Together Again

The great thing about the start of the summer season is the sense of optimism and excitement that comes with it. Though the calendar states the official start of summer is June 20, it’s Memorial Day weekend that kicks off the fun. We all know it was a trying year+, yet recently I saw several things that left me feeling that better times have arrived. I felt a renewed sense of appreciation for the many things I took for granted. Among these were seeing crowds gathering and live music drifting from open doors.

Relishing in the simple pleasure of riding my bike around town Friday evening of the holiday weekend, I was somewhat surprised to see how many people were out and about. No doubt many people had traveled to our waterfront locale from other places, and I just hope they were taking a moment or two to stand still and take in our unique natural setting. There were many small groups strolling along Front Street and lots of people were dining outside. The outdoor seating, in some places expanded and in other places new, is something I’d like to see stay as long as the warm weather allows. Eating itself is mundane yet eating out with friends or family elevates meeting that basic need into a special occasion. It is important to treat ourselves sometimes, and after the strange, abnormal time we’ve all come through, treating ourselves is more needed than ever. 

Additionally—and so valued by me that I stopped my bike and two friends to listen—there was live music! I heard it coming from more than one downtown establishment and felt it was long overdue, needed, and cherished. 

What else is overdue, needed, and hopefully cherished? Coming together. Even for the small things we may never have given much thought to or held in high regard before the pandemic. Coming together for a meal, on an outdoor patio, where we hear music that creates a festive atmosphere. Let’s come together even if we sit in silence to take in the view. We don’t have to agree on everything, who ever does? But it’s not a trite sentiment that what unites us is greater and more important than what may divide us. Hopefully, after being forced to distance and remain separate, we will mark this new summer season with gratefulness for the seemingly mundane—yet special—things that have returned. 

Make the Switch

What is worse than remembering your passwords? Answer: Changing your passwords.

Humbling…

Covid brain and a resurgence of kindness are two of the irrefutable outcomes of life the past 12 months has brought, as we pass the one year mark of various stages of confinement.

The ‘brain’ syndrome has been occasionally referenced by friends to describe everything from forgetting wallets or mobile phones, to turning the house inside out in search of reading glasses, even starting a Zoom meeting an hour before the prearranged time.

“Oh, that’s just my covid brain at work….” the lame excuse goes.

That said, let’s dwell on kindness.

We’ve looked for and found a heightened sense of courtesy and civility among so many, from professional office staff to small business attendants and neighbors.

The expressions are generous and heartfelt—as in, “this is a challenging time. And by treating you as we’d like to be treated, it feels good. Not only that, but in this situation like none other, it’s the right thing.”

Recently, our neighborhood staged a communal winter bonfire to provide the socialization we need and crave. Appropriately distanced, we shared refreshments and snacks, enjoyed one another’s company, and generally took stock of the blessings endemic to being able to live here while a worldwide pandemic rages.

This tonic was not only an eye-opener, it was humbling for the soul.

Here’s to times ahead full of renewed promise….

Stay well friends!

From Adversity, Opportunity….

Despite the past year’s challenges, many business owners are optimistic about the future.


The past year has wreaked more havoc than a 100-year storm on the world economy, to say nothing of what it has meant to small business owners, the hardest hit.

And though some familiar NW Michigan names and faces will no longer be around when we do emerge from the viral pandemic, it’s not all bad news for small business.

The time tested adage of “from adversity comes opportunity” is reflected among some survivors, many of whom have implemented creative business strategies that a year ago would have seemed unthinkable.

In addition, help on the national level in the form of stimulus checks for individuals, additional PPP loans and enhanced unemployment benefits, have no doubt amped the optimism.

Recent surveys have found that over 20 percent of small business owners are optimistic about what lies ahead, while another 33 percent are somewhat optimistic. And this during a worldwide pandemic, the likes of which has not been experienced since the turn of the century—along with an unstable national political environment marked by disinformation, pusillanimous legislators, and baseless election conspiracy theories.

SCORE, the nationwide (300 chapters and over 10,000 volunteer business mentors), has always been a touchstone for small business entrepreneurs seeking help.

Over the past year it has established a special “Resilence Hub” that leverages its already broad base of services and allows users ready access to a network where people can learn—-from each other and experienced business professionals. And all at no charge.

For more information the northwest’s regional SCORE office is located in Traverse City. Check out their website here: traversecity.score.org.

Making an Authentic Difference

George Kuhn with wife, Betty


Along with “our prayers and thoughts are with the family” and other expressions of sympathy at a time of loss, “making a difference” has become a staple of the grief lexicon.

Upon reading the death notice this week in the Traverse City Record-Eagle of George Kuhn, ‘making a difference’ was what immediately came to mind. 

We first met George and a van full of members of the then fledgling Traverse City Track Club in the late 70’s, as publishers of the Antrim County News, one of several community newspapers to which we were affiliated.

George showed up in support of Mancelona’s first “Nesset/Peterson” memorial/fundraiser distance run. It was clear from that initial meeting that this self-effacing aerobic exercise advocate not only had the respect of a legion of runners of all ages, but led out front by example. He invariably was among the top finishers in his age class.

Later our paths crossed again with the establishment of the White Pine Stampede, the state’s first point to point 50 km cross country ski race.

One of our writers named the event, and most Up North Publications staff had a hand in shaping and staging the event in one form or another.

The Georges (George Kuhn and his longtime ski buddy George Lombard), showed up to support the race, brought ski friends, and lent sage advice on how we could make improvements.

Over subsequent years and events our paths crossed. But we regret never telling him how much of an impact his presence and support meant.

Many of us take from life without fully subscribing to the “giving” balance of the ledger.

George Kuhn showed us how to do both…

Home Work

As the coronavirus continues to be a presence in our lives, many people continue to work remotely, having shifted computers, monitors, stand-up desks and other gear to the “home office.” Some actually have a designated home office space, others work off laptops at the kitchen table. These are the lucky ones, adaptable and online, with supportive employers who recognize the risks presented by the old norms. 

Yet for remote workers operating out of home offices, new challenges have presented themselves. 

How to maintain a normal work schedule when you don’t need to be at the office by eight and can sleep in a little? Yet if you sleep in, work gets started and runs later, dinner gets pushed back, and maybe you aren’t tired at night so you stay up late reading or watching television. Then you need to sleep in and the cycle begins again. Distractions and challenges are everywhere, from the abundance of news focused on the latest updates about the virus, to struggling to stay focused when the house needs cleaning, the kids are loud and restless, and you’re not sure what’s for dinner. Working from home makes it much harder to compartmentalize.

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to knowing how to work from home productively. For parents and especially single parents, the challenge is finding a way to keep kids’ needs met while also being accountable to the work that provides for them. Fortunately, summer’s nice weather gets the kids out the door! Yet the advantage to working from home is the flexibility it allows. There’s no doubt that discipline and time management are key, but it can feel good and productive to be able to throw in laundry, work for a few hours, break for a good lunch, and even fit in a short walk or bike ride on a nice day. When the kids need TLC, take the time to stop work and engage with them, remembering the importance of their sense of love and security. There’s always time after the kids are in bed or during the weekend to finish up that hour or two of delayed work. 

Essentially, with self-discipline, organization, and recognizing priorities, working from home is not only doable but productive. Some see working at home as getting a raise of sorts, and others claim to love it. Establishing some type of routine is a helpful practice to keep one focused. Maybe that entails starting the day by watering outdoor plants, doing a little yoga, or just taking 5 minutes to read news headlines, 

So when you wake up knowing “work” is still taking place from home with no end to the situation in sight, first, count your blessings you actually can work from home. Then start the coffee, grab a little breakfast, and get to work!

Twenty-first Century Problems

“Twenty-first century problems.“

This is what I texted my dad, a retired pharmacist, when I sent him a recent photo showing signage requiring social distancing and mask wearing that was posted on the walls at a local establishment. 

“These two things may stay after all this,” he replied. 

I thumbed down.

“Maybe not masks but social distancing is here to stay.” I agreed with him on that.

I despise mask-wearing. I haven’t had to do much of it but have several times at the grocery store. But fortunately, I’ve been working from home and have laid low the past few months—like everyone else— limiting outside community interaction. I have a small circle, with my son, ex-husband, and a few close friends, one of whom lives around the corner from me.

So now the masks. 

I don’t like them. 

Recently, I had to borrow a mask from my friend and wear it into our local brew pub that was newly re-opened. Masks are now required to walk through the place and to stand at the bar while getting our growler filled, as well as to go to bathrooms. Masks can be removed at seats. 

So now there are rules to remember. I wore the mask, conscious of how it made the air inside it hot with my breath and the way the cloth felt touching my mouth and nose. I didn’t like it. I felt self-conscious and conspicuous, despite not being the only one wearing a mask. 

I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror while washing my hands. I didn’t like the look of the mask. It was cute though, with a small cherry pattern. Cute, for a mask. 

But I hated looking at myself in it. It felt wrong and I barely recognized myself.

“Thanks Rona!” This is what my son and I now say for fun as we try to keep our sense of humor about all things Covid. 

I looked down and away from the sight of me in the cute cherry mask. I felt a simmering annoyance. I felt resentment too.

I will do my part and respect requirements, but I will also be avoiding crowds and abstaining from mask wearing where possible.

So I rushed out of the bathroom to tell my friend at the bar I was leaving and having a bad mask moment. Mild anger rising, I hurried out of the brewery. I walked to my bike, pulling off my mask with one hand while simultaneously pulling the sunglasses off the top of my head with the other.

Mask now in my left hand, sunglasses in my right, I raised them to put on my face…and poked myself in the eye with them.

Sigh. I shook my head and thought: ”Go figure.”

Thanks Rona!

Life’s Heart Lights

Maybe it was the fresh-baked cookies at our door step, donor unknown?

Or the neighbors who showed up unexpectedly on our front lawn, wine glasses in one hand, chairs in the other, for an early evening ‘distance’ happy hour?

Then again, perhaps the lawn mowing/leaf blowing gang of volunteers who quickly made the neighbors lawn respectable while sidelined due to a medical procedure.

These spontaneous acts of kindness reflect one of Gram’s favorite reminders: “Always look for the good in people, it’s there…”

As the world tilts with outrageous atrocities and callousness, it’s good to be mindful of these instances of genuine goodness.

We will get through this, due in no small part to the inherent compassion of others.

“So, turn on your heart light and reach out and touch someone….”

Slowing Down and Social Distancing

After working from home one afternoon—a fortunate position to be in during this Covid-19 time—I decided a bike ride was a great way to embrace the warm weather. I know exercise is important and I hadn’t been taking the time to work it in. I rode around my small town, biking through the downtown district and nearby waterfront park, grateful to focus on the simple act of pushing the pedals and feeling the fresh air on my face.

Despite the need to stay informed about the latest developments concerning the coronavirus, it’s also important to take a breath and walk—or bike—away from the 24/7 news cycle.

A few events and observations I had on my bike-about-town:

  • Humor matters. In the midst of serious life events, a little levity makes a big difference in our ability to handle stress and anxiety. I see this much needed and clever humor daily while working in the social media realm and appreciate the funny memes surrounding toilet paper and essential businesses. Maybe you need a Quarantini—it’s just a regular martini, but you drink it alone in your house!
  • Sometimes breaking the rules is a relief. Case in point—the group of four guys, a dad included, who were throwing a football back and forth to each other while walking in the road. It was early evening and no traffic was about, so why not? One person greeted me as I rode by and I smiled at their unconventional activity. I also happened upon a man playing music on a type of steel drum called a handpan. I sat to listen, as he unwittingly gave me an open-air concert, and marveled at the unique sound, thanking him after for sharing his skill.
  • I saw a friend walking downtown and called out, crossing the street to have a brief conversation and get an update. But I couldn’t hug her, and it felt strange. This social distancing-in-action reminded me of the importance of touch—hugs, pats on the back, or tousling your kid’s hair. “It’s the little things” we hear about what matters, and I was aware that the freedom to give that seemingly small hug and show of affection is actually a big deal that furthers connection to each other.
  • Let nature be a balm. The air was warm and the waterfront scenery beautiful, so I got off my bike, laid my jacket on the ground, and sat down to do nothing more than admire the sights and take in the sounds. Seagulls screeched and the wind blew waves that splashed against the break wall. Laying back to look up at the sky, I kept my focus on these priceless gifts that will remain constant. (And later that evening, the only soundtrack in my room was the rhythm of falling rain.) Seasons change, thank goodness.
  • Slow down to stay sane. Life is hectic—the news is bad, working from home means juggling priorities while also trying to tend to kids, a grocery run is needed, and…whew. It’s a lot. The pressure can build to the point where frustration and annoyance get the best of us. Maybe it’s time for that 15-minute break, a welcome window to fit in a walk around the neighborhood. If you’re a pet owner, show your pet some affection, as having a furry friend nearby is proven to lower stress. Stand outside and take some deep breaths, listen to a piece of classical music. How about call or FaceTime a friend or family member just to say you’re thinking of them? After all, aren’t these the people we should always aim to connect with, no matter what’s going on in the world?
  • Appreciate the commonplace. For me it was watching a kite being flown by bickering kids, people walking their dogs, and a couple holding hands. 

As your usual work schedule has no doubt been impacted by the spread of Covid-19, perhaps now is the time to consider what lessons can be learned from this unprecedented situation.

Memo To Our Partners – It’s Up To Us

Partners and friends,

 As all of us face the challenge of limiting the spread of coronavirus, it’s apparent that what we do over the next few weeks or so will have a significant impact on the local and perhaps even national trajectory of the virus.

 With that in mind, we have closed our Traverse City office on Veterans Drive, and are now working from home. How long we do that will depend on the results of containment, contact tracing and testing.

 But that’s only part of the strategy.

 We must move to pandemic mitigation through widespread social distancing. That means that in addition to schools closing and work (as much as possible), group gatherings and public events—-it also means making daily choices to stay away from each other as much as possible.

 Our health system is projected to not be able to cope with the sheer numbers of people who will require acute care should our attempts to curb this virus fail.

 It’s up to us.

 Contact information remains the same and we are only an email, text or phone call away.

 As always, Thank You for your continued confidence in Lawton Gallagher and long-time partnerships.

Dee and Gregg Smith

gsmith@lggroup.us

231.883.9913

It’s Up To Us …