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.