Saturday Radio Diary

Todd McMillen

Jan 31, 2015

Todd McMillen was 22 years old with a degree in graphic design and working for Witmark Catalog store in Grand Rapids.  “I was on a photo shoot,” he says, “and we were shooting a toaster—and suddenly I said, ‘I can’t photograph toasters the rest of my life.”

He thought about an art gallery but decided a picture framing shop might provide a better income—so he bought one in Traverse City.  “I drove up with stars in my eyes and found out I had a competitor on every block.  My Grampa gave me fifty dollars out of his wallet to put in the till—and I still have it.”

Kathryn Holl

Jan 17, 2015

Kathryn Holl was teaching school in New York when her father became ill with a brain hemorrhage.  “For six weeks the surgeon kept wanting to do more,” she recalls. “Then they released Dad into hospice care and it was all about love.”

As a result, Kathryn wanted to learn about death and dying—and ultimately completed a degree as a licensed professional counselor in holistic studies through Western Michigan University.  Today, she is the Grief Support Services Manager for Hospice of Michigan.

“I do bereavement follow-up with families,” she says.  “I’m so honored that they let me in at such a vulnerable time. Grief is transformational.  Anyone who has gone through loss has an empathy they didn’t have before.”

She has created a program called Memories on the Manitou.  “I worked with Traverse Tall Ships to create a memorial service on the bay.  Participants tell me, ‘This makes me realize I’m not alone, that this is normal.’”

“It is difficult,” Kathryn admits, “carrying the sadness.  But I can do this because I know they will move through it and I can accompany them.  When you take food to a bereaved person, take it on a glass plate—so you have to go back.”

Chris Cornell

Jan 3, 2015

“The accounting stereotype is someone without a whole lot of personality,” Chris Cornell says, “but I love the people.”  Chris also loves math and accounting.  “To me it’s a puzzle and my job is to put it all together so the numbers balance.”

A graduate of Baker College, Chris became a Certified Public Accountant in 2006 and started his own company, Cornell-Szasz CPAs, PLLC, in Traverse City in 2010.  “I like the freedom of being my own boss,” he says.

It’s also true that when you’re the boss, the buck—and the balance sheet—stops with you.  After buying a second accounting business in Cadillac last year, he’s been working most evenings and weekends.

“Getting to know the clients is my first priority,” Chris says.  “My product isn’t a piece of paper but what’s in my head, my knowledge and experience.  If they don’t trust me, they’ll go somewhere else.”

Many of his clients are small businesses.  “Entrepreneurs usually have some kind of dream,” Chris says, “something they love to do.  But they might not know much about running a business, about the numbers.  I try to get them to do what makes them happy and let me do the accounting.”

After Christmas Let-Down

Dec 27, 2014

The days after Christmas were always difficult for me as a child.  Not because Christmas was over but because my mother was depressed that Christmas was over.  I was actually a little relieved because anticipation can be exhausting.

My mom, however, loved the anticipation and the preparations that went with it—decorating the house, baking cookies, shopping for gifts, wrapping gifts.  All this activity seemed to give her a sense of purpose that was suddenly missing on December 26.

Beth Clute

Dec 20, 2014

“I’ve been an animal person from Day One,” Beth Clute says.  “I grew up outside the city and dogs were my friends.  I’m horribly allergic to cats, doesn’t matter.”

Today, Beth is a Licensed Veterinary Technician at the Clarke-Everett Dog and Cat Hospital.  “My job is my calling,” she says.  A Vet Tech can do everything except diagnosis, surgery and prescriptions, she explains.

Being Known

Dec 13, 2014

For several years now, I’ve been trying to simplify Christmas in our family—without much success.  I would especially like to reduce gift-giving to a minimum.  “We don’t really need more stuff,” I repeat. “It’s about being together.”

People agree with me in principle and keep on shopping.  Especially my daughter who shops year round for this favorite holiday.  “Could we just do one gift per person?” I negotiate and she shakes her head.  “Maybe next year.”

Loss for Words

Nov 29, 2014

This past year has been a hard one for me, with the loss of three cats in nine months.  When the third one died, I was in despair—not only about cats but about loss itself.  The cumulative effects.

I was grateful for the kindness of family and friends.  Some weeks went by however, before I heard from a granddaughter who is going to school in Mississippi.  “I was at a loss for words,” she wrote.  “I didn’t know what to say.”  She is not alone, of course.  I’ve felt the same and what I’ve learned---by getting it wrong more than once—is that it’s okay to be at a loss for words.  It’s not okay to be silent.

Tell someone you’re at a loss for words.  If you know the person (or the pet) who has died, share a memory.  If you don’t know them, ask.  “Tell me about your mom.”  Or, if you’re writing to someone, you can say, “Your mom must have been a special person because you’ve turned out so well.” 

Nobody said it was easy, for the giver or the receiver of sympathy.  But even if you’re at a loss for words, you can say something healing.

Horse Chestnut Tree

Nov 24, 2014

When I was growing up, our family went to visit Grampa Anderson every Sunday afternoon.  He lived alone in a fusty old house on the other side of town and didn’t have much to entertain young children—so my brother and I played outdoors.

There was a horse chestnut tree in Grampa’s backyard and in the fall we could find dozens of chestnuts buried in the grass.  Bob and I collected them like treasures—so smooth and glossy, shining red and gold and brown.

Great Blue Heron

Nov 17, 2014

On a bright fall day, my husband and I are canoeing the Betsie River.  Our favorite stretch is the flooded area above the Grass Lake dam which was created as a habitat for waterfowl.

We steer between high walls of cattails—against a strong wind.  My head is down in fierce concentration but when I glance up, I see how the cattails are dancing.  They bow and sway with such grace, I stop cursing the wind and celebrate this perfect partnership.

High above the river in a dead pine tree, we see two bald eagles—watching us as we watch them.  Further on, we notice a fresh beaver lodge and stare at the swirling water, hoping to see a neat brown head appear.  Oh, there he is.  No, he’s gone.

Suddenly a great blue heron leaps out of the reeds and soars over the river.  We meet him again and again as we paddle around each turn.  He is always standing on a muskrat house—and each time we glide a little closer before he jumps into the sky.  I wish he could trust us enough to stay—to have a conversation.  And then I realize that this is what we’re having.

Elon Cameron

Nov 8, 2014

Elon Cameron studied photography, printmaking and bookbinding at the Art Institute of Chicago but wasn’t sure that was her life work.  “I had a longing for a career calling but I didn’t know what it was,” she says.

Feline Presence

Oct 25, 2014

I lasted about six weeks after my cat died.  Although I still miss her (and will always miss her), I needed another cat in my life.  In my house, on the windowsill, on my lap.  So, before I headed out to the Cherryland Humane Society, I asked a friend who’s a Vet Tech for some tips.  I thought she’d tell me stuff about bright eyes and a shiny coat. 

Instead, she said one word:  Personality.  Thus it was that I picked a calico stray.  There was something about her intelligent face that spoke to me.

When you step back from pet ownership, you notice it’s kind of a strange idea—the way we bring animals who are very different from ourselves into our houses.  The way we want them to be human and admire them for the ways they’re not.

My cat seems to have little interest in being a person and who can blame her?  She can leap onto the refrigerator in a single bound, fall asleep in an instant and wake up just as fast.  In my next life, in fact, I might prefer to be a cat.  Agile, affectionate, independent, inscrutable.  My next nine lives.

Tom Power

Oct 18, 2014

Tom Power started thinking about being a judge when he spent a summer as a volunteer court clerk.  “I came to appreciate the efforts made to help people resolve their disputes,” he says.  Today, Tom is a judge for the Michigan 13th Circuit Court—a job he’s held for 21 years.


Oct 11, 2014

While I was in a doctor’s waiting room the other day, a tall man walked in—a handsome man with gray hair and a carefully-tended comb-over.  My first thought was to feel sorry for him, not that he was bald but that he needed to hide his baldness.

But my next thought was that we all have comb overs—every single one of us.  We are all hiding some kind of defect—visible or invisible, real or imagined—that we work very hard every day to disguise.

Gregg Smith

Oct 4, 2014

“It’s about telling stories,” Gregg Smith says, describing his work as a partner in a communications and marketing firm.  “We raise public awareness of an organization—which is challenging because there are so many forms of media.”   

Media is something Gregg knows well because he grew up in a newspaper family in Boyne City—and managed the business for years.  Even now, he is passionate about newspapers.  

“They are the community watchdog,” he says, “keeping a finger on the pulse of everything that should be of public interest.  Today people have so many sources of information, yet they are less informed.”

Informing and engaging people is still Gregg’s passion and now he and his wife, Dee, run the Lawton Gallagher Group.  “Our goal is to build visibility for the client,” he says, “through communications initiatives, multi-media, advertising, social media, websites—all of it.”

“We select clients who have a cause that resonates with us,” he says.  “Success is measured by statistics and also by feedback from the community.”

“We do things quietly,” he adds, “and try to over-deliver.  My dad said you need to be as accessible to the town vagrant as to the mayor.  If you call me, I’ll answer the phone.”

Long & Short of Pencils

Sep 27, 2014

There’s an old coffee mug on my desk full of pencils.  Long pencils with full erasers, waiting to be selected.  Short pencils with used-up erasers, waiting to be retired.  But the pencils that interest me most are the variants.  The long pencils with worn-out erasers.  The short pencils with un-used erasers.  They remind me of people I know.

People who, like long pencils with worn-out erasers, don’t say much and, even so, are constantly correcting themselves.  Second-guessing and apologizing.  I want to reassure them that their contribution is valuable, that no disclaimers are necessary.

Maybe they grew up with a critical parent or teacher who made them reluctant to speak their minds.  I had a father like that.  Maybe that’s why I’m fascinated by the short pencils with un-used erasers—people who never hesitate to speak up, no matter what the topic.  Who never seem to doubt the rightness of their opinions, even when a review might have been beneficial.  Sometimes I envy people with this much confidence—to go through life without erasing anything! 

I reach for a pencil and select a long one with a full eraser.  Starting over, again.

Pot Bound

Sep 20, 2014

I’ve had a Christmas Cactus in my east window for a long while which blossoms about once a year—never on Christmas.  It started out as one of those little grocery store plants that are always for sale at the holidays.

Bonnie Rickman

Sep 13, 2014

“Just today, a ninety-year-old woman brought in a little wicker rocker,” Bonnie Rickman says.  “She had a photo of herself as a child standing by the rocker.  She wants us to re-do it for her great granddaughter.”

Bonnie and her husband, Paul, run an antiques and refinishing business in Traverse City.  “We started out buying antiques at garage sales and reselling them to dealers,” Bonnie says,  “Then I said, “This piece would be real pretty if it was refinished.’”

Squirrel Proof

Sep 6, 2014

Everywhere you look, people are loading big bags of sunflower seeds into their cars, signaling the season of bird feeding.  In the past, I’ve enjoyed gazing out my kitchen window to watch chickadees, nut hatches and purple finches taking turns on our feeder.

Last year, however, the only turn was taken by an upside-down black squirrel—who could empty the cylinder in one day.  At first my husband and I were optimistic we could outwit these rascally rodents.  I mean, really, we are human beings—at the top of the food chain.

We’ll just move the feeder a little to the north.  Well, maybe a little to the south.  Maybe higher; maybe lower.  The sound you hear is squirrels laughing their tails off.  At each location it took the squirrels an hour or two max to figure out a new route from roof to branch to feast.  It was humiliating to be outsmarted by a creature with a brain the size of a what—an acorn?

So, the question now is, how much are we willing to invest in whatever passes for a squirrel-proof feeder?  Meanwhile, I no longer speak of being out-foxed; the correct term is out-squirreled. 

Thank a Teacher

Aug 30, 2014

Years ago my husband received a gift T-shirt that said, “Thank a Teacher.”  Since it was too large, he offered the T-shirt to me and I have used it as summer sleepwear ever since.  And every time I slip the worn-out shirt over my head, I think of the teacher whose name I cannot remember.  A woman at Alger Elementary School in Grand Rapids taught me to read and I’ve never stopped.

No small thing, to give someone a skill they use every day.  And although I cannot recall her name, I can see her classroom—the little wooden desks and chairs—and the Dick and Jane readers we used.

I know they’ve been discredited and replaced, those old readers, but I thought they were wonderful.  Not because the stories were exciting or the characters convincing, but because on those pages—for the very first time—I got it that letters made sounds, made words.

It may be the only genuine epiphany I have ever had and I still feel the sense of discovery and joy.  These kinds of discoveries are happening in classrooms today, of course, and in other places as well.  Whatever their names, I thank the teachers.

Cari Peterson

Aug 23, 2014

Cari Peterson fell in love with travel as a young girl.  “My dad was a car dealer,” she says,  “so he would win trips and our family got to go places.”  Cari is still going places—but mostly she helps other people plan their trips.

As a corporate agent for Passageways Travel in Traverse City, Cari handles business travel.  “People know what they want,” she says.  “Usually the best deal but they won’t reroute themselves just to save a couple hundred dollars.  They’d rather be home for their kid’s soccer game.”  Cari has been in the travel business for almost 30 years and has seen a lot of changes.  “The biggest shift was after 9/11,” she says.  “Security is much tighter.  People stopped flying but now it’s busier than ever.”

“Yes, you can buy tickets on-line,” Cari says, “but you have to pay close attention—and it’s harder to make changes.”  The airlines don’t give refunds with a doctor’s notice anymore. “You have to be the one who died,” she jokes.     

In addition to the travel perks, Cari loves the challenge.  “Sometimes I don’t even know where a place is—but if someone wants to travel there, I have to figure it out.  It’s fun.”

Afraid of Everything

Aug 16, 2014

On a sunny river bank, a deer is sleeping—but when our canoe glides past, she leaps up and bounds into the woods.  We pose no threat to the deer, but she doesn’t know that.  So, she has to be afraid of everything in order to be afraid of the right things.

As I pick up my paddle, I think of how much of my own life I’ve been afraid—mostly of the wrong things.  Afraid of things that never happened or weren’t as bad as I feared.  Or afraid of things that turned out to be wonderful.

Carrie Leaureaux

Aug 9, 2014

As a child, Carrie Leaureax overheard her grandparents speak the language of her Anishinaabe (Native American) culture.  “Anishinaabemowin was forbidden at the Indian boarding schools,” she says, “so it was not passed down.  And I wondered, if I don’t learn, who will teach my children?”

Today, Carrie is the Anishinaabemowin Program Director and Language Instructor for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.  “The language contains many of our teachings,” she explains, “To help us reconnect with our identity and values.”  For example, the Native word “akidiwin” (ah-KID-win) means not only “word” but tells a story. “It reminds us that before we speak, we must draw up energy from Mother Earth,” she says, “Be careful of the way we use words.”

Carrie not only teaches language to Anishinaabe students but also responds to requests from non-Native groups who seek to learn more about her culture.  “I want to promote awareness and bring information from the Native American perspective,” she says.

As for progress, Carrie takes a long view.  “We must heal ourselves as individuals,” she says, “and leave the rest in the Creator’s hands.  My heart was happy when I heard my daughter using the language with her children.”

Catalpa Tree

Aug 2, 2014

We have an ancient Catalpa tree in our back yard which likely predates our old house and certainly predates the Norway Spruces with whom it shares space.  Every year my husband and I have a conversation about the Catalpa, about whether we should cut it down.

Patches of bark have fallen off, many of its branches are dead, and each season it produces fewer leaves.  My husband is in favor of removing the tree, fearing it may fall on the neighbor’s house and I share his fear.  But not enough to take action, not yet.

The old tree still provides valuable shade in the summer and offers a scratching post and happy perch for our cats.  It seems to me that the Catalpa has earned its right to be here.  I also feel a certain kinship with this fellow creature.  I, too, am past my prime.  Bark is falling off and branches dying.  I am trying to not fall down and hurt anyone.

And I seek to provide some kind of service to justify my continuing presence.  Not crowding out new growth with my shade, but offering shelter from heat and rain.  Something to lean on.

Fel Brunett

Jul 19, 2014

“I had a deep interest in history from Day One,” Fel Brunett says.  “I was born in the house my great-grandfather built in 1881.”  Fel still lives in that house—not far from Fife Lake where he is Curator of the Historical Museum.

Walking through the Museum, Fel points out an old ballot box with its sealing wax.  “They took to Traverse City for the official count,” he says.  Other showcases feature cranberry harvesting equipment, blacksmith bellows, sawmill blades, and a local still from Prohibition. 

Art of Paddling

Jul 12, 2014

Sitting in the bow of the canoe, I pick up the old wooden paddle.  For the first few strokes, I have to concentrate—plunge, pull, lift, twist—but soon the familiar rhythm takes over and I can just watch the river and feel its buoyant grace. 

When I was learning this skill, it seemed impossibly complex.  Plunge the paddle into moving water—deep enough for purchase, not too deep to maneuver.  Plunge without clanging against aluminum, without splashing myself or my partner.