Summer 2013 What I Did On My Vacation

The core of this vacation was a return to Marquette for enough time to appreciate why we bought a home here 7 years ago. If anything, it is better than ever.

We contemplated taking advantage of the fact that we could actually fly from Knoxville to Marquette now that K.I. Sawyer has been transformed from a military base to a commercial airport, but that would have deprived us of the chance to see friends along the way, not to mention the incomparable experience of traversing the Mackinac  Bridge.

Traverse City

On the way up we stopped in Traverse City to do some business (meeting some wonderful U-Tennessee alumni) and seeing the ancestral home of our wonderful son-in-law. Traverse City is nestled at the bottom of the Grand Traverse Bay with the million dollar views and (unfortunately) real estate prices to match. We enjoyed a fabulous breakfast with John and his partner Margo at a small coffee shop located inside a mental institution that is being converted to housing and shops.

Traverse City -101

John Malcolm Showing Off His New Mansion

That is, of course, a somewhat bittersweet experience for me. Those of you who know my history with “Momma” know that it is a concern for me that just when we seem to be getting an idea of the proper way to care for people with profound mental disabilities, we are removing the option to allow them to live on beautiful grounds. The term “community housing” is too often a euphemism for cheap, under-supervised “board and care” homes or so-called “adult foster care” homes. Why couldn’t these lovely grounds have been turned into apartments for the people the institution was actually designed for? But don’t get me started…

In any case, the company was terrific, the food superb, and the ambiance delightful.

The Upper of the Lower

After breakfast, we resumed our road trip passing through Charlevoix and Petoskey, and on to that fantastic bridge. The waters of Lake Huron glistened blue and green on our right, Lake Michigan on our left as we crossed from the LowerP to the U.P. Almost as soon as we made the left turn to US 2, the population dropped off and we were in the entirely different environment, both geologically and geographically of YooperLand.

Muniseng and Pasties

We stopped for lunch at Muldoon’s Pasties in Muniseng, right on the shores of Lake Superior. Muldoon’s is justifiably renowned as the best place to enjoy these Cornish meat pies. We took our time savoring the food and the view and then it was on to the metropolis of the Yoop, Marquette.

Marquette Arrival

Marquette -106

St. Peter Cathedral, One of Marquette’s Most Beautiful Landmarks

Marquette is the biggest city in the U.P. with a population of about 21,000, but the county boasts a total closer to 70,000. Although it lost a major player when K.I. Sawyer air base closed, Marquette still benefits from hosting Northern Michigan University, the U.P.’s medical center, the governmental services for the entire U.P., a still valuable shipping center for Great Lakes traffic, and more recently, interest in reopening mineral exploitation. The last aspect has pumped some much needed cash into the economy and we were delighted to see the evidence of new prosperity everywhere in town.

Marquette -178

Part of the Marquette skyline

A few years ago some major publications woke up and noticed the great advantages of this community and Marquette suddenly found itself declared one of the 10 best places to retire in the U.S. We hope to spend at least part of our retirement years here.

On arrival at our hotel, we immediately rediscovered the pleasure of turning on a faucet and receiving a steady stream of cold, delicious water. No need for bottled or refrigerated water here!

For all its small size, Marquette has an amazing number of very good restaurants. Now Culvers isn’t one of these, but it is one of our U.P. traditions to eat one meal at this chain which comes out of Wisconsin and has better-than-average food for this sort of place. And, of course, some really good soft-ice-cream specialties. Diet be damned on vacation!

Third Street “Bagel”

First thing in the morning, it was our first trip back to my favorite bagel store, “Third Street Bagels.” Now, I have to sadly report that these are not really bagels. They aren’t boiled before they are baked and so, like a chain store bagel not to be mentioned here, they are more like rolls with doughnut holes than a true bagel. But no matter, I love them anyway! They are large enough to enjoy with two eggs, they are nicely flavored with the usual variety of bagel seasonings, and it’s just a great place to sit, surf the net, and enjoy great coffee and plentiful good-tasting food. The service, as everywhere in Marquette, is cheerfully provided by NMU coeds who seem to populate every eatery here even when school is not in session.

Marquette’s Version of a NY Deli

Marquette -167

What’s a town without bingo supplies?

Marquette -168

After church bingo and viewing the cathedral, a sacred tattoo is in order!

Although I probably should have skipped lunch (calorie-wise) I couldn’t resist heading to the NY Deli for a pastrami sandwich. This place was originally opened as the NY Deli and Italian Place by long-time U.P. resident Don Curto, but alas, nothing is forever and Mr. Curto decided to retire which resulted in the loss of the great location right by the Lake. One of his staff members felt that the community deserved to keep the NY Deli (there are plenty of places that serve decent Italian food throughout the UP), so he set up a replacement NY Deli a bit further down the main drag, but alas, further from the Lake.

They still fly the pastrami in from Brooklyn, and despite that, the sandwiches are all reasonably priced. The soups (including a decent chicken soup with matzoh ball) are all home made from scratch, and it remains a delightful and unexpected way to enjoy lunch in Marquette.

I’m not sure why (given the natural beauty readily available here) but we usually like to catch up on whatever is playing in the movies, so we spent a pleasant but mindless couple of hours at the multiplex seeing a buddy-cop movie with the twist that the “buddies” were the female pair of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy (“The Heat”).

The Keeweenaw and Houghton

We declared Tuesday “Houghton Day” and so it was off to our old Keeweenaw Peninsula haunts. The reason we originally “found” the UP was that Michigan Tech University runs a terrific summer program and we eventually sent both our kids to those programs. Shoshana took photography and long-distance bicycling, Ephy, as I recall, took anything that allowed him to blow stuff up.

Marquette -116

The snow gets THIS high!


When we first started these vacations, we usually stayed in Houghton, but we quickly discovered that as beautiful as Houghton is, there’s a lot more to do in Marquette. Nevertheless, we allocate a day to Houghton whenever we can. And it is still as beautiful as ever!

Marquette -119

Part of Hancock’s Finlandia University


We  spent some time strolling around Houghton’s sister city, Hancock, which meant crossing the still-functioning drawbridge across the gorgeous canal. We dined at our old favorite, The Library, which features huge picture windows overlooking the canal. With the sun lowering, it was time for the 90 minute trip back to Marquette.

Marquette Walking Tours and South Beach

Wednesday featured a total of ten miles of walking around Marquette, mostly along the lake shore. We eventually got to “South Beach” (its real name!) which will give Miami visitors quite a chuckle. Unfortunately, the weather has been unusually cold for a Marquette summer, so the number of beach-goers was pretty minimal. Believe it or not, despite the chilly waters of the Lake, this is usually a popular–and crowded spot. Not this year.

Marquette -145

Yes, it’s really called “South Beach”

The Lake Superior Community Theater

Marquette has enjoyed a great community theater (cleverly named the Lake Superior Theater) and we attend whatever happens to be playing when we are here. This time it was a revue format of past productions. I was amazed at the vocal quality of the performers and the acting was just fine. The theater is celebrating 15 years and I’m glad they are still making a go of it. They deserve a lot better attendance (Marquette, are you listening?).Marquette -265

Lagniappe: A Taste of the Gulf on the Shores of Lake Superior

Wednesday’s dinner was at Marquette’s very own New Orleans restaurant called Lagniappe. Now before you sneer at the notion, I have eaten at some fine places in New Orleans, and while I wouldn’t say Lagniappe is at the top end of scale, it is quite respectable. Terri is a connoisseur of hush puppies, and she insists that there are no finer anywhere. The chef trained at some of the best New Orleans establishments and visits there regularly to pick up supplies and keep up with the trends. Although excluded for reasons of Jewish sensitivity, I can’t say much about the preparation of alligator, not to mention the various oyster and crawfish offerings, I can tell you that the place has great food, great service, and last night even very good live Cajun-style music.

Cruising Marquette Bay

Marquette -181

The Isle Royale III has been demoted to bay cruises, but we still remember traveling on her to Isle Royale!

Thursday, we tried a new (to us) breakfast place–Donckers. Excellent food, enormous portions. The restaurant is the 2nd floor of the local candy shop. The area where we sat had large windows that provided a crystal clear view of the Lake. Soon we’ll be walking again, and at 5:30pm, for our last evening in Marquette this trip we’ll take a bit of a cruise around the Lake shore. The ship seems to be the same one we took a few years ago to Isle Royale, and we’re told there will be snacks and music provided as well.

Marquette -169

The scene at Donckers. Really good food, excellent service!

All Good Things…

Tomorrow, alas, we’ll have to bid farewell to this gem of the north. Last stop before Knoxville will be Lansing where we will overnight with old friends. I’m feeling guilty because we have so many friends in Lansing that we could and should be visiting, but we simply have to get back to Knoxville, so perhaps another year.

Marquette -232

Me, as captured by Terri.


In Arena 7/3/11

Visiting the kids in Arena, Wisconsin. Don’t know if I’ll get to the UW campus in Madison.  So many ghosts.

I was thinking of my mentor Irv Saposnik. I took a fabulous course in English Lit with him circa 1971. It was a Spring course and Irv let us meet out on the lawn from time to time. 40 years later I don’t remember many of the course details or even which books we read, but what remains are the “warm fuzzies” of a course greatly enjoyed and the sense that synapses were stimulated.

Years later Irv left the UW faculty having developed an abiding affection for helping students in other ways. After a ten year stint in Israel, he became the Hillel Director of the UW-Madison foundation, the very place where the fires were kindled for my interest in Jewish studies just a few years before.

I heard that Irv had passed a couple of years ago and I was a bit surprised to learn that it was back in 2003. He was only 67 at the time, and I’m sad to think of all the young minds he could have influenced with a few more years.

Here I am in 2011. So many ghosts. But many fond memories.

Monday 11/15/2010 Another Picture Perfect Day in San Diego – Visit to the Midway

After a delicious breakfast at Richard Walker’s Pancake House I walked to the USS Midway Museum. If you’ve ever wondered what goes on in an aircraft carrier, this is the way to find out.

Superlatives have to be the norm when visiting anything of this size. Recently I’ve noticed an upswing in the use of the standard football field as a measurement stick. For example, in my research for a course on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Leen Ritmeyer, himself Duch and as far as I know not associated in any way with American culture, informed me that that the Herodian Temple Mount can be described as occupying 30 American football fields. By that standard, the Midway is a piker–it is only as large as six football fields. Or, I guess you could say that the Temple Mount can hold 5 USS Midways. Or something like that. Anyway, the Midway is huge.

I arrived at about 10am and stayed through 2:30pm and I although I think I saw most of it, I know there were exhibits I didn’t have time for. Still, I think most people will be satisfied with a four hour visit, and it will be worth every bit of the (low) cost and time it takes to see it.

What you get is a journey through the insides and outsides of this vessel. You see where the enlisted men sleep and eat. How they get their clothing laundered. A visit to the chapel. Then the officers all the way up to the admiral. You learn about the functions of the various workers. After witnessing the day to day life under the deck, you emerge onto the flight deck. There you will see more types of military planes and helicopters than you ever imagined would exist. After circumnavigating the deck you can ascend the “Island” which is the large superstructure that served as the control tower for the floating airport that was, after all, the raison d’etre of the aircraft carrier.

Photos to follow.

Not with a bang…

… but a whimper”, with apologies to T.S. Eliot. We staggered home Friday the 15th of January after an unbelievable month of learning, doing, living, family and fellowship. But Terri and I also contracted a cold during the final stretch which is the “whimper” part of things. The return flights couldn’t have been better. Our taxi arrived on time at our Tel Aviv apartment to whisk us away to Ben Gurion Airport where we arrived about 2:30am for our 5:30am flight. Israeli security was efficient. I was one of the randomly selected folks for inspection of checked baggage. The checker pulled out a bag which contained some items I had purchased and chuckled when I identified the items as “kippot” (skull caps). There was obviously a much heavier item in the bag which turned out to be the paper weight that Shoshana had purchased for me at the Dead Sea gift shop. I had some difficulty explaining “paper weight” but after a chuckle we were on our way.

I’ve never done the “duty free” thing, so I wandered into the extraordinary duty free shop at Ben Gurion and selected a bottle of Lagavulin at a lovely price. Fortunately I checked with one of the sales folk strolling the area who let me know that I would probably not be able to get the bottle through the Frankfurt airport as liquids are generally confiscated there. So I saved the money and bid a sad farewell to the shop.

Shoshana and Karl’s flight was scheduled for an hour after ours, so we were able to spend our last few minutes in Israel together. Then it was off to our plane. We had a timely arrival in Frankfurt with a 4 hour layover. We spent most of that time in the gate for our next flight because Frankfort has security at every gate, meaning that if we left the area we’d have to check ourselves in for security all over again. The coffee and sandwiches were pricey but good.

The flight from Frankfort to Detroit was long and uneventful. When we landed in Detroit there was (as we later discovered) a high level alert which slowed our trip through Customs/Passport Control. There were 4 lines and you had to choose one, so of course Terri and I chose what would turn out to be the slowest. There was an older man with his wife dressed in coonskin caps who (for some reason) were investigated for about 20 minutes while everyone in our line fumed. When they were released, a number of others ahead of us were deemed worthy of long checks, fingerprint scans, etc. Several were led off to interview rooms. I had no idea what to expect when they finally motioned to Terri and me and come up, but nothing happened. They looked at our passports, asked us why we had gone to Israel and sent us on after 45 seconds. I had listed some clothing and gifts as the things we had purchased and the Customs agent asked me what the clothing items were. He accepted my answer without asking to look into our luggage at all, so the whole Passport/Customs process for us lasted about 2 minutes.

As we expected, our dog Nina danced a jig and bordered on a stroke for a few minutes when we arrived home. Its been two days back now and I’m just beginning to feel like I’m ready to rejoin This American Life.

Before I sign off on this wonderful and long vacation, I should mention that we chose to spend our last day in Tel Aviv at a place very suitable for our family’s inclintations–the Safari Zoo in Ramat Gan, a lovely suburb of Tel Aviv. The Safari (as its name suggests) is something of an attempt to mimic the success of the San Diego Wild Animal Park. When you arrive at the location, if you have your own vehicle you can make your way through an area where the animals are free to roam. If you do not have a vehicle, then you can hop into a van operated by the Zoo and get at least some of the feel for that part of the park. Unfortunately, the van (at least the one we were on) was shabby and of greater importance, the windows were dirty which limited our ability to enjoy the views of the animals as we passed. Our driver spoke no English, so the commentary he provided was entirely in heavily Russian-accented Hebrew. Fortunately, Karl had a copy of the Zoo map/catalog in English and was happy to keep us fully informed, so it would have been great except for the obscured windows. Terri pronounced her disappointment in the quality of the exhibits we passed. She’s had extensive tours of the San Diego facility and if Ramat Gan wants to compete, they have a fair ways to go.

But all that disappointment gradually transitioned to delight as we reached the zoo itself, a large facility located in the center of the park. Never had any of us seen so many animals so active in a zoo. There were animals courting, procreating (yes), feeding and even engaged in a little fighting. Everywhere we went the animals were doing things rather than just lying around which is what we are accustomed to at most zoos. We enjoyed a snack near the penguinarium where we saw the zookeepers feed the adults and then lead the younger birds off to a private area where they could make sure they received enough food. Each exhibit was reasonably spacious for the species contained and the staff are clearly attuned to the needs of the animals who are obviously well-cared-for.

It was a lovely way to end our stay in Israel and I think we are all looking forward to a return trip!

Good Bus Drivers and Not-So-Good

We had a modest agenda for today–spend a little time in Yaffo (Jaffa) seeing the things that we just passed by last week. Well, the best laid plans…

First of all, our beloved son didn’t arise until after 10am. Terri and I finally headed out on our own and had breakfast at a new place (for us). Terri had hot cocoa and pastry, I had cappucino and pastry, both were excellent and reasonably priced.

Following breakfast we headed for the supermarket to purchase the makings of Shabbat dinner. We had a couple of near misses–Terri asked for 5 kilos of chicken breasts, but the astonishment of the deli saleswoman informed us that we had made a mistake and we quickly modified that to 1 kilo (2.2 lbs) for the three of us.

Upon returning home and stowing our groceries, Ephy was willing to leave the house. We headed downtown which is in the direction of Yaffo and got off the bus at Diezengoff Center. There we paused for a delicious felafel lunch. This place had little paper plates for taking as much salad as one pleased, so the lunch was particularly tasty and healthy–well as long as you keep the salty things to a reasonable level which I’m probably not capable of.

Ephy heard from a friend and decided to strike off on his own, but he put us on a #19 bus telling us that it would land us right in front of the famous clock tower of Yaffo. Well, no. The bus probably did pass within a mile of the clock tower, but we never saw it. I realized that we had to be beyond Yaffo as I we passed quickly into some sort of overpass. I wanted to get off the bus to catch a return bus on the other side, but I couldn’t see where the return side might be. It was soon clear that we had entered Bat Yam (the city immediately south of Tel Aviv/Yaffo) and I motioned to Terri that we needed to get off, but she refused. Still trusting in the wisdom of our son, Terri was convinced that the bus would make some sort of loop back to Yaffo. After another few stops continuing towards Rishon LeTzion, she finally went to the driver and managed to communicate the problem. He advised her to get off the bus immediately.

We crossed to the other side and awaited a bus back. The number #18 arrived first. We showed the driver our bus pass, and he immediately pronounced them invalid for our area. “That’s only good in Tel Aviv!” he said. I replied that we were in Bat Yam by mistake. He replied, and I must say in a pretty nasty tone, “A mistake is one or two stops. Here you are practically in a different city. You have to pay.” Well, it was a small amount of money, but we had paid for a day pass so I was pretty irritated. Anyway, we paid and off we went north.

After about 15 minutes of our northward procession, I mentioned to Terri that a bus stop was marked for the #25 which is the bus that goes to our apartment. Terri noticed that the intersection was Rothschild and Balfour and said that we must be back in Tel Aviv. I was dubious as it didn’t look like Tel Aviv to me. But we got off the #18 bus and left our cranky driver and climbed on to a #25 bus that arrived soon after. He looked at my pass and said, “That’s only good in Tel Aviv!” I looked at the passenger behind me and he said “You’re in Bat Yam.” I explained what happened to the bus driver, and this one was sympathetic, so Terri and I enjoyed the return trip to our apartment without the need to pay yet another fare.

Yaffo will need to await another day.

After cleaning up a bit, we headed for one of the few Conservative (Masorati) synagogues in the area. Services were very enjoyable. After arriving home, Terri and Ephy cooked a delicious dinner of salad, chicken schnitzel, herbed potatoes and challah. We had an inexpensive but tasty Israeli wine and despite the various tribulations we knew that in some sense we were indeed home.

Where to Find Pots in an Israeli Apartment

Our landlord Eli stopped by for a few minutes to deliver a light bulb and we took the opportunity to ask him if there was a better skillet in the apartment than the one we were using. He looked at us and said, “Did you look under the bed?” With that he went into the bedroom and lifted the mattress foundation. Under that were pots, pans, plates and silverware. Now we know!

Roughing It In Tel Aviv 12/20/09

Well, our first full day of activity in Israel was pretty much a bust. Interesting, but hard not to say it was all a bit ridiculous.

The initial idea was pretty simple. According to Frommer’s Israel (2008 edition, the most recent we could find), the Tourist Office is located at 7 Mendele Street. I thought that we could get maps, tour info and bus schedules and the like there, so we would make that our first stop of the day. So rather than waste a lot of the day, we took a cab to Mendele Street and arrived in good time. Unfortunately, the Tourist Office was no longer located there.

So we went to the hotel next door figuring that they would know to where the office had moved. Indeed, they not only told us that the office had moved near the Orchid Hotel, they provided us with a map to the location. It was a pretty easy walk, so off we went to find the new place. We got to the Orchid Hotel (and according to our new map, we should have hit the Tourist Office before we got to the Orchid), but no luck–no Tourist office. We entered the hotel and the desk staff looked it up for us and informed us that the office was now located at 69 Diezingoff St–about two miles away.

Terri and I walked the two miles and discovered that the address 69 does not exist on Diezingoff. But that turned out to be right near City Hall, so we did get to see City Hall! We visited the information desk for the city and they cheerfully informed us that the Tourist Bureau is now located at 42 Herbert Samuel Street. Having had enough of a walk, we again took a taxi and arrived promptly at that address where oddly enough we found that the Tourist Bureau actually existed!

The staff in the Tourist Bureau were very friendly. We did get a few helpful maps and brochures and then asked about bus schedules. They threw their hands up in the air and said they couldn’t help us with any of that because the bus companies wouldn’t give them the information. They had no idea about the monthly passes or really anything except how to purchase tours at the hotels.

Our main project for the day was supposed to be a visit to the Eretz Israel museum (one of the best in the country), so we asked how to get there. They told us that we needed the #25 bus (which turned out to be correct), but their advice on where to get the #25 bus turned out to be wrong. The place they sent us to had the #31 bus, the #16 bus and the #17 bus, but no #25. Terri was still interested in seeing if we could get the pass, so instead of searching further for the #25 bus, we took the #17 to the Central Bus Station (Tahanah Merkazit).

I surprised myself by actually recognizing the place (yes, it is huge, but I’ve been gone over 30 years). We entered the bustling place and discovered it was more a marketplace than a bus station. First I went to the Egged information desk. Egged is the bus company that runs most of the intercity lines. “Do you have have monthly passes?” “Yes, but they only work for a calendar month, so not a good deal today.” OK, we struck out there. On to the Dan bus company (Dan runs most of the intracity lines). There we encountered a cheerful desk where they happily had us fill out forms, took our picture for a photo ID card and then informed us that they too ran their passes on a calendar month basis, so no sense putting any money on our brand new photo ID cards.

By this time Terri was famished, so we headed for one of the many food stands. We purchased two pastries stuffed with cheese and a Diet Coke. I wasn’t surprised when the merchant said 30 shekels (about $8) since that was in line with prices in restaurants we have encountered, but when I handed him 30 shekels he was astonished and returned most of the money to me. Turns out he had said 13 shekels not 30, so our lunch actually came to only a little over $3. But what most impressed me was the honesty in this place–no way the merchants in most American bus stations would have so zealously returned my money.

We also saw this in taxis. Twice now I’ve tried to give the taxi driver a tip and both times they returned the money to me saying that I had given them too much.

So honesty is widespread in Tel Aviv, but knowledge, not so much. The “information desk” of the Dan bus station provided us with incorrect information about how to get to the museum. Fortunately I asked the bus driver and he sent us to another bus that would at least get us closer to our destination. Terri and I took that one (the #5). It dropped us off a little short of the museum, but a walk across the Yarkon River took us exactly to the museum–or a corner of it. We had to choose between walking one way or the other and of course we chose wrong.

We backtracked to the corner and made the other choice and soon enough we were at the entrance to the museum. It was 3pm and the museum closed at 4, so that was that. We took the bus (#25!) which let us off right near our apartment building.

The upshot of this is that we could have 1) walked to the museum from our apartment and arrived in about a half hour; or 2) we could have taken the #25 bus from near our apartment and arrived in 15 minutes. Instead, we spent about $12 on cabs, walked a total of 8.5 miles, spent 5 hours traveling and never made it to the actual exhibits of the museum. But we did get to the all-important gift shop where I was able to find a lovely book by Joseph Naveh, one of my favorite scholars, on the topic of ancient writing systems.

OK, we saw many slices of Tel Aviv life. Crazies on buses, bureaucratic inanity, and it was all in good fun. Fortunately we don’t really have much of a plan. Whatever comes our way we’ll enjoy. So it wasn’t a bust after all.

All’s well that ends well!

Mediterranean Sunset over Rooftop

Parasails Above the Mediterranean Viewed over a Roof

Midnight is gone

Midnight went on her last hunt. Our oldest pet, a black cat who reached more than 19 years, Midnight ran the house. When we moved to Michigan, our first cat passed on very quickly, and our first Michigan cat (Hattie) died quickly, probably from the same illness. A black cat named Sarah came into our lives. Terri and Sho allowed her to have one litter (turned out to be 8 kittens), and we kept Midnight after finding homes for the rest. After about three years, Sarah went out to hunt and never came back. Not long after, Midnight did the same.  At that time Terri and Shoshana found our gray tabby twins, Tommy and Rachel. But Midnight was always full of surprises and after an absence of 6 weeks, there she was back again. We’ve theorized that she might have been locked away in someone’s garage but managed to survive–I guess she lost quite a few of those proverbial nine lives in that episode.

But that broke our stream of bad luck–Midnight was here to stay. And she made it pretty clear that she would have nothing to do with the twins. Wouldn’t even share a litterbox with them. Fortunately for us, she preferred the outside life, so for most of our years with her she was our outdoors cat. She liked to come in for the day and stay out at night. And she would deign to keep us company during the coldest nights of Winter. And for all those years there was a steady stream of “gifts” left for us on the front porch.

Old age caught up with Midnight a couple of years ago, so for the past two years she was around the house a lot more. We threw in the towel on the litterbox issue and got her her own private one.

Two months ago, at her annual physical, the vet found a tumor on her paw and the diagnosis was immediate–cancer. She might survive a bit longer, we were told, with an amputation. But why put a 19 year old cat through that misery? So we gave her the most comfortable life we could provide and let her eat the wet food she preferred over kibble. What a pain that was because Nina our dog would do everything she could to get that food with very unpleasant consequences.

This morning the tumor opened up and Midnight bled profusely. I got a call from our cleaning crew (it was our biweekly cleaning day) telling us that the cat was clearly ailing. So after work Terri and I headed once again for the vet. One shot and a few minutes later, Midnight was sedated. Terri pet her and she purred until she was out. A second shot and her strong little heart was stilled.

Terri buried her under the tree which was a favorite napping spot of hers for so many years.

It seems like these days half my activity in this blog is writing obits for my pets. Midnight was 19, Tommy 14 and Roxanne 9. So in the last few months, we’ve lost pets who occupied 42 collective years of our pets’ lives. I miss them all.

The Journey to Metuchen

Well, it was an interesting trip, in the Chinese sense of “May you live in interesting times.” Nothing fatal,  not even calamitous, and occasionally just plain funny. The plan was a quick trip from Ann Arbor to my sister for a family visit, partially funded by one of those $9 fares Spirit Airlines puts up from time to time. (Actually, since I had to pay full price on the return flight, I’m not sure how much of a bargain it really was, but it got me off my duff so I guess its OK.)

The first part of the journey took place in my ’07 Turbo Forrester, a relatively new car. The check engine light was on, as it has been for several months now. The first time it came on, the shop where I have my oil changes done told be it was an “Evap” problem–more commonly known as loose gas cap. It went away and stayed away for a few months. The next time it happened, I took it back to the dealer who advised me that the code was for the “secondary air injector” system, one of the “gifts” from the EPA. He said not to worry about it, I probably wouldn’t see it again. Of course I did. So, they decided they had to replace some component in the air quality system. The estimate was $800, not covered under warranty. But Subaru came through and agreed to come up with most of it.

Needless to say, a week after this repair, the light was back on. The dealer relates that he asked Subaru (as long as the engine was already in pieces) whether they might want to change “both sides” of this system, but Subaru only agreed to change the one that had coded. That day, the code was “Evap”. They reset it and the light stayed off for 36 hours. The next code translated to “bad gas” (supposedly a common problem in our area of the Midwest). This time it stayed off for 24 hours. Now the code was “secondary air injector” (the side Subaru had not agreed to replace). So I’m off to the airport in a car that has the check engine light lit while we wait for new parts to arrive.

The first part of the journey by auto accomplished, the next phase was the airport parking mini-bus. Uneventful. One of the few times I could say this this trip.

No problems with airport security, I arrive at my gate with the sign reading “on time.” I sit down, pull out the newspaper and glance up. The sign has changed to “delayed.” The plane is sitting on the tarmac, so do we have mechanical problems–did the “check engine” light come on? Nope, this time the problem is that La Guardia traffic control won’t provide permission for our plane to leave. Traffic is heavy at La Guardia.

Ultimately, they kept us waiting two hours, one hour on the ground, another in the plane. But at about 6pm we rose into the skies and had a lovely flight to the New York metro area. As it turned out, the traffic was still heavy at La Guardia, so we circled the City a few times. Beautiful views of the Statue of Liberty, lower Manhattan, Central Park, bridges and water. Great views of Flushing Meadows Park, the NY Worlds Fair globe and the old and new Mets stadiums as we finally landed (smoothly, thank goodness) at La Guardia.

I had no problem finding the commuter bus I had reserved. The driver was a trip and a half. As we got ready to leave, he greased up his arms and donned a variety of body armor explaining that these various braces and wraps would prepare him properly for the road ahead. He artfully posted his sign “Tipping is a cool thing to do” and we were off. As we approached the entrance ramp to the freeway, we came to a complete stop. “What is this?” our Knight-driver exclaimed (with some extra colorful language I can’t repeat in a family blog). Evidently there was a wreck or mechanical failure on the ramp. So after a New York Minute, he pulled the bus out of the ramp and onto city streets and we headed for Manhattan the old fashioned way. We arrived at Grand Central Station where I was told to transfer to a mini-van which would get me the remainder of the way to Penn Station.

It was at this time that I bid a fond adieu to my travel companion–a lovely young lady employed in the Ann Arbor branch of Google, Inc who had taken the same plane as I and reserved the same bus. Aside from the usual travel banter, I heard a bit about marketing operations at the Ann Arbor office. In a way, it was Google that caused our paths to cross. Originally I had intended to take mass transit, but that’s always awkward when transporting luggage. So I used Google to locate the commuter bus we were both taking.

I was in luck at Penn station–the train to Metuchen had just opened its doors, and with little fuss we were on the way under the Hudson. I didn’t realize it, but I was in the last car of the train. As it turned out that was unfortunate because the doors of the last two cars do  not open at Metuchen. The conductor advised me to move up to the next car, which I did, but that placed me in the second-to-last car. So we arrived at Metuchen, and then under the watchful eye of the conductor, I stood by the door which did not open. I waved goodbye to Metuchen as the train headed for Edison station.

At Edison, I called my sister Barb to let her know that they might want to consider picking me up in Edison. As it turned out, in keeping with the theme of this trip, her house phone was out of order. She had sent my brother-in-law off to the station to pick me up (without his cell phone). So all I got when I tried my sister’s house phone was a busy signal, and voice-mail for her cell phone. Eventually I grabbed a cab and arrived at my sister’s home shortly after her husband had given up on me arriving in Metuchen.

I had a delicious chicken cacciatore (one of my sister’s signature dishes), and all seemed swell after a nice, stiff single malt Scotch. I had left Ann Arbor at 2pm, and arrived Metuchen at 10:30. That made it about a half hour sooner than I could have driven. But then I would have had to stare at the “check engine” light for those hours, so I guess it was all worth while.

Indian Rocks Beach Vacation 2/24 – 3/1/2009

The Beginning of the Story, Tuesday 2/24/09

We arrived after a mostly pleasant plane ride–at least as far as such things go these days. What made it pleasant was the fact that it wasn’t full, so we actually got to spread out a bit. There were more kids than we’d ever seen on a plane before, and when the pressure changed, they started howling.  The ride from Tampa airport in our Pontiac G6 rental was considerably longer time-wise than we anticipated. It seems that the traffic lights are timed to be red for anyone heading towards the beaches. Terri was famished, so I pulled into a mall and we arrived at the “Celebrity Deli”. Although we didn’t realize it until the staff frowned at us, we had come through the door 2 minutes before closing. But they served us some delightful (and enormous) sandwiches, so Terri’s mood lightened and we headed across the causeway and onto Indian Rocks Beach, our first Tampa Bay home.

Our first hotel (of two) is the Holiday Inn Harbourside. (Yes, they do put that “u” in. Pretension.) The rooms are more than spacious. Ours came with 2 queen beds, a kitchenette including range, microwave and fridge, and a very nice bathroom setup. Two closets! The grounds are lovely. There is a huge resort-style pool for kids with slides and such. Beach volleyball. The hotel sits on a narrow barrier island between a canal and the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately for the hotel, it is huge and practically empty.

Terri at Harbourside

Terri at Harbourside

Terri and I walk to the beach, about two blocks. We head south for a distance of about a mile and a half before heading back on the canal side of the island. It is a lovely, sunny day. The beach is inhabited mostly by sea gulls of several species, although we also see cormorants diving for fish. Lots of shells, and every few hundred feet we find impressive sized domes of some sort of jelly fish that had the bad fortune to be stranded by the tides.

On the canal side of the island the walk back is marred by the total lack of pedestrian accommodation. A car blasts its horn at me in irritation at the fact that I am walking too close to the pavement. But the restaurants and bars are getting into gear, and although the hotel doesn’t seem to be doing good business, the seasonal and year-round residents are in evidence.

Back to the hotel to consider dinner options. Although there appear to be many upscale restaurants, Terri and I have come for a relaxed, beach-oriented time, so I’m in shorts and she’s in jeans. Luckily, we noticed one Mexican restaurant that seems in line with our expectations, Los Mexicanos. Seems to be part of a small chain or maybe just three restaurants owned by the same family. Terri ordered tortilla soup, guacamole salad and a burrito. I ordered the fajitas. The salsa better resembled V8 juice than what we’re used to, but the chips were salt-free and obviously home made and after a while, the salsa grew on me. Terri’s tortilla soup was enormous, enough for a meal in itself. My fajitas were excellent, and possibly the largest portion I’ve ever seen. The add-ons were all fresh and very well done. Given the prices in other restaurants we’d seen, Los Mexicanos deserves some sort of award for best value in the Clearwater region.

We’ve made our 10,000 steps, so time to slow down. Terri stayed in the room while I wandered over to the “Jimmy Buffet” style live music at our hotel. The musician is talented and doing covers of Johnny Cash, 60s, 70s and 80s rock, and even a Warren Zevon tune or two. I had a reasonably priced shot of Jameson and trundled off to a good night’s sleep.

Wednesday 2/25/09

First full vacation day, have to do something good! Although Terri and I aren’t “boat people” almost every vacation we seem to wind up taking a boat trip somewhere. So I suggested we spend our day at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa and take the dolphin cruise out into Tampa Bay. The aquarium is very impressive. Not as original as Monterrey, nor as spectacular as Baltimore’s, but well worth the time. One impression is that they have many rays. The coral reef exhibit is extraordinarily well done, and they have one of the few facilities for growing coral and exporting colonies to other aquaria. There is a “Sea Dragon” exhibit of specimens from Australia that is truly breath-taking.

After lunch in the cafeteria–kosher hot dogs are available! (although Terri won’t touch them)–off we went on our 90 minute Tampa Bay cruise. The dolphins were so numerous that they had to cut out one part of the tour because we had spent so much time observing them. The tour guide was a retired gentleman doing volunteer duty and his knowledge of the area was quite impressive. Less so marine biology, but he made up for that by reading accurate information from cards in a manner that was less soporific than it could have been. It was pretty obvious where his heart was–tales of giant ship repair facilities, coal and gas industry, military bases, and glee at reporting that a house that had been demolished by an airplane crash had been completely rebuilt by the television show “Extreme Makeover”. But his knowledge of birds was also impressive, so we had a good introduction to the varieties found around the Bay.

After the tour, we decide to head to Tampa’s Ybor City. Instead of driving, we elect to take the streetcar. Its a real streetcar, not one of those gas powered buses decorated to look like a streetcar. Evidently Tampa didn’t make the same mistake as other municipalities and tear up their streetcar tracks. The streetcars themselves are new, immaculate, and comfortable. They do have one of the original streetcars, but its basically a museum piece. So not quite the historical wonder of the San Francisco system, but fun nevertheless.

Ybor City is the historic district of old Tampa. At one time it was the cigar capital of the US, and they still have many cigar shops and even places where cigars are hand-rolled while you wait. Neither Terri nor I smoke cigars, so this is mostly a matter of historical curiosity for us. We strolled most of the streets of the district. Its obvious that nothing much starts up until nightfall, but we elect an early evening anyway. We had a pleasant enough dinner at the Green Iguana followed by treats at the Marble Slab Creamery. From there it was back on the trolley to the Aquarium parking lot, and then the long drive back to the beach. We listened to some more Jimmy Buffet style music and crashed.

Thursday 2/26/09

Breakfast the previous day had been more than forgettable, so Terri and I walked about a mile over the canal drawbridge to a restaurant that advertised the “best breakfast in town.” Maybe. They featured home made biscuits (not available because the oven wasn’t hot enough yet), and were out of numerous other things on the menu. We were the only people in the place, but the (very nice) server explained that they had been inundated for Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday and were pretty well depleted. So after an infelicitous start, the breakfast food they brought to our table was fresh, properly prepared and much better than I was beginning to fear. I don’t know good grits from bad, but these tasted good to me.

On the way back to the hotel we detoured to the Indian Rocks historical museum. There we were greeted by Bill Carter, a bear of a man with a lush southern accent. Among other things he told us that he was Bill Clinton’s pastor back in Arkansas when Clinton was a young man. I replied that it hadn’t stuck. He grinned and said, “Didn’t do any good at all!” Clinton, he related, made a beeline for the beautiful and talented pianist and was “banging her” throughout whatever period they were together. While this was definitely the high point of the visit, I thought the rest of the museum was interesting enough. Terri didn’t.

Bill Carter, Bill Clinton's Pastor

Bill Carter, Bill Clinton's Pastor

But I must say that our docent knew his stuff, at least as near as I can tell. Whether I was asking about the native peoples or the people who built Harbourside, he was a font of good information.

We plan a “down” afternoon–work, email, maybe a nap. Terri heads for Jimmy Buffetland with her laptop. I take a soak in the Jacuzzi. The hotel is starting to fill–a good thing, as you can start to doubt your sanity wandering around a huge, deserted resort…

A Little Bit later…

If I had had an idea of how wonderful the Dali museum would be, I would have tried to get there earlier. I hope we can get back to Tampa Bay for another visit to this terrific little museum. The first few galleries were devoted to the relationship of Dali to Freud. Whether you care about Dali, Freud or even neither, the exhibit is still fascinating! Dali first became enthralled with Freud after reading “The Interpretation of Dreams”. Given the dream-like quality of so many of Dali’s paintings, its no wonder that he was inspired by Freud. The exhibit notes that Freud knew of Dali’s art and disdained it for most of his later life. But in 1938, a year before Freud’s death, Dali met him and presented him with a painting. Freud wrote to a friend about being wrong about Dali’s work, but since he was close to death, he never prepared any sort of analysis of Dali or his work, something that would have made an interesting read.

Terri in front of the Dali Museum

Terri in front of the Dali Museum

The galleries continued with a number of remarkable Dali paintings, sketches, and sculptures. The last gallery devoted to Dali contains several floor-to-ceiling masterpieces. We were fortunate to get in on the docent’s interpretation of several of these, and the next time I visit, I’ll make sure I can be there for a full tour.

A Moon-Lit End to a Lovely Evening

Following the Dali visit, we headed for a restaurant called “Moon Under Water”. It turned out to be near another St Petersburg institution, their Museum of Fine Art–that will have to wait for another day. The restaurant takes its name from tales of the English “shanghai” system. According to the tale, unwitting pub crawlers could be pressed into service when they drank a mug of ale into which a recruiter had dropped a coin which contained the royal portrait. Bar keepers began using pewter mugs with glass bottoms so patrons could examine their drink and ensure that no coins had been dropped in. The appearance of such coin under the ale was said to have the appearance of a “moon under water.”

The restaurant is decorated in the style of an old English pub, and the food is Indian! The idea is supposed to be reminiscent of the colonial era, but whatever, the chef comes by his knowledge of food honestly. I had a fabulous vindaloo.  I asked for it as hot as they would ever make it, and for a change I was not disappointed. The heat would have taken the roof off my mouth if it had been one degree hotter! It was accompanied by a lovely basmati rice, naan and a tomato and onion salad. And the price was remarkably reasonable–dinner for two including a decent round of Jameson’s was less than $50.

After that it was back to Harbourside for our last evening in that trusty old resort.

Friday 2/27/09

Transition day. We are here because Terri has a professional conference for the weekend, so its time to change locales for the conference. Breakfast was at a very pleasant hole-in-the-wall a few steps from the beach. Drive through doughnuts and coffee, but also terrific bagels and breakfast sandwiches–why did we have to discover this place our last day? Then we packed, went to our now-favorite Mexican joint for a tasty lunch, and traveled about 4 miles up the road from Indian Rocks Beach to Clearwater Beach.

Our Second Tampa Bay Home

Our Second Tampa Bay Home

What a difference! As you move up the road, the little canal we were used to at Harbourside turns into a miles-wide bay. Our new hotel, the Marriott Sand Key Resort is an L-shaped building about 10 stories tall. I couldn’t escape the bellhop, so we got the full welcome treatment. Our suite has a living room with sofa, armchair, large flat screen hi-def TV, and a small “kitchen” area. The bathroom and coat closet are in the middle, and then there is a bedroom with two queen sized beds. But while the room is very nice, its the views that set this place apart. Notice that I said “views” in the plural. The living room looks out on the Gulf, and the bedroom (with a private balcony) looks out on the bay. Both sides are utterly breathtaking.

The hotel has an attractive but athletically useless pool, decent jacuzzi, and very lovely grounds.

Viewing the pool from our bedroom balcony

Viewing the pool from our bedroom balcony

Terri’s conference is across the street at the Sheraton Sand Key resort, an even more opulent place which backs up onto the Gulf of Mexico.

Sheraton Sand Key viewed from our hotel

Sheraton Sand Key viewed from our hotel

Next door to the Sheraton is Sand Key Park. Beautiful beach access, and a pleasant enough trail from the street to the beach. The only odd thing is the enormous parking lot featuring row upon row of parking spaces with meters.

Sand Key Park

Sand Key Park

Terri headed off to the conference, I headed off to the pool and then a hike around the area.

We dined in an adequate nearby American-style restaurant. This was the best day of walking for me so far: 19,500 steps or about 9 miles.

Last Real Day,  Saturday 2/28/09

Every vacation comes to this. While we don’t fly back to Michigan until Sunday 3/1 at 3pm, today is the last Real Day. In the case of this particular vacation, its a “Real Day” only for me since Terri is involved in her sessions at the conference.

My morning begins at Maggie Mae’s breakfast emporium–great place. Enthusiastic staff, quality food. Next, a hike. The Marriott bellman advised me that across the causeway in Clearwater Beach (proper, we are in the town,  but on Sand Key) its a nice hike to the municipal beach and Pier 60. So off I went. Ultimately this turned into a 6.5 mile hike, but it was just a wonderful way to spend the morning. The only off-note was the 50 cent charge for getting to the end of the pier. Don’t know how much revenue that 50 cents generates, but its hard to believe that its worth the irritation I was seeing among the tourists. The weather was perfect-sunny, warm, brisk winds.

Terri and Jack at Sand Key Beach

Terri and Jack at Sand Key Beach

I met Terri for lunch and we opted for Lenny’s in Clearwater. The trip was supposed to take 20 minutes, but came in at about 35 owing to massive traffic heading for one of the Tampa area’s many professional baseball spring training games.  Lenny’s is the area’s best known Jewish-style restaurant. They seem to specialize in breakfast, but we were there for lunch, so I opted for the traditional life-shortening pastrami/corn beef combo. It was served on decent if unspectacular Jewish rye. The accompanying potato pancake was terrific–much better than french fries. The service was fast and our waitress was enthusiastic.  Lenny’s is filled with homespun (Jewish) humor. One sign proclaims “Why get ripped off elsewhere when you’re already here?” Terri had the chopped liver sandwich and commented that the place was well worth the trip.

Homespun humor at Lenny's

Homespun humor at Lenny's

On the way back she may have changed her mind. While the baseball games tacked 15 minutes onto the outward bound trip, the beach traffic added 30 minutes back. So the 20 minute return turned into an hour, and Terri wound up missing part of a session.

Since this was a true vacation day for me, I took a nap and then ventured out to the hotel hot tub. This time I found myself in hot water with the owner of a medical device company (Accu-Vein) located in Kansas City, Kansas and the owner of a high tech supply company from Minneapolis. Lots of conversation about the direction of the health industry, Obama, and hi tech. Accu-vein sounds interesting, although that’s possibly because the proprietor is one of those natural born salesmen. They sell a device which can find difficult to spot veins in infants, premies, (and as he referred to them) old and fat people. His corporate strategy is “shine and stick” (or something like that, I think it may have rhymed when he said it). Anyway, the idea is that a laser in the infra-red range can see veins that are relatively near the surface allowing med techs to easily obtain their blood draws.

Dinner was at a pleasant if unspectacular sports bar. I know Terri was disappointed because it was our last night, but I was happy because I’ve been getting too much good food down here. I’m terrified that the scale is going to show I put back all the weight I had dropped the prior month, and needless to say, I’ll soon be back on the straight and narrow.

On the positive side of all that, my pedometer shows that I hiked 10.25 miles today!

Farewell, Clearwater Beach! Sunday, 3/1/2009

Well, all good things must come to an end. We both had restless nights thinking about all the things we need to do back in Michigan. Terri was up at 4am and finished some sort of report. I rolled over and went back to sleep.

The morning brought the first weather front we’ve seen in our week here. Blustery winds, choppy surf along the beach, light rain. Although its no big deal, because of the way the hotel is shaped, the wind howls through and sitting in our room it sounds like a hurricane. As I write this, the sun has just poked through, so perhaps we’re passing through the eye of the storm. Just kidding.

My second breakfast at Maggie Mae’s, Terri’s first. Although we didn’t have to wait for a table at the hour we showed up, by the time we left the place was packed and there was a long line. Its the kind of place I’ve found in most places I’ve lived, and if I lived in Clearwater Beach, I’d be there every morning.

We’re all packed up and as soon as Terri’s last session ends we’ll be heading for the airport. I enjoyed this trip immensely and if the opportunity presents itself, I hope I can return here some day.

Sunset over the bay

Sunset over the bay