31 January 2009

if you mark it, they will come: Michigan Road

Above is the William Polke House, Fulton County Historical Society Museum grounds. Polke was the first white settler in Fulton County, coming as the chief surveyor of the Michigan Road. The house was moved a mile west from the road to the museum grounds to avoid demolition.

After about 13 years of thinking and talking about it, with a little push from blogger Down the Road, today's first meeting of the Michigan Road Historic Byway group got off to a great start. The Michigan Road you say?

Yes. Being the Indiana history buff I am, I have long felt that our state's historic Michigan Road should be celebrated & interpreted. With its initial beginnings in 1826, the first state commissioned road started in Madison and ended in Michigan City.....connecting lots of Hoosier folks with a perfectly drivable and experiencial strip of asphalt today.

So today in Rochester, after summoning stakeholders from Indianapolis, north, we had a wonderfully successful meeting to begin movement toward state historic byway designation with representatives from Marion, Cass, Fulton and Marshall Counties. We meet again in 3 months to formally organize and fill the missing links in the north half of the state before springboarding to our neighbors in the south.

This will be such a valuable tool for towns large and small outside of the typical Indiana tourism beltway to achieve a continuous link for heritage tourism stretching from one end of the state to the other. And I think it will bring our Hoosier family a little closer together, joining north and south with our capital city connecting all of the geography we know as home in Indiana.

Our goal is to achieve byway status by the summer of 2010 and have the road marked with uniform signage in time for the state's bicentennial in 2016, complete with tourism marketing plans to boot. My blogger friend Jim Grey from Down the Road has a website together with the Michigan Road painstakingly marked and documented at www.jimgrey.net/Roads/MichiganRoad/ and I'd encourage you to take a looksee.

Wish us luck, our little towns could use an economic shot in the arm! If you mark it (mark-et), they will come!

29 January 2009


The new unemployment numbers came out for Indiana this week and the news is not pretty. From what I understand northern Indiana is suffering from a slightly higher unemployment rate than other parts of the state. Lagrange and Elkhart Counties are at 15%. Our county, let's call it Republicania County, is at 12%........3% higher than any of our neighbors. Even higher than our neighbor to our west who historically has a higher rate than we do. And I don't think it has bottomed out yet.

12%. Let's put that in perspective. When the unemployment rate reaches 6% in republicania county, it is considered high.....rarely does it reach that number. When the last set of stats came out we were at 8% which was an historic high.

We are at 12%....4% higher than the historic high......I'm not sure what the rate was during the depression, but only that could be higher. What's my point here?

Republicania County instituted well over a year ago a "county wide economic development" initiative. River City threw out its old mayor in 2007 for a new one who pledged that he would bring economic development to our languishing city fertile with economically viable potential. And we voted in overwhelming majority to return a governor who has touted his job creation successes in the state.

And here we sit with a 12% unemployment rate. Something doesn't add up.

You might suggest I'm being unfair because of the current national economic environment. I guess if I saw our county officials and business leaders who pushed for this county-wide group, or our mayor actually doing something....I might be convinced of that. Or if I saw our governor actually be the progressive republican he claimed to be rather than touting the 100 new jobs he's created to handle unemployment claims.....the "unfair" argument might have some traction.

No, even in this current economic climate, we've been let down by our republicania county and river city leaders. And certainly by our governor. We've been sold a bill of goods...that we can't even afford. 6% might be acceptable, even 8% might be understandable.....but 12%? Who do they think they're kidding? Oh yeah, the voters!

24 January 2009

the alien within

A few years back I did something a little stupid. We have this 150 year old basement that really needed to be cleaned out, so I thought, so one late fall Saturday I spent the morning with a shop vac cleaning the dark crevices of the dungeon. Built with field stone, our basement has loose lime mortar (practically dust), some asbestos tape around the duct work, probably some mold, coal dust from the old furnace and no doubt lead dust from the poor job of painting that was attempted maybe 50 years ago. With shop vac in hand, one could barely see their way as clouds of dust lofted through the basement air. This is what we preservationists call collateral damage.

And I, without a dust mask.

After I was done, and after much coughing and gasping, I noticed late that afternoon that a peculiar rash had developed on my chest. Hmmm, this is odd, never had a rash before. So I called my doctor friend who said, well, with all that stuff floating around, you probably got some of it irritating the skin. OK, that sounded logical.

But then the rash showed two more times while fighting off some flu symptoms-at which the doctor investigated, but figured it was just a reaction to the fever. And then it showed up again last week...this time I really didn't feel sick. The odd thing about this rash is that it clearly is not topical, but a reaction under the skin........and the other thing is that it shows up in random large areas perfectly symmetrical across my chest and back.

So, now starting to become a little more concerned (I wanted to be certain that I was not contagious to the poor folks who crashed here last week when their gas had to be turned off), I contacted the doc again and this time he asked me to email pictures. He said the pics were confusing. The rash lasted about 2 days, as it normally does...it doesn't itch or burn...it's just there. So, I went on WebMD....which was confusing to me, but offers a way to send in pictures, so I'm thinking about it. WebMD is a dangerous thing really.

The next time I plan to try to connect the dots to see if there is a message. But what I'm really hoping for is the image of the Virgin Mary to appear so that I can charge people to take off my shirt. I am a little freaked that some kind of microscopic bug has taken up residence in this host and gets a little agitated whenever I spike a fever.

And I always wear a dust mask now.....to keep out the little bugger's alien friends.

21 January 2009

to confirm or ignore: the Facebook delima

Crazy thing this Facebook.

Due to so many of the youth and 20's I work with at our church having a Facebook account I felt compelled to also create an account...but I'll be honest, I don't much get the point of it. Now, I will admit that it's been a great experience finding or being found by old friends. But I'm not one to jump at every "people you might know" picture that pops up. I tend to be a little more reserved with my private life, hence the pseudonym "Hoosier Reborn", aka HR. I guess some people are all about trying to figure out how many friends they can tally up...but I don't care much about that.

Here's the cool thing I've experienced with Facebook. A number of old college friends have been found, as far away as Norway. It's a great way to drop a line to someone you basically don't see at all anymore. In fact, one old buddy-Bryan, in whose wedding I participated and we hadn't spoken in 15 years, doubled with my wife and I over the holidays and it was so great to rekindle that friendship.

The downside? It drives me nuts that the mayor of river city and I have mutual friends, because his dorky picture from the nose up to his bald head kept showing up on my home page....until he changed it to a picture of him sporting a dorky hat sitting in a chair holding a pistol with pictures of scantily clad women behind him. Stupid is as stupid does I guess.

But then there are those names of people who ask you to confirm them as a friend and you think, hmm..I really don't remember you liking me much back during my Bethel days. And even weirder was an "acquaintance" from river city, terribly Republican. Why would she want to be my friend? I checked out her friends (there were like 400) among whom was major state Republican names including Mitch's. I wonder if Mitch would accept my friend request? I really struggled with whether or not to confirm my acquaintance....I mean, really, Facebook has already gotten me into political trouble since I tend to speak my mind.

Boy, do I really want my political opinions out there for everyone to see? Should they know how incensed I am over the duplicity of the Republican party? What is she going to think of me?

to confirm or ignore......with a crafty grin on my face I clicked

"confirm" friend request.....I've got nothing to lose and nothing to hide....and it's a great thing!

18 January 2009

2 days: dream hope change

My words would fail to convey the sheer magnitude of the historical event that will take place in our country on Tuesday. So I let another man speak for me.....of the dream, the hope that we can all live peaceably in a country founded on the principle that all men are created equal.

And any man, regardless of the color of their skin, can achieve anything. I think, at least I hope and pray, our country has grown up a little. That the message of change may not be as monumental as the actual change that has led us to this point.

Over the next two days, prayers for humbleness and healing for our nation.

17 January 2009

the Undoing of a President

A look at the last eight years in America reveals a time of great difficulty inaugurated with the September 11th attacks. Since that time New Orleans was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, whole cities in Iowa submerged in flood waters, the explosive war in Iraq and Afghanistan and, oh yeah, the recession.

What’s a President to do?

I watched only a few minutes of President Bush’s farewell speech Thursday night. Not because I chose to, rather, by the time I sat down with a cup of tea it was already over. So I don’t know exactly what the out-going President said but if I were to sum of his presidency I would say it was a time of great distress. This was certainly not of his making, but under his watch.

Bush’s popularity was at its pinnacle after the September 11th attacks. His simple statement at Ground Zero “pretty soon they’re (the terrorists) going to hear from all of us” was one of the most powerful, unscripted things a President has ever said. The American public who largely supported the war, regardless of Bush’s warning that it would be protracted, wearied of the fighting, felt misled, and began to speculate that there was no well constructed plan of withdrawal going in…..which has been my biggest hang-up. Then came Katrina, Rita and the floods in Iowa. Compound the cost of federal relief for natural disasters with the $720 million per day price tag for the War in Iraq, coupled with a failing economy, bailouts and it’s a no brainer, massive federal debt and recession.

But what was Bush’s real undoing? It probably could be linked to many things including some of the slimy folks he surrounded himself with (I wonder if he wished he had Colin Powell back?). I think his real undoing was the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. It’s one thing to watch young men die in an arguably justifiable war. It’s quite another to watch elderly women drown in our own country, on our television sets, in front of our own eyes and not see the response we would expect from the richest most powerful nation in the world. I believe it gave all of us great pause to think “that could be my family”.

I don’t doubt that George W. Bush is a great guy. I’ve read most of the book The Faith of George W. Bush and conclude he might well have been one of the most decent men we have had as President. He came idealized, talking about a “compassionate conservatism” and wanting to implement “faith-based initiatives”. But as countless insiders, now on the outside, have reported……..Bush came to Washington and it swallowed him. He changed rather than making change.

Leaving office with the lowest approval rating since Richard Nixon is not something to brag about. I doubt Jeb has a snowball’s chance either. But from a two-time supporter, I wish him and his family all of the best back in Texas. I believe he reacted as he thought he should to our distress regardless of the results. And with this be certain, George W. Bush carried our nation through one of the darkest hours of our history.

16 January 2009

(fool)Hardy Midwesterners

Catching CBS news last night, one reporter commented that "even hardy Midwesterners are struggling with the bitter cold". Which got me thinking.

OK, I've not heard the official low of river city last night, but only a few miles west of here it got down to 26 below Zero....real temps. Wind chills over 40 below.

Did you catch that? 26 below 0?

Think with me. If it were 86 degrees we'd be near sweltering, right? And at 60 degrees we've at least got a sweatshirt on, if not a coat, long pants and thinking it's a bit nippy. That's the same difference between Zero and -26!

So are we Midwesterners hardened to the cold, or are we just fool-hardy for living in this....well, I was going to say ice box, but that doesn't do it justice does it? Tonight it is to be a balmy 4 below.

15 January 2009

how Republican are you?

While you might not expect that I was a die-hard republican at one time (the first 24 years of my life), I thought I’d give you a glimpse of HR in all his former conservative glory, I think you'll be amused:

My highschool locker was decked out with republican paraphernalia including pictures of Ronald Reagan and campaign junk of all sorts.

While a senior in highschool I “interviewed” to assist in the GOP candidate’s mayoral campaign for river city.

People thought I was a live version of Alex P. Keaton

I received a request for a donation to the Reagan campaign. I framed it.

My grandfather met with Reagan once and brought back a jelly bean from his desk. I still have the jelly bean.

When Newt and his “contract with America” won a landslide in 92; I likened it to God’s salvation for America.

In architecture studio I constructed a shrine to Ronald Reagan and burned candles and incense in front of a large picture of him.

I assisted in a R congressional campaign when just 19.

I attended the start-up of the young republicans club in river city when 20

I attended the start-up of the young republicans at university

I suggested once to my folk’s employees that they could take off work to vote only if they were going to vote republican. I was 15.

I glared at a democratic congressional candidate when I saw him in a restaurant

I have several of Reagan’s inaugurations and addresses to congress on video tape

I drove around for the longest time with a “don’t blame me, I voted republican” sticker in my car during the Clinton administration (I don’t think I’d take that back though)

I never, ever missed a chance to listen to Rush Limbaugh

I never missed a chance to argue the stupidity of the democrat party

I got choked up at Nixon's funeral

Just a short time ago, during a rant on Mitch, a friend said to me that maybe I was just holding a grudge and I responded by saying maybe I’ve just had my eyes opened.

Praise God I’ve had my eyes opened…..it may have made me a cynic, but rather to be a cynic than be willingly ignorant of the truth. It isn’t about D’s and R’s, but about “we the people” coming together to form “a more perfect union”. To that end no one party has all the right answers. The more important goal should be wrestling away power from the few and allowing the many to govern themselves. What would that look like?

14 January 2009

Mitch Found!!!!

You may have heard the news.....Indiana man goes awol, crashing his plane into a Florida swamp and escaping by motorcycle in order to avoid the dismal mess he had made of things. Well, "here's the rest of the story":

left-where stashed bike was found

I believe the man was actually Mitch Daniels. Yes, to avoid embarrassment over the dismal shape of Indiana's economy and historically high unemployment rate, he piloted a plane and attempted to fake his own death prior to having to give his State of the State speech. Leaving a note behind for his family, it simply said "I got the public to buy the crap I was shoveling last fall, but there's no hiding it now."

Trading in his signature Harley for a flashier red-state model, he tried to avoid capture by telling authorities that it's the local units of government's fault.....ya know, for everything. Meaning to crash into a water hazard at a swanky golf club rather than a swamp was his only sign of remorse until authorities said fuel leaked out of the plane destroying the delicate eco-system. At that he gave his usual "I've pulled something over on them" grin.

The fugitive from public justice was forced to give his State of the State address anyway and in typical Daniel's style, invoked the attitude of superiority by stating that at least we aren't like our neighboring states.

And to that a collective amen was heard from the good citizens of Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Iowa, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Missouri, New York, Minnesota, South Dakota, Kan...

Oh, to be as fortunate as the citizens of Illinois who are impeaching their governor.

10 January 2009

09 January 2009

Cuz, the (sea)horse whisperer

gramps and one of his palominos

My cousin who removed to Sarasota, Florida a few years back has made quite a name for himself in the marine biology field. Cuz was back in Indiana for a brief time after the holidays so we had a good time catching up.

The family has roots in the horse breeding industry; granddad had scads of horses on his farm with a couple of national champion palomino and quarter horse studs: Mr. Town Crier & Jackie Star. The last horse that remained on the farm was his favorite “Presley” an old palomino. My uncle continued in the horse biz, becoming one of the country’s leading horse photographers. (on left at left)

But it was my cuz who continued the breeding operation. After attending Ball State for marine biology, he did a stint at a private zoo in Missouri where he came face to face with towering grizzly that had escaped from its cage. He caught his break in Florida where his focus became breeding seahorses from which he supplies the little water-logged equine to aquariums across the country including Disney World.

But it’s his breeding technique that sets him apart. I figure its a little champagne, lights turned down low with Barry White playing in the background. Evidently seahorses in their natural environment continue to keep appendage-like features, but in aquariums quickly lose it. Cuz has a top secret method that allows them to maintain this and won’t share with anyone making him the subject of magazine and television editorials.

So it may not be like gramp’s operation, but it is impressive. Odd that a Hoosier would end up in Florida achieving recognition for such a seaworthy cause. Congrats!

08 January 2009

Jensen legacy: a natural Indiana

Jens Jensen is to landscape architecture what Frank Lloyd Wright is to architecture of the 20th century, and maybe not surprisingly, since Jensen's turf was the Great Lakes area of the Midwest, several of his landscape designs find a home in Indiana. Jensen was born in Denmark in 1860 and immigrated to the States, settling near Chicago and working for the city's elaborate park system. Jensen was unimpressed, thinking it an unnatural thing, to have straight paths and symmetrical design. In fact, he thought it a downright crime to have vegetation not native to its surroundings included in any landscape plan.

A few years ago I became obsessed with Jensen, reading all of the material he authored and studying his work in the Hoosier state, including his leadership in establishing and protecting the fragile Indiana Dunes ecosystem. Jensen said his work in Indiana was influenced by our large native stands of beech, oak and sycamore and by the delicate sprinkling of redbuds on a wooded hillside and the luminous spring blooms of hawthorn along our fence rows. His work stretched from Indianapolis to Northwest Indiana and even some odd places in between such as Kendalville and Plymouth. He even designed the "Ideal Section" for the Lincoln Highway in Dyer, in hopes that highway design would be more park-like in configuration. Get that one past INDOT today!

a council ring in Wisconsin

Trademarks of his work are meandering paths through natural vegetation and forested areas with glimpses into a central clearing, allowing sun to filter through the trees onto the path. He also used rough, natural slabs of limestone for walls, terracing, fountains and paving stone. Probably his signature work are "council rings" he often placed in the corners of properties. These were stone paved circles partially enclosed with low stone benches; the idea being a place for conversation, heady discussion and laughter. Culver Military Academy has such a place created by Jensen in the 1920's. And as I was doing work in the Crown Point area I checked on two Jensen designs in that city, both with their council rings intact.

a council ring at a residence in Crown Point

Jensen went on to be credited with creating the "prairie style" of landscape architecture, developing his own landscape design school. He also developed a large estate/campus in Door County, Wisconsin, which I had the privilege of visiting in 2004, named "the Clearing" http://www.theclearing.org/ which still exists as a school for furthering the arts in writing, painting, photography, textiles, and woodworking among many others. The old Dane died in 1951 at the age of 91-I can't help but think his constant time in the environment led to that long life.

Hoosiers owe Jensen a debt of gratitude, if not for his celebration of our state's natural beauty in design, certainly for his foresight in protecting our dunes.

07 January 2009

for the Birds

the Christmas Bird Count was relatively uneventful, what with Birdman chickening out due to a little ice. But I promised to report on our feathered friends in our corner of Hoosierdom, so here goes:
Brown Creeper
Bluebird 2
Black Capped Chickadee 2
Crow 3
Tufted Titmouse 3
Cardinal 3
House Sparrow 20
Mourning Dove 7
Red Bellied Woodpecker 2
Downy Woodpecker 2
House Finch 8
Juncos 6
White Breasted Nuthatch 2
Canada Goose 12
Northern Flicker
Starling 6
Goldfinch 4

All seen from the warmth of our living room, near the roaring fire, a block away from downtown river city. The Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up in a few weeks, so there will be more to report. We've been away at Pokagon for a few days, so forgive my blog lethargy. An upcoming story you won't want to miss.......the (sea)horse whisperer.

02 January 2009

the Traveler's Gift

Starting my New Year out right, and trying to fulfill my resolution to read more, I picked up a book at our downtown bookstore December 30th and finished it January 2. It was a choice between three books: Garrison Keiler’s new novel from Lake Wobegon, a reflection of the election by Huckabee and this book, by Andy Andrews-of which I knew nothing, only had recognized the title. What sold me on it? It’s price was closer to the amount of store credit I had from Christmas 07.

It’s a remarkable book really; kind of a historical fiction meets A Christmas Carol. And it really was hard to put down. In the book the traveler, David Ponder, having found himself in utter despair, finds himself hurdled back in time jumping from significant figure to significant figure, such as Lincoln and King Solomon to name a few. With each visit Ponder is given a scroll or note describing a way to “rethink” his position in life assuring success will follow.

I couldn’t help but “ponder” my own lot in life and how some of the scrolls spoke directly to my spirit that if only was applied would release the kind of man I believe we all want to be. This probably was no coincidence that the Traveler’s Gift was the first book I’ve read in this New Year. My only disappointment in the book came in chapter 10 when Ponder’s last voyage was his own future. I found it a little self-serving and would actually recommend you skip that chapter, except that there was one very poignant part. It was the reference to the passage describing how God puts a hedge of protection around us. It is beautifully related to the remainder of the text and reminds us that nothing…..nothing…..can harm us until we have completed the purpose that God has for us in this world.

In Jeremiah God declares “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Now to just live life as if we believe it! I really, highly recommend reading this one.