It’s a Winter Wonderland!

Owen Rushing for the House
Owen is racing up the sidewalk, carrying one of the bones from his seemingly endless cache of them.
Owen the Snow Dog
Owen loves to run through the snow and plow it with his nose. This is the inevitable result.
Almost Home
With considerably less enthusiasm than Owen, Debbie makes her way up Skunk Hill to shelter.
It's a Dog's Life
Spenser, on the other hand, knows how to deal with winter.

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Pure Michigan

Despite having heard the “Pure Michigan” ads on the radio every 5 minutes all spring long until I was ready to shriek, Debbie and I took a 3 day jaunt to Michigan before we get busy this fall.

After dropping the Wonder Dogs, Spenser and Owen, off at the Bow Wow Bed & Breakfast we headed for Grand Rapids and the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park where they were having a special Chihuly exhibit.

I’m no fan of Meijer stores, and botanical gardens are just ok to me. I do like Chihuly though. So I had pretty low expectations for this part of the trip. Was I ever wrong, it was magnificent! Ol’ Fred Meijer gave quite a gift to the city of Grand Rapids.

The gardens have lots of plants and stuff, as you might expect. Debbie could tell you what they were, they all looked green and leafy to me. There are permanent sculptures displayed throughout the gardens. A lot of it is the kind of modern art that you look at and say, “huh.” And then conclude either you or the sculptor must be a dummy. But most of it is very beautiful, and the work that went into creating the settings and vistas is impressive. Even the American Horse, which looks ridiculous in this picture, and also looks ridiculous in person from that angle, is breathtaking when you see it from a distance in its grass amphitheater.

The Chihuly sculptures were impressive as expected. You can see a lot of them in the slideshow on Chihuly’s site.

We spent that night in Saugatuck at the River Suites. It’s a deli with two rooms on the top floor. Much nicer (and more expensive) than it sounds, we had a deck overlooking the Kalamazoo River. Since it was part of the deli we just loaded up with bread and cheese and other goodies from the deli and sat on our deck and had our supper watching the sun go down over the river.

The next day we headed for nearby Fennville to taste wine at the Fenn Valley vineyard and to check out a restaurant called Salt of the Earth in Fennville.

The winery had tasty white wines (the reds, not so much) and was enlivened by a busload of very happy Amway representatives. The Salt of the Earth was something else. Uber-cool decor and food in the heart of Fennville, which is just a crossroads in Michigan orchard country. If you ever find yourself in the Saugatuck area it’s definitely worth the side trip.

From there we headed to Michigan City, which is not in Michigan of course. My Mom had gotten us a gift certificate to a restaurant called Kelly’s Table. It’s located right on the I-94 and US 20 exit. Surprisingly, that interchange is wooded and it sits back a long lane in 30 acres of woods.

Dinner at Kelly’s Table was exceptional. They buy as locally as they can, and serve seasonal dishes. I had a pork loin with a cherry barbecue sauce and Debbie had lamb with a pesto sauce. Appetizers were a chicken liver pate and meatballs with a tomato safforn sauce. Desserts were pots du creme and a chocolate chess pie. All of it was flawlessly prepared and very tasty. Somewhat unusually, the portions were reasonably sized, for example my pork loin was perhaps a 6 ounce cut. Generous, but not the ridiculously sized portion you often get. Prices were reasonable and it was just everything you hope a restaurant could be.

From there it was time to head home. After a detour for road construction led us through the trackless wastes of northwestern Indiana, we were reunited with the wonder dogs and then greeted at home by a bushel and a half of tomatoes ready to be processed.

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Beach Books

We’re off to North Carolina to the beach next week so in preparation I went to the Allen County Public Library to stock up on books for the beach.

The list:

  • In Fed We Trust by David Wessel.  Recommended by son Josh so I could “understand what he writes about all day.”
  • The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.  Imagine the world without people.
  • A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby.   Hornsby’s a good writer, always worth a read.
  • The Great Gatsby.  You know who wrote it.  Son Josh is always quoting it at me, and it’s one of the many holes my reading of American Literature.
  • The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland.  You can’t go wrong with Coupland.
  • The Dead Hand by David Hoffman.  Pulitzer Prize winning story about the Cold War.  The success of this book is due in part to Josh Zumbrun, see page 486.
  • A Stained White Radiance by James Lee Burke.  An early Robicheaux novel that I haven’t read.
  • The Blue Horse by Rick Bass.  I have no idea what this is.  It was on the new fiction shelf and had a cool cover.  That’s much the same method I use to pick wine.

That’s it.  I know, I know.  No way that’s going to last me a week.  I’ll pull a few books off the shelves here at home that I’m perpetually trying to finish.  Most notably:

  • Le Ton Beau de Marot and I am a Strange Loop both by Douglas Hofstadter.  I’ve been bogged down about halfway through both of these for years.  This is the year I’ll finish them!

I also picked up a few CD’s to supplement our collection for the drive.

  • Les Miserables, the original Broadway cast.  If the soundtrack is as long as the play, that’ll be all we need.  It’s only a 14 hour drive.
  • Mamma Mia! Original cast.    Need some cheery fluff after suffering through Les Miz.
  • Best of Johnny Lee Hooker.    Debbie likes the blues.  I needed a sop to throw to her, because she’s really gonna hate:
  • Walking Distance, Robert Earl Keen.  Real country music, like James Hiatt and Lyle Lovett.  Speaking of which…
  • Pontiac, Lyle Lovett.

That’s a start.  I’m still concerned it’s not enough.  I may need a big fat brainless blockbuster novel to round it out.


A later revision.

Debbie gave me two books for Father’s Day to round out my collection for the trip.  The consummate librarian, she picked better books for me than I did for myself:

  • The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson.  What’s not to like about the memoirs of a befuddled, beer-swilling, travel writer?  Seriously, Bryson is constantly amusing, almost as amusing as:
  • I’ll Mature When I’m Dead by Dave Barry.  And there’s no one funnier than Dave Barry, so the list ends here.

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This Time It’s Personal, Part 2

We tried to plant today, but it was too wet.  Not so wet that we’re throwing mud everywhere,  but…, well, I don’t want to get bogged down in a discussion of the finer details of no-till seeding, that’s not the point here.

Too wet to plant, can’t dance,  so we spent the day doing odds and ends.  Mowing side ditches, cleaning up machinery.  Mid-afternoon a lady showed up and bought two bales of straw, so with 4 bucks in our pockets we did what any good Americans would do.  We headed to town to spend it.

Town in this case is Merriam, Indiana.  The intersection of highways 9 & 33.  A gas station, a bar, and a, er, well, umm, that’s it.  We hit the gas station for a couple of fountain pops.

As Lana, I, and the wonder dogs Spenser and Owen pulled in we noticed it was getting stormy looking in the west.  The last thing we need now is more rain.  We also noticed there was a guy standing at the highway intersection with a cardboard sign and a jar, looking for cash.

When Lana got back with fountain pops I said, “we need all the karma we can get.”  I grabbed all the ones I had in my wallet (and I had a big stack of Washington’s, bucko) and we circled around and gave them to the guy.

We went home, closed the barn up, and looked to the sky for tomorrow.  And the skies were clear and bright.

I don’t really believe it’s personal.  I don’t think God, Allah, my karma, whatever, contributed to this.  I’m just saying the skies were now clear, the ground is looking dry, and tomorrow we’ll  be rolling.

Because I handed 8 bucks to a stranger on the corner?  No, that’s just absurd.

Isn’t it?

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Cerulean Beer Tasting

On April Fool’s Day we went with friends Jeff and Deena to a beer and pub food tasting at Cerulean. It was a sunny warm day, a perfect day to sit with friends along the canal in Winona Lake, watch the sun go down, and enjoy some great beer and food.

There were about 30 people there, and we were the oldest by at least 20 years. The young and hip were tweeting it all during meal. Ol’ grandpa is doing it old school, blogging it 3 days later.

They started us off with a beer made by a local homebrewer (that had to break all sorts of Indiana’s ridiculous liquor laws) and then an aperitif beer. See the beer list if you’re interested in the details of each beer.

Having had a homebrew amuse-bouche and then the Hennepin aperitif, I was definitely ready for some food. First up on the food was Cerulean’s take on fish and chips; skate, breaded and fried, with blue potato chips.  The enormous portion was light and tasty.

Next up was roast chicken, basted with honey and saffron to go with the Midas Touch.   It was splendid and the touch of sweetness from the honey went nicely with the beer.    If half a chicken wasn’t enough, there was a ramekin  of incredibly rich macaroni and cheese for a side dish.

The next beer was a stout and they served that with two small hamburgers.  One was a traditional pork and beef burger on a grilled bun with tomatoes and ketchup-like sauce (I forget exactly what it was, we were deep into the beer at this point.)  The other burger was on grilled sandwich bread and was topped with a hard-fried egg and crispy onion rings.  It had a pesto sauce on the side.

The meal rolled inexorably on to dessert.  The beer(s) were Framboise and Double Chocolate Stout.  You mixed it them together to get the blend of raspberry and chocolate that you liked.  The dessert was a chocolate banana cake.

We’ve been to Cerulean several times for meals and have always been impressed. This was our first time for a tasting and it didn’t disappoint.

Click below to see the beer list:

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Where All the Lights are Bright

We moved back to Whitley County 5 years ago, and so I haven’t paid much attention to the Harrison Square debate in Ft. Wayne.   Since I no longer paid taxes there, I wasn’t much interested.

We were in downtown Ft. Wayne Friday for a wedding (Andy and Megan, congratulations!).  The wedding was at the west end of downtown, and after the wedding we walked down to the Indiana Hotel lobby for the reception.  After the reception we of course strolled back to get our car.

I was amazed and pleased at the change in downtown Ft. Wayne.  It was a perfect June evening, but still, the sidewalks were full of people.  The outside seating at the various restaurants and bars was full.  The TinCaps had a game, and there was a concert at the plaza at the library.  I wasn’t so surprised at a bunch of people at a ball game, but the plaza was full of people enjoying the evening and the music.

It reminded me of all the cities I’ve traveled to, big cities with lively downtowns.   I’m generally libertarian in my opinions on the government’s role, but doggone it, the tax money spent it downtown Ft. Wayne is working.

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Ode to an Italian Coffeemaker

Pictured above is my Gaggia Carezza espresso machine.

I bought it off of a recommendation on Amazon a couple of years ago. It’s more than lived up to the recommendation and to my expectations.

It makes splendid espresso. You can pull shot after shot with perfect crema without any fuss. The milk steamer works nicely, steaming up a pint of milk with a thick foam in less than a minute.

It’s very simple to use. Gaggia felt compelled to send not only two different instruction manuals, but also included a video on a CD. But all you do is warm it up, press one button to pull your shots, press another button to generate steam, twist a knob to steam milk, and that’s it. It’s also very easy to clean, and to get parts for. I managed to lose milk steamer nozzle and got a replacement in a few days from WholeLatteLove.

At work we make latte each morning. We’ve been doing this for 10+ years now. We’re on our 4th Krups pump espresso machine. The model numbers and case style change over the years, but the machines are essentially the same. They’re nice machines, but for nearly the same price – I paid $150 for the last Krups machine and $200 for my Gaggia – the Gaggia is head and shoulders above the Krups in terms of quality of coffee produced.

I whole-heartedly recommend the Gaggia Carezza for daily use. And WholeLatteLove for all your on-line coffee shopping.

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Does anybody think the current cheap, crass, commercial Bowl Championship Series is better than what it replaced? The FedEx Bowl, the Allstate Bowl, the Tostitos Bowl, the Rose Bowl. Is that somehow better than the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl? Those bowls generated interest, excitement, controversy , and honored tradition. I remember watching football until I was numb on New Year’s Day 1974. But do I care that USC is ahead of Michigan, 0.951 to 0.917 in the current BCS standings? [email protected]#$% no!

It used to at least maintain a myth of the student-athlete and gridiron glory for the alma mater. Now it is what is, a way to sell taco chips. Enjoy. I’ll be eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day, and not watching football.

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Harvest Home

We brought the harvest home on Friday. 600 acres of beans and 250 acres of corn in the bin, and 125 acres of wheat in the ground for next year.

Zumbrun Farms has been in the same place since 1916 when my great-grandfather purchased the 140 acres we call the ‘home farm’.

I’d been out of the farming business since 1982 when I left to try something different and ended up writing software for 25 years. But I returned to the farm this fall. My younger brother Dave had been running the farm since my father retired. Dave died unexpectedly and suddenly this summer, the result of a blood clot from a torn muscle of all things. One of the most robust people I’ve ever known, felled by a torn muscle. It makes no sense and 4 months later we’re stll in shock.

My sister-in-law talked of renting the farms. Grain prices are strong, and the competition for land is heavy around here. She could’ve rented it all out and been financially comfortable just cashing the rental checks. Or she could’ve sold the farms and been wealthy. But she didn’t like the idea of turning the farm over to someone outside the family, so she and I talked it over and decided she and I would do the farming.

So yesterday, racing yet another episode of bad weather in one of the wettest falls anyone can remember, we brought the harvest home.

Written in memory of my brother Dave, a farmer.

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