December 28, 2016

Observations with my Coffee

I am enjoying a "quiet" morning at a coffeehouse - a 25 mile ride down a country road from my home. Uptown Coffee in Howell is comfy, relatable, relaxing, with just enough funky to send me 
back to my own coffeehouse days.

Prime spots for computer users is a table where your back is up against a wall, affording a bit of privacy. I have my favorites here as there are plenty of seats. I have discovered that privacy is not my goal as I find that a good cup of a hot beverage, the music, and atmosphere, tunes out gossip and idle chitchat.

As I sit, write, and slurp coffee, conversations naturally drift around the room. Today, people watching is on my radar, with hopes to escape my block in writing. Typical of coffeehouses - people talk about everything, punctuating comments with a soft laugh, a loud hoot, even an occasional slap of delight on a table. 

A young man with earphones sits at a small table making clacking key noises on his computer. Strangely, a huge box of crayons and felt pens sit by his monitor but there are no children present with him. A lady wrapped in a lightweight coat enters and points her finger at two women who have been visiting on a small couch. Obviously, they know each other as exclamations of happiness are blurted. Two women, a little older than me, have been sitting on a bench overlooking the road having an apparent serious "coffee chat", one scowls every so often - keeping their intimate and intense exchange low and confidential.

Two "businessmen" are sitting at the raised counter facing the main street … robustly and openly deep in face-to-face conversation about work issues. The men are very expressive and intent, using hand gestures to accentuate their points.

A woman with young children came by to purchase a coffee to go while her youngest screamed, tossing herself on the floor. The patient mom, coffee in hand, coos as she picks up the child -- the noise blended in with the background music and became a part of the coffee house experience.

A large contingent of middle or high schoolers arrived and claimed a bench by the window recently vacated by the scowling women. They sit with youthful legs curled under one another, sipped on fancy concoctions, exchanging heart-to-heart excitedly with each other. It seems that particular seating seems to attract the younger group so I never sit there to allow them clear access.

The range of music gently puts me in a trance - John Denver, in particular, and brings back memories of being named "JD" by my girlfriend's aunt and uncle (visualize a shag, big glasses, squarish face), which leads me down a melancholic path … but a clattering noise as the barista dropped silverware on the wood flooring brought me back to the present. New patrons are lining up and being greeted with pleasantries. I find the staff at Uptown Coffee welcoming and prepare our orders quickly and perfectly. 

I want to stay seated all day, write and read and drink and be cushioned with the ambiance and people. It is that kind of place.

The North County Trail

You know how the new year comes around encouraging and sometimes screaming at you to plan a challenge. So, you surround yourself with books, maps, papers and come up with lofty goals, at times fueled by the newness of the year. My husband and I did just that in January 2015. Ambitious to be sure. Attainable - we thought. Our decision was to walk portions of Michigan's North Country Trail.

We went to outdoor symposiums plying backpackers with questions on these trails: what kind of pack, supplies, where to begin. We bought books from authors who walked the trail and wrote about their excursions...absorbing every word as gospel. Our starting point would be above Ohio, walking weekends and traveling up through our beautiful state.

But life happens. In April, I developed a horrible cough, fever, and eventually "blew" my ribs out of place, the pain forcing me to the floor at work. Forget about training, I could not walk a corridor with comfort - let alone try trail walking. A series of tests ensued because of lingering issues and I was given a slew of surprising diagnoses gave a tremendous blow to my normally active and positive attitude.

So, I had a decision. Do I fold up and sink in despair or round up my resources and fight. I chose life and began slow walking, then faster. But, we were realistic and realized the North Country Trail was unobtainable, and went through the grief of limitations.

In September, I began the walking, spinning, elliptical challenge of a previous blog post. Then took two of our girls "home" to Marquette, Michigan for an active weekend of walking on trails. In the midst of this hard, for me, weekend, we discovered a trail - The North Country Trail - and commenced to spend a few hours navigating rocks, roots, hills, obstacles. Then, a day later, we were walking deeply into the forest to a waterfall, and scooted down to these beautiful falls, noticing another sign: the North Country Trail. We had successfully maneuvered two NCT walks in one weekend. A great change occurred in my heart. I would and could be active and beat these inflictions.

A few weeks after our return home, a daughter, my husband and I competed in a 5K run/walk. Our daughter ran, beating her time and placing nicely in her age category. We pushed hard in the walk and placed pleasantly in our own age categories. It was life-changing in the midst of my medical turmoil.

Each week that passes and I reach my weekly walk goals, I believe, I am in better health. My sports medicine doctor heard my story in October and confirmed that I could reach health with a positive attitude and continued exercise, and lots of liquid.

Never curl up in despair - think of something, anything, you can try to get you through tough moments in life's road. You are worth it. Oh, and remember to smile, even as you trip over a branch in your path.


Sweet, Sweetwaters

The pull of coffee houses and book stores is so strong - as if embedded in my very soul. Some of my best times are spent sitting in a chair, sipping a good and bold cup of black (gave up cream years ago, sigh) coffee from a mug with a large smooth handle.

Today it is Sweetwaters in Ann Arbor where our car delivered us - and am drinking Midnight Blend in a white ceramic mug. The fireplace (currently not lit due to the beautiful weather today) is at my left and my husband has claimed seat, also to my left. Life is good and comfortable.

This community and coffee shop are vastly different from Howell's Uptown Coffee in that the room is larger with ducts, conduits, and pipes adorning the ceiling compared to Uptown's tall ceilings with gorgeous adornments. Ann Arbor is a college town and very evident through the discussions and activities around me. Conversations about medical school, classes, professors and life in Ann Arbor are sprinkled in the various corners of the room. The clatter of the coffee paraphernalia seeps through the air with an occasional whiff of delicious espresso in my nose. Comfortable chairs are scattered throughout, all with tables next to them and coffee tables in front for placing your "gear".

The artisans have set up their kiosks in the court area displaying an unique variety of home created wares. We wandered through earlier and had our creative sides anointed. My husband and I claimed "we can make that", knowing we really can't, but it is fun to be stretched in the artisan way.

I love it here. This is a refuge to our every day occasionally mundane lives - this, for us, is a place of refreshment and renewal.

Doesn't this look inviting? This is in a bookstore in the old Traverse City State Hospital (previously the Insane Asylum), now called The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Such a cozy place to curl up with a coffee mug and a book.

Thankful after a Fire

Beautiful November day - this has been a long and warmish autumn in Michigan, at least in most of the state. Weather so luscious, you can take your jacket off, walk through town, kick up the brittle, crunchy leaves, and feel thankful. Isn't that what this month is, in particular, all about? Being appreciative of what we have?

I am thinking back to October of 2008. A disturbing phone call in the morning from our oldest daughter in Kalamazoo. There was a fire, she got out, she lost everything, her cat is dead. Apparently, a careless smoker tossed a butt into the dry leaves on his balcony - the apartment next to our daughter's place. Jessica was startled awake by the deep and acrid smell of smoke, disoriented, she grabbed her purse and ran down the stairs as the flames poured out of the rooms. She had NO time to consider taking other items as it was a life and death race to the safety of outdoors.

My husband and I had a frantic one and a half drive to Kalamazoo not knowing much except that our daughter was in psychic, mental and spiritual pain. Her body was spared.

The Red Cross trucks covered the parking lot as we ran into the office to grab our Jessica and hold her. The story above spilled out of her and with deep despair she told us her cat had died - many did in the fire as they hid in various "safe" locations, then the floors collapsed.

We helped ourselves to cups of coffee provided by the Red Cross and sat down with our daughter as a volunteer stood before us and said they found a very very large cat - it was crated in the back room. It was Pol, Jessica's cat. God blessed our daughter in discovering that her precious cat was alive: singed brows and very smokey, but alive and demanding to know what happened and wanting her "mom" to rescue her from the trauma.

Pol was found safe but charred
Jessica lost everything she owned but had her life! A backstory is that her mother died when Jessica was an infant and we worked to create a scrapbook filled with Belinda's friend's stories and remembrances of her, pictures of her, little pieces of memorabilia. It was gone, burned to a crisp. But, Jessica had her life!

Thinking how life would have changed for the entire family, my chest is constricting into spasms. My eyes perk with tears, and I thank God. Every moment is precious - life is precarious and filled with not only pain but great joy. Ours is going to be joy as this Thanksgiving, we are thankful, in particular, to our eldest, sweet and precious daughter, Jessica.

A Later Life Passion

I am 3 of 7. My parents had seven children and were obviously very busy earning money to raise us to adulthood. Dad worked all his life, but was also saddled with heart disease - after he lost his most lucrative job following open heart surgery, he picked himself up and became a businessman. Still working hard all hours of the morning, afternoon and evening.

I don't know when he discovered photography, but do know I was a late teen by then. Dad purchased a camera and gear and began frequenting a local camera shop on the search for good magazines and talk about taking pictures.
My sister was recalling a certain instance where my father insisted on taking her picture on the porch of our grandparent's home on Baraga Avenue in Marquette, Michigan, the day after his father died. She was, of course, asking him not to as she had been crying. But he told her something like - family and a record of family is very important and this picture would be part of her history.

Anyone was fair game for his picture taking and his interest grew - so he began collecting a variety of lenses to expand the depth of his photography. Family was of utmost importance to dad...a continuity through photographs, essential. Sadly, many of those he took have disappeared, some destroyed by basement floods, others went poof.

I think of all my nephews and nieces - the ones who knew dad and the ones who were born after his early death. Many of these young people have missed his strength, humor, the way he liked to get you to laugh, his walk. Rumor has it that dad spent a couple years of his early life on a boat (ship), as we were from a sailing family, and never lost his special way of walking - sauntering side to side like balancing on moving water.

I have made a decision to include my own photos in this blog. Some are okay - none professional looking - yet. You see, two of my own children are interested in photography, one earning an award for a stunning photo taken in Japan. She has promised to help me learn to take pictures and recently spent time patiently showing me what all I can do with my camera. I've been encouraged to take photography classes and am eager to begin - and hope to make dad proud.

Am I Unconventional, or "Normal"

How about thinking backwards for a little while? Thus, the Z-centric heading. Having a period of blogger-block, so thought - hey, change up my focus to include a reverse alphabet series of posts.

For the Scrabble player, these easy four letter words, beginning with that oh so difficult "Z" are ones to memorize - Zeal, Zest and Zany. You never know when you might need the word, or rather in Scrabble, you will need one of these gems, eventually.

The meanings are similar, can describe a lot of people, and speaks to my spirit. I have experienced wonderful zeal (great energy and enthusiasm for a cause or aim). My husband and I were privileged to adopt two older children from Russia in 1997. What zeal we had, even taking Russian language classes at the university, in anticipation of the adoption. Daily, I would sit on the front porch for three hours at a time studying and speaking Russian, learning Cyrillic seemed easy when it was preceded by this spectacular zeal. Our purpose was to give the kids a family with our other two children, and hopefully secure a positive experience for them.

Then the elusive zest (great enthusiasm and energy)! Oh to regain the energy portion of this word, but occasionally it rears its blessed head and adrenaline-loads my body. As an empty-nester running a little low on zest, I had a dream!!!to be a photographer, a photoblogger to be concise. What a kick of enthusiasm. I searched classes and signed up for photography ONE-O-ONE at college - senior rate to boot! Knowing virtually zero about this craft and talent, my insecurities were present on the first day of class. The words were foreign, the instructor younger than me. Oh my! But, I have to say I did not feel old in the rows with these young kids, but rather felt zest's enthusiasm and energy. I supplemented  this first class with an evening photography class at a nature center. I opened my heart to learning and knew that, if I didn't know something one week, exposure will ensure a better grasp, and am loving my photo assignments.

Which brings me to crazy zany (amusingly unconventional or unusual). Back to the previous topic, I did not want to take the typical pictures. I wanted to be creative, adventurous and unconventional to submit unusual photos for grading and critiquing. I crawled on the ground to get nature pictures, climbed play structures with my head poking through a tight spiral bar in order to click zany pictures of my mother's dolls. Submitting these each week has been so much fun. I'm hoping to focus on the theme of zany as I progress in my photography.

Searching Yonder

Exploring the word "Yonder" "at or to that place; beyond farther, further, more at farther" and "being at a distance within view". Complicated and lots of work. We would love to have things handed to us with the slightest amount of effort, or at the very least, easily obtained. Not happening. 

I am at a place in life where learning new things is pleasurable and important to me. Yonder is the key to finding things out. Yonder, sometimes very difficult to find, is the strategy in which you can find what you are striving or yearning to learn. Never simple - the "it" always seems to be yonder. What if you don't know how to find the it? You must search yonder, beyond farther. 

I struggle with googling - not raised during the technology age. For instance, my husband and I tried to find a log cabin by a river in which we can kayak and fish. I searched on google and was given, on my screen, a plethora of "hits" to explore. Where to begin? Yonder! I read about some potential cabins, but, honestly and essentially, worthless in our pursuit. Word of mouth - still a yonder endeavor. Why is it that whatever we desire, requires a yonder?

(Here is one of my stop action pictures, taken on a sunny day
in Kensington Park.)

I recently followed through on a yonder desire: to learn. Photography, in particular. As a passion for this search engulfed me, I was successful in my search and "hit" upon two classes and two local photo clubs; joined, did the projects, passed! I have to share that the comfort level between me and my Sony a7000 has improved exponentially with the amount of exposure I had with my teachers and the assignments. I'm excited to learn more and signed up for a photography editing class in the fall. My fear of learning has disappeared - perhaps it wasn't quite a fear, but rather a doubt that my abilities to learn new materials was compromised after many years of no classes. As in riding a bicycles, you never have to doubt you can learn something new. I did - and am glad that I searched out yonder - a word worthy of embracing. 

An Attempt to Organize

I have slips of paper, including scraps of toilet paper (don't ask), with recipes scrawled, most in abbreviations. I go in the junk drawer - recipe; bathroom cabinet (don't ask) - recipe; mom's files - recipe; tax folder! - recipe. My refrigerator has a 2016 collection of these magnetically clipped to its poor bulging side, creating a chaotic and challenging time when trying to recall where a particular one is located. I dare say, most of us have these scattered papers in the nether areas of our homes.

I also have an abundance of journals - so - aha moment (sorry Oprah, I've used this for years) - why don't I write these down in an 8 1/2 x 11" hardcover journal. Had to be easy to open and able to lay flat. So, avoiding or disregarding my homework scheduled for today, I searched and searched the house. It had to be perfect! Not too small, thus the larger paper size to hold an abundance of these gems. "Rattling around" in my daughter's room (shh) - found it and, after collecting these scraps, wrote them all down in the book. Boring? Not really as I used many colored pens to create a delightful collection of family and friend, oh, and the Barefoot Contessa, recipes. All encapsulated in one place.

The idea for the colored pens was encouraged by a college classmate (that still seems strange to say). This smart, cute and personable 17-year-old displays a beautiful rainbow of these pens on her table each class. She uses them to write assignments, update her date book, separate the important and urgent messages a young person naturally has. Also, a neighbor "posted" her date book on FB - filled with color. Why wouldn't it work for me?

Some may ask, how did I keep each category separate from the rest. I didn't. It reads just fine and much easier just to write them in than to worry about tabs or having each meal in its own little section. The bottom line - they are IN the book!

I'm not famously known in the family as a good or even mediocre cook. Will never aim to be one. My liver stew and cereal with orange juice are past memories. But even at my age - I can hope - hope that having this journal, handwritten and colorful, full of such a rich array of potential meals and ideas - will spur me to create. The recipes are tried and true, delicious and passed down at least one to two generations. I'm excited to try.

Joy in Fish Town

Michigan is full of surprising and delightful places hidden in the crevices of its hand prints. Our favorite activity is to travel back roads in this beautiful state - and through this have created places we feel at home in time and time again when we visit. We have many such "home" places: Ann Arbor, Saugatuck, Traverse City, Elberta, Howell, Marquette, Garden City, Milford, Plymouth are among some of these gems.

Adding treasures to our car brings such a peace and hope - many in the form of photographs. We leave no trash behind and make the place sweeter and more pristine for future visits.

I recently began my passion with photography and am delighted to witness events occur at the moment they do - with a click of the shutter, a memory has been captured.

On a recent trip to the Leelanau Peninsula's Leland, or Fish Town, we were met with blue skies, freezing winds, crisp smells, and few tourists during our late April stroll through the streets and down to the wharf. A bookstore with the friendly owner, many wonderful and fresh books, and coffee in our cold hands, made us feel at home on this frequent destination place. Our stomachs led us to a small, grating building in front of the dock..."Cheese" is where you could order a huge sandwich on substantial, not fluffy, bread, including pretzel bread; even ordering a sack lunch to go. This is exactly what we asked for - a picnic lunch, the Logjam on pretzel bread, huge pickle, cookie and a drink.

Charter boats for fishing were unmanned and sitting along the dock waiting for the busy season after Memorial Day weekend. As I was taking pictures of some unique boats in the marina, an 80-something-year-old man came up to my husband and I, shared pointers on how to capture the uniqueness of two boats stern to stern. As we chatted and he directed, he shared that he use to teach photography "in my younger days" and was there with his son to take a short boat ride in their little motor boat. A very open and pleasant man - I could have spent a couple hours urging his story out of him, but the serious son slipped the boat into the water and told his father that it was time to go! I clicked pictures of the two men as they slowly meandered through the larger vessels to the open water. The old man turned and kept up a good long wave as they disappeared past the rocks.

My husband, who is very patient with my new "hobby" and who has an artistic eye, called me over and showed me a framing picture that, for me, says it all. When I look at this picture, I remember the people we met, the shots taken, my husband's encouragement, and the JOY we had. Fish Town is another great destination in Michigan.

There's Something about Fall

As I sit outside on my blue wicker chair on this beautiful autumn day “babysitting” our house cat, Moji,  as he’s sprawled on the porch enjoying the excitement of falling leaves  – I am melancholy. It is stunning outdoors and am perplexed as to where this mood comes from.

Michigan has wonderful falls, although they are quite short. So many fun and entertaining activities to engage in – haunted houses, walking crispy paths on nature trails, making soup, decorating with orange (which I adore). Sounds of the sewing machine linger in the air as my daughter sews a special Halloween costume, with such passion and excitement, that I smile.

Perhaps it’s the palpable brevity of the warm breezes, spectacular coloration, abundant activities to choose from, which brings out thoughtful sadness. The day will arrive when snow will sprinkle the ground with taunts – “you should have done this or that while the weather was perfect” it seems to declare.

My melancholy is actually a positive as it is restful while also motivating, and reminds me to grasp these days of beauty. Petting Moji’s soft fur reminds me of the tactile opportunities October and November offer – well, heck, any season in our beautiful state. This brings me to a stopping point in my reflections on sadness and opens up a salute to Michigan’s gifts – its many, many treasures.

Moji wants to remain outside on his leash so that I have to bribe him to go indoors, or rather, I have to drag the little rebelling boy into the house. He knows what is good, what is best – Nature, Michigan, Falling Leaves – smart cat!

Wander into Wonder

My “W” word is Wander. I am a person who needs, wants and has a drive to wander: “to move around or go to different places usually without having a particular purpose or direction” – thank you Merriam-Webster dictionary. We are budget wanderers – my family and I – preferring the comfort of exploring Michigan’s many fingers, leaving our own hand-print on its mittens

I may be considered restless, having to always be doing something, anything, rather than sitting back and relaxing. For years, I have struggled with this “restless” label thinking it was a negative thing. Guilt over being “gone again” has been tough to explain away. Yes, we are gone again a lot, my husband, children and I, and enjoy every minute of our excursions. We’ll take off on our adventures at the drop of a hat with the purpose of wandering - sometimes with no set destination except for a cool coffee shop, bakery, woods, walking or biking trail, cemetery. 

I highly recommend a sense of wander (lust) for anyone who is willing to be wet from the rain, freezing, literally, on a river trail, needing a change of scenery, or perhaps, to fulfill your bucket list on places to visit. Maybe I am restless, but accept rather the positive in that rather negative word. It is me, my being, my personality led by my character, my bent if you will, my life choice – to wander! 👣👣👣👣

discovery of significance, sometimes hidden in later recollections, is that wandering often leads to wonder: “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable”

For instance, we have been part of a bicycle adventure where we are allowed to bike over the Mackinac Bridge after a grueling 4-5 days of traveling from Lansing to the bridgeThe Mackinac Bridge is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world and connects Michigan's lower and upper peninsulas with a whopping length of 5 miles. As you bike over the expansion joints and bump over the surface, you are so close to the rail - which protects you from falling into the cold waters of Lake Huron as you head north (or Lake Michigan as you travel south) a feeling of wonder, overcoming the nausea and fear, grabs at your extremely fast beating heart, at the Mackinac Bridge’s size, beauty, power and how you can ride during the swaying in winds. Yet it stands, a testament to engineering and dedication. If we did not “wander into wonder” the memory of this magnificent bridge adventure would not have been ours to cherish, or pass on to others.

For me, life would be less full if we were to rest. The wandering is us. Wander into Wonder – Pure Michigan style.

The Hardwood Walking Stick

All through my 30s onward, I’ve walked woods from the Appalachian and Smoky Mountains, along with the mountains, hills and valleys of Michig...