Saturday, November 29, 2008


It was a lovely weekend. All three daughters, and our son in law, were home for the weekend, and my sister visited with her family. We ate our Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, all fourteen of us, so as to leave Thursday open so that Shelagh and Liz could spend time with husband's and boyfriend's family. This left me time to do a lot of cooking and prep work ahead of time. After I put the turkey in the oven, there was not much left to do, so I left the rest to the kids, who whipped up appetizer plates while Richard opened wine.

I had sweet potatoes, part of my experiment in adjusting to climate change by learning to grow warm weather crops. The peanuts were a flop, I had little bit of okra, but the sweet potatoes did quite well. I had seen a recipe in the Penzey's catalog for curried sweet potatoes, but I had no garam masala. I sent all the kids down to NJ's to get last minute stuff, and Liz asked Dave Chugh, one of her Leland classmates, who went in back and dipped out of his mom's spice containers. It was only fitting because I had split my okra crop with his mom last summer.

The whole weekend kept folding back on itself like that. The younger kids tumbled around from parlor to stairwell, to the other parlor, to the kitchen, to the first parlor, and then all around again. The girls played piano and challenged each other at Scramble. On Saturday they all rolled out Christmas cookies and decorated them while my sister and I went to pick holly.

Now it's Sunday. The college kids have left and I must get ready to go to work.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sworn In

Today I took my oath of office down at the town hall, swearing to uphold the Constitution of the United States, th Constitution of the State of Michigan, and the laws of Leland Township and the county of Leelanau to the best of my ability.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wildfires as Weapons

We had a wildfire up on Popp Road last week. It burned about 50 acres and threatened our friends' home and farm. In the end, with all county fire crews responding, it was contained and our friends lost only their woods and a row of peach trees. I didn't think that the fire danger was that extreme, but the source of the fire, a brush pile, seems to have smoldered for a week or more until the wind shifted to the east and whipped it up again.

I can't imagine how it feels to live in dry country when the wildfires come up and move fast. This was the terror that the Japanese wanted to turn on the US during WW II, using a simple, ancient, but remarkably effective technology -- paper balloons capable of drifting across the Pacific on the jet stream and then igniting wildfires when they hit the dry land. The fire balloons were kept secret by the US government, both to prevent fear in the US and to deny the Japanese any evidence that their plan was working. But it did work surprisingly well -- over 300 fire balloons landed in the US, one nearly reaching Detroit.

My brother Tim found this WW II training film in the National Archive and posted it with comments about the research for his new novel. Red Rain, based on the stories of the fire balloons. He first heard of the fire balloons while working on a fire crew when he was in college, and he incorporates some of his fire fighting experiences into the story.

Getting the film from the National Archives was, in Tim's words, "Another adventure."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Building Community

This is a poster that hangs in Mr. Evans' music room at Leland School. I liked it so much that I had to find it on the web. The text reads as follows:
Turn off your TV.
Leave your house.
Know your neighbors, Look up when you are walking;
Greet people; Sit on your stoop; Plant flowers;
Use your library; Play together;
Buy from local merchants; Share what you have;
Help a lost dog; Take children to the park;
Garden together; Support neighborhood schools;
Fix it even if you didn't break it;
Have pot lucks; Honor elders;
Pick up litter; Read stories aloud;
Dance in the street; Talk to the mail carrier;
Listen to the birds; Put up a swing;
Help carry something heavy; Barter for your goods;
Start a tradition; Ask a question;
Hire young people for odd jobs; Organize a block party;
Bake extra and share; Ask for help when you need it;
Open your shades; Sing together;
Share your skills; Take back the night;
Turn up the music; Turn down the music;
Listen before you react to anger; Mediate a conflict;
Seek to understand; Learn from new and uncomfortable angles;
Know that no one is silent athough many are not heard.
Work to change this.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mr McFluffers Goes to School

The second hand store cage was too small, so our raised-from-egg chicken, Mr. McFluffers, will be appearing in this weekend's production of Fools in this lovely brass cage complete with a stick perch scavenged from the playground at Leland School. You can see from the photo that the cage was originally topless, but we wove a new top for it from fishing line.

Life in the theater is not all glamor and makeup. Here Mr Mc Fluffers sips some water amid the hubbub of final carpentry work on the upturned cow prop downstage and Mr Cox tuning the piano upstage.

Fools will be presented this weekend only:

Saturday, November 15 at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm

Sunday, November 16 at 7:00 pm

Leland Public School • Performing Art Center

Tickets $8 adults, $5 students – available at the door or in advance by calling 256-9857.

As mother of the chicken, I had a special seat at the dress rehearsal. I was impressed by the expressive and tightly knit cast, hilarious dialogue, and one very talented hen. Don't miss it!

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008


From the school newsletter:
One weekend only! • November 15 & 16
Leland High School Drama presents Fools, by Neil Simon. Directed by Jeremy John Evans.

Saturday, November 15 at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm
Sunday, November 16 at 7:00 pm
Leland Public School • Performing Art Center
Tickets $8 adults, $5 students – available at the door or in advance by calling 256-9857.

This story, by Neil Simon, takes place when Leon Tolchinsky, an ambitious young school teacher, arrives in the village of Kulyenchikov, and discovers that the town is suffering under a 200-year curse of stupidity. The curse was cast on them by none other than Vladimir Yousekevitch, after his son’s fiancĂ© was forbidden to see the younger Yousekevitch by her father, who found out the boy was illiterate. She subsequently was made to marry another man. If Leon can’t educate the fiancĂ©s descendent within 24 hours of his arrival in Kulyenchikov, he, too, will fall victim to the curse. The curse can only be broken if he can educate Sophia…or if she marries a Yousekevitch!

Hilarity ensues as this fast-paced comedy with quick and witty banter takes place on our Leland Performing Arts Center stage. As always, our Leland productions are brought to you in part by the generous donations of the Verdier Circle of Friends.
The Och family's contribution to this production is......a chicken. Jeremy called me a few weeks ago to ask if they could borrow a chicken, in a cage, for the character who is trying to teach a chicken to talk. The chicken is easy to come by, if a bit challenging to wrangle, but a cage suitable for a Russian village is something else. I think I found a candidate at Jaffe's consignment shop in Lake Leelanau, a cute ornamental cage. Now if the chicken will only fit inside.....

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Tandem Ciders

Cider maker Dan Young serves a packed house on Saturday afternoon.

Even with gas down to 2.15 per gallon, I know that getting in the car to run just one errand is a waste of my carbon footprint. Still, I needed to go over to the casino to pick up my paycheck, so on the way back I decided to check out the Tandem Ciders sign that has be recently erected on M-22 at Setterbo Road.

I had a idea of what was up there thanks to an article in this week's Leelanau Enterprise, but hard cider has always been something that happened by accident, something that figured in Grandpa Gord's stories of growing up in the UP, or in the case of a friend's old-school grandmother, something that teetotalers drank because it wasn't really alcohol. So it was funny, at least to me, to find that I had inadvertently joined a throng of wine-tasters working their way from one winery to the next. The small tasting room was packed, proprietor Dan Young was swamped, and I ended up talking to a lady who was not quite sure where she had ended up.

"So what is this hard cider?" she asked me, looking at her the contents of her sample glass, a clear, dry, golden cider made from old-fashioned Northern Spy apples. Northern Spys, an heirloom variety from the 19th century, were Grandpa Gord's favorite apple, the same apples that I sought out for him every fall in the last years of his life.

"It's wine made from apples."

"You can make wine from apples?"

"Sure. You know the sweet cider that we drink in the fall? That's unfiltered apple juice. If you ferment it, you get hard cider."

Just as the sweet ciders can vary greatly in taste depending on the apples used, the three hard ciders I tasted each had their own character. The Northern Spy was dry and sophisticated, nice, but a little formal for just knocking around on this beautiful fall day. The Farmhouse blend used the varieties that were the mainstays of the apple industry 30 years ago -- Macintosh, Romes, (did he mention Empires?) a little Delicious -- for a sweeter taste that seemed a little thin, at least when it followed the Northern Spy.

I liked the Bees Dream, a blend made with a different yeast. This one was just nice, a full, friendly hard cider. All three ciders that I tasted were 2007 apples. The folks on the other side of me were drinking this year's Macintosh, which was being served on tap, but the barrel ran out before I could try it. Being new, it was still a tad cloudy and the folks enjoying it, friends of the proprietor, praised it as the best cider there.

I bought a bottle of Bee's Dream, for $10. They were also selling gallons of fresh cider, one of the few places where you can still buy fresh cider so late in the season.

Tandem Ciders is located on Setterbo Road, across from the Toy House. It is the white barn with the bicycle-built-for-two above the door. When you go there, check out the dark-sky-friendly light fixtures above the doors.

Tandem Ciders is open Wed-Sat from 11 a.m - 7 p.m. and Sun from Noon to 5 p.m.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Liz's Night in Grant Park

Our daughter Liz, a junior at Northwestern University, landed tickets to Obama's acceptance speech on election night. Here is her account:
Getting off the train in Chicago was like stepping into another world, one that could easily be called "Obama-land". On every street corner and scattered in between were vendors selling Obama paraphernalia—shirts, buttons, hats. The air was charged with anticipation, even blocks away from Grant Park; it was impossible not to be excited. Although our group had planned to stop to eat on the way to the park, once on the sidewalks of Chicago, it was clear where our feet were going to lead us, and it was not the nearest Taco Bell.

We reached the entrance to the park and went through the first checkpoint. It wasn't even 5:00 yet; gates were said to open at 8:30. Another Northwestern student painted our faces with the Obama emblem while we waited. Soon more people were gathered behind us than in front of us, and around this time the Democratic Party, or maybe the City of Chicago decided to open the gates early, and we began our long journey through more checkpoints and finally, the metal detectors. Polls closed in some states at 6:00, and we began to hear snippets of exit polls and early results from the "outside world" via cell phone. The wait at this point is unbearable. Finally, mercifully, we empty our pockets, walk through the metal detectors…and we're in!

The park itself wasn't even half full when we got inside. CNN was being aired on a giant screen, keeping the rally-goers current on election results. We begin our search for food and find pizza ($5/slice, apparently "slightly more upscale" than the pizza served to non-ticketholders). While we were eating the pizza, a CBS news reporter catches sight of our painted faces and ends up interviewing my friend Dan and I for TV; this wouldn't be the last time our face paint got us noticed. Soon after we finished eating, CNN projected Michigan for Obama. I cheered loudly.

We found a spot to stand with a passable view of the stage and a pretty good view of the screen. My recollection of the next couple of hours is hazy. More and more states were being called for both candidates, with Obama taking states with large numbers of electoral college votes and McCain grabbing up smaller states. At some point Ohio was called for Obama. Then, finally, Virginia. It is 10 seconds before 10:00 CT and we count down to the polls closing in California and other western states, knowing that with California's electoral votes, Obama has the nomination.

8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1…BARACK OBAMA ELECTED PRESIDENT! There is an explosion of sound as every single person in Grant Park reads those words on the screen. We had been expecting the countdown to end with "Polls closed", or even "California goes to Obama", but most of us weren't expecting the race to be called at that moment. People are hugging, and crying, and screaming, and jumping up and down. It is surreal and dreamlike and…perfect. As much as we had all thought, wanted, and above all, hoped this would happen, there was no sense of this being the predicted outcome. After two years of hoping for change, we had suspended that hope just in case it didn't happen. Hope, but don't get your hopes up. And now…suddenly…we had every reason in the world to feel hopeful.

There was a lot of cheering and picture-taking and general happiness as we waited for McCain's speech. We had been making fun of the McCain rally when it appeared on the screen throughout the night; here we were, hundreds of thousands of people gathered outside in Chicago, dressed and painted and EXCITED! And McCain was in a hotel in Phoenix with who we could only assume to be the most elite of the Republican Party. There was no joking, however, when McCain gave his speech. The speech itself was so different from what we've heard from McCain lately; he praised Obama as his "supporters" booed. In Grant Park, we clapped for McCain, sometimes to be polite, but mostly because he was saying things worth clapping for. We were looking again at the McCain who won the Republican nomination, the man who could once be thought of as a "maverick". The only time our Grant Park audience didn't perform better than the McCain's Phoenix one was at the mention of Sarah Palin, when the entire park let out a (presumably involuntary) snort of laughter.

And then, finally, it was our turn. Time for Obama to address us with one of his famed speeches. The announcer man said "Ladies and Gentlemen…" and we all held our breath, only to have the man leading a prayer announced to us. And then the man leading the Pledge of Allegiance. And then the woman singing the National Anthem. And then, not one, not two, but three songs. And then, finally, FINALLY… the entire Obama family is on stage. The future First Family of the United States of America is on stage. And we are within (strained) eyesight.

Obama's speech was everything we had been waiting for. He was eloquent, deliberate, and modest. His victory was not his own—it belonged to each one of us who struck a ballot for him, to everyone who worked on the campaign, for every single person who donated even the smallest amount to the cause. I was surprised to discover later that the speech only lasted about 15 minutes; few people can convey such a powerful message in so little time. I have no words to describe how breathtaking the speech was, and I urge everyone to watch it online. The video cannot recreate the surge of positive energy that was in Grant Park, but the words that our future President speaks can provide hope for America.

Nothing can ever compare to what I witnessed last night in Grant Park. 24 hours later, I'm still giddy, still wearing a ridiculous grin, and still filled with a hope I've never felt before. Uploading my rally pictures onto the computer, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many pictures I had taken of American flags. Before last night, I associated "patriotism" with the Republican Party, a word too often used to justify unpopular agendas. November 4, 2008 changed that. Now, after 20 years of indifference, I finally understand how it feels to be truly proud to be an American.
Here in Leelanau, I'd be careful to use the term "neocon" instead of "Republican" in that last paragraph. Still, there's a first hand account of the beginning of the future.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

And The Results......

It was at 10 pm last night, as I went on break, that one of my card players told me to call the county clerk's office and check on my election results. In the break room there was already a coworker looking up local election results. I had 719 votes, second place in a three way race for two seats, so I had won.

I left work soon after, as soon as a table closed down, and went home to get Anna. The presidential race was looking good for Obama. Grant Park was filling up with people; Liz was there among them. A group of my supporters were having an election party. Anna and I listened to McCain's concession speech on the way over.

I had been thinking about the 2000 election, the first presidential election that Shelagh and Liz were old enough to understand. Liz and I slept on the floor of the living room watching TV as the race was called, first for Bush, then for Gore, and then a tossup that would take weeks to eventually be decided with a sketchy Supreme Court decision.

I have spent the last eight years trying to keep my kids from becoming cynical, trying to to keep alive the faith that what we do, each of us, matters. It has not been all that easy to keep the faith myself when our very nation, up to and including our economy, our constitution and our very atmosphere, has been cynically offered for sale to the highest bidder. Still, with the help of friends, relatives, teachers, neighbors, the kids are alright. Somehow, while we were "Waiting for the World to Change" and I was despairing that we just couldn't wait much longer, they were forming and testing the new networks that elected this new president.

We aren't out of the woods, yet, not by a long shot. Before the 2000 Bush victory party was cut short, we saw them dancing to the strains of "Louie, Louie", the song that played in Animal House right before they trashed the joint. It has been a long, ugly frat party and there are some big ugly chickens that have yet to come home to roost. Obama acknowledged the work ahead last night:
I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor's bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers - in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House - a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friends...though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection." And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

There's lots of work to be done. But I can breathe again. I sat last night watching Obama speak with Anna on my lap, even though she's way to big for laps. She, and Liz out there in the crowd somewhere, and Shelagh, watching election returns with her husband in a loud crowd at a bar in Ann Arbor , they were all proof that we've survived, that I've raised these kids through the dark times with their spirits intact.

Here is a Chicago news video with a short interview with Liz at Grant Park last night.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day Dispatches

Brother Tim writes from his polling place in Vienna, Virginia:
I did my shift this morning at the polls and several things struck me. First, every 90 minutes to 2 hours, several of the Obama reps came outside with lists of the people who had voted so far. They matched up those names with the lists they had of prospective voters for Obama. By keying names via cell phones into a central computer bank, they were able to quickly determine who had voted and who hadn't. Those who hadn't made it to the polls yet where to be called or even visited in-person. That's what my son was doing later in the day in Vienna -- going door to door for the third straight day.
I was outside, handing out Democratic sample ballots. Of course, not everybody took one. But some people who turned me down going into the poll asked for one coming out. Why? They wanted to hang on to it for historical reasons.
However this shakes out, it will be a memorable night. Either we elect the first person of color to the highest elected position in the land or a genuine war hero mounts the most impressive comeback since Truman beat Dewey a generation ago. Whoever wins is going to need our thoughts, prayers and best intentions. That's what I wrote about in my USA Today column that will appear tomorrow.
Enjoy the wild ride. This has indeed been one for the history books.
Voting in Leland was much less dramatic. There was no line and no last minute campaigning. I was approached twice because I was wearing a button, but it was only Anna's basketball picture so they let it go. There were poll watchers who were marking off names on a voter list when you came through. Ir took 15 minutes to fill out all those bubbles, even though I skipped the unopposed. On the way out we wondered aloud why people in other places had to wait hours to vote, and that voting means so much that people will wait for hours. I was standing outside talking with the neighbors about giving them some creeping thyme when we realized that someone was waiting for their parking place, so we moved on.

Local election results will be posted on the county website as soon as they come in. Liz will send us an account of her night at Grant Park, also.

Election Day

Finally it's Election Day. At least it's Election Day for everyone who didn't vote by absentee ballot. It's another beautiful late fall day, sunny and warm. The chickens are roaming the yard, playing out their little chicken rivalries. Gas prices are unusually low, $2.26 at the BP station in Lake Leelanau. It's the sort of day that tempts us to think that the golden days might just go on forever, even though all logic tells us otherwise.

Richard has been fishing and has voted already this morning. One 14 inch walleye, not a keeper, and a short wait to vote. I keep thinking about my own campaign, thinking of more people that I could have talked to. I did more door-to-door canvassing, more advertising, and more standing in front of the post office than my opponents.

But I am running as a Democrat in an area where running as a Democrat has always been the kiss of death. It turned out that many of my supporters were the orphaned moderate Republicans. Many of the people I met going door-to-door told me that they were so fed up that they were voting straight Democrat this year. The guy I carpool with won't vote for me, nor will his wife, because "We always vote straight Republican." I ended up leaving party reference off of my pamphlets and ads because all it seemed to do was muddy the waters.

Leland Township will face challenges in the coming years, much as we wish the golden days to go on. Energy prices will make our area less attractive as a Traverse City bedroom community. We can expect Big Wind to come back again with tempting lease terms for our farmers; we will also be confronted with the idea of windmills out on Lake Michigan. Our lake shore septic puzzle isn't going to solve itself. Public school funding will continue to be a problem, exacerbated by those volatile energy prices. A combination of the economic slowdown and Michigan's pop-up tax are already affecting our real estate market in unexpected ways. The harbor renovation will fly or falter depending on state funding.

So many of theses issues will be resolved -- or not resolved--by the various levels of government working in combination. Playing chess with Anna yesterday reminded me of trying to figure out these local issues. The best land for wind towers is in the northern tip of Leelanau county, but there are no transmission lines, but the new Comprehensive Energy Plan provides for expediting the siting transmission lines. There are lots of possible scenarios and how they play out depends on who is elected at the various levels. It's hard to imagine a county board that won't require some type of septic inspections, even if it's only for antique lake shore systems. It's equally hard to imagine a state legislature that actually faces up to school funding and the pop up tax problem.

Liz has tickets to go hear Obama speak at Grant Park tonight. I think it will be a victory speech but I'm wary enough that I warned her to take a friend and stick with him. And to wear shoes she can walk in. I can't stop contemplating all possible scenarios.

So I'm off to vote, to do my small part in shaping our future. Wish me luck.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Don't Forget Leland School!

When you are voting tomorrow in Leland School district, don't forget to go all the way to the end of the ballot, past the medical marijuana question and the stem cell question, and vote YES on Leland Public School's operational millage renewal.

This is a renewal, not a new tax. It renews the millage on non-homestead properties and it is a requirement -- if we can't pass this millage, Leland School will not receive money to operate next school year.

We pass this renewal millage, and hold the school board election, in May. Putting this millage on the ballot in November will save the expense of a separate election; it does not accelerate the actual collection of the tax.

There are no candidates for school board on the ballot, but there are two write-in candidates. Andrew MacFarlane is ready to serve another term, although he missed the August filing deadline. Janine Fierberg, who was recently appointed to finish Peggy Miller's term, is also willing to continue her service. We are lucky to have two good people ready to put their time and energy into our school.