Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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The story continues

Some of you know I was in Washington DC last week, but do you know why? Long term readers might remember the story of my dad who was killed December 23rd of 2004 while slowed in traffic when he was hit from behind by a semi driven by a sleepy driver. I and other members of my family have been working on truck safety issues ever since.

Looking for change from our political leaders.

Last weekend the Truck Safety Coalition held our biannual Sorrow to Strength conference, where survivors and families of victims from across the country met, provided emotional support to each other, and became educated on the issues.

Saturday and Sunday we spent listening to each other and preparing for the meetings to come.

Working the halls of Congress.

Monday and Tuesday we spread out in small groups across Capitol Hill, talking to staff and members of Congress about what happened to us, and the solutions we want implemented in order to save lives.

It is hard but necessary work.

Some of us gathering before our first meetings.

Almost 5,600 people died in commercial truck crashes in 2021. That’s a 13% increase in fatalities over 2020. And over 146,000 people are injured every single year.

Obviously there is much work still to be done. To bring it down to a more human scale, let me tell you the stories of two women, each bearing the unimaginable consequences of the trucking industry’s drive for profits.

Sometimes the sheer size of government can make a person feel unimportant.

Alexandra is a young woman married only two years when she and her husband moved from Idaho to Atlanta where she planned to attend law school. Last November her husband was sitting at a red light when his vehicle was hit from behind by a semi. He is now paralyzed from the neck down and unable to do anything for himself. Alexandra and her mother-in-law have been taking turns sitting with him and advocating for his care in several hospitals and rehab facilities.

But our stories ARE important. My sister and me before her meeting.

She’s a strong woman, Alexandra. She talks about the crash, about the care she provides for her husband, about their impending move back to Idaho to be closer to family. But when she talks about fighting with insurance carriers and the almost $5 million in medical debts she and her husband now owe, she begins to cry.

We have to tell the world.

The minimum amount of liability insurance a carrier has to have is $750,000. That was set in 1980 and has never been increased over the more than 40 years since. Though there’s probably no amount of required insurance that would cover all of the medical costs for Alexandra and her husband, certainly they deserve to have their expenses covered. He deserves to get the best care and therapy available, and he won’t get that if they are on Medicaid.

He was sitting at a red light.

We all sit at red lights.

It’s OUR government, intended to work for all of us.

And then there’s Elise. Her four children were visiting their father in another state, driving to a relative’s house to enjoy summer fun in a backyard pool on a hot July day in 2020. Their dad slowed down entering a construction zone. The semi behind was driven by a man who was high on meth and fentanyl. He hit the family’s car going over 70 mph. It was pushed into the semi in front of them and then into the guard rail where it burst into flame. The children’s dad was pulled out of the car, badly burned. But no one could see the four children in the smoke and flames.

All four of Elise’s children died in that crash.

When I reflect on my life Dad’s death was pivotal.

Elise told her story over and over during our two days on the Hill. She calls herself a mother with no children. I witnessed her dissolve into tears, then take a deep breath and continue on to ask for automatic emergency brakes on all trucks. She does this, with courage, in memory of her children. The least we can do to listen.

More families, more grief, more sharing, more requests for change.

Starting the rule making process for automatic emergency brakes on trucks was part of the last infrastructure bill, but only for the biggest trucks, class 7 and 8. Smaller commercial trucks were not included, and we all know those trucks are buzzing around our neighborhoods every day.

Elise’s children were slowed in a construction zone. We all slow down in construction zones.

It takes a lot of walking, a lot of talking, a lot of LISTENING to make change.

We can listen to these stories and hundreds, thousands of similar stories and send positive thoughts and prayers. That’s nice. But what these two women really want is change. It’s what all of us attending the conference want, change, so that fewer people die and get injured in preventable commercial truck crashes.

But change is hard.

There are bills in the House and Senate ( For example, HR 2687 for raising insurance minimums, HR 1622/S 605 for underride protection on trucks) to make change revolving around several of our issues. But this session of Congress is wrapping up and in the new year we will have to start asking for bills to be reintroduced.

You can help by calling your Senator or House Representative when things heat up again. And you can count on me to let you know all about it.

Some members of Congress are listening. This is Rep. Bustos from Illinois.

Dad’s, and all these stories continue, forever in our hearts.

Miss you, dad. Watch over us as we push forward, OK?


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Flight 93

We detoured, yesterday, from our drive to Washington DC, in order to visit the Flight 93 Memorial.

I recommend visiting in the late afternoon when the light is warm.

We had two phones, the car’s navigational system and a Garmin with us. Each provide different instructions. We ended up circling up and down and around the hills in which the memorial sits. It’s beautiful country but after about an hour of driving, always within 5 minutes of our destination, we were pretty frustrated.

Our first look at the Tower of Voices

Part of the problem is that there’s an old entrance that isn’t open anymore and some of our technical tools wanted to go there…and so we did. The other part of the problem is a distinct lack of signage for the new entrance.

Located on a small hill planted in wildflowers.

But eventually we made it, as the sun was starting to lower in a sky filled with big puffy grey and white clouds.

Eight columns holding the heavy chimes.

Our first stop was windchimes tower, dedicated to the 40 people on the plane that died September 11th, 2001 when the passengers put Flight 93 into the ground rather than allow themselves to be weapons aimed for the US Capitol.

There are 40 different wind chimes, each with a distinct sound.

The chimes are beautiful, but only play when the wind is at least 12 mph, and though it was getting breezy it wasn’t windy enough to hear more than one low tone.

Once in awhile there was a gust of wind.

Then we went on to the visitor center which is built into a huge concrete structure that draws you along that last flight path, and deposits you on a platform overlooking the final crash site of the plane.

Mapping the path of the plane.

It’s a beautiful field now, filled with wildflowers and birds. In the late afternoon light it glows.

The white is a tent left up after this week’s anniversary. The farm over on the hillside witnessed the crash.

We drove down to the lower area, and walked the pathway back to the wall of names. Along the way were some mementos in a space designed to collect them.

Lots of memories left on the wall.

The names etched into the wall were heartbreaking, as were the pictures there, and the flowers.

Always together, forever

We were visiting only three days after the 21st anniversary of the attack, so the flowers were freshly poignant.

We spent a long time wandering the grounds. It was so peaceful with hardly anyone else there.

Yet I couldn’t help but look back up at the visitor center, built along the flight path and imagine what it must have been like that day. What it sounded like, what it smelled like. What it looked like.

Also together forever.

There are photos, of course, of the aftermath. But I don’t think they convey the total horror that must have confronted the emergency workers when they arrived.

Hard to imagine this place as it must have been that day.

I imagine the field was a beautiful place before the plane dropped out of the sky.

Paying her respects.

And it’s a beautiful place again, a fitting tribute to the forty heroes of Flight 93.

Evening light comforts as another day slips away.

After I wrote this a friend provided a link to Sunday Morning’s piece on the Flight 93 National Memorial. It’s a short piece that will explain more about the tower and the site.


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And then there was music

The Ann Arbor Symphony playing in Hill Auditorium on a beautiful Friday night in Ann Arbor. Those of you that have experienced it know what I mean without me coming up with the words. Those of you who have never been so lucky, I’m sorry, I don’t have the words to adequately describe it.

But I’ll try.

It was opening night of the new season last Friday, a new season in so many ways. Our first evening since the beginning of covid when we could choose to attend without wearing a mask. The first time hearing a beautiful piece by Carlos Simon. The first time pianist Inon Barnatan performed with the Ann Arbor Symphony. And the first night Ann Arbor Symphony’s new Music Director, Earl Lee, conducted this brilliant group.

It was all stellar.

Sometimes when a contemporary piece of music is on the program my husband and I will look at each other in trepidation. We must be old school because if the work is full of dissonance and freakish rhythms we don’t always understand it. So this time, as we were listening the the preconcert lecture and they invited the composer onstage to discuss his piece we glanced at each other and sighed.

But we were wrong.

Carlos Simon’s This Land is beautiful. Sure there were moments of discord, it was written, after all, about immigration and the conflict it often creates in America. But listen to it, just under 10 minutes of beautiful and interesting music. I think you’ll fall in love with it just like we did.

Next on the program was Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. I don’t think you can go wrong with Rachmaninoff, but this was beyond anything I could have imagined. I was lucky enough to be sitting where I could see pianist Inon Barnatan’s hands. Or if I’m honest, not see his hands, they were moving so fast. He was simply wonderful and obviously having so much fun playing the piece. His enthusiasm was infectious and the audience fell in love all over again. In fact we were all on our feet applauding even as the last note faded.

I wish you could see and listen to him do this work, but since I couldn’t find any video of him playing it, watch and listen to it here, the pianist is Anna Fedorova, and the camera angle gives you great views. This one is about 25 minutes. Grab a cup of coffee or tea, put your feet up and enjoy! There’s a part of it, near the end that you’ll recognize. And if you ever get the opportunity to hear this piece or see Inon Barnatan play anything, just do it!

After intermission we heard Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. To be honest, I was so happy with the first half of the concert I didn’t need to hear more, but I’m glad there was more. The music was beautiful, the symphony was responsive and our new Music Director was fully engaged in it all. We are so lucky to have Earl Lee conducting. He very obviously loves music, the musicians and his audience. I’m betting he’s going to love Ann Arbor too.

Thank you Carlos Simon and Inon Barnatan, and welcome to Earl Lee and his family! It was a beautiful night of firsts and I feel lucky to have been there.


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What to send?

The library here hosts a photography contest every fall. Residents of our township submit up to three 8×10 images which are numbered and affixed to big display boards.

#1

We have the month of September to submit photos. Then they are on display at the library through the end of October.

#2

People get to vote on their favorite. There’s an adult and a kids division.

#3

The only rule is that the images have to have been taken in our township.

#4

I love looking at all the pictures. Lots of times I think, “darn! I’ve seen that exact image and always thought I should stop and take a picture!”

#5

The first year I submitted three images, things I thought were artsy, interesting, technically good.

#6

I realized right away when I saw which images won that the people voting are not judging skills, but rather are voting with their hearts on things that touched them.

#7

So I changed my strategy and tried to see my photos from a casual observer’s point of view.

#8

What would catch someone’s eye? Make them smile or even laugh?

#9

What image would make them come back and look again?

#10

All of these photos are from around my yard. You’ve seen most of them before. I have to pick three.

#11

What’s your vote?


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A conversation

Hey Katie-girl.

Today marks three months since you went over that bridge alone. I think about you every day. But you know that, don’t you.

It’s your favorite time of year, sweetie.

This morning I went to your park to take a walk. It’s the first time I’ve been there alone since you left.

Morning light made the flowers glow.

You know your daddy and I were at your park just after that day, with your Aunt Beth, and she played the bagpipes for you near the pond.

You’d be upset at how much algae is in your pond.

I haven’t been able to go back since, sweetie, not without you. It hurt so much to be a Katie’s Park today, but I had a mission.

I’ll get to that in a bit.

The goldenrod is beautiful this year.

First of all I parked at the township office instead of where you and I always parked. I didn’t think I was ready for everything to be the same and yet so different. So I parked in a different spot.

That helped me get out of the car.

Blue sky and yellow fields.

The park was beautiful, as always. You would have loved it, the air was cool and the sun was just up over the treetops.

Loosestrife, I know it’s invasive but it’s so pretty.

But you wouldn’t have loved getting your feet wet. The path was overgrown, here at summer’s end, and the grass was long and heavy with dew.

You always spent a long time sniffing that corner at the beginning of your path.

The good sniffs might have made up for your wet paws though. I imagine you wouldn’t have grumbled too much, you loved walking in your park so much.

I smiled at that thought.

Lots of wet spider webs. You’d have stuck your nose into a few of them for sure.

I was pretty proud of myself, that I smiled at all. Because mostly I was crying as I walked along. I imagined you everywhere. All our favorite places.

Leaves are beginning to turn. You always looked so good in the fall foliage.

Your turtle friends were out but I didn’t see much else. That might have been because my eyes were all leaky.

I think they were wondering where you’ve been.

It was even hard for me to tell if stuff was in focus on my camera. Yes, silly, of course I brought the camera. Though it wasn’t as much fun without you.

I took a picture of my favorite trees, though it’s hard to understand how they can still be standing when you’re not here.

Anyway, my mission was to hang a memory tag on the remembrance tree. You remember when your Aunt Karen and you and I hung some tags for Reilly and Denny and Norwood, right?

Three beautiful boys remembered. Now there are more we should include.

Well, she had a special tag made for you and she gave it to me after you had to go. I haven’t been able to hang it on the tree until today. I put it right next to your handsome fiancé Reilly’s tag.

Can you read what it says, sweetie? Of course you can.

I know you and Reilly are together now, and you’re both loving the beach and the woods while you wait for your people to arrive. It makes me feel better to know you have so many friends there with you.

Everything in it’s season.

Today I hung your tag at your favorite park, sweetie. I just wanted you to know. Miss you baby-girl.

Love, Mama.

See you around the next curve, Katie-girl.

Well, of course I know mama! Where do you think I was while you were wandering around and crying all over my park? I was right there beside you. Silly mama, I’m always right there beside you. Thanks for hanging my tag, it’s real pretty. Thank Aunt Karen for getting it for me too, OK?

Love you always, mama. Tell daddy I love him too. Got to go now, Reilly wants to go run on the beach.

-Your angel-girl, Katie.


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Waiting on the Milky Way

So what does a person do all day while waiting for true dark to arrive? Besides nap that is.

Working on the river.

Well, on the one day the skies were clear while I was in the UP I wandered the Manistique waterfront looking for other things to photograph while impatiently urging the sun to hurry up and sink.

If you zoom in you might be able to read about the lighthouse.

The mouth of the Manistique River was being dredged so I watched that for awhile. It was sort of interesting, but you can only watch so many piles of mud being moved before you have to move on.

Scoop after scoop of muck was dug up from the river bottom and poured into the barge.

I couldn’t resist walking out on the causeway leading to the shiny red lighthouse. It was such a pretty day.

A wide cement walkway made the trip out there easy to navigate.

I spent quite a bit of time out there waiting for the sun to go down. And watching the light glint off the water.

It’s not a long walk on a pretty day.

A couple of guys were fishing but they hid behind the lighthouse for me to get some shots.

All metal, it can withstand some nasty weather. But none was forecast while I was there.

But as the sun lowered I came back into shore.

The flowers glowed, loosestrife, an invasive, and goldenrod.

The evening light makes everything so pretty.

The last bit of light before the magic begins.

And then, slowly, slowly, the sun sank and the blue hour began.

Let’s take a walk down this boardwalk.

Earlier in the day I had scoped out a place to set up, hoping that the Milky Way would be near the lighthouse from my vantage point. The compass said it should be. But I knew I only had one night so I hoped I wasn’t wrong.

The beginning of blue hour on the beach.

I waited impatiently. It takes forever for the night to get truly dark. And then….a few stars decide to turn on their lights.

Here we go…

I still couldn’t tell exactly where the Milky Way was going to shine…but the stars made me smile anyway. And then….finally, finally, there it was. It was pretty darn amazing. I don’t know why the beach wasn’t full of people just staring.

Take a moment and just look.

I stayed out there a long time. A lot of it not shooting, just standing there, in the moment.

Because, really, how many shots can you take of the same lighthouse with the Milky Way? Well, as it turns out…several dozen. You see, the dark sky requires that you have a high ISO and a wide open aperture and that causes grainy shots.

Beautiful without the lighthouse too.

But you can stack them. Did you know that? There’s software that will lay your photos, one on top of the other, and match up your stars and eliminate anything different. And that clears up a lot of the grainy noise. Huh. So I was taking 7 shots of each shot, in preparation for stacking. But I learned, just this week, I should have taken 10 to 15 shots to stack.

Ah well.

Many of my images had these streaks. I never saw it when I was on the beach, but some people say this light in the sky is the Sky-Link satellites. Zoom in and see what you think.

So, anyway, these are single images, no stacking here, just a little editing to bring out the whites and sometimes to lift the shadows.

I still have so much to learn…so many technical things that I can do to make the images more clear, more beautiful. But the Milky Way season here in Michigan is almost over. There will be one more chance in October, just a few nights, and then I’ll have to be patient until 2023.

Just to show you, we are never alone, the sky is full of stuff flying around.

Yea right. I can hardly handle waiting for the sun to set in a single evening. How am I going to get through months of no Milky Way?

It’s gonna be tough.


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So, on to the UP – ey?

Let’s see…last you knew I was hanging out in Mackinaw City waiting for it to stop raining so I could continue on over the bridge to my next adventure.

It was such a beautiful night.

Yep, I was feeling pretty good. Almost kinda certain that I had gotten some decent Milky Way shots at my last location. Of course I didn’t really know, but was feeling good about it.

The other end of the Milky Way.

And I was so excited to be heading to a new (to me) location to find more dark skies. I had a campsite booked for three nights at Fayette State Park which is located at the bottom of the “Garden Peninsula,” a piece of land jutting down into Lake Michigan from the southern edge of the UP. Should be perfect, right?

Well…wrong. When I arrived at the park about 4 p.m. and drove to my site I found a very small site (not necessarily a deal breaker) that was entirely sloped, about the size of 2 cars, and totally a mud pit.

Out of focus because I was speeding away.

I sat there in the drizzle for the amount of time it took me to say”H*LL NO,” and then I drove the long 14 miles back up to civilization where I sat beside the road and searched the internet for a cheap hotel.

Where do I go now?

Along the way, down and back up, I did note that the Garden Peninsula itself was beautiful. With lots of barns and windmills and such.

So that made it a bit easier when I had to drive back down there again to formally check out of the campground that I never camped in so that I could get a refund for the other two nights.

A barn being renovated.

A sixty dollar refund was worth the drive too. I should have just checked out the evening before when I decided not to stay but I was so freaked out by the campground I just ran.

Mama cow wants me to move along.

I made reservations at another state park, Indian Lake, which pretty close to the town of Manistique. It was a much nicer place, with larger camp sites and grass. It wasn’t full my first night so I had a distant view of the lake, though the second night someone camped behind me. Still, I had plenty of room.

Much better. Grass and a view.

And it was only three miles away from the lighthouse where I spent a lot of hours waiting for a sunset and hoping for a chance at a decent Milky Way image.

Did I get that image? Well, as usually this post is getting too long, and I still have lots of images to edit. So I guess you’ll have to wait and see.

Not much of a sunset….but there was the anticipation of stars.

I just had another 2 hour lesson from my Milky Way teacher and I now know more about what I don’t know. I guess I need to get out there for another practice session!

Meet Harlo, my doggie neighbor at the campground.

Oh darn.