ resumes: The actor energizes Williamston Theatre stage in encore performance of a magical Christmas classic

By  Susan G. Parcheta

Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings. ~  Zuzu Bailey

How much do you love  It’s a Wonderful Life?

You know, the movie.  That one about George Bailey and Bedford Falls.  That 1946 black-and-white film directed by Frank Capra — with James Stewart as George Bailey, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell. That quirky Christmas story that’s oddly become a classic for more generations than you’d imagine.

Go ahead, admit it.  You might love It’s a Wonderful Life almost as much as actor John Lepard loves it.

Lepard, who also is director of the Williamston Theatre in downtown Williamston, Michigan, heeded the call of fans clamoring for him to bring back his award-winning 2009 one-man show This Wonderful Life.
Now, this Christmas, you can once again travel with John down that mythical road to Bedford Falls.  In this solo performance, he becomes the artful storyteller, winging you back in time, weaving playwright Steve Murray’s tale through the eyes of the 30+ townsfolk.
John Lepard's 'Wonderful Life' at Williamston Theatre, Williamston, Michigan.

Lepard revels in gathering us around for the retelling.  And, so gathered, we sit spellbound as we watch him transform himself into a town-full of characters.  As for George Bailey, Lepard IS George Bailey…and that evil Mr. Potter, and George’s wife Mary, and his brother Harry, and his little girl ZuZu, Clarence the Angel and Nick the bartender and so on.

This transformational story follows the story of the Capra film, which has surged in popularity since television showings began in the late 1970s.  According to Amazon.com, it’s now among the most beloved American films. “It is also one of the most fascinating films in the American cinema, a multilayered work of Dickensian density,” writes reviewer Robert Horton.

“Capra’s triumph is to acknowledge the difficulties and disappointments of life, while affirming–in the teary-eyed final reel–his cherished values of friendship and individual achievement. It’s a Wonderful Life was not a big hit on its initial release, and it won no Oscars (Capra and Stewart were nominated); but it continues to weave a special magic.”

To the moon and back…to the future: Cheers to the Class of 1961

By Susan G Parcheta

Beam me up, Scotty’…We’re going ‘back to the future.’
I loved Michael J. Fox’s movies Back to the Future, because I knew of the time traveled back to.  Yes, those irrepressible 1950s, an amazing era. How to define that place in time:

Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Rock-n-Roll; Saddle shoes and swirly (OK, poodle) skirts; leather jackets and ducktails; crew cuts and grey flannel; Mickey Mouse Club and Annette Funicello; Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe; Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, James Dean; Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev; Fidel Castro,  Charles DeGaulle, Queen Elizabeth; The Cold War and the Space Race.

In the 1985 film, Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) hurtles back in time to 1955 to a wonderful small town — a lot like the wonderful small town where I grew up.  You can see the white dome of our county courthouse – above the trees in the distance — from the highway that now whizzes past.  Back then the highway took you through town, right by this familiar landmark in the center of our rural middle-of-the-Michigan-mitten community of Ithaca.

My contemporaries and I – the Class of 1961 – were born almost midway between millenniums, coming of age in the 1950s.  The 21st Century seemed eons away in 1961.  So did any thoughts of our 50th high school class reunion…to be held in that far off future time of 2011.