Travels with Charley:
Zoom me up, Jason!
by Charles McKelvy

What’s a Benny Goodman wanna-be supposed to do when old Mr. COVID comes a calling and basically shuts down everything until who knows when?
Yes, I am that clarinet player who aspires to play a sixteenth as good as Benny Goodman, and, as you may recall from a column last year, I went and got myself accepted into the Southshore Concert Band in Benton Harbor, Mich.
I played two concerts with them last year, and was rehearsing for more this year when our conductor, Dale Reuss, announced that we were standing down until further notice. Now, it looks like we won’t be gathering as a band until February 2021 at the earliest.
Serious bummer.
But then there is Jason Gresl. Yes, you’ve seen his mug in The Beacher on more than a few occasions, possibly even with his wife Lara Turner, a celebrated cellist who collaborates with Jason as Claricello. Yes, they make lovely cello/clarinet music together, and they are both wonderful teachers of their respective instruments. Natalie found Jason for me in 2013, and I have been taking weekly clarinet lessons with him ever since, originally at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, then at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich. as a private student, then sometimes at Jason’s house in South Bend, Ind., then back again at Lake Michigan College, and—you guessed it—lately on Zoom.
I mean the whole world, even Baby Boomers, are meeting on Zoom, right?
Hey, when the stay-at-home orders and quarantines and facial coverings and safe social distancing all started cranking up in March, I didn’t know a Zoom from a Zim. Just ask some friends who wanted me to set up some Zoom meetings so we could meet virtually.
I didn’t have a clue.
But, thanks largely to Jason Gresl, I am now a seasoned Baby Zoomer.
Who knew, right?
I sure didn’t, but I sure know that I look forward to my weekly Zoom lessons with Jason with a mixture of happiness and more than a little anxiety.
I told a musician friend that my brain hurts after my Zoom lessons with Jason; he said that means Jason is doing his job.
Oh, he’s doing that all right, and then some.
Allow me to explain.
Just Google “Jason Gresl,” and you’ll see that the Oberlin College graduate has clarinet credentials out the wazoo, but when a musical gig comes along requiring a clarinetist who can also play the flute, Jason goes and teaches himself to play the flute.
He’s that good, and even better, but he is a truly amazing teacher; he has really pushed me during this time of COVID shutdown.
Specifically, Jason turned me into a composer during the pandemic.
I would say he tricked me into it, but Jason would smile that wry smile of his and say that I had it in me all along.
Well, what I apparently had in me all along was this jazzy little tune we ended up calling COVID Ramble. Jason got me started by asking me to play three-note patterns, beginning with a low F. We went up and down the C scale, and threw in an accidental along the way, an E-flat. Clarinetists like the E-flat because there are so many cool ways to finger it, and because it has a bluesy tone to it.
Oh, and did I mention that Jason had me do the scale as a pentatonic scale, which means you skip every fifth note as you go up and down? If that sounds confusing to you, imagine what it did to my 70-year-old brain when Jason threw all this at me, in the comfort of my own home office, thanks to the good offices of Zoom?
Jason revealed a little more each week; then, one week, he sent me a printed piece of sheet music with my byline on it.

COVID Ramble by C. McKelvy.
And he sent me various “band tracks” to play along with.
“Play with the band,” he said.
“Play with the band,” he says every week.
And, yes, Jason, I do. (Well, mostly).
And, yes, I get behind. For a time I didn’t hold out the half-notes long enough. Then I mistook a downbeat for an upbeat and often got my fingers into a knotty mess, but, you know, I am now playing the tune Jason coaxed out of me with growing confidence, and even jazzy finesse. I like to think that Benny Goodman would be pleased to play my COVID Ramble. I do like to picture him on a cloud up there in heaven, toodling along with me. And, yes, with the band, too.
Yes, Jason, I play with the band. (Well, most of time).
And, yes, I played COVID Ramble in the parking lot of Detroit Institute of Arts, or DIA, during a recent trip to the Motor City. I did that because I wanted to be able to say that I had a gig in Motown. Now I can honestly say that I had a gig in Motown. I didn’t get paid for it, but I had a huge payout when a passing art patron nodded approvingly as she went to her car.
So, all this is to say that I have not been bored in the least during the COVID melt-down, or whatever you want to call it.
Quite the contrary.
I mean, how can you be bored when you wait in gleeful terror every week to be admitted to Jason Gresl’s Zoom site?

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Travels with Charley:
Cruising Russia on Viking Pakhomov
by Charles McKelvy

Mom was content to watch our crossing of Lake Ladoga from the comfort of her cabin.

I have written extensively about the Viking River Cruises “Waterways of the Czars” trip my 86-year-old mother and I took in Russia in October 2007. Until now, I have not written about the cruise itself, focusing instead on shore activities in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and points in between.
Now, I would like to take you aboard our ship, Viking Pakhomov, which was fully renovated in 2003 and offered us 423-feet of cruising comfort on three decks. Designed for a crew of 114 and 212 passengers, Viking Pakhomov featured a walk-around promenade deck, two restaurants, lounge, bar, library, sun deck, souvenir shop, sauna, internet station and laundry service. There was a doctor aboard and a hairdresser.
Mom availed herself of both the doctor and the hairdresser, but more on that presently.
We boarded the ship as soon as we arrived in Moscow, and we slept on the ship all 13 nights of our cruise. I had a small cabin on the main deck, near the reception desk, and Mom was quartered with a friend in a large cabin on the middle deck.
There were no escalators or elevators, so I had to “assist” Mom up and down the stairs, or ladders, as they are called on a ship.
Yes, I am probably the only passenger on that cruise who actually lost weight.
And trust me, I did not lack for food.
They fed us quite well, spasiba very much, and they honored my request for a strictly vegan fare with imagination and flare.
I’m sure you have seen the Viking River Cruises ads on PBS, so you know these people are a class act.
They certainly were for us, and we cruised Russia in style and comfort.

We began our voyage in Moscow. That’s the Pakhomov on the right.

So come aboard with me now and get a flavor for life on a river ship in the heart of Russia in October.
Yes, it was getting colder by the day when we were there, and it even snowed during our visit to a monastery in Goritzy. And, yes, there were passengers who had dressed for summer weather in Atlanta. (What is with people from Atlanta?) Well, we had typical October weather in Russia, and Mom and I were prepared. I was, after all, a Boy Scout, and I took the Scout motto, “Be Prepared” to heart.
Meaning that Mom and I were caparisoned for the brisk Russian autumn.
Still, I was the one who spent a good deal of time on the promenade deck, just drinking in the passing scenery of Russia. I was warm and toasty in my winter parka, and I pretty much had the promenade to myself, except for another passenger or two. I recall one woman walking laps as part of her daily fitness routine.
Mom and most of the other passengers preferred to spend their days in the library, playing bridge as Mom did, or sitting in their cabins.
Viking Pakhomov was a good, seaworthy, river ship, so there were no gimmicky distractions for the passengers such as one would find on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.
But we didn’t fly all that way to Russia to be distracted by bells and whistles. We wanted to see Russia; we did, and Viking Pakhomov was the perfect platform from which to do so.
My favorite shipboard memory came the day we were sailing over a village that had been deliberately flooded by Stalin to create a waterway between Moscow and what was then Leningrad. The top of a church was all that was there to remind us of this feat of brutal dictatorship. As we passed the church dome, one of the Russian guides stood next to me and asked: “Do you feel them?”
“What?” I replied.
“The bones of those who died to make this waterway. I feel them.”
I thought about it, and, yes, I did feel them, too.
Cruising the waterways of Russia tends to do that to a person.
I knew I was in Russia every moment on that ship; I was particularly keen to it when I was leaning on the rail and watching the passing scenery. It was fall, remember, so there was color in the birches and other hardwoods. The ducks were on the wing, and occasionally a couple of local duck hunters would appear in their motorboat.
It was like cruising the Mississippi, but so much more. We were plying the Moscow Canal, and then the Volga-Baltic Waterway, and then Like Onega, followed by the Svir River, and then across the vast expanse of Lake Ladoga to the Neva River and the city Peter the Great built, St. Petersburg.
I was the only passenger on deck for the crossing of Lake Ladoga because the seas were running, the skies were cloudy all day, and the mighty Viking Pakhomov was put to the test. And, yes, I remembered from a history test that the lake that so much reminded me of our own Lake Michigan figured prominently in the lifting of the siege of Leningrad during what the Russians call “the Great Patriotic War.” Supplies could not be brought to the embattled city until Lake Ladoga made a handy ice highway by freezing sufficiently enough to bear the weight of trucks.
What a lake, and what an honor to cross it on a stormy day.
But the good ship weathered the open seas as well or better than any American ship I had been on, and I had been on a few, having served in the U.S. Navy.
Life on board was a delight. When my mother cut her leg while getting settled on a bus during our stop in Yaroslavl, we did avail ourselves of the on-board doctor. He was a delightful man who gave my mother excellent medical care and talked openly of the comparative merits of our two healthcare systems.
We were pampered by the crew, fed almost to excess at every meal, and borne across the Waterways of the Czars in comfort and style aboard the good ship Viking Pakhomov.
And, yes, I would gladly sign up for another cruise on the Waterways of the Czars any day, at least when the pandemic has passed.

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I have written many articles about the trip my mother and I took to Russia in October 2007, but I haven’t really concentrated on the cruise itself, aboard the Viking Pakhomov. Yes, we cruised in comfort from Moscow to Saint Petersburg, and I intend to post a full-length story about it in the coming days. Stay tuned.

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A big shout-out to Lucas Giolito (pictured pitching last season) for throwing the first no-hitter of this pandemic-shortened season. Giolito threw 13 strike-outs last night against the Pirates. Final score: 4-0.

Lucas Giolito’s no-no last night was symbolic of the White Sox’s rise. He promises to continue being the best pitcher he can be. Sox fans can be certain more great outings are coming.

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Here we are last week heading toward DIA in dazzling Detroit.

A stop for a photo op.

Detroit is full of pleasant surprises.

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Needless to say, Natalie liked the pictures I took Sunday during my weekly ride to Warren Dunes State Park in nearby Sawyer, Michigan. I call it “the People’s Country Club.”

People enjoying the People’s Country Club.

There’s always room for bicycles.

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The White Sox took two out of three from the Cubs this past weekend, beginning with a 10-1 blast-out. They should have won yesterday’s game, but we will concede to the mound mastery of Yu Darvish. This is a picture from last year’s Crosstown Classic, when fans were allowed.

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Watch for low-flying planes while driving to Detroit on I-94.

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The third time was the charm, meaning that after two previous attempts to visit Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), we finally succeeded on Thursday, August 20.  And, yes, as previously posted, I played my clarinet in DIA’s parking lot after our three hours of arting it up.  And, you should know, DIA is taking all necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of visitors.  We had our temperatures checked before being admitted, and we were politely instructed to maintain safe social distancing and follow the designated routes through the galleries.  We four—Natalie, Arthur and Joe and myself—managed quite well for the three hours we allotted for our visit.  We lamented mightily that the magnificent Kresge Court was still off limits, so we did not get to repair there for espresso and lounging about.  Oh well.  We saw so, so much wonderful art that all we can say is that we must return again and again and again.  You should too.  Check out DIA at:  And now check out some of what we saw Thursday:

We had Rivera Court to ourselves Thursday afternoon.

The Belle Isle Bridge by Jeff Gaydash.

The art crowd prepare to depart DIA.

A musical salute to DIA.

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I finally fulfilled my long-held dream of makin’ music in Motown on Thursday by playing some original tunes in the Detroit Institute of Arts parking lot after our delightful day at DIA. More on our delightful day at DIA in the next post.

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We had the meat, and, sad to say, it’s killing us. Just as it killed poor Porkie here.

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Yes, we read the sign!

Flyboy says: “It’s my path too.”

Taking in the sights.

The sights.

A cat nap on the cat path.

One more look at the lake.

Headin’ home.

What’s for dinner?

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I found this gem while sorting through my photos of the Berrien County Youth Fair, which was to have been this week. Somehow this seems an appropriate image for an election year. You be the judge.

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The 75th annual Berrien County Youth Fair was to have begun today, but, alas, it was “postponed” until next August. Another victim of the COVID-19 shutdown. BCYF, we will miss you this week.

Attention on the fairgrounds: the fun couple won’t be here this year. Bummer!

What do you mean there’s no Fair this year?!?

No swinging at the BCYF in 2020.

The good news: there will be another “Fair Food Drive” on August 28 & 29. At least we’ll get our pretzels and veggie delites this year.

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Charles McKelvy

When I attended the Beatification of Fr. Solanus Casey, OFM Cap. on Saturday, November 18, 2017 at Ford Field in Detroit, I thought that was it.
I considered myself fortunate to have a friend in Mike Klinger who got me a ticket to that sold-out event. I was also grateful that Mike volunteered me to help where needed at the Solanus Casey Center on Mt. Elliott Street before the Beatification Mass. What that meant for me, a Benedictine Oblate, was that I was following in the humble Capuchin priest’s footsteps by greeting everyone as Christ, in the rain no less.
Yes, I was the guy out there on Kercheval Street dodging rain drops and greeting one busload of pilgrims after another. I was equipped with an umbrella and maps for the drivers and instructions for the pilgrims from all over North America. Yes, I looked like a drowned rat out there, but I channeled the good Irish friar and sought his guidance. No grumbling, he seemed to say. ’tis a soft day. Keep your wits about you, and accept the rain as a gift from God.
So I did, and I found myself, in spite of myself, repeating this cheerful refrain: “Welcome to sunny Detroit.” That got some laughs, and, I am sure, some from Solanus Casey himself.
I was mindful as I stood at my soggy post that Father Solanus came to Detroit in 1924 seeking to be of service to the people of the Motor City. I knew that his struggles with German and Latin in seminary had caused church leaders to ordain him as a “simplex-priest,” meaning that he was not allowed to hear confessions, give absolution, or preach on complex theological matters. He could only give simple, heart-felt homilies about the love of Jesus for his people, and greet visitors to St. Bonaventure. But that didn’t stop him, and fellow friars, from founding the Capuchin Soup Kitchen during the Great Depression. Fr. Solanus, and the other porters and cooks, were no longer able to keep up with the demand for sandwiches at the front doors of St. Bonaventure. So with group of women from the Third Order of St. Francis, they began to serve meals in a building next to the monastery.
I knew that ministry continues to this day, and, as I stood in the rain on Beatification Day, I heard from many grateful patrons of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen Fr. Solanus helped start.
I also knew from my reading about the prayerful friar that he soon became such a sought-after provider of spiritual comfort and counsel that the frustrated friars finally put a sign over the bell stating: WALK IN.
In his book, “Meet Solanus Casey, Spiritual Counselor and Wonder Worker” (Servant, an imprint of Franciscan Media, 2002), Brother Leo Wollenweber, OFM, Cap. writes: “The fame of Solanus spread by word of mouth all over the city. When people were sick or in difficulty, the word was, Go see Father Solanus. He was everybody’s friend, and like a good friend, he was always available.”

Buddies at the Beatification: Mike Klinger (left) and Charley McKelvy.

I felt that Father Solanus was my friend that memorable November Saturday in 2017 when I stood in the rain greeting pilgrims to the Solanus Casey Center. And I felt even closer to him as I joined some 40,000 other pilgrims for the Eucharistic Liturgy and Rite of Beatification of the Venerable Servant of God Solanus Casey at 4 p.m. at Ford Field in downtown Detroit.
I have prayed, and am praying now, the Prayer for the Canonization of Blessed Solanus Casey, which thanks God “for the gifts you gave Father Solanus,” and asks that “if it is Your Will, bless us with the Canonization of Father Solanus so that others may imitate and carry on his love for all the poor and suffering of our world.”
I am confident that it is indeed God’s Will that Father Solanus Casey will one day be canonized, and I know I will be so informed of that happy news by the Solanus Casey Center, on whose mailing list my name and address appear. (Add your name and addresss by writing them in care of the Solanus Casey Center, 1780 Mt. Elliott Street, Detroit, MI 48207-3427. Or, email the Capuchin Soup Kitchen at:
But I also know that I have been forged by Father Solanus Casey in the friendship of others, particularly the aforementioned Mike Klinger and Gary Gorka, the latter who shares a pew with me every Sunday at Saint Agnes Catholic Church in Sawyer, Mich. We are all inspired by the good works of the humble friar who was born on a farm in Wisconsin on November 25,1870 to Irish immigrant parents. Father Solanus died in Detroit on July 31, 1957, but not before sitting up suddenly and stretching out his arms and declaring in a clear voice: “I give my soul to Jesus Christ.”
He is then said to have laid back on his pillow and breathed forth his soul. “It was eleven o’clock in the morning,” Brother Wollenweber writes in “Meet Solanus Casey.” “At the very hour and on the very date of his first Holy Mass, fifty-three years before. The sisters and the doctors, with (his brother) Msgr. Edward Casey, were consoled on entering the room to see the look of peace on Solanus’ face.”
I know from my friends, Mike and Gary, and from my readings about this holy man of God that he had a particularly difficult time forgiving the English for what they had to done to the Irish over the centuries. And I know that Solanus Casey’s grandfather, James Casey, died from wounds he suffered while defending the Blessed Sacrament from a marauding band of Orangemen, or Irish Protestants.
I am, in fact, descended from just such Orangemen, and I count it as no mere coincidence that I should have been the one picked to stand out in the rain greeting all those happy pilgrims on November 18, 2017.
I could feel Father Solanus forgiving me and my ancestors with every cold, penetrating rain drop.
So all that I have left to say is, Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Solanus Casey.
And: Blessed Solanus, pray for us.

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Flyboy is a cat of many talents, expertise in yoga being just one of them.

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What better way in which to celebrate our 43rd wedding anniversary on Thursday than to take a 20-mile ride on the Kal-Haven Trail State Park that runs east from South Haven to Kalamazoo. All in the magnificent State of Michigan, no less.

Heading up from the Black River.

The Black River flooded the gazebo this spring.

We took five (and then some) in Grand Junction.

There’s still plenty of train spotting in Grand Junction. This coal train is waiting on the Grand Junction siding.

We’ve been riding and walking the Kal-Haven since it opened in 1989.

Some 33 miles of views like this and no motor vehicles. What’s not to like?

Complement your next trip to South Haven with a ride on the Kal-Haven.

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Natalie and I have been riding together since August 13, 1977 when we tied the knot in Evanston, lllinois. In fact, we hauled our bikes all over Wisconsin for our honeymoon. Ride on (with me), My Dear!

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My friend Mark Barrett and I traveled to Chicago Sunday to worship and commune with the Roman Catholic Benedictine monks of the Monastery of the Holy Cross.  Continuing a centuries-old tradition, the monks live according to the Rule of St. Benedict by seeking God through a life of prayer, silence, work and hospitality.  We were spiritually uplifted by Mass in the church and a conference in the monastery courtyard by Prior Peter Funk, OSB.  Prior Peter acknowledged that we are living through challenging times and suggested replacing fear with faith.  Having digested the good prior’s words of wisdom, Mark and I then repaired to the nearby Zaytune Mediterranean Grill for our fill of falafel, hummus, pickled vegetables, herb fries, and tabouli salad.  Thanks be to God!  We found silence and sustenance in the city and returned to Michigan spiritually and physically refreshed.

Goin’ in.

View from the pews.

Words of wisdom from Prior Peter Funk, OSB.

Mark leads the charge to Zaytune.

A post prandial prowl around Bridgeport. St. Mary of Perpetual Help is a neighborhood landmark.

You will find Monastery of the Holy Cross at 3111 S. Aberdeen Street, Chicago, IL 60608-6503. Visit before you visit.

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Flyboy has his eyes on the prize.

The prize.

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Just follow the clouds, and you’ll have a great summer bike ride.

Natalie shows top form on Prairie Road.

Heading east on East Road. Who knew summer could be such fun?

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Thanks be to my friend Gary Gorka for lending me this wonderful book. It is good reading any day of the week.

I have been to the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit. More on that soon.

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How’d you like to do this for a living?

Talk about high on the job. We saw this along East Road the other day. Better cell service, right?

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So much is missing this silly summer of COVID craziness that we decided it’s time for some fireworks of our own. Here’s a show from the time when fans were actually allowed to attend baseball games. Can you imagine?

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I was stopped by a westbound, empty coal train on the CSX line from Grand Rapids. I lost count after 200 cars. you tell me.

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Here’s a happy baseball memory: Chris Sale on the bump for the White Sox pitching to the Tigers in Detroit. This, obviously, was a few years ago. Sale got the win, by the way.

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The pond at Chikaming Township Park and Preserve is now covered entirely with green algae. How cool is this?

Swim at your own risk.

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My new bike Blackhawk took me to Cherry Beach yesterday evening in time to see the following:

This guy’s thinking: “Hey, somebody’s got to do it.”

On golden pond, right? Well, not always.

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As we gaze at the magnificent Heritage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, I urge you to watch Alexander Sokurov’s masterpiece, RUSSIAN ARK. Filmed in the Hermitage with a cast of thousands and three live orchestras, RUSSIAN ARK is the longest uninterrupted shot in film history, and the first feature film ever created in a single take. Plus, it is a delightful tour de force of Russian history.

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Fondly recalling a Saturday afternoon walk I took along the Neva River in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 2007.

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