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Nov 11 - Nov 17 2019

Faces, Places & Voices from Around Town

John Schneider

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Lansing's renowned storyteller and columnist John Schneider brings you his Perspective on Life

Around Town

Short Stories from Around the Communities of Mid-Michigan

Stories about the people, places, and things that you'll find Around Town

Mert's Specialty Meats Family Meals

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From their family kitchen to ours, Mert's Specialty Meats in Okemos brings us recipes and more 

Animals All Around Us

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Capital City Canine Agility Club Hosts CPE Agility Event in Williamstson

Columnist - John Schneider

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The Patience of the Vineyard

How hard could it be …? 

You plant the vines … You stand back and let them grow … You pick the grapes … You turn them over to the vintner down the road .. You drink the wine, which, having been borne of your own labor, is the finest you’ve ever tasted.


I can’t say I heard my brother or his wife actually say those exact words out loud as they lurched into their retirement project - a vineyard, created from scratch, on a sunny, gently sloping couple of acres of sandy soil near Charlevoix, in Michigan’s fruit growing Mecca. But I’m pretty sure their imaginations skipped over many of the obstacles, landing on that day when they would drink that first toast to success. It’s not that they viewed the grape-growing life through Cabernet-colored glasses entirely.They went to seminars. They did their research. They picked the brains of other grape growers in Antrim County. They knew, going in, that they were in for a lot of hard work and, perhaps, a setback or two.


But, let’s face it, they’re city people, born and reared in Detroit. DetroitDetroit. The closest they came to farming was the Eastern Market. She was a teacher. He was an attorney, specializing in bankruptcy and before you search for irony there, in terms of the financial prospects of an agricultural start-up, you should know that a) they didn’t sink their life savings into the enterprise, and b) they’ve conceded all along that they don’t expect to make any money on it.


On the other hand, I’m pretty sure they did not dwell on all the possible obstructions: too little moisture, too much moisture; winters that are too harsh, winters that are too mild; leaf-devouring beetles; gluttonous birds that have an uncanny knack for knowing when the grapes are at their peak of sweetness … And, new this fall: winds so strong that they blow the grapes right off the vine, allowing the birds, which had been foiled by nets, to get the last laugh … and the grapes.


Not that anybody’s whining. From their deck, my brother and his wife look over their picturesque grid of grape vines and feel that deep sense of satisfaction unique to those who sow and reap with their own hands. The urge to plant something and watch it grow may be part of our family DNA - a legacy from our Irish potato-growing ancestors. Or it may just be human nature.


Shortly after I relocated to acreage in Alaiedon Township, the urge to grow something more than vegetables manifested itself in Christmas trees. I planted 100 seedlings. Over the next few years I planted 25 more, then 25 more, etc. Eventually I had 200 trees, mostly Frazier firs, which quickly became my favorite species. Naturally, growing Christmas trees was not all standing back and letting them grow, either. There was fertilizing, weed control, shaping, the natural attrition … Some tries died in infancy, some succumbed to disease, some - often the most promising specimens - were permanently disfigured by the antlers of whitetail bucks. 


On the other hand, I love to stroll through my fragrant little plantation and, come Christmas time, drape lights on a tree planted, nurtured and shaped with my own hands. My brother’s enterprise has also expanded. It now includes about 1,500 vines - Cabernet Franc and Blaufrankisch (both red grapes) and Traminette and Gruner Veltlner (whites).


In mid-to-late October he monitors his crop with a refractometer - a device that tells him when the sugar content of the grapes makes them ready for harvest.


This year, it was about two weeks late. “It’s like waiting for a baby,” he said. “Worse. At least with a baby you have a due date to work with.”

Archery

Oct. 15 -   As Michigan’s archery deer season gets underway, some ruminations on the blood sports …

If I were to tell you that hunting is, for me, all about communing with nature, you could point out that immersion in the natural world requires no weapons. You would be right. I could sit in my tree stand without bow or gun and still enjoy those exquisitely subtle shades of light that bracket each day, turning night into morning, then daylight into darkness.


I could still admire the urgent industry of squirrels preparing for winter. I could still chuckle at the noisy awkwardness of turkeys landing in their treetop roosts, then ricocheting down a few limbs, like a ball in a pinball machine. I could still marvel at the gaudy glory of the pungent autumn forest. I could still listen to acorns falling, let my mind wander, achieve that state of relaxation I find nowhere else. I could still envy the stealth of my fellow predator, the coyote, as it slinks like a ghost through the brush.


But that wouldn’t be hunting and, the fact is I’m a hunter, for better or for worse. If the proper opportunity comes along - a high-percentage shot at the right deer - I will launch an arrow (or a bullet, when the firearms season comes around), doing my best to make a quick kill and recovery, then feeling a curious mixture of elation and regret as I stand over the carcass.


If I were to say that I hunt because my household depends on venison, that, too would be a false claim. On the other hand, when venison is handled, butchered and prepared properly, it’s as tasty as any other source of protein and better than most. It’s cage-free, carbon-neutral, lean meat. Venison has allowed my wife and me to eliminate beef from our diet. Call it hubris if you wish, but taking a wild animal from the field to the table without outside intervention makes me feel self-reliant.


If I were to use a euphemism that has become popular in certain sectors of the hunting world - “harvesting” venison - you could accuse me of trying to sugarcoat the truth and I would agree with you. Cutting corn, picking apples, gathering morels … that’s harvesting. You would never hear a hog farmer describe the slaughter as a “harvest.”


The unvarnished truth is that the procurement of venison - as with cheeseburgers, spare ribs, lamb chops and chicken nuggets - requires bloodshed. That goes for fishing, too. So how is it that some of the same people who see hunting as cruel view fishing as a harmless activity that conjures visions of Tom Sawyer walking down a country lane with a cane pole and mess of catfish on a stringer?


That’s only one irrational aspect of public attitudes toward hunting. The most glaring one, of course, comes from the mouths of people who will gladly slap a rack of ribs on their Weber, but condemn hunting.

If you’re a vegetarian who opposes the blood sports, I will respect your conviction and consistency. If, on the other hand, you cherish your Thanksgiving turkey, but express a general contempt toward hunting, I will suggest that you reexamine the rationality of your convictions.


If you eat meat, you’re either killing your own animals, or you’re paying somebody to do the killing. I choose to do it myself. Maybe you don’t and I can understand that. It’s messy business. Hunting is an anachronism these days, when meat comes wrapped in cellophane, and people can so easily ignore the consequences of their appetites.

Tradition

Oct. 1 - My daughter, a modern young woman with limited tolerance for certain traditions, never liked the idea of being “given away” at her wedding last month.


Caitlin understood, of course, that it was merely symbolic, a relic of the days when women lived at home - under the protection of their fathers - until they married. In a sense, they were the “property” of their fathers, until they became the “property” of their husbands. They weren’t slaves, exactly; they were more like beloved pets who would never outgrow their need for protective custody.


At age 32, Caitlin had been on her own since graduating from college. She had lived and worked in both Los Angeles and New York City and had lived with her husband-to-be - in Brooklyn - for at least three years. So, it’s no mystery really, why the prospect of her old man handing her off - like a family heirloom - to a husband struck her as slightly ridiculous.


It’s not that she spurned nuptial traditions entirely. She wore a wedding dress. She and Tony exchanged vows, under an open sky, before a licensed officiant. They kissed to seal the deal. At the reception, she and I kicked off the party with a father-daughter dance, although it was hardly a traditional foxtrot.


But the father-to-husband giveaway, like the garter removal or the bouquet toss, was never in the cards.

“No offense, Dad,” she announced, as the wedding date approached, “but I don’t want to be given away.” 

No offense taken. I had many other things for which to be grateful: Caitlin had landed with a good, kind-hearted, gainfully employed man who clearly loved her. They were getting married, not necessarily a given for today’s long-range relationships. It said something, I think, about their commitment to each other. And they had enough love and respect for their extended families to want them to be part of the celebration.

Very early on, they talked about eloping. Then they considered a small, immediate-family-only wedding in NYC. Ultimately, with no parental prodding as far as I know, they decided that a blowout was one tradition they wanted. The guest list started to grow and eventually stabilized at 135.


As for the The Walk …

The venue for the ceremony featured two aisles, both of which led to a kind of raised patio where the vows would be exchanged. The plan was that my wife, Sharon, and I would walk Caitlin down one aisle while, simultaneously, Tony’s parents walked him down the other aisle.


At one point Sharon asked me if this plan in any way bruised my feelings. Not at all. Sharon was at least as much involved in bringing Caitlin this far along as I was - maybe more - and there was no reason why she shouldn’t be involved in these symbolic final steps.


When the time came, I took one of Caitlin’s arms in mine and Sharon took the other arm. Side by side by side, we walked, the three of us, non-traditionally, toward that most traditional of bonds. It felt as natural as could be.

Re-Launch

Sept. 15 - In the art of child-rearing, as in rocket science, failure to launch is not a positive outcome.


We all know people - middle-aged, or older - who are parents of offspring who refuse to spring. They may leave the nest temporarily but, like water stains on a ceiling beneath a leaky roof, they keep coming back.


Believe me when I say that I have no desire to install a revolving door at our house. Nor do I relish the thought of hosting a basement dweller who spends the day looking for direction in TV sit-com reruns. I accept the argument that it may take a little longer, in these times of fewer roads to the middle class, to get started in life. Nonetheless, the journey to full adulthood begins, like every journey, with the first step. On the road to complete maturation, the first step can be only in one direction: away from the familiar, toward the unknown.


On the other hand, launching too successfully comes with its own consequences. New census figures show that college graduates are bailing out of Michigan at the fastest rate since 2010.  Don’t I know it? None of my four kids - all over 30 - lives in Michigan. My younger son settled with his wife in Los Angeles. My older son, his wife and two sons live near Indianapolis. My younger daughter and her new husband make their in New York City (and soon will be making a career-related move to the West Coast). My older daughter resides in heaven. (For her, I would make an exception to the no-loitering rule. If she returned to the realm of the living and showed up at my doorstep I would gladly take her in - at least until she got readjusted to life on earth.)


As for the other three, I’m happy to report they are self-sufficient. They are gainfully employed, partnered up for life (I hope), living in their own spaces and medically insured. Which means, of course, that I don’t see them nearly as much as I would like. That’s the downside of a successful launch; there’s no adjustment dial marked "reverse"; only "forward." And the plain fact is, I miss them.


From the time your kids are born, you school them to be independent and adventurous. You encourage them to pursue their dreams. Then their dreams turn out to be in another state. By then, it’s too late to alter the lesson; you can't impose a 90-mile radius on dreams.


I must admit that I feel a pang of envy whenever friends, or siblings, or people I meet at dinner parties start talking about children and grandchildren who live just a couple blocks away, or in a town just a half-hour down the highway. They pretend to complain about being pressed too often into child-care duty, but you can tell they don’t really mean it.


The great irony of parenthood is that our main job - our over-arching goal - is to achieve and ensure our own obsolescence.


But who wants to be obsolete?


  

John Schneider, who was inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame in April of 2019, wrote a daily general-interest column for the Lansing (MI) State Journal from 1988 until 2012. Before that, he wrote a weekly column (along with other duties) for the State Journal (from 1977 to 1988), and before that (from 1973 to 1977) he wrote a weekly column (again, as one of many duties) for the Sidney (Ohio) Daily News.

His non-fiction book, “Waiting for Home: the Richard Prangley Story,” published in 1998, documents the life of a man wrongly institutionalized for 15 years.  His play, “Voice Mail,” staged locally, takes place in a news room, naturally.


He grew up in Detroit and went to Wayne State University on the G.I. Bill after a hitch in the U.S. Navy. He majored in journalism and graduated in 1973. He and his wife, Sharon, live on 12 acres in Alaiedon Township. They have four grown children - one in heaven and three on earth - and two grandsons.

He continues to write a daily blog and is in the process of finding a literary agent to represent his recently completed novel - "Afterlife.” He has two other novels in the works.

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Around Town

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Slotkin Statement on UAW-GM Agreement

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (MI-08) released the following statement today, following news that UAW would ratify its agreement with GM to end the strike. Slotkin’s district includes two GM plants.

“Congratulations to the UAW and GM for reaching an agreement that ends the strike,” Slotkin said. “This is a historic agreement that will provide a life-changing increase in pay for newer workers, quality and affordable health care for members, and many other benefits for GM workers that give them a better quality of life.”


“For people like Jacinta, the temporary worker I talked about a couple of weeks back, this contract means a better way of life for her and her family,” Slotkin added. “Today, a permanent GM hourly worker with 11 months experience makes $17/hour or $35,360 per year (before overtime). That same worker who sticks with GM will make $32.32/hour or $67,226 per year (before overtime) at the end of that 4-year contract. This means the difference between scraping by and being able to buy a house and afford the occasional vacation.”


“I'm glad workers at the GM Lansing Grand River Assembly and GM Lake Orion Assembly plants in my district will be back to producing world-class vehicles for General Motors with the pay and benefits they deserve.”

Mealtime with Mert's Specialty Meats

Crumb Coated Cube Steaks

Ingredients:
1 egg
½ cup milk
23 saltines, crushed OR Panko Bread Crumbs
2/3 cup flour
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
4 beef cubed steaks (4-6 oz each)
3 tablespoons canola oil
GRAVY
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/3 cups milk
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper


Directions:
In a shallow bowl, whisk egg and milk.  In another shallow bowl combine the cracker crumbs (or Panko bread crumbs), flour, salt, baking powder, cayenne and pepper.  Dip steaks in egg mixture, then in crumb mixture.
In a large skillet, cook steaks in oil over medium heat 3-4 minutes on each side or until no longer pink and browned nicely.  Remove and keep warm.
Add flour to the skillet, stirring to blend & loosen browned bits from pan.  Gradually add milk.  Bring to a boil; cook & stir 2 minutes or until thickened.  Season with salt & pepper.
Serve with steak and hot mashed potatoes!
Serves 4
From prep to table 30 minutes

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Animals All Around Us

Capital City Canine Agility Club Hosts CPE Agility Event in Williamston

Agility dogs and their owners came from as near as around the corner and as far as Ohio into Williamston September 23rd to enjoy and compete in a Canine Performance Events competition. The event was hosted by the Capital City Canine Club CPE and featured dogs of all sizes, classes and capabilities. 


“Agility is all about working with the dog and having a working relationship with them because you have to go out and run the course together. Frequently they’re numbered, sometimes you have to make up your own course and the dog has to listen so you have to have that relationship in order for the dog to trust you and want to go out there and do the thing. It’s a bonding experience.” Jennifer Kolasa explained. “This is about going out and having fun with your dog. It’s something that dogs enjoy doing, they get big rewards and lots of cookies afterwards!”


Getting involved is easier than you may think explains Capital City Canine Club of Lansing member Jill Griffet said after her events with her dog Tempest, a nine year old Pembroke Corgi. (photo) “The first thing is to come out and watch an event. Once you see how much fun it is and how much fun the dogs are having with the people, that’s the first step!” Then you start talking to the people, and there’s a lot of people here. We started this club in 1995 here in Lansing so getting know them and then getting into a class.”


Before you begin, you’ll need to have a basic obedience class under your belt, as the dog will have to have basic manners in order to control them, as well as teaching them to do the obstacles all in an environment that can be conducive to stress for inexperienced dogs. Once you begin though it’s easy to see why it would be so rewarding for someone to participate. It is all about the one on one time between the owner and their dog.  “I love spending time with my dogs, training my dogs, and my dogs absolutely love the agility.”  Griffet said. “They think it’s the most fun thing in the world and I like to have fun with my dogs!”


To learn more about the Capital Area Canine Club visit them on Facebook here



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