Home

Backyard Big Doin’s

November 2, 2021

As Tuesdays go, this was an exciting one (as regards backyard developments):

Exciting thing #1:

Jim finished the siding on the play structure yesterday.. and this morning, I got a couple of nice shots:

This afternoon, he started/finished the staining:

Exciting thing #2:

I looked out the window this afternoon to see a man on our fence…HE IS INSTALLING FIBER! At long last, we will have fancy pants high speed internet service to our home. Hallelujah!

Exciting thing #3:

The garlic has broken ground! And the dill and arugula are gaining speed. Things will be tasting fine this winter.

A Good Development

October 28, 2021

This showed up today…

It’s wood that Jim salvaged from our former trellis and then cut to fit for his latest project: converting Peter’s play structure into an observation tower… sort of an adult play structure, a place we can sit, read, drink wine. (And by we, I mean me.)

He’s going to build walls around the lower part of this structure.. which will make it a bit more visually interesting — as seen from the house — and provide a place for storage of gardening tools (or whatever).

I’m reminded of that great comic strip (can’t remember whose great comic strip it was but it was great) where the main character kid leaves the house for college, forgets something on his way out, returns to get whatever it is, and his parents have already converted his room to a home office. “It’s a home office now” has been a joke for about five years around here. Cracks us up every time we say it.

And now Peter’s childhood backyard play structure is an observation tower. Doesn’t have the same ring to it, but same idea.

Sorry honey.

THE HOUSE THAT JIM BUILT

Here’s a little retrospective:

Jim started the build on this when Peter was 4-years-old, in 2002:

He built it right over a DG path, that encircled the back yard, and a whole bunch of existing landscaping (which had already seen some degradation once kids came along…. don’t forget, our house had once been on the annual Pence Garden Tour because of the gorgeous backyard Adelaide (previous owner) had put in and lovingly cared for — a huge selling point for the house.).

Jim’s plan was to build a 6’x6′ (I’m estimating) second story platform, accessible via metal ladder, with a slide descending down the backside, a swing attached to the side and a sandbox comprising the entire ground floor. Oh, and a peaked roof covering the whole thing and glassless windows in all four directions. The whole thing would sit on a huge bed of bark, a foot (or two?) deep all around, enclosed with redwood borders.

More shots in progress:

This is what Jim looked like during that era, underscoring how long ago this play structure was built!:

(Wow.)

And here are Peter and Jim working on the project together**

(** never happened the way Jim mighta thought it would, but that was a-okay! Peter has many gifts… construction is not one of them. )

Here’s what it looked like once the slide and swing were added….

Note the very safe way (not) that Peter got up to that swing (which was actually not envisioned by the designer (Jim) as a sit-on-swing).

Because…. being shot down by the enemy positioned at the top of the slide and landing in the pool below happened a lot (and sometimes that pool had water in it). (Jeez, that’s a long way down!)

Speaking of using pools inappropriately (and in the dead of night, no less…) (looks like I may have surprised them…):

When, if fact, this was the way it was supposed to work:

Also in the category of unintended slide uses… the old slide-down-the-slide-in-a-chair routine… (I cannot imagine that ended well..)

On the tamer side…. the sandbox was a big hit for years.. not that it was always tame sand play, because: boys.

This is a view from the top floor of Peter climbing the adjacent cherry tree.. which he loved doing.. (I probably made him wear his bike helmet!) … until it had to be cut down due to disease…

Anyway….

Much fun was had in/on/around the play structure. But now… it’s an observation tower; no slide, no swing, no pools, no bark, no sand…. just a ladder to the shaded top floor, which also has a great view!!

And, with that lumber seen in the first picture, will soon have designer walls around the first level. Stay tuned!

Until Next Time, A2

October 25, 2021

After a week of very cooperative (and beautiful) weather, we left Michigan on a rainy day. We managed a full week fun activities, many of them outdoors, so way to thread the weather needle K&J!

In organizing all my stuff and packing to leave, I assembled this pile of scrapbook items (shockingly, I am not a person who scrapbooks, so no need to save any of these!):

We had a late afternoon flight, so after a leisurely breakfast with Lisa (this was Claire’s long day of clients so she was in her office on back to back to back Zoom calls), we had time for a good cafe session at the Drip House on Main, just across from the stadium (we will return!). Then it was all travel: shuttles, TSA lines, wee bags of crunchy snacks, single solitary overhead reading lights, bathroomettes, rote take off and landing instructions, more shuttles, time warps … yadda, etc, ugh.

Oh, and this:

We did all airports — Detroit, Denver and Sac — with a wheelchair for ME! Somehow, last night, I did something to my… IT band? Femoral nerve? Sciatic nerve? Hip? Back? Not sure what it was, but it manifested in a sharp pain to my outer right thigh and my complete inability to put any (ANY) weight on my right leg. Quite the problem on travel day.

Buy wow… are wheelchairs fun in airports! Plus, you get to skip lines, board early and sit close to the front door of the aircraft (as they call it). So no complaints. Except I’m not too happy about the jabbing pains. This better resolve soon.

I made great progress in Beautiful Ruins (great book) and enjoyed some nice views of flyover country:

Lots of windmills in what I think was Iowa (they are so huge, you can actually see them spinning from 37k feet), and those round irrigated crop patterns in what I think was eastern Colorado. And clouds somewhere.

Arrived home about 9ish. Very civilized.

Potawatomi

October 24, 2021

It was a great day for a typical Michigan hike. As Sierra hikers, we needed to adjust our expectations. They don’t have mountains, nor massive expanses of granite, nor conifers and redwoods and giant sequoias. But they DO have forests, seemingly endless forests, with lots of gentle ups and downs. They have rivers and lakes and poison ivy. We hear they have mosquitoes in the summer, so fall hiking was nice: cool, quiet, dark. I don’t know if that was typical, but we had an exceptionally fun hike today.

Here are some pics:

Driving west and maybe north a bit? I won’t say it all looks the same, but as unfamiliar as I was with the area, the farm and forest landscape did have a look. Without a map, I’d be lost.

Ah… here’s a map, and yes, north and west of A2:

Just as we were completing our hike, the rain started. Nice of it to hold off. We headed over to a town called Hell. It’s famous and very kitschy. I got a souvenir mug (right?) and we posed for one of these:

We came home, got cleaned up, then headed out to Chelsea for dinner. We ate at the Common Grill, a wonderful restaurant in what looked like a really charming town (it was dark and rainy, so hard to tell, but we hear it’s a very nice little town). The Common Grill is owned by Jeff Daniels, of all people! He grew up in Chelsea. No Jeff Daniels sightings, but a great dinner. We were joined by Peter and Maya! Extra special.

I keep thinking, over and over: it’s going to be a very fun 4-5 years of visits, in all seasons. My hope is to go 2-4 times a year, and am realizing there is so much to see and do that is very un-California-like. I just keep smiling at the thought.

Let the record show, Jim and I went to a college football game today. Not just a college football game, but a Big Ten college football game. We had to go all the way to Michigan and have a son attending said Big Ten school before such a thing could happen, but today was the day and it was so glorious (in a picture perfect football day kinda way). We have attended UCD football games in the past (could count our combined attendance over 40+ years on one hand, I expect), but this was the real football deal, pretty much the Mecca of football (The Big House). And it was incredibly fun (says me) and may just become a fall tradition (proposes Peter). Jim will be happy to go along, b/c he’s a great sport and wuvs his family. And he’ll pump his fist at all the appropriate, band-led cues, besides! (We were hilariously slow studies on this game-time ritual, but by the fourth quarter we had it down!)

But let me back up a little.

We almost missed all this fun. Last night, Jim realized he’d left our tickets at home, safely pinned to his office bulletin board so he wouldn’t misplace them in that office of his. J, L, C and I went into major problem solving mode and the best we could come up with was having Janet go over to our house, take a picture of all four tickets and text to Jim. I figured this was a slam dunk (to mix sports metaphors). I mean: bar code. Out of towners, parents of a new Wolverine, parents who spent $600+ on four football tickets (GO TEAM!), who made a silly little mistake and left their tickets in California. How could they NOT let us in.

None of this passed muster: not the photos, not the bar codes, not the desperate, pleading faces with weak sob story. We showed up at Will Call at 10am, soon as they opened, and gamely presented our photo’ed tickets and made our case. To no avail. This is my text to Peter:

Jim was not successful in contacting Seat Geek. But.. on a second (and evermore desperate) attempt with the Will Call folks, we got a different agent willing to contact the original season ticket holder (who knew?). This was a long shot, but it’s all we had. I frankly don’t know why this was necessary, but before they’d print us a new set of tickets, they had to verify that the orig ticket holder was not planning to use them, and somehow be convinced we were legitimate purchasers of his/her seats. Within minutes, we had a response and, reluctant and annoyed at first but now convinced, they printed out replacement tickets for us.

With that giant smile, you’d think Jim was a big football fan! He may not be exactly that, but he did feel really, really, REALLY bad about forgetting the tix. This is the smile of a very relieved person.

Jim and I met P&M outside the main North gate. They had to dump their coffee/cups, then had to stash Maya’s water bottle in some bushes in a nearby neighborhood, then had to put all the back-up warm clothes on that were in her bag and stuff her bag in a pocket.. (I had to do the same).. and we could get in!

And here we are inside:

Us and this many people:

Universally known as The Big House, it’s the largest college football stadium in the country. Says Wikipedia:

Michigan Stadium, nicknamed “The Big House“,[6] is the football stadium for the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It is the largest stadium in the United States and Western Hemisphere, outside of Asia, the third largest stadium in the world, and the 34th largest sports venue.[7] Its official capacity is 107,601,[8] but has hosted crowds in excess of 115,000.”

(I don’t understand “third largest stadium in the world and 34th largest sports venue”…. but trust there’s a lot I don’t know about these things.)

We were duly into all of it: cheering, singing, fist pumping on cue (MI fight song with choreographed crowd response), right down to Peter’s yellow and blue argyle socks:

I can see why Peter suggested an annual tradition. I’m onboard. There was a lot of great energy leading up to and following the game. The neighborhoods were full of people, parties, M flags.

We ended up at Argus for some warm up coffee. A lovely neighborhood farm stand (Liberty and 2nd) w/ baked goods, too:

~~

P&M took off to get some work done, and Jim and I returned to L&C’s. Jim got some fire and tea time, and I took a great walk with Lisa and Scout to luxuriate in pure midwest fallness. A few good views:

Lisa likes taking pics, too:

I have a ton more… but you get the idea. So so so pretty.

~~

Peter and Maya came out for dinner and it was a wonderful evening. Played Pictionary (the usual hilarity ensued), talked a bunch..

Gathered around and watched a video Jim made of a metal project… always a hit!

A nice day all around.

Country Living

October 22, 2021

Check out day for Jim and me… moving from the Burnt Toast Inn to Lisa’s and Claire’s house. We’d offered to cook dinner for them, so first stop was to the People’s Food Coop in downtown, just on the edge of Kerrytown, and nearby Zingerman’s for some bread and cheese.

What a nice town.

Speaking of nice…. between Ann Arbor and Dexter, along the Huron River, lies a sweet little community of rural-ish homes. This is where Lisa and Claire bought a new home and moved in just three months ago.

The house (which will undergo some pretty significant remodeling next month):

And the neighborhood….

We are carrying our groceries down the street to some friends’ house where we’ll cook and eat dinner tonight (see earlier comment about upcoming remodeling)..

And here are some other shots.. so so pretty in the fall (and chilly!):

There are two lakes right there, too (think swimming in the summer and skating in the winter):

Then we decided to drive (just 5 miles west) to Dexter (an old mill town) for lunch..a much smaller town (pop < 5000):

Took a walk along the river (Huron) and walked through a small cemetery …

Caught a few lovely sights on the way home.. this is a bird sculpture along the side of the road:

Then headed over to L&C’s friends’ house to cook: pasta, salad, garlic bread, vino (Turkovich’s The Boss!) and a berry pie with gelato. So glad that Peter joined us!

Ford Had a Better Idea

October 21, 2021

Today was go to Detroit day, since it was going to rain and it seemed a good day to be inside somewhere. Except we decided to go instead to Dearborn — just outside of Detroit — and see the Henry Ford. Yep, they call it the Henry Ford.

We’d made reservations for the 11:00 tour of the Rouge Ford Factory, again, based on the glowing recommendation of the other folks staying at the Burnt Toast earlier in the week (just remembered the guy’s name: Pat). Dearborn’s about 40 minutes east of Ann Arbor. We parked at the Henry Ford and took a short bus ride over to the plant.

Here we are (it looks like I’m scowling, but I’m not really.. just concentrating on my selfie, or perhaps annoyed by the mask-averse photo-bombers behind me?):

Not having much interest in cars, I was dubious about touring a car assembly plant. But what a great decision it was! As I’ve said to many people since: more than many museums, the experience of walking around this one — a working factory — will stick with me for a long time. The combination of the historical aspects of assembly-line car building, including all the union history, and watching real live people going about their daily (hourly, minutely) duties was fascinating. The tour included two short documentaries, both of which were excellent, a 1/3-mile catwalk overview of the plant floor (which we did twice), and a trip up into a tower that overlooked the entire 900-acre complex. All extremely interesting.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the plant part, but I found a picture online of that. Here, then, are a few pics:

First, and unrelated to cars, a photo of a lovely flower bed at the Henry Ford. I notice that these colorful domes of flowers were all over Michigan (at least A2 and Dearborn)… are they mums? Yes, I think so:

Seriously, they were everywhere!

Here is Henry Ford himself:

This is the entrance to the assembly plant, one of many, many buildings:

This is what the inside of the plant looks like. You can’t see it here, but there is a huge/wide conveyor belt that carries the cars in the various stages of assembly from station to station where a factory worker will perform his/her piece of the process. They all have the same amount of time to complete their task so that the vehicles, on the belt, snake smoothly from beginning to end. We watched people attach windshields, sunroofs, headlights, and so so so many other things.

Here are a couple of the information placards; they explain things so I don’t have to!

We learned that today, they spit out about 1200 vehicles a day at this plant. On this day, they were making F-150s, all to order! They make nothing on spec; every single truck coming out of this plant is made according to a unique pre-order.

Here are a few of Ford’s notable products, this display starting with the Model A and ending with the ’64 Mustang:

Okay. Way enough car talk.

~~

A bit about Dearborn from Wikipedia:

“As of the 2020 census, it had a population of 109,976. Dearborn is the seventh most-populated city in Michigan and is home to the largest Muslim population in the United States per capita.” (About 1/3 of the population identifies as Arab-American or are of Arab descent, mostly Shia from Lebanon and Iraq.)

Therefore, some great Middle Eastern restaurants! We had a late afternoon snack here, and it was superb (pita plate with hummus, baba ganoush and tabouli).

My favorite cuisine. We’ll be back.

~~

This was a Peter and Maya night. We met them for dinner at The Earle in downtown Ann Arbor. What a great way to spend an evening!!

This is the kind of day we expected to spend more of on this trip and, while we didn’t have more of them, expect to enjoy them on future trips. That is: Peter goes about his day’s business — unencumbered by visiting parents — and we meet up in the evening for dinner (or maybe our meet-up that day is at lunch, or maybe it’s for a late afternoon walk, or….). Our intention is to visit Ann Arbor a few times a year, get a sense of his town, work/research and life, enjoy his company when he’s got time (hopefully a little here and there nearly every day.. or not) and generally be there, but not a source of stress or a thing to be managed. That’s the goal.

Today was that day.

We had two days of great conversations with these folks from San Diego.. Somebody and Fran. It’s almost embarrassing: we all pass through the B&B — day in-day out, year in-year out… as far as the eye can see — and fit the same predictable profile: parents visiting kids at UMich. Sure Sarah’s seen a million of us… all about the same age, with about the same aged kids, who are doing well academically, on their thoughtfully-planned paths. (She’s got a couple of those, too, though hers are a decade or so ahead.) Sure the conversations follow similar scripts: “Oh! You have a kid here, too? What are they studying? Are there others at home? How ’bout those Wolverines!

This is us — Jim, Somebody, Fran and me — at Sarah’s cozy kitchen table eating breakfast…. this day waffles, dill-ish eggs, fruit, cheese, all all the extra stuff. Taking about our college-aged kids (S&F’s have graduated, actually, and are working and have kids, who they are excitedly visiting). We actually exchanged contact info, but doubt we’ll see them again… you know how that goes.

They told us all about the Rouge Factory Tour (Ford plant in Deerborn), which we’ll end up visiting the following day.

This day, however, we planned a low-key Ann Arbor day.. that included a stroll through downtown (in sunny, 70-degree weather!)…

A stop at Literati — a great local, independent bookstore:

Jim may look like he’s reading a book (I thought he was), but he’s actually engrossed in his Daily NYT Crossword puzzle because he’s got a 33-day+ streak going and doesn’t want to break it (as of this writing, it’s still going).

We wandered over to the Farmer’s Market in Kerrytown, because that happens on Wednesdays. It’s a pretty sweet market, I have to say! Love those tiny eggplants.

We returned later in the day (not wanting to carry food around all day), to find most of the things we were planning to buy were gone, but ended up with a loaf of sweet-but-not-too-sweet nettle bread which we presented to Lisa and Claire later in the week. Very different. I liked it, Jim wasn’t in love.

Next up: the UMich Museum of Art, on campus and wonderful enough! This is just outside the museum, my very arty shot of a Umich flag framed by some modern sculpture (ha!) (mostly showing off how gorgeous the day was):

We spent a couple of hours there.. say Monet, Rodin, Klee, Tiffany glass and lots of other stuff.. including a few Pablo Picassos. This was my accidentally-great selfie.. where my mask colors match Picasso’s palette (the greatness of this selfie was pointed out to me later, and I must agree!):

Here’s the painting’s description:

Because I love this picture, I’m going to post it here… it’s just a photo I came across a few weeks ago of Picasso and .. who wouldn’t love it?

Looks like a guy who has women completing for his affections, no? (Did you read the painting description above?)

Here’s a painting I was quite in love with… artist: James MacNeill Whistler (of Whistler’s Mother fame).

And its description:

And two more: one of some lace detail (can never get enough of these… just love them), and one of the young Abraham Lincoln, which held my attention for about ten minutes, lost in thought about who he’d become and the impacts he’d have on this country (both of these are zoom-ins on much larger paintings).

One more that got my attention for all the wrong reasons:

I am not an appreciator of “color-field abstract” painters of the 1960s and 70s (this one by Jules Olitski). I hate to be that person, scowling at an art piece, saying things like “uh.. I could do that,” but the thought def crossed my mind.

I like the lace better.

~~

Completely dragging with our museum legs, we found a cafe to hang out in — Sweetwaters on Ashley and Washington — that was a big, relaxing, relief of an hour. And like I said, how we expected to spend a lot of our days.

~~

Then.. after hanging out for a bit in our B&B room, Jim and I went to dinner, just us … a whole day by ourselves. We ate at Sava’s up on State (right across the street from the campus) and enjoyed it. Not my shot, but here’s what the interior looks like:

Good food, casual, good service and lots of leftovers for Peter.

I love waking up in Ann Arbor. Even though it’s a progressive college town very much like Davis, and even though, like our house in Davis, The Burnt Toast Inn is just a block from downtown and a few blocks from campus (in Davis it’s the other way around, but same idea), Ann Arbor just has a completely different feel. I’ll always be a Californian and will always love where we live, but I really (really) enjoy the charm and character of these midwestern towns (this kind of charm probably characterizes just about anything east of the Rockies).

Our view out the second story window this morning. Nice.

But it reveals something that has flummoxed us about A2: the street striping..

… does this mean cars drive down the center of the street — whichever direction — and bikes have the outer lanes? There is no room for a car to navigate the parked vehicles and stay within that outside lane.. so.. there seems to be no place to drive but the center lane whichever whichway you’re going. (Never mind that the guy across the street is straddling two parking places and the trailer overshot his, as well.)

Seems a bit of a mess all around.

~~

Jim and I had a great breakfast at the B&B, then headed into town to pass some time (until Peter could meet us), which we did at the cafe next door to Zingerman’s in Kerrytown, called, “The Next Door Cafe,” funnily enough. Mucho pleasant. Peter came by and we took off in his car, bound for the Arb (the U of M’s Nichol’s Arboretum). He’s spent a lot of time there.

We could see why:

It’s a huge place, very hilly, largely tree-covered (except for some central grassy areas):

We walked about three miles and didn’t see the whole thing by any stretch. It was great to just be walking around on a warm day with our kiddo in a place he’s come to really love.

At one point, there was an overlook and to the North you could see North Campus, where the engineering school is, among a few others (architecture & urban planning; music, theater & dance; art & design; a maybe another one or two)… in distance look for the tower:

We even saw some fauna:

A praying mantis, I believe.

And here’s a bit of cool flora (in a residential neighborhood near where we parked.. ); huge leaves, all dangling like ornaments.

~~

That evening, we met Maya. (Big Event for the parents.) P&M met us at our place, we walked around the neighborhood for about an hour (a nice way to talk and get to know each other a teeny bit), then met Lisa and Claire at the Black Pearl on Main Street). Fantastic to see everyone. I didn’t take any pics, but Lisa took this one of the P&M reviewing the menu on their phones (the way we do it, these days (!) … becoming so commonplace now).

Just a terribly sweet looking couple (if you ask me.. the mom).

A2 Here We Come

October 18, 2021

This mom’s excited. Have I said how much I enjoy: 1) visiting Peter; 2) being in Ann Arbor; 3) being in Ann Arbor in the Fall; 4) travelin’ with Jim; 5) hanging with friends….. plus….. the prospect of meeting Maya, going to a big ol’ hairy college football game, trying new restaurants, getting to know better the area, doing touristy things, having time to read and sit in cafes…

All. Of. It.

Times a hundred million.

Especially seeing Peter. In his home, among his peeps, doing his life. And, I strongly suspect, enjoying it all mightily.

~~

Okay, so we depart drought-stricken, brown California… and land in water-logged, green Michigan:

Our first four nights will be at the Burnt Toast Inn — my/our third time here. It would have been longer, but for the fact it’s a game weekend and we didn’t book a room far enough in advance. Sarah had four days early in the week, but no room at the Inn over the weekend. This turns out to be fine because: Lisa and Claire… which I’ll get to in a later post!

After an easy, on-time landing in Detroit, we got our car and headed into Ann Arbor.. about a 25-minute drive. Settled into the Gold Room at Sarah’s and met up with Peter. Woohoo!

We had dinner at a great place called Frita Batidos — “Stark white space with picnic table seating serves colorful cuban street food & tropical cocktails.” Check!

Then we walked and walked and walked… onto campus, around town… talked, looked at stuff.

The above were on the main campus, adjacent to downtown, the below was a promenade just off campus.. it was pretty late by this point, but felt good to be in fresh air after a long travel day.

And that was pretty much day one.