25 April 2013

March 2013 OHIO East Liberty - Sibling Get Together

After yesterday's trip north to Frankfort, Michigan, today we head southeast to East Liberty, Ohio, to visit Mike's sister and her hubby. We usually drive I-69 south toward Ft. Wayne to get to Jim and Kathy's, but took I-94 today with a lunch stop in Ann Arbor at Seva. We had a hankerin' for veggie and this is the best there is that we know of.

Mike had his usual enchiladas calabaza and a beer. I like to switch it up as there are sooo many good things on this menu. Today I had spinach-stuffed enchiladas and a glass of malbec. After lunch we did a little shopping and continued on. We arrived in E.L. about 3p.

Besides getting our K&J and their animal-kids "fix," we wanted to see their newly constructed year-round sun room. And is it ever super!!

Glass from floor to ceiling with expansive views of the sloping yard, garden plot, chicken mansion/coop (yes, K has four chickens), and just plain ol' outdoor nature. The room is very comfortably decorated in teal and shades of tan/brown. We spent the rest of the afternoon just gabbing and catching up. It felt like we were sitting doors on a summer evening, even though it was a cold day with much snow still on the ground. Above our "niece" Widget is sunning herself in a very comfy spot.

Dinner that night was at Uncle Beth's, a little hole in the wall bar-b-que joint. It is log cabin-y outside and black and white checkered everything inside. A cute young couple run it and everything is hand-made on the spot. It is meat lover's heaven, but Deb got three sides of veggies and biscuits and was a happy camper, too. You may bring your own wine if you wish, so we brought a bottle of red to share. We had the place to ourselves. Quaint, cozy, and quite good food and service.
Friday we decided to go to Columbus for sight seeing and shopping. Due to a late start, we began with lunch in a pub called the Pint Room in the Columbus suburb of Dublin. They specialize in burgers and craft beers, with a huge list of both. We were all pretty hungry and gobbled our food down so fast, I don't really remember what we had. I do remember leaving satisfied and happy though.

Next we cruised an historic area near downtown Columbus called German Village. It was settled in the mid-19th century by a large number of German immigrants. Most of its original business buildings, churches, and cottages still stand. It was a warmish day, so we enjoyed a nice walk around the area.

A highlight there is The Book Loft, the biggest book store we have ever browsed. This quirky store covers an entire city block with 30+ rooms of books on any topic you can imagine. You enter the store in its middle, turn right or left, go to the end, and then back track and start in the other direction. You follow room after themed room through little hallways and staircases. Closets and stairwells are filled with books, puzzles, magazines, maps, and other paper related products. It is a maze of nooks and crannies and unexpectedly placed bookshelves. It does not seem to end. Intriguing. Labryinth-like. If you can't find it here, you can't find it anywhere. And lots of discounts, to boot.

Another place Kathy and I enjoyed was the Caterina Ltd, European Housewares, Arts & Crafts. It is filled with artisanal works from Europe, including Italian ceramics, European kitchenware and table linens, French lavender body care, and more. The second and third floors feature a gallery of local artists' works. While K and I browsed, guys lounged outside on the park bench in the sun. We walked a bit further downtown and then headed home.

Dinner that night was sandwiches and munchies. J and D had their usually helping of a bit too much champagne and OJ, and loved it.

Next day was just lounging and enjoying time in the new sun room. We caught up on the latest haps and surveyed the "zoo" scene. Kathy has a huge (75 gallon, I think) salt water tank. It is mesmerizing to watch the various types of colorful coral and sea creatures as they go about their daily life. She also has a shrimp tank and hermit crab terrarium, equally cool to study.

Then there is the African Gray Tim (a heavy duty biter) and Spooky the sulfur crested cockatoo. Spooky loves Jim, but hates the color red. So if Jim gets tired of Spooky's attention, he just puts on his red baseball cap and Spooky is outta-there fast.

Jip, the black and white border collie, shares time between stalking Widget the cat and playing fetch. Widgie was in her usual love/hate mood swing. Either way, we love her dearly. All in all, these animals are part of the family and very entertaining.

On our last night, everyone wanted bar-b-que from Uncle Beths again, but this time decided on carry-out. As Deb is not a big meat eater, she opted for a veggie pizza pick-up a few blocks away from Uncle B's. The three carnivores agreed the meal was just as good as the first time, and Deb devoured her pizza treat as well.

Next day as always, it was hard to depart. Left around 11am via the Ohio Hwy. 30 route as usual through Lima toward Ft. Wayne. We saw the tiny cemeteries in the middle of corn fields, the antique shops that maybe we'll stop at sometime on another trip, and the old fashion drive-in with the Andy of Mayberry police car parked in front.

The last 20 miles of Hwy. 30 in Ohio is one of our favorite parts of this trip. Along that section of highway on the north side as far you can see are hundreds of wind turbines, too many to count. A rest stop is situated right in the middle of a few of them. They are sooo tall when standing next to them. It is wonderful to see "natural" energy being generated without pollution involved. 

Once you hit the Indiana border, the turbines abruptly stop and we know we are about half way home. The next section seems slow going until we hit the "Pure Michigan" state line signs. Just a few more miles til we hit the Kalamazoo city limits and home.

21 April 2013

Mar 2013 MICHIGAN Frankfort - Ninety Years Old

Today we took a day trip to Frankfort, Michigan, to visit Mike's mom on her 90th birthday. She recently moved there from the Clare, Michigan area to a VERY nice long-term care facility. She is still quite bright and active, but was having a hard time getting around and keeping her meds straight.

Years ago her parents owned cherry orchards near Frankfort. She went to school there and later visited often to help on the farm. This place will really help her along and give us comfort that she is looked after on a daily basis. After being there about a week, she is very happy.

Guests can visit (her brother, Son, comes every other day or so) and she can come and go as she pleases on the floor. She checks out and back in when leaving the building, so they don't worry about her.

No "lights out" or rigid schedule. At meal time, she has several selections to choose from. There is a big activity calendar and she can participate as much (or little) as she wishes. She can personalize her room and right now there is a big photo of her and Jack Parker (her recently passed husband). And she has a great view of Lake Michigan from the picture window in her room. Pretty classy situation.

On the drive up, there were at least seven smelly, dead skunk on the road ???, but we did see a beautify bald eagle in flight, a rare sight in Michigan until recently. Lots more snow up there than in Kalamazoo. Snow shanties still on Lake Cadillac. In Mesick, passed Mike's Uncle Al's high school and the Buck Snort Saloon (darn, no time to stop). Ski slopes and lifts still busy at Crystal Mountain. But the sun was shining, roads were dry, and it was a pleasant drive.

We arrived in Frankfort at 11am and met in the social area for a big catch-up and reminisce chat with Mom. Uncle Son (her younger brother (and Mike's uncle)) was there also. Glory, the cat, came round to say "Hi!" Another cat named Grace, a finch aviary, and a cool aquarium also entertain the residents. 

Then we headed out to do some chores for mom in the neighboring town of Honor. On the drive, we saw a bit of Crystal Lake and talked about swimming in the outlet and Mike sailing and rolling over our little sail boat there. Lunch next.

Mike had been yearning for a meal at our favorite Frankfort restaurant, Fusion. They have a nice view of Betsie Bay and the harbor. The menu is an Asian mix of foods, so we thought it might be a little too ethnic for down-to-earth, farm-raised Uncle Son. But he seemed up for anything, so we went for it.

Mom ordered a HUGE sizzling seafood platter, Uncle Son had a a salad and lemon chicken. As usual, I had my favorite pad-thai and Mike had his favorite General Tsao's chicken. Mike and I also had hot and sour soup. I did NOT order my usual sake flight, as I figured I should be on my best behavior today.

First off, I have to say the silverware (especially the spoons) were weird, even to me. They were triangle shaped with the flat part at the bottom where there is usually a more pointed area that fits neatly into your mouth. This deep coal-shovel like utensil was quite uncomfortable to scoop soup into your mouth. It tasted good though, so we got through the "task." The fork was huge as well and we got no knife.

Uncle Son's salad came with a very curly style of carrots, like the skinny, curly ribbon on an ol' time Christmas present. If you held them up and stretched them out they had to be at least 1-foot long each. No knives, so couldn't easily cut them to bite size. That was awkward for anyone to eat. Mom got a HUGE helping of steaming veggies, mussels, lobster, shrimp, and scallops. I never could have finished that heaping pile of seafood, but she ate every last bite. Almost licked her plate!! 

In spite of the logistical utensil moments, the food was fantastic. No let down there. Mike's mom ended with a "Mike, this was the best birthday ever. I never thought I would get another meal like that again in my life." We all waddled back out to the car.

After that we cruised our usual route of old family landmarks. With Uncle Son and Mom in the car, we got a first rate travelogue of things from the "old days" that was so enjoyable. We passed what was left of the family cherry orchards and the old farm. Only the barn was left standing from the old homestead. The plot is now owned by a guy that runs a port-o-pottie business and those ugly blue plastic "monuments" were scattered throughout the yard and trees. Sad. Too many wonderful memories to end up like this.

We drove to the lookout at Green Point Landing and saw the ice covered Frankfort lighthouse and breakwaters extending out into Lake Michigan. There was a lone swan swimming way out in the lake, a cold and lonely sight. We drove to the end of Main Street to see the snow-covered beach and the light house from that angle.

We drove around the area and saw where their original-original home was located, only land now. They talked about friends Mr. Baker and Mr. Hunt, other old school chums, and wondered where they lived and what they were doing now. So many good stories and laughter coming from the back seat from this 81-year old brother and 90-year old sister. We also drove passed where Mike lived as a 1-year old and the barbershop where he got his first haircut.   

The last stop was Uncle Son's senior complex. He showed us his cozy bachelor pad with a wonderful view of the woods and a little slice of Lake Michigan off in the distance. As we looked out we saw a herd of eight deer passing by, regular visitors, Son said. He also showed off a closet full of VHS tapes, a collection of which he was very proud. There were maybe 300 and covered every topic from documentaries to The Terminator.

As it turns out Uncle Al and Aunt Carol have a 2-bedroom in the same complex and had come down from Elk Rapids for the day to celebrate Ann's (they call her Nina) birthday. We almost missed seeing them, but caught them just as they were leaving. Seeing these three together just touched our heartstrings. They laughed and were so happy for these few short minutes.

After dropping Mom back off at the new "home," we headed back south to Kalamazoo. Round trip driving time today about six hours and covered drove about 390 miles total.

Tomorrow we trip off to East Liberty, Ohio, to see Mike's sister and her hubby.

09 April 2013

Mar 2013 MICHIGAN Kalamazoo - Kozubeks Come to Kazoo

Tim and Nancy came for a visit from Chicago this weekend. We met Tim some 25+ years ago when he was a mechanic at Northwest Airlines and Mike was a ramp rat. His and Nancy's paths crossed a few times on his visits to Chicago (his home town) until the lights came aglow and they found themselves in love and soon married. As a result, Tim joined Nancy in Chicago and they live happily every after.

We get together with them once a year or so, usually lakeside on the Michigan side 
(SaugatuckManistee, etc.), but once or twice in Chicago. This time they came to see our newest condo and go for a beer expedition in Grand Rapids.

On Friday when they arrived, we gave the five cent tour of our condo, had a long chat to catch up on news, and invited them to meet our brand new cat Bella, who was showing off and not too nippy.

Next we strolled over to the Beer Exchange for dinner. This is a really fun spot, especially for beer drinkers, and the food is good, too. It is based loosely on the stock exchange in that it has a leader board with 28 rotating world beers listed. Every 20 minutes of so, prices go up or down on the various beers, depending on how popular they were in the last "session." Every once in a while the "big bell" rings and there is a market crash, where all the prices go down and the process starts over.  http://kalamazoobeerexchange.com

On Saturday, we headed north to Grand Rapids where there was a beer festival happening. The main gathering was sold out at Comstock Park, but all the breweries were having specials. First we went to Founders Brewery, which came highly recommended by my niece, Teshia. Last summer she had organized a Circle Michigan Brew Tour with her college buddies, and rated Founders #1. We had a great lunch there and tried a few beers. Not sure what everyone else had, but I had a wonderful caprese sandwich filled with fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and fresh basil and piled on toasted ciabatta bread with garlic infused balsamic vinaigrette.    http://foundersbrewing.com

Next we went further into downtown GR to the B.O.B. (the Big Old Building) to check out B.O.B.'s Brewery, unfortunately it was closed. Too bad, as there were a number of people trying to get in, but oh well, their loss.  http://www.thebob.com/bobsbrewery.html

From there we walked to HopCat Brewery 
(photo is of their ceiling). They have three of their own on tap and a huge list of other beers from around town, around the state, and around the world. There were about 175 to choose from, including numerous lambics and a gluten free beer from England !!  http://hopcatgr.com

Unfortunately, I guess, I'm not a beer drinker. It would probably be cheaper than the wino that I am and I've tried oh so hard to appreciate beer, but it's just not happening. I'd rather have the vine. Anyway, hard for me to comment on how wonderful the beers were. I do like lambic and hard cider (more fruity, I guess), but somehow that doesn't ring well with true blue beer-os.

Last stop was Stella's Lounge, one of our fave haunts when we go to GR. It's a little hard to explain, but you enter through an alley. The outside of the building is black and hundreds of skulls are painted in neat rows a long ways up the wall. This does not give a positive vibe, but also not a true reflection of what is inside. Inside is friendly, flexible, down to earth. It use to have a mainly veggie menu that you could turn items into carnivore. It has changed, now with mostly meat items that can be turned into veggie. Either way, the veggie works for me. Oh, and they used to have a huge pinball selection, but that must have pared down recently.  http://stellasgr.com

This is more of a cocktail place than a beer joint. So we all ended up having cocktails. Along with the current popular stuff, they make vintage-style cocktails, so I asked for a Tom Collins. We hadn't had one in a long time and had lately been trying to find an authentic version. Most places just throw something together with gin. But this was the real thing, maraschino cherry and orange slice included.

We headed home after than, called it an early evening, and hit the hay. The next morning the K's stopped by for a short but sweet visit and then were on their way. It was a gonzo 36 hours and we had a ball. Thanks for coming, K's.

04 April 2013

Feb 2013 - Jump-itty-do-dah (3)

Bella is a good jumper. One of her favorite spots is on top of the fireplace mantle, a good 4 feet straight up, where it is extra cozy and warm.

The only restriction we put on Bella is not to hop on the kitchen counters (which she can easily do from the floor, even though the stools create great stepping stones). We use the "down" command. That seems to be working ok, but we are going to get a water spray bottle to reinforce that command.

She joins me in the office when I am computing. She likes to sit on my lap or under the warm desk lamp. She also jumps from the desktop to the bookcase top, again almost 4 feet. However, as she lands up there, she discovers all kinds of memento stuff--"precious" rocks we have collected on our travels, mini-robots from our robotics engineer brother-in-law, a model Prius, various awards. She has to do a last minute "dance" so that she or the stuff does not come crashing down. We'll add this is our off-limits area.

And she likes the top "story" of her carpeted cat condo tree. She leaps to the third story with no problem and sometimes lounges there. When she is ready to go elsewhere, she moves to the top level if she isn't there already and leaps a few feet to our bed.

In all these maneuvers, she is like a helicopter. She twists right and left to land correctly and doesn't really have to use her claws to dig in. It is so cool having a young cat again. She's athletic and, oh, so funny.

Today she is being her usual funny self. I moved all the tax papers onto the futon in the office where she likes to sleep. As I was typing this, she came in and plopped on the papers. So I moved them over to the side so she would have a cushier spot. But she decided she liked sleeping on the papers anyway!!