Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Prague, finally!

My public, maybe all three or four of you, may have been wondering if I actually did take any photos while in Prague, and I did.  I did it the old fashioned way, with film and old cameras.  You know, cutting edge technology, circa 1970 or so.  For those geeks who care enough to wonder or amazingly, ask, the color shots were taken with a Leica R5 with 50 Summicron, and most of the black and whites were taken with a Leica M4 with a 50 Summicron.  Little was done to the photos other than lightly correct the lightness or darkness and crop the photos.

I am not sure of the results.  I have become a lazy photographer--the newer cameras, all of which are exponentially smarter than I am accomplish the same thing with far less work and expense.  What is the deal with all this focusing and figuring out the exposure?  That said, it was still  fun to shoot 15 rolls of film.  I think that the last time that I did that was in 1998 when I went to Africa.  And I do like Leicas and that lens is one of the classic lenses of all time and when there isn't a nut loose behind the viewfinder (sorry, old camera repairman's joke) it is the sharpest lens around even though these lenses were about 50 years old.

The trip was great.  The weather was the best I have ever experienced in in Prague, and I even came back with a bit of a tan.  The beer was exceptional, and again the city proved to be a perfect walking city.  My phone said several days I walked over eight miles so that was good for an old(er) person.  All in all, roads were more or less traveled and diems sum carptus.  I couldn't have asked for a better break.

Of course, the re-entry into reality has been a bit harsh.  I heard this recently and I find it so true--the choices we get to make are the ones we don't always want to make.  I would not choose to move when I have to, but now that  this choice is made, I am making a ton of other choices.  Some are big--hmmm...just where will I live?  Some are smaller, mostly on the scale of what goes and what stays with me.  Some things need a good home that is not my home.  Some things just need to go somewhere that isn't near me.

The choices will get made and the work will get done.  And if I get tired or woebegone I will remember that was recently in Prague.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


I am in Prague, and loving every moment.  It is my "My job ended, you should go to somewhere in Europe" tour.  You know, the one that any decent financial planner would suggest in this same situation. So I chose Prague.  Again, as it seems, since I think if I counted stamps on my passports correctly, this is my 8th time here.  The first time was 18 years ago, and the city is a wee bit different.  There are fewer crystal shops and a whole lot more customer service.  The beer is still cheap (about $1.25-1.50 for a pint)  and I have already had three different kinds of dumplings with more of both beer and dumplings to come.  I hope.  Dumplings are cute, right?  So if I eat enough...   Don't they always say "you are what you eat?"

Of course, my trip is total escapism.  I was a finalist (second place--BOO!) for a job I was hopeful for and that really did sting.  I liked the school, the people, and the place, but that is how it goes, right?  But that decision left me with few options and forced me to make a few decisions of my own.  I always knew this gig ended at the end of June, and that is fine.  But I was hopeful that I would leave this place for a job somewhere else, and that doesn't see likely right now.  If I was every unsure of the economic issues facing community colleges, this job market has confirmed that things are dire.  Few colleges have advertised for deans in the upper Midwest.  I am not sure, but the one in Minnesota was one of the very few available.  Schools are hiring VPs and there are a ton of president jobs, but I am not that interested in those, though I would consider a VP of Academic services somewhere, but there haven't been many in WI, MN, and Iowa, the three states I most would like to work in.

So I am going to do something I have never ever done--I am moving to an area where I want to live even though I do not have a job.  Talk about leaping without a safety net!  I am not sure about this, but my options are pretty limited.  I could stay in MI, but the openings are even scarcer here--though if you want to be a vocational dean there are more options with the state's focus on vocational programming.  Plus, I do not want to be in MI.  Nice place and all, but if I have learned nothing else, I know I need a coffee shop, a good grocery store, and at least a Chinese restaurant within five miles of where I live.  To get those three things around here, I would have to drive 39 miles, and I am still not so sure about the grocery store.

I have been keeping a list of things I do not and do want.  I want to go to a McDonalds that isn't a gas station or worse, a bait shop, too.  I want an olive bar that doesn't just involve canned black olives.  I want a restaurant that doesn't have dead things on the wall and which deep fries less than 1/4 of the menu.  I want to go where you can say the trees are pretty and the response isn't "they will make good firewood, won't they?"  I want to work at a school that when I comment on students' success or rather, the lack of it, people don't mostly respond with "well, that is students that we get."  I want to work on at a place that acknowledges the value of diversity.  It would be great to live in an area that has community education programs that are more than "Polish Cooking" or "Wine Making."   I am fine with Amazon Prime being a good friend of mine, but, boy, would it be great to live in a place where all my wardrobe didn't come from there or Tractor Supply.  Sometimes, I even want to live where all the waitresses don't call me "Honey" or "Sweetheart" and I get indifferent service with a meal that isn't breakfast or fried.

Simple things, right?  So I have picked the Twin Cities or Minneapolis-St Paul for you non-Midwesterners.  So if you know of a 1-2 bedroom apartment in a pre-war building with a parking spot, please let me know.  I don't want to live in a 137 plex if I can at all avoid it.  Small is good, urban is good.  Cheap is good, too, but I am good for a year, and I hope that I can find something in that time or at least I can sell enough plasma or my hair or something to survive.  I could sell the watch, too, but I can't have the watch and the hair.  No matter, I will be OK.  

And won't it be an adventure?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

First and last and then again...

It is snowing, not an unprecedented event here at my little house in the woods.  It is, however, spring, and yet we are expected to get 8-10 inches of snow tonight  I hope no one expects me to shovel.  I stopped shoveling weeks ago, once we had a 65 degree day.  Ahh, Northern Lower Michigan!

I did pick up a camera to point it at the snow and some twiggy things.  It is the first time that I picked a camera up in three weeks except to dust around them.  They still worked, which might be a good sign.  What I did think about is that I have taken these photos before so this isn't the first time you have seen these photos or ones like them. I like the view down my road and  the trees and twigs. This may be the last time I take snow pictures around here, and I do realize that I will miss these views from my house in the woods.

It isn't like I am moving to Florida or some weird place like that.  I haven't applied to anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line.  Part of it is preference, but part of it is just opportunity.  I have crossed out Texas as a preferred state, and there hasn't been much else.  I have applied and I have been unceremoniously "dinged" and rejected and told I was pond scum.  I am sure that is what the letters said that told me that I was foolish to ever think I could work at their esteemed institution, not that I would ever take these rejections personally or anything like that.   It is that ugly stage of the search--lots of applications out there and lots of waiting as the sorting hat makes sense of them all.

I am not yet worried.  Well, maybe a tiny tiny bit.  What is challenging is that I have an appealing Plan B and Plan C and that makes me worry less about Plan A.  I know that this makes little sense, but hopefully it will, even to me.  I am keeping a positive outlook and still giving it the ol' college try as I get up and brush myself off and I get on the horse again and try try again  and stuff like that.

In the meantime, I am enjoying the snow, and not just because I am enjoying the view.  It might mean that we have our 6th snow day of the semester and I can sleep in.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Eating in Roscommon...

At least the birds eat well!  I think this is the male of woodpecker couple, if I can judge by its showy head of red feathers. Someone pointed out that I have birds on the brain, and perhaps I do.  I always want the shot of the one that got away--this birds much bigger cousin was at the feeder earlier today but I couldn't get the camera and tripod in place before it fled.  Things are a bit messed up right now-- vandals broke the imported Golden Chateau so most of the bird feed is on the ground right now.  Now I have to rebuild that luxury feeder so that the lid/roof stays on.  Impolite eaters and vandals!

Saturday, February 27, 2016


For those of you who hate birds, or at at least tired of them, here is one of my other neighbors.  Remember it from a few days ago?  No furtive sneaking around now!  It made several trips the buffet line of mixed nuts, each time stuffing its mouth and then running off to hide another helping of a future dinner.

A few thoughts.  First, if you ever want an almost impossible exposure problem try shooting a back-lit coal-black squirrel against a bright white background.  Secondly, I did not know Mr. (or Ms.) Squirrel had such long and sharp claws. That reminds me of when I was a 4H camp counselor and we told our 5-6 year old campers that they couldn't go our at night because of Bushy the Squirrel.  Bushy, who by the way was huge and roamed the woods around the Beaver Creek Reserve, would catch  them and, of course, steal their "nuts."  Hey, it kept a cabin full of little brats in their bed at night!  It was almost as scary as Lips, the Killer Carp.  You know, the one that kept them out of the ponds and stream...

Now that I think of it, I am going to make sure my door is locked tonight, too.


Don't worry, I will get tired of posting bird photos soon.  It is still kind of interesting, though, and a different bird showed up today.  Sound the trumpets!  It actually ate from the Golden Chateau as well as  from the suet suite.  Afternoon  requires shooting almost directly into the sun which is far from ideal.  Still, when the photo is sharp enough to show the little birdy eyelashes,  the photo is probably sharp enough.  As always, click on the photo for a larger view.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Same bird, different day..

I am home today because of a snow day, our fifth of the year.  That is a lot even for where I am in Michigan.  I worry about losing five days of instruction this soon because we almost always have a snow day in March--how else are we supposed to watch the NCAA tournament if we have to work all the time?

Same bird, different day.  She looks cold.  And she has to bring her friends--eating alone can get tiresome.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Bird #2

Wow, they are just flocking to this place.  Not really, but this one is different.  I need to get a bird guide or they at least need to sign and tell me where what they are and where they are from.  Come on, this is a high class place!

Beasts of my forest

Sometimes it is said that the first real photos taken through a new lens (or at least a new lens to you) is called "first light."  The lens referenced in a previous blog was probably made almost 50 years ago, but it is new to me and I am having fun stalking beasts that come into my yard.  I have noticed these very fat black squirrels--not my first choice of subjects but they are kind of cute.  I had to bribe them to be socialble with a platter of nuts and blueberries.  All I had for nuts was a jar of stale honey roasted peanuts but they seemed to be tasty for the animals.  They can worry about their own good and bad cholesterol.  A bird even visited--none have visited the feeder, but at least I know that they are in the neighborhood and that they probably aren't boycotting the place.  But what kind is it?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Birds, or for them...

So I have been doing some major equipment horse trading of late and at this moment my house looks more like a camera shop than a house.  That statement is never too far from the truth, but right now it really is a camera shop.  I blame my friend John who gave my phone number to one of his friends who just happened to have several boxes of Leica cameras and lenses for sale.  Though I am saving money (I really am) in case of prolonged homelessness, I had to buy all that I could possibly afford.  Certainly, I told myself, "it's an investment!"  That may be the case but I also have to keep remembering that a lens or two won't keep me warm under that overpass...

But boy is all this fun!  I have stuff that I have never seen before and that doesn't happen much anymore.  Some of the equipment is just weird esoteric stuff--more than once I have said out loud (it is just me and all these cameras!) "who knew?  Why would you make or buy that?"  I have found wine helps with these conversations...

One such oddity is a very long telephoto lens, officially a Leitz 560mm F5.6 Telyt with a quick focus mount but you probably already knew that from looking at the picture.  It is a BIG lens, almost a yard long with the lens shade, and longer than that with the rifle shoulder stock.  Talk about scaring small children!  I also don't think that it would a good lens to hang around airports with it as it bears an uncanny resemblance to a rocket launcher.  I think that I had best not be by any apartment windows either...

Since those two pursuits are out of the picture  I have been thinking of what to do with it and I have settled on bird photography.  You know me, always looking at birds and this is the perfect lens.  I first had to try and attract the shy creatures within range, something that I have never been very good at.  I figured I would buy them dinner at a diner, and I didn't skimp--you are looking at the $9.99 Golden Chateau bird feeder, first imported from China and then to Roscommon from the metropolitan and chick  (sorry) town of Graying.  I was not cheep (sorry again) in my selection of gourmet bird chow either.  Nothing but the best, that is for sure.

And you know what?  Not one bird has visited.  Someone suggested a sign announcing the grand opening.  Maybe a "Hooters" sign and advertise their wings.  I don't know but I am very  disappointed.  I guess it would be like you opened up a business and then no one came on opening weekend.  Someone did point out that I was expecting too much.  After all, they said, you have neglected them all winter and didn't even feed them a scrap of bread so they don't know of your generous nature and good cooking.  Give them a few days.

So I will.  It will pass the time as I work on applications and ponder my future.  And I might even get a picture of a real bird!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The state of things...

We had our fourth snow day today of the semester as Snomaggedenpocolypse swept through the state.  Well, it wasn't that bad but there were 10 heavy wet inches of snow at my house this morning.  Of course when I was a kid back in Wisconsin in the olden days we would have never closed  the school or even had a snow delay.  We were of tougher stock, no doubt.  It was only when we were walking back home the last two miles (of course against the wind and uphill!) that we might have noticed that it was -90 and that we had received four feet of snow in the past hour.  Tougher stock indeed!

Yesterday we had our executive retreat to plan for the next year.  As you might imagine, my heart wasn't fully in the meeting, but I did listen and contribute as I could.  One bit of information pretty much explained my plight.  Michigan as a whole is a demographic nightmare for community colleges with its falling population and that is even more evident in the rural area that Kirtland serves.  It is the size of Connecticut yet only has about 60,000 people and that number is is getting smaller.  And it is getting older--the average age is well above 35 which stretches the definition of college-age.  Added to that is the strange inverse of the economy and enrollment that affects every community college.  As the economy improves and people can find work (even at the $11 that is the average wage in this area)  they don't go to college but take those jobs.  When there are no jobs, people flock to the colleges for help.  This  truly must be one of the more ugly Faustian equations in enrollment planning.  If only we had a huge awful recession when thousands would be out of work and suffering, our enrollment would be better!  I hardly wish that--we did that and it wasn't that much fun.

As I said, it has affected all the state's community colleges but it hurts Michigan schools a bit more than other states.  The state has no state-wide system to coordinate anything and I really struggle with that.  Want a nursing program (or a composites or an automotive or or or...) that competes with your neighboring school?  No problem--we wouldn't want to coordinate scarce resources or anything like that.  Want to build a building?  Let's have all 27 community colleges lobby the legislature independently.  Want to coordinate classes so that we could promise the transfer of classes between two and four year colleges?  You have to be kidding.

Look at the chart to see the result of all that.  Declines of 30 percent or more are common, declines of only 15% are celebrated.  It does explain why a college would want to shed a position as superfluous as an arts and science dean.  And frankly, it isn't a good sign for the school or the "system" when that seems like a good thing.  The loss of my position is but a very troubling symptom of much greater problems that many community colleges in Michigan face.

The photos are of winter--I took the same photos with my phone and they have been floating around.  The quality of the iPhone photos are very good, but these are better.  They should be, I hope, if the maxim of "you get what you pay for" is true.  The gap, however, is narrowing.  I am guessing that 95% of the viewing population can't tell the difference.  That is a good thing, I think.  One is from my iPhone--can you tell which one?  Click on the photos to see the pictures larger.

Happy winter!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

And in other news...

It is snowing here, not East Coast kind of snow but significant non-the-less.  That is hardly news, for though winter limped into the state, it is been aggressively trying to catch up--we have missed the last two Mondays to snow days,  so the semester is already behind, and we are all getting tired of shoveling and the near-constant whine of snowmobiles.

I do suppose it is news that I was able to take a photo at all at 5:45 PM.  We are "blessed" with snow, but we are really blessed with longer days.  It is joyful (almost) to arrive at work in daylight and to be home before nightfall.  It isn't a complete victory over winter, but it does signal, however slightly, that we will overcome winter, even if that victory is months and months away.

Speaking of work, there have been some changes.  I am officially on the job market.  I have had a pretty good idea that this place was not my forever home, but it was decided that in its budget crisis, the College could better spend the salary of an Arts and Sciences dean on a manager and sales person (or two) for short term certificates and more immediate job training or something like that.  How was that for a nice passive sentence?  The College's president wants to focus on areas other than the general ed classes which I supervise.  So, as of July 1 there will no longer be a dean of Arts and Sciences.  WHo needs it, I guess-- one might imagine my stress levels of late.  Times are tough, and I do sort of understand the decision to focus on vocational programming in a state like Michigan and an area like ours, but I do not fully agree with all this.  It is pretty much diametrically opposed to what I believe in as it seems to focus on training over a more complete education.  No doubt I am biased but geez...  Oh well, it isn't debateable, but it is disappointing, for me and I think even more so for the College.

It seems I have done this before, so I am not too worried.  But as I mentioned it is stressful at times.  I am applying for jobs but I am in a position to also think of other options.  While I know some of you think that I am old, I am not old enough to retire so that is out.  I might try a sabbatical for a few months and build that little house in the woods that I am always dreaming about.  I do know that I do not have to be a dean to be happy and fulfilled which was hard fought knowledge for me.  I would like not to wear a hairnet in my next career, but one option is to pick a place where I might like to live, say a place with a coffee shop or a grocery store, and just move there.  I can't imagine I couldn't find something to feed myself and my soul.  You know, somewhere other than Northern Michigan or Bangladesh with a college or a Home Depot where I might land. 

On to new adventures!!!