Friday, April 29, 2005

Restore Proposal A

As promised, here is the scoop on the meeting on Michigan school funding that I attended last night in Traverse City.

This was a comprehensive, well-researched presentation. The situation for all Michigan public schools is dire. Although some schools are worse off that others right now, all Michigan public schools will be in danger in 2-3 years. The funding crisis cannot be cured by containing costs, changing insurance plans, or waiting for better economic times. Although Proposal A was supposed to partially shift school funding from property taxes to sales tax revenues, a slow economy, internet sales and --most important-- various changes to the tax code enacted by the state legislature have slowed the stream of sales tax money.

Restore Proposal A's "white paper" puts it like this:
In the beginning, Proposal A helped most Michigan school districts. Then legislators began to manipulate the law. In fact, since Proposal A passed, the Legislature has made over 70 changes in it. And, most of the changes to Proposal A have negatively impacted school funding. In addition, given that the State of Michigan relies primarily on sales tax for school funding, Michigan’s dismal economic condition makes it difficult for the State to fund Proposal A as taxpayers intended.

Quite simply, legislative tweaking and a weak economy have made Proposal A unworkable.

More info is on the website at I am writing to my state senator, this week to let her know that public schools are important to me and my community and that we expect her to be actively working for a solution.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


Leland Public School presents Honk! The Musical on May 13-15 and May 20-22. For tickets, call 256-9857

I hate leaving Leelanau county in the nice weather. We work so hard to get to spring, and it is so fleeting. May is a dicey month; either plants are in the garden and must be babied past the frosty night stage, or they are overgrown in their flats and need constant watering.

I am also sad about missing the second week of Honk! The high school kids have been rehearsing the show for weeks now and assembling costumes and props. The CD has been permanently lodged in my car CD player. Even Anna walks around the house singing of "A poultry tale of life down on the farm!"

Honk! is a musical interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen's Ugly Duckling story. It was written and first produced in England, but is becoming a popular production for small groups. I have become quite enamoured of the score and I'm looking forward to seeing how it looks on stage. Our director, Jeremy Evans, has a gift for getting the best performances out of kids who might otherwise never have ventured into musical theater. (At our house, it is common to break into song in the midst of whatever is happening. Other people have told me that this sort of thing does not actually happen in "real life".)

Honk!'s themes are well suited to high school life. Wondering about fitting in, barnyard cliques, holding one's head up high while paddling like hell underneath, these are all high school. Anthony Drewe, one of the authors, said this:
The principle theme of the show is clearly the acceptance of others who may appear different for whatever reason. In our increasingly multi-cultural society school bullying, racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and any other "isms" you care to mention are still prevalent to varying degrees. I don't even like the word "tolerance" as this implies having to put up with something that, in truth, is to one's disliking. Acceptance, compassion, and understanding are far better words.

After a conversation with Jeremy yesterday, I am scheming to create at least one big egg, or perhaps one big egg and a series of smaller ones:

A photo from the England's National Theatre production of Honk!

I have located a source for plaster gauze, but what to use for a mold?

A few years ago I helped out at a one day powwow in Traverse City as part of the National Cherry Festival. I had been to weekend powwows before, but it was a different experience to be at one powwow from beginning to end. First it was just an open space. Then we set up chairs and a place for the MC. Then the drummers started and the grass dancers came and tromped down the grass. There was a prayer. The colors (flags) entered, the veterans were honored, then the shawl dancers, jingle dancers, fancy dancers, the men's and women's traditionals, all took their turn. There was an intertribal ("Everybody dances!") then the colors left the arena, the closing prayer, the drums stopped, we folded up all the chairs, and that was that. It was like it never happened, except for the faint circle on the grass.

I love this aspect of live theater, especially amateur productions. For a few hours we share a vision of a whole other world, then the book closes and it's back to everyday life. If you weren't there, you missed it.

Monday, April 25, 2005

On to OM Worlds

The OM team victorious at State Competition

The world is conspiring to drag me, kicking and screaming, into the realm of OM.

We had been planning that Richard would go with Anna to Boulder and I would stay home and work. As it turns out, someone else cancelled leaving an extra ticket and the itinerary only includes two of my work days so there is no reason to stay home. Except for the two teenagers, who are delighted to be left home alone. There are advantages to the old farm house on the busy corner in a nosy community; I don't worry about kids running amuck while I'm gone because they know everyone in town is watching.

I haven't been to Boulder since my brother Chris was in college there. I'm going to have to start hiking the hill behind the casino on my breaks so I don't get weak-kneed in Colorado.

Ever since the first OM competition I've been trying to get to the root of the state's school funding troubles and come up with some concrete actions that parents can take to help solve things. My search has has been confusing and pretty much fruitless. Lansing Has No Quick Fix for Schools tells the story as well as anyone. Big news is the lawsuit filed this week aginst the No Child Left Behind act , here is the editorial in the Detroit Free Press. On Thursday I will be attending a meeting about Proposal A and what should be done to make it work. Check back on Friday for the story.

One of the things I can do with the free sitemeter (that rainbow thingy in the corner of this site) is check and see how people found this site. In checking out blogs that link to this one I found found one called Yarn!, about knitting. Well, about knitting and other things; check out the entry called I Promised Timothy Leary, it was the funniest thing I read today. But that was before I saw the photo of the Raw Viking Chicken Hat.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Farmland Preservation

The hoop house at Meadowlark Farm (a Leelanau County CSA)yesterday.

One of the less obvious reasons for a shortfall in the county budget is our lack of success in the area of farmland preservation. When farmland is converted to housing, more taxes are collected, but the services demanded by those new residents (police protection, snow plowing, etc.) cost more than the taxes that are being collected. Paying a little bit now for the Farmland Preservation Program could pay off in lower property taxes in the future, even if you don't appreciate the aethetics of farming and farm products.

In the future you may appreciate someting to eat. A global economy is lots of fun now, but I wonder what will happen when we have paved over our nations's breadbasket and the rest of the world is tired of lending us money to buy goods, including food, from overseas. A nation that has been "ordering takeout" every night will suddenly have to figure out how to fix food at home.

My favorite strategy for farmland preservation is to support local farmers by buying and appreciating their products. The photo above is up at Meadowlark Farm, a community supported agriculture (CSA)farm. Although Jon and Jenny sell their flowers and salad greens through local grocries, the backbone of their operation is the "shareholder" system. Subscribers pay an upfront fee at the beginning of each growing season and then each week through the harvest season they receive a large box of fresh food and flowers, whatever was in its prime that week. Jenny describes their offer:
We offer half shares for $315 and full shares for $550. A half share is meant to feed two big veggie eaters , a full share is meant to feed four eaters. Our veggie season runs from early June into October with other share options as well: a flower share $150, fruit share(small berries)$100, winter share $150. Our veggie share includes any veggie you could imagine with the "staples"(washed salad greens come every week, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic and broccoli) coming as regularly as possible.
Their traditional season was June through October but the hoop houses, new last winter, have enabled them to offer a Winter Share of tender, fresh greens. They harvested greens until Christmas, left the plants in the ground during the cold, short daylength months, and then did their first spring harvest around March 15th.

The spinach from that March 15th cutting was wonderful. Another neighbor had been buying those fancy organic greens that are shipped in plastic boxes from who-knows-where. She complained that they "just tasted old". She thought there was something wrong with her taste buds. When we tasted the fresh local Spinach in March, we knew that there was nothing wrong with her palate. Fresh and local just tastes better.

Here is an older article about Meadowlark Farm. For information on subscribing to their fresh local food, email Jenny at or call 231-256-6980.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Are Americans Selfish?

Our OM coach is a force onto herself. By last night she and another mom had hit the phones, called businesses and local foundations and secured promises of funding that will cover airfare and lodging for the Colorado trip. We still have to raise money to cover spending money for the trip so we will be doing a car wash, a garage sale, and bake sales.

If it was hard getting Anna to do her homework before, it is nigh unto impossible now. She is too excited, too tired, and she has people all over telling her how great she is. She doesn't want to hear from grumpy old Mom and Dad who don't care how great she is, they still want her to do her homework and practice piano. It reminds me of when Shelagh was in tenth grade and played piano to accompany a number of people in the high school talent show. She did a barely passable job, got praise heaped upon her, and literally never practiced seriously again. She told me that she didn't need to practice, that "faking it" was good enough.

In Whacking Gophers I spoke of my frustration over the erosion of support for the programs that form the underpinnings of communities, things like public schools and Cooperative Extension. I have been researching for the underlying causes of this trend. Today I will refer you to three long articles that give some insight.

Rolling Back the 20th Century by William Grider outlines the far right's ambition to fundamentally change American life:
The movement's grand ambition--one can no longer say grandiose--is to roll back the twentieth century, quite literally. That is, defenestrate the federal government and reduce its scale and powers to a level well below what it was before the New Deal's centralization. With that accomplished, movement conservatives envision a restored society in which the prevailing values and power relationships resemble the America that existed around 1900, when William McKinley was President. Governing authority and resources are dispersed from Washington, returned to local levels and also to individuals and private institutions, most notably corporations and religious organizations. The primacy of private property rights is re-established over the shared public priorities expressed in government regulation. Above all, private wealth--both enterprises and individuals with higher incomes--are permanently insulated from the progressive claims of the graduated income tax.

The article is from 2003, but it is no less true today.

How are they doing this? Americans don't want to short change schools. We don't want the poor to starve. We like social security and pension funds. We like having good roads and well funded police forces. We expect our utility companies and airlines and manufacturers, even the stock market, to be regulated by the government and courts so that our health and pocketbooks are protected. Yet we are told that "everyone" wants less government.

In Simple Framing, George Lakoff, a cognitive psychologist, shows how the conservative movement has used language to frame debates and win elections. Progressive values: empathy, responsibility, fairness, community, cooperation, doing our fair share, are still embraced by most Americans, but they are not discussed in the political arena. Progressives need to My Whacking Gophers piece was my first attempt at "reframing".

Finally, and I told you these were long pieces, there is the first chapter of Jim Wallis's new book God's Politics.
Many of us feel that our faith has been stolen, and it's time to take it back. In particular, an enormous public misrepresentation of Christianity has taken place. And because of an almost uniform media misperception, many people around the world now think Christian faith stands for political commitments that are almost the opposite of its true meaning. How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and only pro-American?
This is a piece to read and meditate on. Wallis doesn't doubt that the current administration has faith, but he characterizes them as bad theologians, ignoring Jesus' repeated calls to care for the poor, weak and sick and proceeding with a war of choice in spite of the advice of religious leaders.

Americans aren't mean, narrow minded and selfish, but we are being typecast that way.

This is the last day of good weather for a while, so I am out to the yard. Happy Spring.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Trying to see the Forest and the Trees

There is a chance of rain tomorrow so I am planting as much as I can today. It has been an extremely dry spring, the first time I have ever had to water the rhubarb.

Life churns on. Anna's OM team went to state competition over the weekend and won second place, which means that they are now qualified to go to World Competition in Boulder, Colorado in May. Their "structure" held 520 pounds and they scored well on their "spontaneous" problem solving exercise. Now a new spontaneous problem solving exercise: how to fund a 5 day trip to Colorado for six kids plus their coaches. Six third graders and their coaches. I have always strived to keep my kids' activities to a size that they could own the activity themselves. This thing has grown way beyond my idea of age-appropriate activity.

I first mentioned school funding in this blog in I still don't get OM, where I wondered why parents were so eager to hang around an OM competition but weren't paying attention to adult responsibilities like demanding that our schools get adequate funding. Now the OM team is planning to ask the school board for financial help, but I fear the well is dry.

On another note, please check out

Baghdad Burning, a girlblog from Iraq. She posts at odd intervals (perhaps due to power outages) but she had posted several times in the last two weeks. You can find out what was going on in the rest of the world while the TV "news" covered the royal wedding.

Friday, April 15, 2005

A Side Rant: Budgets, Toenail Fungus and Viagra

Everybody's budgets are being hit nowadays by the rise in the cost of health care. In today's New York Times Paul Krugman writes the first of a three part series on the rising cost of health care, The Medical Money Pit. (Yes, you'll have to make up a password and login to read the article, but it is well worth it.)

He compares the amount per person spent on healthcare in the US to the same moneys spent in other countries:
In 2002, the latest year for which comparable data are available, the United States spent $5,267 on health care for each man, woman and child in the population. Of this, $2,364, or 45 percent, was government spending, mainly on Medicare and Medicaid. Canada spent $2,931 per person, of which $2,048 came from the government. France spent $2,736 per person, of which $2,080 was government spending.

Amazing, isn't it? U.S. health care is so expensive that our government spends more on health care than the governments of other advanced countries, even though the private sector pays a far higher share of the bills than anywhere else.

What do we get for all that money? Not much.

Most Americans probably don't know that we have substantially lower life-expectancy and higher infant-mortality figures than other advanced countries. It would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that this poor performance is entirely the result of a defective health care system; social factors, notably America's high poverty rate, surely play a role. Still, it seems puzzling that we spend so much, with so little return.

Klugman goes on to cite doctor's salaries, more use of high-tech services, and inefficiencies in record keeping as reasons why medical services cost more in the US.

Everytime I think about the rising cost of health care in the US, all I can think about is erectile disfunction and toenail fungus.

In fact, I think about erectile disfuction and toenail fungus almost constantly, at least while watching TV, because I get reminded of them every commercial break. Of course there are other prescription drugs advertised on television, but I have no idea what most of the others are for.

It turns out almost everyone over the age of 40 has toenail fungus. I remember studying adults' feet when I was a kid and marvelling over the different shapes that toenails could grow into. It wasn't an affliction back then; ladies just painted their toenails every summer no matter what shape they were, then put on their sunglasses and got on with life. Kids are still studying adults' toenails; two summers ago a six year old looked at my feet, told me I had toenail fungus, and then told me I needed to ask my doctor about Lamisil.

Even at a Canadian online pharmacy a prescription for Lamisil costs $248.70, not counting the doctor's visit, or the optional blood test to screen for liver problems. Yet, if I decided that I wanted to brave possible liver damage, unexplained changes to the retina, and the usual assortment of side effects, I could get my Blue Cross to pay for it tomorrow. An expensive cure for an invented problem.
A need created to sell a drug.

The erectile disfunction ads are in the same category, but with a sick turn. Sure it was cute at first to watch advertising agencies struggle to talk about sex without mentioning sex. In the beginning my husband told me that Viagra must be a drug for guys that didn't know how to dance since every ad ended with a couple dancing. Then there was the guy who got to throw the football through the tire, then Bob Dole on the beach, then the race car. There was an odd sidetrack to the couple who sat holding hands in separate bathtubs poised at the edge of a cliff. Finally we moved on to the guy that grows horns on his head and the woman who is filmed from the shoulders up while she wriggles like a puppy and talks about how her man didn't really need help with sex, it's just better with Levitra. (This one ends with the warning about the 4 hour erection.)

None of the people in these ads are of childbearing age. Given that advertisers routinely use models that are 10 or 15 years younger than the target audience, it is clear that these products are being pitched to aging baby boomers for purely recreational sex. A quick Google search tells us the cost for 10 tabs is $96. Why am I paying, through increased insurance premiums, for other people's recreational drugs? What's next -- prescription beer?

The promise when we decided to allow prescription drug advertising was that a better informed public would be a healthier public. I think we might be healthier if we were to forego drug advertisement once more and resolve to spend our medical dollars targeting real medical problems.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

School funding links

Today is a 12 hour day for me so I will give you some links to articles on school funding and the State of Michigan's budget situation:

April 10th interview with Bill Price, of EMU's college of education lays out some of the reasons for school funding shortfalls. He points out that the $175 proposed raise in the per pupil grant is only enough to cover inflation.

This April 10 article from the Oakland Press describes the Catch-22 that the state finds itself in. Michigan is 50th out of 50 among the states in recovering from the last recession. Good schools are critical to the goal of attracting new business to invest in the state, yet the weak economy cannot generate the sales taxes that are supposed to fund schools under Proposal A. But Failure to educate is ultimately costly to the state's budget. "If we're willing to spend $30,000 to put someone in prison, we ought to be willing to spend at least $8,000 a year to put a kid in a quality school," said Brian Whiston, director of legislative affairs for Oakland Schools.

Finally an April 7th article from the Grand Rapids Press. The bleak title says it all: State Slips to 16th in School Funding! Incredibly, the state of Michigan managed to slide from sixth in the nation to 16th in just seven years. The situation is actually worse in many districts, including most of Leelanau County, because the state average is skewed by much larger per pupil grants in the school districts of suburban Detroit. From the article:

Grand Rapids gets $6,782 per student in state aid. If ranked with the per-pupil spending by states, the city schools would be 38th, between Louisiana and Kentucky.

But Grand Rapids Board of Education member Rhonda Grochowalski said she's angry because some southeastern Michigan districts would rank with high-spending New Jersey and New York.

"That's proof that our system needs fixing," she said. "Why are my students worth any less than kids in Bloomfield?"

That's all for today or I will punch in late. This working for a living really cuts into my lifestyle.......

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Whacking Gophers

It is spring, finally, real spring, and I am frustrated.

Six springs ago I neglected the garden to concentrate on campaigning for a millage to renovate and expand our local K-12 Leland Public School. That particular millage failed but the campaign set the stage to pass a similar millage a few years later and now we have a beautiful, up-to-date school building that serves our kids and the community well while preserving our status as the least-taxed school district in the county.

Winter and spring of 2004 the state budget crisis prompted Governor Granholm to propose axing Cooperative Extension and the Agriculture Experiment Stations from the state budget. It took a campaign of letter writing, phone calls and visits with state legislators to bring the people in Lansing to their senses and save our 4-H programs, Ag Research and Advice programs, Master Gardener Program, as well as programs to help low income people manage household finances, to help seniors get proper nutrition, and on and on. Another year of gardening neglect; you can see it in the currant bush that has gone without pruning.

This year I feel like I am playing that old arcade game Whack-a-Gopher. In the game, your quarter buys you a chance to hold a big wooden mallet in front of a table that has several holes in it. Everytime a stuffed gopher sticks its head up out of the hole you whack it with the mallet. At first it is easy and fun, but as time goes on the gophers come faster and sometimes two or three at a time. You can whack a lot of gophers for a quarter, but in the end you can never get them all.

In community version of Whack-a-Gopher, budget crisises pop up one after the other, prompting the concerned citizens to mount one campaign after another to save the underpinnings of the lives we lead. This spring we have reached the accelerated portion of the game, as school funding is threatened in the state budget, expenditures for Extension, recycling, Family Court, even the dog catcher are being attacked in the county budget , and new federal requirements from the No Child Left Behind Act put new, expensive requirements on our public schools.

Six years ago we were working to build a new school, to improve our community. Now we are asking such ugly questions as "Can we afford to have a school music program next year?" In this small community we are already avoiding duplication of services and leveraging paid staff with an army of dedicated volunteers. There is just not a lot of fat to cut.

Clearly there are too many gophers to whack one at a time. We cannot win this game, because the game itself is rigged. Somehow along the way we have accepted the premise that all taxation is evil, that we can enjoy the benefits of a caring community without actually paying for it.

Caring community? How about a functioning community!

I come from a long line of taxpayers. If I told you that both of my grandfathers made modest fortunes because people weren't afraid to pay taxes, you might think that I come from a family of bureaucrats. In fact both of my grandfathers were engineers. Grandpa Lee was a civil engineer in western New York. He designed many taxpayer funded projects, including part of the New York State Thruway and a regional water system for Niagara and Orleans counties. Grandpa Gord was a mechanical engineer with AC Delco and GM. He held many patents, including the design for the camshaft-driven fuel pump, the device that replaced the unreliable gravity fed system on older cars like the Model T. While he invented a design that would allow for faster cars that were reliable for great distances, the invention would have been worthless if the public was not willing to fund roads that actually went somewhere. (If you read Gord's biography, you will see that he benefited from an exceptionally good public school education. He never forgot this. Even when he couldn't remember much at all anymore he would tell me about his good education and that he had paid his taxes.)

Our parents and grandparents paid taxes because they were willing to invest in the things that built stronger communities and that enhanced the world for future genrations. At the Extension Council meeting this week I heard County Commissioner Mary Tonneberger tell us that a half mil tax hike -- about $50 per household -- would pay for the services that are on the county chopping block but that the county commissioners were not even considering asking the public for a tax increase. Presumably they are scared of the public reaction. Earlier in the meeting, Don Coe of Black Star Farms had told us of adding a little apple brandy to his maple syrup during the final stage of boiling to make an interesting apple-maple syrup. I felt like suggesting that he provide the county commissioners with a shot of apple brandy before their meetings to give them a little courage.

Both of my grandfathers told me that my generation didn't have the brains or guts to accomplish what they had done. I was insulted at the time, but I'm beginning to think they were right.

More on this later. The chickens are anxious for me to pull some weeds for them to eat, "chicken salad" as my mom called it when she was little.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Bread, Overview

Baking bread was the first topic of this blog. When I started I didn't know how to post pictures, or even live links. The first articles about bread baking still stand as a decent tutorial about the how and why of baking bread, but I have added some pictures. Here they are in order:

Baking Bread

Bread Baking Equipment

Bread and Chickens


Bread in the Oven

And don't forget Pizza!

I talk a lot. These bread baking pages contain a lot of family stories along with the recipes. "Bread Baking" turns out to be the search terms that bring the most new hits to this site, so I spent some time and reprinted the bread advice to its own blog, Home Baked Bread.

Friday, April 08, 2005

50th Wedding Aniversary

Last week we traveled to Lockport, New York for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

Pete and Jane Wendel on their 50th Wedding Anniversary.

I hadn't anticipated the potential for amusement in this turnabout scenario. We went back to our hometown, invited all of our parents' friends to a party, and then told their friends stories about our parents, instead of the parents talking about us.

My mom's friends thought it was great fun to come up one by one and ask "Do you know who I am?" It has been probably 20 years since I saw a lot of the folks who were always around when I was growing up so I was usually stumped, but sometimes I could get a glimpse of the sparkle in an eye that brought to mind the son I had gone to school with. Sometimes the lilt of a voice was still unchanged. There was no logic, just a quick intuitive search through memories that I don't think I've accessed in decades.

Memory is an odd thing. My siblings and I remember different things about our childhood. Some things we all remember, but we remember them differently. I think that's why photos hold such appeal; they seem like placeholders in our memories, reference points that everyone should be able to agree on.

We expected to leave for home on Sunday afternoon, but six inches of wet April snow forced us to stay another night and then leave at 3 am when it was already melting. On that last night I sat with my mom and Aunt Lynn looking at photos from my great-grandparents' time. Some of the people were identified, some we could figure out, but many questions remained. I found myself studying the faces of people who looked familiar, but who I had never met. I wonder what they were like, what they thought about, if they were happy. I don't know what I expected to find; photos taken five minutes ago often seem to not match our moods and characters. Still, I looked.

So the photo above is underexposed and has lousy color. But it shows the mood of the day loud and clear. A good time was had by all.