Monday, September 26, 2016

Egrets? I've Had a Few

My recent walk to the ditch brought an unexpected surprise -- two egrets.

(Egrets? I've had a few. But then again, too few to mention...)

But I'm mentioning them anyway because they are so darned beautiful!

Talk about testing your zoom -- they weren't exactly close.

But so graceful and so lovely against the green of the pond and the reeds.

I have to admit, I remained captivated by these two. I know you can't tell the difference. Neither can I. But there were definitely two in two different parts of the pond.

And in the trees, so there may have been more -- or maybe one flew up while I was looking at the other around the corner. I noticed the big white blob in the tree, which Bird Lady (the woman who feeds the ducks at the pond) said was a heron -- she saw one fly up there.

Every pose, every twist of the head, every sudden movement as it scoops up its snack in a sudden, lightning-flash motion just fills me with awe. I love to watch them stalk their prey!

These lovely creatures are only here for a day or so -- and then off.

Off to warmer climates for the winter.

So, my Southern friends, if you see Ella or Eddie (I know, I can't tell the difference but I'd like to think one is male, one female and they are together), tell them hello -- and hurry back next spring.

Because I'll be missing them!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

What Am I?

Here's another of my treasures from late summer at the lake. Can you guess what it is?

Oh, come on! Did you say "deep sea monster""?

No, I must not have heard correctly. You said "coral!"

Nope!  Is deep sea alien or brother from another planet getting any votes? How about microcamera photos from my colonoscopy?

No, I told you it wasn't coral!

Desecrated bone from some poor unfortunate?

Yup. It looks pretty disgusting but that isn't it, either.

Let's step back a little. Maybe it's a cake for tea?

One of those cocoa bumpy cakes? Nope!

I think you almost have it!

Here's a final clue!

Right! A fantastic fungi! It was about seven or eight inches at its widest point and the biggest I'd ever seen! A little creepy -- but a lot of fun!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Postcards from the Lake -- Late Summer

This postcard from the lake takes us on a walk the two days after Labor Day -- which is my favorite time there. The lake is still warm and I still do my swim -- gulping a bit on the first "full wet" but soon feeling very comfortable indeed as I swim my "lap route" -- several cottages down and back. The jet ski riders have gone back to school (or work), traffic is practically non-existent. It's quiet and -- if you are a lucky as I was -- you have all the glory of summer weather without the things that get under your skin a bit!

But you can tell that summer is nearing it's end. It isn't just that many of the cottages have closed up, their trash cans neatly by the side of the road.

It "looks" different. The light has a different quality, one I can neither explain nor comprehend, yet feel and see and know to be true.

The sunsets are rosier, compared to the more brilliant oranges of July and August.

And the sun sets in a different place in the sky -- more to the south. How did it move so subtly that I didn't notice?

My walk takes me past a swamp and if you look closely you'll see bits of red and falling leaves.

And of course, the goldenrod is out in full force, lending its cheerful color to the day.

I notice the Queen Anne's Lace has withered. And farther on the path, I see the ferns are drying and turning brown.

The squirrels can dash in safety across the road and chase one another up and down the trees. The cars on my little road are few and far between.

The turn-around point on my journey is the public bathing beach. To go there and then return "the long way" takes me on a circular route that measures to two miles. Often you will see seagulls perched on the posts in the water and perhaps a swimmer or two.

Not today.

But I do see what has become a familiar sight. Every day, every walk, I see this duo. A father, son and baby. Three generations. I don't know their story, though we pass greetings. The dad, perhaps, is retired. The son and baby live with him? I never see them with anyone else. And it's after Labor Day, yet there they were in the morning. I don't know if I want to know -- I make up much more poignant stories in my mind.

At any rate, I love the closeness of these two and imagine that they are having wonderful conversations in this time. Building a powerful bond that will last a lifetime. Or perhaps strengthening one already there.

Along the way I pass the Little Free Library. A month ago there was something I thought I might trade out for -- but while I can't remember the title, there was nothing there this time that pulled my interest.

And, I am present to something rather rare -- a train passing on the rails. I've only seen two all summer, though I'm sure there are more. But they are infrequent, so seeing one transports me to the day when my mother spent the summers here as a child -- and my grandfather would take the train each weekend. Not a freight train, of course -- it was a different day. Yet how they must have loved the sound of that train bring their papa back to the lake.

I leave you with yet another sunset.

When I return to the lake again, I will see the colors of red and gold and deep maroon on the trees. It will be autumn. I wonder. Where will the sun set then?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Postcard from Canada!

I eagerly anticipated my Canadian visits in September for three reasons. First, I would be able to see my good practically-since-kids friend, Suzanne. Second, I would be headed to Stratford to see two musicals at the Stratford Festival. And finally (and most important), I would be picking up Rick from his bike ride across Ontario, into Quebec and down into Vermont -- and partially back.

He took off from Suzanne's house in London a couple of weeks before, tent, sleeping bag, camp stove and more piled on his bicycle. I heard from him periodically along the way but it was dependent on internet and phone service so yes, there were moments of concern.

I had nothing to be worried about. He made it through just fine. For those of you who asked me, he will soon be posting his travels on a blog. Here's the entry page. Give him a few days to settle in, though!

So, I picked him up on Friday in Hamilton, Ontario, and we drove to Cambridge where, on Saturday, we went on a quest to learn more about my ancestors.

I have been doing a lot of family genealogy research -- which is the subject of a post another time. One of the surprises was that I had Canadians in my family tree. The other was that I had many Mennonites in the tree as well. I knew little about that faith and was very curious. When I learned that the cemetery where my third and fourth great grandparents were buried wasn't far from our route, we decided to make a stop.

So, we went off to find the cemetery -- very small and very old. And very difficult to find (now in an area where there are more McMansions than historic homes). And somehow, we found them. The fourth-greats were easy -- they had a large stone that had been erected by descendants.

The third greats weren't so easy. We started out by looking at a lot of tombstones that resembled this or worse -- at least on this one you can read parts of the writing. Some were just covered with lichen.

And that wasn't getting us anywhere. It was just a fluke that by looking at names I saw the third great grandmother. I could barely read her husband's headstone.


So, word to the wise. If and when you are planning on having your descendants find you after you are long gone, make sure you are in a cemetery that will keep things in order or that you have a family member that does so. Otherwise, you'll be walking in the rain like we were, trying to read writing that doesn't show up at all!

From there we went to the small town of St. Jacob's and after a nice lunch and walk about, visited the "Mennonite Story," a historical center that told the history of this religious sect.

I learned that Mennonites, similar to Amish, fled persecution in Switzerland after the Reformation. They continue to live by high principles, very simply and with a focus toward anti-war. I felt very proud to be part of this heritage as I learned more about them. Whether one was interested or not personally, the center was very well done with excellent exhibits accompanied by video and audio features and contemporary media. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in learning about various religions.

The town itself was very nice -- a bit geared toward the tourist, but the shops we went to had lovely merchandise (and the prices right now with the Canadian exchange rate are to the advantage of the U.S. traveler (see travel tips below).


And, the drive was picturesque as well. Wide stretches of farmland, lots of signs for maple syrup and produce. They have quite the quilt auction which we didn't see -- but a video was included in the center and it was pretty amazing! I'd recommend this part of Canada for a visit if you are in the region.


We drove on to Stratford and checked into our motel, then headed for a wonderful dinner at Pazzo, a bistro with (largely) Italian food.

Rick had a delicious clam-and-sausage linguine, which had a fabulous blend of flavors and I enjoyed (read that "devoured") the risotto, flavorful and cheesy. We split a yummy gelato dish for dessert.

Then we walked down the street for our first play, Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music." The costumes were opulent, the voices excellent, the sound mixing perfect. A pleasing evening!

Sunday started with muffins at our hotel, The Swan. Located a couple of miles outside of Stratford, it was away from the noise of town yet a five minute drive.The proprietors maintained a wonderfully clean motel with free wifi and gorgeous gardens. It was an excellent find.

Then it was off to downtown for a bit of shopping. We stopped at the grocery for some meat, bread and cheese and enjoyed it by the Avon River.

Swans are a lovely part of the Stratford experience and we saw two beauties near our table -- and a lot of ducks, all thrilled to have a family tossing corn to them!


Then it was time for "A Chorus Line." We arrived at the theatre in plenty of time to hit the gift shop and walk the gardens. Rick took good notes on some of his favorite plants to add to his garden.

The trumpets sounded and in we went for a fabulous two hours of song and dance. Nothing to complain about here -- everything in this show was outstanding.

Finally, it was farewell to Stratford and to our friends Jim and Suzanne, with whom we connected at the theatre.

And back home. For me, just a few days gone. For Rick, a couple of weeks. And yes, he was glad to be back. (And I was very glad he made it!)

I leave you with a parting swan. (Patty S., this is for you!)

Travel tips for Stratford, Ontario (and other Canadian spots)

Remember Your Passport! -- This should go without saying but it's amazing how easy it is to walk out without it!

Money -- Most banks will charge a small fee when you make a charge purchase. The only time mine was more than a dollar was for the larger hotel bills. Still, it may be better for you to make a larger ATM withdrawal and pay cash.

Exchange Rate and Tax -- While you are looking at the price and thinking "Well, I'm really paying about 30 percent less than at home," remember -- taxes for most of the things we purchased were in the 15 percent range, so while you still may (or may not) be getting a good price, it might not be as good as you think. For our Michigan six percent tax, I had to figure that my purchases came to about 23 percent less than a home price.

Buying Books? Be Careful! -- Book prices (and cards and some other paper items) tend to be higher in Canada and this is often printed on the book. Do the math -- unless you think you might not find that book at home or want it as a special remembrance.

Customs -- The amount you can bring back varies with the length of your stay. Check it out before you go. And remember, if you are inclined to feel especially sneaky, no one is going to realize that pair of earrings in your jewelry bag, the scarf you wear or the books you have with you (unless it is a small library!) are Canadian purchases.

Theatre Tickets -- Stratford offers easy online ticket purchases but don't forget to print them out and  take them. I know. It should go without saying and I was wise to put them in my purse as soon as I printed them -- because I didn't remember about them until I had crossed the border on my second trip over when we were actually going to see the play!

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