31 December 2013

New Years Eve 2013 - Closing the Book

This is the last day of 2013. We had a very good year ourselves, but others not so much.

We learned today that a very dear Uncle passed away (actually on 12/1/2012). I don't know how this did not come to our attention but somehow it did not. I sent a Christmas card to my Uncle Tom and Aunt Betty as usual. Today I got a card from Aunt Betty noting my Uncle's death. I am crushed.

I have four favorite Uncles and he was one of my special peeps. (Now three have passed.) I was the flower girl at my Aunt and Uncle's wedding when I was a kid. And when Mike and I traveled to Chicago, we would always spend some time with them. On each visit they took us out to dinner, often to some pretty fancy places including his Country Club (he was a dentist and an avid golfer). Every time we tried to pay, but they would never let us. I still felt like their little flower girl when this happened. 

In October of 2012, we took my mom to Chicago to see her cousins, Tom and Betty. They had not been together in a number of years and were so happy to connect again. For the first time, Mike and I took these three 80-year-olds to late lunch. It was their choice, so no place fancy. We were so happy and proud to pay for the meal and I felt like a grown up finally.

Mom spent the next two nights with them, while Mike and I continued on to visit our good friends Tim and Nancy in the Chicago suburb of Palatine. We picked my mom up two days later, hugged and kissed good-bye. So many fond memories swirling in my head right now, but that was the last time I saw my dear Uncle Tom.

Our bro-in-law had a tough year also. First he got attacked twice by bee swarms in his backyard. Many stings on his face especially. Next he had knee surgery and now the poor guy as shingles. That's a lot of suffering in one year. 2014 has got to be better for you, Jim.

Our friends Tim and Joe both had surgeries and glad to say successful.

But all in all for us it has been a great year. Aches and pains yes, but no big issues. We had a wonderful trip to Key West FL, then on to Providence RI and back home. Another trip to New York City which was fabulous. Several trips to northern Michigan, including one to Sault Sainte Marie in the upper peninsula to visit his cousins and attend Engineer's Day at the Soo Locks. We drive to Lansing MI to see my brother Bob's newly renovated kitchen and it is faboooolous. And we visited Mike's family in Ohio on a frog hunt.

And we got a new rescue cat, Bella, in March. Don't know how we lived six month without a cat in our home. She is a brown and black tabby and looks like her cousin cat Widget in Ohio. They both have a wild side and get a little bitey at times. Sometimes we call her Bella-lugosi (the actor Bela Lugosi played the vampire in the 1931 film Count Dracula).

Besides traveling, we've been busy this year. Mike doing a tremendous amount of reading on his Kindle. Me doing various charity and other fun things--Ladies' Library Association, starting a new community garden, researching our ancestry, creating websites at Cool City Web Design, photography, and a few other things. I just can't seem to slow down.

I'll continue the above, but also adding a goal of completing the 365Project.org project. Here you take at least one photo a day and post it on line. To see my photos starting tomorrow, go to:

If you see something that touches you in some way (either positive or negative), leave a comment. That really makes it more fun for me. Or if this is up your alley, join the fun and take the challenge.

30 December 2013

Dec 2013 OHIO East Liberty 4 - The Morning After

We met the morning with a slow get up. No hangovers, thank goodness, but not jumping through hoops either. Several rounds of coffee, passing the Sunday paper amongst us, and watching Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood. Just like home. And lots of conversation and reminiscing about yesterday's fun-filled activities and coincidences.

Next we watched the Philly Eagles vs Detroit Lions football game. It was played in Philadelphia in a driving snow storm. At the beginning of the game the snow was 6 inches deep on the field and by half time it had increased to nearly 8 inches. The line markers and side lines had to be shoveled off continuously to keep track of the plays. TV was the best place to watch the game on this day. Ultimately the Eagles won 20-34. I don't think I have ever seen a game played with snow flying so hard and heavy. Players skidded down the field, trying to catch slippery footballs with icy hands. Poor guys!

On the other hand we were inside in the sun room, nice and cozy, with the TV in front of us and a nature show behind us outside the picture windows. I am not particularly a birder, but at J&K's it is hard not to appreciate and admire what is going on around the bird feeders. Very cool. Here are a few photos.

Another fun thing in their backyard is an old dead tree made up to look like Jim. It has an old mop head for hair. I crack up every time I see it.

Anyway, the guys watched several more games throughout the day in the basement, while Kath read next to her new frog habitat and I caught up on The Blog in the sun room.

So the day was really lazy. Yahoo! We munched on leftovers and fruit salad and drank beer, wine, and cocktails. For dinner we had pizza and antipasto salad from a nearby pizzeria. The dining options were perfect for a big day of football and relaxing.

12/9/2013 - Headed home

We left about 11 a.m. as usual. The temp was  23 degrees and horses in the barnyards along the way were wearing blankets on their backs.

We stopped at our fave Ohio rest stop on Hwy 30. There is a 10-mile stretch along the highway just before you get to Indiana where you can see a "herd" of wind turbines. This "farm" includes maybe hundreds along highway. Some of those turbines are very nearby the rest stop and we enjoy viewing these tall urban towers up close. It was pretty chilly today so we did not linger long.

In Auburn, we passed by the windmill, military, Cord-Duesenberg, Hoosier Air, and other museums located there. There is also a vehicle auction house in the area that we would like to visit some time. We saw several V-lines of geese headed south, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not get a good photo.

At home we were so happy to see our Bella cat. She met us at the door and was very snugly the next few days. She sure keeps us entertained.

29 December 2013

Dec 2013 OHIO East Liberty 3 - Gold Diggers and Frogs Continued

Next stop was the Gold Refinery in Dublin. Kath and I brought with us a collection of old, broken and unused or out of style gold and silver jewelry. We hoped to learn more about its value and the process of selling it. We chatted up Hank, the buyer, and he gave us a lesson in jewelry terms, gold content, if gems were genuine or synthetic, and the process they use to value and "recycle" old jewelry. Between the two of us we ended up recovering about $530 in cash from unwanted, unused items which had laying around for a some time. It feels good to divest.

Then a bizarre coincidence occurred. Kathy had brought in her newly adopted frogs in an insulated cooler (to protect them from the cold weather outside). When K heard how much we were getting back, she said, "Hey, more frog money!" Hank asked if she was interested in frogs. When she said "Yes, there are some right in that cooler," he had a funny look on his face. So I asked if he had some connection to frogs.

He shook his head up and down to say yes and added that his previous profession was collecting rare reptiles and amphibians. He had traveled the world tracking particular species needed for zoos. Kathy offered to show her frogs and he said he would love to seem them. In a split second, we went from a gold/silver/jewelry bargaining to frog/boa/reptile stories. That was a freaky, amazing moment.

As we left the Refinery we headed down the road a little bit richer in dollars and in information. I'm writing this a day later and still cannot believer the twists and turns of this day.

Upon returning home, we integrated the froggies into their new home of rich soil, dried magnolia leaves, green mossy sphagnum, barky limbs, and air plants. These little guys won the lotto of animal adoption situations. Kathy educates herself in the best methods and techniques in keeping her pets happy and healthy and goes beyond the call to keep them that way.

After they found their hidey holes and we had a few appetizers and cocktails, we headed to Doc's Cafe and Wine Bar for a anniversary diner. This restaurant used to be located in a huge Victorian house down the street a bit. It was the best place in downtown Marysville to celebrate a special occasion, but it had been recently sold and was under renovation. In the meantime, the owners opened this place to keep their name in the spotlight.

It was a wee spot, full almost to the brim, and they had lost our reservations. They recovered quickly though and arranged a crowded but intimate spot for us to enjoy dinner. We chowed down on a huge prime rib, grilled salmon, tender pork medallions, and veggie risotto. Beverages included Long Island ice teas (we are always looking for the ultimate ice-T combination), traditional Bombay Blue gin martinis, and a bottle of Italian Sangiovese red wine. We topped the evening off with vanilla creme brulees and cheesecake. All in all a wonderful meal.

We headed back to the ranch just in time to see Michigan State U beat the pants off of Ohio State. Yahoo! A thrill for us Michiganders, even though we are in Ohio country at the moment.

My older younger brother must be in hog heaven, as he is a graduate of MI State. My younger younger brother usually has a great year being more of a U of Michigan fan, but this year the Sparty's are shining while Michigan is struggling.

What a fun, fun day!

28 December 2013

Dec 2013 OHIO East Liberty 2 - Frog Frenzy

Today is our 37th anniversary. Hard to believe. December 7th is also Pearl Harbor Day, the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in WWII. I was extremely anxious when we got married at City Hall in Las Vegas, and thought it would be the second big bomb of the century. Probably shouldn't compare the occasions, but I was very scared, nervous and pessimistic about our "blessed" event. As it turned out, we're doing fantastic and still madly in love. We appropriately began the day by toasting with Mimosas (champagne and orange juice). Today was not to be the usual romantic anniversary activities, but still a day to remember.

Kathy and Jim are what we call extreme pet adventurists. So I should preface the rest of today's activities with a little intro. Yesterday, I mentioned their exotic birds Spooky and Tim. Spooky (white) is very cool in they he loves to wander on Jim's shoulders and Jim can even cradle Spook on his back like a baby. When Jim gets tired of the attention, he simply puts on his red baseball cap because Spooky hates red. He'll run back to his cage in a split second.

Tim is not so cuddly, but has a large word and song vocabulary, including the theme song to the old Andy of Mayberry Show. He loves to repeat whatever Kathy says and imitates her actual voice, as well as their cat and dog "voices."  Sometimes it is hard to tell if words are the real thing or the bird imitation thing.

Currently K&J have a fresh water tank with colorful neon tetras. In the basement is a compost operation stocked with worms (for kitchen scraps). I'm not sure if K has names for each fish or worm, but probably she has. There are several bee hive honey supers in the back yard by the creek. 

And they have a hermit crab habitat set up in the guest bedroom. At night when we retire for bed we hear little clicking sounds of the crabs walking around in their protective adopted shell houses. It doesn't bother us at all. After a few trips we got used to it and find it comforting. 

Remember yesterday I had mentioned chicken pickin'? Well today activities include frog pickin'. K&J had a 200-gallon salt water fish tank for a few years. It had corals, shrimp, and other colorful reef fish and dwellers. After mastering that "hobby" (and after a few salt water overflow spills in the living room), she decided to give that one up and moved on to terrariums stocked with exotic miniature frogs.

We had a 10 a.m. appointment with an Ohio State biology researcher who raises various species of frogs, fish, and shrimp for a hobby. He lives north of Columbus about 33 miles from K&J's. The roads were clear and we zipped right through to our destination. We were welcomed into Brian's lovely home and headed right down to the huge basement aquarium / terrarium "complex." 

We toured the basement filled with tanks and terrariums. Brian probably has 70 tanks of varying sizes. In these, jungle-like humidity and plants served as a perfect frog habitat environment. The frog tanks are filled with every color species--entirely yellow, black and yellow, blue with black legs, all blue, green and black, endless combos.

He demonstrated with live specimens the various stages of tadpole to frog development and behavior. We discussed disease and worm issues (do you believe frogs get worms!!), healthy diet, ideal temperature, and everything frog. There was also one wall filled with fruit flies bred in Tupperware-like containers. This is ideal frog food.

Oh, did I forget to mention that Kathy has had a huge fear of toads for her whole life. Now she thought raising frogs would help her get over this phobia. Before embarking on this animal adventure, she had done her own research. She loves setting up artificial environments and has learned details about froggy diets, feeding methods, favorite habitat plants, soil, diseases, humidity, hidey spots, etc on her own. Brian confirmed she was on the right track for frog raising success. 

Today Kathy chose four Venezuelan Dendrobates Leucomelas frogs (or Lucs for short), as well as two fruit fly breeder containers for frog food stock. These little froggies are about as big as quarters. In their natural environment their diet makes them poisonous, but with a "domesticated" environment and diet they are not poisonous. That's a plus!!

Back home Kathy had the tanks all dressed out with magnolia leaves, moss, dead branches and lots of hidey holes, ideal materials for a content frog's life. Temp and humidity were also set-up as required.

Upon introduction to their new home, they appeared happy--mostly hiding, but occasionally coming out to explore or quench their thirst at the water bowl. When K gave them a fruit fly treat they gobbled them up. (By the way, these are non-flying fruit flies so they will not spread around the house. Yay! Not one of my fave creatures.)

PS - On day one, as Kathy was rearranging some leaves and branches to get a better view of the froggies, she accidentally touched one. I thought she was going to have a panic attack. Instead, she started laughing and was delighted that she had touched a frog. She said it did not feel creepy at all. A big surprise to her. Maybe this new venture will work out after all and her fear of toads will disappear.

PPS - Since our trip, Kathy has reported no problems and we know those frogs are happy and very well cared for. Not sure if these little guys have names yet. All four look alike to me. But I would bet on it that they do.

27 December 2013

Dec 2013 OHIO East Liberty 1 - O-HI-O

Traveling to East Liberty, Ohio, today to visit Mike's sister and hubby, Kathy and Jim. About a 9:30am departure with a stop in Ann Arbor for lunch. Roads were busy but dry, and weather clear. It finally looks like winter. Trees are completely bare except for a few dry brown leaves.

Got to A2 about 11:30am. First stop, the Medicine Shoppe. Then lunch at Seva, our favorite veggie restaurant. Started with a roasted tomato soup. Then Mike ordered a squash stuffed burrito smothered in cheese and I ordered pad thai noodles. Mine was un-typically too hot, so we switched and both were still happy.

After that we headed south on US-23 through Toledo and then Findlay, Ohio, dubbed Flag City USA. Traffic quite crowded along this corridor and we were happy when we merged onto I-75. At that intersection is a huge golden mosque dome with two towers that look like rockets on each side. Seems out of place on the horizon in this part of the world. Beautiful though.

No snow whatsoever, either on the ground or falling down, until just after the I-75 on-ramp. At that point we saw the first signs of snow on the ground, on cars, piles along the side of the road from plowing, hanging off of trees and brush, and finally trickling down from the sky. The deeper we got into Ohio, the deeper the snow. Still clean and white and very pretty. Our first snow of significance this winter. 

Just before getting to K&J's home we pass near the highest elevation spot in Bellefountaine, Ohio. Per the Garmin, we hit 1411 feet in altitude, but the nearby highest spot is actually Campbell Hill at 1550 feet. Not high per mountain standards, but a fun fact. There are also very few natural lakes in Ohio. The closest lake of note to J&K's is Indian Lake which is man-made. Kath camps there on occasion.
Got down to K&J's about 3:30pm. Travel time was 4:26 hours and mileage was 258 today. We lugged our stuff in and settled down in the sun room. They built this addition to their home last spring. It has floor to ceiling windows on all sides, heated for year-round use, very comfortable, and with a lovely view of their 8.2 acre "ranch-ette." Their home sits atop a hill with a rolling terrace going down to a creek at the back of their property. Soooo peaceful there!

K&J are animal "enthusiasts" shall we say. They have a cat named Widget. About 12 years ago Mike rescued her as a  feral kitten from a hidey hole at the San Francisco Airport. We already had four cats, so Kathy adopted Widget. I flew her from S.F. to Michigan (where K&J lived at that time) and although Widgie is a bit feisty, they all live happily. Although in every photo I have ever taken of Widgie, she is scowling. 

They have had many cats, dogs and other animals over the years, all of which were rescues. Currently, they have a border collie named Jip, a cockatoo named Spooky, an African gray timneh named Tim, and four chickens (they have names, but I'm not sure who's who). They also have aquariums and terrariums, but I'll talk about that tomorrow.

A couple of years ago Jim had converted an old storage shed into a luxury chicken coop. Kath invited us down to go chicken pickin'. We drove to a nearby town where a business sold baby chicks to farmers. We picked out nine chicks to start Kath's flock. They had to be raised in an indoor heated environment to start, but soon were running around their private fenced in scratch yard. Now we always get farm fresh eggs when we visit or K&J come our way.

That night we planned to have dinner in the nearby town of Urbana, normally a 30 minute trip max. But it had continued to snow and roads looked pretty bad for travel. The great debate--go or not go. We are all adventurous and definitely up for a good meal, so "go" was the decision. We were so glad we went, but it was a treacherous drive there. Back roads, after dark, at least one accident detoured our journey, lots of wet sleety snow on the windshield, roads unplowed. It was a challenge and double the normal travel time.

On route, there was a second great debate between the guys in the front seat and the gals in the back as to whether this outing was a wise and safe decision, but when we arrived at Cafe Paradiso, we all agreed it was worth it.

We started with a brushetta plate and steamed mussel appetizers and wine and cocktails. Main dishes included cioppino, angel hair pasta margarita, sausage tortellini, and chicken picatta. There were soups and salads and warm Italian bread with herbed oil for dipping. Everything was delish. No room for dessert though.

The placed was packed with families, quiet romantic tryst duos, a party of six celebrating a birthday. These six all wore colorful tissue paper jester hats they had produced from popper toys. Both the owner and his wife stopped by several times to see if all was well and it was. I felt like we were in a trattoria in Italy.

Stuffed and sassy we journeyed back out into the snow. Fortunately the snow plows and salt trucks had been busy while we leisurely ate. The trip home was not nearly as treacherous and quite a bit quicker. Back home we had a few more cocktails and more conversation and an early go-ta-bed.