Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Cherry Capital?

I'm a little late putting up my usual weekly blog because Wendy and I just got back from a long weekend up north, celebrating our upcoming 30th anniversary at the end of the month.

We hit a couple brew pubs around Traverse City (we have a list of Michigan micrbreweries and check off the ones we've been to and northwest Michigan is one area we hadn't tried yet). Also stopped by to see my nephew's home he just bought near Grand Traverse Bay. He and his wife live up there year-round. Lucky them.

Traverse City bills itself as the cherry capital of the world. And they're also popular around this time of year as a morel mushroom hunting destination. Wendy and I didn't have time to hunt morels in the wild. But I was hoping to sample some cherries and/or morels at the restaurants we visited while we were there.

So at the first restaurant we tried, we asked about dessert. Mmmmmm, cherry pie we were expecting but the waiter said they only had fruit cobbler. Mmmmmmm, cherry cobbler. Even better. But no. The waiter said it was mango berry cobbler. No cherries. Okayyyyyy. This is Traverse City, right? The cherry capital of the world, right?

The next day Wendy and I stopped for breakfast at the Greenhouse cafe downtown, a place we overheard is locally renowned for its fresh fruit. Wendy ordered that for breakfast. It was fresh and delicious. There were pineapple, melons, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries . . . but again no cherries. Again, this is in downtown Traverse City . . . the cherry capital of the world.

No morels either again. I was hoping for a mushroom and cheese omelet, but the special that morning here was an asparagus and cheese omelet. Asparagus! Who wants asparagus with their omelet? Or with anything else for that matter?

OK, we know where to get some cherry pie. The Grand Traverse Pie company headquartered here also has a an outlet in Ann Arbor where we've visited often. We find a local GT Pie company cafe later but it's CLOSED! It's not even nine o'clock in the evening. In Ann Arbor, they're open till at least nine. We do find a restaurant that serves fruit cobbler later but they only have raspberry fruit cobbler.

Again, this is in Traverse City . . . the cherry capital of the world.

My nephew earlier recommended the Stella Trattoria in Grand Traverse Commons, which formerly housed the state mental hospital but now is being converted to shops and housing. Very trendy and a place that prides itself on using products from local farms. They even list the local farms that supply their produce, meats, cheeses, etc. on their menu

So I check out their specials, hoping for maybe a cherry tart or a morel mushroom soup. But the soup of the day? It's cream of asparagus!! I think Traverse City is really the asparagus capital of the world. They just don't advertise it because it wouldn't draw the tourists as much.

OK, so I had the cream of asparagus soup. Not bad. And the ambience was interesting, being that this was the former Northern Michigan asylum. In fact, I commented to Wendy that the paintings on the wall reminded me of Van Gogh's work done during one of his more psychotic episodes.

As, we wandered around the cavernous building later I wondered whatever happened to all the residents who once resided there. You can't just close the doors of an asylum, can you? My guess is they're working for the local tourist industry.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Milestone Anniversary

A milestone anniversary is coming up. My wife Wendy and I will celebrate number 30 in a couple weeks, May 31 to be exact. I know because the date is engraved on the inside of my wedding band. I imagine there is a particular gift for the 30th year: platinum, china, ebony, rock, paper, scissors . . . I don’t know which. I didn’t buy anything yet.

I did make reservations at a couple resort type hotels as we have a couple days off to travel along Lake Michigan. But the names of the hotels will remain a mystery to the missus until we get there. Even after 30 years, you need a few surprises to spice up the relationship.

For our last milestone anniversary, our 25th, my generous parents paid for us to stay at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. No cars allowed there, only horses and bikes. I brought my tennis rackets as they had clay tennis courts, something I always wanted to try. But after hitting the ball a few strokes, Wendy came up lame. She could barely walk let alone continue our tennis game. If she would have been one of the Mackinac Island horses, they would have shot her.

I still remember our first anniversary which included a trip to Toronto. We took the train but after gathering up our luggage at our destination all the cabs had been taken. We hauled our suitcases the several blocks to our hotel. I remember one rush hour driver rolling down his window and calling out, “Welcome to Toronto.” Wendy called back thanks.

One of my memories from that trip was making a reservation at Sir Nicholas, a Polish restaurant on the outskirts there that required a long bus ride. When we arrived and were escorted in, I wasn’t going to divulge that we had reservations lest the place be empty and we be revealed as naïve tourists.

Sure enough, the cavernous dining area had plenty of tables but few diners. Just as I was taking this in, Wendy spoke up, “We have reservations.” I never let her forget that. We could easily have reserved the whole place that night. Thankfully, the host pretended he didn’t hear.

Hea! Just for the heck of it, I Googled Sir Nicholas Restaurant in Toronto just now. Check out this blurb which was part of another restaurant review:
“You have to understand: Roncesvalles has never been a culinary destination. Yes, it's true that the Pope made a pit stop to the long since boarded up Sir Nicholas Restaurant for some Polish/Hungarian cuisine.”

I didn’t know that the Pope dined there. Wonder if he had a reservation.

What adventures will we have on the road this weekend? Of course, we can have adventures at home too. In fact, we had one just last night. I awoke in the middle of the night to scratching sounds. In the darkness, it appeared than an animal was trying to break in through our second story bedroom screen which overlooks the roof of our family room.

I slammed the window shut as it was partially open. This awakened Wendy. I told her there was an animal trying to get in through our window. Now this happened once before but the animal had fled before Wendy had seen it. She was sure the would-be intruder was a figment of either a dream or my imagination.

But this time she saw it. It was a raccoon, she said. Very scary, especially when I showed her how our screen was pushed free of its frame by the masked marsupial (yeah, I know he’s not a marsupial but masked marsupial sounds cool).

So today she told friends and family about the midnight encounter with the raccoon. She e-mailed her sister too, which got forwarded to me as well. But I found the e-mail subject header odd. I would have thought she would have titled her e-mail “Raccoon at our window”, or “Animal almost gets into our bedroom.”

Instead, reminded of my earlier account of the raccoon at our bedroom window, Wendy titled her e-mail, “Dave is not crazy.” *sigh*

After 30 years of marriage, this should be news?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Whirwind Trips

Just got back yesterday from a trip to Kansas City. Though the trip was swift, leaving Saturday and coming back Monday, it had been planned for a couple weeks now since we received an invite to Wendy's sister's surprise sixtieth birthday party at the home of her son in rural Kansas.

After driving over 12 hours, our party consisting of me, Wendy, her sister Denise and her two older boys, arrived at the party late. That just provided a double surprise for Sue, my wife's sister. She had already received her first surprise when she arrived herself to see a gathering of children and grandkids there in her honor. When she saw Wendy emerge from our car, she excitedly hurried to the end of the driveway. They hadn't seen eachother since the death of their mother almost seven years ago.

The get-together was planned by Sue's husband Fred who conspired with other members of the immediate family to make her 60th birthday that much more memorable. I particularly enjoyed the dinner that included a seafood boil and Kansas style barbecue. I took a picture of the boil here. You can see crab legs but probably not the shrimp, crawdads, clams, andouille sausage, potatoes, corn on the cob, mmmmmmmmmmm.'

We drove back to Michigan a different way than AAA mapped out for us. I'm not sure I trust AAA maps anymore, though Mapquest's route didn't seem that much better. At least we didn't have any mishaps though there were a few scary moments. Driving around Chicago, we spotted the through sign for I-80 but there were also tollbooths going the same way for the turnpike.

It was weird, most everyone pulled off the expressway to pay their toll. Not us. We continued on through the lanes that were reserved for I-Pass. Except, I don't think we have I-Pass. Hea, it was all confusing. And not just for me. On our way back at the same location my sister-in-law who was driving at the time made the same mistake. She skipped the tollbooths and continued on through the I-Pass lanes.

She was going to swerve across a painted divider to get into the toll lanes, but I said to drive on. I'll just owe the state of Illinois a buck and twenty. They can bill me. I wasn't too happy with their interstate system there anyway. They need more rest areas.

Also on a whirlwind trip beginning this past weekend is my nephew Zac from South Dakota. Hoping for a career in medicine, he hooked up with a medical team from near my hometown in Michigan. They’re doing a weeklong medical mission in Haiti.

But Zac must have had some scary moments traveling as well, I think. He was supposed to rendezvous with the medical team at La Quinta Inn in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, prior to catching a 5 a.m. flight to Haiti. But when the group sent a representative to Zac’s room at before four in the morning to make sure he was up and ready, the door was answered by an older Hispanic gentleman instead. Zac was at a different La Quinta Inn. Somehow they did rendezvous but I don't know how. Zac is in Haiti now.

Let's hope his trip back is more uneventful. Whirlwind trips don’t tend to be though.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

No Fist Pump, Obama?

The University of Michigan’s “Big House” played host to our illustrious President this past Saturday. He was the keynote speaker at the U of M’s spring commencement ceremony. I was there also as my nephew graduated and received his undergraduate degree.

I took the picture of Obama speaking here, very much zoomed in as I was up high in the cheap seats. But I had a pair of binoculars too, so I could see things more up close. Regardless of where you were sitting and regardless of whether you’re an Obama fan or not, you have to respect his ability to hold sway over a crowd of 80,000 plus.

Whenever I’ve attended commencements in the past, it’s a struggle for any speaker to hold the attention of their audience for 10 minutes, let alone 30 minutes like Obama did with his address. Usually beach balls sail here and there over the crowd, graduates chat distractedly and the older folks grow inpatient. I didn’t see that this time.

But the President still disappointed me.

This is the University of Michigan’s Big House, one of the most revered places in all of college football. Nearly every prior speaker paid their customary respects with a hearty, “Go Blue!” to close their remarks. The elected student speaker eloquently compared the challenges of change the President seeks in his first term with the challenges of change sought by U of M’s new football coach Rich Rodriguez as he strives for a winning season.

Our governor Jennifer Granholm warmed up the crowd by thanking the President for a number of favors he’s accomplished for the state of Michigan, but reserved her final thank you “for coming here instead of that school to the south” to an appreciative roar of approval from those listening.

Then Obama started his own speech by saying, “It is great to be here in the Big House and so may I say, “Go Blue!” I thought I’d go for the cheap applause line to start things off.”

What??!! “Go Blue” is not just some cheap applause line. It’s mantra, it’s sacred symbolism, it’s a tenet of life here in Ann Arbor. I’ve heard “Go blue” from strangers pretty much everywhere in the country I wear my Michigan shirt. C’mon Mr. President, “Go Blue” deserves more respect than that.

And that wasn’t my only disappointment. At the very end, after all the speaking, honors and salutations, the U of M band put the final icing on the ceremonial cake with a rousing rendition of “Hail to the Victors.”

It was something stirring to see the sea of fists thrusting skyward in unison at the word “hail”, even among the silk-robed intellectual elite gathered on the stage. But from what I could see through my binoculars, one person up on the stage was conspicuously not joining in the ritual—Obama.

Now wait a minute. Didn’t Obama get into trouble by bowing when he was in Japan? He obviously thought it was a case of “when a guest in Rome . . . “ So why not do what they do in the Big House when you’re a guest in the Big House? Where was his chief of protocol on that one?

Maybe the President’s lack of partisan spirit had something to do with his theme for his commencement address, which had to do with civility, respect and acceptance. OK, I guess. I can see a day when Democrats and Republicans might get along, maybe even a day when there is peace in the Middle East.

But a day when we will welcome to the Big House with civility, open arms and warm hearts those people representing that “school from the south” that Governor Granholm talked about? Trust me, it’ll never happen.