Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Really Big House

Last weekend I volunteered to take photos at a fundraising event for the station's new music fund. It was at one of the largest homes in town, built in 1926.

I grew up a few blocks away from this house and two of my best friends lived in houses across the street from it. At that time it was owned by the Diocese for the bishop's residence. Needless to say, we didn't walk on the lawn! We were afraid we might be roped into confession. I wasn't Catholic but it didn't sound fun.

But I walked BY it many times, en route to Lisa's or Mary's houses. And I always wanted to go inside! Who wouldn't?

So, while working a Friday night doesn't always seem like a good idea, this time I volunteered!

The two guys who bought this place around 15 years ago have restored it, quite faithfully. And, it was stunning.

Most of my photos don't really show it off well (partly because I was sneaking them in with my crummy little camera in-between taking nice little head shots of mostly-people I don't know with the station camera and trying to be charming, when I really wanted to peek in the closets.)

But you get the idea -- like this little fireplace in the sunroom with Pewabic pottery tiles. Pretty much everything in this house was authentic.

My photo of the grand drawing room was so bad, I won't put it up -- the light was stinky. So this is from our publicity materials.

This one looking out is a pretty terrible photo, but you can see the windows -- all the windows were like this. Lots of tiny little panes. How'd you like to do those windows? There isn't enough Windex in the Shop-Rite for that!

There were lots of bedrooms. Some of these may pop up again some Pink Saturday eons from now!

Most either had their own bath or one between the two.

This is the master bedroom (it's weird, taking pictures of someone's bedroom)...

(And I have to say, that part of the room with the bed was the small part. It was at least three times larger, maybe more -- with a full sofa, two oversized chairs, a fireplace, and plenty of room for a party.) And, a very large study adjacent.

And here is their bathroom (Now that's really weird -- sitting on the toilet shooting pictures of a bathroom!)

I loved these old radiators and fans in the bathrooms. They were in all of them.

And I think this is a hip bath. I don't really know what that is, except there's a line in a song from "A Little Night Music" -- "How could he slip and trip into a hip bath" (that seems wrong.)

Here's the bar. I think it might have been the chapel in its previous life. Or maybe a pool. Doesn't that part of the floor look like a pool that is covered? But rather "altar-like" in the back. Hmmm.

The kitchen photo was lousy. But at least you get the gist of the desserts. There were even staging areas in the kitchen. Now that's my dream kitchen!

Many of the rooms had oak paneling, as did the corridors -- and it was polished to a shine. The long corridor on the second floor was filled with nude drawings of one of the hosts. Must have done life modeling to get him through music school. Who knows?

Anyway, lest you should wonder if I asked if I could take these pix, the answer is yes. The only thing he didn't want photographed were the nude charcoals (about 15 of them). That was fine by me, but to be perfectly honest and not just proud of our art-kid Greg's work, Greg's life drawings are much better. More style and individuality. More depth and personality. I didn't mention that to our host, though. That'd be tacky. And he might take it personally, given he was the subject.

On the third floor was a ballroom which the host uses as a recording studio.

He has his own label, recording many of the artists performing that evening.

Our GM, the music school dean and LSO conductor (who is very cute -- I asked him who cut his hair, because I bug Rick about this every time we go to a concert. He gave me his wife's card!)

He also introduced his young daughter, who said a few words about music and was charming.

Then came the concert -- piano, viola, cello, voice, more piano. All wonderful.

Oh, I didn't mention the food. First sushi (being the sushi strumpet that I am, my world isn't big enough for too much sushi!), huge shrimp, marinated roasted asparagus, really fabulous baked brie with raspberry -- I've got to experiment with that one -- beef on bread rounds, much more. And desserts to die for.

So, now I can say I've been in that house. And it was amazing.

And I'm very glad I don't have to heat or clean it.

When I left, I looked back -- the lights were on throughout and it looked so very beautiful, magical, regal, like a fairy castle or a grand country home somewhere in England where Elton John and Prince Charles might hang out for a gig.

And all I could think is I bet they don't have a cat.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Lenten Reflection

A note to readers -- this is one of my "serious" posts. I don't go deeply often here. Well, all that deeply. SO, I welcome your continuing on, but if you're looking for the art or cat pictures, sorry -- that'll have to wait!

Last week on her regular blog, Becca's Byline, our "Write on Wednesday" muse, Becca, posted a very thoughtful post, looking at Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat Pray Love" and ruminating on the Lenten season. (And at this point, I want to add a special thank you to Anno for introducing me to this book hands-on! I'm saving it for my surgery!)

As I commented, I realized I'd written my Ash Wednesday post. Or started it.

As a child, I was raised as a congregationalist -- after hitting up almost every denomination I know of! It was pretty liberal, which matched my family's values, and even now that church doesn't really come at odds with my general beliefs. I loved being part of the choir, too. That was a big plus.

Our church was a large, Gothic-style building, built in 1864 (I believe) and adjacent to our state capitol. I was in awe just being there, with its oak pews, deep burgundy carpet and impressive pipe organ. Our choir master had been trained in England and his high standards bought our youth and adult choirs something of a reputation. It was a good place to be.

Then, on a cold February day in 1971 it burned to the ground.

Now, some 38 years later, a parking ramp stands in its place.

I remember that day well -- I was in a musical at MSU that opened that evening. My mother phoned me, to let me know. It was a bittersweet opening.

For several years, as our new church was being built, we attended services in the YWCA building adjacent to the old church. And then we had a new home -- contemporary in style. Beautiful, but cold.

For some years, thanks to our choirmaster, Dr. Richard Klausli, and our dear Dr. Bob Williams, a marvelous pastor and human being, I could cope with that. A church isn't the building, after all. But then they both died. A new pastor came and riled up the congregation which imploded and split apart in political wars.

It wasn't the place for me to be. How can one be part of a community of faith when one is so very angry?

And my ideas had changed as well.

I've never been dogmatic. My world is big enough for all ways of faith, and the religious wars in our world both confound and distress me deeply.

For years, I've had friends who believe everything and nothing. Two of my cousins have interfaith marriages. Rick's boys are still questioning and probably lean more toward humanism than anything else. Who am I to say one faith or belief is right and the other wrong?

I never think about people's faith when I meet or know them. I think more about how the tenets of faith in general manifest -- through compassion, honesty, tolerance and acceptance, that sort of thing.
I studied a lot of religions in college and read an awful lot of books about faith, spirituality, belief. I began to realize that for me -- and only me, unless someone else wanted to feel that, too -- that my spiritual view was in essence one grounded in the Christian faith but incorporating to a high degree many elements of other faiths as well.

As we enter the Lenten season and look within, I acknowledge my belief that God is within me. I know others may take offense at the analogy, and I don't mean it disrespectfully, but I think of Jesus as my big brother, the oldest kid, the son of God who got all the responsibility heaped on him. I'm just one of the kid sisters and brothers who had more opportunities to skate a bit and take a look at the examples set before me.

I was an only child and I didn't have sibling examples. But I've had the opportunity to watch siblings as I've grown older. I remember being at the breakfast table shortly after elder kid had some incident related to not handing in homework. The result was a failing grade. Younger kid commented, "I'm not doing that." There was modeling going on.

And we see it every day and in every environment. The office. The neighborhood. At home. With friends. And hopefully, we learn.

So, for me, faith and spirituality isn't so much what I do on Sundays as what I do every day -- try to be the best person I can be, fair, compassionate, honest, loving. thoughtful, gentle, non-judgmental. Not because I have to but because it is the right thing to do and be.

And some days I have more success with that than others. I can get overly sensitive. Frustrated. Snarky. But I try.

My faith is quiet. I don't talk about it much -- this may be the most in-depth look at it I've ever shared with others. Most people don't know I pray every night before I sleep. Or that I sometimes do during the day, as I ask for strength, peace, calm of spirit or for others.

Most people (probably you guys, too -- and that's cool) don't care. It's my thing. My personal thing.

You see, I'm never comfortable when one "has" to do things with all the rest -- the group prayer, the national anthem at the ball game, the pledge of allegiance. Yet it's not that I am unpatriotic or without faith. It just seems too personal to do as a group.

A long time ago I stopped "giving up" for lent. Instead, I decided to start "giving in" and "giving out." The giving out is anonymous donations or helping hands. Random acts of kindness. (Or Random Acts of Santa, as I call them in December.)

The giving in is giving into my own critic. Being gentler with myself. Not beating myself up so much for not being perfect.

Not having chocolate for eight weeks will only make a difference to me and my hips. One could argue that giving up buying art supplies will help my budget more than heal my soul.

Giving out and in -- those things might actually make a difference.To someone else, not just to me.

I will try to find happiness and joy in every day -- even with failing retirement funds, bad body parts, and tension at work. I will take "forgiving those who trespass against us" literally and actively -- even though around me blame and fault is dished around like a grafitti artist with a spray can.

And I don't plan to stop when Easter comes.

Next post I'll take you inside a magnificent mansion here!

(Photos of Plymouth Church were from the Capital Area District Library's website; the other pix are mine -- except the one of Rick and me, taken by our friend Yuka at Kamakura, when we visited the Diabutsu (Big Buddha). The others are from the mission at Carmel and the fresco is from a public building at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wines of the Mediterranean!

It’s time to talk wine again! This time, wines of the Mediterranean, Sicily and Greece to be exact!

Our wine guru Dick had six lined up for us, one of which was a dessert wine. Clayton had a smile for us all through the brightly colored bottles!

We started with the Planeta La Segreta Bianco 2005, a white wine from Sicily. It was a dark golden color, sweet and fruity in aroma and peppery and fresh in taste, designed for raw seafood and salads. This wine was $15.

Then we sampled a white from Greece – Kretikos 2006. This was from the Boutari winery in Skalani Crete. It was a little lighter in color than the first. This brought the following comments:

“It tastes better than it smells.” – Pat

“It smells like an old wool sweater.” – ?

“Going down it tastes good.” – Clayton

We pretty much all agreed it had a strange odor, and while it tasted better than it smelled, at $16.50, the other was a better buy and better enjoyed.

We went back to Sicily for Planeta La Segreta Rosso, a 2005 red wine, also $15.

It was very dark in color – a ruby red with a hint of purple and had a rich smell. (“It smells like $25,” someone said.) Recommended for flavorful cheeses, risotto with beans or meat and meats like lamb, it had soft tanins, some acidity, and a sharp peppery taste but very dry.

We already labeled the INO from Central Greece – a dry red wine from the Thebes region, as “Excellent” before we knew its price.

“This could get me in trouble,” Clayton said, while Roger said it reminded him of Italian spaghetti. It was a very deep purple – the color of Roger’s Grandpa’s Pontiac, with a fruity aroma. One who knows wine better than I said it had a “fruity frunt and was dry in the papte going down.”

We were enjoying this with gorgonzola and weren’t surprised when they said it was best with sharp cheeses, meat and game.

Oh, and the price for this wine (probably the collective favorite of the day)? A whopping $6.50.

The next wine – another red – was Manousakis Nostos 2004. Grown in the foothills of the White Mountains in Crete, it was a dark ruby blend with several Rhone varieties of grape.

This got more negative reviews in the aroma category:

“A nasty smell.” – Anne

“Tastes much better than it smells,” “smells like Merthyone (or something like that), and “Smells medicinal” were other comments.

Cheryl noted, “Until tonight we never had a slop jar,” as Meredith opted to give hers a toss.

The men considered it port-like.

At $19 I decided to leave this one at the counter.

Our final wine was Mavrodaphne of Patria, a sweet red wine from Boutari Winery in the Peloponnese Region (Gulf of Corinth). It was port-like for dessert or aperitif.

We found it excellent with the chocolate toffee Anne brought. It was also recommended to serve this with fruit pastries, cheese and chocolate fondue.

“Super sweet but divine,” “Totally fabulous,” and “I could line these up in a row like shots” were some of the comments.

Or, as Barb pointed out, “They made the Trojan horse to steal these secrets.”

As always, our tasting concluded with pot luck – lasagna, salad...

...and wonderful breads.

We then enjoyed my chocolate dessert watching Roger and Meredith’s photo DVD of their Mediterranean cruise.

Seriously wonderful wines – and that $6.50 bottle really is a steal!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why I Never Get Anything Done

Before you read this, if you made the chocolate dessert from the Valentine's day post, please use the lower rack of the oven. I updated the recipe but it wasn't in there originally -- I'm not sure how much it matters, but why take a chance...

So, this morning, after getting up surprisingly early (last night was our work event and when I got home I got online), I hit the store to get cream for my chocolate dessert for tomorrow's wine tasting gig.

I had a list of activities to do on what looks to be a snowbound weekend.

1. Check blogs.
2. Upload photos from last night so next week I can post about it.
3. Do laundry
4. Feed birds (or squirrels, as it seems to be)
5. Put away last of Christmas (except the snowmen)
6. Put Easter where I can get at it with only one arm
7. Finish wrapping some birthday gifts to post next week
8. Finish wrapping last One World prize
9. File a few things. More than a few.
10. Make dessert.
11. Make soup (from Kris Campbell's blog )
12. Work on UFO's -- buttons and handles on purses
13. Finish scarf
14. Weave in ends on hand warmers and make more!
15. Clean house
And so it goes.

So, I finish 1-4 and then go to the basement to do #5 (which I complete) and along the way see a BIG old box of family photos.

Coming soon -- flashbacks to youth. I am so stuck in my scanning mode, I don't think I'll ever leave this spot today. Well, I must. But it's dicey...!

And THIS is why I don't get anything done. Homekeeping ADD, I think. And I have to admit, I'm having fun!

(POSTSCRIPT ON SUNDAY: So far, I can check off the following -- plus a couple of add ons!... and if you wonder why I post this list, it's because I'm trying to convince myself I'm productive!)

9. File a few things. More than a few.
10. Make dessert.

I did one with and without the mint. Because I forgot

11. Make soup (from Kris Campbell's blog )

And it's fabulous! I added some cinnamon (just a pinch and a lesser pinch of nutmeg and some finely diced proscuitto that I nuked for 45 seconds to crisp it, because the expiration date was impending. Yum -- with or without my changes!

15. Clean house

Sort of. More to go, but will it ever stop? Into that category, you can add changing bed linens and cleaning up the kitchen, which was a bit of a disaster!

And so it goes.

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