Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Getting colder

With my digital camera broken, I'm getting hooked on publishing these lake temp graphics for a little variety. It has been colder, although we have not seen much snow this year. Richard figures he has run the snowblower only four times this winter. (In a normal winter he might run it four times a week and think he's getting off easy.)

There has not been much ice fishing action. The inland lakes are still scary, but this weekend should take care of that. We are expecting highs on Sunday of only 5 above, our coldest weather in over ten years. I am happily thinking of all those nasty squash bugs I battled last summer, quietly freezing to death in their underground hideouts.

The NOAA site shows us that the big lake is finally getting cold. Their new feature is a graphic of current Great Lakes ice cover.

Monday, January 29, 2007

What's for Dinner?

The Lansing State Journal reports today that Michigan's entire corn crop could soon be consumed by ethanol factories.

I wonder what we're going to eat? The price of chicken food (layer mash) was $7.50 last summer. Now, thanks to the futures market, that same bag costs $11. We can expect egg, milk, and meat prices to rise with the cost of feed.

The price of corn is a big issue already in Mexico, where the price of tortillas has more than doubled in the last year. In Africa, cornmeal is a staple, the main dish that each meal is built around. Here, corn is cheap, even at double the price. This week in the Leelanau Enterprise there was an ad for "Furnace Corn". Yes, with all these trees around here, some people are burning corn cobs to heat their homes.

Things will change if the ethanol boom holds up. I can't figure out why ethanol is all the rage but conservation is never mentioned.

But don't worry. Gas will be cheap, as we drive all around town looking for affordable groceries.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

It was fun to read the interview with former French Road neighbor Jim Harrison in the NY Times this week. As always, the Times writer revealed as much about himself as he did about his subject. I was laughing at the video that accompanied the article, when the cameraman shot a long still of Harrison's pack of American Spirits sitting on the table, like they were some sort of key to the mystery of how to be an awesome writer. Later that night, I laughed again seeing a pack of the same brand cigarettes on the corner of a blackjack table. Maybe they are also the secret to awesome double downs.

Although the Harrisons lived up the road from us for many years, I never met Jim. I enjoyed his writing too much to want to meet him, but I sold eggs to Linda and kept an eye out when they were searching for stray dogs. I never really knew that he was a well-known writer until one slow winter night at the casino when I saw guys in scarves walking around. Guys in northern Michigan don't wear scarves unless it's 12 below and blowing forty, and even then they take them off indoors. Eventually one of the guys in scarves sat down at my blackjack table and I asked him where he was from.

"Paris," was the reply. "In France." Like I couldn't figure that out! They turned out to be in town filming a documentary on the cranky writer guy up the road, who was quite well known in Paris. In France. The French guys were very funny gamblers, laughing when they won, laughing even more when they lost, teasing me to use my rusty high-school French. They were not in a hurry, just thrilled to be here.

Cooking gourmet food in an ordinary kitchen is pretty French. Cooking local, homegrown food is pretty French, and it happens a lot on French Road, too. Right now my culinary quest is veering between recreating a Thai basil sauce that I ate four years ago in Soho and finding ways to cook the 3-year-old spent laying chickens ("old biddies") in the freezer. I find myself on sites like Cha Xiu Bao, where the recipe for Chicken and Conch Soup with Honeydew Melon starts out "Get an old chicken -- they have much more flavor."

I won't make this particular recipe, since I have no conch feet, but it's helpful to realize that those tough old birds would be sought after by many cooks. Not American cooks, for whom chicken is a meal that can be prepared and consumed in less than an hour, but slow cooks who remember the old food.

In the NY Times video, Harrison sounds like my Grampa Lee, talking about how most Americans have never fed a chicken or held a pig or petted a cow. Or my husband, when we are slaughtering chickens, complaining that I don't pluck feathers half as fast as his mother did. "Nobody could pluck a chicken faster than my grandma. She'd grab it, dunk it, then pfft, pfft, pfft, she was done and on to the next one!" Someday I might measure up.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Leland Tree is Spared

In yesterday's Leland Report, Kate told us that the County Road Commission has agreed to give the Tree Supporters a chance to raise the $6000 it will take to professionally prune and cable the Champion Poplar. They are brainstorming fundraising strategies over at the Leland Report. I think they should put a credit card swiper right on the tree.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Chicken Fads, Chicken Lore

In today's Dining section of the NY Times, I found an article about Silkie chickens.

Although the article is all about eating Silkies, an unusual experience due to their jet-black skin, there was some interesting chicken lore in the article. I wonder if Silkies really are superior setting hens? I wonder if they really taste different, and if their bones are really black? I wonder if that recipe with soy sauce, ginger, and a can of Coke would help make those terribly tough old hens that are in the freezer palatable?

The Murray McMurray catalog came in the mail last week. It finally snowed and got quite cold. This is the time of year to plan the garden and think about which chicks to order in the spring.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

More on Small Schools

I posted a reply to Jack Lessenberry's column putting some blame for the School Aid Fund deficit on small schools. Many of the arguments against rural school consolidation are also applicable to the current discussion about closing schools in Detroit, so I'll run it again here:

It seems that big schools, like big cars, is an idea that we keep buying even though its time has come and gone.

The big push for school consolidation started in the late 1950’s, as part of the push for better education that was sparked by the launch of Sputnik. It made sense then. Gas was less than 10 cents a gallon. New roads and interstates were being built everywhere. Education was seen as a content based commodity, so it was important to get students physically close to good libraries and teachers who had the specialized educations that were beyond the reach of smaller schools. Nobody worried about crime in schools. No one had even heard of sprawl.

Today we face a different world. In the age of the internet, memorization of acts, or housing facts in libraries, is less important. Students and teachers must become lifelong learners, adept at evaluating a constant flow of competing information. Employability depends on being adept at embracing new technologies at a record pace, on emotional intelligence and team working skills, on good work habits and a highly developed sense of personal responsibility.

In the 1990’s, the Search Institute’s research produced a list of 40 Developmental Assets essential to raising successful young people. Those of us who live in small school communities were not surprised to find that small schools have always provided many of these assets. Kids do better in intact communities.

But aren’t small schools an expensive luxury? The people at The Small Schools Project don’t think so. They cite studies that look, not just at the cost of running buses, paying staff, and keeping the lights on, but at the cost of producing an actual graduate. As schools get bigger, the dropout rate increases. Studies in both New York City and Nebraska show that the economy of scale in the larger schools disappears when measured in cost per graduate.

It makes sense to evaluate schools this way. You wouldn’t measure the efficiency of an auto plant by how many cars they tried to make; you’d want to know how many actually ran. And putting a half-built car on the scrap heap costs nothing compared to setting a high school dropout loose on the streets. If we were to factor in the societal costs of high school dropouts, small schools would win hands down.

In Michigan, consolidation is not the answer to our school funding problems. Some of our biggest districts are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and some of our smaller districts are winning awards for efficiency. Talk of consolidation only diverts attention from our real problems: the erosion of Proposal A’s tax foundation, the escalating cost of health and retiree benefits, and the overall inequity in funding.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Taxing Oil

My dad sent me Thomas Friedman's piece on Gerald Ford, "The First Energy President."
Still, Ford wasn't just all talk on energy. He used his presidential powers to impose a $3-a-barrel fee on imported oil to reduce consumption. That was a big deal, noted Verleger, because the average cost of imported crude at the time was only $10.76 a barrel.

Yes, you read that right. A Republican president actually imposed an import fee on oil to curb consumption! Yes, President Bush, it can be done!

The republic survived! Thanks to the Energy Policy Conservation Act of 1975 and other measures, Ford's energy legacy includes: the creation of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for use in an emergency; the phasing out of domestic price controls on oil to encourage more exploration; major investment in alternative energy research; assistance to states in developing energy conservation programs; and, most important, the creation of the first compulsory mileage standards for U.S. automobiles.

Those mileage standards have barely been tightened since 1975 -- because some idiotic congressmen from Michigan, who thought they were protecting Detroit, have blocked efforts to raise them. So, Japanese automakers innovated more in that area, and the rest is history -- or in the case of Detroit, obituary.
You can read the rest here. I cited the part about the $3 a barrel tax on foreign oil over at Blondesense in response to an article about the Obama/McCain/Lieberman climate bill, which proposes to "solves the global warming problem without weakening the nation's economic position or imposing hardship on its citizens." by creating a new system of regulating emissions on industry and power generators, and a system to trade emission credits.

I called it "Magic Bill That Solves Global Warming By Creating A New Bureaucracy Without Asking That Americans Do Anything On A Personal Level." But it's better than not even talking about the issue. I think Americans actually would welcome the chance to take specific steps towards controlling greenhouse gases, and towards lessening our dependence on Mideast-crazy oil. But we don't want to see our individual efforts wasted or, worse, exploited by some energy hog on the next block or the next generation of Enron. We need a national energy policy, one that challenges each of us to live in a way that leads to a future we aren't afraid of.

Schools of Choice

The Petoskey News-Review ran a story this week on how "Schools of Choice', a policy now 10 years old has played out in the Charlevoix-Petoskey area.

At work this week I talked to two different coworkers about school choice. Both were furious with their current schools. One was trying to move their kids from Northport to Suttons Bay, the other was trying to move their kids from Suttons Bay to Northport. In both cases there were communication issues between the school and the parents, but I wondered if the fact that they could vote with their feet gave these families an alternative to demanding that their current school improve. Both families felt that their concerns were ignored until they threatened to switch schools.

The other big school funding news in Leelanau is the headline in the Enterprise that Glen Lake may become, like Northport, an out-of-formula school.
Since adoption of Proposal A, most school districts have relied on a state per-pupil foundation allowance, generated from a statewide 6-mill property tax levy for education. The foundation allowance, multiplied by the number of students, represents the lion’s share of revenue to most school districts. These schools are referred to as “in formula."

However, when the district’s non-homestead tax revenue is greater than what the district would receive “in formula,” it is designated as “out of formula."
If the district can convince the state Department of Education that they are out-of-formula, then Glen Lake would rely on property taxes instead of per-pupil grants for their funding. They could even change designations on a yearly basis, depending on the interplay of student counts and property values.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Fear of Trees

The New York times reported today the residents of Puget Sound are experiencing "fear of trees" after a big windstorm that brought many trees down onto houses and powerlines.

In the weeks after the storm, Mr. Hushagen and other tree experts here in perhaps the nation’s most wooded metropolitan region have been wildly busy, dashing from house to house to extract trees from roof trusses, peel them off driveways and, once the chain saws are at rest, try to predict for nervous homeowners whether one more good gust might take down yet another giant.

In the process, some have also become deeply concerned, worried that there may be more lasting damage to the relationship — not too strong a word in the Evergreen State — some people have with the trees around them. Now some tree experts have begun a kind of informal counseling campaign intended to restore trust, or at least the willingness to risk being hurt again.

“People get tired of the trees falling on their property and on their roofs, and they just want them all cut down,” said Sarah Griffith, the urban forestry program manager with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. “We say, Hey, this tree just survived 80 m.p.h. winds. It’s going to be O.K.”

In the first desperate days after the storm, the King County division of Water and Land Resources urged restraint. “Many trees have been lost to the windstorm,” Greg Rabourn, a project manager with the agency, said in a news release at the time, “and we don’t want to lose many more to bad advice or hysteria.”

It sounds kind of like all of the talk around here concerning just one tree, Leland's Chmpion Poplar. In early december, the county Road Commission voted to cut down the tree, citing concerns about falling limbs. An outcry ensued, and now the tree is being evaluated by a couple of different arborists. When Anna and I were there last Saturday we saw The Tree Doctor up in the limbs on a High-Low taking core samples. We also saw the Leland Reporter taking this picture.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Seussical pictures

There are more pictures from Leland Public School's production of Seussical posted here at Shutterfly. Some of you have been stopping by looking for costuming ideas for your own productions.

I never got a good picture of Liz as Gertrude. She had a blue satin dress with a sort of a bustle housing many yards of feather boas that were pulled out when her tail grew.