22 May 2015

May 2015 MICHIGAN Kalamazoo - Falcons in Kazoo

Since 2010 birders have been thrilled with the falcon family in downtown Kalamazoo. I don't pretend to be a birder, but my interest was boosted when the falcons started hanging out just blocks from our home.

Also, my birder friend, Anne, started uploading her excellent bird shots on Project 365. Her photos and dialog educates us neophyte birders in a fun way. Follow her photos at: 365project.org/annepann/365

Two years ago I first spotted the falcons circling the area and landing on the big Gilmore broadcasting tower. On rare occasion they would swoop down the alley by our home looking for pigeon prey or the like.

In 2013, they started scoping out a nest area on one of our tallest buildings in downtown, the 5/3 Bank (originally the American National Bank). The building itself is one of our treasures. It is art deco in style, completed in 1930, and is 15 stories high. See the Gilmore broadcasting tower in the center of this photo.
For some reason they chose the parapet ledge, about two stories down from the top (on the left). They laid their eggs on this precarious spot and, alas, all fell off before they could hatch.

Then the Audobon Society stepped in to build and install a nesting box in that same location. Last year the falcons were back and laid four eggs. All four hatched and grew and flew off at the end of the summer. Later we learned one crashed into a window and died. But the other three made it, as far as we know.
This year four eggs hatched as well. We were able to see this little miracle through two falcon cams and a microphone installed near the nest by the Kalamazoo Audubon Society. Those four babies are growing fast. We thought this is so cool, we just had to share it with all our readers.

General falcon website: www.kalamazoofalcons.com

From there you can see two falcon watch cams--one view of the parapet (landing spot) and one view inside the nest (baby birds). Sometimes you can even see a live stream. There is also a video archive so you can view past progress of the falcon family. There is a lot of material about the Kalamazoo Audubon Society and falcons.

Bella loves watching the falcon watch cam. Glad she doesn't have wings or she would be right up there in the mix!!!

15 May 2015

May 2015 MICHIGAN Traverse City 3 - Quick Quake Note

While we were in Traverse City on May 2, we got several texts and calls from friends (some from California) who wondered if we were OK after the earthquake. We had no idea what they were talking about. We haven't lived in San Francisco (earthquake country) for 12 years, so we were confused.

It turns out while we were on vaca there was a significant earthquake in Kalamazoo at 12:23pm on Saturday. We did not feel a thing in T.C., but we were seriously motoring down the wine trail at that moment.

Here's what our upstairs neighbor said -- We definitely felt the earthquake and also heard a really really really loud noise. It sounded like something had crashed into the roof or a vehicle had run into the building. We heard this same description from a number of friends.

We worried about Bella, but our downstairs neighbor texted that she checked the building (even our rickety basement) and could see no damage. When we got home, we did not see any change other than a few knick-knacks in the China cabinet looked slightly out of place.

Later we read that in terms of magnitude, it was 4.2 on the Richter scale. It was among 18 earthquakes in the world that day with a 4.0+ reading. The epicenter was in Scotts, Michigan, about 12 miles away from home. No deaths or major injuries reported.

By Tuesday after the quake 13,656 people in 1,156 zip codes had offered first hand accounts of their experience on a U.S. Geological Survey website questionnaire. Our Ohio relatives did not feel anything though.

Quakes are quite rare in Michigan. The last significant one occurred in 1947 centered near Coldwater, Michigan. The news said after some investigation experts felt this particular event had nothing to do with fracking. Instead scientists surmise that a new fault between Coldwater and Kalamazoo has been discovered and caused the quake. It probably involved a strike-slip fault, a vertical fracture where the blocks move horizontally.

We thought we left all this behind in San Francisco. We lived through a number of quakes there. 1989 was the big one at 6.9 on the San Andreas fault. That occurred during a World Series baseball playoff game at Candlestick Park. Part of the upper level of the Bay Bridge roadway collapsed on the lower level. All in all there were 63 deaths and 3,757 injuries. Now that was a big one.  Mike and I were both working at the airport. In our respective workplaces we felt if quite strongly and it even closed the airport down.

10 May 2015

May 2015 MICHIGAN Traverse City 2 - A Wine-ing We Shall Go

First stop of the morning was Minerva's, our hotel restaurant and our fave breakfast spot in T.C. Mike had the double triple--two eggs, two blueberry pancakes, two bacon slices. I had Harvest Hash--a layer of crispy hash browns, then a layer of mixed grilled mushrooms / sun dried tomatoes / artichokes / onions, and topped with two perfectly fried over medium eggs. They even had a pretty good version of sour dough toast (rare in the midwest states). Almost enough to keep you going for the day.

Then off to the Spring Sip and Savor Saturday on the Leelanau Peninsula. Bob had arranged a 12-passenger van (it was either a 7 or a 12 seater). It was a bit big for our party of 8, but at least we were legal and had enough seat belts for everyone. Bob also chauffeured, great tour guide that he is. www.lpwines.com/spring/

The first stop was Aurora Cellars, a new one for us. It has been around for a while, but has new owners and a new name. We picked up our tour tickets there. This boutique winery has an old world charm. It sits on a hill with a nice view of the vineyards. No greenery yet though. They had a Pinot Gris for the sip, and an onion and asparagus quiche for the savor. It was good, but would have been better if warmed up. Also tried Radiance, a red wine blend. www.auroracellars.com
Next was Boathouse Vineyards. Here you can relax on lawn chairs and watch the nearby river meander by. It is a fave from last time we did the Sip and Savor. The wine is good, but we also love the party atmosphere. They have lots of unique picture frames and props sitting around, so you can take cool photos. Here we had a nice Pinot Grigio with tomato topped bruschetta and cracker with Munster cheese and dill pickle.  www.boathousevineyards.com

The next stop was not an official S&S stop. It was the North Latitudes Distillery. They make all kinds of distilled products. At home we had some left over products from our last trip, but we did restock their  Limoncello that we love so much. It is the perfect porch beverage for those hot summer nights. www.northernlatitudesdistillery.com
Next was Blustone Vineyards, quite modern with lots of glass and chrome. We had another Pinot Grigio, this time with Alfredo pasta and peas. The tasting room is perched atop a hill overlooking the vines. On their nice outdoor veranda we savored the sun along with our S&S. www.blustonevineyards.com
Our last official stop was Good Neighbors Farm. They specialize in more fruity wines and they also have a wonderful organic farm. We especially like the field of lavender there. If you come at the right time of year you can buy lavender products of soap, potpourri, oils, etc. Here you had your choice of wine, so I tried the peach. It was delish. The savor was a chicken soft shell taco. goodneighbororganic.com
Our last unofficial wine stop was the Motovino Cellars in Northport, more of a modern Italian trattoria in style. Even though they weren't on the tour, they offered wine tastings and a savor of tiny peppers stuffed with wonderful cheese. www.motovinocellars.com
On our return trip to T.C. we stopped in Sutton's Bay for shopping (lots of little unique boutiques there) and then an early dinner. North Country Grill and Pub had been on the minds of many of us for a while. We have a bunch of lobster and prime rib lovers in the group. We ate here after the last S&S and they do it right here. We could hardly wait for this return trip.

They serve a one lobster dinner for only $23. Some ordered one tail, some ordered two, and Tom ordered three (and ate them all with no trouble). Others had the prime rib (up to 22 oz for $30). All goo-ooo-ood! The four that were celebrating got free deserts of molten lava cake and berry cobbler. They graciously shared with all.  www.boonesnorthcountrygrillandpub.com
After that we stopped at a cheese store. We first tried Raclette (a mild cow's milk cheese) in southern France last fall when we visited the home of our Aunt and Uncle. Auntie boiled potatoes and poured this tasty melted cheese on top. It was served with Corniche pickles, pickled onions and pickled garlic cloves. It was so good we have been trying replicate it at home.

In Kalamazoo we found the American version of this cheese at a local deli. They advised their source was the Leelanau Cheese Company. So, for this trip, one of our goals was to check this store out. We were not disappointed. It was available here for two-thirds the price back home. They age the cheese in a cavern dug out of a hill. Wish we could take a peak inside! www.leelanaucheese.com/index.html 

All in all there are 22 wineries that we could have visited today. We hardly made a dent in the line-up, but we had a fabulous time. Thanks to Bob and Lo for organizing the event.

The next and last morning in TC was peaceful and pleasant. After all the good-byes Mike and I took a walk in the neighborhoods. Lovely Victorian style houses with lots of ginger bread decoration. We saw a Little Free Library. I am going to look into this for our neighborhood back home. 
We also saw a huge bent tree that had a sign saying it marked an Indian trail from the pioneer days. 

After that we headed down the trail to our home.

09 May 2015

May 2015 MICHIGAN Traverse City 1 - Back to the Bay

Once again we are headed to Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City, Michigan. Just can't stay away. My sister and hubby, my brother (birthday May 4) and wifey (birthday May 2), and friends from Chicago (anniversary May 3) are meeting there to celebrate. It is also the annual Sip and Savor Saturday.

The day was a great one for travel. At departure time (9:09 am), it was sunny, clear and 52 degrees. As we left town we saw many white flowering trees at peak blossom. As we continued north, we saw 50 shades of green with all the trees and plants starting to bud and bloom. By the time we hit Grand Rapids it was already 59 degrees and continuing upward.

I have been trying on every trip up to get a photo of a clump of large heron (I think) nests high up in the trees. I thought they were between mile marker 100 and 110, but did not seem them so I put my camera away. Than at mile marker 113-ish (just past the Pierson exit and big trash mound) I spotted it. Just not in time to get a shot. A goal for next time.

The plan was to meet Tim and Nancy at Crystal Mountain Resort for lunch. They were coming from Saugatuk. Timing was just about perfect. It had been a year since we saw them last, at Put-In-Bay, Ohio. They were a sight for sore eyes.

We ate in the Thistle Pub and Grill. Mike had a pub cheeseburger, Tim had a baby back rib stack, Nancy had a walleye sandwich, and I had a bowl of udon noodles with steamed veggies. The food was good and we recommend it. This was the start of our weekend eating binge.

Next we stopped at the Michigan Legacy Art Park,  about a mile away. It is new as far as we know. It has about 1.5 miles of trails through the woods with works of "yard art" displayed along the way. Much of it was made with materials that melded into the landscape and felt organic in nature. Sometimes we had to really look to find the art.

We laughed at the "dinosaur eggs." There were several foot long rocks painted blue and "layed" in a huge nest of twigs and leaves. The art piece was about 7 feet wide. We would have been shaking in our shoes, if it had been in the real Jurassic Park. We didn't linger long here. Overall, not quite as interesting as we expected.

The four of us got to T.C. before the others. After a little refreshing, we met in T&N's suite. They had a top floor unit with a HUGE balcony. We had always wanted to check one of these suites out and it was impressive. The balcony was about 12x12 feet, much bigger than I ever expected. Yes, actually worth $100 extra on the room rate. 
After oohing and aching at the space and the expansive view, we decided to take a downtown stroll. Tim and Nancy were not so acquainted with the area, so we gave them the ten cent tour. The main street was bustling as usual.

We checked a few stores, bought a few trinkets, and landed at the Mackinaw Brewing Company. We had beers and wines and I ordered a hot artichoke dip. It was the best I've ever had at a restaurant with loads of hearts of chokes.
The plan was to meet the others at about 5pm at the Beacon Lounge (top floor bar at the hotel). It is one of our favorite places in T.C. with a wide and wonderful tenth story view of the area. From this height you can see much of West Grand Traverse Bay, as well as the city.  In March when we were here last, the bay was frozen over and snow everywhere. We've even seen hot air balloons drifting by at our level. Today blue skies and blue water. No matter what the weather, it is always beautiful from this vantage point. 
Bob and Lo were there when we arrived and Tom and Lauren followed shortly. We had a few cocktails and shared appetizers--crab artichoke bake, no bone short ribs, coconut shrimp, roasted potato pizza (the last sounds weird but was delicious). We caught up on old times and old acquaintances. Tim and Nancy feeling as much part of my family as my bro and sis and spouses.

After that we were too stuffed for dinner, so we walked it off with window shopping. We had planned for a Kilwin's dessert (our usual bear claw roll for Mike and caramel apple for me), but they were closed by the time we arrived. Oh well, probably for the best!