Thursday, January 31, 2008

Snow Day

It was a storm for a perfect snow day. When we went to bed, it was still around 40 degrees. In the morning it was minus 3. The wind kicked up in the night, sending the last frozen slabs of snow skittering down the roof with the biggest gusts. I laid in bed, wondering what was happening to my new roof.

Richard shovelled the driveway with the big scoop instaed of running the snowplow. He needed the physical activity to stay warm. Still he had a few times when he blinked and his eye froze shut, so he had to go into the shop to warm up.

I'm reading Joseph Bruchac's The Dark Pond to Anna. I wanted to read her Dawnland, Bruchac's epic about prehistory couple with a primer on dog/human relations, but the book was culled from the Leland Library a few years ago because it was infrequently checked out. Now it seems to be out of print.

The wind died as the day went on, so I ended up going to work last night, where there were a few hardy souls to entertain. This morning the sun is out and the wind has calmed, so Richard is on the ice seeing if the fish will bite.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Before the Storm

Today was a warm January day, with a wicked cold front expected tonight, so I let my chickens out to forage while they could. The one red hen who always pecks my hand came up on the porch and pecked at the door, like she was knocking. Then she settled down on the porch next to the cat, watching the snow melt. They reminded me of the cat and hen that shelter the Ugly Duckling for a while in the old Hans Christian Anderson story.

I watched them from the kitchen, where I was making enchiladas out of the meat, fat, and stock from a spent laying hen that we butchered last year. That frozen chicken, tough and skinny as she was, will still feed us four more times: chicken pot pie, enchiladas, chicken soup with egg noodles, and egg drop soup. I had to cook her in the crock pot for six hours before I could even pull the skin off, let alone the meat, but the stock is extraordinary.

The chickens were much calmer this evening, having enjoyed the day outside. I locked them in tight, as the temperature is expected to drop from 45 degrees at dusk to a low of 9 degrees tomorrow morning, with 40 MPH winds.

Anna wore her PJs inside out tonight in hopes of a snow day. I could use one, too.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Barack Obama's victory speech after the South Carolina primary

When I read The Audacity of Hope last year, I was impressed. It was hard to admit that I was impressed; after all this guy was obviously ambitious, and since he was running for president, he would soon be sucking up to this or that interest group, contradicting himself from one week to the next, because that's how you get elected. Or he could be a sideshow candidate, true to his principles with a minuscule following.

Still, The Audacity of Hope was an impressive book. The Republican library volunteer sneered as I checked the book out, saying "Do you think he wrote it himself?" As I dug into it, I was sure he wrote it himself, since a publicist would have gutted the lectures on the constitution and the debates about the Founding Fathers' intentions and included many more heartwarming anecdotes in the manner of the Lifetime Channel.

What the publicist would not have known, what I didn't know, was that my heart was yearning to be lectured to by someone who knew intimately and revered our Constitution for the treasure that it is. When I came to the 27 pages of the book that detailed the history of US foreign policy from 1776 to the present, I was smitten. To think of all of that history as a single narrative, then to write it coherently in a mere 27 pages, was genius!

But geniuses don't get to be president. It's one thing to write well and another thing to win elections. It was Obama's victory speech in Iowa that sold me. Even then, I felt sheepish. Liz and Brendan watched the speech on YouTube with me, and I said, "Well, just being able to give a good speech doesn't mean he'd be a good president."

They laughed. "We've already seen what the guy who can't speak in public could do! Let's elect Obama!"

I do evaluate candidates on the basis of their stands on the various issues. But their stances aren't all that different, and my two big issues -- "How do we address climate change?" and "How do we get our Constitution back?" --aren't front and center in the debates. What my two issues have in common is that they require all of us to make some sacrifices for the common good, and Obama is the only one who is challenging us to do just that.

I did not travel around this state over the last year and see a white South Carolina or a black South Carolina. I saw South Carolina. I saw crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children. I saw shuttered mills and homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from all walks of life, and men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. I saw what America is, and I believe in what this country can be.

That is the country I see. That is the country you see. But now it is up to us to help the entire nation embrace this vision. Because in the end, we are not just up against the ingrained and destructive habits of Washington, we are also struggling against our own doubts, our own fears, and our own cynicism. The change we seek has always required great struggle and sacrifice. And so this is a battle in our own hearts and minds about what kind of country we want and how hard we’re willing to work for it.

So let me remind you tonight that change will not be easy. That change will take time. There will be setbacks, and false starts, and sometimes we will make mistakes. But as hard as it may seem, we cannot lose hope. Because there are people all across this country who are counting us; who can’t afford another four years without health care or good schools or decent wages because our leaders couldn't come together and get it done.
That's a piece from Obama's victory speech in South Carolina. He uses the word "you" a lot, challenging people to step up, throw off the cynicism, and get to work.

Watching Obama's speeches on YouTube is a new pastime for Anna and me, a pleasure to look forward to.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


The nation has suddenly discovered that we are in a recession. In Michigan, this is no surprise. We have been in hard times for a few years already. I remember two Halloweens ago, trick or treating with one of Anna's classmates, a family that was trying to relocate from downstate. The friend's dad told me that in their subdivision downstate (Brighton, I think) half of the homes were for sale and a third were in foreclosure.

That was some time ago, but Michigan suffered quietly until our presidential primary a few weeks ago. Having all of the candidates show up and try to speechify about our "one state recession" was odd, sort of like when the doctor tells you you're going to be fine but your friends are acting like you're in your final days. Mitt Romney made me laugh, vowing to bring back every single one of Michigan's lost jobs, as if the jobs were lost sheep and Mitt was a sheepdog.

I think of this recession like labor pains. If houses aren't selling, well, no wonder! You can't build bigger and bigger houses farther and farther from civilization without buyers eventually deciding the all that commuting and home heating is more than they can afford. You can't expect to sell bigger and bigger trucks and SUVs to that same commuting population without eventually seeing that market collapse when oil prices get squirelly or when global warming becomes too hard to ignore. You can't outsource all manufacturing to cheaper labor markets without eventually causing consumers to doubt the quality of the goods that you're trying to sell.

When a person starts to think that they're travelling down the wrong path, the natural instict is to stop and think. That's where I see our nation right now, stopping and thinking about taking a new path.

Congress and the president are anxious to nip this recession stuff quickly, and they have been quite speedy in deciding that a tax rebate is just the thing. I don't think they've stopped and thought at all. I sent this message to my congresspeople today:

The talk radio today was all about the looming recession and the federal government's response to it -- another tax rebate. There seems to be general agreement that the recession was triggered by high oil prices. I wonder, then, why the stimulus package is not targeting energy conservation?

Instead of a "spend it how you want it" tax rebate, why not give cheap loans so that folks can install solar hot water heaters, put up home wind generators, update to more efficient furnaces, install effificient windows and insulation, trade in their gas guzzlers, renovate properties along public transit routes (start with the ones in foreclosure) relocate their businesses out of the suburbs and back to the cities, along public transportation routes?

We have contractors and skilled laborors sitting idle, ready to do this work. For an even quicker stimulus, we have organizations like Traverse City's Father Fred Foundation in need of funds to help families with home heating bills. Give them money tomorrow and it will be out in the economy next week! Another tax rebate seems like a knee-jerk response, and not a very effective one at that.

I suspect that my message is too late, as the tax rebate plan seems all but a done deal.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Food Section Fame

Headlining the Record Eagle food section generated much more excitement than I could have imagined. When I walked into the Poker Room on Wednesday, the regulars started bellowing "Where's the cookies!" which degenerated into "Cookies!" hollered so many times that I thought I was dealing poker on Sesame Street.

My husband was ice fishing on Lake Leelanau. There was only one other guy out there, but he walked a quarter mile over to Richard's hole to say "I saw your wife in the paper." My husbands was impressed that they printed one of my recipes next to one of Emeril's.

But the funniest was a former coworker, who stopped off at my blackjack table to tell me how much she loved my No Bake Cookie recipe.

She told me that she hit the kitchen as soon as she read the recipe, to make some cookies for her grandson: "But I saw that they had oatmeal in them, so I threw in some raisins." I had thought of putting raisins into No Bakes. It would be kind of like a Chunky bar.

Sandee had more to tell: "Then I thought that two cups of sugar was too much so I only used a cup and a half." Okay, I do that a lot, but I've never cut down the sugar in No Bakes. I've worried that the texture would be compromised, but Sandee was fearless.

"And the recipe called for a half cup of peanut butter, but I had 3/4 cup in the jar, so I used it all. Boy, those were great cookies! Thanks for printing the recipe!"

I had to laugh. "Well, I'm glad I got you into the kitchen!" Maybe I was trying to take some sort of credit for Sandee's cookies, but I think that cooking, like any form of communication, is only as good as the dialogue. I can't wait to find time to make Low Sugar High Peanut Butter No Bakes with Raisins.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

It's Scholarship Season!

The image of the graduate in the corner of this page is my experiment in motherly nagging through blogging. Now is the time to be looking for and applying for scholarships for the 2008-2009 school year, and beyond.

I'm always surprised at how many college students will take a chance on lottery tickets, unrefrigerated leftovers, cross country romances, used cars, etc. but they put off playing the scholarship game. I suspect that applying for scholarships involves too much introspection, at least compared to another loan application. As in most endeavors, you can pay now or pay later, and I'm one of those who think that a little introspective writing is good for the soul.

Monday, January 14, 2008

In the Record Eagle

Making oatmeal cookies with Anna.
Photo by Tyler Sipe of the Record Eagle
I was interviewed a few weeks ago by a reporter for the Traverse City Record Eagle for an article about bake sales.

If you asked me to name my unique skills, running a bake sale would be far down on the list. It's something that I would think that anyone could do, or that a lot of people could do better than me. Like my kids, for instance. The reporter somehow got the impression that I had coordinated bake sales for NHS and the physics club, but of course I did nothing of the sort. All I did was teach my girls to cook when they were in grade school, and to handle money, so that by high school they were competent to run bake sales, and much more, with my contribution limited to flour, butter, sugar, cocoa, and eggs.

But I was glad to share tips for running a bake sale, especially a bake sale with kids, because I think it's such a good experience for kids. I hate the "Mom, I need ten dollars!" syndrome and kids love to make their own money.

Leelanau Feed and Seed

I was overjoyed to find out that we were getting a feed store in the village of Lake Leelanau. Over the years, the village has added businesses, useful businesses like the gas station, doctor's office, and insurance company. Eventually, as the price of gas has gone up, I did so many errands locally that I was driving the 22 miles to Traverse City solely to buy chicken food.

Leelanau Seed and Feed opened this week, as I gave the last of the layer mash to my chickens. I picked up a bag of a layer mash produced in Standish, Michigan and a bale of straw. Owner Rebecca Kalchik is still experimenting with her inventory, but she aims to provide for all animal needs, and even had a display of fish food behind the counter.

Leelanau Seed and Feed is open Monday through Friday, 9:30 to 5:00, and Saturday 8:00 to 2:00. Their phone number is 256-0093. They are on the main drag in Lake Leelanau, one block west of NJ's, with parking in the alley.
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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Cleaning the Virtual House

French Road Connections looks different today, or perhaps it looks "retro" today, if you've been reading long enough.

Somewhere along the way, when I switched to the new version of Blogger, I "broke" my template. The main page read fine, in Internet Explorer, but clicking on an individual post, or trying to read in Mozilla, seemed to knock everything awry.

The dead of winter is the time to fix this sort of problem. I started by reverting to an old winter template that worked. I will be adding and tweaking features again in the next few days. So far I've been unable to put that rolling comments feature back into the sidebar, but the is a place to click and see comments at the end of every post. If you folks could oblige me by commenting, even if it's just a "hi", it would help me to trouble shoot.

Monday, January 07, 2008

People, Chickens, and Videocameras

Since I posted my “Yardbirds 2007” video to YouTube, I have been checking out what sort of chicken videos other people post. I’m not surprised to find out that other people are fascinated enough by chickens to video them doing chicken things. Lots of people document their rooster’s first crow, much like the baby’s first steps. I was surprised, however, to look at the background in these clips and notice how many people keep chickens inside of otherwise normal American houses.

And then there’s this one. Why on earth would you paint your rooster’s toenails such a pretty shade of red? There were lots of comments on this one, ranging from “How cute!” to shrill lectures on the dangers of nail polish. I figure there are a lot of different people in the world, many more than even I could imagine….

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Looking Up

At Millennium Park, Chicago, October 2007
H.O.P. wrote, while watching people at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art,
I was thinking I didn’t know people could absorb themselves like that. The window was like a mirror. I was leaning over it watching people colliding with their reflections and when they did they vacuumed up each other.

I knew I had to post this picture, taken by Anna, of me looking up and spitting out another self, at the Kapoor sculpture at Millennium Park. I reckon it is in many ways the experience opposite to H.O.P.'s
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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Misidentified Chickens

Silver Spangled Hamburg Rooster

A commenter on my YouTube chicken video told me that I had misidentified my rooster, that he is really a Silver Spangled Hamburg. I had never heard of a breed called Silver Spangled Hamburg, but a quick Google search brought me pictures of the breed and they looked a lot like my rooster. He had come to us as the "exotic chick" bonus in our shipment from Murray McMurray hatchery, and I had identified him as an Egyptian Fayoumis (below) based on the descriptions in the hatchery catalog.

The Fayoumis has a more upright carriage and an upright comb, while the Hamburg has a rose comb and is a little heftier.

I had another, more more embarrassing, chicken misidentification experience with Harry Houdini, a chicken that I agreed to adopt during an early morning phone call. I thought that Harry was a confused rooster; she turned out to be a very fancy and flighty hen. I was so surprised to find a page of Brown Leghorns and see that my "rooster" was a hen!

Now I have a Buttercup hen, another Mediterranean type breed. She is also fancy feathered, but flighty and she seems always on the run from the rest of the flock.