Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Different Camping Trip

Our annual camping vacation to Silver Lake this coming week won't be the same. No canines will be joining our extended family this time. Our dog Doogie died last November and this past week my in-laws' dog Peanut passed away too (that's Peanut in the picture above). Both had tented with us for many years in the dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan.

I can't say it was a joyous romp for either of them. Their water bowls were often flecked with dirt and bugs. They had to be leashed while we frolicked on the beach or played volleyball. They had to sit in an overly warm mini-van while we rode the dune scooter or played mini-golf.

In fact, Doogie's obvious disdain for the camping experience inspired a couple of my favorite blogs--once when he escaped our tent during an overnight thundershower, and again in the frigid air along Lake Superior when he sat in our rented passenger van and refused to come out to join the rest of us campers.

Peanut was tougher, taking whatever came in stride. His attitude inspired a blog I did on him four years ago (omi god, has it really been that long?). If dogs had human personalities, Peanut would have been a jock I wrote back then. I blogged on Peanut's favorite activity, playing soccer with the men and boys in the backyard.

But he had been in failing health this past year and was certainly past his prime so far as playing soccer. Arthritis had taken its toll, though he still could be coaxed to chase the ball in the backyard for old time's sake. His heart was into it even if his body wasn't.

Doogie and Peanut--two dogs could not have been more different. Doogie tolerated occasional petting as if he were taking medicine. Peanut loved attention and would sit for long stretches of time while I gave him a good scratch around the neck and ears. And if I stopped and let my hand drop to my side while sitting, I'd soon feel Peanut's cold nose on my palm, begging me to continue.

Peanut challenged all dogs, particularly big ones, with his alpha dog attitude. Doogie was in our words "a lover, not a fighter." Peanut had to be where the human action was, especially if outdoor games were being played. Doogie was content to be alone in the backyard, checking the smells in the bushes along the fence.

Doogie was a 'mama's dog.' Peanut probably more of a man's mutt. Doogie hated loud noises. They didn't bother Peanut. Peanut lavished kisses on Doogie every time they met. Doogie responded by turning away while growling and snapping an a very unfriendly manner, which did nothing to deter Peanut's affections.

Two dogs couldn't have been more different. Two dogs couldn't have made more of an odd couple. But this year they will be linked in a way they haven't been before. They'll both be missed.

P.S. A follow-up to last week's blog: I had wondered what the "CRP" stood for in the signs posted around Rob Reiner's shooting site for his upcoming movie Flipped. Found out that Rob Reiner's production company is Castle Rock Productions. So I'm guessing . . .

Monday, July 20, 2009

Photographed While Biking

I took my camera along on a couple bike rides through the neighborhood recently as there were some interesting goings-on. Director Rob Reiner was in town, just a few blocks from my house, shooting his latest picture Flipped, described as an "adolescent war of the sexes." His base camp was located at the old middle school in town.

So the first picture here was a sign directing the crew and extras where to park. I don't know what CRP stands for but signs with CRP on them were everywhere in the vicinity. I would have liked to have photographed the film crew in action but they worked pretty much the same hours I did, so I settled for the sign here, a couple film production trucks, and the hydraulic lift equipment they used to do something, I don't know what. Not a very good nosey neighbor, am I.

I saw some of the extras from a distance, all dressed in clothes of the 50s. They had some 50s model cars parked at the school too. So I'm guessing this is going to be a 'period picture.' Captain Obvious strikes!

By the way, I heard that Rob Reiner does not like being called "meathead," the moniker given to him by Archie Bunker in the old TV series All in the Family. Apparently, he heard one of the locals call out to him by that name. Verboten! Please! Michigan needs all the economy it can get these days. Treat the studio people with respect.

The last picture I took while riding my bike by the library. It's art. A lady explained while I took this picture that this particular production was designed by her daughter, and constructed in a weekend by kids sponsored by the library and a local arts center.

The "gates" fabric exhibition constructed by artist Christo at New York's Central Park inspired this youth version, I was told. It's supposed to remain up for another couple weeks. That is unless a big storm rolls through in which case Mother Nature may create her own masterpiece.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Taste Of My Heritage

Wendy and I journeyed to Hamtramck this past week where our nephew's band was playing a gig. Hamtramck is a largely Polish enclave in the heart of metropolitan Detroit. I told our little entourage that I would go if we could leave early and stop at one of the locally renowned Polish restaurants there for dinner.

My family on my father's side is Polish so I thought I could indulge my ethnicity with a taste of Poland at the Polish Village Inn. It turned out to be a rather crowded and lively downstairs venue very reminiscent of some ethnic cafe you might find in a New York movie. Their Polish dinner offered the traditional pierogi (potato dumpling), golabki (cabbage roll), and kielbasa (sausage). I ordered that.

But there was something else on the menu that piqued my interest--a Polish soup that I had heard my family speak positively of since I was barely able to walk. Czarnina! I've been to a few Polish restaurants in my time but I don't remember seeing czarnina on the menu. This was my chance to sample an unusual Polish delicacy. So I ordered a cup for myself.

For those not familiar with czarnina, the broth is produced using the blood of a duck. OK, that might not sound appetizing in itself. And I'm pretty sure I had czarnina once at the family dinner table when I was barely able to see over the table from my chair. As I recall, it tasted sour and I labeled it "tar soup" because of its dark appearance.

I remember thinking that my family must have hit poverty row since the broth looked identical to pictures I had seen of those poor children in other countries whose meals consisted of some bread and a bowl of similarly colored soup.

Now that I wonder about it, why would my mother, or ANY mother, give their child soup made from the blood of a duck or any other animal? We weren't entertaining the Draculas if I recall. Then again, my mother will just accuse me of exercising my imaginitive recollection again and deny that I was served czarnina before. But I think I was.

Anyway, I figured the soup should taste better this time. Afterall, I remember my grandfather raving about how good it was, and how it was rendered into a gravy served at a wedding or party he attended. And how some gentleman who swore he would never touch czarnina had more than one helping of the "tasty gravy" without knowing what it was.

But my childhood memory was accurate, at least so far as the taste. Tar soup it was. I offered samples to those around but got no takers. It had a heavy, somewhat sour flavor. But I did finish it, dumping some over my mashed potatoes to make it slightly more palatable. Washing it down with a large goblet of Polish draft beer didn't hurt either.

Later, we stopped at a Polish market where they had some wonderful looking desserts. However, the labels on the packages were all in Polish, which I don't read at all. I bought some babuni cake. What does babuni mean? I don't know. Hopefully, it's not 'goose hair' or something like that.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Sinking Feelings

I hope everyone had a fun Fourth of July. Though we did the usual cook-out and get-together with family, I also spent much of the three-day weekend wrestling with our downstairs lavatory sink.

This is a first for me. I’ve replaced faucets but never a sink. I do get a sinking feeling whenever I have to take on home improvement projects, especially those which involve plumbing since water pressure and I do not get along.

My projects have a tendency to grow out of proportion to what I originally planned to do . . . like this one. It started out simple. I had a badly leaking faucet. Tried to replace the washer but could not work the faucet handle free and my efforts threatened to rupture my plumbing. So I decided to replace the whole faucet as it was old anyway.

After turning off the water and pulling off the faucet hardware, I decided that maybe it was time to replace the sink too since it was cracked with something black and impervious to the strongest cleaning solvents growing in the cracks (either alien plasma or anti-matter sediment of some sort I figured). I loosened the locknut that I thought held the sink drain to the sink itself. But the sink still wouldn’t budge and my efforts again threatened to rupture my plumbing. Decided to call dad.

My father thought the metal drain piece at the bottom of the sink should unscrew somehow. So I tried unscrewing that but was unsuccessful. And again my efforts there threatened to . . . So I decided to remove the sink, drainpipe, AND the trap too. Now there was no more danger of my rupturing the plumbing. I’d taken it all out.

So now just a jaunt to the local Lowe’s to get a new sink to go with the vanity. That’s when wife Wendy and I found out that the sink that I just trashed was apparently the opposite of one-size-fits-all. It was the only sink its size ever made in the whole history of mankind. All the other sinks were too big or too small to fit on the top of our vanity.

It’s amazing all the different types of lavatory sinks you can buy now. No, we don’t want a pedestal sink. Nor a vessel sink, where the bowl sits atop your vanity rather than fits inside.

Now we’re trying to decide our next step. Continue looking for a replacement sink, possibly driving to Toledo and Menard’s? Perhaps deconstructing the vanity and putting in a new one, at which point Wendy thought we might as well have the floor replaced as well. And maybe even replace the upstairs bathroom floor since that’s old too.

Okay, maybe we should just go ahead and replace all the carpeting too as long as we’ve got the flooring people on the way. New kitchen cabinets, a new garage door opener . . . .

I think I want to move.