Monday, May 30, 2005

Wide Awake Drunks

After the Colorado trip I needed to make up some hours at work. Work needed me for the Memorial Day weekend. So I have worked 4 ten hour shifts and will finish off the week with a 12 hour shift today.

That's a lot of time on one's feet. I was glad to get sent to the poker room towards the end of last night because I would get to sit down for a while. The Pistons-Heat game was on, so the players were distracted. Unusually distracted. They all talked alot but they weren't making much sense.

Some of the guys were drinking a new kind of Budweiser. They called it "beer with energy". Nowadays "energy" means a few herbs and a whole lot of caffeine. One guy said if you drank energy beer all night you would wake up really alert in the morning. Another one said it tasted like water. I was working really hard to get then to focus on the game, which is tricky when you're dealing poker. You don't want to be rushing a player who is seriously ruminating over his big move, but you don't want to waste time if the guy is actually just studying his hangnail. These guys were all over the map attention-wise.

It was dawning on me that "energy beer" could have major repercussions on the career that I call --only half in jest-- "professional drunk wrangling". In thirteen years in the business I have come to rely on a certain drunk curve. Most people who drink enough get obnoxious for a while then they start to fall asleep. The ones that don't get sleepy are the ones who cause trouble. If "energy beer" means that fewer get sleepy, will that mean more arguments and more fights? Maybe it just means more inanity.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

New Chicken Questions

This is the time of year that people approach me with questions about the poultry that they have recently acquired.

Last night it was the bus driver at work who had brought home the chickens that hatched out of their eggs at the Montessori school. Often it is people who have raised chicks until they've feathered out but they're not sure how to house them next.

I keep my chickens in a barn because I have a barn. If I didn't have a barn I would consider using a "chicken tractor" or lightweight open-bottomed cage during all but the coldest months. The idea is that the chickens feed on vegetation and insects in the ground in addition to their regular feed, yet they are prevented from being as destructive as free range chickens can be. When they have worked all of the weeds and insects out of a piece of ground it is ready to plant as new garden or rejuvenated lawn.

Here is a great link with pictures of over 100 small movable chicken pens. Also an article from the Seattle Times about custom chicken coops to give you an ideas for housing in the colder weather.

For folks who suddenly find themselves responsible for a handful of baby chicks,
The City Chicken has a nice page on how to care for them.

I'm always on the lookout for a "broody hen", one who is in the mood to sit on a nest of eggs long enough to hatch them. Conventional egg producers discourage broodiness in their flock; it is more cost effective to hatch large numbers of eggs in incubators and then raise them under lights. The broody instinct has been bred out of modern commercial chickens, but I always try to select breeds that still have the potential to become good setters and good mothers.

It's been about 8 or 10 years since I had a hen raise a brood and I'm beginning to wonder if there is something I can do to encourage the mothering instinct in a few hens. A recent article in Discover magazine described how social problems in large pig pens --called ear and tail biting syndrome-- can be cured with large doses of vitamins. The article went on to describe how this experience inspired one hog farmer to devise a similar vitamin therapy for human mental illness. I started wondering along different lines. I've always known that you could stop chickens from pecking each other by providing lots of grass cuttings and weeds in their pen. I always assumed that this worked by distracting them; perhaps it was the dose of vitamins in the fresh green stuff that did the trick. It is also known that hens who free range are more likely to go broody, they just disappear from the flock and turn up 3 weeks later with chicks. Maybe the better diet is triggering the mothering instinct.

At any rate, I'm working too hard. Looking at those cool movable chicken pens makes me realize just how much work I'm doing digging up weeds and bringing them to the chickens. A small pen could hold half a dozen hens and I could rotate them out of the big pen for R&R while moving the pen around to the areas that I need to get de-weeded.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Odyssey of the Mind

My daughter Anna competed last year in Odyssey of the Mind, a creative problem solving competition for kids. I was dragged, kicking and screaming into the OM world. These posts tell the story:

I Still Don't Get OM March 12, 2005
More On OM March 17, 2005
On to OM Worlds April 25, 2005
Wild Goose Chase May 19, 2005
Laundry May 24, 2005
Home Again May 25, 2005

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Home Again

Home from Boulder

In the end Leland's OM team placed 22nd in the Division 1 Crazy Columns. The kids were disappointed after the awards ceremony last night. 22nd in the world doesn't sound very impressive if you don't know how big the world is.

In the Minneapolis airport on the way there airport officials kept paging "Jason Kozlowski." Every time they paged him the kids would ask me "Who's Jason Kozlowski?" At first I thought that they just thought it was a funny name, but when they kept asking I realized that they expected me to know Jason Kozlowski and tell them where he lived or whose cousin he was or who he was married to. It hadn't dawned on them that there were people in the Minneapolis airport that I wasn't acquainted with.

So 22nd in the world seems way far back to them. On the way home a lady in Minneapolis saw their shirts and told them that she was from Traverse City and how proud she was that they had gone to worlds. She made them feel a little better.

The scores are online at this link. The first place team was a second team from Shanghai; their structure held 1270 lbs. Our team lost some ground on the spontaneous problem. Anna tells me that they misunderstood the nature of the problem (they thought it was a "verbal" and it was really a "verbal hands-on"). I'm not surprised, since they been too excited to listen most of the trip.

Anna fell asleep on the way home from the airport. She told me she liked Boulder because "you could walk everywhere." I remember Shelagh and Liz being excited when they were that age to go to Washington DC and ride the subway. To go somewhere without your mom driving you opens up so many more options....

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Putting Their Heads Together

Today is my day to be "support" person, taking the team's yellow Tshirts to the laundrymat, filling the rental car with gas, packing, and trying to anticipate what will need to be done before we leave at 4 am for our 7:30 flight home.

The laundrymat was in an older shopping center with a long room full of machines and a glass front that showcase the mountains as I stood in the back and waited for the dryer to finish. When I was in high school I had a social studies teacher that told us the only way to travel was to try to figure out what life was like for the people who lived in your destination. For this you have to go to a local grocery or park or something like that. The laundrymat is ideal because people talk to each other while they fold clothes.

The lady next to me was trying to figure out why her dryer was so noisy. It turns out her four year old's shorts had rocks in the pockets. She wanted to leave the rocks at the laundry, but he said that those rocks were "sorcerer's stones". She sounded like me on the way home from Lake Michigan, telling him "But we already have so many rocks at home!"

We are bringing rocks home from this trip. The mountain trail we took on Saturday was full of mica, rose quartz, and feldspar. Mica was the big attraction and we filled our pockets.

At Boulder Falls
Anna tells me that the spontaneous problem went well, but she won't say more than that since each team must promise not to say anything that might get leaked to a team that hasn't competed yet.

On the tram ride up the mountain

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Big Day at OM Worlds

Performing at Worlds

The kids performed their structure problem today. They did well, performing their play while the structure held 605 lbs.

It was a bit of a nailbiter, as their glue had burst in flight on the way here and the first batch of replacement glue failed to set up properly. Another kind of glue was procured and the structure was ready for weigh-in this morning, although they took a 10 point penalty for too much glue.

Richard and I watched the five teams before them perform. One team from Shanghai held 667 lbs and one after ours, also from Michigan, held over 800. In my opinion, our team outshone the others I saw for enthusiam and integrating their presentation with the structure testing.

They have a second task tomorrow, a "spontaneous" problem solving exercise where the team is given a task to perform and have to figure out what to do with no coaches present. Listening is the key, at least for this age.

After today's work, the team went limp in the heat. We had a brief thunderstorm but it is still in the 80's.

Yesterday we drove up into the mountains and took a tram ride up a mountain at Estes Park. The kids had fun feeding the ground squirrels out of their hands. Other teams are driving way up into the mountains to play in snow, but we've had it with that stuff.

Friday, May 20, 2005

How do the geese do it?

Seven kids and five adults start out at 5:30 am to travel 1500 miles on two flights through three airports. How long will it take?

We arrived in Boulder about 4 pm local time. It was about 90 degrees when we left the airport in Denver. On both flights our group had seats scattered through the plane, so we had pairs of kids sitting without adults. (On the second flight Anna and Autumn had window seats on opposite ends of the same row, but they negotiated with the other people in the row so that they could sit together. I was going to try to work it out for them but they handled it by themselves,)

Making our way through airports was challenging. There always seemed to be one or two kids who were so excited that they would get out well ahead of the group and end up taking the wrong turn, so we would have to retrieve them before we could head on in the proper direction. An "attractive V formation" would have been such an improvement.

Like most traveling it was hurry up and wait. Even when we got to Boulder we had another hour wait while Shannon went through the registration process. This time, though, there were other OM teams around and the bit of shade that our team had staked out turned out to be a prime piece of real estate for trading the souvenir pins that are a signature of OM events. The kids met other teams from Oregon, Singapore, Vermont, North Carolina, and Oklahoma, and traded pins with them.

Anna and Autumn just came back from a trip into the mountains and downtown to Pearl Street. Autumn says: "The were doing a trick on Pearl St. And Christian was part of the trick. He got to go up and help the guy who was performing. He threw stuff to him. The guy was on a soooo tall unicycle. We had to go 'One, two, three, JUGGLE!' Christian got all scared because he thought he had to catch the guy's flaming torches. But the guy blew them out and Christian caught them then."

Anna: "The mountains were just out of Boulder. They were so high we could hardly breathe. We went to a peak where we could climb on the rocks and it was fun and we watched the sunset. We saw five bikers. On the way down a biker passed us."

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Wild Goose Chase

We're Off!
On a wild goose chase!
You may think it odd
That a squad
Such as ours
Can Perform
This role!

We leave in the morning for Odyssey of the Mind World Finals, but in my mind our theme song is the Wild Goose Chase from HONK! We will be in Boulder for five days. Our team's performance will be on live web cam, but I don't know the details yet. I will try to post while we're there.

The yard is scented with the very first lilac blossoms. Once again I feel like an idiot leaving town when the weather finally turned nice. The cool crops are in the garden and doing nicely. The rest will have to wait for my return.

The Petoskey News Review ran a nice editorial on school funding today. The seeds start to sprout.

While I'm gone I will check the Leland Report to see what I'm missing.

See you later!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Chicken Farmer Reviews HONK!

Derek Telgard plays a turkey in the opening barnyard scene

There is something inherently entertaining about people impersonating poultry. Remember the classic hypnotist's schtick? The climax is always when the subject is told to strut and cluck like a chicken.

People often act like poultry. They can't help themselves. I started working at the casino the first year I raised baby chicks. I spent a lot of time watching the baby chicks and I spent a lot of time watching casino patrons. After enough time and enough sleep deprivation, the group of guys standing around watching one guy play blackjack was indistinguishable from the group of chicks standing around watching one chick pick at a hole in the newspaper lining their pen. Craps players flocked from one crap game to the other, just as seagulls flock between picnic tables. Just last week I sat in the waiting room at the hospital next to a group of ladies that cackled and picked at each other like classic "old biddies".

So it may be that HONK! draws upon some sort of common ancestral memory. The show opens with a square dance inspired song and dance number that introduces the inhabitants of the barnyard, including the evil cat, modeled on the classic silent film villain. When the barnyard birds cackle, cluck, and peck the cat into temporary submission, the audience is moved to spontaneous applause and cheering.

The players won their audience over in that first number, and they didn't let go for the entire show. High school productions typically suffer from lost lines, lost characterizations, and arduous scene changes. There was none of that in Leland's production; the players took full advantage of their small but well equipped stage and minimal sets to move the show along from one scene to the next. They smoothly moved between playing people and poultry with perfect comic timing. (Who would have thought that hatching out a clutch of eggs required a Lamaze coach?)

The small size of Leland's student body means that athletes are pressed into roles that they might never attempt in a larger school. Director Jeremy Evans used these guys to their full potential, choreographing numbers that borrow more from the WWE than from your mother's musical theater. (The second unexpected burst of applause is towards the end of the Cat's song "You Can Play with your Food," when, after a long series of chases and feints, the Duckling and Cat suddenly lock arms and tango. I suspect the applause is not for their dancing, but for their stamina.)

HONK! 's score is full of these tempo changes, but it also features several songs that stand on their own, like the lovely "Now I've Seen You." The second act's showstopper, "Warts and All," was a hit even before the chorus line of young frogs makes its appearance, dancing and singing with pure joy. Just when you think that the number couldn't get any better, the orchestra breaks into the bump and grind (this part is your mother's musical theater) that signals every available cast member onstage, as frogs, singing and dancing through a happy, green legged collage of frog philosophy. If you can't get on board, you might as well, as the frog says, "hang it up."

The story line of HONK! is familiar, it is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "Ugly Duckling". Familiarity does not diminish the emotional impact of the show's themes; when Kevin Price, as Ugly sings of his loneliness and confusion in "Different", we are moved. When Ugly's siblings taunt him (crossing the people/poultry line with ease), we are nauseous. Anna Pentiuk's depiction of Ugly's long lost --but still searching-- mother is a moving testament, not just to mothers, but to all who struggle to do right in the face of ridicule and disappointment. Her song "Hold Your Head Up," while initially introduced as a swimming lesson, serves to bolster Ugly through his seasons of wandering.

John Gleason, as the Cat, morphs back and forth between mustache twirling villain and raunchy tomcat with ease and glee, providing the comic relie needed to balance the heavier themes. The supporting cast, working their way through a treasure trove of simple costumes, seem larger than life. They switch roles with their costumes at a dizzying speed, depicting all of Andersen's original characters and a few updated ones, most notably a television news crew and a flock of navagationally challenged Canada geese whose dialogue is lifted from a family car trip.

This is, after all, the reason for musical theater. Out of a classic story and some wonderful songs, with the aid of some simple props and costumes from the attic, the players open a door and show us our own lives, reflected in their characters. The players respect our ability to use our imagination; we allow ourselves to go along for the ride. We laugh, we cry, and in the end we know a little more about ourselves. And we have some new songs to take home. At the end of the show the players go back to being our kids, but a little wiser, maybe. And maybe a little more like poultry.

The cast of HONK! will present their show again on Friday May 20th, Saturday May 21st, and Sunday May 22nd in the Leland Public School Performing Arts Center. All shows are at 7 pm. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students.

If you aren't there, you missed it.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Long day, short post

You gotta love casino scheduling. We are now open until 2 am on Wednesdays and Thursdays so my 12 hour shift today is suddenly looking like a 14 hour shift.

One school funding story: Struggling U.P. districts explore ways to save money. The story details the financial situation of four sparsely populated school districts in the upper penninsula. They have operated in the red this year and their fund balances are low.

Most school finance experts say districts should try to keep at least 15 percent of their annual budgets in a fund balance account. The money can be used in case of emergency or to carry schools through the two-month period each fall when schools do not receive state aid payments.

State wide, forty-three districts had fund balances below 5 percent last year. About 150 districts had fund balances below 10 percent.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Day at the Hospital

Richard had surgery on his shoulder yesterday to fix an "impingement", a place where a bone spur had formed on his shoulder socket and was making it impossible for him to raise his right arm. The surgery went well, according to the surgeon, but they did a nerve block on his arm and it took until this morning before he could actually feel or move his right hand and arm. It is one thing to be told everything will be fine, it is another thing to wait to see if this big heavy thing that used to be your arm will actually come back to life. He is in pain today, but he says that he was in more pain with the impingement before the surgery.

There have been some interesting school funding stories in the news. An AP article dated Sunday, May 8,

School health, retirement costs concern lawmakers details the role that insurance ans retirement costs play in Michigan's school funding crisis. It looks like the schools are getting much more money than before Proposal A, but Proposal A shifted high-ticket items like reirement and insurance onto the shoulders of the local school districts.

A May 7th Detroit News story, Collaboration may be small schools' key to survival, detailed how Leelanau County's school districts are pooling resources to cut costs.

And, what the heck, how about some chicken news? Chicken Ticketed for Crossing the Road ! Why can't we all just get along?

Friday, May 06, 2005

A Letter from the President (of the Board of Education)

Toady I am baking bread for a Odyssey of the Mind bake sale tomorrow. This will be the third Friday of baking for OM bake sales. I double the basic bread recipe and use seven grain bread flour for the second batch.. I can turn out 16 loaves of bread in a day and still make it to work at 4 pm, but it's a marathon. I had to buy four more bread pans to get up to this speed, since I need let some loaves rise in pans while the others bake. I'm thinking I could do even better if I owned 12 bread pans and baked them 6 at a time...

Ingredients for bread are just not that expensive, yet a loaf will fetch $3 easily. My family is so used to home made bread that I forget how much other people crave it.

Today I will reprint a letter from Leland School Board President Molly Hyde to State Senator Michelle McManus.

Dear Michelle,

As you must be aware, Michigan school funding is in crisis. As the president of the Leland School Board, I have been very involved in dealing with our district’s budget. In the last few years we have made over $500,000 in cuts. To date we have managed to keep these cuts as far away from our kids and basic program as possible, but all cuts ultimately affect the program. We have eliminated several sports, after-school clubs and enrichment programs, field trip budgets, delayed purchases of texts, etc. – all valuable experiences that contribute to a students learning - in addition to staff cuts. All of this, and we still need to cut more to balance our budget.

Growing insurance and retirement benefits for professional staff are a major part of our increasing costs on a yearly basis. While it is extremely important to find ways to contain these spiraling costs now, that is only part of the problem.

Proposal A has been “tweaked” over 70 times since it was unanimously adopted by the voters in Michigan – to the detriment of state school funding. Proposal A needs to be restored to its original form. The way it stands now, the gap between rich and poor districts is as wide as it was when Proposal A went into effect and there is a state education budget deficit of at least $550,000,000/year. This is the direct result of those “tweaks”. The commitment to our state public education needs to be an immediate priority of our legislators. The students and voters of Leelanau county need you to be a leader on this matter.


Molly Hyde

President, Leland Board of Education

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Gas Guzzlers vs. Public Schools

Northern Michigan Schools Legislative Association's analysis of the school funding crisis points towards 70 "tweaks" or small changes that have had the net effect of emptying the school aid fund. These pieces of legislation were mainly obscure, unpublicized deals that meant little to the general public.

As an example, you can look at a bill that got a second reading in the House yesterday, one that would cap the sales tax on gasoline once the retail price of gas reaches $2.30 per gallon. The short term cost of this one to the School Aid Fund is impossible to compute, given that no one know what the price of gas will be, but it is clear that it will be higher over the years as inflation kicks in.

Another bill, passed on Wednesday, changes the income threshold for elderly who need to defer their summer taxes. Cost to the school aid fund is estimated at $2 to $4 million for fiscal year 2004-2005.

Should the state of Michigan take steps to lessen the impact of high gas prices? Should the state of Michigan give elders more time to pay their taxes without penalty? These are not necessarily bad ideas, but it is a bad idea to discuss bills like these without discussing the impact on our public schools.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Mike Hartigan Answers Some Questions

I asked Mike Hartigan, Superintendent at Leland Public School, to answer some of the questions I had after attending last week's presentation on Michigan's school funding crisis.

  1. Mrs. Och: Last week we both attended a presentation “Restore the Promise of Proposal A”, by the Northern Michigan Schools Legislative Association. I was very surprised to hear the prediction that all public schools in Michigan would be in financial crisis in 2 or 3 years. Do you think that prediction is accurate? What makes you think so?

    Mr Hartigan: Almost all schools are experiencing a very tough time financially. Some schools (like Kingsley) are growing, so they have gained because you get financed by the number students you have enrolled. Out of “formula” districts like Port keep all tax monies generated locally so they are doing very well. Northport is spending something like $17,000 per pupil, and this will increase every year. It is another Proposal A glitch. They touch borders with Suttons Bay which gets $6700 per pupil. Go figure. The metro schools that were rich to start with and snuck in an extra payment for themselves a few years back (20j) are also doing well. The 90% that make up the rest of us are in trouble.

  2. Mrs. Och: Leland Public School seems to be doing just fine. We have a new and updated building, experienced teachers, innovative programs, and good test scores. We attract schools of choice students every year and we have a growing student count. Our parent and community involvement is fantastic. We are saving money by consolidating with other schools on things like bus maintenance. We haven’t had to cut any programs. We seem to be doing everything right. Why should parents worry about the future of our school?

    Mr. Hartigan: We are holding our head above water because we have a terrific superintendent….just kidding. The building was paid for by a bond issue that has nothing to do with operational money. Our schools of choice in and out ratios are a wash. We do attract students but we ship out an equal amount. Over 90% of Leland students who go elsewhere have never stepped foot in our doors. That makes me crazy. Football has been a major player in this scenario, along with daycare. We have made significant cuts and have done a couple of “backdoor layoffs” lately by not hiring for retirees. The Leland Education Foundation supported camps, middle school sports, play director, YIG, O.M... and many supplies for the arts and sciences. We have been keeping the cuts as far from the classroom as possible but if things don’t change it is only a matter of time.

  3. Mrs. Och: What would you like parents and other concerned people to do to support our school?

    Mr. Hartigan: Get on board with this movement!

Last week's presentation ended with a call to action. Michigan's legislators are the people who have the responsibilty and ablity to find a solution to Michigan's school funding crisis. Please write or email your state legislators and tell them to support public schools.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Vote Today!

In the midst of trying to sort out the muddle of school funding it's easy to forget that we need to vote today.

In Leland we vote every year to approve a Headlee Amendment override. The easy way to understand this one is to say "Vote yes, or we won't have an operating budget next year." The state budget assumes that we can pass this one; if we couldn't pass it we would only get a small fraction of our per pupil grant. Other districts in the area vote on this every 3 years. Leland puts it before the voters annually.

In Suttons Bay they are voting to approve a .25 mil sinking fund. This is an additional tax that will fund building maintenance. School districts may no longer ask for additional millages for operating costs, but they can ask the voters for additional money for maintenance. More schools are turning to sinking funds as a way to take pressure off their operating budgets.

I think of our school boards and administrators as playing some sick game of Twister, trying to satisfy more requirements from more agencies with revenues that they can only guess at. We can support our public schools today with a quick trip to the polls.

Starting this year, school elections are at your regular polling place, not at the school. In Leland it is the Fire Hall. Polls are open until 7 pm.

Monday, May 02, 2005

A letter to Our State Senator

Here is the letter. Don't forget to send in your own. There are some tips here.

Dear Senator McManus,

I have been following school funding for years, but in the last year I have become more and more perplexed. When we approved Proposal A in 1994, it was supposed to switch most school funding from local property taxes to state sales taxes, ensuring that there would be adequate funding for Michigan’s public schools. Yet funding for public schools is less secure than ever. Costs go up but the per pupil grant changes little, if at all. School systems are cutting programs, laying off teachers, even closing whole schools.

I had the opportunity last week to attend a presentation by the Northern Michigan Schools Legislative Association called “Restore the Promise of Proposal A”. They presented evidence that our schools’ financial woes are not the result of high insurance and pension costs, are not the result of an economic slump, but are the result of a series of “tweaks” to Proposal A enacted by the state legislature since the bill’s passage. I was shocked to hear their prediction that all Michigan Public Schools will be in financial crisis within 2-3 years, because of the structural problems in the “tweaked” Proposal A.

There is no doubt that if there was a massive failure of Michigan’s public school system, the populace would demand that the system be fixed. But I don’t think we can afford to let our public schools close down, even for a year or two. It would be disastrous for our kids, our communities, and our state’s reputation.

You can look at much of the same information that I heard last week at Restore Proposal A. Please let me know how and when we might expect you and your colleagues to act to ensure the future of Michigan’s public school funding.


Susan Och

French Road Connections