Home life

Unsolicited Endorsement of Discount Tire and SquareTrade

Two completely unsolicited endorsements: Had good luck with two companies coming through on their warranties. Discount Tire reimbursed me for a tire I ruined in Florida this spring. Didn’t think it would be covered because I had it replaced by another company because there wasn’t a Discount Tire in Sarasota. When I stopped by last week to the Livonia, Michigan store for my free tire rotation I  mentioned to the rep I now had another brand of tire on the car and explained what happened. I also (maybe foolishly) said I didn’t think the new tire qualified for reimbursement since I had not taken the bad tire to a Discount Tire location as I thought the agreement specified. Wrong! All the rep required was a copy of the bill for the tire. I got a check in less than two weeks for the tire. I was impressed.

The other is SquareTrade. Had my hard drive go bad on my laptop while in Utah. I called them. They had me submit the bill for the new one including installation. No hassles.I’ve had warranties with them for several years because I thought their rates were reasonable but never collected on it until now. Oh, they also cover cameras and lots of other things.

Obviously, do your own due diligence, and there are always those who have good reason to disagree with my report, but I like these companies and based on my experience think they deserve kudos.

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A sign of Frustration–or Surrender

South of Harrison on old US-27 stands a sign that reads: “Thinking of moving here? Don’t. No jobs. No value. No help.”

I’m very curious about that sign–and about the person who posted it. What event made the individual go to the bother of putting it there? What does he or she expect as a result?

The sign also got me thinking about the bigger picture: If Clare County residents want to encourage jobs in this region and improve the local economy, is this the way to do it? What responsibility do we who live and work here have to encourage visitors to visit this area, people to settle, and entrepreneurs to set up their business here? What can we as residents do to improve the county so it is more appealing for businesses and families and encourages our young people to stay once they graduate?

One hopes that whatever caused the sign to be posted will be resolved and the sign removed since venting doesn’t solve problems. I do hope the sign is only a sign of frustration because things in the county, state and nation are not as they  should be and not a sign of of surrender because the person feels things are never going to  improve.

Categories: Clare County, Economy, Home life, Jobs and the economy | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Turtle Watching: Life in the Slow Lane

Face of a painted turtleThere are a number of advantages to living the life of a country squire–or that of an unemployed, soon-to-be divorced man living in the woods of mid-Michigan. One advantage is seeing a slice of life not available to those in the big city. An example is the painted turtle I spotted ambling across my yard Sunday, June 26 in search of a nesting site.

I have seen turtles on my property before (snappers for the most part), and have even seen turtles laying eggs, but until this recent Sunday I never had the opportunity or time to watch the entire process.

I spotted the turtle when I chanced to glance out the window while vacuuming a back bedroom. The turtle, about 6-inches long, was moving at a pretty good clip–maybe 30-feet per minute–across a sandy slope on my property about 50- yards from a pond where I presume the amphibian had emerged. As I watched, she moved in a zig-zag pattern, stopping every once in a while to dig for a few seconds with its front claws before moving on. Occasionally, she would even stay long enough in a spot to dig a shallow hole before deciding, for whatever reason, to move on.

The turtle was on high alert the entire time, sometimes stopping to raise her head high as if sniffing the air  or because she spotted some movement that might signal a predator.

Finally, after 15-minutes of searching, the turtle started to dig in an area of sand found between a few sparse patches of grass and a dandelion. She started with her front claws and switched to the back claws after getting a depression started. The turtle worked quickly tossing dirt hither and yon as she worked. This went on for another 10-minutes before she stopped Painted turtle laying eggsand lowered her backside into the hole and became relatively still.

Once the turtle started laying her eggs, I took my camera and walked out to her to take a photo. Her head turned to watch me with a look that almost seemed to be disapproval. I snapped a couple of photos and walked back inside. After a while, I became bored and went back to vacuuming, peering out the window periodically to see if she had moved.

After 45-minutes, the turtle began to move in earnest, kicking with her back legs but this time replacing the sand instead of ejecting it. I crept back outside and attempted to sneak up behind her, even going so far as to crawl on my belly to film the process. She spotted me right off (I make for a big target), and although she paused for a few moments she went back to burying the eggs as I filmed away.

When satisfied the job was complete and the eggs safe, she began to  amble in the direction of the pond. It was at that point I intervened and picked her up. I measured and  photographed her and even put the date on her bottom shell (plastron) using indelible marker before taking her to the pond and depositing her at its edge where she immediately dove into the water and disappeared.

I went back to the nesting site. The mother-to-be had done a great job or covering the burial site. In fact, had I not marked it when I picked her up to transport her to the pond, I would not have found it. However, the raccoons would have. And they seem to love turtle eggs because every year I find turtle eggshells scattered along the same slope this turtle used. (The above photo shows the remains of eggs along with a quarter used for scale.) To prevent the coons from getting to the eggs, I covered the site with a BBQ grate I will leave a for a couple of weeks, hoping by then the scent of turtle and eggs is gone and the site can remain inviolate until the turtles hatch. According to a couple of websites I reviewed that should happen in two- to three-months.

Ttime will tell whether the turtle will become a mother, although she will never know. Apparently what I saw is as far as the turtle maternal instinct goes. The babes will be on their own when they are born. Maybe I will be vacuuming and get to see them crawl forth. I hope so. That would be pretty cool. Maybe I can be turtle taxi and take them in the pond like I did with their mom.

Categories: ecology, Harrison, Home life, Life, Michigan, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Doggy Dude Ranch Fills a Niche

Zion National Park canyonZion National Park is Utah’s most popular park welcoming more than 2 million visitors a year. And with good reason. The park is filled with beautiful canyons and colorful rock formations, and has trails for people of all abilities. There also is an historic lodge within its boundaries.

Many visitors bring their pets with them on their vacations. However, Zion, like many national parks, is not pet friendly. Pets are not allowed on Zion’s trails or are they to be left unattended in campgrounds, as summers in Zion are brutal with temperatures easily exceeding 100 degrees. Those temps mean pets cannot be left alone in cars–even for a few minutes–while their owners enjoy Zion’s beauty.

Filomena, owner of the Doggy Dude Ranch walks one of the dogs in her care.And that is where the Doggy Dude Ranch comes into the picture. Located just 3.7 miles outside of Zion,  on Highway 9 between Rockville and Springdale, the ranch fills a niche for travelers who want to see Zion but need someone to care for their animals while they do it.

Filomena Diaz-Johnson (pictured at left) has owned and operated the Doggy Dude Ranch since 1990 when she spotted a need for animal careand filled it. Since that time, Filly as she is called and the Doggy Dude Ranch have boarded dogs, cats, horses and has even a camel on its 10-acres of land along side the Virgin River. The ranch has a large–and largely shaded–outdoor kennel and an inside air-conditioned facility for animals Aerial view of Doggy Dude Ranchthat may not like the heat. There is also a large play area (with pools) and animals are given a chance to play and to socialize  with others  (if they are play well with others, that is). A staff member is always on site day or night. Owners can have their pets bathed if they so choose. Filly even offers pet training for those who have problem pets or want to prevent problems.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must state that Filly is my sister-in-law and married to my brother Stephen pictured with her in the photo at right. Filly and her husband Stephen in front of their signThat said, I find her a remarkable woman and one in tune with animals, especially dogs. One could call her a dog whisperer, although it’s not a term she herself uses. She just loves animals and even boards rescue dogs and works to find them homes.

Filly has turned her passion for animals into a thriving business and all because she was able to recognize a need and fill it. It’s a recipe for success and I am happy for her and proud of her. We all should be so lucky.

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A good read. A good listen

I don’t read a lot of books. Now that is NOT to say I don’t read, or that I don’t complete a large number of books.  While I do READ magazines and newspapers, I LISTEN to books.  In fact, I am hooked on audio books. I have a couple of books on CD in my car, several downloaded to my mp3 player and even one on my smartphone.  And I highly recommend audio books to others.  Listening to a good audio book by a terrific reader makes sitting in traffic jams almost enjoyable, long road trips less tedious and lines at the Secretary of State nearly bearable.

I pick up many of the books from my local library that has a wide assortment of books, fiction and non-fiction.  Books on CD have allowed me to meet a lot of new authors and become reacquainted with several I hadn’t read since high school. I also subscribe to Audible.com. It’s a $14.95 per month luxury I allow myself despite being on a tight budget. Audible provides me access to some of the latest published works along with books that are available in the local audio library.

Some of the books I’ve come to enjoy because of the people reading them: George GuidellDavid Case (who also recorded as Frederick Davidson), Patrick Tull and Simon Vance. All could read phone books and make them sound interesting and manage to give a different voice with a distinct personality to each person in it.

I do read some good marketing books (I like those by David Meerman Scott) and recently listened to 50 Success Classics by Tom Butler-Bowdon, and while they may help me in my next job, they don’t fire the imagination. That’s where good fiction comes in.  And I’ve been lucky to come across some great fictional characters while looking for other things.

One of those characters is Richard Sharpe, a soldier who fought for England around the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. Sharpe is a self-described “gutter rat,” an orphan who joined the service to escape poverty and fought his way up from private to command a regiment because of his bravery and daring and service to the Duke of Wellington, and despite not being a gentleman. I have have followed Sharpe, his Irish friend Patrick Harper and Sharpe’s Riflemen from Spain and Portugal to France and even to a battlefield in Belgium where the English beat Napoleon for the final time. And it because I chanced to pick up an audio book by Bernard Cornwell entitled Waterloo and thought it might tell me a little about that particular battle.

Little did I know that it introduced me to Richard Sharpe and I’ve been forever grateful. After completing that first book (which was about the last in the series), I listened to others in roughly chronological order. I’ve also listened to many of Cornwell’s other books of historical fiction and recommend them, especially when read by Case or Tull.  Whether Cornwell is writing about Vikings or English archers, he creates memorable characters, exciting plots and descriptions of battle,  and the readers do the words justice. By the way, Cornwell has also written books about the American Civil War and the Revolution but I have yet had the pleasure of listening to these books.

Two other, and probably more well-known, fictional characters are Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist from Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium series.” Although I keep up on the news and such, this series slipped under my radar until this past summer I read a review of the final movie in the series.  The series sounded interesting and I liked the fact all the books and movies were complete so I wouldn’t have to wait to read or view them. So I downloaded the three books and I can see why they became best sellers. I’m on the final book now and have come to root for the characters. I’ve seen the first two movies and while they do not do the books justice, they are still worth seeing.

There are others I’ve met and come to enjoy. Some like Hiro Protagonist appear in just one book. Some are part of longer series (Tarzan, Doc Savage, Sherlock Holmes, Tom Swift, the Hardy Boys and even Tom, Dick and Susan). I know there are many more wonderful characters out there. And like a good paying job that is enjoyable and challenging, I aim to find them. What are some great fictional characters you’ve run across?

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Memories of being a Skiwi

Years ago, nearly a quarter of a century truth be told, I was part of a club called the Skiwi Ski Club.  I was with the club for three or four years as a member, social director and even as its president.  It was a wonderful experience–not the presidency, which was a pain–but being part of the club.  Not only did I meet a lot of wonderful people and get to do some great things (like going to Reno and touring the salt mines under Detroit), but joining the club pulled me out of my introverted shell.

I was in my 30’s when I got involved with the Skiwis.  My life up to then, to be honest, sucked.  Most of my nights and weekends were spent in my bedroom in the parent’s home watching TV or reading (remember, this was in the days before the Internet and/or video games).  I rarely dated and rarely talked to anyone outside of my small circle of friends.

And I was sick of all that.  Sick of not having anything to do on Saturday nights and sick of not having anyone to do it with.  And finally I was sick of myself for not doing anything about it. So when a friend of mine invited me to go to a meeting with him to a group called the Skiwis, I went, although doing so pulled me out of my comfort zone.  I went and decided to keep going, even after he dropped out.  I went because I figured this might be a good chance to turn my life away from dull, and the Skiwis seemed to be be a good group of people and there were plenty of attractive approachable women there.

Becoming a Skiwi changed my life.  Not just because I made good friends and attended the activities and trips.  Not even because I actually found a girlfriend there.  Being a Skiwi changed my life because it brought me out of my shell and let me see that I had talents and abilities people could use and that people actually LIKED me.  It let me see that I could handle responsibility, work on teams, put together plans–and carry them out.   The people skills I learned and the responsibilities I had with the club have continually helped me.

I owe a lot to that club and to the people I met even though I no longer belong.  Back then the Skiwis was a singles club and the alcohol flowed freely.  But times changed and I changed (again).  I found a new job, moved to the west side of Metro Detroit and eventually got married.  Although I lost track of the friends I made,  I never forgot them and thanks to Facebook I am getting reacquainted with some of them and finding that, like me, most of married and have kids.

Last week, I ran across some slides from my Skiwi years and put them into a video slideshow using software from Animoto. com. I thought it turned out well.  It brought back memories and I’ve sent it off to a few of the former Skiwis I have found on Facebook.  Here it is:  Skiwi Slideshow.

Oh, by the way, the Skiwi Club is still around.  In fac,t it is celebrating its 50th year.  The club is now called the Skiwi Ski and Social Club.  And some of its members are people who belonged back when I did.  I might rejoin, but I’m not as social as I used to be and I never did learn to ski.

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Tortoise Triumph

I’ve found lost dogs before and returned them to their owners. I’ve even found a hamster and hermit crab–although the latter two don’t really count because they were mine, and I lost them in my house.   However, I have never found a tortoise before with or without red feet, not before today anyway.

I was in the schoolyard that backs up to our rear property line this evening and had just completed weed-whacking along our back fence. While heading home I was whacking some weeds along our neighbor’s fence when I was confronted by a South American Red Foot Tortoise.

Redfoot_TortoiseConfronted is probably not the right word since the creature was looking up at me from under some tall bushes.  Since it was only about a foot long I didn’t feel threatened.   In fact, I thought it was a cool looking animal with a colorful carapace (shell), red legs and face.  It also had a bit of an overbite that I figure it used to tear meat. Maybe I was wrong but I didn’t want to put my hand by it to find out.

While it’s not every day I run across amphibians while weed-whacking, I must admit I wasn’t too surprised to have found this one.  That’s because a sign had been posted for about a week on the front lawn of a home about 200 yards down the street from us with a photo of the creature I was looking at and the word “LOST” in large block letters.  In fact, I guess I was more surprised that 1) someone was looking for something other than a dog or cat and 2) the fact that someone could even LOSE a tortoise.  After all, it’s not like those things can run, jump or fly. In fact, I would think it’s pretty darn hard to lose one’s tortoise.

Anyway, to make a long story short, after finding the tortoise, I went home, dropped off the weed whacker and went in search of the owner.  I left the tortoise were it was figuring that since it had survived the wilds of the schoolyard for nearly a week it would be safe for a few more minutes.  Plus, my mama told me never to pick up strangers, be they people or tortoises.

I walked down the street to  find a woman sitting on the front porch of the house with the sign.  I announced my find and we set off.  While accompanying me to the spot she explained that the tortoise was native to South America and the family had owned it for about seven years.  She said it wasn’t very friendly but seemed to recognize their voices.  It lived in a fancy box in the house and  needed a heat lamp to keep it warm.

The tortoise was where I had found it and I pointed it out to her when we arrived.  The reunion was pretty unemotional on the part of both parties.  I guess I was more excited about finding the animal then the woman was about getting it back–or the tortoise was about going home.  Going out onto the internet afterwards I found those things retail for about $150 – $290 each when they are 3-4 inches long.  Based on that I would have thought the woman would have been ecstatic to find the creature since it must have been worth nearly a grand.

I was glad to have found it but I wouldn’t have wanted it.  Gimme a dog anytime.  And it doesn’t even have to have red feet.

Categories: ecology, General, Home life, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Of Mother-in-laws and the Internet

The Internet never ceases to amaze me. I’ve been online since 1992 and still remember the first time an Australian website popped up in my search effort–something I never expected to happen from my little computer tucked away in a upstairs bedroom in Westland, Michigan.  And that was more than a decade ago.

Now, I found out I have relatives in Sheboygan, Wisconsin thanks to the Internet and my mother-in-law Virginia Braun.

Virginia is the nicest lady you could ever meet and a  genealogical wiz on the Internet.  A week or so ago Virginia emailed me saying she had found  a four-year-old posting on one of the genealogy sites she monitors from someone looking for information.  The request said simply, “Peter and Julius Jankowski Michigan.”  Virginia, who knew a bit of my family history, asked if she could contact the person who posted the request.  I assented wondering if the seeker was a rich relative or perhaps some unknown offspring of my grandpappy (who was the wandering type, according to my father).

Paternal grandfather Julius Jankowski, a native of Lithuania

Anyway, almost immediately Virginia got an answer from Linda who had posted the message and who had about given up hope of getting an answer.  Linda, as it turns out is the granddaughter of Julius’s sister Alice.  I guess that makes Linda my cousin, although I never met her and barely remember her grandmother.

Linda and I talked on the phone and I provided what little information and photos I had of Julius and connected her with another cousin who was able to supply even more information.

Since there first email, Linda and my mother-in-law have delved deeper into the history of Julius.  Though I still don’t know much more about him, I did find out that he passed away in 1964, which was well after I was born.  I never did meet him as my father and he were estranged.

It’s nice to know that I have a nice cousin in Sheboygan if I ever get up that way. It all makes me wonder if I have any other relatives out there.  If so, my mother-in-law will ferret them out. I wonder if I could just have her search for the rich ones?

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Red-winged Blackbird Heralds Return of Spring

Spring has spung, the grass has riz
I wonder where the birdies is?

Anonymous (and probably with good reason)

Red-winged blackbird photoFor me, one of the first signs of spring is the Red-winged Blackbird.

It’s a familiar summer visitor in Michigan and can easily be identified by its scarlet and yellow wing stripes.  The bird is about the size of a robin and arrives early in our state, often before  the snow has completely melted and just as the first green shoots are stirring from their winter slumber.

I saw the blackbird for the first time this season at our place in Harrison, Michigan this weekend, or should I say I heard one.  I never did glimpse the bird that was sitting somewhere in the cattail rushes at the west end of our two-acre pond.  I heard its call as I was walking out onto the ice, just a moment or so before I fell through the surface into the pond’s frigid knee-deep water.

Thin ice: that’s another way I knew spring would soon arrive.

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Time Warps and the Unemployed

Parkinson’s Law states “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” That’s may be true for those who are gainfully employed, but what about those of us who are unemployed?   What law governs our life during this particular difficult time?

Some may think a law governing aimless behavior becomes primary.  While unproven, this law states “When a day is without a purpose, putzing expands to fill all available time.”

Perhaps this law is valid–at least in some cases. Certainly, when one is unemployed, the possibility exists for there to be plenty of time to perform unimportant tasks unrelated to finding a job (writing a blog comes to mind).  And you might think time might drag for the unemployed, leaving plenty of time for putzing–or at least watching Oprah or the Olympic sport of curling.

That, however, is not the case.  At least not in my case.  For me, time has gone into fast forward.   The days are over long before my “to do” list is completed.  Back when I first lost my job, I thought I would have my office cleaned out, Joomla (an open source website tool) mastered and my two websites converted to Joomla, a third website up and running and all the books in my bookcase read, in no time.

Sadly, I have only completed the first task, I am barely underway on the second and I have read only a couple of books.

In my own defense, I have  taken a course in social media, worked on some brochures and newsletters and done volunteer work during the last couple of months.

Still, I would have thought I would have accomplished more during this period.  That’s why it seems to me  that time speeds up for the unemployed.   I’m open to suggestions and will give it some additional thought.   Right now I need to clean out my junk drawer, shovel a little more snow, check out a stock tip, brush the cat, walk the dog and sweep out the garage.   And since I know I will get sidetracked I may not get all those things done.  What I will not do is putz.   Nope, not me.  Never.

Categories: General, Home life, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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