Category Archives: Filling the Well

What we saw, heard, felt, smelled and tasted on our winter vacation

RedFlowerBridge

I don’t know about anyone you guys, but it takes me forever to get back on schedule after going on vacation. It might help if I didn’t always take a gazillion pictures which I then have to sort through (tossing most), apply Photoshop magic to the rest, and only then make available to those who have expressed an interest.

Fear not; if you don’t want to see any more vacation pictures, we’re done! If you do want more, I’m including links to the albums on Flickr.

  • Here are about 40 shots of central Florida scenery
  • Here are about 80 shots we took at Universal, which is mostly Harry Potter stuff, but has a few shots of the Blues Brothers Show and other areas
  • Here are about 60 shots from Disney World

So. Here’s where I use my words to try to convey the sensory delights of Florida. Aside from things to see (some of which are captured in my photo albums), there are also things to hear, feel, smell, and taste.

Sights

  • Tired red flowers…and glorious red flowers (like those pictured above)
  • Chartreuse and red foliage
  • Palms, both tall and bushy
  • The model timeshare unit they showed us, with decor from this century…unlike the unit we stayed in.
  • Faux aged wood and stone at the pristine theme parks
  • Pretend settings in general: a New York street with the Blues Brothers (or reasonable facsimiles thereof); Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade; a supposed antiquities museum where you can buy faux Egyptian goods; Thunder Mountain “mine train” which is really a roller coaster
  • So many swimming pools!
  • A long, long beach
  • Dunes
  • Little black-eyed Susans nestled in the sand
  • Gray skies
  • Bright sun

Sounds

  • The drunk guy in the airport elevator. Our first clue to his inebriation was his slow, overly dramatic reaction to the request that he move over a bit so our luggage cart would fit. Then he yelled at us to come back so he could continue fighting with us.
  • A “90-minute” time share pitch that lasted more like 3 hours; the snappily dressed young men—Faisal and Neph—who faked friendliness and interest in us so they could sell us a time share at Westgate Lakes. It didn’t work.
  • Traffic on the interstate
  • The loudest housekeeping staff ever, banging and shouting at 8 a.m.
  • Improbably cheerful confectionary shop workers
  • Rolling waves at Cocoa Beach

Feelings

  • Fighting strong current on the lake (in a paddleboat)
  • Aluminum-framed sliding glass doors to the screened balcony. So hard to open and close!
  • Warm paraffin during a pedicure
  • The scrape of exfoliating scrub on my legs
  • Misty drizzle
  • Gully washing rain
  • Cold water and the grit of drying sand as you rub it off your feet
  • Soft sand
  • The overhead scorch of the dragon’s breath at Gringotts
  • Chilly, misty breezes
  • Warm sun
  • The scary elevator that arrived on the top floor, bounced and banged around for several excruciatingly long seconds before finally opening its doors and allowing escape
  • Bicycling on twisting, bewildering “roads” around the resort

Smells

  • The drunk guy in the airport elevator. Seriously, the alcohol emanated from his pores!
  • Asphalt
  • The ocean
  • Warm paraffin during a pedicure
  • Butterbeer (a butterscotch soda) at Harry Potter world/ Universal Studios

Tastes

  • Fat Tire amber ale – strong, with a clean finish
  • A lovely white bordeaux and the best spinach goat cheese quiche ever at Le Cafe de Paris in Orlando
  • Cucumber-lemon water
  • Fortescue’s sticky toffee pudding ice cream: caramel deliciousness
  • Potato leek soup at Three Broomsticks: smooth and mildly aromatic
  • Spring green salad with red and golden beets, walnuts, chèvre, dried fruit and apples
  • Apple caramel cheesecake
  • Fizzing Whizbees, which are much like having a milky chocolate soda in solid form
  • Chocolate Frogs, which actually taste only faintly of chocolate, but at least included a trading card of Rowena Ravenclaw
  • Grateful Dead wine, berry-flavored and full-bodied, with some tannin

Habits, revisited

Anna_Brassey_woman-writing_web

It’s that time of year again. Okay, it’s about two weeks after that time of year. But, hey! If you were going to make New Year’s resolutions, you’ve already made them and have some sense of how well they’re working out for you.

I don’t make ’em, or not exactly. I do try to find behaviors that work well for me and to eliminate bad ones. I don’t limit that strategy to once a year, though. I do find myself thinking, come January, what’s worked out for me. Lately I’ve had encouraging success with adding new, good behavior, though I’m a bit iffy on getting rid of ones that are less positive. Ah well, each of us special little snowflakes is a work-in-progress.

Regarding habit change, I’ve mentioned books and web sites on this blog that I’ve found helpful. If you’re interested, here are a few links:

Here’s one I haven’t mentioned before. A guy named Drew Hendricks lists 6 things you should do when you first get up in the morning. I’ve been following most of his suggestions for the last 2-3 months, and I think he may be on to something.

At any rate, I’ve developed a few habits well enough to be convinced of their efficacy. What do I mean by that? I mean I’m writing more. I’m also accomplishing more of my non-writing tasks. So, huzzah!

In case you’re interested, here are some habits that work for me:

  • A morning routine which is my own variation of Drew Hendricks’ suggestions:
    1- No screen time for 15 minutes,
    2- Drinking room temperature water first thing; also holding off on coffee for half an hour,
    3- Getting out of bed in such a way that I don’t hurt myself,
    4- Setting three (and no more than three!) feasible goals for the day,
    5- Stretching, and
    6- Meditating. Yes! Meditating! I couldn’t seem to stick to it for the longest time, but I’ve worked up to doing it 15 minutes every morning. Who knows, one of these days I may add an evening session as well.
  • Exercise 4-6 days a week. Mens sana in corpore sano, after all.
  • Writing. I may not write fiction or a blog post daily, but at the very least I make a journal entry. Every day.
  • Making the bed.

That last one surprises even me. I used to think only martinets or uncreative people or other judgmental sticks-in-the-mud worried about making their beds. After all, you’re just going to mess it up again, right? However, I have reconsidered. I’ve heard bed-making referred to as a cornerstone habit. That means it’s one of those habits (exercise is another one) that leads to other good habits. For me, it makes it unlikely that I’ll climb back in and/or stay in my pjs all day.

So those are my positive habits, the ones that help me get things done and generally feel like a worthwhile member of society. Most days.

What works for you? I’d love to read about it in the comments.

Pericles at Chicago Shakespeare

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Pericles suffered through a lot of shipwrecks

Usually when we see Shakespeare, we have some idea what to expect. Because of my past life as a theatre person, I rarely see an unfamiliar Shakespeare play in production. Either we’ve already seen a particular play (often multiple productions of it, in fact), or I’ve at least read it. However, Pericles, Prince of Tyre is one of those plays you almost never see in production for several reasons. First, it’s not considered one of Shakespeare’s best. Also, most people believe Shakespeare was not the sole author. A skeezy guy named George Wilkins is often credited with the first 9 scenes and Shakespeare with the last 13 or 14. Whenever I studied Shakespeare, it was one of those plays everyone turned up their nose at, so I never even read it.

Because we didn’t know quite what we’d let ourselves in for, and because we were there early enough, we decided to take advantage of one of the great features of Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier, the preamble. About an hour before many of the matinee performances, you can hear a lecture about the play you’re about to see; Stephen Bennett from Roosevelt University was the lecturer we heard, and he was excellent.

A good preamble helps place the play in context within Shakespeare’s canon, and the presenting scholar will also talk about the director’s production choices. The director, David Bell, who has a resumé as long as your arm, has wanted to direct Pericles practically forever. Bennett sketched out  some of the liberties Bell took with the script. The main change was doing away with the John Gower character, who was a historic figure (poet and a buddy of Chaucer’s) but not someone most modern audience members would have a clue about. Gower’s speeches were split among various members of the ensemble. For my money, Bell’s adaptation worked beautifully.

Like other Shakespeare “problem plays”, notably my favorite, The Winter’s Tale, there are plot holes you could drive a truck through. That kind of thing doesn’t bother me the way it does many theatregoers. It gave me the opportunity to wisecrack, Mystery Science Theater style. My favorite comments (delivered to Cookie, sotto voce) included: “Kidnapped by pirates is good.” and “She’s only mostly dead.”

Also, I think it would be an interesting experiment to take one of these less-loved Shakespeare plays and try to reimagine it in novel form, maybe explaining the plot holes. I’m mulling the idea over for an upcoming project.

Anyway, if you live in the Chicago area and  this post has piqued your interest, Pericles is still at Navy Pier until January 18, 2015.

Pure Michigan—Post Three of Three: Fun!

Friday

TallulahTart
Tallulah* at the trail head

On Friday morning Cookie and I rode the Leelanau TART trail for 20 miles. Easiest 20 miles imaginable. Where we began, near Suttons Bay, there’s a slight uphill, but for the most part, the Leelanau TART trail is flat, well-maintained, and splendid. It’s part of US Bike Route 35.

CookieSerenity
Cookie & Serenity** on US Bike 35

Did you know there were US Bike Routes? I did not. Part of 35 is on roads Cookie and I wouldn’t brave, but this section is entirely dedicated to non-motorized traffic. Sometimes along the trail, people would put things out for you, like apples and water.

AppleStop
Apple break on the TART trail

We cleaned up, collected Sis, got some lunch.

LelandDock
Dock in Leland, where we broke for lunch

After lunch, we drove to Charlevoix to see the hobbit houses. They are not actually hobbit houses. I hate to break this to you but hobbits are fictional characters; real people live in these houses. They were built in the 1930s and 40s by architect Earl Young, and there’s a slew of them in Charlevoix. They’re also called mushroom houses. We had to check them out.

Hobbit1   Hobbit4

Hobbit2    Hobbit3

Hobbit5

After imagining ourselves in Middle Earth for a while and trying to decide whether to rent one of these for our next trip to Michigan, we headed a few miles up the road to Big Rock Point.

BigRockNatural
The Big Rock Area, au naturel

I especially wanted to visit Big Rock Point because BK worked on a big decommissioning project there. It was once the site of a nuclear power plant, but now it’s been returned to its natural state. They did a great job; the area is beautiful. We stopped in two spots—a park where you can see—you know—Michigan’s natural beauty, and a commemorative area where the old plant entrance used to be. At the latter spot there’s some information about the plant and its decommissioning, including a plaque and a list of people who worked on the project.

BR_Plaque   CBpoints
The plaque; I point out BK’s name among those who helped

We only caught one sunset this trip.

CharlevoixBeach   CharlevoixSunset

We barely made it back to Charlevoix to enjoy said sunset before heading to Traverse City for dinner and thence to The Snowbird Inn to ogle the Milky Way (sorry, no pictures of that) and fall into bed.

Saturday

You’d think we’d be exhausted after all we did Friday. Hah! Ye of little faith. On Saturday, we went to a winery and out for a swell, fancy dinner (See previous post) but that was at night. We had to work up a thirst and an appetite somehow, so we spent the day seeing sights—most notably Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Bridge   CookieDuneGrove   CookieCBshoulders
Covered Bridge; Cookie being pretty; and Cookie pretending to stand on my shoulders
Dunes-Farm   2Lakes
A farm you can see from the big dune; a view of Little Glen Lake with Big Glen Lake just beyond

DuneShore   LakeMichOverlookDunes
If you descend to the water it may take you 2 hours to get back up; Lake Michigan view

ECLBCB_Dunes   CookieDryad
Cookie, Sis and me; Can you spot Cookie doing her dryad impression in the Beech/Maple forest?
Schoolhouse    MissionPeninsula
LIttle red school house seen on the drive; a couple of vineyard area homes we wouldn’t mind owning

Sunday

Before breakfast, Cookie and I walked down to the beach.

 InnRoad   WalkToBeach
The road in front of the Snowbird; trail down to the beach

We met a nice couple and their dog.

KayakDog   DogWades
Couple kayaking as their water-shy dog follows; dog trying the water out for herself
CookieToes   ArmyGuyRocks
Cookie putting her toes in crystal clear, icy Lake Michigan; Army man and rocks on a stump

After a sumptuous Eggs Benedict breakfast, we sadly left the Snowbird Inn. As we headed home, we stopped in Traverse City for pie and a look at one of several native American trail marker trees you can find in the area.

TrailMarker
The Nishnabe reshaped trees to serve as trail markers

In both Traverse City and Charlevoix we saw black squirrels, which of course put me in mind of Mordor. Maybe I just thought of Mordor because of the hobbit houses. You know how it is.

BlackSquirrel
Black squirrel—shy, speedy little suckers!

We saw a bit of early fall color on the way home, too, and here’s some of it:

DriveColorReturn    DriveColor

So, is Michigan fun as well as relaxing and delicious? Hellzyeah. We packed a lot into a short weekend. We could have picked a focus—sightseeing, biking, winery and/or brewery exploration, shopping—easily filled up our 2.5 days, and yearned for more. We chose to sample bits of the area in different ways and ended up with the same result: yearning for more.

So…we came on account of the Pure Michigan ad campaign (okay, not totally) but we’d return just on account of Michigan!

*Tallulah is what I named my bike.   **Serenity is what Cookie named her bike.

Pure Michigan—Post One of Three: Relaxation

peninsula

If you live in Illinois, you can’t escape the radio and TV commercials that tout the joys of “Pure Michigan.” Michigan is portrayed as a magical land that will restore your lost youth—or at least your joie de vivre.

I forgive you for being skeptical. Thing is, you know, you really want there to be a place like that, especially if you can drive there—which, from the Chicago area, you can.

Background

When possible, Sis takes a trip to celebrate her birthday, choosing the weekend either before or after September 24th. Our 2014 mission, dated September 25-28: investigating to see if magical Michigan lived up to the hype.

Where we stayed

Snowbird
Snowbird Inn

On the recommendation of our cousins Cecelia and Emily, we stayed at The Snowbird Inn, a bed and breakfast on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula.

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Alice

Our host, Alice, was rather perfect. She happily shared details about the painstakingly restored house, which was built around 1900, and the 20-acre site of the inn. She gave us directions to a beach within walking distance, a great bike trail, a scenic drive through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and her favorite wineries and restaurants. She astonished us with her wide-ranging knowledge of the area. She was quite familiar with small towns that were a two-hour drive away!

2cats

There were two kitties. Awwww! Cookie, Sis and I are all allergic, and responsible enough not to have cats of our own. We were, however unable to resist petting the inn’s cats. Apricot wouldn’t have tolerated being ignored, while Sophie was so happy to receive attention that petting her was its own reward.

Porch
One corner of the porch
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Cookie relaxes in the living room
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Baby grand in the library

The inn itself had common areas with plenty of books and a baby grand piano Alice almost begged us to play. There was even music stored in the piano bench in case we no longer had any pieces memorized. We no longer did. If anyone would have, it would have been Cookie, but she swore up and down that she no longer remembered how to play anything. Hmm.

Bed

Sis_Room
The room Sis stayed in—its name was Jane
Cookie_Room
Cookie’s room was named Sophie, like the cat
CB_Room
My room, Thelma…mmm, comfy!

The rooms were given names instead of numbers, which is always fun. And if you like spotless, crisp white sheets as much as I do, you’d appreciate the linens. The large windows (lovely views!) and restored blond woodwork and floors made the rooms light and cheery. Fresh cut flowers from the outside garden brightened each guest room and other rooms throughout the inn.

Breakfast

Alice cooked delicious breakfasts that kept us fueled far, far into the day. There were two vegetarians at the inn—a lovely young structural engineer who was there with her husband, and me. We both found plenty to eat during breakfast at The Snowbird, and the meat eaters had good choices, too. There were homemade muffins and fresh fruit every morning, as well as French press coffee. I can’t even remember all the food choices on offer, but I do recall savoring the almond crème brulee French toast the first day, the broccoli quiche the second day, and eggs Benedict on Sunday, our last morning. Also, I can’t believe we have no pictures of the sunny dining room or the exquisite place settings. The table looked different every morning, and always lovely.

To be continued…

Anyway, our long Michigan weekend was about relaxation, food and fun. My next post will be all about the food Alice didn’t make for us; she isn’t the only good cook in Michigan. After that, I’ll tell you about the fun.