Stories

"Of Mice and Men" with apologies to John Steinbeck 7.10.20

By Alan Marble

You have crested the hill and gone beneath the familiar arch and are descending into the little city of Frankfort...so many friends and familiar faces are waiting to welcome you and yours.

Well, this year there is an abundance of not-so-familiar faces also waiting for you...call it a cast of thousands...in the various forms of one of the most prolific orders of life on earth….the rodents. Defined largely by their pairs of constantly-growing incisors, rodents in North America run the gamut from tiny deer mice....an abundant species here...all the way up to the master of northwoods dam construction, the beaver, which can approach 70 pounds in remote areas of its range.  Let’s focus on the li’l fellers that scratch around at night along Lover’s Lane, making the dead leaves rustle on the forest floor and occasionally blurting high-pitched squeals and hollow “tocks” as they go about their gnawing existence.

This is what wildlife biologists refer to as an “irruption” year.  Several factors - life cycles, a very mild winter, an abundance of last fall’s bounty of acorns and beechnuts and pin cherries - collide to produce skyrocketing numbers of the buck-toothed brigade.  It’s an up-and-down sort of thing. This year the explosion of rodents guarantees that every fledgling predator born this year - barred owl, screech owl, fox, bobcat, coyote, red-shouldered hawks and Cooper’s hawks - will be well-fed and prosper.  Next year the odds will flip. More predators, less fodder for their nestlings.

For many of us, opening up the cottage upon arrival is a joyous affair. Sweeping aside the sheets that draped the furniture, taking down the shutters and opening the windows to chase the seasonal musty odor.  This year, parts of those sheets have been gnawed away and used to make mouse nests, often in places that surprise us - inside your gas grill (better check it first before you fire it up!), under your kitchen sink and inside a small tear in the corner of the customary old mattress on the rollaway that is rarely used.  And that musty odor is mingled with another smell, a noxious, fetid stench that signals death and decay on a rodent-sized scale.  Finding that bit of rotting matter can be difficult. If there is a positive side, it is that the amount of the decay is small and clears up rather quickly. 

So, who are we talking about?  In the woods of northwest Michigan, the primary players are deer mice and white-footed mice (very closely related), the woodland vole, which generally plays nice and stays outside, and chipmunks and red squirrels.  We have other fascinating rodents which usually don’t cause too many problems - the northern flying squirrel with its jumbo dark eyes and soft-as-chinchilla fur, and the woodland jumping mouse, sort of like the kangaroo rat of the desert, usually only seen at night in the headlights as you come home on Alden Edwards and catch a glimpse of a tiny, bounding mouse. Grey squirrels (and the common color-phase black squirrels) and fox squirrels are likewise off-the-charts in numbers this year, but, as a rule, the only problems they cause are at bird feeders. 

deer mouseOur two mouse species love the mix of woods and your home, especially the many porous, old cottages that provide many avenues of entrance and adventure. It doesn’t take much more than an opening of ¼ inch to signal the “welcome” mat.  Mice are climbing sons of guns. Earlier this summer I went to fill a hanging squirrel-proof (really, no kidding...at least, so far…) bird feeder, 6 feet above the ground when under the lid a deer mouse gave me that look, “Nuthin’ to see here, mister!” before leaping to the ground and scurrying into the wood pile. Mice love boating, too...well actually, they love boats, and show amazing ability to get inside them, gnaw on battery cables and sails and soft, chewy lifejackets and boat seats. 

Chipmunks and red squirrels are closely related, but as far apart on the personality spectrum as two cousins can be.  The eastern chipmunk is as cute as a newborn fawn - agile, tame, inquisitive - a terrific fighter when it comes to breeding season, which is about every other day (not really, but it seems like it).  Big eyes, big teeth, big cheeks, packed with sunflower seeds.  They tend to stay out of your home but love garages with open doors and stored dog food and bird seed.  They also burrow around your foundation and in your flower beds.  If they were as homely as star-nosed moles (seriously, look it up) we would despise them, but they aren’t, so we tend to give them a pass.  Usually!

red squirrel 7674 515662Red squirrels are the pirates of the mixed northern hardwood forest, a scourge to all.  When a red squirrel decides that it disapproves of your presence, the noisy, chattering invective will drive you away. If it could be translated into English, I dare say the air would be blue.  They are super-rodents, in that they also love small nestling birds for a meal along with sunflowers and acorns.  They love the great indoors, as well, and a red squirrel that spends time in your cottage will shred everything it can and eat the insulation in your ceiling.  Trouble on a stick!

What can we do?  There is an abundance of pest control businesses that offer their services, usually in the form of enclosed “traps” that provide permitted poison to rodents small enough to enter and exit the trap.  Granular poison provides similar control but needs to be confined to areas where birds and pets cannot get to it.  Both poison alternatives pose a real threat in the form of collateral damage, when a predator eats a poisoned rodent and may get a sufficient dose to make it sick, or, in smaller predators, kill it. 

The most humane approach is the old-fashioned mouse trap and the many easier-to-set modern versions which don’t make you jump when you accidentally set it down and trip it. A little peanut butter on the pan usually turns the trick.  The large size works on chipmunks if they have decided to share your hot tub...meaning, they get inside the works and shred the insulation and eat the wiring.  Red squirrels - good luck!  What we need is a population of pine martens - a species of weasel that forsook the ground for the trees, and are as fast as greased lightning in pursuit of red squirrels - but their range just doesn’t quite stretch to Benzie County. 

Best thing to do is not fret about it. Do what you can to mouse-proof your cottage, keep pet food and bird seed out of range, and enjoy the sideshow.  Listen to the tremolo of the screech owls and the hilarious laughter of the barred owls...the distinctive “kee yar” of the red-shouldered hawk and the sharp, sassy bark of the red fox vixen as she gathers little rodent corpses for her kits...and know that Mother Nature will sort it all out. 

Pandemics of the Past in Northern Michigan

By Ginanne Brownell and Maeve Madden

Summer is here, but not all things are as usual due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many summer residents of Benzie County, Michigan are assessing what will be safest for their families as well as the overall community this season. While some have made the heart-breaking decision to stay away this year, others have decided that the benefits of the trip outweigh the risks of travel.

In Europe during this Covid-19 crisis, borders that no longer existed—like between Austria and Slovakia—have sprung back up again much to the chagrin of European Union nationals. And while this does seem rather shocking to those who have gotten used to borderless journeys between countries, it was not that long ago where checkpoints were just a rather dull but ubiquitous part of summer travel to get to heaving Italian beaches or charming provincial French towns.

But imagine if the same had been implemented in the U.S. between different states – unlikely, yes, but strange things have abounded over the last several months - or even between counties in the same state. There were rumours of blockades that might go up on the East Coast, while some New Yorkers who have weekend residences in Rhode Island were visited by the state troopers and the National Guard asking how long they had been at their homes.  Interestingly enough, that precedence was set “Up North” back in 1919 during the Spanish Flu pandemic between Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties. 

The flu came in three waves in 1918: the first appeared in the spring of that year (called “three-day fever”), the second in late summer and into the autumn was more deadly, and the third wave towards the end of the year and into early 1919 became less potent. There were other smaller waves that arose throughout that year and even into 1920. According to Mlive.com, state health records from that time show that more than 15,000 people died of the flu in Michigan between October 1918 and April 1919. (To put it into perspective to show how lethal that influenza strain was, in 1917 there were only 544 deaths from the flu). With an estimated population in Benzie County of just under 10,500 in 1918, there were a total of 118 deaths that year, up just three percent from 1917. Between January 1918 and April 1919, Benzie’s monthly death toll went from a low of three in March to a high of 23 in December.

Northern Michigan had implemented lockdowns and quarantines on October 1918 when a 14-year-old boy from Buckley died from the flu. The schools in that town were closed, as were pool and billiard halls while public gatherings were cancelled. Shoppers were asked to “keep moving” while they were in stores with other people. Meanwhile, according to a Record Patriot article (https://www.recordpatriot.com/columns/article/Historical-Society-The-horror-of-the-Spanish-Flu-14316396.php) that month in Benzie County a Frankfort doctor reported 16 cases of the flu, including the teachers for 4th and 6th grades. In Benzonia the schools and the Congregational churches closed down for two weeks.

In Traverse City there was a special wing in the State Hospital (which these days goes by the fancy moniker of “The Village at Grand Traverse Commons”), set up just for flu patients. However, the Record-Eagle newspaper reported that there was concern over the behavior of some of the staff who, on their off hours, went cavorting in dance halls, visited theaters and played billiards. “During working hours, attaches wear anti-flu masks and exercise caution to prevent the spread of the disease [but] when night arrives, some slip off their masks and go down town [sic] where they mingle freely with crowds with total disregard for the safety of others.”

Red Cross canvassers went door to door across the city trying to assess an accurate account of those that were sick. For those who were ill they had their houses marked and people living there were told to observe quarantine rules. As things went from bad to worse in Traverse City, those in Leelanau County watched on in horror. During the last wave more than 250 cases of the flu were diagnosed across Leelanau County in early January 1919. According to a 2018 story in Northern Express to mark the 100th anniversary of the pandemic, (https://www.northernexpress.com/news/feature/the-great-flu-pandemic-of-1918 ), locals blamed it on people coming to the area from Traverse City so they petitioned Lansing to quarantine the county so that anyone coming into Leelanau would have to agree to be detained for four days to show they were not carrying the flu.  A state health department official reprimanded local officials in Traverse City over what he saw as their reckless regard stating that they had not handled the situation properly and “you have laughed at us and ignored our suggestions and orders.” By early February the number of deaths had dropped and borders between the two counties were lifted.

In terms of the Congregational Summer Assembly, there was barely a mention of the Spanish Flu in the summer of 1918 and activities continued as planned. Julie Pray Walton did some research in the CSA Archives and found that the Board of Trustees (BOT) met in Chicago at the YMCA in January, February, April and December of that year, presumably to discuss what to do both about the summer season of 1918 and for 1919. There were also BOT meetings at the CSA dining hall in August and they designated August 22nd as the “Community and Patriotic Day”, which included inviting the wider Beulah, Benzonia and Frankfort communities to join in the festivities.

According to Walton’s research, “There is no mention, not a single one, of Spanish flu, or of taking particular precautions as an organization to decrease infection risk.” Those who have had renewed interest in the history of the Spanish Flu at the time will note, part of that could have been because there was censorship in the press. John M. Barry, the author of “The Great Influenza” wrote that, “As terrifying as the disease was, the press made it more so. [They] terrified by making so little of it, for what officials and the press said bore no relationship to what people saw and touched and smelled and endured. People could not trust what they read.” (https://newrepublic.com/article/157094/americas-newspapers-covered-pandemic).

Walton found that the spring 1918 meetings at the YMCA in Chicago were particularly concerned with the Pere Marquette railroad schedules, and whether or not enough wood and ice had been cut and stored to last the season. She also found that there was a concern over whether it would be possible for the “personal closets” filled with “night soil” [which she assumes were shared toilets] could be cleaned better/more often in the upcoming summer.

There was also mention of how to deal with ongoing debt issues. The treasurer was nervous that the CSA was not paying/could not pay its bills. And there were mundane staffing issues over concern of how to go about finding a new local manager as the existing one had informed them that he’d like to resign after many years of service. “So, the CSA remained open and the meagre minutes make no mention of whether or not fewer families than usual made the trip to the CSA,” Walton noted.

Certainly, this summer will be one for the history books, as it will be the first time in the CSA’s history that programming will not be functioning like it has for the past 118 summers. But the expectation of the Board of Trustees is that by closing the CSA this summer, it could help prevent the spread of Covid-19 not only to those who still decide to make the journey to Pilgrim, but to the wider Benzie and Northern Michigan communities as well. And by supressing it this year, the hope is that things like the tennis tournament, the operettas, church services, swimming lessons and potluck dinners will happen again with renewed enthusiasm next summer and forever onwards. 

 

Old and New Assembly Building

This summer will be one for the history books at the Congregational Summer Assembly, as it will be the only time in 119 years that they have kept it closed due to the current pandemic. 

About the authors: Ginanne Brownell is a London-based journalist who writes about arts, culture and development for publications including the New York Times and CNN. She is a lifelong summer resident of Benzie County. Maeve Madden is an incoming Junior at the University of Dayton. She studies Communications and Marketing and has spent summers up north for 19 years. This summer she is the Congregational Summer Assembly’s Communications/Archives Intern.

Invasive Eurasian Watermilfoil in Crystal Lake

In their report to the Board the Waterfront Committee proposes to expand education through the CSA website, Ecology Fun classes, the CSA welcome packet, and other means on the following topics:
1) The fragility of our regional ecosystem
2) The need to adopt measures to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasives in Crystal Lake and surrounding waterways

The Crystal Lake Watershed Association (CLWA) asked us to pass along this information about the invasive Eurasian Watermilfoil (EWM) to the CSA community. The CLWA Board is starting to discuss options and wants to inform all interested groups about possible ways to approach this invasive plant that has been present for 25 years. They will be gathering opinions and answering questions before the CLWA Board decides on the best treatment option in 2020. Even though the CSA Crystal Lake beach doesn’t have any known EWM they want our community to be informed. EWM appears to be expanding it’s hold in Crystal and the CLWA feels it is time to consider treatment options, of which there are many. We would like the CSA Community opinions and thoughts as well. Should we treat, and how much & how often? Please see the story below with more information. 

Invasive Eurasian Watermilfoil in Crystal Lake, Benzie County 2019

The Crystal Lake & Watershed Association (CLWA) has compiled a 3 year study of our lake to update our knowledge of the aquatic plants which are so beneficial to the health of the lake ecosystem. We have found only one invasive plant from the Caspian Sea, Eurasian Watermilfoil (EWM), located primarily in the east end. It was undoubtedly introduced at least 25 yers ago by itinerant fisherman or recreational boaters at the Beulah boat launch where it has established a vigorous population of high density extending along the entire drop-off of the east end. There is intermittent colonization along the southeast shore up to and past the DNR launch and around Railroad Point into Onkeonwe Bay. There are colonies established at the Loeb road launch and none found going west from the Disciples of Christ Church Camp on South Shore Rd. The western and northern shore appear to be virtually free. The total acreage is calculated by very accurate drone photography to be 6.05 acres.

This invasive, by way of the St.Lawrence Seaway, has been found in virtually every county of Michigan and efforts to control EWM have become the dominant lake treatment budgetary item of state and local riparian organizations. EWM can out-compete local beneficial aquatic plants, and can effect fish, amphibian and benthic invertebrate populations as well. When it sometimes takes over a lake and extends to the surface, boating, swimming, fishing and all recreational activity can be severely curtailed. Property values can start to decline.

Since EWM appears to be expanding it’s hold in Crystal the CLWA feels it is time to consider treatment options, of which there are many. We would like your opinions and thoughts as well. Should we treat, and how much & how often? Most authorities recommend treatment before it reaches a stage where control becomes difficult. Once established in an inland lake invasive plants and animals (zebra mussels) can only be controlled, not eliminated.

These are the various options to consider:

  1. Observation - with regular monitoring of extent and change in acreage over time. Expansion of plant mass is usual, although to and fro spontaneous growth patterns do occur for unknown reasons. This has been documented by drone survey.
  2. Hand Removal - for early plant growth when small; this requires educating riparians on correct identification and is labor intensive but can be effective early on.
  3. Biologic Control with the Milfoil Weevil - there have been partial successes in the past on some lakes. This often takes years of supplying weevils and they require undisturbed shoreline to overwinter, something which Crystal Lake has almost none left due to shoreline development.
  4. Benthic Mats-these can be effective for small to moderate growth and require smothering the plants to deprive them of oxygen and sunlight with strong artificial or natural fiber mats like burlap. It is very labor intensive to put down and maintain mats in place and requires time in years for effect. We have preformed this on Crystal on small patches in shallow water and 5-6 years were required to complete the kill. From what we can determine use in deeper water in our large windy lake could be very difficult.
  5. Diver Assisted Suction Harvest (DASH) - effective and very expensive with large ongoing labor expense to pay divers to daily hand pull and place plants in the underwater suction machine run by operators in the boat above. This system disturbs the bottomland and has therefore been criticized for potentially allowing more invasive plant establishment which can favor disturbed soil.
  6. Mechanical Harvesting - this is for lakes overtaken by massive plant growth to allow temporary use of the top layer of water for short periods before plant growth returns. A distinct disadvantage for EWM is spreading by fragmentation and rooting of loose segments of plant. So in fact it spreads the milfoil every time it is cut.
  7. Herbicides - the most widely used treatment for milfoil, it is quick ,relatively less expensive than other methods , especially for smaller plant masses, and effective in controlling but not eliminating the invasive plant. It usually requires two treatments per year in our climate and is professionally applied by permitted companies only after permission is given of involved riparian landowners. Monitoring for effect over time is required and there are many lakes that have a regular program of use for control. The specific agents used for milfoil, 2, 4D or Triclopyr do not affect the native plants of Crystal Lake. We have seen more accurate placement and potential less use of product with the addition of drone supervision.

Please direct questions to:

Jim Hamp, MD  email: 
Invasive Species
Crystal Lake & Watershed Association

 

Anticipated Impact of Wildewood Retaining Walls on an Unprotected CSA Shoreline

by Alan Marble, September 24, 2019

At the September 2019 level Lake Michigan is very close to the all-time high recorded in 1986, when Wildewood responded by building retaining walls. Most cottages and homes were built on tiny lots platted generations ago: lots 50’ or 100’ wide, and 100’ in depth. Many of those owners face a serious threat to their homes today, with no room to move their cottages away from the bluffs. The concerns are of property loss, cottage loss, and a restriction (or for less physically able folks, the loss) of beachcombing, a solitary activity that pulls many of us to the shore. The same bluffs we find so attractive during “normal” water years now loom as an eroding threat to future generations walking the beach and roaming the dunes.

There are inevitable questions arising from any discussion of altering or reinforcing the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Perhaps foremost is the concern with what may happen to an “unprotected” property shoreline when retaining walls or seawalls are constructed on adjacent shoreline. As described in more detail below, nature will be the primary driver of what happens to the CSA dunes:

  • If waters remain high or continue to rise, further erosion on CSA common grounds is inevitable, whether or not a wall protects adjacent properties.
  • If the lake level recedes over time there may be a period of time during which the trading of winds, waves and sand may result in short-term erosion to CSA common ground. But this should be mitigated as wind-blown sand, the primary element of our dunes, accumulates and once again secures the shoreline. That was the case after Wildewood built retaining walls in 1987 and the water level started dropping soon thereafter.

Any CSA baby boomer who wandered the beach as a child, bent over in search of Petoskeys and chain corals, could stand at the foot of the old concrete stairs and look south, and see nothing but shoreline. Today, a view from the base of the mostly-collapsed stairs clearly reveals the Frankfort lighthouse, two miles distant. Millions of tons of sand, till and clay have eroded away, carrying forests, bluff-top fences and parts of some dwellings with them. It is a natural process, probably accelerated by man’s activities, that will continue long after we are gone.

Shoreline erosion along these fragile shorelines is inherent to the nature of the bluffs. Formed by glaciation thousands of years ago, our soaring dunes are comprised mostly of wind-born sand atop layers of glacial till (gravel) and clay. There is little resilience to this composition... erosion is an everyday thing, regardless of the lake level, from wind, rain and, occasionally in winter, ice (which can form a barrier against erosion, or be a powerful destructive force). When high water levels are added, the erosion is visible daily, and even hourly, during sustained high winds. The winds along the western Michigan shore vary constantly, both seasonally and on a day-to-day basis, with infamous Lake Michigan fall storms doing the most damage.

Lake Michigan erodes all unprotected shoreline equally. On a local view, the 1987 Wildewood retaining walls (and also a short stretch at the north end of the CSA grounds, constructed by CSA residents at/about the same time) served the primary purpose by retaining soil as it collapsed, trapping it and providing a base for sand dune recovery as the lake receded. Its other purpose, preventing further erosion from wind and wave action, has been apparent as the water crested this spring. The adjacent CSA common ground to the north of Wildewood has been adversely affected this spring, primarily from the relentless wind and wave action, not from any “scouring” effect.

The potential for increased erosion to adjacent CSA common ground may go up as the water level recedes, but only to a point. With alternating prevailing winds (NW to SW) the effect is muted, and windblown sand will aggregate to rebuild the dunes accordingly. There is proof of this alternating effect in that, prior to the sudden surge in the level of Lake Michigan in the early spring of 2019, the Wildewood shoreline and CSA grounds shoreline were even.

Should the CSA join the proposed Wildewood project? Currently there are no buildings on CSA common grounds threatened by erosion. History tells us the shoreline is as dynamic in rebuilding as it is fragile when under attack. The dunes and bluffs will rebuild, with astonishing speed, if the lake level goes down. If the lake level continues to rise, most human efforts to stop erosion of the fragile shoreline will be to naught.

Words From The Woods

By Ginanne Brownell Mitic, August 2019

The late great Nobel-winning author V.S. Naipaul stated—and I paraphrase—that as a writer, every word you write should be painful. While I think this is a bit overly dramatic and extreme, I take his point that word choice can be a heavy and intense exercise.

I have just completed my first book, a non-fiction narrative account of a youth orchestra in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi, which is currently being touted around by my agent to publishers. As I was in the three-year process of writing my book Sir Naipaul’s words haunted me. I struggled how to best describe the deep blue of the vast Kenyan sky (Azure? Sapphire?) and I went back and forth as to whether “pungent” or “fetid” was the most expressive word to describe the stench of the Dandora dumpsite, which is on the edge of Korogocho where my orchestra members live and play their music.

Finishing the book—at least the writing part—has come now as a relief and it’s been interesting this summer talking with my mom, Eleanor (who is working on her second book) and my two brothers (Joe who is as well working on his second book on independence movements in post-colonial southern Africa, while Reb’s book is mentioned below) about the writing process. It’s also been fascinating to find out more about other authors within our CSA community and I suspect Sir Naipaul’s words have struck a chord at some point for all of us writers as the tapping of our keyboards echoes through the northern woods. As the Authors and Artisans fair is almost upon us, August 7th, here is a roundup of some books and plays that CSAers have completed in the last few years:

"I Spy... A Pig in A Plane” by Kristy Pollina Kurjan (children’s lit & lifestyle magazine)KristyK

Kristy grew up spending her summers at the CSA and her first job was a lifeguard at the CSA beach. She now lives in Traverse City with her husband and three children. She is currently the editor of “Traverse City BayLife Magazine”. She told me via email that, “I have three baby board books published by my company, KPO Creative LLC: “Nap-a-Roo”, “Dream Sweet Dreams” and “The Many Ways To Say I Love you.” My fourth board book in the series is titled and coming out this fall.” The books can be purchased at stores throughout the country and locally they can be found downtown at The Bookstore in Frankfort. They are easily found on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Kristy-Kurjan/e/B00L1TXZ56

“Inside the Front Page” by Russell Freeburg (non-fiction memoir)

InsideTheFrontPageCover

 I never intended to write a memoir…An old friend, Gertrude Terry, is responsible. She asked me to join a writing group in her home once a week. She had this caveat: I had to work on a memoir or I couldn’t come. Her stipulation seemed a fair exchange to enjoy her company along with the company of other writers. “Inside the Front Page” is about my time in the newspaper business working for the Chicago Tribune in Chicago and Washington, DC. I actively covered four presidents and met others as governors.

Previous books by me are “Oil and War” published in 1987 by William Morrow and Company and “There Ought to be a Place” published by the Congregational Summer Assembly. “Oil and War” tells about the role oil played in victory or defeat in WWII. “There Ought to be a Place” is a history of the first 100 years of the CSA.” Russ’s memoir is available on Amazon or stop by the cottage and buy an autographed copy to benefit the CSA Education Fund. Follow his blog at russellfreeburg.com

“Birthday Candles” by Noah Haidle (play with previews beginning in New York City April 3, 2020 and produced by Roundabout Theatre Company)

The play will be at the American Airlines Theatre on 42nd Street and Debra Messing (from “Will and Grace” fame) plays Ernestine Ashworth, who spends her 17th birthday agonizing over her insignificance in the universe. Soon enough, it’s her 18th birthday. Even sooner, her 41st. Her 70th. Her 101st. According to the Roundabout’s site the play is of, “Five generations, dozens of goldfish, an infinity of dreams, one cake baked over a century. What makes a lifetime…into a life?”

Noah wrote in an email that the CSA children’s operettas were his first exposure to theatre of any kind. “I played a bee in 'Sky Happy,' a squire in 'A Dragon's Tale,' and all I remember from 'Tom Sawyer' was sitting on the edge of the stage pretending to fish. I was probably the worst actor to ever grace the Assembly's stage. Which is maybe why I became a playwright. From a bee to Broadway. An unlikely journey." Tickets for the play are available at roundabouttheatre.org

“The U.S. Senate and the Commonwealth: Kentucky Lawmakers and the Evolution of Legislative Leadership” by Reb Brownell and Senator Mitch RebBMcConnell (non-fiction/history)

My brother Reb, the former deputy chief of staff for the Senate majority leader, co-authored this book that details the history and evolution of U.S. Senate leadership institutions (including the vice presidency, the Office of President Pro Tempore, and the Office of Majority Leader) through the lives and careers of prominent Kentucky senators (like Henry Clay). No matter what side of the aisle you are on, for those interested in politics, it’s a well-researched and important read. Richard A. Baker, US Senate Historian Emeritus, has stated that the book “is prize worthy” and sets forth a compelling case for Kentucky’s unique contribution to the U.S. Senate. The book is available on amazon.com.

“What She Ate” by Laura Shapiro (non-fiction/biography)

Journalist and food writer Laura Shapiro spent a number of years researching the six women she chronicles in her 2017 book. According to LindsSher website: “Everyone eats, and food touches on every aspect of our lives—social and cultural, personal and political. Yet most biographers pay little attention to people’s attitudes toward food, as if the great and notable never bothered to think about what was on the plate in front of them. Once we ask how somebody relates to food, we find a whole world of different and provocative ways to understand her. Food stories can be as intimate and revealing as stories of love, work, or coming-of-age. Each of the six women in this entertaining group portrait was famous in her time, and most are still famous in ours; but until now, nobody has told their lives from the point of view of the kitchen and the table.” An engaging summer read for those interested in how food has shaped the lives of some of history’s most intriguing women. Also on amazon.com

“One Woman’s Journey: Childhood 1923-1938” by E.C. (Kay) Fischer (autobiography)

Born in Greenfield, Ohio in 1923, the sweeping autobiography of Kay’s first 15 years is an insight not only into her personal history but an important account of an American childhood in the early part of the 20th century. Her self-published book (the first of what she says is likely to be nine or 10 volumes) takes readers from Missouri to Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington State. Kay is currently busily working on volume two, which will be focused on her courtship and early marriage (and will also cover World War II including her time working on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago), so stay tuned. To obtain a copy, email

“Vendetta’ by Robert WangardBobW

Published posthumously after Robert’s untimely passing last April, the book is the eighth in the Pete Thorsen mystery series and set in rural northern Michigan. In this thriller, a visitor appears at Pete’s lakeside home, bringing along personal baggage that upends the lawyer’s world. Pete needs the help of his detective friend to clear his name against accusations that could end his career. The murky world of sleazy sex clubs and mob bosses feature as intriguing backdrops in his page-turning “Vendetta”. You can order it at amazon.com and find it at The Bookstore in Frankfort.