Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How Cold Is The Big Lake?

OK, so it's getting so I do this every year. Last year, on December 26th, and in 2005, on December 13th, I published pictures from NOAA, of the current Lake Michigan surface temps. This winter has been closer to normal, with snow cover since Thanksgiving an ice on the inland lakes for Christmas.

Still, a look at the big lake, our main weather maker, shows that it is warmer each year. This is bad news for lake levels, as a warmer lake loses more water to evaporation. Ideally, we would like to see the big lake freeze over early and keep all of its water for a month or so.

It is easy to look at lake temps and point to global warming, but there is more going on. Zebra mussels have filtered the water to a new clarity, and sunlight is now penetrating Lake Michigan to greater depths than we have ever seen before, changing the physical characteristics of the lake.

We could also consider the sun. We had a sunny day on Christmas, and a sunny dawn today. We have been treated to more of our usual share of sunny days this December, although the sun doesn't rise very high this time of year.

We watched the sun set over frozen Lake Leelanau last night as we exchanged presents at my brother's place. The sun descends at an oblique angle, reflecting back and shining onto the clouds long after it has disappeared beneath the snow and ice. I don't know how you could have a photo of that sort of sunset, as it is really a series of scenes, with new and more improbable colors every time you glance up.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

First Ice

South Lake Leelanau froze enough to walk on about 10 days ago. Richard waited until last weekend to go out, and the fish waited a few more days to bite. He said it was good to be out on the lake, even if they didn't bite.

We had some cold nights with no snow, so the ice, 4-5 inches thick, was hard and clear. The last few days have been around 30 degrees, perfect for getting out of the house. These nice perch were part of a dozen that will make a nice supper.
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Brilliant Books

Suttons Bay has a new bookstore, Brilliant Books. It is across the street from Misfit Toys with a sweet old-fashioned storefront. The proprietors are Peter and Colleen Makin. I've always enjoyed talking with Peter, and I look forward to getting to know the Makins and their books better.

Brilliant Books is also on the web. As a quick foray into the site, I picked a topic that Liz and I had been discussing, urban planning. (Her environmental studies class was supposed to design the transportation of the future. Her group decided that instead of building better cars, we need to build better cities.) This page from the Brilliant Books site speaks to the same thoughts that Liz and I were sharing. I want to read at least half of the titles on this page alone.

And they are open late on Christmas Eve!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I Was Prescient

Back in the spring I wrote, while riffing on ethanol, about hand sanitizer. I had just attended a TIPS training, the training where they teach people who work in the hospitality industry how to identify and handle people who have had too much alcohol. Since I was also thinking about fuel alcohol, ethanol, at the time, it's not surprising that I ran across the article about the prison inmate who got loaded on Purell. I predicted then that children would end up getting drunk on hand sanitizer, either on purpose or because they licked it off their hands.

Turns out both things have happened, and I can thank the person who got to this site by Googling "how much purell to get drunk" for leading me to these stories.

Two little girls, at least, have ended up at the ER after eating hand sanitizer. One swigged it during an unsupervised visit to the bathroom. Another licked it off her hands at daycare. The second case was particularly frightening as the parents had no idea what was going on -- they picked up a sick kid from daycare and went to the ER. Their daughter could barely sit up in the chair and was having trouble focusing her eyes. The ER doctors could not figure it out until the preschool teacher questioned the other kids and heard about the hand sanitizer.

There are at least two other potential hazards associated with hand sanitizer. At Rant Your Head Off, we find a story about a new urine test to determine if recovering alcoholics are still firmly on the wagon. The test detects alcohol metabolites at very small levels, so small that it appears that a few people may have lost their jobs because of their hand sanitizer use.

And there's this one, from a comment on the NY Times "Freakonomics"blog:

Anyone know whether the stories of hand sanitizers combusting when sparked by static are true? The hospital I work for circulated a memo to that effect. Great-we already have to worry about contracting MRSA, HIV, HepB, and various other nasties at work-now we need to worry about hand fires??
Should’a gone into teaching….
D. Cheryl, R.N.

You know it's a bad day at work when your hands catch fire.

Meanwhile I'm reading Michael Pollan's An Omnivore's Dilemma. The first part of this book is all about corn. He attributes the rise of food engineering to our nations ongoing glut of corn, which we can produce cheaply as long as we can keep synthesizing nitrogen fertilizer from fossil fuels. During our nation's first glut of corn, in the mid 19th century, the excess was converted to alcohol, whiskey, a form that was easily transported and sold to city dwellers. Modern day liquor laws have made that sort of trade impossible today, so corn is converted to a host of other products that are recombined into engineered food. It does make me wonder if hand sanitizer was invented to solve a human need for sanitizing, or to create another market for corn products?

I've got to start writing more about the restoration of the constitution and the rebirth of democracy and common sense. If my predictions are going to come true, after all, I might as well make some really good ones.....

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Leelanau Children's Choir

Anna in her choir regalia

Anna sang this weekend in two choir concerts, then again at the Leland Methodist Church this morning. They sang a lot of familiar songs, and some new ones as well. My favorites were the John Ritter carol "Rejoice and Be Merry," and "Gesu Bambino," sung by Allison Wodek, a choir graduate who returned as the guest soloist.

It was different to hear the choir sing in Northport, as this is the first time that they have ever used microphones. Although it is a bigger venue, I think I'd rather be challenged to listen, and maybe miss a few lines, than to have to compensate for the sound coming from the sides while the singer is in front of me.

I remind myself of that old curmudgeon in John Gardner's wonderful novel October Light, who grouses that if the angels were to descend from on high in this day and age, we couldn't hear them through the endless loop of amplified carols. At least I think that's what he wrote -- that book was "pruned" from Leland Library's shelves a few years back, as nobody (except me?) checked it out.

Ah, well. Choir endures. There were some exciting young voices this year, and the boys continue to stake out their own space in what used to be a girl dominated group. I look forward to their 15th anniversary spring concert, and I look forward to having all of my kids home this Christmas, with all of their music.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

A Thermostat Poll

Over Thanksgiving, I spent the a few days taking an informal poll of the people at home and at work, asking the question: "Where do you set your thermostat?"
The range of answers was interesting, as was the range of thought that had gone into the decision. A good many people just automatically said "68," as if there were no other alternative, much the way they said "72" when I was a kid, before the energy crisis of the 1970's. The people who heat with wood, of course, have no thermostats, or they leave the thermostat on the backup heat set really low --45 or so-- and sit closer to the stove if they are cold.

People who have electric baseboard heat know that their heat is pricey, but they make up for it by only heating the rooms that they are actually using and turning the rest off. People with fuel oil furnaces are facing a 22% jump in fuel costs this year, but most of the people I talked to have already switched to natural gas or (in the remote areas) propane. Propane has also risen in price, by 16% according to today's newspaper, but nobody mentioned this.

One woman told me that her mother complained and wouldn't stay to visit if the thermostat was below 70. Parents of young toddlers were the most likely to set the thermostat at 68 despite worrying about the cost. As the ages of the kids rose, the setting of the thermostat dropped. One smart dad said that he starts out the winter with the thermostat at 65, but dials it down one degree a week until the kids get used to wearing socks and sweatshirts and he can run closer to 60 as a daytime normal. (He still turns it up to 65 for the hours worth of "getting up and getting dressed" time in the morning.)

Among the people heating with natural gas, one guy was keeping his thermostat at a whopping 78, for economic reasons. He shares the heat bill with the larger apartment in his building and pays one third; the neighbors of the monthly bill. Nate calculates that they only way to make sure that he's not subsidizing his neighbors is to turn the heat up high enough that his neighbors subsidize him. He has to strip down to his underwear to be comfortable, but he thought that wearing a sweatshirt around the house, as I do, must be awfully constricting. They also split the electric bill in a similar way, so in the summer, Nate cranks the AC up and wears clothes.

Most people turn the heat down at night, and a few mentioned how much they liked a gadget that I had never heard of, an electric mattress pad that preheats the bed and keeps the foot of the bed warm, even if you move your feet to a different spot.

The winners of my informal poll were Shelagh and Jordan, who had still not even turned their heat on as of Thanksgiving. Living on the south side of the apartment building and with their neighbors all turning the heat up, they found that the place stayed reasonably warm without it. "Around bedtime the temperature goes down to 60," said Jordan, "but we just go to bed."
Liz, the environmental science major, lives in an old dormitory with steam radiator heat. Although she turned her radiator completely off, she was still opening her window to cool the place as the radiator in the hall, with no shutoff valve, cranked out heat like nobody's business. I sent this article about radiator maintenance. It turns out you're supposed to bleed the radiators and level them, to keep the steam flowing more evenly, otherwise some rooms heat hotter than others, and the super ends up cranking up the heat to suit the coolest areas, while the people in the hottest areas open windows. Based on my own poll, I'm thinking that the problem is not the temperature, but how people think about the temperature.
These past few days it has gotten cold and windy. Hearing the furnace turn on every half hour sounds like wasting money to me, but such is winter.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Things I Didn't Know About Park Passes

I was trying to find a way to buy Sleeping Bear park passes online, to give as Christmas presents.

I didn't know that we could have bought park passes at the Leland Harbor all summer. We put off buying a new pass because the drive to Empire seemed so far.

I didn't know that Seniors (age 62 and over) could get a lifetime pass to all National Park fee areas for only $10. What a deal!

I didn't know that you could earn a park pass by volunteering at the National Lakeshore.

I still have to drive at least to the Dune Climb to buy passes. $20 gets you into the park, and all its great beaches, for one year.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Christmas Shopping Post

The turkey and its stuffing are gone. It it snowing and blowing and the cars are sliding down the hill and into the ditch in front of the Kingdom Hall. The news anchors are keeping us breathlessly posted on the progress of "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday", much as they kept us breathlessly updated on each wave of toy recalls a few weeks ago.

I was thinking that I was glad that I didn't have any little kids who were writing letters to Santa, requesting the latest in TV advertised trash. I asked some of the people at work what they were doing about toys for kids this year. "Well, I guess we'll just buy some toys, let them lick 'em, and see if they pass out," was one response. Another said: "Blocks. Can't go wrong with plain wooden blocks."

I realized that I had always struggled to fight the toy advertisers. I had, in fact, perfected a whole folklore about Santa and toy advertising, first published here two years ago. It went something like this:

The toys you see on TV are not really good toys. In the commercials they look like fun toys, but those kids aren't really playing. Those kids are actors and they are just pretending to have fun. Sometimes they are really good actors so the toys look like they're amazing --but if you get those toys they don't do what the commercial made it look like they do. The plane doesn't really fly. The doll doesn't really eat. They break, or the batteries run down, or there are so many pieces that it takes longer to clean up than it does to play.

Santa only brings toys that are going to be fun for a long time. He doesn't like toys that break or get their pieces lost. He likes to bring toys that can be whatever you need to pretend. He likes sturdy toys, and books that are good enough to read over and over. The people that make TV toys have to spend so much money to make those commercials that they don't have enough money left to make really good toys; that's why Santa won't put those toys in his sleigh.

It was a nicer world when the worst thing a toy could do was break or be boring. These days we have to look at toys as potential poison or potential recalls. Many of my coworkers are turning to electronics in their quest for safe toys. This scares me, too, as the "edutainment" of younger and younger children is a huge uncontrolled experiment on developing brains.

Over the years I have sought to replace seasonal shopping with other experiences. Music has played a huge part, as we devote a good deal of time to preparing for the Leelanau Childrens Choir concerts, as well as church services. The girls like to organize informal carolling parties, as well, using the holidays as an excuse to walk around the neighborhoods at night, maybe accepting a cookie or two.

We also cook a lot, making batch after batch of cookies, pies and sweetbreads. We also put together batches of oatmeal cookie mix and homemade baking mix, to give as presents. We sew polar fleece hats and mittens, make catnip toys, build birdhouses. When my kids talked about what they wanted to get for Christmas, I always asked them about the gifts they hoped to give.

Somehow, it all worked. Anna was one of the last kids in her class to give up the idea of Santa. Despite buying less and less, we seemed to have an abundance that convinced her. "There must be a Santa," she told me last year, "because you and Dad couldn't possibly afford everything that we have."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Furnace Chicken

Every year we hold out as long as we can before we turn the furnace on. It's usually a damp, cold day during the 3rd week of September when we cave the first time and turn it on for a day or two. This fall has been unusually warm, hot even, and sunny. If the house is 50 degrees in the morning, it will warm up to 56 when I open the curtains on the south side and cook a little bit. If I work outside for a while in 50 degree weather, then 56 seems quite warm when I come back in.

We finally caved and turned the heat on November 4th this year. I did it because we were going to visit Liz in Chicago for a few days, and I was too grateful to my brother for agreeing to live here and care for our menagerie to make him play our furnace game. As it turned out, that weekend ushered in the other kind of late fall weather: dark, damp, windy and cold. No more warming the rooms up with sunshine; we have been lucky these past few weeks if we can see to read a recipe at noon without turning on a light.

Still, the thermostat is rarely above 60, or 55 if there is only one person home. At night we turn it down to 50. I'm annoyed by the sound of the furnace kicking in all night long, and we have plenty of blankets. We close the doors to upstairs and heat up there only minimally. Anna must be turning into a teenager, because she rarely begs to turn the heat up anymore and she hangs out alone in her room regardless of the temperature.

Math Problem, Extra Credit

Shelagh sends the following:

Can you find the ages of the three children from the following conversation?

Allie says to Jill, "Can you guess the ages of my three children? The product of their ages is 36."

Jill says "That's not enough information, give me another hint."

Allie says, "The sum of the three ages is the same as my apartment number"

Jill says, "I know your apartment number, but that's still not enough information! Give me another hint."

Allie says, "My oldest child is a girl."

Jill says, "Now I can figure it out."

What are the three ages?

Liz wrote me after seeing yesterday's Leland Report, saying "He's right, the lake level has really dropped...." 1986 was approaching a high water mark, the way I remember it.

Liz is taking the Megabus to Ann Arbor, and then all three, Shelagh, Jordan, and Liz, are driving home for Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 16, 2007

"A Global Warning?" on the History Channel

We watched "A Global Warning?" on the History Channel earlier this week. What I liked about it was the way they considered the popular arguments supporting the "global warming is not real" camp. (Sure, there is a cycle of climate change that is driven by the "wobble" in the earth's axis, but according to that cycle, we should be getting colder.)

Of course, it's just TV science, not a substitute for actually reading a book or two on the subject. This year Liz left me The Hype About Hydrogen, by Joseph Romm, an energy a serious look at hydrogen technology and its potential to be the solution to climate change. Although Romm thinks that we must eventually have a hydrogen economy based on the hydrogen fuel cell, it is not going to happen without major technological breakthroughs, and some components, like the hydrogen car, may never happen at all. It matters whether we bet on things like the hydrogen car, because global warming is progressing, perhaps even faster than predicted, and we really don't have time to make silly bets. The part of the book that made the biggest impression on me was chapter 8, in which Romm compares the projected rate of climate change with the projected rate of Hydrogen Technology development. It seems that hybrids really are the car of the future, at least for my generation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Chicken Citizen

(Note: Working with videos and Blogger presents some new challenges. When I went back to this post to add the "books" label at the bottom, I didn't wait for the video part to load correctly. When I reposted, the entire post was blank. I've reconstructed it as best I can.)

Al Gore, in The Assault on Reason, asserts that it is the one way nature of television that has propelled the downward spiral of democracy in America, and that the progress of internet technology in allowing everyone to contribute ideas and opinions to the idea marketplace that will eventually lead to a rennaisance of democracy:

Consider the rules by which our present public forum now operate and how different they are from the norms our Founders knew during the age of print. Today’s massive flows of information are largely only in one direction. The world of television makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation.

Individuals receive, but they cannot send. They absorb, but they cannot share. They hear, but the do not speak. They see constant motion, but they do not move themselves. The “well-informed citizenry” is in danger of becoming the “well-assumed audience.”

I can't wait. As soon as I read that, I said to myself, "I've got to learn how to post videos!"

This is my first attempt. This is a video of my chickens roaming the yard on a rare sunny November day. The hens are Black Australorps, Partridge Rocks, and Speckled Sussex. The two Speckled Sussex always go everywhere together. The rooster is our "exotic chick" from McMurray Hatchery. We think it is an Egyptian Fayoumis.

You can see my stray grey hair blowing across the lens, and you can hear me breathing. The rooster does a great job of strutting his stuff, you can even see his slate blue feet. I thought he would crow, but he never did.

At the end, the Rhode Island Red comes up and pecks my hand. I don't know why I was so surprised, she does that every time I go in the barn.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veteran's Day

Two scenes on my mind:

The first, this week, at an employee awards banquet at work. I was there to commemorate 15 years working for the tribe. I was glad to see Sue F, with whom I went through blackjack training those 15 years ago. We worked together until a few years ago, when she transferred over to our sister casino. Sue and I each have three daughters; her oldest daughter is a year older than my Shelagh.

Sue's daughter was a distance runner through high school. After graduation she joined the Marines, and was eventually stationed in Okinawa. I guess time passes, because Sue told me that Jana had married, completed her tour, and been home for a year, only to be recalled. She and her husband had both been recalled. The husband was already "over there" as Sue said, and Jana was waiting for her orders; she knew she was going "over there" as well.

Sue can force a smile as well as any veteran casino dealer, but her eyes looked worried and weary. She said the word "recalled" with no surprise. Everyone knows that nobody gets to just finish their tour and go home anymore.

The second scene was nearly a year ago, at a candidates' night before the 2006 election. The forum was sponsored by a group of early childhood educators; the invited guests were the candidates for State House and State Senator. Although the organizers has cleared the date with the candidates' office, it turned out to be in conflict with a Right To Life dinner, so none of the Republican candidates came in person.

The person representing David Palsrok, our state house representative, seemed to speak for his boss quite capably. He knew his candidate's stand on this and that and he cited Palsrok's voting record on a number of issues.

Towards the end of the forum, Dean Robb threw out a curve ball by asking about the candidates' stand on the Iraq war. The moderator reminded Dean that this was a forum about early childhood issues. "Well we can talk all night about what we'd like to do for kids," Dean reasoned, "but if the war has bankrupted us, all this talk won't amount to a thing.

"Fair enough!" The moderator then asked each candidate to comment on how the war was affecting Michigan.

I can't remember the other candidates' responses. But I'll never forget Palsrok's guy:

"The candidate and I have never discussed this issue."

I think now that Americans live in two different worlds. In my world, there are pictures of soldiers on the locker doors in the break room. Coworkers are deployed, and hopefully come home again. A former coworker got hit with an IED and died after a couple of months in the burn clinic in Texas. The people that play at my tables are also thinking about the war, having served them selves, or having loved ones who are "over there".

The wall at school displays second graders' writing samples, finishing the prompt "If I were President I would....." A goodly portion of them end that thought "....I would end the war." Second graders can discuss the war.

I suppose there are circles where people never have to "discuss this issue". I have chewed over that moment at the candidates' forum for this whole year, thinking of all the things I could have said. Even second graders discuss the issue. How the hell do you avoid discussing the issue?

How about if this Veteran's Day we don't just go through the motions of "honoring our troops", but if we actually discuss this war in the way our Constitution intended?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Some Mass Transit Links

Here is an article about the Megabus detailing their business plan:

"The demand for this type of service has been outstanding," Moser said before a news conference on a street corner in downtown Pittsburgh.

"I don't have a terminal, so I don't have bricks and mortar," he said. "I don't have the staff that maintains it. Everything's backroom -- it's all computer sales. I have nobody handling cash. I have nobody handling any kind of transactions at the bus. The bus driver is focused on taking care of the customers and driving safely."

A limited number of seats are priced at $1, and the fares increase incrementally based on the time between the booking and departure dates, a pricing scheme used by discount airlines.

"But I will tell you that the highest-price seat is still cheaper than all the alternatives to get from Pittsburgh to Chicago," Moser said. Megabus' most expensive ticket for such a trip, booked 24 hours in advance, would be $43.50, he said.

Its top-end fares, Moser said, are lower than those of Greyhound Lines, the largest intercity bus service in North America.

Liz's take on it is somewhat different. "You have to go online and have a credit card to buy a ticket," she says, "so that eliminates a lot of the seedier people." Indeed, when we visited the Greyhound terminal in Ann Arbor during Shelagh's freshman year, it was terribly seedy, complete with a passed out wino heaped in the corner of the dirty, smelly waiting room.

And here are links to the Friends of Amtrak and the National Association of Railroad Passengers(NARP). The NARP website has up to date information on the bills currently before Congress that will affect the future of rail service.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Liz Report

We took a short trip down to Chicago to see Liz, now in her sophomore year at Northwestern University. It is that November time of year -- on the way down, on Sunday morning, the trees still sported many colors of leaves. On the way home, Tuesday night, it was snowing and the trees were bare.

Liz looks well. Last spring she had a an episode of Bell's Palsy that hit during her final exams. She woke up one morning feeling like her mouth was Novacained and during the course of the day her face became paralyzed. She went to the emergency room that night. picked up some medications, and then wrote her physics final the next day with her left eye swollen shut. Everyone automatically attributed the disease to "stress" because it came during finals, but she doesn't think that the exams were all that stressful, as she was prepared for the exams and was already doing well in her courses. We picked her up in Chicago after her exams, as planned, and brought her home with her half-sagged face. The paralysis made her look perpetually sardonic, which was kind of funny since she had been practsing that look through her teenage years. It brought to mind those wild threats of "If you keep making that face, you're going to freeze that way!"

She recovered quickly and stood as a bridesmaid at her sister's wedding three weeks later, looking fine in person but still a bit odd in photos. Now I find myself searching her face for signs of health, so it means something when I say she looks well. She shrank her meal plan this year and used the savings to afford herself a single room at the quiet end of the hall. She has always been an "early to bed and early to rise" sort and is enjoying the peace and privacy. She is taking five classes, working a work study job and also tutoring in the calculus lab. She is busy but she likes helping other students and with the calculus money she feels flush.

We hung out with Liz on Sunday, taking her grocery shopping at Target and then heading downtown on the train and showing Anna the large sculptures at Millennium Park. We were left to our own devices for most of Monday. Anna wanted to see the Shedd Aquarium, and we took advantage of the Monday discount day, when admission to the main building is free. Then we stopped by the Lincoln Park Zoo, which is free all the time, if you can avoid the $14 parking fee. We parked a ways off and hiked in, heading for the Large Cat house, always Anna's favorite. It was cold and there were very few people, but the animals seemed invigorated.

Liz's environmental science course this quarter is focused on transportation issues. She thinks about transportation a good deal anyway, since she likes to come home, go visit Shelagh in Ann Arbor, and is taking advantage of Chicago's mass transit options. She is planning to take a Scottish bus service, the Megabus, to Ann Arbor for Thanksgiving, and then ride home with Shelagh and Jordan. Students often run out of time to keep up with current events, I will send her this column about the US Senate's recent decision to fund Amtrak for the next while.

In the county, we are working to fund public transportation, as well. We made it home in time to continue on to Leland and vote in the election for which our only decision was whether to continue funding the Bay Area Transit Authority. The election workers were all talking about the awful weather. Now that I'm home, I'm reading the Thistledown Yarn' Shoppe's new blog and find out that two of Kathy's coworkers were stuck in their car half the morning with a live wires draped over their car.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Leland School's Halloween Concert

When kids are preschoolers, all it takes to make a costume is a hat or a mask. In kindergarten or first grade, they need a whole costume, but they really believe in the transformational power of the clothing. If you have a real baseball uniform, you will be able to hit the ball. I once met a first grader who wanted a chicken costume so that he could hatch out a fertile egg.

By third grade, kids start to appreciate the humor of impersonating another character. The kids in grades 4, 5, and 6 make the most of Halloween and the chance to make fun of what scares them, whether it be monster, politicians, or the opposite sex.

Alanna as Gwen Stephani, Anna as a business woman, and Lydia as a Klondike Woman, with Guy looking on.

Grownups in costume were admitted free. Everyone else had to pay a dollar. Joe and Mary Povolo were a Monk and his Candy Corn.

Mr. Evans manned the door as a Recently Canned Mouseketeer.

Austin took the challenge of dressing as a girl to new heights by aptly portraying his mom, Deb, in the background.

A Halloween concert is a great idea. Nobody gets stage fright in costume -- if you make a mistake, nobody knows who you are, anyway. If you get nervous, it's probably because of the monster next to you. The kids sang Halloween songs, made good use of the percussion instruments, and practiced entering and exiting wearing all sorts of impediments. It was all great fun.
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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bottomless Chicken Pen

This is the bottomless chicken pen that we built from the aluminum frame of an old window awning. It has a floor space of 30 square feet. I have put six hens in it and moved it around the yard this fall, effectively taming an area that was knee high in lambs quarter and ragweed. It takes about two days for the hens to eat all the vegetation and scratch it up. On the second day I've been feeding them a mixture of oats and buckwheat to "plant" a winter cover crop. They miss enough oats that I've got decent coverage on the places they've already been.

The pen is heavier than it was supposed to be, because of the very large and sturdy nesting box. That part detaches and will probably be re-engineered over the winter. The hens were very bad at foraging at first; they just stood at the wire and begged for grain. Over time, they turned more industrious. Now they are scratching like champs and even laying eggs despite a minimal diet and no lights.

Looking for more chicken pen ideas? Try the City Chicken's chicken tractor page.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fall Color

Fall has been so late. I was starting to think that the leaves were going to just color and fall off instantaneously, or fall off while still green. After last week's wild thunderstorms with tornadoes, we had a rainy Friday and then on Saturday, on the way to work, the rain cleared from my windshield enough to see that we had colors, lots of them.

One of my blackjack players claimed that the storms "scared the colors into those trees." It works for me. The newlyweds were home this weekend, and Shelagh took this one on the way to Pyramid Point.
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Monday, October 22, 2007

Asian lady Beetles

Yesterday was the day the the Asian Lady Beetles started looking for homes for the winter. I first noticed them when I was cleaning the stray mint out of the herb garden. When I looked up, they were crawling over the whole west side of the house. By the time I came in, the hall ceiling looked like this.

I turned off all the lights upstairs except Liz's, as no one was sleeping there last night. They congregated near the light. Luckily, we have very low ceilings upstairs so it was easy to reach them with the vacuum. Luckily, I have very low cleaning standards, so it was easy to find a few cobwebs to suck up on top of the lady beetles so they couldn't manage to crawl out again. Problem solved, but I pity the folks with cathedral ceilings.
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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Roof is Done

With an old house, you're never totally Done, but it feels good to get the new roof finished. This is another gorgeous sky, but it has either rained, stormed or threatened most of the days since my last roof photo. they finished on Wednesday and then Thursday night a wild thunder storm featuring 1 inch diameter hail swept through in the evening. There were several tornadoes that touched down in Northern Michigan, including one in Kalkaska that killed a man.

I wasn't home to see it. I was at working dealing the aptly named "Thunder Thursday" poker tournament. I was glad Richard was home to keep it all together here.
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Monday, October 15, 2007

How to Start the Conversation

It was over at No Impact Man, where I often contribute my MomVoice to the discussion. They were talking about the following scene:
When my friend Elizabeth drops her son off at school in Connecticut, the moms gather in the courtyard to chat. There is a cool new feature to their SUVs which allows them to lock the doors while leaving the engine on. They stand around, a bunch of them, having a nice chat, while their motors idle in the parking lot, keeping air conditioners going in cars that have no one in them and are going nowhere.
I volunteered that I am not the sort of person who could observe such a scene without commenting on it. Furthermore, I would welcome the chance to make that sort of comment at school, in front of my kids, because:
when the conversation takes place at school, I'm giving my kids a "responsible adult" role model. The other moms may not realize it for a long time, but everybody benefits when there are kids in the group who can say "Wait! This isn't right! Let's do something smarter!"
I was surprised when another poster said that she didn't have the guts to initiate such a conversation, and wondered how it was done.

I thought about this all day yesterday, as I did outdoor chores in the (finally) fall weather. I realized that I have, over the years, developed a technique for initiating these conversations. Here it is:

Sibylle, my script for starting these conversations goes something like:
I used to.....(fill in the offending behavior), but then I realized .....(fill in the new information or better practice.)

"I've been drinking out of these one-way plastic bottles for years, but lately I've read about how bad they are for the environment and how the water in the bottle isn't any better. I guess I might as well just drink tap water."
I used to let my car idle to keep in comfortable inside, but when I read that the carbon dioxide coming out of my tailpipe is going to warm the earth for the next fifty years, well that puts everything into perspective. I guess I can just crack the windows and let it breathe a little.
You don't have to get anyone to agree with you on the spot, just plant the seed. You don't attack anybody, just give them the information they need to make a better decision. And it is about information! Even veteran environmentalists are having to rethink their ways in the new light of global warming. I recently said this to one of my farmer friends:
I used to think I would end up being cremated when I die to "save space for the living" and all that, but now I realize that this body has already sequestered a certain amount of carbon, and why would I want to put it all back up into the atmosphere? I hope my kids can figure out how to compost me....

I didn't realize it until I read Effect Measure, but today is Blog Action Day for the environment, when bloggers are encouraged to write a post about environmental action. I think that having conversations in everyday life are much more important, and educational, than spewing words out into cyberspace. There is simply no subsitute for speaking up!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Neon and Clotheslines

Brother Tim had just returned from Shanghai when we ate dinner the other night. He had been there to "blog from the Special Olympics for". He said that Shanghai was crazy with construction of high rise buildings, and that at night they were lit up with all colors of neon lights, rather like "Blade Runner on steroids."

He also saw clotheslines everywhere, on the balcony of every apartment. Here is a short column about his impressions of the trip, published in USA Today

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change

We are in Ann Arbor this morning, on a quick trip to visit Shelagh and Jordan, and to have dinner last night with brother Tim and nephew Christopher.

I have recently noticed how many "global warming doubt" websites have been constructed and how much money they are spending on advertising. Hopefully, I will find time to write about the process of manufacturing this doubt, but for today I will invite my readers to explore the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change website. They, along with Al Gore, won the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

October Tomatoes

Back in April, one of my 4-H parents gave me three tomato plants. There were two basket tomatoes and one of a variety called "First Lady". I planted the First Lady in early May atop a nice shovelful of composted chicken bedding, but one night when it got cold I forgot to cover it and it got nipped by frost. It grew back from its blackened branches and , as the summer progressed, came to occupy a space in the garden about nine feet across. As other tomatoes succumbed to the usual late season blights and fungi, this plant was making new growth at the end of each branch, and putting out impressive amounts of fruit.

This is the basket of tomatoes I picked from that one plant after a rain storm on October 1st. The shoulders of this variety always retained those green streaks, but the flavor was excellent. I picked an eight quart basket full every few days in September. Now the days are shorter, but still no frost, and I am still picking a dozen tomatoes every three or four days.

Anna and I went swimming in Lake Michigan on October 8th. It was pushing 90 degrees and it was a pleasure, not a challenge, to mark October off on the calendar as a swimming month. Maybe this year we'll try for November.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Where My Sleep Went

This is the last little piece of our old roof -- two layers of asphalt shingles and the original cedar shakes. We have a hired crew working to replace it, tearing the old stuff down to the planks, laying tar paper and then 2x4s on their sides to make an airspace, and then board sheeting, more tar paper, and finally the shingles over that. They are also boxing in the soffits and putting vents in top and bottom so the whole thing will breathe.

They start at 8 am and I work until midnight. Until recently, I was working until 2 am and going to bed at 3. They say that adjusting to an earlier shift is much harder than simply staying up later. I am proving it, laying in bed for an hour or more before I can get to sleep. It's hard to be grumpy when the days are as beautiful as this.
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Monday, October 01, 2007

More on Sandhill Cranes

My casino job is a great source of information from both near and far. I stopped by the Three Card Poker table on my way to the break room to tell one of our regulars about seeing the Sandhill Cranes. "Oh yes," he told me, "they've been nesting down at Garvin's Landing all summer."

The lady playing at that table was from Ann Arbor. "Are they rare here?" she asked. "Around us they are taking over the golf courses, just like the Canada Geese."

As I left, I heard the dealer, a young guy from the Upper Peninsula, bragging that he had seen a lot of them up north, as well. Almost out of earshot, I heard him ask the regular, "Did you ever eat one?" I wonder how that conversation played out.....
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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Carbon Crisis -- An Essay From National Geographic

The people around me seem to be living in two different worlds. Most folks seem to recognize that the world is getting warmer, and that something needs to be done. I have seen the average size cars in the parking lot shrink. I am seeing people considering relocating to be closer to work, or looking for jobs closer to home. Nobody brags about their new snowmobiles anymore. I also have small, concerned conversations with people who are worried about the future but unable to figure out the best way to prepare for change or to shoulder their responsibilty.

The essay in the new National Geographic, Carbon Crisis by Bill McKibben, was welcome. When a major source of information about our planet outlines the crisis at our door, it's hard for anyone to write it off as a "political gambit".

Here's how it works. Before the industrial revolution, the Earth's atmosphere contained about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. That was a good amount–"good" defined as "what we were used to." Since the molecular structure of carbon dioxide traps heat near the planet's surface that would otherwise radiate back out to space, civilization grew up in a world whose thermostat was set by that number. It equated to a global average temperature of about 57 degrees Fahrenheit (about 14 degrees Celsius), which in turn equated to all the places we built our cities, all the crops we learned to grow and eat, all the water supplies we learned to depend on, even the passage of the seasons that, at higher latitudes, set our psychological calendars.

Once we started burning coal and gas and oil to power our lives, that 280 number started to rise. When we began measuring in the late 1950s, it had already reached the 315 level. Now it's at 380, and increasing by roughly two parts per million annually. That doesn't sound like very much, but it turns out that the extra heat that CO2 traps, a couple of watts per square meter of the Earth's surface, is enough to warm the planet considerably. We've raised the temperature more than a degree Fahrenheit (0.56 degrees Celsius) already. It's impossible to precisely predict the consequences of any further increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. But the warming we've seen so far has started almost everything frozen on Earth to melting; it has changed seasons and rainfall patterns; it's set the sea to rising.

McKibben also does a good job of summarizing the work we need to tackle to fight climate change:
The first question–is it even possible?–is usually addressed by fixating on some single new technology (hydrogen! ethanol!) and imagining it will solve our troubles. But the scale of the problem means we'll need many strategies. Three years ago a Princeton team made one of the best assessments of the possibilities. Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow published a paper in Science detailing 15 stabilization wedges"–changes big enough to really matter, and for which the technology was already available or clearly on the horizon. Most people have heard of some of them: more fuel-efficient cars, better-built homes, wind turbines, biofuels like ethanol. Others are newer and less sure: plans for building coal-fired power plants that can separate carbon from the exhaust so it can be "sequestered" underground.

These approaches have one thing in common: They're more difficult than simply burning fossil fuel. They force us to realize that we've already had our magic fuel and that what comes next will be more expensive and more difficult. The price tag for the global transition will be in the trillions of dollars. Of course, along the way it will create myriad new jobs, and when it's complete, it may be a much more elegant system. (Once you've built the windmill, the wind is free; you don't need to guard it against terrorists or build a massive army to control the countries from which it blows.) And since we're wasting so much energy now, some of the first tasks would be relatively easy. If we replaced every incandescent bulb that burned out in the next decade anyplace in the world with a compact fluorescent, we'd make an impressive start on one of the 15 wedges. But in that same decade we'd need to build 400,000 large wind turbines–clearly possible, but only with real commitment. We'd need to follow the lead of Germany and Japan and seriously subsidize rooftop solar panels; we'd need to get most of the world's farmers plowing their fields less, to build back the carbon their soils have lost. We'd need to do everything all at once.
I'll be copying this article and bringing it to work. I think I'll also send it to my congressional representative, the one who ll thinks that "the debate is how much has man contributed to (climate change), and what solutions should we try."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sandhill Cranes

A pair of Sandhill Cranes, as seen from French Road near the corner of Bodus Rd. Richard tells me they have been in the neighborhood for about two weeks. They are probably resting on their way south.
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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Money and Brains

I don't write much about my job dealing at the casino. Much of what I see is a window into the personal, and this town is too small to be telling those stories. in fifteen years I have seen a lot and I see certain patterns about how people think and feel about money and luck.

I ran into an article titled "Your Money and Your Brain" at the dentist's office last week. Although the Money magazine writer was trying to explain the thought processes behind investement decisions, it might just as well be about gambling.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

First Day of Sixth Grade

Anna's first day of sixth grade was yesterday. I was in Leland at the end of the school day, so I stopped by to pick her up. I watched each kid exit Mrs. Lisuk's classroom, waiting for Anna. They sure have grown! But the kids looked oddly self conscious as the exited the classroom one by one.

I had forgotten about Mrs. Lisuk's exit rituals. Sh had stationed herself by the door and would only release each kid when they had told her "Goodbye" using the ritual of the day. On the first day of school it was a simple "Hasta Manana!" Some kids were fine with it, but others clutched when asked to utter the unfamiliar words. On the board were the rituals for the rest of this week. My favorite was "May the force be with you," answered by "And also with you."

In Sixth Grade, although students are still physically in the Elementary wing, they are starting the middle school curriculum. They will spend the year learning about learning. They will each be issued a laptop computer to use at school and at home. They will study learning styles and identify themselves as visual, auditory or kinetic learners. They will learn study strategies for all styles, and then practice by doing a lot of work in groups.

Later on in 7th grade they will investigate possible careers and do job shadowing with volunteers from the community. They will learn how to do internet research and business correspondence by researching and writing to colleges and trade schools that fit with the careers that they are considering. We want them to have enter high school with some idea of what they will do after graduation, and a realistic idea of what they will have to achieve in high school in order to make their plans happen.

In 8th grade they will learn to write resumes, fill out job applications, and how to conduct oneself in a job interview. At the end of the year, every student will go to an actual job interview, walking alone to a business in the village. Our business community graciously participates in this program, but many of the seasonal places snag good summer help this way.

Anna spent last week trying on possible "first day of school" outfits but then finally opted to wear the same plain shorts and tank top she had worn the day before. Mrs. Lisuk's room was filled with monarch butterfly items, including a tank of milkweed with caterpillars and chrysalises destined to become butterflies. Our K-12 school is all one building, but we house 7th and 8th grades upstairs by themselves, the chrysalis, where they can grow into confident, self-directed high school students.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Interview in the Enterprise

Daniel Wilson and me in a photo from the Leelanau Enterprise

I was interviewed in the Leelanau Enterprise for their special issue on odd jobs that people do in this county. I didn't realize until recently that it had been posted on the Enterprise's website. Here it is for those of you who are curious about my casino job.
I was happy about the way it turned out, especially the way he emphasized that we work those crazy hours because it works out well for our families.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Vacation to Minnesota

Cut River Bridge

We left home early Saturday morning after I got out of work. I slept in the car, but woke in time to see the Mackinac bridge. It turns 50 years old this year, like me. Anna was worried about crossing the bridge, after seeing news footage of the 35W bridge collapse, but I reminded her that it is a toll bridge, so we know how much traffic it has seen, and the tolls pay for the upkeep. Further into the Upper Peninsula, we crossed the Cut River Bridge, now identified as the same design as the 35W bridge. It doesn't seem like much when you cross it, maybe because you've just come over the Mighty Mac.

It was dry all across the Upper Peninsula. It was dry coming into Wisconsin as well, with cornfields that were taller than those in Leelanau, but also drying out from the ground up. When we get halfway across Wisconsin, we enter the Driftless region, so named because it was not covered with drumlins while the glaciers retreated. The area is good farmland, covered with dairy farms ten years ago. Now the pastures seem to be mostly abandoned, going towards horse estates and housing developments, but rain had fallen there anyway.

Crossing over to Minnesota, it was raining, but we could see that there had been much drought. It rained for the first three days we were here, hanging out in the camper by the lake. The camper gets on TV station, so we tuned in to the news in time to see the flooding just a few counties to the south and east. The flooding was just more trouble for the state already trying to figure out the bridge collapse. When I listened to NPR news on Monday night, all three lead stories were about events in Minnesota, the last one being the decision on the Twins' new stadium.

By this morning, they had found the last person missing from the bridge collapse and the guy who washed away in the flood. The sun came out, but the corn still is standing with sharp leaves sticking straight up as if signalling surrender. More rain is forecast for tonight and the flash flood warning for the southeast counties is back on. Anna was going fishing with her uncle this afternoon, and I am off to the farmers market to find fresh salsa ingredients.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


August seems to be the lull month for my blogging. No wonder. Forty plus hours a week working in the Human Zoo they call the casino would make anyone a little tired of attempting communication. I'm leaving for a short vacation in a few hours, and just in time. I'm close to "burn out".

The whole state is under an outdoor burning ban today. The Sleeper Lake fire has been burning in the Upper Peninsula for almost two weeks. We have smelled the smoke a few times, even though the fire is about 100 miles away, across Lake Michigan. We will be travelling through the UP in a few hours, and I expect to see something of the fire. I don't know if we'll see Lake Superior this trip, but I understand that the lake level there has fallen a foot this summer alone.

Around here, it has been a drought. We finally got an inch and a half of rain in last Sunday's thunderstorm, but that rain was too late to save the corn. Whole fields are dry, crackly, and turning yellow from the ground up. Whole county is looking close to burn out.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Garden Report

You can't tell from the photo, but this year I am unusually ahead of the weeds. I tilled once, late by my standards, but after the first flush of weed seeds sprouted, then again in mid June. I also weed when I'm emotionally agitated, so the wedding gave me plenty of motivation. We had no rain between June 4 and July 10, so I didn't have much weed growth in the areas where I wasn't watering.

There has been a lot of noise this year about the disappearing honeybees, but we have been seeing them in our yard. My beekeeper's helper friend tells me that this year is not very unusual from his perspective. I have seen other insects disappear this year, although nobody is going to panic if the rose chafers or Colorado Potato Beetles don't show up. Wasps are down this year, too, after being quite the prolific nuisance last year.

I planted a lot of potatoes, more volunteered, and with no beetles to fight it is turning into a nice harvest. Tomatillos did well, too, although I planted most of what I have as bait plants for the potato beetles. I will can them alongside the tomatoes. The squash bugs did show up and I spent a lot of time scraping their bronze egg arrays from the underside of the zucchini plants. Now I am rewarded with a nice crop of zucchini, although I still had one batch of squash bugs hatch out. I fully intended to kill those with rotenone, but there is a big toad living under the plants, so I guess I'll let it go. Maybe the toad will develop a taste for squash bugs.

The basket tomato plants that my neighbor gave me bore nice cherry tomatoes starting the second week of June, but they have succumbed to wilt right now, probably from the stress of living in pots. Maybe if I cut them back they will bear again in winter. I have a dragon tongue pepper plant that is in its third year of production. I let it lose its leaves in the fall and then prune and repot in January.

The tomatoes in the reclaimed land across the driveway are doing well. After getting so many people coming to this blog looking for info on deer and zinnias, I decided to stick the rest of the zinnias in there and see if the deer will eat them. So far, the answer is no.I put the rest of the reclaimed land under a cover crop of oats and buckwheat with some sunflowers to help break up the hardpan underneath. I'm looking at the price of chicken feed and trying to devise a way to turn sunflower seeds into feed.
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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Speckled Sussex

This is an eight week old Speckled Sussex hen. She is a sweet bird, happy to sit on my arm as she eyed the sprinkler in the garden. Eventually she flew from my arm to the shade of the day lilies and started scratching for bugs. This is the first time I have raised this breed, which is over 100 years old and is listed as "threatened" by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy.

They are alert, among the first chickens to come and see when I throw my pulled weeds into the outside pen. They are pretty tame, as well, easy to catch. The breed is known as "dual-purpose", meaning that it is used for both egg and meat production.

The speckles make it hard to see in the underbrush or dappled shade. This is an advantage in a free range situation where a brighter colored hen would be more apt to be spied by a coyote or hawk. Anna had a hard time photographing this hen. We ended up with a lot of pictures of chicken camouflage.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter Review

Liz has dark circles under her eyes, having stood in line at Leelanau Books until midnight, then stayed up all night reading the new Harry Potter book whilst dogsitting.

When she came in this morning, I was curious to know her opinion, since she is a thoughtful critic of literature.

"Did you finish it?"


"Did it live up to the hype?"

She thought a few seconds. "Yes, it was very well written."

"Does good triumph over evil?"

"Yes. In unexpected ways."

She then went off to read the ending over again, to make sure she really understood it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Anna and her cat

Just a nice picture. Kids love the "hold the camera out in front of your face and shoot" method, and digital cameras mean that we can afford to let them experiment.
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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Meat Birds

This baby is heavy! I'm still puzzled by these Cornish X chickens. They have truly lived up to their billing, growing and gaining weight at a phenomenal rate. But I'm not sure if they are chickens. So many chicken behavioral traits are missing in these birds: they don't scratch, they don't peck, they don't roost, they barely walk. They don't even poop like the other chickens. Their poop is more green, like duck poop.

I've had quite a time trying to keep their breasts from being soiled by laying in dirty straw. When I put this bird down to take a photo next to a normal sized hen, it pooped a copious pile, then immediately lay down in its own poop, as if it couldn't fathom the idea of making a choice where to lay down.

Busy with the wedding, I posted the NY Times editorial about chickens and humans in prehistory without saying why it interested me. This big white dumb chicken is why. Humans have lived alongside chickens for a long time, breeding the chickens to conform to every habitat that humans found. The big white chicken is what you get when the habitat is a factory, but I'm not too excited about replacing the myriad of older, smarter, breed with this sort of chicken idiot.

On the other hand, it's not too hard to envision eating them. As Anna told me last night, "They're just meat with feathers. The other chickens have personalities but the white ones aren't even human."
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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Monday, July 09, 2007

Bridal Bouquet

Shelagh on her father's arm

June 23rd is a rough time to find wedding flowers. It was a hot spring, hot enough to rush the spring and early summer flowers through their paces. I watched the lilacs, spirea, peonies, even the irises, bloom and fade overnight, while the annuals seemed to just plod along. In the end the white zinnias that I started from seed gave me just a few blossoms and the white sweet peas are still just thinking about it.

So I decorated the hall with centerpieces made from ferns from Grandpa Gord's garden, wormwood and wild pink sweet peas from our yard, and a few buckets of flowers from Omena Cut Flowers. But I made Shelagh's bouquet from the best things in our yard: some white snapdragons that overwintered, sweet william that I got years ago from Gord, a lone sprig of blue lupine that persisted in Richard's beds, two sprigs of rosemary that curved to suggest a heart. The bridesmaids each got a few stems tied with asparagus leaves. Richard patiently pulled all the berries off of them while I was arranging Shelagh's bouquet.

I sent the flowers to the church with the Anna, sprinkling them with water, slipping them into plastic grocery bags, and telling Anna to put them in the fridge at the church. It was time for the parents to get ready. My girls and I all wear the same shoe size, so I really shouldn't have been all that surprised when I grabbed the black pumps from the shoe rack and they turned out to have a broken heel. I found another pair of shoes, in the dress up box, brushed my hair, and we were off.

At church, everything looked great. The girls had prepared for many choir concerts in those same Sunday school classrooms; they were on time and relaxed. Laurie Glass, the photographer, was getting a kick out of seeing Ellen (always the tomboy) with her hair out of the pony tail and getting curled. Jon and Christa Kiessel were dressing the three flower children and trying to keep them corralled. We posed for some pictures with the groom and then I went back downstairs to check on the girls. They looked great. Guests were starting to trickle downstairs to use the ladies' room so I packed up the makeup and hangers and went upstairs to wait for my cue.

The grandparents were already seated and Jordan's folks were ready to start down the aisle when word came that there was "a problem". I couldn't imagine what it was, but I didn't have much time to wonder, as the word was soon "problem solved". The moms came in and lit candles. The ring bearer gave the rings to the best man and after some whispered negotiations the best man talked the ring bearer into sitting down. The flower children scattered flowers, milled around a little, then found their parents and sat down.

Shelagh looked great. Both Shelagh and Jordan smiled broadly, happy to be there on their day.

But I smelled roses. I hadn't used any roses in their bouquets. Shelagh's bouquet had a rose in the middle. Did someone else buy flowers? Wasn't anything I did good enough for that kid? It was like our whole life together was replaying in my mind, where I provided simple and homemade, while Shelagh wanted to go shopping for something fancy. Of well, just let it go. They're only flowers.

I hadn't used any yellow flowers, either, as they clashed with the ribbons on the bridesmaids' dresses, but Liz was carrying yellow flowers. I was still telling myself "Oh well, they're only flowers as I watched two yellow petals fall from Liz's bouquet and hit the floor. At least my flowers were fresh! I got up at 5:30 am to pick them with the dew still on!

It must have been about then that Laurie, the photographer, whispered in my ear: "Anna put your bouquets in the freezer!" I started to quietly chuckle. My mom glanced sideways. I whispered in her ear "Anna put the bouquets in the freezer." Mom started to chuckle, too.

After the ceremony, Laurie told me how they had gone to the church kitchen to get the flowers. Shelagh asked Anna, "Why are you looking in the freezer?" and that's when they realized what had happened. All of the flowers were frozen solid. Anna was willing to carry the sorriest bouquet. Shelagh was willing to just walk down the aisle without flowers.

Laurie and Christa (mother of the flower children) walked out the front door of the church, looked down the street and saw a yard with a flower garden. They knocked on the front door of the house and told the man "This is an emergency. We need your flowers."

The man of the house said "Sure!" The lady across the street was working in her yard; she volunteered some of her flowers. Laurie and Christa grabbed what they could, tied them up with the ribbon from the frozen bouquets, and off went the bride!

Years ago, Shelagh and Liz, just 19 months apart, used to play four handed piano duets. Or at least they attempted to play four handed piano duets. Although they were each accomplished pianists in their own right, the wheels would eventually fall off the wagon when they tried to play together. They started off sweetly enough, and it was lovely, watching the two of them moving so well together. After a while, someone would hit a wrong note, or bungle the tempo a bit. I couldn't hear it, but I could tell from the "stink eye" look that would be exchanged. Pretty soon it would happen again, and the sideways glance would be more pronounced. Eventually the performance would dissolve into a chorus of accusations and shrieks, just short of heaving each other off of the piano bench.

There was none of that at the wedding. Anna made a mistake. Shelagh forgave, focused on the important stuff, and carried on. I can't think of a better way to start a marriage.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Free Well Water Testing

Free drinking well water screenings will be offered July 16 through the Michigan Groundwater Stewardship Program, Michigan Dept of Ag and MSU Extension.

Leelanau County residents may pick up sampling bottles and instructions at the MSU Extension office in Leland (201 Chandler Street).

Water samples must be collected on Monday, July 16 and returned to the extension office that day between 9 am and 2 pm.

The free screening is conducted annually in conjunction with Michigan State University's Annual Ag Expo, being conducted this year July 17-19 on the MSU campus in East Lansing. The water test screens for nitrates, nitrites and triazine pesticides.

For more information, call 231-256-9888.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Wedding Imminent

I am up early this morning sewing seafoam green ribbon on black bridesmaids dresses. I still have to make the final plan for flowers and find a suit for my husband. I'll post wedding pictures in a few days.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Chickens in Prehistory

From today's NY Times:

June 9, 2007
Trans-Pacific Chicken
In the litter of our meals lie the bones of a forgotten history. In this case, chicken bones found at a Chilean archaeological site called. Their DNA closely resemble prehistoricchicken bones found in Polynesia and radiocarbon dating suggests that thechickens these bones belonged to made it to the New World about a century beforeany European explorer. The research team that made the discovery calls this “the first unequivocal evidence for a pre-European introduction of chickens to SouthAmerica.”

The modesty of this statement is impeccable. But its implication is not so modest. It has long been believed that the easternmost reach of Polynesian voyaging was Easter Island, some 2,200 miles off the coast of Chile. But these bones place the voyagers — whoever they were and whatever their intent — in the Americas themselves, and well before the Europeans who were long supposed to have introduced chickens to the southern continent. Like Captain Cook, we get to marvel yet again at the thought of how far the Polynesians traveled and how well they knew their world. As Cook put it, “It is extraordinary that the same nation should have spread themselves over all the isles in this vast ocean.”

And what better traveling companion for a long voyage in an ocean-going outrigger canoe than a few chickens? They would have been perhaps the nucleus of a new settlement and, at the very least, an assurance of supper. They would, of course, have looked very little like the chickens we know — more like the native jungle fowl of Southeast Asia from which they were descended. And we know nothing about how they were prepared. But in the remains of that meal there is a world of conjecture.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Global Warming for Poker Players

The Heartland Poker Tour at Leelanau Sands Casino in May 2007.
I'm way back there dealing at table N.

Okay, let's review the concept of "pot odds".

For those of you who don't play poker, evaluating the "pot odds" involves weighing the odds of winning a pot against the cost of further participation in the hand. When the cost of further participation, the bet, is larger than the value of the pot times the chance of winning the pot, we say that “the pot odds aren’t there”. If the pot odds aren’t there, then you fold instead of betting. If the pot is big and the bet in front of you is small, you bet a marginal hand, because further participation won’t cost you that much.

There is a chance that the human race in not the cause of global warming. It's not a big chance, maybe like holding a suited Jack and King in your hand. In the pot in the middle of the table is a host of things like big cars, big houses, a new wardrobe every year, cheap imported food....some nice stuff, to be sure. We would like to win that pot. But someone has bet in front of us. To match that bet, to stay in the hand we have to bet our whole bankroll. We have to go all in.

And what is in our bankroll? Our whole earth. The only place we know we can live in. In order to, maybe, save our current lifestyle, we must bet our entire livable Earth, the livable Earth for not only us, but all of our descendants. There's no hitting the ATM machine to withdraw another stake in the game. That's it.

Is it worth it to bet our whole earth on the off chance that global warming is an illusion? As much as we like the things that are in the pot, they aren't worth risking our earth for. A good poker player folds in that position. He walks away from that pot so that he can live to play another hand.

And there will be other hands. We can live with smaller cars. We can devise lifestyles where we drive less and eat food from the neighborhood. We can figure out all sorts of way to avoid burning gas and oil, and to conserve electricity so that the power plants don't burn so much coal. I guessing that our descendants will shake their heads and wonder how we could ever have lived so enslaved by our outsized cars and homes.

A good poker player congratulates himself on a good laydown and goes on to play smart in the next hand, too. The human race can walk way and be the better for it, or we can stay in and play a suicidal hand. The action's on us.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Garden Is In

Tonight I officially finished planting the garden. Except for another bed of lettuce. Except for yellow beans which will go into the bed vacated when I harvest the garlic. Except for the rest of the white zinnias that I started for the wedding; I'd better figure out where they're going because the wedding's coming up soon.

I actually have three main garden areas. I'm particularly proud of the plot pictured above, as it used to be part of the old M-204 roadbed. We used it to stockpile horse manure and leaves until it started to have soil instead of gravel.

Anyone can pave over farmland to make a road, but I made a road back into farmland! I have raised corn, squash, and potatoes there. This year half of it is in tomatoes, but I'm still wondering what to put in the rest. It is outside the fence, so deer are an issue. Do deer eat zinnias? It was a ten day dry spell, but it started raining as I put the tomatoes in and we've had a gentle drizzle all night. It's so nice when Nature plays along.
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Monday, May 28, 2007

Baby Huey

I'm not sure about those Cornish Cross meat birds. They have grown, and grown fast, until they look like monsters next to the other chickens.

They seem to have no "off" switch to their appetite. We take the food away at night and in the morning they are up and running around with lots of energy. By 10 AM they have gorged themselves and can barely move. Their breasts are huge. Anna calls them "chickens with boobs". Their feathers are thin (the better to pluck) and the pink skin shines through.

They make me think of Baby Huey, the cartoon duckling that was so huge and so clumsy. All of the chicks are outgrowing their enclosure, although I want them to get another week's worth of feathers before I move them outdoors. We are plotting to make a chicken tractor out of the aluminum frame from a building awning that Richard picked up from a free pile a couple of years ago. Pictures to follow.
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