Friday, January 30, 2009

Paint Sample Valentine's Day Bookmark

These are the Valentine's I am giving to my students this year. I love them - especially the fact that they won't go right into the trash as soon as the kids get home, And that I inadvertently chose the paint sample with the color "hot to trot" smack dab in the middle. Perfect for Valentine's Day, don't you think? If you'd like to make a few, here's what you'll need:

paint samples - one per Valentine (I got mine at Lowe's)
hole punch
heart punch (optional)
corner rounder (optional)
permanent marker
narrow ribbon (mine was 3/8 inch wide)

1. Round the corners of the paint sample using the corner rounder. The samples I got were already the perfect size, so I didn't have to cut them down. If you want smaller bookmarks, you could cut the samples down or even use a different size or style paint sample.

2. Punch a hole in the center of the top of the bookmark, about 1/4 inch down from the edge. I just used a standard size hole punch.

3. Write your message in permanent marker. I went with the book theme, but you could write whatever message you wanted to. I also signed mine after I took the photo. I discovered that water based markers smeared and didn't look nearly as nice as the Sharpie did, so use a permanent marker. If you have a ton of them to make you could print your message on clear address labels and stick them on, or use a white label and stick your message on to the back.

4. Punch a heart into the center of the bottom of the bookmark. If you'd rather, a sticker would look cute here, too. I used the punch I already had to keep my costs down. (All I had to buy was two spools of ribbon for $0.50 each at Jo-Ann's. One spool made about 25 bookmarks.)

5. Cut the ribbon into about 15 inch lengths, or whatever you like for the size of your bookmark. Find the center of the length of ribbon and fold it in half. Thread the looped end through the hole you punched in the top and then bring the two ends up through the loop and tighten. Viola! You've got a lovely Valentine's Day card / bookmark that (hopefully) isn't headed right for the landfill.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ice Bridge

My friends, Mark and Jenny, made a film about winter life on the island and the ice bridge. This is only a two minute taste, but it's well worth the time.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Safety First

My husband suggested that I include a safety warning or two here - just to be safe.

No one should ever venture out onto ice anywhere unless you are aware of the current ice conditions! I never go out there without first checking with someone who has crossed recently (and knows what they are doing.)

Are there piles of pack ice? Not a good thing to come up on at 60 miles per hour (about 95 km/h.) We've had three very serious accidents in the last two years caused by the nasty combination of speed and rough ice. (Two head injuries and another person with 70+ stitches in his face. Thank goodness all three gentlemen survived and have healed with no permanent damage.)

Are there any pressure cracks? Again, not a good thing to discover on your own. They are even worse after the pieces pull apart and leave a foot or two (or more) of open water between the edges. Yes, I have driven over open cracks, but only with a very experienced person guiding the group. Sometimes the edges of the crack push back together and overlap leaving a slushy spot. Is there solid ice under there? You really should know before driving over it. This one isn't my photograph - I've never stopped at a spot like this...

You also need to be aware of the condition of your equipment and be prepared for the weather. I had to go out onto the ice on Saturday to rescue, I mean retrieve an acquaintance and his nine year-old daughter. The borrowed snowmobile they were using broke down half way across, leaving them stranded and not appropriately dressed for the -5 degree temperatures (about -20 C) and 10 mile per hour winds (about 16 km/h.) I got them home safely - and brought a helmet for her so she wouldn't freeze her poor little face. Why someone would take his daughter out on the ice, on a borrowed snowmobile without a helmet, I will never understand...

One last thing: What is the weather forecast? You may get across the ice, but will you be able to get back? If it is supposed to get windy or start to snow, you may want to think twice, or be prepared to wait a day (maybe two) until the weather clears.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


After reading this, you may think I am completely crazy, but I assure you, I was quite rational Thursday when I decided to hop on my snowmobile and drive across three miles of frozen lake, with only about 12 inches of ice between me and 120 feet of frigid water. Yes, that's me in my not-so-fashionable-but-possibly-life-saving helmet, perhaps a mile off shore.

The ice bridge offers us complete freedom - no schedules to follow. You want to leave the island - you just go; no waiting or rushing to catch a boat or a plane. Let me tell you, it is a glorious feeling. I suppose "bridge" is a misleading term. The ice surrounds the island and locks in between here and the mainland. The Coast Guard does keep the freighter channel open, but that is on the other side of the island.

My friends tend to give me grief about those orange things (called "life picks") dangling from my wrists in the picture. They go though your coat sleeves like a child's mittens, but at the end is a metal spike inside a retractable cover. If you go through the ice and end up in the water they say it is difficult to get out because the ice is so smooth - there's nothing get a grip on or to push on with your feet. So if you go through, in theory, you grab on to the spikes, jab them into the ice, and then pull yourself out. Hopefully I'll never need to know how well they actually work.

That's "black ice" I'm standing on there. Not too bad to drive over during daylight, but it is a bit creepy at night. You find yourself saying, "Is there really something solid there?" even though you drove over it two hours ago and it was fine.

I've learned over the years that take-out and the ice bridge tend not to work well together, but for some reason I can't resist the temptation. I always seem to end up walking out of the Chinese place in St. Ignace with food. Can you see my backpack? It is stuffed with Chinese food, all carefully packed into ziplock bags to prevent the impending Chinese explosion due to the bumpy trail. Which will result in my husband's general's chicken contaminating my pad Thai and the kid's sweet and sour sauce staining every inch of the inside of my backpack. Just trust me on that one, O.K. My lucky forethought to throw a box of ziplocks resulted in a contained explosion so the clean-up was minimal. However, I can now attest that Chinese food tastes just as good from a plastic bag as it does from the takeout container.

This is the bird's eye view from the drive home. Can you see the line of trees? Everyone in the area saves their Christmas trees and we use them to mark the ice bridge. You really shouldn't be out there in poor weather, but if something did come up, as long as you could see to the next tree you would be O.K.

So, what do you think? Could you do it?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Toddler Refashion

Now that my daughter is a "big girl" she refuses to wear snap-crotch shirts. "Dose are for babies," she says. Not to mention - she can't go to the bathroom without assistance when she wears one. Well, I couldn't let all those perfectly good turtlenecks and shirts go to waste this winter now could I? So, last night I desnapcrotchafied every last one. I used my rotary cutter to slice off the bottom snap sections and then serged the new edge to finish them off. They may not be beautiful, but I'll settle for wearable. Besides, the bottom hem doesn't show this time of year anyway- it is hidden beneath jumpers and sweaters all day long. It will be our little secret... right?

Does anyone have any good ideas what to do with the leftover snappy bits? I couldn't bear to throw them away.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Island Life: In a Word

Winter can be summed up in one word...

The island is a tourist Mecca during the summer months, but not much is open in the winter. In fact, almost nothing is open. 99% of the hotels, shops, etc. shut down at the end of October.

They'll all reopen in the spring.

From November to April pretty much all that's open is three restaurants / bars, two small hotels, one B&B, one grocery store, one drug store (though this year it is pitifully stocked,) the Medical Center, City Offices, Police Station, School, Airport, Tourism Bureau, and Public Library. We jokingly say that if Doud's (the grocery store) doesn't carry it, you really didn't need it after all. Because you ain't getting it until you get off the island. It isn't such a big deal now days, but 30 years ago there were people who almost never left the island. Now they knew how to stock up!

Speaking of getting off the island, three completely insane, I mean very adventurous guys crossed the ice and drove their snowmobiles to St. Ignace earlier this week. (Three miles over lake Huron.) Rumor has it that there is only about three inches of ice. Yikes! You won't catch me out there out there on a several hundred pound snowmobile...... yet.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

As Requested

Becky over at Whosies asked me if I would be interested in testing one of her new patterns. Her things are pretty cute, so of course I said I would. I had planned on following her pattern exactly, but then my four year-old entered the equation. He found me in my sewing room and asked, "Mama, what are you doing?"

"I'm making a doll." I answered.

"For meeeeeee?" he asked.

"It can be for you," I said, "If you like it." He looked at the photo printed on the pattern.

"Mama, I would really like a Cinderella doll. She would look beeeee - u - tea - full with blond hair, a blue dress, and a crown I can take off." Well, what could I say to that?

So I'd like you to meet Cinderella. Everything I used came from my stash: felt, fabric, ribbon, lace, etc. The lace is amazing! A few years ago a friend of mine came to visit with a couple of her friends who were interior decorators. They brought my a bunch of old wallpaper sample books and several little bolts of that vintage lacy stuff. It has been quite handy to have around for little projects like this.

I love this doll pattern. She stands up beautifully. I might have to make a "Bowling for Princesses" game next. Report cards come out soon so I'll have to see how the time goes...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Toilet Humor

photo by Flickr's mypapercrane

Sunday I said something that I never ever thought I would say...

I walked up the stairs, turned the corner and saw my son in the bathroom. Before I knew it, I was yelling, "Get your head out of the toilet!"

He pulled his dripping little blond head out of the toilet bowl, smiled at me and said in his best I-know-what-I'm-doing voice, "But Mama, it's clean! I flushed it first." Then, I heard my 2 1/2 year-old daughter come back into the bathroom. When I saw her noggin was just as wet, I had to walk away - shaking my head, trying not to bust out laughing and feeling pretty darn thankful I had scrubbed that particular toilet an hour earlier. Needless to say, bath time came early to my house this weekend.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Island Life: Winter Transportation

By now you all know that we can't have cars on the island and most hauling is done with "horse power." Lots of people have asked me whether or not we own a car, and if we do - what do we do with it. Our car (a minivan actually) stays on the mainland, patiently awaiting our next visit. During the summer it is parked at the boat dock, but this time of year it gets moved up to the airport. Parking is cheap - about $40.00 for the nine months the boats run (April - January) and then free for the months we fly or cross the ice.

Since we can't drive cars we ride bikes when we can, but this time of year that is pretty much impossible (though not for T.) Luckily, since the early 1970s snowmobiles have been legal on the island. The city ordnance says that "ski steered track driven" vehicles are legal from November 15th to April 15th - so that way no one can try to find a way to drive one in the summer. If we get good snow before that, the mayor just steps out onto her porch, declares that it is now legal to ride and off we go. Winter is the only time of year we can go anywhere fast. And when I say fast I mean at a top legal speed of 20 miles per hour (about about 30 km.)

My morning commute looks something like this:

At about 7:45 the kids and I hop on the machine...

...stash our backpacks in the "trunk"...

...pick up some friends at about 7:50
(they have to ride in the caboose)...

...and arrive at school at about 8:00.
(What do you think of my parking spot?)

We try not to go out riding just for fun very often given the price of gas on the island. Can you read the sign on the pump?

If not, here's a close up...

Yup, that means gas is $5.00 per gallon. Ouch! Thank goodness snowmobiles get good mileage.

Most of the kids who drive to school park up here instead of down by the water where I do. Kids in Michigan can get a snowmobile driver's license at 12 - provided they pass the state mandated safety course. It is kind of a nice rite of passage for them. One of my students went out for a midnight ride on Wednesday night - at the exact moment she could legally drive by herself. Sounds like a fun way to start your birthday if you ask me. I'm going to have to remember that one for when my little ones turn 12.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend. We plan to spend some time outside tomorrow since it's suppose to be bitter cold in these parts next week. The high on Monday is supposed to be six degrees (about -14 C.) We try not to be outside any more than we have to on days like that. Stay warm...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Island Life: Stocking Up For Winter

In my last post I talked about people stocking up for winter and it got me thinking - did I stock up enough? That cart is full of stuff I brought home back in September. I'm kind of a planner (my husband would say worrier) so I start stocking up early. All summer long I buy a few extra things on each shopping trip, so by the time the boats stop in January, I'm prepared.

Just take a look at my pantry in the basement. OK, I have to be honest, we don't really call it "the pantry," it is more often referred to as "the Hell Hole," but we've been working cleaning and neatening to make it a bit less Hellish...

Between the Hell Hole, the closets in my bathrooms, and the laundry room I have the following items on hand; this does not include the open items we are currently using. Also, I usually use off brand products, but it's just easier to refer to things by the name brand here.

10 boxes of cereal
2 cases of paper towels
1 case baby wipes (8 refill packs)
5 tubs of Oxyclean
3 bottles of Formula 409 (spray cleaner)
4 boxes of tall kitchen garbage bags
90 island garbage bags (the ones required by the city)
2 cases of Pull-Up type diapers
4 boxes of Ziplock bags
2 rolls of aluminum foil
2 rolls of Saran Wrap
2 bottles of Woolite
8 laundry detergents
4 tubs of cat litter
5 boxes of dishwasher detergent
2 boxes of Bounce
12 boxes of Kleenex
2 refills for the Diaper Genie
3 bottles of bleach (1 regular and 2 for for colors)
About 20 light bulbs
2 big Softsoap refills
2 bottles of body wash
8 bars of soap
2 bottles of No More Tangles spray
1 box of tampons
2 boxes of pads
2 boxes of Q-tips
2 bags of cotton balls
2 hairsprays
2 giant bottles of Listerine mouthwash
2 bottles of face wash
3 boxes of Theraflu (cold medicine)
2 jars of kid's vitamins
3 bottles of rubbing alcohol
2 bottles of Pedialyte
7 deodorants
5 tubes of toothpaste (3 adult, 2 fluoride-free)
6 bottles of shampoo
3 bottles of conditioner
6 pumper bottles of Bath & Body Works hand soap
1 gallons of Tilex Fresh Shower
2 quarts of Windex
2 replacement shower curtain liners (It is so much easier to replace these at $1.00 each than to clean them!)
4 Thermacare Heat Wraps (for your back)
3 bags of cough drops
1 pregnancy test
25 rolls of toilet paper (I'll need to get more)
4 big containers of oatmeal (2 regular 2 quick cook)
2 boxes of microwave popcorn
4 cases of soda
3 50 pound bags of dog food
3 25 pound bags of cat food
4 bottles of dry gas
2 gallons of snowmobile oil

That list doesn't even include the food and supplies that I keep in the kitchen or in the freezer downstairs. Pretty much I have two or three of everything - in the way of food. That way use a couple and still have one left when I go shopping and can get more before I run out. Because, who knows, it may be a month before I get to the grocery store again. I am so glad I have a basement. I don't know what I would do with out it.

Now, in theory, I'll use up most of this stuff before the boats start running again in April. I stock up partially because I don't want to run out of anything but also because while hauling groceries on the boat is free, the airplane charges. Depending on what you bring over they charge either by the box or by the pound. Even at just $2.50 per box it adds another $10.00 to the grocery bill. And since I have to pay $50.00 for the round-trip plane ticket, shopping as infrequently as possible is a good thing.

Now I can also shop from my living room if I want to. The grocery store in St. Ignace (the city on the Southern most tip of Michigan's upper peninsula) does something really nice for the island people. They'll let us fax a grocery list to the store, and as long as I am willing to keep my credit card number on file with them, they will shop for me, box up the order, and deliver it to the airport for only $10.00. Which is great sometimes, but there are other times where you just want to get off of the island for a day or two or you have a dentist appointment and it is just easier to shop for yourself.

Which reminds me - when I fly off the island next week I'm going to have to find a ride - my car is still parked down at the boat dock. More about my car next time...

Monday, January 5, 2009

Ask and You Shall Receive

I didn't realize just how curious people were about island life until my last post. So, over the next few weeks I'll do my best to demystify it, but first let me answer a few questions.

1. Have you lived on the island your entire life?

No. I was born and raised in suburban Detroit. I first came to the island as a Governor's Honor Guard with my Girl Scout troop in eighth grade. I spent a week on the island every summer standing duty, raising and lowering flags, and doing service projects - just like Gerald Ford (he came when he was an Eagle Scout.) Then I worked at the island's fort to help pay my way through college. After I graduated, I moved on to the island permanently and began teaching. That was 16 years ago. It doesn't seem like it has been that long...

photo by Flickr's Mackinac Island

2. How do you get mail and ups?

Mail and UPS come over on the ferry boat as long as it runs. When the boats quit for the winter (usually in early January) the mail comes over via the plane. The plane brings everything over to the island until the boats start up again in the spring (usually in mid-April.) UPS is delivered via horse-drawn dray, but we have to go to the Post Office to pick up the mail.

3. Do you take the little plane during the winter to go shopping?

Yes. Paul can carry five passengers in the plane, but often he removes some of the back seats so he can carry more freight.

4. How often to you head back to the mainland? Is is really expensive, or not so bad??

During most winters I leave the island once a month to get groceries. This winter I will be going off every other weekend so I can visit with my 88 year-old grandmother who lives about an hour south of here. I'll fly off as weather permits until the ice freezes. Then I'll drive across the straits on my snowmobile. When I go across I take a lot of stuff with me: tubs and coolers to pack groceries in and soda cans to return. (Michigan has a bottle return law.) The tubs are labeled with my name so I can just leave them at the airport and the dray knows where to deliver them.

This year, a round trip plane ticket is $50.00. Kids are a half fare - unless they sit on your lap, then they're free. We've never paid to take the dog across and she's twice as big as my son. She usually sits on the floor of the plane between my husband's legs.

5. Do they have heat in those wee planes??

Yes, but we're only in the plane for about five minutes so it really doesn't matter. The flight only takes us four miles, so it is really quick. (My mom says if you blink, you'll miss it. )There are heated terminals on each side so we can wait for the plane where it is warm.


I've asked Paul several times if he'll let me fly the plane, but for some reason he always says no. I wonder why... Oh yeah, guess I need a license.

7. How do you manage?

We stock up! My basement and closets are well stocked for the winter. I try to keep two or three extras of just about everything: toiletries, cleaning supplies, paper products, diapers, and food. We keep lots of non-perishables food items on hand and freeze what we can in our basement freezer. With two little ones, keeping fresh fruits, veggies, and milk is my biggest challenge.

We can buy things at one of the two stores on the island, but they are quite pricey. I bought a gallon of milk last week for $4.25 - compared to $2.39 at Wal-Mart. I do shop a bit at the island stores, partially because I appreciate the fact they stay open all winter when they really don't have to.

photo by Flickr's jasonthenino

As I get time in the next few weeks I will try to write more about island life. If you're curious about anything or have questions, let me know and I'll do my best. I know what you're thinking - you don't think you could do it. But you could - especially if you knew how amazing it was to live here. Stick around and you will...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Last Boat

As of today, at 4:30 PM, ferry service to and from the island is done for the season. Too much ice...
As you can see, lots of people tried to stock up on supplies for the winter. But don't worry, I'm not completely cut off from the outside world...

I just have to take this...