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!!!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Winter, give or take a few inches

After skating through a long fall and an almost non-existent early winter, we were greeted with winter as light came to my slice of Michigan.  At least 8 inches of the white fluffy stuff coated trees and piled on any still surface.  While pretty enough, shoveling was a chore that I didn't enjoy.  I was blessed with a nice passing person with a pick-up with a snow plow who blasted through the pile of concrete snow and ice at the end of the driveway.  In Michigan, they do that and then just drive away with a wave.  That was nice.  Now Mother Nature is just playing with us with more snow and a wind that is  filling in the already shoveled spots.  Another 2-4 inches are expected in the next day or two.

The pictures are of snow.  And trees.  And the Cut and AuSable Rivers.  Note there are three of the same scene, though all are different because of the amount of snow and wind.  If you sit still long enough, everything changes.

Saturday, January 2, 2016


I have been thinking a lot about grace and the challenges that surround it.  It seems that attaining it isn't the only challenge, but there is also the challenges of accepting it when it either smacks you upside the head or when you see it, and even when it is offered to you on a silver platter.

By definition it is a state of mind, and like happiness or joy or fulfillment, it suggests that it is something that you should strive for.  It is acceptance, it is a sense of comfort in your place in the world and it seems to be an absolute willingness and ability to put the needs of others in front of your own needs.  I am sure theologians and philosophers and others have better definitions and examples and probably even tests so that you might know you are approaching anything near grace.

I have thought about this for several reasons.  First, a daughter of perhaps my best friends passed away after a 5 1/2 year fight with cancer.  Her thoughts were centered not on herself, but of fighting so that she could share every little bit of time with her seven year-old daughter.  That seems  to me like grace, as does the continuing ministry of her parents, who no doubt grieve deeply but also have to, in their roles as clergy, minister to their flocks and family.  That seems like grace, for no parent should have to bury their children.  Let's work on that so it doesn't happen as often as it does.  My heart aches for them.

I think that when I see this thing called grace it does smack me upside the head because I am usually so so far away from it.  For example, I have been blessed to travel these past frew weeks to London.  What an amazing privilege, and truly travel like this is just that, a privilege.  But there I was, surrounded by old pubs, good pints, great food, good people and a million other positives and great things and I know that I didn't  fully embrace all of it because a part of me was focused on such petty things such as work.  What is wrong with me that I couldn't set that aside for nine damn days and just accept all that blessed me while away?  Instead, it was a reserve that sometimes kept me up at night and sometimes distracted during the day.  How do I center myself, become more accepting, etc?  Those work challenges didn't go away during my absence--how do I continue to strive towards grace when there are challenges and more challenges every day? 

It is a journey, isn't it?  Perhaps that is my New Year's resolution or goal, to continue to strive towards grace.  I suspect that there will be good days/weeks/moments and there will be some when it will be obvious to all that I am nowhere near attaining anything.  Perhaps that is it, though.  It may be that the trying is what is important even when attaining this state seems so elusive.  I think I can manage trying.  Who knows?  I might get lucky.

As I said, London for awhile.  Fun.  I took but 80 or so digital pictures though I did take more black and white photos that that might populate these pages in the next few weeks.  Even the digital photos that I did take are limited because I only brought at small point and shoot--apologies in advance.   English trees are a theme--they are remarkable.    The weather was great except for the day of the Smithfield meat auction.  I have been to London quite often, and I don't think that I have ever seen anything quite so quirky.  The others are mostly self-explanatory. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

It has been...

a long week, and I'm just goofing around today.  It is really one of those dark and dreary fall days outside and I am in my bunker, reluctant to go out even to pick up the mail.  Everyone feels it, even the mice--I have caught six in my trap line since Thursday morning.  Who wants to be outside?  It is wet and cold and gross out there.  I think thinking of putting a little reception desk in my living room to welcome them.  Before I kill them, of course.  The hides are stacking up.  I am hoping to steal a fur stole from all of them, or perhaps make a tiny tiny throw rug.  Sigh.  The battle begins and continues. Everyone has mentioned that their interior mouse population has skyrocketed this year.  They are also an issue at work--they ate a good chunk of chocolate from my office sweet (haha).  While it is noticeable when 15 large chocolate truffles disappear, it is equally noticeable when you see sparkly (from the wrappers) mouse poop all over your desk along the litter of all the diabetic test kits and the mouse-sized insulin needles  left from the now diabetic mice.   It is not uncommon to hear screams of disgust in the admin building as one or more furry friend scampers around the Advising Center or president's office.

I have take a few photos but not that many--I will play catch up over the next few days and add more.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

14 minutes ago...

I awoke to a white robe hiding or muting the colors of all of outside--nearly two inches of snow fell overnight.  It is like a guest came much too early to the party--flowers were still fighting to bloom, and most leaves were still hanging on and still in their autumn finery.  And the guest is boring and promises to stay for most of the next six or seven months!

None-the-less, I dragged my (warm) butt out of bed and took a stroll around my extensive estate and took a few photos.  I blame bad light and an active reluctance to take snow pictures this early in the fall for these photos.  I wanted to mow one more time and of course there is the raking.  Do I get to skip those tasks?  Of course now I have to shovel...

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The last of them...

Fall is here with its colors. temperatures, and its "feel."  Of course poets and others have spilled millions of words trying to describe what that "feel of fall" actually is.  I recognize all the smells, from wet leaves to the breezes that bring the tang of wood smoke to the smell of mice in your house.  More about that soon.    This is a weekend to dream of--it is in the 70s, and the colors, while not dominant, now appear in large enough blocks to smack your visual cortex often, and you have to notice the smears of reds, oranges, and yellows.  I think that you really get to use the Oxford comma this time of the year as you write lists of the reds, yellows, and other descriptive words for all the colors.

These are probably the last of the flowers from my yard, the yard that has provided many of them these past five months.  I was struck how the background colors are sometimes more striking than the fading colors of the flowers.  Leaves don't cover my "estate" but they are kind of hard to keep out of the frame.  Way back when, a friend noted that one flower was pretty and colorful  but it also left a interesting and pretty seed "pod."  One photo confirms that prediction.  I love the tiny flowers--why is that?  The smallest are but 1/8th to 1/4 inch across.

Perhaps the next photos could feature snow--that is more probable than more flower photos.  But until then, I will enjoy the colors, the smells, and the benefits of a fantastic fall day.

Monday, September 21, 2015


It has been a while since I last posted, though it seems longer than a little over two weeks.  I that it is mostly because I have been busy--the start of school, along with the fact that I am teaching a class, has made the days a bit longer and fuller.

My class is fun--it is at the high school and of course that makes me feel 138 years old.  I have good kids, but they are all so, so young.  I am enjoying it so far and they haven't thrown anything at me yet, and they are smart enough to laugh at the old man's jokes, so they will be OK.  It is a political science class and that topic provides many things to talk about.  Their political points of view are starting to emerge, and mostly they reflect the area and their parents.  So I am new to them, since I am a heathen liberal.  Hey, everybody has to bend a bit--it's a key feature of a democracy, though our country seems to provide a rather poor example in this regard as of late..

I feel 138 years old because I just had one of those milestone birthdays.  I am as someone said "a speed limit!"  They only good news is that it isn't a speed limit in the 60s. Yet.  That said, I did my usual to ignore it as much as I could and spent most of my birthday weekend in a car, though with a nice visit in between the drives.  I wanted to be either in the woods or in a different country, but this teaching and a busy work schedule has limited my time away.  It is sad--I have 40+ days of vacation, but I am not sure when I can use it.  That is just wrong, and so not French.

I did take a picture, something I haven't done for too long.  Not much work involved--this is my favorite little neighborhood lake, Lake Marl.  I drove in the parking area, stepped out of my car, pointed a camera, pressed a button a few times and that's it.  Total time involved?  Three minutes.  It isn't like this photography stuff interferes with my life but I just haven't been motivated.  Soon, I hope.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Forgot one...

I woke up  to a thunderstorm and while making sure my house was still on its foundations, I saw my blog up on my computer.  I forgot a picture, this time the fog with some horses,  I am heading to bed for real, though it is still kind of noisy out there.


I went to an Amish auction/flea market this morning and wandered there in a pretty good fog.  The flea market was so-so.  Lots of new stuff, and not so much not so old stuff.  Of course I found a few treasures, but I bought every thing I wanted and still left with money.  I think that is a success!

The quilt auction was great.  They sold several hundred quilts and many were amazing and the prizes were amazing, too.  Some were affordable, but there were several that approached my bi-weekly paycheck.  I know, not so much, but still pricey.  They were beautiful...made be think of my Grandmother's quilts.  The best were hand-stitched with thousands of pieces.  I wondered if they were like quilts of old, with quilt squares make of scraps of fabric that meant something and that  were pieced together by a circle of women who shared their days and lives as they created these treasures.

The photos are are mostly of the fog, with some people included.  One photo shows either a job opportunity or a description of my current job.  All-in-all, not a bad adventrue.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


I have noticed that it is dark once again when I awake and often, even as I head to work a little later.  My days stretch into dusk now and the trend of even shorter days will continue.  What I like about it is that it is so subtle--a few minutes of light at the beginning and end of the day just disappear.

I think sunflowers are like these coming fall days.  If you have a field with a few hundred thousand sunflowers in bloom, they don't just turn dark.  As some faded, there were a few that are still bright and that catch your eye, or at least they caught mine.  I actually like the contrast between the bright blooms and their more faded neighbors.  It isn't a stretch for back-to-school metaphor, though it hurts a wee bit to be reminded which sunflower I am in the field of "sunflowers" that fill schools across the country.  Sigh…

I have never taken photos of a sunflower field despite lots of sunflower photos.  I was glad to find a field, in part because I was inspired this year by this great story from Wisconsin.  Check this out:  To celebrate a life and a love, a stretch of four-plus miles was planted with sunflowers.  My photos have no such lofty goals.  They just celebrate shorter days.