Everything You Want


Everything You Want

Everything You Want

An old friend of mine once said, “Gail, you can have everything you want!  But, not at the same time.” That was nearly fifteen years ago. Since then, I have attempted to disprove her words.  However, over and over, I have failed. In fact, I have even felt like a failure at times, because I have been unable to achieve my goals. As the New Year approached, her words, once again, began to haunt me. Would 2014 be the year that I could finally put her words to rest?

On New Year’s Eve, I spent the evening alone contemplating the year behind me, and the one that lay ahead. There were many successes in 2013: I finally broke through the overwhelming burden of grief that I had experienced since my parents passed away, I started eating right and lost a bunch of weight, started a blog that I believe truly touches the hearts of others, picked up the camera after several years of neglect, and began sharing the beauty of nature with my friends on facebbook, created and sold a calendar that many people enjoy, and lastly, experienced joy more frequently, and at a deeper level than I can ever recall. I also had some failures: My vegetable garden was mostly eaten by deer; I was unable to write a blog weekly as planned, nor was I able to find anyone interested in publishing anything I wrote; I regained seven pounds; almost completely ignored the house I have been attempting to refurbish; and the saddest of all, failed to save a long term relationship. Despite my failures, I consider 2013 a good year. None-the-less, it was not the year I would prove the words of my friend wrong.

As I considered 2014, I began to write my New Year’s resolutions. The list was composed of ‘leftovers’ from previous years, but also included several new additions. Each line was numbered, and by the time I reached 20, it became quite clear that, once again, I had set myself up to fail. Or had I? Not yet willing to yield to defeat, I began again on a fresh sheet of paper. This time I created categories and sub categories, and each item was given a priority. I organized and reorganized, and imagined how I might balance everything on the list, along with work and all of the other incidentals of life. The exercise was for naught! The list was still the list. 2014 would be no different from any other year.

I spent the first few days of 2014 disgruntled. Foolishly tormented by words from the past, I decided, finally to put them to rest. Had I not, after all, experienced many successes in 2013? And had I not experienced an abundance of love, peace, and joy? Yes, yes, and yes! Had I truly failed because I was unable to achieve an unachievable goal? Absolutely not! All I really needed was a change of attitude.

I now acknowledge that my friend was right. My expectations and desires for this life are much larger than can be achieved or experienced in one year. This will not change. I will no longer, however, be bound by her words, but choose new ones that are more fitting. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” It is not about the completion of the tasks, the order of completion, or even by how well the tasks were completed. It is about living fully and present in each moment. It is finding the silver lining in all things, good or bad, and growing richer from having had the experience. It is about taking time to, not only, smell the roses, but to love and nurture them along the way. And that is exactly what I plan to do.

Happy New Year to all of you. May your journey be filled with love, peace, and joy!


Special Thanks to Carmel Steffen for editing.  


For more of Gail’s photos, please consider:  http://www.lakehousephoto.com/


© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Small Town – Friday Night


Today I republish this blog with a heavy heart.  Yesterday, January 17, 2015, Mr. Bock went home to heaven.   I will forever cherish my memories of the man and family that always had room for one more in their home.  

Original Post:

This blog is dedicated to Mr. and Mrs. Bock, whom so graciously welcomed me into their home and hearts. A better childhood would be impossible to imagine. Thank you for being such a special part of it.

In a time before Walmart, small towns were a place where neighbors shopped at family owned businesses along a common main street. Walking was the primary method of transportation. As folks strolled from store to store, they took time to greet one another and to chat about the weather, the crops, the family, and other important matters of the day. What we would see as phenomenally inconvenient today, was simply the way of life in so many rural communities. The shopkeepers, shoppers, handshakes and claps on the back, smiles, laughter, and conversation along the way were the glue that held the community together. Tonight I fondly remember my hometown, of Friday nights spent with Mr. Bock, Jeanne, Joni and Frankie, and a time when life seemed so much easier.

Sometimes when I was a kid, if I was really lucky, mom would let me go to town with the Bock family on their Friday night adventure. I call it an adventure because it was completely opposite from a trip to town with mom. Mom was a no nonsense kind of shopper. She had a list, stuck to it, and efficiently moved from place to place. She did, occasionally, include a few fun stops, but my brother and I were given strict instructions not to dawdle, as she always had “better things to do” back home. The fun places included Nyson’s Hobby Shop for new Matchbox Cars, Hopkin’s Bakery for the best Long John’s ever made, or on very special occasions, J & J’s or Jane’s Restaurant, where we would sit on the vinyl covered stools at the counter, and I would order a hotdog.

The trek to town with the Bock’s was exhilarating! First, though, there was always a quick meal that only served to heighten my anticipation. It was difficult to sit still when my mind was consumed with thoughts of what we might do, who we might see, and what candy we would pick out with the quarter Mr. Bock gave each of us. Next, there was a rush to the car, where, most often, Jeanne and Frankie would argue over who would sit in the front seat. Joni and I were content to just get in the back seat so we could get to town more quickly. Once Mr. Bock picked the co-pilot, we were off! Most of the time the car was filled with laughter, but now and again, the argument over seating arrangements spilled over into a ‘did too, did not’ fight that siblings do so well.

Our first stop was Fremont Bank & Trust. Banks stayed open late on Friday nights back then, as there was no such thing as direct deposit, ATMs, or online banking. I loved Fremont Bank & Trust. It was so different from the Old State Bank of Fremont where my folks did their banking. It was an appropriately sized modern building with wood paneled walls and carpet on the floor. The Old State Bank of Fremont, on the other hand, was built in the early 1900’s. It was oversized, overdone, with multiple levels, constructed with brick, marble, and other stone tile. In my young mind it felt very cold and too shiny. It did feature a sucker jar that I did enjoy from time to time, but Fremont Bank & Trust offered so much more.

My fascination with Fremont Bank & Trust began at the door. Just inside, there was a rack of about twenty black umbrellas. If it was raining, you could borrow one, and return it the next time you were in town. They were the really nice kind of umbrellas, sturdily built and big. Even at ten years old, I could never believe people would return them. But each time I went to the bank, I counted, and sure enough, they were almost always all there.

The next, and very best thing about the bank, was the display that held travel brochures and maps. Each pamphlet featured color glossy photos of what was special about that state or destination. I was fascinated with Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and New Mexico. I could not get enough information about these states and would take as many brochures as I could without causing the adults to become upset. At home I would pour over the little booklets again and again and dream of someday visiting the land of peaches, palm trees, red rock, and mountains. Perhaps, even back then, I knew I would be a traveler one day.

Next, we would embark upon a leisurely stroll to Hartsema’s Newstand. Mr. Bock knew a lot of people and loved to visit, so the half block walk might take quite some time. I am not sure anymore what Mr. Bock did at the newsstand. Jeanne, Frankie, Joni and I were too busy looking at the latest 45s. Jeanne and Frankie were music experts and always knew what was cool. Joni was way cooler than me, but not quite as cool as her older brother and sister. Jeanne knew important things, such as, the Jackson Five was way better than the Osmond Family, and that Jermaine Jackson was definitely cuter than all of the Osmond’s combined. Frankie was never impressed with the lighter side of pop music and kept us informed of groups like Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeplin, The Doors, and his very favorite artist, David Bowie. I bought my very first 45 while I was on one of our Friday night ventures. It was Melanie’s Brand New Key. 

After the newsstand Mr. Bock would give us each a quarter and send us down the block to Ben Franklin’s 5 and Dime. Meanwhile, he would visit with Frank Morgan at Morgan’s Sport Shop. Ben Franklin’s was like the Grand Finale at a fireworks show. We would delightedly scurry up and down the aisles to find all of the new items and old favorites, always under the watchful eye of the tall gray haired woman who worked at the store. Ben Franklin’s had everything a kid could possibly want! There were toys, games, stuffed animals, comics, crafts, penny candy, and live turtles. As far as I know, everyone wanted a turtle, but no one ever got one.

What we did get, though, was candy, and lots of it. A quarter went a long way back then. My first choice was always Smarties. After that, I would weigh out all my options very carefully. This process could take quite some time! Did I want candy or gum? If it was gum, should it be Bazooka Bubble Gum or the gum that was shaped like a cigar? If it was candy, should it take a long time to eat like a Slo-Poke, or quick like a Pixi Stix? Should it have multiple pieces for sharing, or saving for later, like Lemon Heads, Red Hots or Candy Cigarettes; or just one individual piece of candy for now like a Jaw Breaker?

All too soon, Mr. Bock would reappear signaling that it was time to complete our purchases and head home. The trip home was much the same as the trip into town. Generally lots of sugar induced giggling, teasing, and occasionally a really good ‘did too, did not’ fight that might include pinching and hair pulling. Mr. Bock amazingly endured it all with good humor.

I am, and will be forever, grateful for those days, for Mr. and Mrs. Bock, Jeanne, Joni, and Frankie. Like most folks, I grew up, moved away, and seldom saw my childhood friends. But the bond that was created so long ago has never broken. Now that I have returned to the area, we have been able to get together to visit. It seems that very little has changed. Mr. and Mrs. Bock still live in the same house and are doing fairly well for their age, Frankie still loves music with an edge, Jeanne is still the coolest of us all, and Joni is still way cooler than me.

Note: Julie Bock was not mentioned in this blog as she was too young to participate on the Friday night adventure. She too was an integral part of my childhood. I will hold her and the entire Bock family, in a special place in my heart for all the days of my life.

Final Note: I have learned since I originally published that the name of the gray haired lady at Ben Franklin was Ruth Kuhn. I have also learned that she was a talented at making tatted lace and generously offered to teach her skill to others.

Mr Bock went to heaven on January 16, 2015.



Jeanne & Joni

Jeanne & Joni

Frankie & Julie

Frankie & Julie

To view more of Gail’s Photos please consider:  http://www.lakehousephoto.com/


As always thanks to Carmel Steffen for her smart commas. Without her no one would ever know where to paws or pause. Hmm! Thank you Carmel!


© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Happy Birthday Dad



It is my father’s birthday, and I am lost in thoughts of the magic, mischief, and mystery that made up this man. He was a good man: honest to a fault, a hard worker, a great provider for his family, a great dad, a teacher, and a good friend to many. His joy was solitude, nature, food, and his family. His love for me, and mine for him, was as close to unconditional as I will likely ever know. He would tell me, “You are my sun, my moon, and all the stars above.” And though I never told him, he was mine.

My father was also a man of opposites. His needs were simple, yet his mind complex. He was deeply tenderhearted, yet he could spew words that would cut to the quick, leaving one feeling small and broken. In the out of doors, he was comfortable with silence, yet inside, awake or asleep, he was a living, walking, breathing, noise machine. He could condemn the church, yet quote scripture, and live by the Word better than many theologians.

My father loved winter. He always said everything made more sense in black and white. When all the distraction of foliage and colors were removed, the truth about a thing was much clearer. I always knew he was talking about more than the forest in winter. How appropriate, though, that he was born and died during the coldest of the winter months.

My father loved and respected nature. He saw not only the beauty of nature, but also its cruelty. In his own life, he did not turn away from the ugly or difficult parts. He embraced the good, the bad, and the ugly as a whole; not as separate items that could be compartmentalized, or ignored, just because it was not pretty, or convenient. He was a true realist.

My father loved food. He enjoyed cooking wild game and making soup. He believed that soup should always include carrots, and that any dish could be improved with salt, butter, tabasco sauce, onions, and perhaps a little more butter. He was famous for slum gum. Slum gum starts with eggs, butter, onions, and leftovers. I am pretty sure that in the beginning he was attempting to make an omelette. However, due to lack of patience or too many ingredients, it just became eggs and leftovers fried together in one pan. Sometimes it was good. Sometimes it was awful! But then again, those were the days we would just add a bit more butter, or salt, or tabasco.

I could tell you so much more about my father, but I believe I will stop for now. Today is his birthday, and if he were here, there would not have been much fuss. I would have given him a card that he would read once, then mindlessly, place upon the counter for my mother to put away. Mom would have baked him a cake, spice, carrot, or yellow, frosted in white. He would have eaten too many pieces, and she would object. But all he would have to say is, “What? It is my birthday!” And, what could she really say on his special day!

I love you and miss you, Dad. Though I cannot see, hear, or touch you, I know you are not too far away. You always said that heaven is here on Earth, and maybe you were right. See, since you left, I have come to believe that heaven exists only a short distance away, beyond a curtain that I am unable to see. l feel your presence every day, and I know that you are near.  I hope that there is cake in heaven, Dad, and that today your favorite kind is served.  Happy 87th Birthday!  


Thanks to Carmel Steffen for proofreading and fixing my commas. I swear there were never this many commas needed when I was in high school or college.

For more of Gail’s photos consider:  http://www.lakehousephoto.com/

© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Migration – Spring Is On Its Way


Spring Is On Its Way

Spring Is On Its Way

This morning as I was waking, I heard the Blue Jays chattering outside my window. Their conversation was markedly different than it was just a few short days ago. I lingered under the covers for some time savoring the moment. After all, the noisy birds were announcing such good news. They were celebrating the end of a relentless winter, and proclaiming that spring would soon arrive.

I began to think about Bud and Lydia, the Sandhill Cranes that nest in my backyard.  I wondered how far they had traveled on their Northward journey, and hoped that they had not experienced any difficulties. I made an attempt to telepathically tell them not to rush home. Though the snow has begun to thaw, it is still deep enough that there will be little food available.

I pondered what wakes an animal from its winter slumber. Or, exactly what tells a bird to leave its warm comfortable winter home in the South?  To travel countless miles, often through brutal weather conditions, only to arrive in the less hospitable North, seems quite absurd. If it were me, I would be tempted to disregard the internal niggling that must occur. I would, without thought, hit the snooze button! I would sleep a little longer, or remain in the warmth of the Southern sun.

It occurred to me then! How often have I ignored my own internal knowing? How many times have I hit the snooze button when something inside has told me to get up, get moving, or start anew? How often did I stay in the comfort of the sunshine, when I knew I was being called to run through the cold rain? Too numerous to count, I am sure.

Spring is nearly here, and I can hardly wait. It is the season that inspires hope and encourages one to dream. It is time to plant seeds, to nurture, and watch them grow. It is the time that we are reminded to listen to our inner knowing, and like the migrating bird, move forward without reason or hesitation.


Thanks to Carmel Steffen for her editorial skills.


For more photos consider:  http://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Additional Note: The cranes arrived safely on March 11.

Bud & Lydia Meet Thin

Bud & Lydia Meet Thin

© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


1981 – Summer Ends on Isle Royale


I am learning that when writing, words often find a life of their own or story that is quite different than the author’s original intent. And so it is today. This is piece was intended to be a story about a fireworks display I witnessed while working on Isle Royale National Park in July of 1981. Instead it is a story about how life as we know it changes in seconds or brief moments, not over long suffering years as many people believe. It is also a story about how God gave me an unexpected gift at exactly the right moment to prepare me for one of those life altering moments.

In June of 1981 I left civilization behind to live on Isle Royale National Park for three months. I had attained a job as a cook for the concessionaires at the lodge in Rock Harbor. With one small suitcase I left my Mother and our dog Patty on the dock in Houghton and climbed aboard the big blue boat called the Ranger II. I do not recall sadness in leaving them, only the excitement of getting to the Island. The six hour trip across Lake Superior was not what I expected. It was colder than I had dressed for and the boat lurched sluggishly and without grace through the waves causing me to become quite seasick by the time I arrived in Rock Harbor.

Once upon shore I met my welcoming crew and though a bit green from the boat ride cheerfully and anxiously greeted them. They introduced me to the folks I would be working with and then took me to my room. I was one of the lucky ones as I received a room to myself in the guest house along with three other gals. The alternative would have been double occupancy in an overcrowded dorm set farther away from the lake. The guest house was big and quiet and built on the shore of Lake Superior. My window was lakeside and I could always hear the calming sound of waves splashing onto the rocks. Later I would discover that the small pools of water that collected amongst the rocks provided a great cooler for beer.

Once I settled in I began to realize just how isolated Isle Royale is from the rest of the world. The island is located fifteen miles South of Thunder Bay Canada. Of the forty-five mile long eight mile wide island only 2% is developed. Thus any travel is done on foot or by boat. In 1981 there was one English speaking radio station, one television that our manager did not allow us to watch, and one telephone. The telephone was located four miles down the harbor on Mott Island at the National Park Service Headquarters. We could use the phone if we called collect, but first one needed to rent a fourteen foot aluminum rowboat with a small motor to get there. I was able to call home once that summer before our privileges were revoked. That left mail as the only means of communication. Mail delivery depended upon clear skies as it was flown in by pontoon plane from Houghton Michigan. Fog was the enemy and I recall a two week period when no mail was delivered. It was difficult for me, but several people were driven nearly insane from the lack of connection to the outside world.

I spent my days working in the kitchen on the lunch and dinner crew. Time off was spent hiking, boating, fishing, looking for greenstones, playing poker and drinking beer. The beer drinking was not technically permitted and was not sold on the island, however, one could easily bribe a crew member from the Ranger to smuggle in the contraband. For the most part the days on Isle Royale were easy and carefree.

I met some wonderful characters on Isle Royale. Bob our maintenance man would take a few of us fishing for Lake Trout, Salmon or Whitefish. We always caught something and when we got back to shore Bob would clean the fish while the rest of us found the necessary supplies to cook them over an open fire. It was by far the best fish I have ever eaten. Bob was kind and generous and always had a good word to say. One day Bob woke up and declared that he was Jesus Christ. Sadly, when the delusion did not pass he was removed from the island. Martha was in charge of housekeeping, but I remember her always doing laundry. Martha was old with short unkempt gray hair, a deeply wrinkled face and was as round as she was tall. She used her irreverent cranky sense of humor to scare folks. Most could not see the adorable woman that truly was and kept their distance. I saw right through her though and she always made me laugh. She was somehow able to thoroughly convince our normally stingy management that she needed to drink buttermilk and goats milk for a stomach condition. One day with a twinkle in her eye she confided in me that she did not have a stomach condition and that she just really liked buttermilk and goats milk. Martha, too, left the island early for some unknown medical condition. I suspect it was from drinking too much of the rich milk.

There were many wonderful carefree days spent exploring the island with friends. One of my favorite days was when Carmel and I caught a ride with the tour boat to Moskey Basin. We left the tour and hiked to Lake Richie where we laid on the sun heated rocks and named the clouds as they passed overhead. Later we were mesmerized by a cow moose carrying her calf across the lake upon her back. And even later as we waited for the return of the tour boat at Moskey Basin we sifted through stones along the shore in search of the perfect greenstone. We were accompanied by Loons and Mergansers noisily teaching their

chicks to dive. Try as hard as they might the chicks would quickly bounce back to the surface only to be scolded by their disapproving mother’s. And lastly I remember the quarter size leach that attached itself to Carmel’s ankle. Even that did not ruin the day as she nonchalantly picked it off, cast it aside and compressed the wound until it stopped bleeding.

As Labor Day approached my coworkers began to leave. I and a few others were chosen to stay a bit longer to clean and close the lodge. Each day, the island grew eerily and steadily more quiet as fewer and fewer people remained. Summer turned abruptly to fall and weather grew cold and damp making the island feel even more remote. On September 14, the day before my departure, the assistant manager knocked on my door and asked if I would like to watch his television. I told him no and to go away as our managers had a reputation for visiting female employees with gifts in hand in hope of receiving something in return. He assured me that he did not want anything from me and that he was just trying to be nice. I still did not respond and after a bit I could hear him walk away. Later I found that he had left the television behind.

I brought it into my room, plugged it in, sat on the old wood floor and proceeded to search for available channels. It did not take long to realize that I had only one choice. It was a PBS channel featuring a program that explored the lives of three people whom had become quadriplegic due to accidents. They talked candidly about their injuries, their struggles emotionally and physically, and how they not only moved on, but had become very successful. Though, I was not completely captivated by the program I could not turn it off. Perhaps it was because I had not seen television in 3 months or perhaps it was something else entirely. When the program was over I unplugged the television and put it back in the hall.

On the morning of September 15th I packed my suitcase and headed to the harbor to meet the seaplane. It was not a sad departure from the island. By that point in time I was more than ready to return to my “normal” life. I looked forward to spending a few days at home with my folks, eating good food and heading back to Michigan State University for the fall term where I would live off campus for the first time in an apartment with some of my closest friends. My biggest concern of the day was that the seaplane might crash into the icy waters of Lake Superior en route to Houghton Michigan. Surprisingly, the flight took only twenty minutes and both take-off and landing were incredibly soft and gentle.

My mom, dad and Patty the dog were waiting for me on the dock when I arrived. Though I know we were thrilled to see one another I am sure no one cried tears of joy or even hugged as that was just not our way. I do not recall much about the trip home other than I was shocked that mom and dad had bought a baby blue Ford Escort station wagon instead of a truck, I thought traffic moved way too fast, and the 60 pound dog laid on me the entire eight hour trip. We arrived home around 11 pm. As we got out of the car we were stopped by the voice of our neighbor Micky. As she approached we could see that she had been crying. With great difficulty she told us that my brother, Calvin, had been in a serious accident and that it was uncertain that he would live through the next 24 hours. My mother cried and my father just shook his head and kept saying no over and over again. I felt somehow separate from it all in dazed confusion. Life changes in seconds. That is all it took for my family. “Normal” in the way we knew it would never exist again.

My brother is a quadriplegic due to an accidental forty foot fall from an electrical “high line”. He is still alive and doing quite well some thirty-two years later. He indeed experienced many of the same challenges as the three people featured on the PBS program I watched the night before his accident. His passage through this life has not been easy, but he is a survivor. Despite the pain and hardships that his disability have caused he still remains mostly cheerful, independent and a very good brother.

I will never know why the manager, a man I never liked and or respected, felt compelled to lend me his television on September 14th. Or why the only program available was one so related to what was about to happen to my family. What I do know is that it gave me hope for the future, faith that we could and would make it through, and the strength to endure.

There are no coincidences. It was simply God’s grace to paint a picture of what life could be for my brother. Imagine how bleak my outlook could have been without having seen this program. The journey I travel is not alone. Though God is not always as timely or transparent in sharing wisdom as in this case, I believe he is always present. I did not have to ask, to surrender or wait. What I needed was simply given and I am forever and profoundly grateful.



© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


It’s A Dad Thing

Today, I did a Dad thing.  It was not just a little Dad thing, but a classic.  It was one of those goofy things that you think you would never do in a million years.  I was so tickled with myself afterward, I wanted to call him and say; Dad, guess what I just did!  But of course, I cannot.  Though I often feel him with me, and even talk to him from time to time, it is not the same.  On this day though, if he could have replied, I know he would have grinned ear to ear and said; “Well now!  That’s my girl!”

So what did I do?  I fried my cereal.  That’s right!  I made little patties out of the slimy stuff, threw them into a frying pan with butter, and sprinkled them with cinnamon.  When the edges were crisp, I put them onto a plate, added a little more butter, and drizzled them with raw honey.  It was by far, the best thing I have eaten all week.

My father used to make something called cornmeal mush.  Just the word “mush,” was enough to keep me from ever eating it.  For those of you who may not know, cornmeal mush is cornmeal cooked in water or milk until it thickens.  Then, it is poured into a small cake pan to harden.  Once hardened, it is sliced and fried.

My father’s oil of choice was always bacon grease, but any cooking oil would do.  The key, for him, was that it had to be a lot of oil.  Enough, in fact, that it would, not only, generously splatter the stove top, but also, the wall behind, and the floor below.  After the mush was crisp, or perhaps, when it could saturate no more oil, he would put it on a plate, add an inordinate amount butter, and smother it all in maple syrup.  This left the end of the kitchen table both sticky and greasy.

My fried cereal did not resemble my father’s.  None-the-less, it was inspired by him.  First, it was Bob’s Red Mill Mighty Tasty Gluten Free Hot Cereal, not cornmeal.  After eating it in the form it was intended, I decided “Mighty Tasty” must have come from the marketing team, and not the taste testers.  Next, there was only a little butter in the frying pan.  Not even enough to splatter the stove top,  wall, or floor.  And lastly, raw honey was used sparingly, leaving no sticky residue on the table.

How many more “Dad things” will I remember and embrace as the years pass?  Too many to count, I hope.  No, I doubt I will take up hunting or trapping, or master cussing as he did.  But I am sure there are other softer gentler parts of him that I will rediscover.  I can hardly wait!

 If you enjoy the photo in this blog please consider: http://www.lakehousephoto.com/


© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Till Death Do Us Part


A little over three years ago my mom passed away from lung cancer. Ironically, on the same day, five hours later, my father passed unexpectedly from what I believe was a broken heart.  When people learn of this they instantly conjure images of the couple in Nicholas Sparks book or movie “The Notebook”.  My parents were not that couple.

My parents were both fiercely independent.  My father worked away from home much of his career.  Mother was not the kind of woman to wait around for her husband to fix things on his short weekends.  Instead, she learned how to fix everything from toilets to electrical appliances.  She loved wood working and could build anything from bluebird houses, closets, desks, bookshelves, and cabinets.  She even finished her own basement and built a sauna for my father.  My father preferred fishing, trapping, or cutting wood. to fixing or creating things.  The reality is that Mother was much better at these tasks and it was better if he did not try to help.

When my father retired my mother grew tired of him always being underfoot.  Everything about him being in the house irritated her.  My mother was more than a bit OCD and my father was more harmony in disorder.  He got up early and she late.  He made messes everywhere he went and she continually put everything back in place.  He took over the kitchen to make breakfast and lunch often leaving unpleasant odors, grease on the stove, counter, and table, and a mountain of dirty dishes.  He was also noisy.  He walked hard, he talked loud, and even when he was not talking he made grumbling noises and often cursed for no apparent reason.

My mother’s solution was to have a 2 ½ stall garage built.  One side was insulated and equipped with a wood stove, sleeping cot, easy chair, books, and a reading lamp just in case he might like to hang out there.  As time went on my father did grow to love his garage.  So much so that he added a refrigerator, a camp stove, crock pot, and other cooking supplies.  Then he moved into the garage.  We might never have seen him had it contained a bathroom.  This was the perfect solution.  They could be close, but have enough space to find peace with one another.

There were times I wondered why they stayed together.  I loved them both so much, but often thought they might be happier with other people.  I will admit there were times that I thought they stayed married because they lived during a time when a commitment was a commitment, and till death do us part meant just that.  But every now and again I would glimpse my father looking at my mother in a very special way.  And, occasionally, I would see my mother look at him in the same fashion.

A few days before they passed I witnessed a profound exchange between the two of them.  Never again would I wonder if they really loved each other, or, the depth of that love.  I was staying with them knowing that the end was near for mom.  The cancer had gone to her brain and in that last week she was not always thinking clearly.  I had just helped her with meds and thought she was down for the night.  I escaped upstairs to get some much needed sleep.  Just as I started to drift off I heard the thumping of feet running back and forth from the living room, to the hall, and the office.  I rushed downstairs to find my mother racing from one room to another, confused, but knowing that her oxygen was not working.  With all that running and sheer panic she had become quite oxygen deprived.  I noticed a small oxygen tank near Dad and connected her air tubing to it.  Of course, the tank was empty.  Mom was beside herself.  Then my father said something I had never heard before.  He said quite sternly, “Lynnie, go sit down.”  My mother obeyed, calmly walking back to her office, where we had set up a temporary bedroom.  What startled me was that he called her by her name.  In all my 50 years I had never heard him call her anything other than Mother or Ma.

I followed her and then proceeded to study the oxygen machine and its manual in an attempt to determine a solution.  I was still looking at the manual when my father arrived in the room.  He, too, had an oxygen machine.  He had gotten up on legs that were no longer stable or reliable, unplugged his own machine, and was hunched over it, pushing it toward mother.  He plugged it in, took the air tubing off from his face, and gently placed it upon hers and said, “It is more important that you have this.”  They sat beside each other on the twin bed holding each other’s hands and looking deeply into one another’s eyes.  There are no words to describe the moment they shared.  On the one hand, they looked like newlyweds with yet a lifetime to share, and on the other hand, like the elderly couple they were, with no words to needed express how they felt.  The energy in the room was palpable.  I was an intruder in this very intimate moment.  As they both grew tired from the incident, the spell was broken, and I remembered that I needed to fix the oxygen machine.

The following evening, as I prepared dinner, my father told me that he had walked by my mother while she was resting.  He could not see her breathing and thought momentarily that she had died.  It gave him a terrible shock.  He told me that he just did not think he could bear to live without her.  Little did I know that what he was really saying is that he would be going with her.  Two hours later he had a fever that could not be controlled.  Sometime mid-morning of the following day my mother began to fade, my father’s kidneys began to fail, and his lungs began to fill with fluid as a result of congestive heart failure.  They both passed quietly at home in the presence of a few friends, family, and an amazing hospice crew.

My folks were not the couple in The Notebook.  But they were hardworking, honest, kind, and giving.  They loved the kids from the neighborhood and welcomed them into their home.  My mother taught cub scouts and 4-H.  My father taught many young people how to fish and trap, including most recently a group of Amish boys.  He also mentored many young men when he was a journeyman lineman.  They both loved their children with a passion.  And in the end I was lucky enough to learn that they had an unbreakable bond and love that lasted not only for their 54 years of marriage, but also, into the eternity of the hereafter.

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My Mother’s Garden


Today I raked my mother’s garden.  It was not my intention to rake the entire garden, but the task was one of overwhelming and unexpected joy.  In February of 2010 my mother was diagnosed with Lung Cancer, and the garden had been sadly neglected ever since.  As I tended to the garden, a flood of memories came to mind.  The clearest though, was that spring of 2010.

That year I bought flat after flat of blooming annuals.  The colors were bold and bright, and I chose varieties that would last all summer.  I wanted to provide my mother with the most stunning garden of her life.  I wanted the beauty to counter the pain and discomfort of her disease.  I wanted to give back something in return for all she had done for me.

As the spring progressed, mom grew tired quickly.  Though I had planned the most stunning garden ever, I was only able to plant about one flat of flowers before my time needed to be spent doing other things for Mom.  The garden was not beautiful.  In fact, it was less than beautiful.  It was not raked, and the flowers that were normally thinned were overcrowded, and, some even died.  I gave away the flats of flowers and let go of the dream of giving mom the perfect garden.  Mom did not seem to mind.  But, I did.

Mom passed away in February of 2011.  That year came and went without a thought of the garden.  Then, spring of 2012 arrived and I was determined to dismantle Mom’s garden.  I even promised any interested friends, co-workers, and neighbors that I would dig and deliver Mother’s beloved perennials.   But I could not.

Again in 2013 I have offered flowers to friends and family.  So today, I began to make Mother’s garden beautiful one last time.  As I raked I thought of how much she loved this garden, and how much I did not.  It is not particularly organized, nor does it follow any of the rules for creating the perfect flower garden.  It is truly a hodge podge of perennials that were added as she received them, with the edges of the garden moving outward into the yard farther and farther.

I was suddenly struck by the whimsy of this haphazardly planted flower garden.  Without a doubt what my mother did best was to control, organize, and manage people, places, and things.  This garden with no clear boundaries had no rules, nor need to be perfect.  Finally I got it!   This was the one place my mother had that did not have to be perfect, as it was beautiful of its own accord, just by being.  All she needed to do was to love it, tend to it a bit, and enjoy the gift of colors and scents, and the birds and butterflies that were attracted to it.

My mother’s garden is beautiful again.  Three years of leaves and branches removed.  Three years of blackberry bushes and small trees that threatened to take over removed.  The soil relieved of its heavy burden can breathe, feel the sun, the rain, heat. and cold.  And like the garden, I too have begun to shed the heaviness, the sadness, and despair.  I, too, can once again feel the sun, the rain, heat, and cold.   I am but one of my mother’s flowers, frequently difficult to control, organize, or manage.  My boundaries are often fluid, and I am not perfect.  But I am a beautiful flower that she loved, tended to, and mostly enjoyed, and I am forever grateful.

My Mother's Garden

Mom and two of the creatures she loved most.

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



Sandhill Cranes of the Lakehouse



The day the baby Sandhill Cranes are born is one of my most highly anticipated days of the year.  On May 1st, I was awakened by Bud and Lydia trumpeting the arrival of this year’s brood.  Neighboring cranes replied, either to share in their joy, or to announce the hatching of their own families.  With heart racing, I jumped out of bed, and rushed to the backyard with camera in hand.  Sure enough, Bud and Lydia stood upon the nest with two little ones under foot.  I was beside myself with excitement and could barely hold the camera still.  Not only was I overjoyed by the birth of the new cranes, but also, that they had for the first time ever placed the nest in a location I could easily see and photograph.

 As with all babies I have hopes and dreams for their future.  The first hope is that they live one day, then one week, and finally through the fall so that I might wish the whole family farewell as they fly south for the winter months.  If they make it through the week, they receive names.  Names are chosen based on behavior, birth date, or some other theme that is appropriate that year.  Here is a chronology from the time the time I lived at the Lakehouse.

2006 Roger & Lydia (Named after some friend’s of my father)

2007 Roger, Lydia, and son David (David, after the real Roger and Lydia’s son)

2008 Roger, Lydia, & son Bud, and daughter Diane (Bud for a relative that loved nature and had passed away that day, and Diane after a relative born on that day)

2009 Sadly Roger did not return in the spring of 2009.  Lydia chose to mate with Bud, her son from the previous year.

2009 Bud, Lydia, & daughter Dori, and son Nemo (Born during a high water year, and survived for only a few days)

2009 Bud, Lydia, & sons Chance, and Rerun (The second brood of the year, thus named for the second go around.  Chance injured a wing late in the summer, and though I took him to the Wildlife Rescue Center in Grand Rapids. he did not survive)

2010 Bud, Lydia, & sons Trip and Mayday (Born on May 1st, the logical name for one would be Mayday, and the other.  Well he tripped on everything)

2011 Bud, Lydia, & daughters Corky and Cedar (Named after the parent company of Michigan’s Adventures where Tammy Sue worked , Cedar Point and the Corkscrew Rollercoaster).  Neither chick survived the summer.

2012 Bud, Lydia, & sons Sherwood and Forest (Named after Sherwood Forest from Robinhood)

2013 Bud, Lydia, & daughter Red, and son Rusty (After the color of their baby down)

2014 Bud, Lydia, & daughter Jut (Born on Mother’s day, she was given my mother’s childhood nickname)

Though many folks do not like Sandhill Cranes, I cannot help but be fascinated by them.  It is true that they destroy crops, landscapes, and lawns with their long sharp beaks, as they search for bugs and seeds to eat.  But I have no crops, and the little damage they do to my yard is not of consequence.  How can one not love a bird that stands nearly four feet tall, eats at the feeder, brings precious babies each year, and allows one to stand just inches away?  What a precious and unexpected gift I received when I moved to the Lakehouse!

Each year I am delighted by new and old observations.  Just this year I learned that the babies swim across open water.  Something I have known for some time is that each chick develops its own distinct personality though some themes remain the same year after year.  The boys tend to lean back on their knees when resting.  The girls sit down.  There is always the flapper.  This chick propels itself forward as it walks by constantly flapping its tiny wings.  Without a doubt, the flapper is the first one to successfully fly as fall grows near.  Then there is always one that is a bit lazy or sleepy.  This chick will take every opportunity to lag behind, sit down, or take a nap.  This chick’s first flight is never pretty.

Bud was a lazy/sleepy chick.  Still on occasion he reverts to old behavior and forgets that he is a dad and has responsibilities to the babies.  Bud’s first flight was the absolute worst I have ever observed.  His sister Diane had a picture perfect flight.  Roger and Lydia cheered her on as she glided from the nest to my lawn.  Bud followed up with a wobbly take off gaining a bit of altitude, then abruptly took a nose dive into the muck.  Though Roger and Lydia started off with the same enthusiastic cheer they had with Diane, they quickly fell silent during Bud’s ill timed decent.  Soon all four cranes were in my garden.  Diane, Roger, and Lydia, were obviously pleased, and ate happily at the feeder.  Bud, however, wet and mud covered, hung his head in shame, and would not come near to eat.

Sandhill Cranes mate for life and can live 20 years.  The first year of a crane’s life is the most difficult.  On the day the chicks hatch the adults compel them to leave the nest to forage for food.  The terrain they nest in is not easy to navigate, and I find it unimaginable to me,  as to how the little ones manage.  The nests are often surrounded by water that they must swim across.  Then there are reeds and cattails, sharp, bent and broken from the previous years, new sprouts of the same plants, muck, sticks, and fallen trees.  During the first year there are many predators the colts are ill prepared to defend themselves against including; hawks, eagles, fox, coyote, raccoon, snapping turtles and even cars.

The cranes have provided me with laughter, wonder, joy, and some sorrow.  In return there is so very little I can do for them.  I feed them, love them, cherish them, and adore them.  I hope that I can provide a safe haven that they will come home to year after year. I am painfully aware that despite my best efforts, I cannot guarantee that Rusty and Red will make it one more day, week, month, or until we say goodbye at the end of summer.  Each day I count, 1 baby, 2 babies, 1 adult, 2 adults, and am grateful and relieved that all are still here.  I cannot guarantee that Bud and Lydia will safely return each spring.  But I hope and I pray, and I wait each year for them to do so.  These are after all wild creatures.  They are not bound to me or to this place, but to their natural instincts.  I can only hope that these instincts will lead them home for many countless years to come.


Rusty and Red - The day the sandhill cranes were born

Rusty and Red – The day the sandhill cranes were born

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



The Perfect Evening

The Perfect Evening

The Perfect Evening

It is the perfect evening to sit on the back porch and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Lakehouse.  Even the birds are savoring this spring evening.  Their songs, so plentiful that it is difficult to distinguish one from another.  There are Cardinals, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmouses, Red-Winged Black Birds, Cow Birds, Eastern Tohees, Mourning Doves, Gold Finches, Bud the Sandhill Crane, Sparrows, and Woodpeckers at the feeder.  And not to be forgotten, the Loons, Canada Geese, and various ducks are calling from the lake below.

The cats, Mini and Laila, accompany me.  I am certain they will be exhausted tonight, as they are diligent in their attention to the birds, and the first chipmunk of the year.  Laila quivers and chirps back at the birds. Oh, what might fill her dream tonight!  Mini races back and forth following the chipmunk’s path.  The chipmunk, intuitively, knows he safe, and is enjoying tormenting poor Mini.  They all make me smile and laugh.

There is something timeless about a night like this.  The stresses of the day are far from consciousness, the worries for tomorrow non-existent.  Only the moment, this very moment, matters.  This moment so rich, so full of life, love, and beauty, fill me up, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

And so, I have remained upon the back porch long enough for the day birds to roost for the night.  A chorus of spring peepers, whip-poor-wills, and other night birds welcome the night with a different song.  Tom Turkey is gobbling his last few gobbles, the loons are crying their mournful tune, and the geese are settling in with a few last honks.  The sun set an hour ago, the air is cooling, and I know it is time to go.  But I do not.  How does one end the perfect evening?  Perhaps, I could sit here, for just a few more moments.


The Loons

The Loons

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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