Sunday, April 22, 2007


Yesterday was clear and calm. Today was clear. hot, and windy. The high was about 85 degrees, quite remarkable when you consider that there are still patches of snow in the north facing hollows.

About 4 o'clock I was working inn the yard when I heard sirens. The firechief's truck came in from 204 and headed up French Road. Another fire truck followed. I was thinking it was probably a wildfire, hopefully not a car accident, when I realized that I was smelling smoke. And seeing smoke! It was a stiff southwest wind, enough to move any fire back down French Road in a hurry.

I dropped the yard work and started the next plan. I called Anna and told her to put shoes on and find the dog's leash. I phoned Richard, who was visiting a friend up French Road, and told him we were leaving. We knocked a screen out so the cats could come and go and left the door unlocked with a note saying the house was unoccupied.

The fire was actually about a mile away, just past Dufek Road. By the time we located it and drove home the back way to stay out of the firetrucks' way the smoke had stopped blowing past our house. I think it was a run-of-the-mill grassfire, but we didn't go close enough to see much.

Later I laughed to think of how little I had taken with me. People always talk about what they would take with them if they had to evacuate. I took the kid and the dog, that's all.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

What Today Was Like

It was a beautiful clear day and I went a little nuts taking pictures. Anna had a friend stay overnight and we went, all three of us, to do Anna's dogsitting job first thing in the morning.

This was a picture from the top of the bluff over Lake Michigan where we were walking the dog. The water seems impossibly clear this time of year. The water temperature is still in the low 40's. The lake gets clearer every year because of the zebra mussels.

April is the Month of the Young Child. At the Leelanau Children's Center, each kid laid down on a sheet of big paper, a teacher traced around, and then they cut and colored their image. The life size paper kids are hung up in area businesses, each with a red heart that reminds us "Children Matter."

The photo at left is the Post Office in Leland. At the right is The Huntington Bank ATM Kiosk. There are kids everywhere you look.

One year Shelagh's cutout was at the Merc. Anna once hung in Dick's Pour House. Of course Liz hung out at the library.

I stopped by the Leland Library today, and got my fair share of the news. I borrowed The Weather Makers and The Audacity of Hope. Right now I am reading The Hype About Hydrogen, which Liz left here for me. I had to let the three 79 year old volunteers manning the desk chide me about overdue movies, but then I overpaid for my copies and told them to put the rest in the kitty. They were loudly discussing the field of presidential candidates. Dan doubted that Barack had written his own book.

Finally I got to go home and get some chores done. Three loads of laundry hung out and the bread made. It sure looks like the peas (at left) are growing and I should be able to make a rhubarb cake for Shelagh when she comes home this week.

After dinner, Anna and I rode our bikes the two miles back to dog-sitting. In this county you have either hills or traffic, and the route tonight was flat. The traffic wasn't too bad, but I think I am going to get us both those rear-view mirrors that attach to your helmet. If I make Anna wear it around the house for a few days she'll get used to it. She isn't scared of traffic, but it's hard to know if she's paying enough attention. At least on a beautiful Saturday like this nobody seemed to be in much of a hurry.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Is this Offensive?

Yesterday we had Harrassment Training at work. The main topic of the training was breakroom TVs, and how we shouldn't have the TV tuned to anything that could be considered offensive. The clip above was shown as an example of something that we should not watch at work because it included "racial and sexual stereotyping".

What do you think? I thought that the clip was making fun of racial stereotyping. And when we were asked to identify the sexual stereotyping in the clip, I answered, honestly, that I thought it was making fun of white guys who couldn't figure out how to open emails.

So that afternoon we watched "Little House on the Prairie" on break, at least until Junebug joked that he found it offensive.

"There ain't no Indians on this show."

"Yeah they chased them all off before the show started."

So we turned it some ancient game show where the contestants, a team of women vs. a team of me, got to pick from a bin of balls every time they won a round. The men kept winning, whereupon the announcer would say "OK gentlemen, grab your balls!" This cracked us up, especially when they kept grabbing blue ones.

Next break I turned it to the evening news just in time to see NBC airing the videotape of the Virginia Tech murderer. Although we didn't even know until then that a videotape even existed, it was clear what we were looking at. No one talked. Everyone was watching closely. I was still closest to the TV; I realized that I'd better check to see if it was too upsetting for anyone. The faces looked upset, but intent. We needed to try and figure this out, even though it made us very uncomfortable.

As soon as it was over, it was time to go out on the floor. Gary remarked that any random person on the casino floor could be just as whacked out. I was busy worrying about my college students. We both wondered about giving a guy like that his requisite fifteen minutes of fame.

What do you think? Is the Family Guy clip offensive? Should the mass murderer tape be aired?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Loons on Lake Leelanau

Last Friday evening Anna and I walked down Popp Road to the lake access. We foolishly forgot the camera, as it was very still at sunset with the sun shining on the eastern shore across the lake. The twigs of trees turn colors when the sap starts to rise. The hills were pink with maples, but the shore was spotted with golden willows.

There was still snow, but it was clearly spring. We saw a pair of Canada geese, a pair of mallards, and a pair of loons. The loons were a treat, since they never stay on Lake Leelanau after people start running boats on the lake.

The next morning , north Lake Leelanau was glazed over with ice again. It actually refroze twice this spring, which is most unusual. I know the loons are still there, because I heard them tonight, as I came in after work, calling from the lake in the distance.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Will it grow?

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I planted peas during our "first spring", at the end of March. Then it snowed, about eight days straight, including the near blizzard. Yesterday the snow had finally melted off enough so that I could find the garden.

The first thing I did was pick some rhubarb, even if the stalks were only a few inches long. Then I planted another row of garlic, out of the cloves that were sprouting in the basement. Then I planned to replant the peas. but first I dug up one of the previously planted peas to see if there was any sign of life.

The pea I dug up is in the photo above. The color is not quite right; to my eye it looked greener, a beautiful shade of spring green. The root looks ready to grow. Will it grow? I didn't replant, I will give the first seed another week to prove itself.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bees behaving Oddly

I was hanging out laundry during the first spring (the one that lasted a week) and heard an odd sound coming from the bird feeder. The "plink, plink, plink" was sunflower seeds falling out of the feeder onto the squirrel guard as a honeybee burrowed among the seeds in the feeder. I watched for a while and saw that there were at least 10 bees engaging in this odd behavior, including 4 who had burrowed to the top of the column of sunflower seeds and were now stuck inside of the plexiglass tube.

I thought they might be looking for water, but the birdbath was full, and untouched. On the other side of the house, bees were working the crocuses like normal. On the clothesline side I felt like I was watching bees on drugs.

Now I used to keep bees and worked for a commercial beekeeper back in the "golden age" before mites made the business so difficult. I also worked in orchards and have observed honeybees in my spare time since I was a baby. I know what I am looking at when it comes to bees, and I've never seen such odd behavior in bees.

I have no idea what was causing it. If I see it again. I'll try to take some video.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Basket Tomato Plant

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That's a basket tomato plant, about to flower, in my south facing window, with the snow covered yard in the background. the variety is "Tumbar". I didn't plant it myself. My own tomatoes are barely 2 inches high. I was given the plant by Ralph, father of Nathan, one of my 4-H Chess Club kids.

Ralph gave me the plant on the day of 4-H Expo. We have a Northern Michigan Fair, but for many of the non-livestock clubs, 4-H Expo is the premier event. This year's Expo was at Suttons Bay School, on a lovely March day when it seemed that spring had truly sprung. Expo is a chance for 4-H kids to show off what they have learned, and what their projects are all about.

I'm afraid I don't put too much into preparing for Expo. One of the nice things about being a Chess leader is that your project is much more transportable than, say, a llama. All I need to do is lay out some boards and wait. Kids always show up and want to play, or to learn. In our chess club I put a lot of time into teaching kids how to teach chess, so Expo is a good time to practice teaching.

Nathan has a hard time adopting that teaching role. He wants to win! I almost didn't continue with Chess Club this year. In the fall, the entire 4-H program was in jeopardy, and I worked long and hard to make sure the county operations millage passed. By Christmas vacation, the housework had piled up, the paper work had piled up, and I hadn't played piano since forever. I would have been happy skip chess this winter and be a homebody, every time I saw Nathan in school he would give me a big hug and start bugging me "When are we going to play chess?"

I spent a lot of time this winter contemplating carbon footprints, local food chains, and, as always, how the human race will survive when we've forgotten so many of the old survival skills. At 4-H Expo, I found kids who were excited about all kinds of skills. We had a horse group who had sewed show regalia when they found that they couldn't otherwise afford it. We had kids in chef's hats making homemade pasta, and another group handing out samples of their homemade peppermint stick ice cream. (Now I know what to do with leftover candy canes.)

I saw a demonstration on how to show a steer, and another on how to trim my rabbit's toenails. Nathan dragged me outside between chess games to ride in a wagon pulled by two draft horses. I spoke to the kids in the rabbit group about how keeping and breeding a rare breed of rabbit could be a community service, too. I was once again tempted by the kids who made hats out of their llama's wool, but raising a llama will have to wait until I have a little more time.

I always think that I don't have time to be a 4-H volunteer, but every year I find that I'm getting a lot more out of volunteering than I'm giving up. This year I even got tomato plants.

Oh! And of course the camera! My digital camera was broken. When I turned it on all the LEDs in the display would light up and then it would shut down seconds later with the batteries drained. I gave it up for dead and spent most of the winter trying to figure out how to scrape together enough money to buy a new one. One of my former chess club kids, James Zeits, now in college, came by to play a game of chess and mentioned that the battery terminals on the camera might be dirty and that I could clean them with a pencil eraser. I tried it and it worked, so I can post pictures again!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Leelanau Sees Sun

It's Easter Sunday and it finally stopped snowing. The April sun is strong, so strong that it was melting the snow even before the clouds really cleared. Anyone with doubts about passive solar heating needs only to park their car facing south and check the temperature in the front seat about 2 pm.

It was never a real blizzard, but it was close enough to scare me a little. Driving home, I had to creep along following the tracks before me in order to stay on the road. In a real blizzard, you have to do the same thing, only you're doing it while you walk from the garage to the house, hoping that you're following the right tracks. When I lived through the big Buffalo blizzard in 1977, I walked home a few times, just finding the sidewalks by following others' footsteps. The odd part was when I came to a corner. I would have to scrape some snow off of the corner building, study the brick pattern, then try to remember which building had that sort of brick so that I could figure out where I was.

In Leelanau, the snow comes faster as the wind calms down. Thus the snow squalls of yesterday were stronger than during the blizzard warning of Wednesday. Today there is actual Sunshine and things are melting fast. Through it all, the birds have been remarkably active. The juncos were digging hoes through the snow to get the green grass underneath. The robins flocked to the road shoulders and other open areas, perhaps just hoping for a worm to show up. We bought suet cakes yesterday, but now that the wind is down and the sun is out the yard is deserted except for two juncos.

The TV news tells us that Painesdale, Grampa Gord's boyhood home, got over 50 inches of snow this week.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

New Background

Alright, the snow is getting to me. It's a little slapdash, but I put some greens in the background. The image is a closeup of greens growing in the hoop house at Meadowlark Farms, up the road.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Spring, So Far

Well, let's see... the crocuses are up, the daffodils started blooming, I've planted peas, spinach and lettuce. I've eaten greens from the overwintered garden. The rhubarb was an inch or so high. I have flats of germinating tomatoes, peppers, basil, and white zinnias for the wedding. Easter is a few days away; I have pussy willows and forsythia ready to bloom in a mason jar on the kitchen table.

And outside it is 20 degrees, snowing, and blowing about 30 mph. Last night's near blizzard has let up somewhat, but the roads were warm when the snow fell, so it's all ice now. The snow is expected to keep coming through Sunday, when it turns to rain.

The casino was busy last night. It seems that the folks who didn't go south for spring break are determined not to spend the week at home staring at the walls.

I laid in bed last night listening to the wind howl, weighing the pros and cons of living in an old farmhouse. This house, at 1400 square feet, is small by today's standards. There is no "great room"; the rooms are small and connected by doors that close. The kitchen, the biggest room, has doors leading to twin parlours on either side of the staircase. You can enter stairs from doors at the other ends of the parlors; the former fron door also opens into the stairwell. I think this was never a front door home, all of our entrances are through the side door, directly into the kitchen.

Upstairs, a hall winds around the open stairwell. There are three bedrooms and a closet, each arranged so that none of the bedrooms share a common wall. The bedrooms are small, but they have huge windows that stretch from below the knee to the ceiling. The bedrooms seem larger than they are. When we bought the place it had no heat upstairs. We installed heat ducts upstairs so that those rooms could qualify as "habitable space" but we hardly ever use them, preferring to sleep in cold rooms.

Downstairs, we can shut up the rooms we're not using, instead of heating them. When the power goes out, we can shut the doors to the kitchen and use the gas stove to heat food and the room.

Heat is the biggest part of our energy budget in the winter. Lately Liz and I started reading No Impact Man, a blog written by a guy living in Manhattan who has decided to pare his family's net environmental impact down to zero. He made big news when he announced that they were giving up toilet paper.

I'm here living with No Paycheck Man. Construction in Michigan continues to be slow, so we're scrimping everyway we can. In the end I suspect that being broke is better for the environment than all the "sustainable" shopping opportunities that people can invent. And it won't go out of style, either. I feel quite well off, compared to the No Impact family, because of all of the things that we know how to do for ourselves.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Blizzard Warning

It's been a nice spring, here, right up until today's blizzrd warning. Right now there's not much weather to talk about, just high winds and falling temps. But we know, living this close to a big lake, things could change in a matter of munutes. Anna is dog sitting over spring break so we sent her out first thing this morning to fetch Buster and bring him home to dogsit here. We got groceries. I'm leaving for work soon, but I will bring extra clothes and the winter sleeping bag in case I end up sleeping at work tonight.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

April Fools

The image is stolen shamelessly from The Leland Report.

It's April Fools Day, but there was rumour over there that Keith was being sued for copywrite infringement over this piece of photoshopping, so I thought I'd reprint here as an act of solidarity. Keith posts every day, rain or shine, with some of the loveliest photos anywhere.

As for crime around here, we recently were again named "safest place to retire" by somebody or another. Retirement is fine, making a living is sometimes dicey in this county. It helps that a lot of other people are broke, too, so you can be "eatin taters and wearing old clothes" without feeling too out of place.

Also check out this headline from Gold Plating of County Building "Well Under Way"