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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?

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

Bridges, Trails and Vandalism in the Holliday Nature Preserve

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I, both members of the Holliday Nature Preserve Association, took a walk into a section of the Holliday Nature Preserve off Newburgh Road north of Warren Road.  What we found shocked us beyond belief.  Some group had installed bridges and trails in the Preserve.  These were not simple bridges of fallen trees or made by dropping a couple of 2 x 4s between riverbanks by a couple of kids or narrow trails.  There were three very solid, bridges consisting of pressurized lumber and very competently installed.  The bridges measured 23×4 feet, 16 x 4 feet and 9×4 feet.  There was also a trail about four feet wide in spots and nearly a mile long that appeared to be created with an ATV and a riding mower.  The trail obliterated wildflower areas in spots and even crossed an EPA Supersite that lies in the Preserve.

In addition, the letters “MBT” (Mountain Bike Trail?) were stenciled in fluorescent green paint on what seemed every possible surface: board walks installed by volunteers during Rouge Rescue, onto trees, and the bridges.  And if that wasn’t enough, to ensure no one got lost, pieces of florescent tape were affixed to tree limbs up and down the trail.

No group has claimed responsibility and nothing has appeared on any mountain bike websites as of this point. A rogue group of mountain bikers seems to be the likely culprits since bike tracks were clearly visible and this group has been very vocal in its support of a mountain bike trail in Holliday, even though mountain bikes and motorized vehicles are strictly prohibited.

But why this unknown  group would go onto public property and build bridges and a trail system is beyond me.  The Preserve is not their property and they did not have permission to work in it.  As I mentioned in an article on the HNPA website, they wouldn’t dream of going into a Michigan State Park or a regional Metro Park or even a Westland city park without permission to work.  So whatever possessed them to think they could do this in a Wayne County Park?

The Holliday Nature Preserve runs along a tributary of the Rouge River in Westland.  It’s basically a ribbon park, only a couple of hundred yards wide in spots.  The Preserve was created in the 1960’s thanks to a gift from Arthur Richardson in the name of his uncle William P. Holliday. (See my blog on the Preserve’s history for more information.)

Houses, apartments and even businesses back up to the Preserve putting it under intense urban pressure from everything from kids building tree forts to homeowners treating it as their backyard (some have even installed playground equipment or tried to drain wetlands).  Mountain bikers are another threat as they enjoy riding up and down the walking trails and even have built small bridges.

However, never before has any group gone in and adversely impacted the Preserve in so short a period.

And, this time, they apparently went too far because when HNPA reported the work to Wayne County Parks, employees responded quickly, cutting up the bridges and posting signs from the sheriff’s department ordering that no more work take place in the Preserve.

HNPA is pleased by the fast response.

The question remains of why some group would go to the time and expense (this was a fairly expensive and time-intensive project).  Perhaps they felt they were doing EVERYONE a favor by extending the trail system and building bridge across streams to give the public better access to various sections of the Preserve. If they did, they were very wrong. In fact, they may have done all mountain bikers and even groups like the Michigan Mountain Bikers Association a disfavor by their arrogance.

And why aren’t mountain bikes allowed in the Holliday Nature Preserve? That’s a subject for another blog and for our next HNPA newsletter.

Categories: ecology, General, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

My senior moment at IHOP

International House of Pancakes logoYesterday, I officially became a senior.  It happened at my Livonia, Michigan International House of Pancakes (IHOP) when I saved a buck on breakfast.  Since I was over 55 years of age I was able to order from the Senior section of the menu.

Now I’ve been 55 for a while but I didn’t realize that restaurants, at least some of them, deem those of us who have celebrated the double-nickle to be seniors.  But apparently IHOP does.  And that is a good thing, especially since I am still pounding the pavement in search of work. (And my breakfast was a networking thing so I could justify spending the money).

The IHOP 2x2x2 breakfast was good, the coffee only warm, but fresh, and the waitstaff friendly.  I guess the only downside was that the waitress didn’t question me about my age.  But then, she was probably in her teens and all of us over the age of 40 look really, really old.  I guess that’s the price one has to pay to save money.

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A Railroad runs Through it

Last month, my wife and I went looking for narrow-gauge railroads in Clare County.  Well, narrow-gauge railroad beds, to be honest since the tracks and trains are long gone and have been for more than a century.

Clare county is a quiet county of some 32,000 residents in central Michigan.  But it wasn’t always so.  At one time, the ground shook with the fall of giant pines and the woods echoed with shouts of lumberjacks and the sound of trains hauling trees out of the woods to sawmills and then on to growing cities like Detroit and Chicago.

Preparing logs for transport

Narrow-gauge railroads were the transportation method of choice for hauling trees in many Michigan counties during that logging era.  Those trains could run wherever workers laid track and  carry heavy loads year around (something horses and carts couldn’t do).

Steam locomotive

And Clare county was perfect for narrow-gauge railroads as it is relatively flat, which made it relatively easy to lay track.   As a result, at one time Clare county had more miles of railroad track than any other in Michigan, wrote Roy Dodge in his book “Michigan Ghost Towns.”

Narrow-gauge railroads had another advantage:   The tracks could be pulled up and reused once the the valuable timber in an area was exhausted–something that eventually happened.   Then the workers, trains and track moved on leaving a barren landscape behind that slowly healed and the forests regrew.

Finding those former railroad beds now is a challenge since many of them lie deep in the woods with dense foliage around and on top of them.  What makes them noticeable is the fact that beds are often raised up above the surface of the surrounding land since workers had to make sure the ground on which the train tracks would be laid was somewhat flat.  In addition, hunters and hikers often have used them over the years to access the back country establishing trails or two-track roads.

It’s cool to find them and walk them.  Sometimes one even finds coal.  I’m hoping to someday find a rail spike, although that’s unlikely.  Most were taken to be reused and any that are left are buried under more than a century of soil and plants. Still, it’s a dream, kinda like the one in which I find some arrowheads and dinosaur bones (but not at the same time).

Take a trip to Clare County sometime and join in the search.  Late winter and spring are great times since the foliage hasn’t grown up and the mosquitoes aren’t yet looking to dine on man and beast.  But the country is pretty anytime of year.

See you on the trails, er railroad beds.

Categories: ecology, History, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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.

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Footprints on the Sidewalk: Getting Philosophical

Be patient with me today,  I’m going to get philosophical.

I was walking the dog (Bella) this morning.  Early.  Sixish.  Just following the route I usually do, having my morning talk with God, planning my day, clearing my head and enjoying the quiet.  Stopping once in a while when Bella found a good place along the way to sniff.

Snow had fallen during the night, dropping a fresh coating on sidewalks and driveways.  As I turned into a church drive I walk along as I head back home, I noticed that no one had yet walked on the drive since the snow had fallen.  The straight flat black asphalt of the drive lay just below that white covering, hidden and undisturbed by man, beast or automobile.

As I stared at the driveway, about to take my first step, it suddenly occurred to me my day was much like that path I was about to take: new, fresh and, as of yet, undisturbed.  I had a plan for the day just as I had a plan for my walk back home.  But, at the end of the day, if I (or someone else) were to look back over the course my feet took, what would they say about me?

Would they say that I followed the straight path I laid out or did some temptation pull me off the path somewhere along the way?  During the walk, did I somehow lose focus and then lose my direction and start wandering aimlessly for a while before getting back on the path?  Or did I not return?   Did I hear a call from someone in need along the way and stop to help them, or did I ignore the cry and keep going?

Perhaps I decided not to take that usual path and did my footprints show I struck off on a new and unexplored direction.

Being out of work gives one time to stop and think. I’m beginning a book a friend gave me called  “Zen and the art of making a living,” by Laurence G. Boldt.  It’s a big book, a guide to getting a job but to discovering one’s passion and then shaping it into a “meaningful and practical career.”

I don’t know if I will get through it but it’s interesting one to me especially at this point in my life.  Among the quotes in the book is one by Leonardo da Vinci: “Make your work to be in keeping with your purpose.”

That’s what I am looking for.  It would be wonderful to have a career is in tune with my purpose.  It also would be great to have a career that provides income enough to allow me to pursue that purpose after hours.

It would also be great to just have a job.

This morning I started to walk across that fresh asphalt.  The dog however had other ideas. She stopped to sniff and then to pee.  I waited.  She finished and looked up at me to see where we were going to go next.  I looked at the fresh snow on the path and the higher mounds along the sides.  I looked back a the path.  I moved on.

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Blogging Use Down for Young, Up for Old

Chances are if you are reading this blog, you are old.  Or at least older than 29.

According to a Feb. 3, 2010 article in the Associated Press entitled “Is blogging a slog?  Some  young people think so,” blogging is out for the young; Twitter and Facebook, are in.   Reason?   Our increasingly mobile youth–those ages 12-29–like giving and receiving quick social media updates.   Blogs are too simply too long and take too much time.

Blogging has declined from 28% to 14% between 2006 and 2009 for teens ages 12-17, and from from 24% to 15% for those 19 to 29, according to the study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

With social networking has come the ability to do a quick status update and that has “kind of sucked the life out of long-form blogging,” says Amanda Lenhart, a Pew senior researcher and lead author of the latest study… More young people are also accessing the Internet from their mobile phones, only increasing the need for brevity.

However, the percentage of Internet users age 30 and older who maintain a blog increased from 7 percent in 2007 to 11 percent in 2009.  Roughly 1 in 10 adults keeps a blog, according to the article.   That’s 30 million blogs.  Knowing who is writing and reading blogs is something communicators and marketers need to know.  It tells a bit more about who we are talking to (or not reaching) when we write.

Oh, I kept this entry purposefully short, just in case someone young IS reading it.

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Buy Michigan Now. And Ask Questions.

Last week I attended a seminar on innovation sponsored by WWJ-AM radio and the Great Lakes Innovation and Technology Report, authored by Matt Roush, technology editor at the  station.  The seminar was held at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield. Michigan.

One of the speakers was Lisa Diggs founder of the Buy Michigan Now website and publicity campaign dedicated to getting businesses and consumers to “Think Michigan First” when it comes to purchasing decisions.  Diggs said she started both the website and the campaign because she was buying products and services from companies outside of her home state mainly because she had no way or knowing if there were Michigan-based companies offering what she needed.

So, “out of frustration”  she created Buy Michigan Now with space for companies to list who they are, where they are located and what they offer. Its website tells organizations,

an enormous amount of products are grown, manufactured, or distributed by Michigan-based businesses. Thus, when making any purchasing decision, we encourage you to Think Michigan First! If the quality, availability, and price meet with your needs, spend your money within our state. Here are 5 great reasons why:

1. Maintains jobs so our talented citizens can stay in the land that they love.
2. Diversifies Michigan’s economic portfolio so we still thrive when one of our industries comes on hard times.
3. Attracts new employers thereby creating new jobs.
4. Increases the tax base.
5. Reduces our carbon footprint because less fuel is used to move the merchandise, when bought locally.

On a personal note, I remember going to Kroger this winter and noticing the retailer was selling packs of firewood brought in from Kentucky and wondered why, with all the forests and dead trees Michigan has, are we bringing in wood from another state.  I never acted on my questions with Kroger management.   Lisa Diggs would have.

But I am moving in that direction.  Last Friday, I opened a renewal statement from the Michigan Historical Society.  I glanced through it and was going to mail in my check but felt the way the renewal form and letter were laid out, MHS was missing an opportunity to get members like me to upgrade our membership levels.  So, that evening, I emailed the organization and shared my thoughts.

MHS must have a small staff  because the group’s president responded to my email later that evening.  Larry Wagenaar told me he appreciated my suggestions and that he and the staff would discuss them.  Whether or not he will, I will never know (well, maybe when I receive my next renewal letter and form), but I would like to believe my comments were useful and might increase the organization’s revenue if implemented.  The fact is, I did something to help a Michigan organization.  No, it has nothing to do with Buy Michigan Now, not directly anyway, but it came about as a result of the seminar and Diggs.  It’s a start.

And no, I have not contact Krogers about the wood.  Yet.

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Missaukee Indian Mounds

Indian Mound

A view of one of the mounds built by the Hopewell Indians

We may not have cliff dwellings here in Michigan, but evidence of our Native American heritage can still be found deep in the heart of Michigan.

One of those places is Aetna Township in mid-Michigan’s Missaukee County, where several circular enclosures built by the Hopewell Indians can be found.

They date from around 600 – 700 years ago and their use is thought to have been ceremonial. The enclosures are not all that remarkable in appearance. They are about four feet higher than the surrounding country in most spots and several hundred feet in circumference. The enclosures really get to be remarkable when you realize  that building them required a lot of dirt to be moved-and all by hand.

The enclosures (and there are several of them at each site) are slowly eroding and trees have taken root on and around them. Their disintegration in some areas is being accelerated by dirt bikes and four-wheelers whose riders probably do not realize they are destroying Michigan’s pre-history.

I first became aware of these mounds in a small book called Mystic Michigan by Mark Jager, part of a series of inexpensive paperbacks featuring legends and fun facts about the state. I learned even more about them in a book my mother-in-law gave me one year called Weird Michigan that cataloged even more items in the realm of the strange but supposedly true. Once I knew of the mounds, I needed to see them.

Finding them wasn’t easy.

Maps, such as the one in the Michigan Atlas & Gazetteer , show  approximate locations. Books do the same. I finally decided the only way to find them was to take a hike. Or several. So last summer, that is exactly what I did.

And although several of the searches ended in dead ends in farm fields or private property, I did locate two mounds.

One is on University of Michigan property and (as I came to find out) easily accessible from Jennings and Gray Roads. The other though is deep in state land off of a two-track that goes east of of Kelly Road.

So to make things easier for the next person, here are the coordinates to both.

Mound 1
44  degrees 18′ 220” N
084 degrees 59′ 660″ W

Mound 2
44 degrees 17′ 980″ N
084 degrees 59′ 890″ W

I also went looking for some mounds located in Ogemaw county near the Rifle River this summer. No luck there, at least not yet. If anyone knows where those mounds are located, please let me know. I know how I plan to spend part of next summer.

That’s all for now, folks.

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