Sunday, April 29, 2007

Boys have a blast

There's nothing like spending a Sunday afternoon breathing the fumes of a one-cylinder engine and spraying high-pressure water! Boys and their toys -- the louder the better!

It really is useful -- the decks need painting, and the old paint has to come off. Robert, his friend Jalen, and Andrew took turns with a rented power washer blasting the dirt off the decks and the the propane tanks.
They also took the leaf blower (remember: Boys = loud stuff) and did a decent job of getting the leaves off the yard. The leaves finally dried out enough to move without a great deal of agony.
Hurray for Dad's power tools!

Spring sky

Clouds pile up over Lake Isabella on a late April afternoon.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

You need a reed

There aren't too many conducting legends in outstate Michigan, but Donald Flickinger is one of them. Flickinger has conducted community bands, Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp adult and teen orchestras, Ferris State University bands and orchestras, and many others. His passion is for music, and Tuesday, he conducted the 17th annual Mount Pleasant Stringtacular.
That's an interesting program. Junior high string students from Mount Pleasant, Chippewa Hills and St. Johns, with a few high schoolers thrown in to fill, come together for one day to perform in a massive string orchestra.
Those massed strings sound surprisingly good, especially considering the group first gets together about three hours before the show.
This year, Flickinger decided that the finale -- "New York, New York" -- needed a fuller sound than could be given only by strings. It needed a trumpet and some woodwinds -- and Robert was recruited to provide a clarinet. The full orchestral sound went off without a hitch.
Today, I passed Peter Orlik in the hall and told him how much I enjoyed the show. He is the husband of Mount Pleasant's West Intermediate music teacher Chris Orlik, who organizes Stringtacular. I've known him for 34 years -- I had him when I was a student at CMU.
(We've apparently forgiven each other.) I told Dr. Orlik (I still can't think of him any other way) that Robert was happy he'd been part of it as a clarinetist.
"Ah, the clarinet!" Dr. Orlik said. "I paid for two degrees with one of those."

Monday, April 23, 2007

Wish you were here

It's not official yet. It might only be a rumor.
But coming soon to a marching band near you ....

The best restaurant name

The Zanzibar Beanery.
What a fabulous name for a restaurant.

It's in Weidman, Mich., about five miles from where we live. Weidman is an old mill town where the mill closed years ago. The Zanzibar Beanery is just kind of a hole-in-the-wall place right by the corner of Weidman and Airline roads, just south of Lake of the Hills.
It's open only for breakfast and lunch; we ate there Sunday. It's good, solid, protean food, nothing special, nothing spectacular, but solid. I had corn beef hash and eggs, and it kept me going the rest of the day.
The sense of whimsy in the name is just so fabulous.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

One bad truck

I was driving Andrew home after his shift at Wendy's last night, and we got behind this monstrous pickup truck. You could just smell the testosterone -- a Chevrolet Silverado HD 3500 4x4 Club Cab Big Doolie. We're talking a truck that costs almost twice as much as my first house! (Don't worry - Andrew took the picture.) On the Chevy Web site, it looks real kick-ass from the front and from the side. They never show it from the back.
I think I know why. With those huge fender skirts, all I could think of was a 300-pound girl on a bicycle.
Go ahead. Try to get that image out of your head.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A stunning spring morning

Today dawned crystal clear, the sun bright and golden. It was the perfect day, the day I'd been waiting for to photograph a pair of barns west of Lake Isabella.
I think it was worth waiting for.

One of the old barns had gotten my attention years ago. It was the spring of 1988. That spring was incredibly, awesomely green. One Sunday afternoon, on a drive in the country, the look of that stretch of Drew Road touched my soul in a way I have never forgotten. A small octagon barn was along that stretch, behind a stone house. Fifteen years later, an F0 tornado passed through, flattening that old barn. The debris is still there, and it has its own kind of beauty.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Post No. 100

Well, it's been almost a year since this little experiment got started. The first post went up May 18, 2006.
It said:
About the Ranzenblog

I was mowing the lawn the other day, thinking about how I sometimes enjoy, and sometimes loathe, the overachieving-family Christmas newsletters we receive. I've never had my act together enough to put one of these out. Yet the overachieving Ranzenbergers are the type of people that annoying Christmas newletters are written about!
So why not a blog? Why not put all that stuff on line as it happens, and perhaps -- just perhaps -- create a "best of" at the end of the year? (Nah -- that would take planning and focus.)

It just became amazing to me. Karen's radio day, Robert's whole marching band experience, from joining to band camp to Ford Field. Katherine's trip to Europe. Andrew's job, skiing and trip to Europe, Matthew in love.

The fun times. The rough times, and the amazing successes.

It's us.

Maybe I'll get the next 100 posts up a little faster. And yes, we did get out a Christmas newsletter.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I know it was here yesterday ...

There's something missing in this picture.

It's strange to wake up in the morning, step out on the deck, and discover your neighbor's house is missing.
I will admit that at first, in the predawn darkness yesterday morning, I didn't immediately notice what was wrong. There was just this bleary-eyed sense that there was something not quite right.
Oh, yeah! There was a house there yesterday, and now it's gone.
It's just not the kind of thing you expect, so it takes a little while to wrap your head around it, especially at 6 a.m.
Our neighbors are summer people. The house actually was a 14-foot-wide mobile home -- a nice one, with a pitched roof and vinyl siding. I wouldn't call it a trailer; it wasn't a flat-roofed trailer-park monstrosity.
About a month ago, after things started thawing out after the cold snap, I heard water running at that place. Apparently the pipes had frozen, broken, then thawed out.I called the water department and got the water shut off, but I'm guessing there was substantial water damage.
Perhaps the damage was bad enough to replace the dwelling. With a stick-built house, you have to tear down and rebuild. Maybe with a mobile home, you just haul the whole home out and move a new one in.
The place got moved Monday, but it was dark when I came home from work and brought the boys home from Scouts Monday night. I didn't notice until daylight Tuesday.
Yeah! There used to be a house there!
Annie and Lexie
on the back deck last summer
with the neighbor's house in
the background.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A high school Renaissance

Clearly, Katherine was appalled.
There she was, dressed as a serving wench, and who also shows up dressed in period costume for the Mount Pleasant High School Madrigal Dinner? Kissy Missy and me.
How appalling.
How fun.

I wore my usual costume as a monk -- it's amazing how much mileage I've gotten out of the darn thing since that summer at Scout camp -- and Kissy Missy dressed as a princess. We were lovely.
The event was terrific, as well. Great music, great food, a good fund-raiser for the vocal music program.

Serving wenches Kayla, Annie and Ashley, three of the 11 members of "The Nine," (don't ask) who performed at the Madrigal Dinner.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

ACT scores

Andrew scored a 31 on his ACT.
Wow. Beyond Wow.
Composite score: 31 Percentile: 98
English: 29 Percentile: 93
Math: 28 Percentile: 92
Reading: 34 Percentile: 98
Science: 34 Percentile: 99

Combined English and Writing: 27. Percentile: 85.

He whines that he has trouble writing. Trouble? When he's better at it than 85 percent of the college-bound students?
I'd love to have more students with that kind of "trouble" in my writing classes.
I'm going to need to get a bigger post office box to fit all the pitches from universities.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Is it spring yet?

Daffodils in the snow outside Moore Hall today.

Two weeks ago, the temperature hit 77 degrees. Easter was cold and windy, and Thursday, schools across mid-Michigan had a snow day.
Temperatures so far this week have averaged 43 percent below normal.
Who did this?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Another hero passes. So it goes

Kurt Vonnegut died last night.
USA Today quotes Jon Stewart as saying "As an adolescent, (Vonnegut) made my life bearable," and he put it better than I possibly could.

New York Times (subscription required)
LA Times
AP (through Forbes)
USA Today
The Washington Post
PBS "Now" interview by David Broncocchio
The Nation (Make a donation)
The Guardian

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The coolest car on the road

It's the coolest car on the road in Europe -- even cooler (and smaller) than the Cooper Mini.
It's the Smart car, made by DaimlerChrysler.
Yes, it's small -- two of them fit into a normal parking space. It gets about 40 mpg, and seats two people (or one person and a pair of skis) comfortably.

I first spotted a Smart on I-275 near Detroit several years ago, and was intensely curious about it. DCX just hasn't seen fit to import it into the United States, although it has a passionate following in Europe.
Katherine fell in love with the Smart

during her trip last year and brought back a little model for Andrew. He thought it was cool, too, and declared he wanted one.
When he got to Germany, he started shooting pictures of them, and is more determined than ever that he wants one.

Now, the Web site says DCX will begin selling Smarts in the United States in 2008. However, it won't be able to sell them in California -- the three-cylinder engine can't meet California emissions standards.
Now, here's an irony: The Smart is so small and affordable that DCX has been losing about $5,000 per car trying to build the brand. Old truism: Little cars make sense, big cars make money.

Monday, April 9, 2007


More from Andrew's trip

A Munich street scene

The Munich office of Eurohypo AG, a leading real estate and public sector banking house:

The Olympia Tower, marking the site of the 1972 Olympic games.

Incredible art

And a wide variety of specialty shops,

some of them quite interesting and amusing.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Images from the roof of Deutschland

The true meaning of 'Alpine' skiing

The brilliant turquoise of an Alpine Lake

The summit of Germany's tallest peak.

Wow... that's a long way down. Get my skis.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Andrenalin and jet lag

Andrew's home.
He made it back right on time -- all the planes arrived when they were supposed to. (Clearly, he wasn't flying Northwest.)
By the time he got back about 9 Thursday night, he'd been up for nearly 24 hours, so it was asking a bit much for him to be coherent.
But he gave me a beret, which he had bought in Paris. And his sister had asked for a "hot German boy." Andrew brought her one.
He posted this to his MySpace:
I have absolutely fallen in love with Garmisch and Zugspitze (both in Germany.) If you haven't been there, all I can say is that it's one of the most beautiful places in the world. I think I'd like to own a 'cottage' there. And the skiing isn't too bad either.

More as he wakes up.
But how ya gonna keep'em down on the rez, now two of'em's seen Paree?

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Coming home

I woke up at 3:15 this morning. Andrew's plane was scheduled to leave Paris at 9:20 Paris time -- 3:20 Eastern time.
It did, and he's on his way home.
He'll change planes again in Atlanta, fly to Detroit, then take a bus back to Mount Pleasant. I can hardly wait to see him.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

How I drive my students nuts

An image, taken from a Journalism 202 PowerPoint, of an ice rescue attempt that is about to go bad. As part of an in-class exercise, journalism must deal with numerous unexpected twists in this story.

Tomorrow and Friday, in my Introduction to Writing for the Mass Media class, students will take part in an in-class exercise that involves a tragedy.
A man riding an all-terrain vehicle on an ice-covered pond breaks through the ice, becomes hypothermic in the frigid water and drowns, despite rescuers' efforts. It's based on a real event I covered a number of years ago.
This fictional event takes place at an Isabella County park just outside Clare.
The students, through a PowerPoint presentation, "witness" the end of the tragedy. Their task will be to write a relevant, powerful news story.

The characters the students will meet include:

• Clare Police Chief Dwayne Miedzianowski, who is first on the scene;
• Isabella County Sheriff Leo Mioduszewski, who arrives later and takes command;
(Skill No. 1: Spell all the names correctly and get the titles correct;
(Skill No. 2: Keep straight the difference between sheriff's departments and police departments
Leo Mioduszewski, left,
and Dwayne Miedzianowski.
Yes, they're real people.

• Clare firefighter Alexander Aswabin, a Canadian Anishinabe who was born near Michipicoten and who grew up on Wikwemikong Reserve on Manitoulin. He crawls across the ice, gets close to the victim, but breaks through the ice himself.
(Skill No. 3: Is his ethnic heritage relevant to the story?)
• Witness Guido "Tuna" DiFrangelantonio, 61, of Grand
Rapids, who saw the victim break through the ice and called 9-1-1. He requests that his first name not be used. ("People hear the name 'Guido' and they think I'm a hood. Call me Guido in the newspaper and I'll break your knees.")
(Skill No. 4: Remember that unofficial sources can be as important as official sources, but must be used with care;
(Skill No. 5: Treat sources with respect, especially those who are not used to dealing with the media.
(And see Skill No. 1.)
• The victim's widow, who is initially reluctant to talk to the press. ("Media jackals! You're just here to exploit me in my time of tragedy!")
(Skill No. 6: Many victims and survivors really do want to talk, if you find a way to let them know you really will listen.)
The best students will follow the twists and turns in the story, and provide detailed, objective, yet passionate reporting.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

More Zugspitze

The weather is beautiful at the highest point in Germany, apparently. Visibility greater than 70 km.