Murder at the Marsh

It never ceases to amaze me how certain things, activities, even people that seem irreplaceable are, in fact, not.  Along the lines of favorite things that no longer are, https://oldladywriting.com/2019/08/06/a-few-of-whose-favorite-things/ I once kept a list of “Things that I Loved That Got Discontinued”.  When life was less full of stuff, before a certain gazillionnaire made everything magically available for purchase online, finding a substitute for certain beloved items was much, much harder than it is today.  I have to say, though, some of these still have no parallel. 

Shanty Creek Resort, site of the below-mentioned Oktoberfest and many a ski-trip since
Not the actual photo of incomparable deliciousness, but a close approximation.

The items I miss the most are: Celestial Seasonings Irish Cream Tea, Breyer’s Vanilla Chocolate Almond Swirl Ice Cream, Peanut Butter and Jelly Pop Tarts, and Lean Cuisine Linguine with Clam Sauce.  I actually wrote to Lean Cuisine when I could not find my favorite entrée in the frozen section of my local Meijer’s, and they wrote back that it had a “small but loyal following”.  What they meant is, it was not selling well. What I read was, there are others like me, who are they, where are they, can we form a club? To this day, I have not found a more delicious linguine with clam sauce at any restaurant from North America to Italy itself.  As for tea, I visited Celestial Seasonings headquarters—which merits a separate story, because it was a magical experience—and was told roughly the same thing about the Irish Cream tea.  A pity about all these delicious foods.  Tastes are hard to replace.

Amongst the non-edible items, I miss St. Ives Henna Shampoo, although it is quite possible that I just mourn the thick hair of my younger days.  I just searched and saw it on EBay for $80, and died laughing.  That’s nothing, though—the apricot variety, with which I am not familiar, is going for $120.  I don’t know what miracles shampoo would have to perform for such price.  I would probably pay that much for the linguine with clam sauce, though—I have my priorities.

I also listed several experiences that are never to be repeated, such as the Oktoberfest weekend at Shanty Creek resort in Bellaire, Michigan—a magical weekend during which spouse fell in love with spaetzle and won an apple pie in a pumpkin seed spitting contest, and just had fun badly dancing the polka.  This was even before I liked beer!  We attempted to make it an annual tradition, but as soon as we registered for the following year, it was cancelled never to be enjoyed again.  Until we went to the original Oktoberfest in Germany—and again, our luck manifested itself, because the following year, the plague came, and Munich has not held its celebration since…

But there is nothing that I miss more than Murder Mystery Weekends.  Back in the days before all information came from the interwebs, we used to search for fun activities in the magazines.  This seems impossibly quaint now, but I remember vividly perusing the pages of AAA’s Michigan Living and uncovering all sorts of cool stuff, like the aforementioned Oktoberfest. 

Participation in murder mystery weekends required teams of three or four, and spouse and I joined forces with his parents.  This was over 20 years ago, which is shocking in itself, and remain the pinnacle of my relationship with my in-laws.  Oh, this was serious business!  We would show up at the Marsh Ridge resort in Gaylord, Michigan for a Friday night dinner, when the plot was set and the first murder would occur.  Inevitably, we missed it.  No one is that focused after a week’s work and a drive Up North.  Then the real entertainment began.

Certain rooms at the resort were designated as “crime scenes”.  Teams would be allowed to enter for a few minutes at a time.  We could question the suspects—a pointless task that was usually left to my mother in-law, as it yielded little to no results, but kept her occupied while spouse, father in-law, and I searched for clues by lifting and opening everything that could be lifted and opened.  My first move was always to lift the toilet lid.  There was never anything there. I still maintain that it’s a great hiding place.

Murders and searches would continue throughout Saturday, with a break for lunch.  It was intense, alternately frustrating and exhilarating.  At one point, my father in-law said that even when you return to your own room, you just want to tear everything up looking for clues!  Saturday after dinner, after the last desperate rummage and the last exasperated interrogation, we had to prepare and submit our detailed solution.  On Sunday at breakfast, all was revealed, and the team who solved the most crimes and found the clues was awarded the most points and was declared the winner.  I have to add that the young man by name of Jim Russell who masterminded and wrote the intricate scripts and played the chief detective who served as the sort of advisor to us hapless sleuths was an earnest and thorough host whose genuine love of the game prevented the experience from becoming the random unsolvable farce that murder mystery dinners and weekends usually are.  No, this was like the early seasons of Midsomer Murders, convoluted plots full of wacky characters, mild shocks, unexpected laughs, and satisfying conclusions. 

One of the resort rooms in all its ’90s’ glory. Note the jacuzzi tub on the left–not that anyone had time for that during the Murder Mystery weekend!

We progressed steadily up the championship ladder, ransacking hotel rooms and working our little gray cells, and finally won—of course we did!  But as is the way of things, instead of being rewarded with the grand prize of free return the following year, we were informed that the resort will no longer be hosting murder mystery weekends, and were given gift certificates for the pro shop.  We loaded up on sweatshirts, the last of which, barely worn, I just recently donated (it had neither hood nor pouch, and the sewn on logo was scratchy).  It is small wonder, because the cost of the weekend was a bargain, and the additional property damage inevitably caused by overzealous amateur investigators was not sustainable.

A couple of sad mystery-less years followed, during which spouse and in-laws and I in vain searched for a replacement.  Then the weekend was remounted, but with a different cast and crew.  It became unnecessarily challenging, and it didn’t take.  We did win the consolation prize for funniest answer with a hilarious poem which we sadly did not preserve—but the prize itself lives on, my lucky running hat which accompanied me on three half marathons, two marathon relays, and countless races from one to ten miles.  

Then I had another kid, another job, and life became busier.  The more things change, the harder they are to change back.  But I miss the utter escapism of those murder mystery weekends, and I miss the good times with my in-laws.  Both are high on the list of Things that I Loved That Got Discontinued.


Personal Best

The unthinkable and the entirely unexpected happened—I won a running award that was not just for showing up!  I actually placed second in my age category in a masked, socially distanced race. And though I have always joked that the only way I will place is if only three women run, I always secretly hoped for just such an eventuality.  Frankly, I thought I might have to wait a couple more decades for the ranks to start thinning.  Turns out I just had to wait for the pandemic that would turn most races virtual.  The point in my favor was that with no more than 100 runners, the competition was not that stiff.  However, I have to clarify that there were seven (7) women that showed up in my age category.  And I still placed second (2nd).  There were five (5) entire women slower than me, which is an amazing improvement since gym class[1]. https://oldladywriting.com/2019/06/04/run-your-own-race/

The race itself was actually pretty brutal, and not something in which I would participate under normal circumstances.  I mean, I did not know how crazy it would be because as always, I carefully read the directions about where to park, where to stand to socially isolate at the start, and when to wear the mask.  I blithely overlooked the facts that the race was (1) at night, and (2) in the woods.  Words like “moonlit”, “9 pm”, “trail”, and “forest” did not cause any alarms to go off, so excited I was to just run in an actual race.  And so, I literally stumbled through the dark jungle, leaping (and I use the term loosely) over tree roots, trying not to slip in the mud (as it rained shortly beforehand), alternately praying and swearing.  It was also extremely hilly.  Pure adrenaline moved me forward, based on a desperate desire to not perish in the woods.  This was easily the most exciting thing that happened to me since the plague came to town.

Picture this logo on everything that money can buy in the USSR in 1980. It is more than you would expect.

The real twist in all of this is that this past weekend marked the 40th anniversary of the Moscow Olympics.  I tend to see symbolism and omens in everything.  For me, it seemed auspicious to run—and “medal”!—on such an august (see what I did there?) occasion.


The year 1980 was one of the best, if not THE best, year of my life.  It was the last year of my childhood, and my childhood was pretty wonderful.  The Olympics lent the entire year the aura of magic, camaraderie, and celebration.  These were the first Games to come to Eastern Bloc, and are the only Summer Games that took place there to this day.  They were a tremendous big deal for The Soviet Machine.  We all know now how that worked out, sadly, and from then on[2]. But for those of us in close proximity to the Big Event, it was a truly exciting time.

This New Year’s card also lives in my basement.

There were several things that made it so.  First, the merch.  You literally could not buy anything that did not have the Olympic logo on it.  And everything that had the logo cost more, even if it was just a few kopeks. It was a cunning plan to raise money, I suppose.  We normally call such a scheme a “load”, but during that glorious year, people were eager to buy even dinner plates that had the discreet stylized image of the Kremlin with the five rings under it.  I myself was a proud owner of a messenger bad with the logo.  I mean, everyone had one, but I was not usually cool enough to have anything that other kids had.  Yet that year, I did!  And of course, Misha the Olympic Bear was the best mascot, because bears are awesome, and he was the cuddliest of bears.  I dreamed of owning a stuffed toy, but that was an unattainable dream.  I did get a rubbery squeezable one, which we duly brought to the US among our very limited possessions, and which is still lurking somewhere in my house, not having been properly appreciated by my kids.  Fun fact:  the mascot of the sailing regatta, held in Tallinn, was Vigri the Seal.  Since my grandmother and I spent part of the pre-game summer in Tallinn, I am a proud owner of a small wooden Vigri.  He also crossed the Atlantic and lives in my basement.

My mom and I diligently collected every Misha–and some Vigri–pin we could find. Seriously, how cool is this?!
NOT the same brand that we had

Second, the food.  Because of my hometown’s close proximity to Moscow, https://oldladywriting.com/2019/06/28/the-three-monuments/ we were getting food.  Not the regular food like meat and potatoes and apples, but tiny portions of packaged food like butter and jam, as well as juice boxes.  These were intended for the athletes, but were siphoned off to the periphery both before their arrival and after their non-arrival.  These were items that you would see outside the Soviet Union in an average, non-fancy diner at breakfast.  To us, they were ambrosia.  I was under strict orders from my grandmother to not tell my friends that we had a supply of this amazing stuff, else we would have an infestation of neighborhood kids in search of mythical juice boxes.  (I received the same orders when we bought a color TV and a car, and whenever we had bananas in the house).

NOT the same brand that we had. There is no image of the incredible juice boxes that I could find. One of the flavors was pineapple–like we even knew what that tasted like!

I still think of Moscow Olympics every time I open a tiny jam container when I have breakfast at a diner.  And I still think of that glorious summer of plenty and exhilaration when I think of the Olympic Games.  And I still say, whenever anyone Russian asks me when I left the Motherland, “After the Olympics”.  And everyone understands.

[1] The plague took my friend who was slower than me in gym class.  I mourn her more than anyone will ever know, and for reasons that have nothing to do with anything that has yet been written…

[2] Five countries have been represented at all Summer Olympic Games – Greece, Great Britain, France, Switzerland, and Australia, but only Greece has participated under its own flag in all modern summer Olympic Games.  Good for Greece, rising above the fray! https://oldladywriting.com/2020/07/30/the-wrong-way-to-the-parthenon/

The cool blue bottle is for winners only!

Run Your Own Race

I have had a strange quasi-vicarious relationship with running since 1980.  It terrified yet attracted me.  I heard stories from my mother about having to run cross-country in college along the Volga embankment.  Given that I was second slowest only to the much heavier girl in my class back home, I dreaded the humiliation a decade in advance.  Even at age ten or so, I was occasionally giving myself pep talks that in college, everyone else will be too mature to tease the unathletic girl.  Of course, history showed that in the US, the university I attended did not have a phys ed requirement.  Go Blue and God Bless America!

In sixth grade, when I secretly quit the art studio that I was attending at the Young Pioneers Palace, I did so for several reasons.  One of them was that there were too many girls (they were all girls, if memory serves) who were much better artists than me.  And I hated getting paint all over myself.  I was quite a sloppy artist.  And I longed to paint with watercolors when all we were allowed was gouache, for reasons that are still passing understanding.  But most importantly, I got a better offer.  I was old enough to ride the trolley after school by myself, without my omnipresent and ever vigilant grandma.  My BFF decided to go to the track and field school with “Olympic reserve”.  She asked me to come along.  Apparently her father was some kind of a coach there, and he got us in—his tall, lean, fast daughter, and her friend with zero athletic prowess but a game attitude.

The school was fun.  I was terrible, of course, but since the exercise was neither mandatory nor graded, and gave me a chance to spend time with my friend rather than with grandma or the pretentious girls at the art studio, I went regularly.  The thing is, I am slow runner, but knowing that you have no chance at winning can be kind of liberating.  At the art studio, I tried and failed. At the track school, any attempt was a win for me.  And then came hurdles.

No, not hurdles as in virtual obstacles—real hurdles.  Here is why I loved them, even if I did a faceplant the first time I ran at one.  You don’t have to run as fast as the runners, or jump as high as the jumpers (that’s another thing I am really bad at, jumping).  I mean, of course Edwin Moses runs fast and jumps high (am I dating myself, mentioning Edwin Moses?  Al least I did not say David Burghley), but in the track and field school with “Olympic reserve” in 1980, the friend of the daughter of some dubious coach whom we never actually saw there had some mild fun with the hurdles. 

Once my grandmother found out, I don’t remember how, that I was hurdling rather than painting, there was a huge row.  There was always a huge row about something at our house.  My grandmother is of the “spare the rod, spoil the child” parenting philosophy, but this is not about her.  Soon thereafter we left the country.  And my friend stopped going once I left.  That still strikes me as sad.

So this was 1980.  In 1982, a huge beautiful film about 1924 Paris Olympics won the Best Picture Oscar for 1981.  I was living with my mother in Jackson, Michigan at the time and had no idea what an Oscar was.  My mother, who was in her Americanization phase then (to be fair, it lasted about three decades), took me to the cinema behind Paka Plaza (now defunct) to see this award-winning movie.  I instantly fell in love with Nigel Havers, a quintessentially English actor who played the part of the hurdler Lord Andrew Lindsay (David Burghley in real life).  This led to a lifetime love of British entertainment, especially PBS and BBC America.  And as for Nigel Havers, I actually saw him live on stage in Norwich, as Serge in “Art” a year ago.  How things do come full circle—and how can I write this and not feel like the luckiest girl in the world?

Briefly inspired by “Chariots of Fire”, which I saw over 25 times in the cinema alone and Lord knows how many times on VHS once we acquired a VCR, I did try to run then.  My mother bought be a book on running, or maybe I borrowed one from the library, and took me to a back road behind our apartment complex.  I might have run for a minute as recommended for beginners, spent another 30 sitting in the grass, and went home not to run again until 2016.

Despite my lifelong tendency to overthink, the decision to run was never a plan.  I say that it was an uncharacteristically swift decision for me, but I have been known to make those on occasion.  Some resolutions are just easier made and kept than others.  When you know, you know. 

Sometime in late 2015, I went on an 8k walk with a casual friend who runs.  She is not a conventional fitness model-looking person such as the ones one sees in videos, but a regular fun loving beer drinking gal who is but a few short years younger than me.  Yet clearly, she runs.  And that’s when I said to myself, if she runs, I can run. The 8k walk was no trouble, and I said to myself—in a year’s time, I will run a half marathon.  The long and short of it, I did.  And then another one, a year later.  And another one, on my 50th birthday.

The race is on!

Going back to “Chariots of Fire” as inspiration, the one thing that continuously strikes me as funny is that when I think of myself as Harold Abrahams or Eric Liddell, well, they were not marathoners.  They were sprinters.  Harold Abrahams was “the fastest man on Earth” in 1924.  Speed is still not my thing.

Running is a pretty cool thing, though.  I run barely faster than I walk, but I have seen some amazing sights as a runner. It is a new identity that I have tried on for size, and after three years, yes, that is who I am.  I am a runner. I am #oldladyrunning.