Tag Archive | Michigan

West Hills Middle Schooler is all Smiles about helping Special Needs Children

lindsey

lindseyWith an astute understanding of the power of delivering a smile, Lindsey Zousmer, a fifth-grader at West Hills Middle School, has got “magic” to do for disabled children receiving physical therapy at local hospitals.

Last month, she started a community service project called “Projects 4 Smiles” and is asking other kids her age to create small craft projects, such as bookmarks, bracelets or pins to give as gifts of encouragement.

To kick off Project 4 Smiles, Zousmer invited WHMS classmates in the fourth and fifth grades to come to school on Jan. 16 wearing funny hats and donating a dollar for supplies. Commun ity members may also donate any extra craft supplies they may have at home: decorative duct tape, buttons, extra scrapbooking supplies, glitter, beads, glue, markers, cardstock or string will do the trick. Drop off these supplies at the office at West Hills Middle School, 2601 Lone Pine Road in West Bloomfield, where a special Project 4 Smiles box has been set aside.

The idea came to Zousmer after shadowing her mother Stacy Agree Zousmer, a pediatric physical therapist, at work at Beaumont Hospitals on days she had no school. It was there that she watched children with disabilities struggle to accomplish simple tasks that most children her age can do with ease.

“My mom explained to me how some of these kids can be very successful even with the disabilities and/or the conditions they have,” Lindsey wrote in a letter to the entire West Hills Middle School community. “We want to encourage them and make them aware that they are just as capable as we are.”

Ultimately, she wants to collect enough crafted gifts and then video or photograph the expression of joy on the children’s faces to show her classmates back at school “just how happy they can make others when they give a small gift.”

The project is a product of Bloomfield Schools’ Primary Years Programme (PYP), which engages children in the district’s primary grades to be socially aware and responsible through action. Kathy Janelle, the district’s PYP coordinator, explained “education must extend beyond the intellectual to include not only socially responsible attitudes, but also thoughtful and appropriate action.”

Stacy Agree Zousmer saw how important it was for her own children to meet her patients and also to volunteer at the Friendship Circle.

Lindsey’s family extends many generations in Detroit. She is a descendant of the founders of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, who established the congregation on the principles of social consciousness.  She attends religious school at Temple Israel, where she learned about the Jewish obligation to help those in need through g’milut chasadim, acts of loving kindness. In her letter, she said her mom serves as her biggest example for caring for others.

“Not only is Lindsey a natural caretaker, but she also finds common interests with these kids because they are her peers,” her mom says. “She loves to help them realize their potential and feel good about themselves. At the young age of 10, Lindsey is truly beginning to understand what it means to pay it forward.”

The Tradition of Tinkering

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lilyguitarFull STEAM Ahead Hillel Day School adds arts back into its STEM curriculum

Tinkering in Michigan is hot. Once again, people are starting to make things with their hands, right in the state where making things for the masses got its start. Here is my article on the new maker space at Hillel Community Day School. 

| by Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer

Tinkering in Judaism goes all the way back to Mount Sinai. After all, Sinai was the place where the children of Israel declared they would learn about the Ten Commandments through doing. Growing out of this tradition, Hillel Day School’s new Innovation Hub and Makerspace, part of the Audrey and William Farber Family IDEA Collaborative, provides a resource where students apply the tried-and-true methods of trial and error to deepen their understanding of everything from kinesthetic energy to kashrut.

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Tinkering is trendy throughout Michigan. As the state once again reenergizes its can-do spirit of innovation, makerspaces are popping up in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Northville. Think of them as a spot where enterprising inventors can come together to collaborate and share overhead costs of rent, tools and materials.

Just in its first few months of operation, the Hillel makerspace has inspired several projects and events. They include a schoolwide Makerspace Faire and a Shark Tankstyle entrepreneurial competition, where local businesspeople and innovators sat on a judge’s panel while students pitched their product ideas and marketing plans. Some product ideas included a multicolored crayon and a smart-chip golf club.

One judge was local entrepreneur Arik Klar, owner of Toyology, who also spent several months working with fifth-graders in creating a school store where kids of all grades can sell their creations. As they learned what it takes to run a small business, the fifth-graders applied their math skills and learned basic economic concepts such as supply and demand. They will donate their sales to tzedakah.

“I loved working with the kids to give them my feedback on what makes a product successful,” said Klar, 25, of Berkeley. “The makerspace is the perfect setting to inspire ingenuity.”

Hands-On Tradition

Sol Rube, Hillel’s dean of Judaic studies, said that in addition to their hours of daily Torah study, all of Judaism’s great sages did things with their hands. Rashi was a French winemaker. Maimonides was a physician.

“Creativity and collaboration are all core aspects of Jewish learning,” said Rube as he sat in the new sunlit area of the school that houses the makerspace.

In the room, one child was programming the 3D printer to create a geometric toy. Other students worked with their Judaic studies teacher in front of a green screen to film a video based on the week’s Torah portion. Some of the school’s youngest kids looked through the bins of recycled materials to upcycle them into a sculpture.

Teachers harness the makerspace’s hands-on appeal to enhance their students’ exploration on a variety of subjects. They work with the space’s innovation director, Trevett Allen, as how to best apply the makerspace to their lessons. Seventh-grade students built a shakeable table to study the impact of earthquakes on buildings for earth science class.

Eighth-grader Lily Collin, 14, Farmington Hills, used the makerspace as part of her social studies project about culture in the 1960s. “I love the music from the British invasion,” said Collin as she showed off a wooden prototype of a guitar designed to resemble the one played by the Who’s Pete Townsend. To design the guitar, she first penciled a blueprint of the guitar using precise mathematical measurements, drew another colored rendering before she set to work on the wood. She carved the shape herself using a circular saw. And, of course, her training mandated that she use safety goggles.

“STEAM is the new STEM,” said Hillel’s Director of Curriculum Joan Freedman, referring to the importance of adding the arts back into science, technology, engineering and mathematical skills to create a well-rounded education. “In some ways, the makerspace is undoing what kids have been taught in the culture of standardized tests: to be compliant, to learn for a test,” she said. “We are seeing the beginning of a time when education is turning back to project-based learning. The makerspace teaches students to think critically and use applied sciences and the arts to prepare them to be global citizens.” ■

By the Waters of Babylon, Michigan

iraqi christians

iraqi christians

It has been a while since I have written anything outside of a letter to my kids at camp, or a few articles for my work.

This summer I’ve been reading more than writing.

I can’t say I have been reading for pleasure, as most of my reading has been the unending news and commentary on the news from the Middle East.

Concentrating on anything else has been challenging. Even the weekly meditative practice of clipping coupons before going grocery shopping can be distracted by another worrisome report about another hateful demonstration popping up in Europe.

So, there I was in the dairy aisle in a Detroit suburban supermarket without my Greek yogurt coupons when I hear …..

“You know, the news, it gets more terrible with each passing day …. Yes, they are beheading children… they fled with nothing….

….yes, I was born in Baghdad

…. I have no homeland to return to

… but what can you do, what can you do?”

The horrors of the world these days, they are never far away.

Especially in Michigan.

You see, only second to California, Michigan is home to the largest community of Iraqi immigrants in the United States. Half of them are Chaldean Christians. Studies from Data Driven Detroit, the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce, and the Chaldean Federation revealed metro Detroit’s Chaldean population hovers between 100,000 and 120,000. Nearly 60% of that population owns a business.

The Chaldean people, one of the most ancient people on the planet. They are even mentioned early on in the Torah, the ancient city of Ur was part of the Chaldean empire, the city which was the hometown of Abraham, the guy who smashed the idols, the father of all three major faiths.

But getting back to present day ….

I felt so badly for this poor man.  I wanted to express my sympathy, to let him know that people were listening and caring about the persecution of his people who are speaking out against the brutality ….

But he stayed on the phone.

And I had to pick out my yogurt.

So I circled around the aisles a bit more and did catch up with him at the check-out aisle.

He was off the phone.

“Look, I am sorry if I overheard your conversation, I just wanted to express my sympathies and sadness of what is going on in Iraq.”

He turned to face me and I noticed the gold cross pinned to the lapel of his brown suit jacket.

He waved his hand towards me as a sign that it was no problem that I was snooping on his conversation. He eyed my Star of David, the one I got in Italy, made of Merano glass, and then we spoke.

“Listen to me. These people. They are barbarians. They chased my people out of their homes with nothing but the clothes on their back. They are killing children by chopping off their heads, stealing the women. And for what?  They are following the instructions of their prophet Mohammed, exactly to the letter in their Quran. They kill anyone who is not Muslim.”

My mouth hung open, shocked at his bluntness as what most of us would be labeled “Islamaphobic” for saying.

He looked at me again. He unloaded his two bottles of  Coffeemate and his large container of dates and he continued.

“The Israelis? You are the only people who know how to deal with their mentality, they only respond to force. I grew up in Baghdad with Jewish friends. They were scholars and merchants, doctors….”

“Yes… I know there was a Jewish community there-”

“Yes, for 2,500 years, there were Jews in Iraq. And then, in the 50’s, Iraq kicked most of them out, drove them out,” and then he said something profound.

“You know, my Jewish friends said to me before they left…. something to the affect ‘They are kicking us out today, on a Sunday. They will kick you out by Tuesday.'”

I nodded in total agreement. I feebly mentioned to him that I had read a book, Farewell to Babylon … but why would he have to read such a book about the exile of Iraqi Jews. after all, he lived it.

He misunderstood.

“Ah yes, there is that psalm, we share with you, “By the Waters of Babylon, we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion….”

Right there, as I unloaded my greek yogurt and Multi-grain Cheerios, I was having a moment of deep spiritual connection with this stranger.

He went on to tell me that Jews and Chaldeans literally share the same blood line, before he moved up to pay. Before I knew it, I realized that the cashier and the bagging clerk were smiling,  also listening intently to our conversation. When the man started to speak Arabic with them, I realized then they were also Chaldean.

You can learn a lot and connect with hurting people in a grocery store.

Next Monday, I will continue to learn more about my Chaldean neighbors as I attend a joint program with the Jewish and Chaldean communities of Detroit, as we build bridges of understanding and stand together against hate and terror.

No Joke: Our campus visit to Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University

The Weatherhead School of Management, designed by architect Frank Gehry

I don’t understand why Cleveland is the butt of so many jokes.

In our sports-obsessed culture, perhaps it is the lackluster record of their teams as to why the rest of the nation picks on Cleveland.

Even the Case Western Reserve University admissions representative, a native New Yorker who spotted my husband’s Mets cap, worked in a jab about Cleveland as he touched upon Cleveland’s cultural and sports offerings at our information session.

“Another big plus about attending Case Western – when your hometown team comes to town to play against a Cleveland team, there is a good chance you’ll get to see them win!”

There we were, the five of us, at my daughter’s first campus visit.

Most prospective students came with one parent. My daughter had her whole entourage. For the most part, her little brothers were good sports. Lesson learned: Next campus trip, we just bring the kid closest to college age. 

At the information session, about 20 prospective students awkwardly sat among their parents. Most of the students were from Michigan. All were asked to introduce themselves, what they were interested in studying, where they lived, and one interesting thing that makes them unique.

My daughter, the lone student who declared an interest in studying science AND art, declared that her talent for drawing made her unique.

My freshman son, mistaken for a prospective student, joked that his one interesting quality was that people frequently thought he was older than his actual age.

Jokes aside, Case Western Reserve is a highly competitive university known for its science, engineering, social work, and medical schools. The Huffington Post calls it the “Geek-centric” up and coming school to watch because  it encourages students to be interdisciplinary researchers and creative thinkers and problem solvers.

Before releasing us to our student tour guides, the admissions counselor gave us a thorough presentation on Case Western’s place in college rankings.

  •  In their rankings, U.S. News & World report ranks it No. 37 among 280 national universities.
  • Case Western Reserve University was also ranked No. 27 on U.S. News and World Report’s Best Values charts.
  • Its medical school is ranked 12 in the nation
  • The school encourages interdisciplinary coursework across 200 academic programs
  • There is a 9:1 student/faculty ratio, meaning that students get many opportunities for individual attention from professors.
  • Undergraduate acceptance rates for the 2011- 2012 stand at 51 percent.

You can get all these stats on a website. But what you won’t get unless you visit a campus is the feel of the campus, the buzz of the students as they walk, bike or skateboard by as they switch classes. You won’t get a chance to peek into a class in session.

Case Western Reserve is located in Cleveland’s  University Circle neighborhood, putting it within walking distance to about five museums, parks, art galleries, restaurants, and lots of commercial and retail development that will only add to the university’s offerings in years to come.  During our visit, our family became enchanted with the area’s parks and charming neighborhoods.  We stopped into a small art gallery where the owner, upon learning my daughter was interested in studying art, asked if she might be available for a summer internship.

Wandering around the campus and its surroundings is an important part of the campus visit. Outside of the academic rigors, the student has to ask themselves: can I picture myself living here day after day, for at least four years?

An “online visit” to a campus website is a poor substitute for a walk through the campus, eating a meal at a student union or peeking into a lecture hall when a class is in session.

One can even get a feel, or have what they learned at a campus information session, reaffirmed over a bowl of  linguine.

That evening after the tour,we went out to eat at an unpretentious but very popular Italian restaurant. Seated near us was a large group of students with an older, bearded gentleman at the head of the table, presumably their professor. I hushed my family so I could overhear the conversation at the table. Indeed, the gentleman was their professor, and the group was enjoying a meal before taking in the Cleveland Orchestra, which plays at a hall right on the campus. Student tickets to the Cleveland Orchestra are only $12, and if you are a Case Western student, going to the symphony tops the lists of things to do before graduation.

There was a steady light drizzle as our student tour guide walked us through some academic buildings, dorm quads with washing machines that TEXTED you when your load was done (!!!)  and the student union.

This is pretty typical on a college tour: visitors will first sign in at the admissions office, usually housed in a stately old building with gleaming hardwood floors. An admissions representative will give a talk and present a polished video of current students and alumni before releasing you to a student tour guide, most likely on a work-study program.

For my middle child, a ninth grader, tagging along on a campus tour with big sister hopefully got him thinking of what campus he could see himself on after high school.

I watched them walk ahead with the student tour guide as I hung back with the rest of the parents. I watched my daughter tell my son I wish I had started visiting colleges when I was YOUR age. 

One final word of advice from our tour guide as he made his obligatory plug for us to give him a good score on the feedback card back at admissions: Never overlook the colleges closest to your hometown. Our guide was a native of Cleveland, and he never imagined himself winding up at Case Western Reserve. But he did, and is happy about his decision.

Next up: Our visit to Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. 

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Rite of Passage: The college tour blog posts

The Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh

Howdy, people!

 

Yes, it’s been ages since I have written a post. But this blog post will be merely a placeholder to say, come back, I promise, I will have something to say of what my life has been like over the past few weeks.

Most of what has been occupying my family’s time is the college search for our oldest child.

This spring “break,” the family took a most unusual road trip. It did not involve going back to our hometowns. It did not involve sleeping in our childhood bedrooms and seeing extended families.

It was all about visiting colleges.

In the next few blog posts, I will be sharing our experiences of our visits to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland,  and in Pittsburgh, the contrasts between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.  And, because we live in southeast Michigan,  this series would not be complete without our visit to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

In the next few blog posts, I will be discussing my impressions of the presentations given by each schools’ admission departments, what you can learn on an official college tour, and what you can further learn from taking a real-live student to lunch.  I will also write about the “vibe” of each campus and the surrounding cultural aspects of each town.

I will also be writing about the issue of  early admission, and how the Ivies and other prestigious universities continue to become even more selective in their admission process.

At that post, I would like hear from you, dear readers on the worth of a college education received at an Ivy League or other prestigious schools. Is it worth the high cost of tuition if it will open up doors for the student at the onset of graduation?  Is it better to get an undergraduate education at a good public state college and then gain the prestige of attending an Ivy League for graduate school? These questions are in hot contention right now and I would love for you to chime off on that post.

 

So, stay tuned right here, and I promise I’ll be cranking these posts out in the days to come. And, if you are also in this stage of life with your children,  feel free to comment on each post on your college searches.

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Pothole City

pothole

pothole“She’s been training for this for years, and this course is as difficult as they come.”

“Wow, look how she swerves and still can maintain that SPEED and control!!”

“Oh, she is really fighting to stay on the course as she goes around that curve, it’s so difficult but she makes it look so easy.”

Have I just returned from Sochi, competing in the giant slalom?

No.

I’ve just returned from grocery shopping.  In suburban Detroit. And there is a pothole that could accommodate  a baby elephant on the road between my house and the dairy aisle.

To say that Michigan’s roads have a pothole problem is an understatement.  We don’t really have roads here anymore. Neglect of Michigan’s roads have been decades in the making and it’s more like Michigan has miles of potholes with some bits of road holding them together.

Now, I know many of you living in other states also have pothole bragging rights. But  a recent article in the March issue of HOUR Detroit Magazine offered the following factoids to set the record straight: when it comes to a pothole problem, Michigan wins, hands down:

  • At $124, Michigan spends the least amount on roads per person per year than any other state. Yes, we have low taxes, but the cost of maintaining a car on these roads – (an average of $320 per year per motorist) – makes up for the low taxes.
  • 29% of Michigan’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
  • 35% of Detroit’s paved roads are rated in poor condition
  • The average additional vehicle operating cost for Detroit’s roads is $536 per motorist
  • Michigan drivers lose a total of $7.7 billion annually because of deteriorated, traffic congested roads.

Cross into neighboring states dealing with the same rough winters the roads are much better. That’s because Ohio invests in its roads $234 per motorist and in Wisconsin, $231 per motorist. In these states, politicians did the right thing and raised taxes to fix their roads. Now, in an election year, Michigan politicians hoping to be re-elected most likely will not want to be associated with any sort of tax increase, even to fix the road they drive on to get to work. Or maybe they have special  smooth roads for politicians.

You get what you pay for. Or you don’t get what you don’t pay for, but in the end, you pay for it anyway.

Between the bumpy rides in the back seat and no one to take care of him at school when he complained of pink eye – because Michigan politicians also doesn’t want to waste taxpayer dollars on school nurses –  my youngest child said he actually wants to move to a state with higher taxes when he grows up.

Last night, as I was driving my kids home, my daughter thought she could give me instructions about my driving technique. After all, she has been a driver’s ed student for about 2 1/2 weeks.

“Mom, why are you going over so much to the right?

Mom, don’t you see that pothole coming up? Why are you headed straight for it?”

It’s because, my dear, that pothole is in the very same place of where the road should be. To avoid one of these potholes, I would have had to cross over a double yellow line into oncoming traffic, or drive straight through the even more potholed and gravelly shoulder.

Sometimes, there is no choice but to go through a pothole and just pray you make it to the other side.

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The Payoff of Pencil Shavings: The 2014 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

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jolie11th

Parents of athletes get to whoop and cheer from the sidelines of courts, fields and hockey arenas.

Score a basket, and parents go “YEAHHHHH!”

A kid slams a hockey puck past the goalie and parents get to yell “whooo hooo, GOAL!!”

I guess parents of artists need a place to cheer for their kids too. They found it last night at the Detroit Film Theater at the Detroit Institute of Arts, as hundreds of students in grades 7-12 received accolades at the 2014 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Southeast Michigan Inductees ceremony.

The College for Creative Studies sponsors the Southeastern Michigan Art Region, which received over 4,000 works of art and almost 300 portfolios last year from 7-12 grade students in Wayne and Oakland Counties.  Over 1,100 individual category works and 90 Portfolios were selected to receive Gold Keys, Silver Keys and Honorable Mention Awards. Winners of this award are in the company of other great artists like Andy Warhol and Richard Avedon. They won these awards in high school too.

Artists, friends and family members and teachers filled the theater to nearly standing room capacity. That is a lot of art supporters. Before the ceremony began, a huge projection screen looped images of the award-winning art, from photography to painting, to drawing, ceramics and jewelry design.

And if parents, or other fans in the room were lucky to look up and spot their child’s work, a huge “YEAH” could be heard. Just like at a sporting event.

Looking at the art, I cannot understand how some school districts see it as a frivolous subject that can be cut from a budget.  Each work allowed the audience a glimpse of the world from inside another’s perspective. Think how many eyes have set sight on the world and still, there are so many unique ways of looking at the world around us, and to have the gift to express what they see and reflect it back to the rest of us, and to have schools that have maintained their budget for the arts, indeed a gift.

Again, I thought how fortunate we are to be able to live in a part of Michigan that values and has kept a strong visual art program. Again, my mind wandered to think about the districts which have shed the classes where students get to express themselves in their own unique way. Think of what they could express artistically if given the opportunity.

My daughter, in the throes of her Junior Year, at first could not be bothered with going to an award ceremony. After all, it was a Tuesday night at the beginning of the semester. She had hours of homework waiting for her. But we told her, no, getting recognized like this is what people LIVE for, and some things trump even doing homework.

When she was in Kindergarten, I took a book out the library about how to create art with pencils. It had different shading and cross-hatching techniques which I thought maybe a bit above her wee head, but I showed it to her anyway. We must have renewed that book three times. She sat with it and carefully copied the pictures for weeks.

Years and many boxes of pencils have passed. And with that, lots of pencil shavings. Some make it to the garbage, some don’t as evidenced by a mound of pencil shavings I recently found in the basement:

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Competitions like the Scholastic Art & Writing program confirmed for my family what we’ve known for years: My daughter has been given a great talent to create art.

Attending the award ceremony confirmed there are lots of lots of kids with equal and greater talent also creating amazing art.

As each kid crossed the stage to accept their awards: some in conservative suits, others in the standard garb of an artist: black and more black with matching black combat boots, my heart soared with pride for them all.  At the same time, it sank, and I wondered if my daughter, seated in a sea of this talent, felt the same weight of the competition. It is these same kids who she will be competing for scholarships, grants, and jobs in an economy which values and employs those pursuing the arts less and less each year.

I hope the world of art and design widens enough to absorb all of them and lucratively so.

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Let’s Explore Owls – with Owls: Michigan Owl Prowl

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From the attic bedroom window in my Rochester home, deep deep in the night, you could hear the sound of a train. The (unwelcome but necessary)  woosh of the two nearby highways. Then, every once in a while, an eerie sound could be heard: Whoo Whoo Hooooooo…. It was the Barred Owl who lived in a grove of woods up at the Cobbs Hill Reservoir.

 

Since moving to our development in suburban Detroit, things are a lot more quiet. I miss the sound of the trains. I don’t miss the woosh of the highway. But, and this is strange, because we live in a more wooded suburban area, I no longer hear any owls. And I miss that late-night hoot of that Barred owl very, very much.

 

Chouette rayée / Barred Owl

Chouette rayée / Barred Owl (Photo credit: meantux)night Barred Owl hoot very much.

 

I’m not much of a birder. I leave that hobby up to my husband. He even has a life list. I like to hike. And if I hear a bird, I think, fantastic, what a beautiful song that bird has, now let’s move on. I don’t like standing in one place for too long for the sake of identifying or calling to a bird.

 

But, then again, those owls have a soft spot with me. So, the other morning, as I drowsily heard the report that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources would be hosting “Owl Prowl” evenings all over the state,I did some further investigation and found the one happening closest to our house.

 

Turns out it took place last Sunday night at Bald Mountain State Recreation Area in Auburn Hills. The free event attracted about 125 people of all ages for a talk, some s’mores by a campfire, and the hope of sighting some owls.

Around the campfire, our guides, members of the Audobon Society, explained the order of calling the owls. It turns out that the larger owls tend to eat the smaller screech owls. So, the screech owls would be called first, then the larger owls in a different part of the forest. If the larger owls were called first, the smaller ones would make themselves scarce.

Another thing that scares away owls, and other wildlife, are humans. The guides advised us to be as quiet as possible. We were a big group. As I explained earlier, about 150 owl enthusiasts had come out that freezing night, with temperatures in the teens, to sight some owls. Those were 100 plus pairs of boots stomping in the snow.  Children’s snow pants swish swished as they walked.  Yet, when we were deep enough in the woods and the bird guides released their calls, it was quiet enough to hear the snow falling on our parkas.

 

In the end, a screech-owl and a Barred Owl called back to us. We didn’t see any owls, but just hearing them call back to our calls in the night was enough. And, it was time spent in the cold refreshing winter air.

If you live in Michigan and want to find an Owl Prowl near you, check out this site, and tell me what you saw and heard.

 

 

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My first unelection Day in Michigan

voting-not

I am a voter. In all the places I’ve lived in, I have registered and exercised my right  to vote. I can only think of one or two elections (one was the 1988 presidential election, when I was away at college. But even if I cast a vote, Michael Dukakis had no chance of winning) that I did not participate in voting in election.

Even as a kid, my parents took my brother and I to our elementary school at night so they can cast their votes in the cafeteria. My brother and I sat at semi-folded up tables pushed against the wall and stared at the feet in the voting booths, wondering what those grown ups were doing behind that curtain. I remember I couldn’t wait to be old enough to get in that booth and pull the lever.

Here, in my new suburban surroundings, I noticed something strangely missing from the October landscape. Because, along with skeletons, gravestones and pumpkins adorning the lawns in my old Brighton neighborhood were political signs. Usually Democratic Party leaning, signs would urge passers by to vote for judges, school board members, Congresspeople. No or Yes on this or that proposition.

I did get a reminder call from my old town by a real (young sounding) person reminding me to vote and informing me of my polling place. I politely thanked them for the call but told them I had moved.

But here in West Bloomfield? No calls. Not a political sign to be found. I thought this was one more silly rule in our neighborhood association charter. Like the rule where you can’t have a shed or a different mailbox.

Signs or no signs, I knew it was election day. And it was my civic duty to vote. But where?

I asked two of my neighbors who were unsure. They were not even sure what there was to vote on.

Surely, other towns had issues and elections to vote upon. Just a few to mention:

  • There was the mayoral election in Detroit, where former hospital executive Mike Duggan defeated Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napolean.
  • Royal Oak voters approved a human rights ordinance banning discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and other factors, making the Oakland County community the 30th municipality in the state to add such a law to its books.
  • Voters in Macomb county approved tax hikes to support fire and police services
  • So, I figured there had to be something I needed to vote for in my new town. I registered to vote at my new town hall. I had my voter i.d. I was ready.

    I waited until the evening to go vote, taking my two oldest children in tow. Hard to believe that come the next presidential election, my oldest will be eligible to vote. I went to the most logical places: the nearby schools. In one school, parents sat around watching their kids at an indoor soccer practice. None could tell me where to vote.

    Next was my son’s middle school, where parents were gathering for a meeting about the swimming team season. Not only could a parent tell me where my polling place was, but she didn’t know it was election day.

    How could this be? And how could I not exercise my civic duty to vote, this my first election day in my new state? The kids started to grumble. After all, the main objective of this outing was to do some shopping at Old Navy.

    Finally, I went to town hall, where I should have gone for advice in the first place. The doors were open and there were some bins labeled as ballot boxes on tables outside the clerk’s office. The clerk expediently located my address and her eyebrows raised.

    “Oh. You live in the section of West Bloomfield zoned for Bloomfield Hills schools?”

    Yes, I thought, the much coveted section where we send our kids to school not within an earshot of our home but all the way the hell on the other side of town?
    “You don’t have an election this year.”

    No election? Not a single vote to be cast? On anything? Not one school official? Or County judge? Or proposition to release reserved funds for a new school roof?

    I left town hall feeling strange but knowing I had done my civic duty of at least trying to vote. I had dragged my kids around town trying to fulfill my right to vote, trying to teach them a lesson that voting is something that should always be practiced. At least, on the years your town has something for which to vote.

    And, without further delay, we went to practice our other right as Americans: the right to be consumers buying cheaply manufactured clothing from China at the nearest suburban shopping plaza.

    Did you get out the vote in your town? Were you happy with the results? Leave a comment, I’m all ears!

Pressing Times in Michigan

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We lived in Michigan for about two minutes (okay, I’m exaggerating…. 10 minutes) when people we met started talking about apples. And cider mills.

“What? You haven’t been to Franklin Mills? You HAVE to go for the doughnuts and CIDER.”

Like Blue vs. Green football. Like old-time souped up roadsters, come the fall, apples are a big part of the culture here in Michigan.

I thought I would be missing the sweet, hard crunch of my favorite fruit when I left New York. Not to worry. It seems Michiganders are just as boastful if not more than New Yorkers about their apples.

Though fourth in the nation in apple production, the state grows many varieties and nearly every supermarket sells the red, yellow and green globes picked from orchards less than 100 miles away.

Then there are the cider mills. It seems the granddaddy of them all around these parts is the Franklin Cider Mill. It is named for this tiny town in which it is located, a bucolic village that somehow dodged the suburban bullet in which it is surrounded. The mill is only open from Labor Day through Thanksgiving, so all it’s business is pressed (no pun intended) in these short months. But they do more than okay. Check out the line on a recent Sunday to get cider and Donuts:

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And they have a huge press:

20130915_160734For some lucky folks, like some new friends we have made, apples are no further than their own back yard,

A few Sundays ago, these friends invited us over in the early evening to press some cider. Now, they had invited us to do this twice before and we just could not fit a press into our crazy early fall schedules. But the night was crisp and cool but not too cold, so why not? We went over to hang out and learn about pressing apple cider.

Several years ago, our friends purchased a small press. After realizing how much they were into making cider, and had an ample supply from several apple trees on their property, they decided to invest in a larger press from the Happy Valley Ranch Co.

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Now, after marveling at this hand-cranked, Amish-looking contraption, I thought the evening was over. It was a school night, after all.  But oh NO. This was not a mere social call, we were about to get put to work! We happily obliged because we know we would be treated to the freshest cider one could gulp at the end.

In advance of our arrival, they had cleaned and cut away bruises from apples they were storing in their garage.

20131013_18295920131013_182855 This has been such an ample season of apples that they seriously don’t know where they are going to put their cars!

We started throwing the apples into a wood hopper that fed the apples through a mill fitted with some sharp teeth.

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That’s me cranking some apples, the pulp getting caught into a wood bucked lined with a cheesecloth like sack. Hubby also took some turns cranking the apples. (Note that from his cap and sweatshirt, he has not changed his allegiance to Michigan teams):

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Already, without even turning the crank, juice stared oozing out of the pulp to be caught below in a pitcher. Luckily, it was too cool that night for the bees:

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Then, the pulp is pressed and pressed by a hand-turned crank. A whole bucket’s worth of apple pulp is compressed to the thickness of a manhole cover. The result is homemade  freshly pressed cider, the best I’ve ever tasted.

I will work for cider any time and hope we’ll get invited back soon.

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