Monday, August 31, 2015

It's All In the Details

I haven't been to the ditch in some time. I guess when given the choice of a walk to the ditch (after the first six blocks the lower back and left hip/IT band are not happy campers) or a swim in the pool (highly recommended by the back doc) the pool tends to win out. But on a day where the weather was looking to be dicey, I opted for the ditch, hoping for a Harry sighting.

No heron, alas. But it was still a lovely mid-morning, the sky still blue, warm but not hot, a tad humid and a light breeze (later that day I did go to the pool -- and got rained out!). I meandered around the perimeter, observing a solo duck far in the middle of the big pond...

...and a group of ducks at rest in the third pond. They were enjoying a calm Sunday morning as well and weren't in the least disturbed by my visit.

Their calm gave me a chance to really take a closer look at these beautiful creatures. So often we look at simple brown ducks as pretty muted creatures without much color.

The males, of course, might be a bit brighter with a splash of color on the head, but still, compared to some of the flashier birds, they have less pizazz. Or, so it would seem. But take a closer look.

Their beaks are remarkable, a nice mix of bright yellow with black markings. I'm not sure I'd want my finger caught in that bill!

And I am fascinated by their feet. Look at the details of the webbing and the brilliant coloring. No wonder they can paddle so well.

And don't think those plain-Jane brown ducks are simply brown with flecks of white. Most of them have some coloring on their side -- generally a dark blue or blackish blue that seems to come alive in the sun.

Even the markings on their heads are precise. All in all, these ducks are rather amazing creatures.

I've been fortunate to catch the ducks at the ditch in all sorts of weather -- lovely days like this one and the frigid cold ones where the ponds are all but covered in ice and only a small area of rushing water manages to give them a bit of a drink. I'm often surprised that they survive the winter.

But nothing makes me happier than to discover them at rest or at play on a lovely, late summer day, simply enjoying their space, aware but casually ignoring the interloper in their midst.

Recently a friend had a detached retina. This is an extremely scary thing for anyone but for him there were other implications, for he is a painter and photographer. His eyes are a part of what he does, how he creates. The thought of anything happening to his eyes (and one of the consequences of this can be loss of sight) make the whole thing even more frightening. (So far, the results have been good and a full recovery is expected.)

I also thought of Rick's bike riding friends Nino and Marie. They can't see with their eyes, but they "see" with their ears, noses and fingertips. They could probably tell me things I never knew or noticed about the spaces I might be in.

Having the quiet moment to observe these ducks reminded me of Mike and Nino and Marie and the importance of not taking what we have for granted. Listening to the different birdsong, seeing the details in a flower or an architectural structure, taking note of the wonderful smells that you find when you walk into a house and bread is baking in the oven or a rich pasta sauce on the stove. Seeing the subtle coloring of a pet or noticing the sky.

And, perhaps more important, noticing the little things about the people around you. Are their moods changing, are they holding back tears, waiting for you to ask them about their day instead of just telling you about theirs? Are they struggling with something they need to talk about -- or simply have help with? Are they wearing something new or look especially nice? And most of all, do you tell them?

It's so easy to walk in our own worlds, lost in our own thoughts, agendas, plans, joy or anger. Sometimes we only see what is in our heads -- not in front of our eyes or under our fingertips.

The other night I had a pork tenderloin and baked potatoes in the oven, sweet corn on the stove, a bottle of red wine just uncorked. Rick walked in and said "It smells so good in here." I had been cooking so long I barely noticed.

Those ducks remind me to notice. We are so lucky we can.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Lady Who Looked Like Angela Lansbury

I always loved Angela Lansbury. I only saw her once in my favorite musical, "Gypsy." (Yes, my Marmelade Gypsy cat was named Gypsy Rose in honor of that musical.)

Third row, Picadilly Theatre, London, England, 1973. I'll never forget it. She was amazing.

After, of course, she became a staple for television viewers. Her theatrical performances were captured on PBS; her famed "Jessica Fletcher" character still lives on in reruns every day on cable. And of course her movies, including "Gaslight" and "The Manchurian Candidate," where she played the bone-chilling mother of all mothers, are frequently caught on movie channels.

I saw the Lady-Who-Looked-Like-Angela-Lansbury today in the grocery store. It was a startling resemblance of the Angela circa "Murder She Wrote." (Angela is now pushing 90 and I suspect that while she is still a bundle of energy, as witnessed by those who saw her as Madame Arcati in "Blithe Spirit" this past spring can attest, she's probably aged a bit.)

She was a lovely woman, one who was getting ready to make her own window washing cleaner with alcohol, vinegar and dish soap. She spoke with the authority and grace of a woman who not only had done this before and was convinced it was a surefire method but also with the friendly openness our friend Angela always displayed.

But the thing I noticed most about the Lady-Who-Looked-Like-Angela-Lansbury wasn't just the resemblance, her warm manner or even her cleaning recipe. It was her beautiful coat. It was a creamy confection, slightly swingy but not flashy, with a low-key collar and lovely buttons. I'm not sure of the fabric but it gave the impression of a soft, lightweight cashmere or light wool. It was August 25.

Our weather team promises us that by the end of the week it will be hot again, perhaps even as you read this. But today and yesterday have been cold by Michigan-in-August standards, gloomy with heavy banks of clouds above threatening but not delivering raindrops, and more than a little breezy.

It is a reminder, a grim reminder, that this perfect summer will not last forever.

September 2014

I have been trying to wring every glorious moment out of summer that I can. It's been the loveliest I can remember with plenty of sunny days, temperatures between a temperate 75 and warm low-80s. Only once or twice I acknowledged that if I had air, I would turn it on but the fan was fine and humidity passed.

It has been a summer of days at the lake, road trips, thriving flowers in my garden and planters. It has been a time to read good books by the pool and then jump in and swim lap after lap, more and more each time.

It has been a time to feel strong.

I felt strong in the pool the other day. When I got out of the pool, I felt as though I could have gone on. And on. The sun was high and a few white puffy clouds added interest to the expansive blue sky. I was able to swim with both arms for the first time this summer, getting the "go ahead and stop if it's too much" permission from the physical therapist who had been working my shoulder for the past eight weeks. I felt powerful as I did my backstroke and joyful and so very grateful as I looked up into the glorious sky, not minding at all the droplets of water that splashed on my face with each stroke.

It has been a summer of dinners on the porch or Rick's patio, chicken and burgers, hot dogs and pork chops, the occasional steak, all grilled to perfection over charcoal and served up with good conversation.

It has been a summer of seeing old friends -- those I've known since high school and college. A time to create art, to try new things.

And it is going by all too fast.

These two days have served as a cruel reminder that while summer may bounce back to its warm, wonderful self, it won't stay forever. The days are already shorter and soon enough we'll see the first hints of autumn. Perhaps I already have -- there were a few yellow leaves floating in the pool the last time I was there. I'm sure there will be more before it closes for the season. Summer's sweet cherries, blueberries and raspberries will be replaced by crisp tart apples.

When I cut through the campus to get to my physical therapy appointments, I will be confronted with the traffic-clueless students who feel impervious to danger. In a few weeks, the neighbor children will be in school. And yes, last night there was an extra quilt on my bed.

After I saw the Lady-Who-Looked-Like-Angela-Lansbury, I went home and put on a jacket before going to my next appointment. I'd been a little chilled in my long-sleeved shirt and vest. (And to be honest, even with the jacket it was a little cool!). I tried to resist but I couldn't. After all, Jessica Fletcher was a smart one. I think her doppelganger probably was too!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Cork Poppers Sample "Fishy" Wines!

My big rule on wine goes contrary to the typical food rules. I think if you like it, drink it -- and don't worry whether it's white and you are eating a rich roast or red and you are dining on a lighter fish.


That said, some tend to pair better with foods than others so at our most recent Cork Poppers gig (on the Grand River, no less) we decided to try those that would pair well with fish. (Not that one would recommend eating fish caught in the Grand River.)

As you might expect, many of the six wines we tasted were whites but we also sampled a delicious Pinot Noir and a very good Shiraz.

We started out with a Starmount Sauvignon Blanc 2013 from the Napa Valley. We all agreed that this would have been much better had it been served colder, but it still had a fresh, tasty flavor. Mike, who brought the wine, called it "about twice as much as it was worth." He paid $17 for it.

We went onto Dick's Vina San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014. The transparent pale yellow wine supposedly had the aroma of citrus fruit, japapeno and bell peppers. Barb noted that it had more character than the first, while Rick said "You can taste the peppers." (I couldn't but it was peppery feeling and spicy.) Cost for this wine was $16.

Wine geek talk: Dick says the style of fermentation is called reductive, a more anaerobic technique without oxygen. The style of fermentation protects the grapes so the primary fruit aromas and flavors are preserved. This style of winemaking generally produces wines that are typically fresh, more fruit driven and paler and color. The technique uses more sulfur dioxide and inert gases as well as fermenting the wine at cooler temperatures.

Tasting was interrupted periodically as Rick shared his bike ride adventures. It was all fresh in his mind, having just returned that morning!

Rick's "Wine by Joe Dobbes 2013" was next. This Pinot Noir is from Oregon. Anne noted it had "nice legs," (the little drips down the inside of the glass). I'm not a big fan of Pinot Noir but I was pleased with this one.

It had a little more guts to it than most, which I think generally taste like amped up rose wines. Rick couldn't remember how much it cost -- we bought it out of town back in March -- but estimated it was in the $15 zone.

It was time to go back to whites with Pat's Giesen Sauvignon Blanc 2014 from the New Zealand Marlborough region. It was very fruity but not too sweet and my notes said "This is very good." Around this time, Barb (who happened to be sitting next to our white-lover Cheryl on the sofa, asked "Where's Cheryl?" I know this makes us sound like tremendous lushes and we only have small sips because we are dividing a bottle of wine eleven ways -- but we all laughed!) Pat paid $10 for the wine but it is generally priced at $12.

Roger's "The Archivist" Chardonnay 2013 certainly won the label award of the day! This California wine from the Monterey Bay region had apple overtones (so they said; to me it tasted like chardonnay.) Roger did a nice little presentation with this and at that time I noted our discussion: "Everything is in the presentation. You can serve schlock if you present it well." (I'm not sure that's totally true but presentation goes an awfully long way!) I didn't get a price on this.

We ended with Anne and Clayton's Copolla Rosso and Bianco Shiraz 2013. "Tell us about your wine," we asked Clayton. "I think it's really good," he replied. So did we -- and at $12, a worthy bargain and my favorite of the day.

When Roger and Meredith host Cork Poppers we always hope it will be good weather because we look forward to a ride down part of the Grand River, which runs through much of the state. It was a glorious day and soon we were on the pontoon boat.

Captain Roger (I always thought his boat should be named the Jolly Roger) pointed out some of the homes that are along the river and we noticed lots of other boats enjoying the perfect day!

Our highlight of the ride (or mine, at least) was this beautiful white bird which may be a white heron or may be an egret. The one thing we were certain of was that it was beautiful!

So were the views!

Not everyone was into the views. Rick was pretty zonked out from the ride and trip home. So he took advantage of the pontoon boat's floor to take a quick nap.

Back at the ranch, Meredith was putting the finishing touches on dinner. All that was needed once we returned was to grill the salmon. We lost Rick for a few minutes while the salmon was being prepped, too!


Meanwhile some of us enjoyed sitting by the pool and looking at Meredith's flowers!

Chow time! Set a gorgeous table. Add bacon-wrapped jerk shrimp, salmon, spinach casserole, a four-star salad and a beautiful berry dessert and you have the recipe for the end of a perfect evening!


Finally it was time to head home -- filled to the brim and happy to have spent a wonderful day with good friends. Because really, it's all about the friends.

NOTE: You can find other Cork Popper wine tasting posts by category (French, Reds, Whites, etc.) on the link at the navigation bar at the top of this page.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Happy Times in Canada

All systems were go to pick up Rick from his Canadian bike tour. The trip was designed to combine a longtime friendship and a reunion with Rick. It all began the day before my birthday when I took off to see my friend Suzanne in London. I couldn't wait for my doc appointment to be done so I could hit the road. I'd been watching the clock all day!

Suzanne and I have known each other since high school and it's one of those rare friendships where even if you change, you change the same (and of course, many things remain as they always were). My eagerly awaited departure was, however, somewhat delayed, having to first clean up my basement following a record-breaking rain storm that even made the CBS News! Not a fun way to start a journey but a warm welcome made up for it!

The next couple of days were filled with fun. We caught the movie "Mr. Holmes," which I really enjoyed and celebrated my birthday with an all-you-can-eat sushi dinner. Which, I might add, was wonderful!

Then it was time for shopping (thank you, Canadian dollar, for being so generous to me on my purchases of many books and a few Christmas gifts!) and enjoying a classic movie musical on the large screen in Suzanne's home theatre! Finally, it was off to Toronto to meet Rick, who had been working in the office of one of his clients for a couple of days in the Toronto suburbs. I am happy to say he made close to 1,000 miles on his bike with nary a band-aid! He was simply elated about the fun of his trip. Of course, we had birthday all over again!

It was a delightful Italian restaurant and the weather cooperated so we could enjoy our delicious dinner on the terrace, with its grape arbor overhead. They even brought a little cake!

The next day Rick had to work so I took the subway to downtown Toronto for a little shopping inside and a lot of window shopping. Don't you think there's something almost ghost-like about these mannequins as reflected in the Hudson's Bay windows?


Being a theatre lover, I was thrilled to find a free exhibit at the magnificent Elgin/Winter Garden theatres honoring Ross Petty, an actor who had starred in their pantomimes for two decades.

 Included was a selection of costumes from his career and I loved seeing them up close.


But even more, I loved the incredible architecture of this historic spot.

While we weren't allowed in the theatres, the lobby itself offered many delights.

It was almost like a hall of mirrors, with golden Corinthian columns and tributes to the various arts.

The original box office stands outside. As you can see, little has changed since the theatre opened in 1913 (although I suspect a lot changed, prior to the magnificent restoration.)


Then it was off to get Rick from work and head toward home. We stopped for dinner in Cambridge at a Middle Eastern restaurant called Diwan. I don't recommend it. Honestly, my dinner looked like Lizzie's litterbox after number two and I just couldn't finish it! Then we took off again and encountered nasty rain. We were going to try to make it all the way home but Suzanne gratefully provided a port in a storm and after a good rest, we were off the next morning! And to make it all the sweeter, the welcoming committee was on hand with big purrs!

All in all, a  glorious holiday! And home in time for Cork Poppers -- look for our taste of wines to accompany fish in the next post!

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