Friday, January 30, 2009

Why Appreciate

I came home from the Michigan Townships Association conference last Thursday. While there is much to share about the conference, what I've thought about was the ride home. Jane Keen, our township clerk, volunteered to drive. I rode shotgun while our town supervisor, Harry Larkin, rode in the back seat. As 3/5 of the Town Board, we had an obligation to steer the conversation away from specific matters of township business, so as not to violate the open meetings act. On the four hour drive, the conversations pretty much centered around our families, the economy, and cars. We were riding in a 2003 Jaguar that Jane's husband had found while working in his retirement business, which I understood to be custom detailing for car dealerships. With business so slow this winter, Jim had recently laid himself off so that his two employees could keep working. They were looking forward to a father-son snowmobile trip this week and expecting another grandchild. Our supervisor's business centers on automotive parts manufacturing, Jane knows the dealership end of auto business, and I am the environmentalist casino dealer trying to figure out how we are going to live sustainably, with or without the internal combustion engine, so there was a lot of car stuff to talk about, even if we hadn't been en route to The Motor City.

On the way home we talked about the conference. We compared notes, measuring our township's procedures against what we had heard the experts describe as wise or lawful or proper. Since I'm new on the job, I had a lot of questions, and usually I found out that our practices were pretty much on the mark. We also shared some of the horror stories that had come out in the question and answer periods. I'm sure glad I'm not in the township where the board won't approve any of the supervisor's appointments to the planning commission and the guy whose term has expired won't give up the seat. After sitting through an insurance presentation (for the free lunch) I'm glad that we don't have retirees with benefits to fund, either.

Jane and Harry observed that the level of competency at these conferences has gone up over the years, even as the average age of township officials has gone down. They attributed this to the modernization of statutes governing townships and how people who couldn't learn and change, the "that's the way we've always done it" crowd just couldn't keep up. At the conference the discussions kept coming back to the importance of ethics in government. Almost like an arranged counterpoint, we heard a car radio broadcast of Rod Blagojevich's impeachment speech, which oddly echoed Randy Orton's caricature of a canned apology on last week's Monday Night Raw wrestling show.

I was still feeling good the next morning when I posted a comment on No Impact Man's blog about counting one's blessings. It was a shock when I called Chauncey, our county commissioner, and heard from him that Jane's husband had passed away at home while we were driving home. She had come home and found him already gone, an apparent heart attack. I keep thinking about what a presence Jim had been during that car ride. What strikes me in retrospect is how much she talked about him, and how much she seemed to appreciate him. I told Jane as much when I dropped off pies on Saturday for the family that was gathering. "What a difference a few hours can make!" was her summation of the situation.

Services for Jim Keen are to be held next Saturday, February 7th at 3 pm, ay the Leland Community United Methodist Church, as announced on The Leland Report. I titled this post "Why Appreciate" as a companion to the How to Appreciate I posted a few weeks ago, but it might as well be "When to Appreciate."

The answer is: "Always. Who knows when you'll get the chance again."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On The Fly

Just a quick post from the Michigan Township Association's Annual meeting at the Rennaissance Center in Detroit. I'm on the 22nd floor, with a slim view of belle Isle. Eating Dinner last night I kept thinking of Grandma Mimi's stories of wild timesw in Detroit and WInsor in the 1920's. Especially about that time she dressed up like a sailor to see the burlesque show....

Monday, January 26, 2009

Peanut Butter Recall Hits Home

Most of these food recalls don't affect me much. We buy very little supermarket produce in the winter and almost none once the garden gets going. I did buy a case of these peanut butter crackers last winter as a backup snack for Chess Club. They are not too sugary, kids like them, and they should keep for a good long time, even riding around in the trunk of the car all winter.

Well, maybe I was wrong about that last part. These crackers are the latest recall, since they seem to harbor salmonella that came from a peanut packing plant that sold "peanut paste" to various snack food manufacturers. This product is sold in vending machines all over the place and is the sort of snack that people look for when they want healthy foods for kids. People too busy for a real meal and preschoolers seem like the sort of people who will probably get sick instead of fighting the infection off.

For me, the lesson is "Don't be too busy to cook." But I know how to cook. Both of my college kids report that their peers know next to nothing about cooking. One of Liz's friends was in her kitchen when he saw an unfamiliar object:
"What's that?"

"It's an onion!"

"Really? Can I cut it and see if I cry?"

Shelagh says that most of her friends don't cook. They subsist on take out and Lean Cuisine. That's got to be expensive. I hope they don't have a peanut noodle dinner.

As long as I'm rambling about food, I will tell what has happened to my baking blog. It started out as a place to expand on my bread baking advice, but as the kids grew up and left home it became a handy place to post the recipes that they most missed from home and wanted to cook. I embedded a recipe template so that it was quick and easy to insert ingredient lists and directions. I posted recipes steadily for a while, but now when they call home for a recipe, it's usually there. Anna and I shot some footage of learning to knead last winter, but I have to find time to learn how to edit before that gets published.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

How to Appreciate.

I saw the beginning of this State Department briefing when I was break at work today. I post it because I want to share the first two or three minutes, not for the foreign policy points, but for the way our president sincerely and publicly appreciates the people of the state department, the work they do and the sacrifices they make. How we speak to each other makes such a difference, and most people don't practice appreciation enough to do it so sincerely and eloquently. I'm sure the morale at the State department increased by a factor of 10 today.

(Isn't YouTube great? I can watch something live on TV this afternoon and share it this evening!)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama Inauguration.

The parking places were few. It was cold. The line was long. We had to sign in with our name, address, and occupation to be admitted.

No, it wasn't The Inauguration. It was the Inauguration Party at the Leland Lodge last night. Because the $10 cover charge was considered a political donation, all of our information was required, and there was a bottleneck as people struggled to remember their employer's zip code. Eventually they improvised some clipboards and passed them through the crowd, and we could come in from the cold.

The whole night was happily crowded. The two bartenders were mobbed; the finger food was wiped out; I kept seeing folks I wanted to hug, but I couldn't get through the crowd.

Being a Democrat in Leelanau has always meant being out of step with everyone else. When I decided to run for township trustee, many people told me that I should just suck up and pretend to be a Republican because no Democrat could be elected in this county. I found that, as our president said yesterday, "the ground has shifted" and we are now a two party county.

There was some confusion as to the appropriate greeting for the occasion. I started out saying "Happy Inauguration Day!" but some shortened it to "Happy Day!" a few people were saying "Happy Birthday!" and one friend just said "Happy I can breathe again." The happiness was not so giddy, though. There was a heavy sense of work to be done, and a sort of comfort that we were to be measured by our capacity to work rather than the size of our bank accounts. Many of the people I spoke to were focused squarely on our local community, hatching practical plans to save energy, feed people, put people to work.

Many of us have been trying to solve these problems for years. The difference now is feeling that instead of perpetually tacking upwind we might have the wind at our backs for a while and be supported by the highest level of government. As I told a friend last night: "I know how to work hard and you know how to work hard. And I think most of the people here know how to work hard. Just think what we can get done when someone puts us all on the same task!"

Here we go......

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inauguration Prayer.

Yesterday's concert on the mall was televised by HBO, although I understand they skipped this invocation by an openly gay Episcopal bishop. I liked the opening:
O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will bless us with tears – tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women in many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless this nation with anger – anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort at the easy, simplistic answers we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be fixed anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility, open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance, replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.

Bless us with compassion and generosity, remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.
I'm also reading that HBO is trying to censor all footage of the celebration, even persinal cellphone footage, from YouTube, citing copyright laws. Watch Pete Seeger, below, while you can.

Great Lakes Ice Cover

I'm not sure if this is a year that Lake Michigan will freeze over, but we certainly have a candidate. This is the ice cover map from last Friday, showing Geen Bay, Georgian Bay, and most of Lake Erie ice covered. Pretty good for only halfway through January.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Winter Weather Report

This is yesterday's depiction of Lake Michigan temperatures, and it explains a lot. Those big blobs of green are surface water in the 40's. They explain why we, so near the lake have not had the sub-zero temperatures that people in the middle of the state have experienced. They also explain why it just keeps snowing, lake effect snow, two or more inches every day. The flakes are very fine lately, but they add up anyway.

Liz, down in Evanston, has that dark blue, 32 degrees water off her beach, which is rapidly turning to ice. She sent me their weather report, 7 below zero this morning with a windchill of minus 27. They have about a foot and a half of snow, more than her roommate has ever seen.

I'm cheering the cold weather, imaging the squash bugs dying in their underground hiding places for the first time in a few years. I'm also looking forward to the lake cooling enough to shut off the lake effect and give us some weeks without constant snow.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Leland Library Renovation

Each Leland Township trustee acts as the township representative a commission or board in addition to sitting on the town board. My assignment is the Leland Library Board. Today was my first library board meeting and it was an important one as we were reviewing bids for the upcoming renovation project.

Construction is scheduled to begin in mid February and to be finished mid May. Much of the collection will go into storage, but a skeleton collection will be available in a temporary setup in the Munnecke Room. Right now there is a silent auction going on to sell many of the current furnishings, including bookshelves, tables, and chairs. Bid sheets are attached to items throughout the library and the bidding will end Saturday at 4 pm.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gum Surgery

I had gum surgery this morning, taking a piece of tissue from the roof of my mouth and using it to shore up the gum line on my lower front where it's always been sparse. It's the sort of thing I'd be tempted to put off, but like most people these days I'm not real secure about my job-dependent health insurance. I decided to get it done while I had dental coverage.

Thinking about it was worse than the reality. It took about 40 minutes, start to finish, and the only pain was from the Novocaine injections. Sometime during the procedural, the doctor was making that one sided small talk and he started telling about his friend in the Coast Guard, stationed "on the Wisconsin-Canada border". I started going "UNHHHH!" because Wisconsin just doesn't have a border with Canada, and then he corrected himself and said "Minnesota". I was hoping his dental geography was better than his Midwest geography, but it was too late to turn back by then.

It's funny to feel sewing going on inside one's mouth. The Novacaine wore off with a curious popping sensation as I drove through Suttons Bay. I'm spending the rest of the day reading and trying to stay warm as the temperature drops into the single digits.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I worry about our president-elect, with so much crashing down on his shoulders. I liked watching this on the spot video of Barack's lunch at the chili dog stand.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

20 Billion Dollars

I'm old enough that when Carl Sagan said "billions and billions" it sounded like an unimaginable amount. Okay, I'm old enough that they didn't teach "billions" when I was in school. I have to look it up every time. One billion is one thousand multiplied by one million or 1,000,000,000.

Yet I've been contemplating twenty billion dollars, or $20,000,000,000. That's how much money the people of Michigan spend on outside energy sources -- oil and gasoline, coal, natural gas -- each year. The number came from Dr. Stephen Harsh, of Michigan State University, who was a speaker at the wind energy workshop that I attended last November. Of course, oil prices have fallen since then, so we may be spending less right now. Maybe only $10 billion, if you can say "only" and "$10 billion" in the same breath. No wonder we're broke!

I still can't get my mind around that number, but I have another number to contemplate: 60%. That's how much of Michigan's electricity is generated using coal. Despite all the propaganda to the contrary, all coal burned in power plants today releases its full load of CO2 up the stack. In the future we will be replacing coal plants with wind farms -- a new wind farm is already cheaper to build than a new coal plant -- but for now, electricity use is inextricably linked to coal.

Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting another MSU faculty, Dr. Kirk Heinze, on my blackjack table. After talking to Dr. Heinze, I checked out his blog, which features podcasts of his weekly radio show, The Greening of the Great Lakes. The latest show, which aired January 2nd, featured an interview with Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. She is enthusiastic about Michigan's energy future, but adamant that it is time to save energy, RIGHT NOW, particularly by doing the old fashioned thing and turning out the lights when nobody is using them.

Well. I had been thinking that very thing on Christmas Eve, as I went out around midnight to check for Santa and saw, not a star in the east, but the glow of the parking lot lights at the new county office building lighting up most of the ENE. There was a time when this sort of thing would have made me long for lost dark skies. Now all I can think is "$20 billion dollars!" when I see all that wasted energy.

The governor sounded a little crazed when she talked about turning out lights. She sounded like your old grandpa, following everyone around from room to room turning out the lights. I've been acting like that at home. I haven't bought an incandescent bulb in years, and I'm looking to upgrade the CFLs to LEDs as soon as I can. I still walk around turning things off.

I've gone back to trying to turn my community's lights off, as well. As township trustee, I've been reviewing the records of the township/county agreement that allowed for the construction of the Connie Binsfield building. I came upon the original land use permit hearing minutes, which seem to require those parking lot lights to go off at night. They've been bugging me for ten years -- they waste money and make my neighborhood look trashy. Maybe I will finally get them turned off. I've also been asking questions at the new county building, and the maintainence department there is looking into replacing the high powered flagpole and sign lights with sky-friendly solar units. They have also agreed to leave the parking lot lights off on weekends and holidays.

Twenty billion dollars. One lightbulb at a time.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Happy New Year Egg

We've been following the chicken named Mr McFluffers since she was an egg in a clutch under the broody hen. On August 11th, Anna's birthday, she was one of two hatchlings, then the only survivor, with a dedicated mother hen to hang out with. Somewhere along the line we figured out that Mr McFluffers was a girl, even though she has spur buds, a feature of the Mediteranean breeds of hens.

When a chicken was needed for the school play, Mr McFluffers' mom had gone back to join the flock, but McFluffers had not found a place in the pecking order and was usually alone outside or in the entryway to the barn, looking like the Ugly Duckling. So Mr McFluffers was our pick for the school play, where the village idiot character was trying to teach her to talk.

This morning, New Years Day, I went out to the barn to give the chickens food and water and found Mr McFluffers on her usual perch in the entry way and a small egg in the straw in the corner. I took it as a good sign for the new year that our hen from an egg is now laying eggs of her own.
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