It’s Only May

May 31, 2021

This could be a brutal summer if May 31 is any indication.

Happy me (and Jim)… we had a greater-than-two number of people over for dinner last night. We menu-planned, prepped, marinated, assembled, cooked, grilled…. all just like the before times, and it was quite fun. This post-pandemic life is something I could get used to.

(That said, it’s not post-pandemic for a lot of the world, and for them I am truly distressed. For the gazillionth time, we must acknowledge we live in privilege-land here in the US. Our country may be goingtohellinahandbasket, but we are winning the vaccination game. Thank you drug people, thank you Joe.)

While I’d love to go into detail about the two new dishes I made, I neglected to get any photos. Just know, it was really nicely grilled/charred skewers of marinated chicken thighs (in yogurt, lime, olive oil, toasted cumin seeds, kosher salt, grated ginger, crushed garlic) basted with fresh tarragon, mint, butter and salt) and a watermelon salad (that also included arugula, pistachios, cucumber and goat cheese, with a tangy vinaigrette (lemon, olive oil, s&p, cayenne, red onion, and new-to-me spice — and a lot of it — sumac). Served with grilled pita and some last minute brown basmati in case I had a fail somewhere. I forgot the yogurt sauce I’d made that goes with the chicken dish and also forgot to finish the presentation with fresh torn tarragon and mint leaves, but nobody was the wiser. Carrie and Marc brought hummus aps, Karen and Steve brought cheesecake and berries, and Janet brought wine, for a truly enjoyable feast, start to finish. Says me. I gave both dishes 4s, Jim gave the chicken a 4, and the watermelon a 3. He thought the watermelon was not sweet enough (and true dat, we are in the tasteless watermelon and sour fruit phase of pre-summer). I really loved the salad, though. High on texture and interest.

Anyway, no meal or process pics. But I I did snap a couple….

I am thrilled to have learned this week of a new and better way to peel ginger. I’ve always done it with a small, sharp knife, which is crude and time consuming, and you lose a lot of ginger. So I loved hearing that most people responding to Lance’s Facebook query, “how do YOU peel ginger?” said, “with a spoon.” Huh, I thought. Then tried it out and it’s much, much better. Of course, Sarah, a great cook, said she buys frozen, peeled ginger cubes at Trader Joe’s, which would win in the labor saving cooking hacks category.

So… in the not labor intensive category:

As usual, since the pandemic began, I choose dishes and make shopping lists, Jim shops. That’s such a tedious part of cooking off the list. He wasn’t able to find rosted, salted, shelled pistachios… so…

In the labor intensive category, a half cup of newly shelled pistachios:

Here’s the NYT’s photo of the chicken dish. This is what it would have looked like If I’d remembered the yogurt sauce, and sprinkled with torn herbs:

Ahhh, to be a food photographer….

Sunflowers Rising

May 29, 2021

As seen in Central Park:

Here’s another with two photobombing bees:

All In A Day’s Work

May 28, 2021

Braggin’ on myself.

Raked and pruned and scooped and swept and blew.


Yay Me

May 27, 2021

I’m not sure if I’m proud of this or not… but, damn, I’m a great Spider Solitaire player. I spend way too much time playing it. Over the years — maybe even a decade now…or more? — I’ve installed, uninstalled, reinstalled the game numerous times…. because I worry about my addiction and the amount of time I waste. It’s definitely my go-to distraction. If I’m being kind to myself, I might just say it’s a nice way to relax.

I play four suits, which is the most challenging level of play. My current stats show that I’m at level 170 or so and have 388 wins (this covers a time frame of about two years… the length of time since my last reinstall). I will play a game until I win it, and sometimes that can take days (or longer!).

It’s not a regular occurrence, but from time to time, maybe once a month or two, I’ll end up on the leader board. They measure time, number of moves and overall score. It’s even better if it’s a “first play.” This may be my best showing: 5th in the entire world!

(Note: I back posted this, which is why the date doesn’t make sense.)


May 26, 2021

Mark Rivera and I were not close friends, but he’s someone I really enjoyed. He died peacefully in his sleep five days ago.

He was a ceramic artist who I worked with on the Compassion Bench project in 2013 (my role was minimal, but we sat in a lot of meetings together and I got to ride with him to his studio out in the country a couple of times as we transported tiles back and forth to 3rd and C Streets). I’ll remember him as a warm human being, always greeting people with a genuine smile and such kind and gentle words, always. I’ll also remember the time Jim and I ran into him downtown one night when he was enjoying some ecstasy and boy, did he shower us with love and hugs!

He’s left a beautiful mark on this town, with colorful, joyful ceramic sculptures in so many places. I’ve noticed flowers left at at least two of those pieces of art in the past couple of days. I love that he is so treasured.

Another artist on the Compassion Bench project was bench designer Brennan Blazer Bird, who wrote the following, which perfectly captures the Mark I had the pleasure of meeting and knowing.

This past weekend a dear friend passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. Mark Rivera was a prolific ceramic & mosaic artist, you literally cannot go anywhere in Davis without seeing his colorful and vibrant installations. He was also an incredibly caring, gentle, and humble man, who seemed to always have a big smile on the ready & a twinkle in his eye.

In 2013 I had the sincere honor to work closely with Mark Rivera & compassion activist David Breaux to build the Compassion Corner Earthbench, which still lives at the corner of 3rd & C streets in Downtown Davis. This was my first public art installation and it was a real joy to work alongside Mark with all his decades of experience as a public mosaic artist. In all my years of building Earthbenches, this was by far the best experience – we shut down the street for a big cob building workday with local band Tha Dirt Feelin’ – even the mayor of Davis came out to mix cob! Mark invited the community to make ceramic pieces in honor of compassion; he then meticulously pieced them together into the mosaic panels you see here.

Dear Mark~I love you brother! I am so sorry we didn’t get to share another time together before you made this journey. I so appreciate your friendship, your laughter, and your incredible generosity in sharing your gift with the world. Thank you so much for being my friend and my mentor.Just this past January I was telling my ceramic friend about how amazing you are, and I really wanted us to come to Davis and go on a bike tour with you around town to see all your art. I’m really sad that didn’t happen. Your passing has really shaken me, and made me remember how precious life is, and how important it is to cherish every present moment. I’m feeling really inspired to reach out to dear friends who I haven’t talked to or seen in years, to tell them that I still really care about them, that I love them, while I still can. So thank you for that gift that you have given me. I loved working on the Compassion Corner Earthbench with you; you were such a comrade in the arts. I loved our silly banter, our conversations & common interest in bringing more creativity & light to the world, and our uncanny ability to know exactly when it was time to take a smoke break haha. Thank you for sharing this experience with me, I will cherish it for the rest of my life.I hope you have an amazing and gentle journey into the next realm Mark! You will continue to be a shining light wherever you are. Thank you for being such a beautiful brother and for sharing so much of your gift with your community.With deep love & appreciation,~Brennan Blazer Bird

Brennan took this one of Mark in his studio:

Mark coordinated the tile making part of the project. Community members made a tile that said “compassion” to them and he assembled them into these large pieces that he then installed on the bench.

This is the underbelly of the bench… cob and dirt and other natural earth materials… and you can see the garbage-stuffed bottle that will also comprise the structure of the bench…(this was Brennan’s design and you can see why it’s called an Earthbench).

Mark and Brennan.. the artists.

Here are Mark, Brennan and me on dedication day:

Here’s Mark making comments at the dedication:

David Breaux was the reason for the bench in the first place. He had stood on this corner for years collecting in a notebook peoples’ ideas about compassion. It seemed fitting that a bench should be installed to honor him and the community’s commitment to compassion.

David, Brennan and me, also on dedication day… probably listening to Mark!

At the dedication, we had a fabulous cake!!

… which was a pretty great replica of the bench itself, no? The bench is unique and beautiful, but it’s the ceramic tiles and the messages each conveys that makes it such a moving and memorable art piece.

That’s Jim and David … many a conversation with David have been had on this bench.

Today I walked by the bench and saw this memorial to Mark..

RIP, Mark.

After nearly a year, it was the warmest-most-wonderful-feeling, ever, to see Peter and I was pretty sure I didn’t want the visit to end, ever. I really felt like I could just move to Ann Arbor. Not to be with him at every moment, but to be around, so that when he had a moment, or time for lunch, or something, we could meet. I could go with him on one of those long walks he’s been taking during this entire pandemic. Anything.. just hang out, whenever, or not, but just be close. Seemed like a perfect idea to me.

I didn’t bring it up, though.

Because, on the other hand, man.. he’s living his life and it’s pretty damn great. He’s handling the details of his world, his work, his new people, his new city.. and it’s good and I would never interfere. Obviously. This I know: it’s unfolding as it should. I couldn’t write a better story. So.. I’m happy. Crushed to say goodbye again, but crazy happy for him.

We met — Lisa, Peter, Jim and I — at Argus, for coffee.. so nice.

Then Lisa took off — it was a regular work day for her — and J, P and I headed to the main campus.. just a few blocks away.

Peter led us on a quickie tour which was nice. This is the heart of the campus, the old part, the part on the edge of and surrounded by the town. The North campus, where Peter is, is where the formidable engineering department is, plus some of the arts, theater, architecture.. and maybe a few other things. It’s about 1.5-2 miles north. It’s too bad they’re not together, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re an urban campus and you grow. (Or maybe they always planned to put those nerdy engineers out in the boons.)

Here’s a shot walking through the law school, Peter pointing at something or another.

What we were really doing on campus this Monday morning, though, was searching for the key office. This was HUGE: after almost a year, Peter is finally going to be able to walk into the Mechanical Engineering building, into his grad student office, and work. His group will be sharing the large office space with another group and they’ve developed an alternating schedule to ensure that there are no more than three students in the office at any given time — a Covid precaution — but at last… he’ll be able to leave his little room in the coop and 1) work on campus, 2) work together with other folks in his lab. This was a very significant day. See? Happy Peter.

(By the way, did I mention he cut his hair the morning that he picked us up from the airport? He may not have cleaned out his car, but he did cut his hair. I thought that was pretty sweet.)

After this happy moment, we walked back to the Burnt Toast and had that unhappy/happy moment: the goodbye. (Unhappy to leave, happy our boy’s in a good place.)


Jim and I had an hour to sit in the large front yard garden (out of view, but to the left of the house) and wait for our Uber driver to show up. We talked with a neighbor who’d found her lost dog. That was a nice little tale. Then… off to the Detroit airport.

Nothing to report about the rest of that long travel day, just another uneventful flight, but this time we had a stopover in Las Vegas. Nothing exciting about that except they had a place called the Shake Shack, or something like that, where I had this (and holy god… it was fantastic.. chocolate shake, crinkle fries and a cheeseburger.. so good I took a pic):

And that’s the end of our post-pandemic, first-flight, see-kiddo-after-a-year, first-midwest-Peter-visit family trip.

And it was just the absolute best from start to finish.

A2 Environs

May 23, 2021

(Can I call it A2? It seems a little presumptuous or precious.. maybe nicknames are reserved for those who live in a place and/or are so familiar they can use place nicknames, but others of us should use the proper name? Is it like somebody from somewhere else calling us Cali, or referring to our gorgeous city to the SW: Frisco. Wince to both.)

(I know they don’t call it AA…but the locals I know do call it A2… )

Regardless… it was nice to be spending time in Peter’s new, if temporary, home. And today, with Peter as a guide, we saw some new parts.

Jim and I started the morning at Argus, the cafe/farm stand around the corner from the Burnt Toast Inn .. and likely to be a regular spot for us on future visits. Peter picked us up at 10:45 to drive to Dexter, a former village, now a city with a population in 2019 of 4,644 just about five miles outside of Ann Arbor. It’s where Lisa and Claire just bought a home. You drive along the Huron River to get there… such a lovely drive: it’s impossibly green and, at this time of year, scattered with purple and white wildflowers.

Here we are! (Photo credit: Jim)

C & L are staying with friends (who own this house) while their house sits — hopefully not for long — on the market. By our next visit, they’ll have sold their downtown house and moved into their new country home (up the road from this one). In the meantime..we had an incredibly wonderful Sunday brunch in this beautiful, artful home, and it was so, so nice to spend a few hours together. They’ve been an incredible support to Peter this past year, taking him in for Thanksgiving and Christmas and keeping him supplied with cookies and leftovers from numerous dinners.

Here are a couple of shots of the hood from our post-brunch walk:

River, lakes, greenery.. it’s gorgeous, serene, peaceful and just a 10-minute drive out of town, if that. And, in winter, you can ice fish in that lake, or ice skate. Sigh…

As we were leaving, it was clouding up. It rained on and off the rest of the afternoon, but Peter gave us a nice tour of his part of town, including his coop and the North Campus.

His coop:

A few of the North Campus, including the bell tower, and a few of the Mechanical Engineering building..

Then we wandered a bit downtown, though it was kinda wet and not so pleasant, so we ducked into Zingerman’s and had an early dinner:

Peter then dropped us at the Burnt Toast so he could return to his paper (his first crack at a real research paper they hope to get published in the Fall… draft due to his professor on Tuesday).

A Three State Day

May 22, 2021

We begin our day with a nice 1.6 mile walk to Sawada Coffee in the West Loop to meet Sean, Lisa’s son. Could not have been nicer — the walk, the weather, the views… but most of all meeting Sean and spending some time with him in his neighborhood hangout.

So enjoyed the conversation and learning how a kid from Ann Arbor navigates the world of hockey (high school, club, college and a bit of pro.. including some brutal injuries) to law school to city-hopping jobs to settling with a growing firm in Chicago. He’s young, smart, interesting, talented… and a very nice guy. Incredibly fun to talk to. He and Peter exchanged some math and physics podcasts. As you do.

Here are some parting shot photos of our walk back to the Acme.. where we’ll check out and begin the day’s road trip to Ann Arbor. Chicago: you are a beautiful city.

Taller of these two buildings, at the confluence of two forks of the Chicago River, is where Sean’s law firm’s offices are. He lives in a condo just to the west of here.

Under the L…

And a couple more river walk views… (always following these two…)

We walked all the way to Lake Michigan, then circled back to Michigan Ave and back to Ohio Street. I loved this guy’s job… (worth noting that wall was immense and he’s painting with a roller).


Uneventful Acme check out and departure. Ann Arbor, here we come.

We headed south on I-90, more or less, past the former Comiskey Field, now Guaranteed Rate Field (such a nice ring to that), ultimately hooking up with I-94 east, which goes directly through Ann Arbor and on to Detroit.

However, we decide we wanted to detour into Indiana and have lunch in South Bend.. because: Pete Buttigiege. It was a 26-mile (or so) detour. Somewhere near Michigan City (which is in Indiana just prior to crossing the boarder into Michigan), we bore off 94 on to 20 (heading due-ish east), then bore off on that on to the 2 (which becomes Western Ave) directly into town. We turned left on Main and voila: downtown South Bend.

We had lunch at this place…. The Fiddler’s Hearth.

We learned from our waitress that there are something like nine colleges and universities within reach of South Bend. I did not know that. (Many of them Catholic… including Notre Dame.)

We intended to hit the 80-90 East (a toll road), and then probably I-69 North back to I-94… but our navigator, Jim, fell asleep in the backseat and we missed our turn, which meant we were left to make our way on country roads. Yahoo!!!

I’m not really sure what-all roads we ended up taking to get back up to Michigan (Jim can’t quite remember, but just directed us from the backseat.. could have been 127 or 52…), but we ended up rolling through a lot of northern Indiana AND Ohio. It was beautiful! Add to that we had windows wide open (Peter’s car’s air conditioning hasn’t worked since last summer, apparently) and music — a great selection of Peter’s music — on high volume. It was loud and there was singing.

There was also an alphabet game. It was the one where you search for words (written on signs, on vehicles, on buildings) beginning with letters of the alphabet (in alphabetical order). It’s a competition.. I was looking for my list, Peter for his. I was having a harder time of it (I was also driving so couldn’t look as hard as he could), but we both got stuck on X. After about 30 minutes of stuckness, we changed the rule: instead of finding a word beginning with X, I gave him a challenge and he gave me one. They had to be hard, just not as hard as finding an X.

This being rural Indiana and Ohio, it was also deep red. We saw lots of Maga Country flags and banners, and signs bearing the name of the twice-impeached, one-term, disgraced former president. So Peter’s challenge was to find a Biden sign. My challenge was to find a sign specific to the 2024 election. We found NEITHER. Peter eventually found the word “X-tra,” and we decided that was legit. He went on to win the contest. (Moms still like their babies to win, even if they’re 22.)

Peter was the photographer on this leg of the journey. This one gives a sense of our view.. note the large crack in the windshield.. that’s been growing for months, following a pebble strike, likely, last winter, Peter said.

Pretty, huh?

Once we got to A2, Peter dropped us at the Burnt Toast Inn and said goodbye for the night. He had work to do! Jim and I unpacked, then took a walk into downtown — just a block away! — and enjoyed quite a hopping Saturday night! The streets were packed with folks — tons of college-age kids — dozens of restaurants with outside seating. We found a pub, got drinks and an ap and just kind of enjoyed the energy of it all.

Around the corner, on Second St, we came upon these hilarious jumping rabbits. I couldn’t quite get one in mid-jump, but I got this weird shot:

And here are the streets of A2 on a summer Saturday night when school’s out:

Arting with Peter

May 21, 2021

I renewed my membership with the Art Institute of Chicago, in anticipation of our family’s visit to Chicago, with all the benefits a membership confers — no lines, no reservations, admission to special exhibits, multiple guests — for starters. To make it pay for itself, I’ll need to visit Chicago a time or two more (this year!), which is the best benefit of all. Peter actually shares my membership, meaning he can go anytime in the next year, with guests and get all those benefits, too. Bonus.

Before we headed down to the museum, we met James for breakfast! That was totally unplanned, but easily arranged. He attends the University of Illinois in Chicago now, having left Arizona State a couple years ago.

Among other things we learned about Chicago, we learned that dining out requires a fair amount of advanced planning because popular restaurants are hard to get into without reservations, including, shockingly, breakfast places. We met at a place that sounded wonderful, but learned there were no available tables until the following weekend, and those were limited. How weird. So we started walking and looking and decided to return to the place we ate at yesterday. When we got there, there was a very long line to get in (on a Friday!), but we decided we could talk in line as easily as at a table, so we waited in line… and were seated maybe 45 minutes later. We covered a lot of ground catching up on James’ life in Chicago.

(James walked with us the 1.3 miles down to the museum, then split off. We’d invited him to join us, but he works in a restaurant and had to get going.)

This was along Michigan Ave, in front of the Wrigley building.

I love looking up:

Next stop: Art Institute.

We first checked in for the Monet exhibit, which we were lucky enough to catch before it wrapped up. “This exhibit includes 70 pieces, and features some of the French Impressionist’s most famous paintings alongside sketches and drawings. It traces his deep ties to Chicago.”

We then began a pleasant meander through the warren of rooms and halls on the second floor as we waited for a text telling us it was our turn to enter. We wandered at our own paces, usually meeting for moments at a time in front of this Van Gogh, or that Pissarro. I’d say we spent most of our time in the Impressionist section of the museum, but also saw modern American art (Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, Georgia O’Keeffe, Archibald Motley). The best? Was hearing Peter’s take on a painting.. what he liked, what spoke to him. Fascinating, really. He’s already begun to acquire prints of some of his favorites.. they are collecting in his room in Ann Arbor, awaiting a hanging strategy. I guess art acquisition is the fun part… mounting them is a bit tedious. Still, I love that he is cultivating an appreciation for art and developing and following his own taste instincts (I mean, of course). Very fun for me to observe.

Some shots…

Van Gogh’s The Bedroom

And just a collage of snippets of some of my favorites..

(Motley, O’Keeffe, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat, Renoir, Caillebotte)

Then it was our turn for ….

(This photo seems blurry, but with impressionist art, maybe that doesn’t matter?)

The Monet exhibit was extensive and so worthwhile — Paris bridges in the fog, fields of haystacks, lily pads, and all manner of other things. It was excellent and great fun to see it with Peter.

Monet snippets:

Jim hung in.. and then: Jim assumed the position. I have photo-captured Jim in museums around the world in some variation or another of this very pose. I could open an exhibit of my own. (He’s always game, though, which is the best.)

After a few hours, we began our walk back to the Acme, this time heading a bit west down Monroe, then up State. We passed this old landmark (and I remembered actually shopping there on my first visit (I wanna say 1987 for a conference) — closed in 2006 — now it’s owned by Macy’s).

We ended up feeling hungry after all that museuming, so stopped at Smith and Wollensky on the river (though we sat in the bar with no view) for drinks and “angry shrimp” appetizers:

And…after hanging out in the hotel for a bit, it was another late night dinner, this time at a traditional Brazilian meat restaurant. We’d eaten at one in Brazil, funnily enough, which was an experience. This was also an experience!

The place (on Erie and LaSalle) was huge and hugely popular. Large parties, most dressed to the hilt, most African American, filed in, one after the other. We had a reservation, but it took awhile to get seated. It was loud, bustling and food was the main attraction. You start with a vegetable & sides bar… which was expansive and impressive. You fill your plate, even though they warn you not to fill up on these dishes, tempting as it is. They also keep the pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) coming and don’t sell wine by the glass, so Peter and I shared a bottle (these are new and fun experiences with that boy…).

You have two round markers (that look like coasters) that you’re supposed to use to indicate you’re ready for more meat, or not. If the green is up, wandering meat carvers will stop by your table, and if their cut of meat is to you liking, they’ll slice it right off the spit in front of you — filet mignon, ribs, lamb, pork, sausages, even chicken… and so many more choices. It’s overwhelming, but also just excellent.

A bit after the fact and messy, but here’s our table toward the end:

We all really enjoyed the dinner, especially Peter who declared it his favorite so far. Another wonderful day of being tourists in Chicago!