Nov/Dec TEC

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November/December 2021


COUNTRY LINES Thumb Electric Cooperative

O CH RISTMAS TREE New Bill Design Gives Enhanced Information

TEC Fiber Update Youth Tour Scholarship Winners

Michigan’s Unsuspecting Big Business


Not hearing is believing.

WaterFurnace doesn’t think you should hear your furnace and A/C more than you feel its heat and air. You know when a traditional HVAC system is on. Stop and listen. Is the burner turning on? Are the blower and fan running? Is air blasting through your vents? With geothermal, those tell-tale signs are eliminated, because sound from the system is barely noticeable. As a result, you get comfortable, consistent heating and cooling—and none of the noise. With WaterFurnace, silence is golden. Geothermal is the only renewable that provides reliable operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Contact Your Local WaterFurnace Dealer Bad Axe/Cass City Thumb Clg & Htg (855) 206-5457 thumbcooling Berrien Springs WaterFurnace Michiana (269) 473-5667 gogreenmich Big Rapids Stratz Htg & Clg, Inc. (231) 796-3717

Clifford Orton Refrig & Htg (989) 761-7691 Hart Adams Htg & Clg (231) 873-2665 Indian River M & M Plmb & Htg (231) 238-7201

Mancelona Top Notch Htg, Clg, & Geothermal (231) 350-8052 Michigan Center Comfort 1/Aire Serv of Southern Michigan (517) 764-1500 southern-michigan Mt Pleasant Walton Htg & Clg (989) 772-4822

Muskegon Adams Htg & Clg (231) 873-2665

Traverse City D & W Mechanical (231) 941-1215

Portland ESI Htg & Clg (517) 647-6906

Geofurnace Htg & Clg (231) 943-1000

Sunfield Mark Woodman Plmb & Htg (517) 886-1138

visit us at

The Reliable Renewable is a trademark of WaterFurnace International, Inc.

Contents Michigan’s Electric Cooperatives

November/December 2021 Vol. 41, No. 10


EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Casey Clark EDITOR: Christine Dorr GRAPHIC DESIGNER: Karreen Bird RECIPE EDITOR: Christin McKamey COPY EDITOR: Yvette Pecha CONTRIBUTING EDITOR: Emily Haines Lloyd PUBLISHER: Michigan Electric Cooperative Association


6 ENERGY ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS Help is available for Michiganders struggling to pay their energy bills. 10 MI CO-OP KITCHEN Pressure Cooking: Turn the menu planning pressure off with these delicious Instant Pot meals.

Michigan Country Lines, USPS-591-710, is published monthly, except August and December, with periodicals postage paid at Lansing, Mich., and additional offices. It is the official publication of the Michigan Electric Cooperative Association, 201 Townsend St., Suite 900, Lansing, MI 48933. Subscriptions are authorized for members of Alger Delta, Cherryland, Great Lakes, HomeWorks Tri-County, Midwest Energy & Communications, Ontonagon, Presque Isle, and Thumb electric cooperatives by their boards of directors.

14 O CHRISTMAS TREE Behind the scenes at Michigan Christmas tree farms: The year-round business of producing a seasonal staple.

Postmaster: Send all UAA to CFS.

Association Officers: Robert Kran, Great Lakes Energy, chairman; Tony Anderson, Cherryland Electric Cooperative, vice chairman; Eric Baker, Wolverine Power Cooperative, secretary-treasurer; Craig Borr, president and CEO.

18 GUEST COLUMN More Than Just a Sports Jersey: How one Alger Delta member's effort and patience helped create a moment he'll never forget.

CONTACT US/LETTERS TO EDITOR: Michigan Country Lines 201 Townsend St., Suite 900 Lansing, MI 48933 248-534-7358

CHANGE OF ADDRESS: Please notify your electric cooperative. See page 4 for contact information.

The appearance of advertising does not constitute an endorsement of the products or services advertised.

Be featured!

Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation

(Required by U.S.C. 3685) 1. Publication: Michigan Country Lines. 2. Publication No.: 591-710. 3. Filing date: 10/1/21. 4. Issue frequency: monthly, except Aug. and Dec. 5. No. of issues published annually: 10. 6. Complete mailing address of office of publication: Michigan Electric Cooperative Association, 201 Townsend St., Ste. 900, Lansing, MI 48933. 7. Complete mailing address of headquarters of publisher: 201 Townsend St., Ste. 900, Lansing, MI 48933. 8. Full names and complete mailing address of publisher, editors, and executive editor: Craig Borr, Christine Dorr, Casey Clark, 201 Townsend St., Ste. 900, Lansing, MI 48933. 9. Owner: Michigan Electric Cooperative Assoc., 201 Townsend St., Ste. 900, Lansing, MI 48933. 10. Known bondholders, mortgagees, and other security holders owning or holding 1% or more of total amount of bonds, mortgages, or other securities: None. 11. Tax status: has not been changed. 12. Issue date for circulation data: Sept. 2021. 13. Extent and nature of circulation: Avg # of copies Actual # of copies of single issues each issue during preceding 12 mo. published nearest to filing date A) B) C) D) E) F) G) H) I)

Total No. of copies................................. 243,264 ...................... 243,312 Paid and requested circulation ............ 243,264 ...................... 242,882 Total paid and requested circulation ... 243,264 ...................... 242,882 1) Free distribution by mail.......................... 160 .............................. 160 2) Free distribution outside mail ................. 809 .............................. 887 Total free distribution ................................... 969 ...........................1,047 Total distribution................................... 244,233 ...................... 244,359 Copies not distributed.......................................0 ...................................0 Total ....................................................... 244,233 ...................... 244,359 Percent paid and/or requested circ............. 98.7 .......................... 99.7%

16. Publication of statement of ownership: November 2021 17. Signature and title of editor: Christine Dorr, editor

Use #micoopcommunity for a chance to be featured here and on our Instagram account.


Autumn leaves are proof that change can be beautiful. Hanna Wescott

MI CO-OP COMMUNITY To enter contests, submit reader content & more, visit

RECIPE CONTEST Win a $50 bill credit!

Up Next: Sweet Treats, due Dec. 1; Italian, due Jan. 1 Submit your recipe at, or send it via email (include your full name and co-op) to

GUEST COLUMN Win $150 for stories published!

Submit your fondest memories and stories at community.

MYSTERY PHOTO Win a $50 bill credit!

Enter a drawing to identify the correct location of the photo. See page 18.



TEC Fiber Update /thumbelectric @thumbelectric

THUMB ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE 2231 Main Street Ubly, MI 48475-0157 1-800-327-0166 or 989-658-8571 E-mail:

BOARD OF DIRECTORS HURON COUNTY Randall Dhyse, Treasurer District 1 • 989-551-6533 Craig Osentoski, Director District 2 • 989-658-8512

Beth McDonald, Secretary District 3 • 989-550-7470 SANILAC COUNTY Kim Nunn, Vice President District 1 • 810-679-4291 Mike Briolat, Director District 2 • 989-284-3405

Duane Kursinsky, Director District 3 • 810-837-3828 TUSCOLA COUNTY Louis Wenzlaff, Director District 1 • 989-683-2696

Jonathan Findlay, President District 2 • 989-551-8393 Matt Sommer, Director District 3 • 248-444-0496

Dallas Braun, General Manager


Dallas Braun, General Manager

humb Electric Cooperative (TEC) has been diligently preparing to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) internet to the Thumb Area. TEC members have been patiently waiting for highspeed internet since the plan to offer fiber was first announced, and are eager for an update on the progress of the fiber project. Here is what has been happening with the fiber project and what members can expect in the near future:


• Fiber contractors will start later this fall. They will be working on the mainline fiber build-out in the Kingston substation areas. Additionally, customer hookups are expected to begin by the first of next year. • Look for an interactive mapping tool coming soon to the TEC website ( The mapping will allow members and nonmembers to view the state of the fiber project more transparently. They will be able to find their address, determine the construction status, and see when they are able to sign up for service. • The National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) contractors are still on-site. They are continuing to gather data for the design of the project.

• Fiber internet packages and pricing for the packages will be finalized soon. Keep checking the TEC website, Facebook, Instagram, and Country Lines issues for updates. • For members, the installation in most cases will follow the electric path into your home. The fiber installation process is expected to follow one of three different forms. - Overhead on utility poles, and overhead into your home, if your current electric path is such. - Overhead on utility poles, and underground to your home, if your current electric path is such. - For nonmember DTE customers, in most cases, the installation will be 100% underground, as TEC has no poles present in most areas. There are, however, some places where TEC and DTE services are intermingled, so there could be some exceptions. For more information on FTTH, please visit TEC’s website, Facebook, Instagram, and Country Lines issues. Updates will be provided as soon as they are available.

Huron County Bad Axe—Northstar Bank Pigeon—Northstar Bank Tuscola County Akron—Northstar Bank Caro—Northstar Bank Mayville—Mayville State Bank Millington—Mayville State Bank Sanilac County Sandusky—Northstar Bank Thumb Electric Cooperative is an equal opportunity provider and employer.



Happy Holidays

Thumb Electric’s office will be closed to celebrate the following holidays: Thanksgiving: Thursday, Nov. 25 & Friday, Nov. 26 Christmas: Thursday, Dec. 23 & Friday, Dec. 24 New Year’s Holidays: Thursday, Dec. 30 & Friday, Dec. 31



If you experience an outage during these times, please call 800-327-0166 to report it, or use your smartphone or computer with our SmartHub app.

New Director Spotlight

Annual Election Notice For TEC Members

Matt Sommer, Director, Tuscola County District 3

Upon recommendation by the Director Search and Selection Committee, Matt was appointed by the TEC Board at the October board meeting to fill the vacant seat. Matt Sommer is proud to be back in the Thumb. He grew up in Reese and now resides in Millington with his wife and four children. He started his career in information technology as a network analyst at Saginaw Valley State University while he pursued his master’s degree there in tandem. That led the way to a multifaceted career, including posts at organizations like ADC Telecommunications and Norfolk Southern Railways in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2010, he moved into technology sales as a consulting systems engineer at Cisco Systems, covering the Southwest, and later the Chicago area. He currently is a collaboration technical solutions architect with Cisco, where he covers Michigan and the greater Midwest region to provide organizations with collaboration solutions like Webex, video conferencing, and enterprise telephony systems. Ever the innovator, Matt has won multiple awards for innovation at Cisco and has patents pending. Over the years, Matt has served as president of his church council and head elder. Prior to his move to Millington, Matt and his family lived in Brighton, Michigan, for six years, where he sat on the school leadership team at the school his three youngest children attended. Matt and his wife, Laura, adopted their eldest daughter in 2019, following two years of welcoming foster children into their home. Matt enjoys reading, making electronic music, hiking, fishing, and many projects that keep him busy on his 52 acres of Tuscola County paradise. Matt is honored to be selected and excited to begin his new role.

New Employee Spotlight Len Nowicki III was recently hired as TEC’s new warehouse clerk. He is the son of Len and Deb Nowicki. He has a brother named Zach, and his girlfriend is Nicole Alexander. Len comes to TEC from Ferrellgas in Bad Axe. In his free time, Len enjoys playing basketball and baseball, and traveling through Northern Michigan.

JUNE 2022

In March 2022, a nominating committee of nine Thumb Electric Cooperative members will meet to select a slate of candidates for one director position for District 1 in Huron, Sanilac, and Tuscola counties, as well as one director for District 3 of Tuscola. Members served by the cooperative will have an opportunity to vote for positions in each county. The official election results will be announced at the 2022 Annual Meeting on June 11. The District 1 director positions are currently held by Randall Dhyse, Kim Nunn, and Louis Wenzlaff. The Tuscola District 3 position is held by Matt Sommer. Any co-op member interested in running for a district director position should write a letter to the Thumb Electric nominating committee chairperson prior to Feb. 14, 2022, indicating his or her interest in being nominated. The committee will review the prospective nominee’s qualifications to determine whether he or she meets bylaw requirements and whether he or she should be placed on the ballot. If you would like more information, please contact the co-op’s general manager, Dallas Braun, at 800-327-0166 or 989-658-8571.



Energy Assistance Programs 2021-2022 Season Winter Protection Plan

Earned Income Credit

Contact: Your Local Utility Company

Contact: • U.S. Treasury Dept., Internal Revenue Service, • Michigan Dept. of Treasury,

Income Guidelines 2021–2022 # in Household 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable federal income tax credit for lowincome working individuals and families who meet certain requirements and file a tax return. Those who qualify will owe less in taxes and may get a refund. Even a person who does not generally owe income tax may qualify for the EITC, but must file a tax return to do so. If married, you must file jointly to qualify. File Form 1040 or 1040A and attach the EITC.

150% Poverty Guide Maximum Income $19,320 26,130 32,940 39,750 46,560 53,370 60,180 66,990

You may claim a Michigan earned income tax credit for tax year 2020 equal to a percentage of the federal earned income tax credit for which you are eligible.

State Emergency Relief Program (SER)

Add $6,810 for each additional member.

The Winter Protection Plan (WPP) protects enrolled seniors and low-income customers from service shut-offs and high utility bill payments during the winter months. If you are eligible, your utility service will remain on (or restored with the WPP) from Nov. 1 through March 31, if you: • pay at least 7% of your estimated annual bill each month, and • make equal monthly payments between the date you apply and the start of the next heating season on any past due bills. When the protection period ends (March 31), you must begin to pay the full monthly bill, plus part of the amount you owe from the winter months when you did not pay the full bill. Participation does not relieve customers from the responsibility of paying for electricity and natural gas usage, but does prevent shut-off during winter months. You qualify for the plan if you meet at least one of the following requirements: • are age 65 or older, • receive Dept. of Health and Human Services cash assistance, including SSI, • receive Food Assistance, • receive Medicaid, or • household income is at or below the 150% of poverty level shown in the Income Guidelines chart above. Senior citizen customers who participate in the WPP are not required to make specific payments to ensure that their service will not be shut off between Nov. 1 and March 31. Service for seniors can be restored without any payments. Note: All customers 65+ are eligible regardless of income. Customers are responsible for all electricity and natural gas used. At the end of the protection period, participants must make arrangements with their utility company to pay off any money owed before the next heating season.

Home Heating Credit

0–1 2 3

Max. Income

$14,168 19,162 24,156

# Exemp.

4 5 6

Add $4,994 for each exemption over 6.

Max. Income

$29,150 34,144 39,138

You can apply for a Home Heating Credit for the 2021 tax year if you meet the income guidelines listed above (110% of poverty level) or you qualify based on alternate guidelines including household income, exemptions, and heating costs. Additional exemptions are available for seniors, disabled claimants, or claimants with 5% or more of their income from unemployment compensation. If you qualify, you may receive assistance to help pay for your winter heating bills. Forms are available mid-to-late January wherever tax forms are provided or from the Michigan Dept. of Treasury (517-636-4486 or The Home Heating Credit claim form must be filed with the Michigan Dept. of Treasury no later than Sept. 30 each year.



You do not have to be a DHHS client to apply for help with a past due bill, shut-off notice, or the need for deliverable fuel through the SER. This program, available Nov. 1–May 31, provides most of its utility assistance during this crisis season. However, limited assistance is available outside the crisis season. If you receive a DHHS cash grant, you may use part of it toward heat and electric bills. Apply online using MI Bridges:

Low-Income Weatherization Assistance Program Contact: Local Community Action Agency You may be able to receive help with weatherizing your home to reduce energy use if you meet low-income eligibility guidelines (200% of poverty guidelines) or if you participate in the Dept. of Health and Human Services Family Independence Program or receive SSI. Weatherization may include caulking, weatherstripping, and insulation. Contact your local Community Action Agency for details. Visit to find one in your area.

United Way Contact: Call 2-1-1 or 2-1-1 is a free phone service operating 24 hours daily to provide information about help that may be available in a particular area with utilities and other needs. Dial 2-1-1 or visit to find available services.

Medical Emergency Protection

Contact: Michigan Dept. of Treasury # Exemp.

Contact: Local Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS),

Contact: Local Utility Company You are protected from service shut-off for nonpayment of your natural gas and/ or electric bill for up to 21 days, possibly extending to 63 days, if you have a proven medical emergency. You must provide written proof from a doctor or a public health or social services official that a medical condition exists. Contact your gas or electric utility for details.

Shut-off Protection For Military Active Duty Contact: Local Utility Company If you or your spouse has been called into active military duty, you may apply for shut-off protection from your electric or natural gas service for up to 90 days. You may request extensions. You must still pay, but contact your utility company and they will help you set up a payment plan.

Michigan Veterans Trust Fund Emergency Grant Program

COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA)

Contact: MI Veterans Trust Fund

Administering Agency: Michigan State Housing Development Authority at

The Trust Fund provides temporary assistance to veterans and their families facing a financial emergency or hardship, including the need for energy assistance. Contact the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund at 800-642-4838 or

MI Energy Assistance Program Contact: Utility or 2-1-1 in late November The Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP) includes services that will enable participants to become self-sufficient, including assisting participants in paying their energy bills on time, budgeting for and contributing to their ability to provide for energy expenses, and being energy efficient. Shut-off protection is provided Nov. 1–April 15 for all residential customers. The MEAP is supported by the state’s Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund (LIEAF). An electric utility that chooses not to collect for the LIEAF shall not shut off service to customers for nonpayment between Nov. 1 and April 15. For a list of electric providers that opt out of collecting the LIEAF, go to

In addition to rental assistance, CERA provides heat, electric, deliverable fuels, water, sewer, and broadband assistance to applicants who must demonstrate COVID hardship. Some examples of accepted hardships are on the website, including qualified for unemployment benefits or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or has experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the coronavirus outbreak; and can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability evidenced by a past due utility or rent notice. • Eligibility is 80% Area Median Income • Utility caps can range from $1,500 to $2,300 with $300–$500 for credits going forward, depending on family size • Up to 12 months of rental assistance • Broadband benefit • Online app portal and delivered through agencies (such as Community Action Agencies)

Dial 2-1-1 for more information on heating and other human services programs. As connected devices become increasingly popular, it’s important that we know how to secure our digital lives. The U.S. Department of Commerce offers the following tips for protecting smart devices:

Get creative with passwords.

Change your device’s factory security settings from the default password. This is one of the most important steps to take in the protection of internet-connected devices. Consider creating the longest password or passphrase permissible, and use familiar phrases you’ll remember, like the lyrics to your favorite song.

Keep tabs on your apps.

Security Tips For Connected Devices Today’s market offers a plethora of new gadgets and devices that claim to make our homes smarter, safer, and more efficient. But as with any new smart technology, consumers should take extra precautions to ensure these devices are secure. Convenient, connected devices are here to stay—and unfortunately, so are the hackers. But by taking extra steps to safeguard your network and devices, you can keep your digital life as secure as possible.

Most connected devices are supported by a smartphone application. Your smartphone could be filled with apps running in the background or using default permissions you never realized you approved, gathering personal information without your knowledge while also putting your identity and privacy at risk. Check your app permissions and say “no” to privilege requests that don’t make sense.

Secure your network.

Properly secure the wireless network you use for internet-connected devices. Consider placing these devices on a separate and dedicated network.

Connect and protect.

Whether it’s your computer, smartphone, game console, camera, or other connected devices, the best defense is to stay on top of things by updating to the latest security software, web browser, and operating system. If you have the option to enable automatic updates to defend against the latest risks, turn it on. MICHIGAN COUNTRY LINES



Electrical Concerns

Wires can become brittle. They might be bending in the cold, so you could have exposed copper or broken sockets. If you have frayed wires, throw the lights away. Be sure to check your wires for breaks and cracks in the insulation that can lead to shorts. Remember to keep a safe distance from your overhead electric service. Do not overload circuits by stringing more light sets together than the manufacturer recommends—check the packaging for details.

Outdoor Holiday Lighting Tips Nothing gets you in the holiday spirit quite like decking the halls. Be sure to follow these tips and safety precautions to ensure that your Christmas decorating will be a huge success.


Practice Caution On Rooftops Or Elevated Areas

Inspect your ladder and make sure it is stable and in good condition. Make sure you ground the ladder on a solid, flat surface. Don’t work alone. Have someone assist you with the decorating who can provide any needed support or stabilization that you need. If the roof is too steep or high, don’t risk having an accident by overreaching. Hire a professional instead.

Never mount or support light strings in a way that may damage the cord’s insulation.


Invest In Energy-Efficient LED Lights

Make sure the lights that you use are rated for indoor and outdoor use or specifically outdoor.

LEDs will last for many years and have no filaments to burn out. Given the modest number of hours of operation, you can expect LEDs to last seven or more years. LED lights are more energy efficient and require less wattage than incandescent bulbs. A reasonable estimate of power consumption is 7 watts per 100 lights. How does that compare to the old incandescent? Each of those bulbs used 12 watts, so a string of 100 devoured 1,200 watts. Invest in timers to turn the lights on and off automatically. Alternatively, invest in a smart plug that allows you to program and control your lights from your smartphone.


Take Lights Down At The End Of The Season

The daily exposure to the weather over a period of time can cause damage to the wires, lights, and sockets.

AVOID UTILITY SCAMS Scammers will threaten you with everything from shutting off power to your home to legal action. Don't fall victim to these types of scams.

• Our employees will never show up at your door to demand payment. • Never give personal information to an unknown caller or visitor. Our representatives have access to the details they need to service your account. • Demands for immediate payment by wire transfer, cryptocurrency, gift cards, or cash reload cards should immediately raise red flags. • If you think you’ve been contacted by a scammer falsely representing the co-op, please let us know as soon as possible.


1. Frankenmuth family tradition. Joette Klein  2. Even horses love Santa! Clor Brenda  3. Seeing is “believing”! SueAnn Hanes



1 Enter for a chance to win a


energy bill credit!


Submit Your “Fire and Ice” Photos by Nov. 20 for the January 2022 issue!

Submit your best photo and encourage your friends to vote! The photo receiving the most votes will be printed in an issue of Country Lines along with some of our other favorites.

Enter Your Photos And Win A Bill Credit!

To enter the contest, visit Enter your picture, cast your vote, and encourage others to vote for you as well. If your photo is printed in Country Lines during 2022, you will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win one of four $50 credits on your December 2022 bill.



MI CO-OP Recipes

Photos by Robert Bruce Photography || Recipes Submitted by MCL Readers and Tested by Recipe Editor Christin McKamey

PRESSURE COOKING Get food on the table fast.


INSTANT POT LASAGNA SOUP Theresa Pacel, Cherryland

1 1 3–4 1 1 2 1 1 ½ 4 • 1–2 ½

pound ground beef cup diced onion cloves garlic, minced cup chicken broth (24-ounce) jar marinara sauce (Old World Victoria is my favorite) cups water teaspoon dried basil teaspoon dried oregano teaspoon dried thyme uncooked lasagna noodles, broken into small pieces salt, to taste teaspoons sugar, or to taste; start with less and add more if needed cup heavy cream

Cheese Mixture: 1 cup ricotta 1 cup shredded mozzarella ½ cup shredded (not grated) parmesan 1 teaspoon dried parsley



energy bill credit!

Sweet Treats due Dec. 1 • Italian due Jan. 1 Submit your favorite recipe for a chance to win a $50 bill credit and have your recipe featured in Country Lines with a photo and a video. Submit your recipe at, or send it via email (include your full name and co-op) to


Set the Instant Pot/pressure cooker (6 quart or bigger) to the “Sauté” setting on low and cook ground beef and onion until almost done. Add minced garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Turn off and drain well. Return to pot and add broth, marinara sauce, water, dried herbs, and broken noodles. Lock lid and set to “Sealing.” Cook on high pressure (on “Manual” or “Pressure Cook” setting) for 8 minutes, then do quick release. Remove lid and let simmer/warm for 10 to 15 minutes or until lasagna noodles are cooked through. Then add salt and sugar. Mix the 3 kinds of cheese together with the parsley and dollop into soup, stirring until mixed well. Add heavy cream and mix well. Taste again for salt and sugar. Serve! Watch a video of this month’s winning recipe at

INSTANT POT EASY PULLED PORK Victoria Nelson, Great Lakes Energy

1 pork shoulder (about 4.3 pounds) 2 tablespoons olive oil

Dry Rub: 2 tablespoons brown sugar 2 teaspoons chili powder 2 teaspoons black pepper 1 teaspoon garlic powder 1 teaspoon onion powder 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon kosher salt ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

BBQ Sauce: 1½ cups water 28 ounces Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce (use only ½ the bottle)

Cut pork shoulder into large pieces (about 6 parts). Make the dry rub and rub well into both sides of the meat. Set the Instant Pot to “Sauté” and add the oil. Add meat to brown all sides (about 3 minutes per side). Mix 1½ cups of water with ½ bottle of BBQ sauce. Once all meat has been browned, remove meat from Instant Pot. Add mixture of water and BBQ sauce to Instant Pot to deglaze bottom of pot. Add pork back into pot. Lock lid and set to “Sealing.” Choose the “Manual” setting and set to 60 minutes. Wait for pressure to build (you should see the pressure pin pop up after a few minutes). After 60 minutes of pressure cooking, carefully release pressure to “Venting.” Use forks or tongs to pull apart the pork; it should be super tender and fall apart. Serve on sandwiches or eat as is.


1 teaspoon olive oil ½ cup chopped onions (white or yellow) 3–4 garlic cloves, minced 2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks 2 green Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored, sliced into chunks 3 cups broth (vegetable or chicken) 1 (13.5-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk 1 teaspoon honey • salt and pepper, to taste ½ teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon curry powder

INSTANT POT MINESTRONE SOUP Laura Campbell, HomeWorks Tri-County 2 3 1 2 2 1½ 1 ½ 6 1 1 1 1 1 1

tablespoons olive oil cloves garlic, minced yellow onion, diced carrots, peeled and diced stalks celery, diced teaspoons dried basil teaspoon dried oregano teaspoon fennel seed cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes (16-ounce) can cannellini or kidney beans, drained and rinsed zucchini, chopped (3-inch) parmesan rind bay leaf bunch kale, stems removed and leaves chopped

Set the Instant Pot to the “Sauté” setting and add the oil and onions. When translucent and fragrant, add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add in the squash, green apples, broth, coconut milk, honey, salt/pepper, cinnamon, and curry powder. Stir; set the pressure cooker to “Manual” or “Pressure Cook” mode and cook for 15 minutes. When the pot indicates it has finished, quick release the steam. Open the pot and, using an immersion blender, very carefully blend until creamy. You can also transfer to a highpowered blender. Stovetop Instructions: Add oil and onions to a large pot or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Sauté until fragrant and translucent; add garlic. Add the squash, green apples, broth, coconut milk, honey, salt/pepper, cinnamon, and curry powder. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender or high-powered blender to blend the soup until creamy.

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste ¹⁄ ³ cup freshly grated parmesan 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves Set a 6 or 8 quart Instant Pot to the high “Sauté” setting. Add olive oil, garlic, onion, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 2–3 minutes. Stir in basil, oregano, and fennel seed until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in stock, diced tomatoes, kidney beans, zucchini, parmesan rind, and bay leaf. Select “Manual” or “Pressure Cook” setting; adjust pressure to high, and set time for 5 minutes. When finished cooking, carefully quick release the pressure. Stir in kale until wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in red wine vinegar; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately, garnished with parmesan and parsley, if desired. MICHIGAN COUNTRY LINES



For Extra Value, Add Extra Safety By Derrill Holly

fire in the hearth is a warm and welcoming part of winter for many of us, but open flames inside the home should always be tended to safely. Before you light your fireplace, consider safety first.


Patty Davis, deputy director of communications for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), offers the safety planning tips below. The agency cites home fireplaces, chimneys, and chimney connectors as the leading causes of residential fires attributed to heating equipment. According to the CPSC, an open and properly maintained flue ensures that fireplace gases can be vented to the outside through the chimney and closed to help keep heat inside the home when the fireplace is not in use. Be sure to have a protective barrier in front of your fireplace to prevent a child or grandchild from coming into direct contact with the glass front of the fire screen. The surface temperature of the glass front can heat up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, which can cause very serious burns to a child. “If you use your fireplace for supplemental heating, you should include a full inspection with your system checkups,” said Davis. “You should also make sure you have at least one carbon monoxide (CO) detector on each floor of your home to reduce the risks of CO exposure.”

Odorless and colorless, carbon monoxide can quickly build up in the closed interior spaces of a home, leaving all occupants incapacitated and hindering escape. “When a CO alarm is activated, people can get out and then contact firefighters to deal with the carbon monoxide buildup that prompted the alarm,” said Davis. Fireplaces should be considered fuel-burning appliances, subject to the same safety precautions, inspections, and maintenance standards recommended for other items in that category. “Get a regular inspection, just as you would for a furnace or heating system,” said Davis. The inspection should be done by a qualified chimney company professional. That inspection not only helps to ensure the system is tuned up for efficient operation, but it also gives the homeowner warning of wear or damage that could potentially cause fires or other problems once the season is underway.

FIREPLACE SAFETY TIPS Every year, nearly 20,000 residential fires are linked to fireplaces. The Consumer Product Safety Commission offers these tips to help you keep your family safe:

1. Consider scheduling a fireplace inspection and cleaning by a certified professional. 2. Install a carbon monoxide detector on every floor of your home. These devices offer low-cost protection and provide early warnings of potential problems. 3. Keep flues, dampers, firestops, flashing, and chimney caps in good condition. 4. If you have small children and/or pets, consider a secondary screen. A glass screen can reach temperatures of 500 degrees Fahrenheit, so an extra barrier can protect them from serious burns.


Contribute to


( The Heat And Warmth Fund) Keep this child—and thousands of others like him—warm this winter.

Neighbors helping neighbors in need. • A family had funeral expenses that caused them to fall behind in their utility bill payments. • A senior citizen with an annual income of $7,000 had to pay a large, unexpected medical bill and fell behind on utility payments. • A 42-year-old husband with two children is laid off. He can’t find another job, his unemployment ran out…and the utility bills didn’t get paid. Also visit for more information.

These are just some of the people helped by The Heat And Warmth Fund (THAW). THAW is a nonprofit organization that provides last-resort energy assistance to low-income families in Thumb Electric Cooperative’s service area. THAW has helped more than 75,000 Michigan senior citizens and families (more than half with children) keep their heat and electricity on during the winter months.

Please make a donation to THAW. Your tax-deductible contribution will help someone in your community keep their heat and electricity on this winter. Please complete and mail the clip-out form below, along with your donation to: Department 77650, THAW Fund, P.O. Box 77000, Detroit, MI 48277-0650. Or, make a contribution using VISA or MasterCard by calling 800-866-THAW (8429). Your gift is tax deductible.


Dept. 77650 THAW Fund P.O. Box 77000 Detroit, MI 48277-0650


I want to help someone in my community keep their heat and electricity on this winter. Enclosed is my check or money order payable to THAW. I understand my gift is tax deductible.

r $10

r $25

r $50

r Other $___________

Name___________________________________________________________________________ Address_________________________________________________________________________ City/State/ZIP____________________________________________________________________

To make a contribution using VISA or MasterCard, call 1-800-866-THAW (or 8429) or visit

O CH R ISTMA S TR E E Michigan’s Unsuspecting Big Business By Emily Haines Lloyd


he Christmas season is bursting with joy, hope, and a healthy dose of nostalgia. We take it in through all our senses— the sight of fresh snow and glistening lights, the taste of holiday recipes handed down through generations, the sound of carols on the radio, the feeling of holding handmade ornaments. But perhaps nothing brings us so quickly into the holiday spirit than the smell of fresh pine, evergreen, and spruce. Is there anything as completely magical as a fresh-cut Christmas tree? While we get lost in the memories and moments that flood us around our trees, it’s easy to forget that Christmas trees are also a business, in fact, a pretty big business in Michigan. “Michigan is the third largest grower of Christmas trees in the country,” said Amy Start, executive director of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association (MCTA). “There are 2 million Christmas trees harvested each year in Michigan, but the magic is that there is one perfect tree for each person or family.” With only Oregon and North Carolina producing more Christmas trees, Michigan farms grow more than 37,000 acres of commercial trees that produce a $35 million industry for our state. With an average growing cycle of 10 to 12 years before harvest, these are an investment in time, land, and resources, making them a huge commitment. Scott Powell, manager of Dutchman Tree Farms in Manton, Michigan, is part of the family-owned team that is not only the largest Christmas tree grower in Michigan, but is in the top five producers annually in the United States. “Christmas trees are our business. For every crop we grow, there are real American families who put their hard work in every day,” said Powell. “There is a lot of joy in the work, but also a lot of responsibility as stewards of the land. We take care of it for future generations to work and enjoy.” While Dutchman is heavily involved in providing trees to wholesalers—think big-box parking lots with strung lights, making it easier for families to

Dutchman Tree Farms

Robinson Tree Farm

get their tree during their busy lives—they also have a Choose & Cut business that is run by the teenagers in the family, who have grown up trimming and shearing alongside their families for their entire lives. Others in the Christmas tree and nursery business, like Needlefast Evergreens, a Great Lakes Energy member in Ludington, Michigan, are equally connected by both Christmas trees and family lineage. Started by Bill Nickelson in 1954, the current Needlefast is run by Bill’s son and grandson, Jim and Ben Nickelson. Even Ben’s 11-year-old son has gotten into the business—growing a few rows of strawberries in the off-season and making sure the berries are cared for as he saves enough for next year’s plants. “The entire business is about family,” said Ben Nickelson. “On Thanksgiving morning, our family comes together and loads trucks full of Christmas trees before we settle into our meal. The next day, families from all over come to visit us to find their perfect tree.” While many farms have passed through generations, there are those who are still run by their first generation, like Robinson Tree Farm in Traverse City, Michigan, owned by Darrell Robinson. However, the sentiments run just as deep.

Needlefast Evergreens The Association encourages school field trips and can connect educators with farms in their area.

“You can’t help but be moved as you watch families come year after year, growing up alongside my own family,” said Robinson. “And then you’ll have someone offer to pay for another family or donating one to a family in need—and you know you’re in the right business.”

The MCTA also provides help with coordinating tree donations from Michigan farms for the annual Trees for Troops program. Trees for Troops is a nonprofit program where various farms from around the state donate trees for U.S. troops and their families—to ensure they know others are grateful and thinking of them for their sacrifices during the holiday season.

Nickelson agrees. “Most of the people who visit our farm are lifelong customers. So often in our everyday, we are looking for things to make life easier. But when the family shows up, picks their tree, decorates it—well, we remember to look for the things that make life better.”

“It’s the best crop, for the best reason,” said Powell. “While celebrating the birth of Jesus, we also get to be a part of memories for families, to celebrate and remember those they love and have lost. For our family, it’s very personal.”

The Michigan Christmas Tree Association (MCTA) is a nonprofit membership organization serving Christmas tree growers in the state of Michigan. The MCTA promotes and markets real Christmas trees to the public, while assisting growers in the state with education and business connections to improve the profitability of their farms.

To find a Christmas tree farm in your area, visit



Fuel Mix Report The fuel mix characteristics of Thumb Electric Cooperative as required by Public Act 141 of 2000 for the 12-month period ended 12/31/20.

Comparison Of Fuel Sources Used Fuel source

Your co-op’s fuel mix

Regional average fuel mix



























Solid Waste Incineration









Renewable Fuels

Your Co-op’s Fuel Mix

Scholarship Winners

The 2021 Youth Tour was canceled this past year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In place of a trip to Washington, D.C., the TEC Board of Directors decided to offer scholarships of $1,500 to graduating seniors in the Thumb area. The winners were Andrea Booms of Harbor Beach High School and Dustin Peter of Kingston High School. Andrea is attending Mid Michigan College and working toward an associate’s degree in welding. Andrea said, “Even though Youth Tour was canceled due to COVID, Thumb Electric wants to reward the kids that were picked. I feel honored to have an electric company that helps out the community so much. Thank you again for this scholarship. It will help me pursue a degree in welding at Mid Michigan.” Dustin is attending Saginaw Valley State University and majoring in environmental science. Dustin commented, “I am honored to have received this scholarship from an exceptional cooperative. I will use the scholarship money to further my education in an attempt to improve the quality of the world.”

Regional Average Fuel Mix

Emissions And Waste Comparison

TEC would like to congratulate our scholarship winners and wish them the best of luck in their future careers.


Type of emission/waste

Your co-op

Regional average*

Sulfur Dioxide



Carbon Dioxide



Oxides of Nitrogen





High-Level Nuclear Waste

*Regional average information was obtained from the MPSC website and is for the 12-month period ended 12/31/20. The fuel mix data presented by Thumb Electric is the data from CMS Energy, which supplies nearly all of Thumb Electric’s purchased power.


Update On Recycling And EWR Programs Attention TEC members: Many Energy Waste Reduction programs will be ending on Jan. 1, 2022. TEC may keep programs such as heat pumps and battery-operated technology, and potentially starting electric vehicle rebates. An announcement regarding EWR will be made in early 2022, so make sure to keep reading Country Lines.

New Bill Design Gives Enhanced Information TEC members, you may have noticed a new bill design with enhanced graphics and billing information. This applies to electronic copies as well, so it may be a good time to consider signing up for paperless billing through SmartHub. By going paperless, you could be chosen as one of our four $50 bill credit winners selected in a random drawing each year.

Go to, or use the Smarthub app, to sign up today.


Guest Column

Picking Out My Own Game Jersey By Brian Maki, Alger Delta Cooperative member


here’s nothing more fitting in this world than picking out your own game jersey. Ask any sports player. The sweat and sacrifice are monumental to end up wearing something that represents you, your school, and your community. It’s really considered the “holy grail” of all sporting experiences. I had been team manager from 1985 through 1988. After practice one night, Marquette’s legendary basketball coach Gordy LeDuc said, “Brian, three kids quit the team today. There’s only nine on the bench.” As a 17-year-old kid, I was still looking for my chance. He asked: “You wanna join the team?” “Sure,” I said. “I’ll keep stats for you. I’ll do whatever it takes, coach.” He smiled. Mr. LeDuc threw me the key to the old storage room, a place where team jerseys were stored. It was a place I knew well but had never believed that I would ever pick out my own jersey in my wildest of dreams. But I did. Thirty-three years ago. On Jan. 26, 1988, my dreams turned into reality. I would no longer be remembered as just a team manager. On that special night, I would crush many failures with my very first shot. With three seconds left, I broke for the ball, and while double-teamed, I heaved a magical 55-foot shot at the buzzer. The horn was long over by the time the ball hit the backboard and went in. Game over. People bolted from their seats and pushed me to the ground, chanting my name. It was (and still is to this day) the greatest moment of my life. The odds were stacked against me that I would ever find myself in that jersey. But, there I was, a winner. This shot was an accumulation of effort, focus, patience, luck, experience, fate, practice, and faith to seal my fate and my destiny into basketball lore. Talk about a “holy grail” experience.

Win a


energy bill credit!

Brian Maki is a computer consultant and enjoys traveling in the U.P., writing, and learning about new technology.

WIN $150!

Share your fondest memories and stories. Win $150 for stories published. Visit to submit.

Where In Michigan Is This? Identify the correct location of the photo to the left by Dec. 20 and be entered into a drawing to win a $50 electric bill credit. Enter your guess at September 2021 Winner! Our Mystery Photo winner is Jodie Samkowiak, a Great Lakes Energy Cooperative member, who correctly identified the photo as Mackinaw Island House Hotel, looking from the marina side. Photo courtesy of Corey Niedzwiecki. Winners are announced in the following issues of Country Lines: January, March, May, July/August, September, and November/December.

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Thumb Electric Cooperative

ELECTRICAL SAFETY TIPS FOR HUNTERS This hunting season, we encourage all members to be aware of electrical equipment and take necessary precautions while hunting. Keep these safety tips in mind as you enjoy the great outdoors.

Take notice of posted warning signs and keep clear of electrical equipment. Do not shoot at or near power lines or insulators. Know where power lines and equipment are located on the land where you hunt. Be especially careful in wooded areas where power lines may not be as visible. Do not place deer stands on utility poles or climb poles. Energized lines and equipment can conduct electricity to anyone who comes in contact with them, causing shock or electrocution. Do not place decoys on power lines or other utility equipment. Any nonelectrical equipment attached to a pole can pose an obstruction and serious hazard to our line crews.

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