Suomi for Breakfast

No attorney in view, the restaurant and bakery in Houghton, a local tradition, is the Suomi. (pronounced Sue Me) *.  The bearded busboy, a student at Finlandia University, is very polite, yet appears a raccoon with distemper.

The no-nonsense waitresses, so quick you feel their passing breeze lift the napkin from the counter; the French toast made from freshly baked cinnamon bread, exquisite. This is Paris, in denim, hiding from polyester vacations.

DSCN1854Sunday regatta, looking toward Hancock, MI and the Finlandia campus

Since our first visit to the Keweenauw, 2008, the entire peninsula has become more vibrant.  Calumet and sister city, Laurium, on the verge of extinction, are now in resuscitation.  Not hip or trendy, i.e. disney, cruise ship, water park, cookie-cutter franchises.  Tourism, home-grown small business, renewed historical interest in mining, and the abundance of natural beauty trump or Sandals® resorts.  Credit the Pure Michigan campaign.
(full disclosure: I am not an actor or compensated spokesperson)

The entertainment choices, like most university towns, are often unique.  The Festa Italiana in Hancock boasted its headliner, “The World’s First Indestructible Italian Polka Band”, but ran out of spaghetti, overwhelmed by hungry festival goers.  The Michigan Tech Pep Band is reputed to be a techno-geek sensation, but sadly, we arrived a month prior to practice.


“The ice bucket challenge is for wusses”

DSCN1495Laurium’s own, George Gipp, immortalized on the football field and in fieldstone by Knute Rockne and Ronald Reagan.

DSCN1486The lodge of the Keweenauw Resort, built in the early 1930’s has changed little in eighty years.  Built by the WPA to provide labor for the 80-90% unemployment among miners, it retains the craftsmans’ unduplicated charm to this day. A baked haddock sandwich, cole slaw, chips and beer never tasted better.

[may click to enlarge]

Nearing our goal, the Copper Harbor lighthouse from across Horseshoe Bay as seen August 2008.  A beautiful, lonely, desolate finger into the teeth of northwest winds of Lake Superior.
August, 2014, same view, Lynn explaining to Mrs. Wilson our first visit with Jack.

We’ve reached our goal, the genesis of U.S.41.
DSCN1830Family portrait; and a vow to one another we won’t wait 6 years to return. 

This is where snowfall is measured in feet, not inches.  Where people think hockey is an actual sport although admit never seeing the puck.  And most important, the natives regard the current frenzy, the ice bucket challenge**, as a thermal joke.  They wouldn’t consider participating unless they needed to warm up.


*reputed to be the best breakfast in MI by Rachel Ray, the chatty, chubby, petite Jewish doyenne of kitchen kitsch

**when will this ever end ?



Back Seat of a Greyhound Bus

Apology to the lyricist of “Ramblin’ Man”, we’re on US 41, imagining the early 1950s before Ike and the interstate system.  This road is a north/south noodle, perpendicular to the overly glamorized Route 66. 580px-US_41_mapHaving grown up less than a mile from 41, and only minutes from the view of Lake Michigan’s southern tip, this old highway is a mess; potholes, so deep, the water drains into the South China Sea, or at the least, burns a hole in your patience.

From the Indian Reservation in L’Anse, Michigan to the southern terminus in Miami, the most disgusting city north of Havana, the road is a life sentence with little punctuation.  Perhaps an apostrophe for NFL fans in Green Bay, but little else.  Highway tedium in search of a mood detector.  Anxiety, depression, and aggression beg for the release of serotonin, unavailable from the Walgreen’s or CVS that litter the highway.


Headed north in Baraga County to the starting line in Copper Harbor, MI., however, is a traveler’s dream: 79 miles forward and 79 years backward in time.  Copper Harbor is in a time warp; souvenir shops with local items made of cedar, the departure dock to Isle Royale N.P., and the ubiquitous physical adventure travelers.  Helmeted.

You recognize them, shrink wrapped like colorful sausages, wearing plastic cycling shoes.  They drive an aging Volvo station wagon with kayaks on the roof and mountain bikes on the trap door.  Bumper stickers; Dukakis/Bentsen in 88, Greenpeace, ‘ I brake for mountain goats’.  With temples beginning to grey, each armed with a personal electronic device, they leave behind the fingerprints of apps, the footprints of consciousness.  No one has told them the news.

Roll over Beethoven.

We’re not ‘riding the dog’, as the title might imply.  This is the first non-medical trip in five years, the Excella awakened from slumber and performing flawlessly, taking a vacation from retirement.  Think of it as a 30 year old Airstream on a Medicare Advantage plan.

A stop for a nap in Champion, MI., pop. 297, is a highlight, the horse-pull capital of the Upper Peninsula.  The only saloon, featuring a sign, both neon and alcohol-free, was closed years ago.  The maple trees are tinged with yellow and red…fall arrives early north of 46º.

Higley’s, dressed for Christmas

Pretty in Pink

Headed north to Houghton, at 45 rpm, we’re off to tell Tchaikovsky the news…….




Lessons in Green Valley

Bridge for the aged.  In a community where the dirt is younger than the residents, Green Valley, AZ.

The contemporary, 2014, game of bridge parallels grade school recess in the 1940’s.  Playground pick-up games of Red Rover, Tag, and Hopscotch by exuberant adolescents allow the teachers to have a well-deserved, twenty-minute, coffee and cigarette break.


  • The Wallace School
  • Gary, Indiana
  • March, 10, 1949
  • Monday 8:15 AM

Hazel Markwalder, 5th grade teacher, former WAVE (Women’s U.S. Navy, W.W.II) is the declarer and on lead;

“Class, please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance,

then sing our chorus, with gusto

O Columbia! the gem of the ocean,
The home of the brave and the free,
The shrine of each patriot’s devotion,
A world offers homage to thee

Curious I can recall the anthem, 65 years later, to the day, yet forget that a two club response over opener’s no trump is a request for a four card major. Stayman may as well have been Dustin Hoffman’s, Rain Man.

Being held hostage, without restraints, in a large recreational facility with 100+ senior citizens, is voluntary.  The ratio, 4:1, women over men, is quite favorable.  And, too, makes the room smell nicer.  Estrogen and spanx vs. testosterone and athletic supporters will always end, legally or not, nolo contendere.  We’re here to improve our game of bridge, without being spanked.


Substituting for Mrs. Markwalder is bridge guru, Brenda Sonderegger, a mixture of histrionics and humor laced with an accent residing somewhere between the south side of Brooklyn and the north side of Savannah.  And, eh, a touch of Canadian.

L-R, Insightout, Brenda S.

She is patient, thorough, and has at her disposal the despised electronic gadget, PowerPoint®, but (insert smiley face) doesn’t need it.  Look, most of us are at an age where we can’t read the Snellen Chart at the eye doctors’.  The one that starts with the big E at the top.  I’d rather stare at the Periodic Table of the Elements, where, unlike the dictionary, Lithium comes before Lead. So help me Duracell®.

Spicing her anecdotes with mild expletives, she emphasizes the serious nature of the game; whatever their contributions to society, bridge opponents can be an important source of protein.

Around the room, her unpaid elves, all experts, carefully ‘tsk, tsk’ over the shoulders of erring students, while patiently providing guidance to the strays. The atmosphere is electric. Mostly AC.  The cost of this instruction….?….less than the price of a new undergarment.

Ms. Brenda is also a director of sanctioned* games, where everyone, expert and neophyte alike, is admonished to ‘listen up’ for announcements;

  • the hospital and necrology report
  • turn off your cell phones
  • no ‘snapping’ of cards (an irritation to the hearing assisted)
  • no perfume or cologne, please
  • watch the clock

Slow play. If you’re in a 3-way race with a snail and a turtle, and you finish 3rd…it’s time to speed up.  She works the room like the emcee at a Born Again rally.  Halleluiah, Sister B.

As for me, I look forward to the return of  beginner’s class in 2015, as soon as I locate a Spanx for Men store.  If unrecognizable, that’s o.k., just follow your nose; look for the artificially trim guy wearing a girdle and reeking of Chanel #5.

* sanctioned—an adult game, with rules = to tag, red rover, war, and hide & seek, only someone keeps score.  A day at the beach, where every player has different sizes of buckets and pails, yet we all go home with sand between our toes.  Adultery, an unsanctioned activity, down two and vulnerable, may result in a bad board.

“Bridge is the last game in which the computer is not better”…Bill Gates
Spanx® logo, by permission, Sara Blakely
PowerPoint®, Microsoft Corp.