Red, white and blue … and YOU, the grillin’ gourmand.

hamburgers and hotdogs cooking on grill outdoors

Besides the obvious reason why we celebrate Memorial Day, this upcoming weekend is also the official kickoff to Summer.

Here in Michigan, we always proclaim this holiday as the gateway to Summer, even if we have traipsed some 300 plus miles to get up North to a cottage where the temps are so cold that we must sit shivering inside, or, if we venture outside, we are clad in sweats and a heavy jacket.  Newberry, a city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, had snow flurries this morning.

Whether Michiganders go camping, trek to the cottage, or even just stay home for the three-day holiday, there is the usual shopping trip that will leave us salivating in anticipation of all the gourmet grilling.

I took a fast trip to Meijer today, hoping to beat that crowd that was stocking up on everything from sunblock to S’mores fixings.  You sure can’t miss the displays featuring packages of those plump, pillow-like marshmallows, crisp graham crackers and melt-in-your-mouth Hershey chocolate bars.  And, of course the endcaps are crammed full of condiments and munchies as well as hot dog and burger buns.

The last items to pile into your shopping cart would be the meal’s main attraction:  the burger meat, wieners, kabobs and/or rack of ribs.

Is your mouth watering yet?

I must admit that grilling these days is nothing like it was when I was growing up.  Most long holiday weekends, my parents and I would pile in the car and cross the border on the middle day of the holiday and our destination was Holiday Beach on the Lake Erie shoreline in Amherstburg, Ontario.  We’d find a nice spot on the beach, drag out the cooler and my father would fire up the hibachi by feeding it charcoal nuggets and crossing his fingers that it would work well enough to cook the hotdogs or hamburgers we’d brought along with the cold salads and cut-up melon.  That hibachi wasn’t very large, so even with just three of us, or occasionally when I brought along a friend, we’d have to eat in stages.  There was swimming to work off the calories from the picnic lunch, then we’d stop at the Boots and Saddle ranch for a little horseback riding.  There were many nice memories from the long holidays back in the day.

Eventually, we graduated to a kettle grill, which was a fairly standard item on every homeowner’s back patio in those days.  There was alot of fanfare just to cook your meal, and, of course you had to wave off all the flies and ants in the neighborhood who were hanging around looking for a nibble.

It’s so easy now with a gas or propane grill, but, if you are of a certain age, you can probably remember mom or dad hauling out that big paper bag of briquettes and dumping them into the concave grill bottom.  A cloud of black dust would erupt from the charcoal nuggets as those briquettes tumbled out of the bag and settled into the recesses of the grill cavity.  Then it was a couple of squirts of lighter fluid to get it all going and soon there was a raging fire.  I know I always stood way back in case an errant spark grabbed onto my pony tail.  The backyard was always filled with dark smoke and in the midst of that smoke fest, my mom would be slamming shut the bedroom windows lest the black dust settle on all those perky cream-colored Priscillas.  Then, there was the post-meal scrub down of any crud that caked onto the grill grates.  My mom would have spent most of the Friday before the holiday boiling up potatoes to make potato salad or cutting up green and red cabbage and carrot slivers to make coleslaw.  It was only in her later years that her lazy daughter would finally convince her to buy store-made cold salads or head to “The Boneyard”, a famous rib joint here in town, where all the work required was daintily dabbing our mouths and fingers with a napkin to remove the grease and BBQ sauce that squirted everywhere as you feasted on that meal.

So, remembering the good ol’ days of family grilling, I had to chuckle when I heard a radio ad yesterday touting the new Hardee’s “picnic burger” which is available starting tomorrow.  The concept is that you can have all your holiday picnic fare between two buns.  This gastronomical wonder has an official name:  “Hardee’s American Thick Burger” and consists of a layer of potato chips, a 1/3 or 1/2 pound burger, topped with a split wiener and all the usual burger toppings.  One burger is 1,030 calories and has 64 grams of fat.  Really!?

But hey –  look at all the time you’d save shopping, grilling and cleaning up.

P.S. – The Hardee’s here in town closed up two decades ago and a Wendy’s opened in its place.  I guess that’s a good thing for my waistline.

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A jack rabbit start(le).

05-17-15

The fog crept in on little cat feet once again this morning.

I always liked Carl Sandburg’s description of how the fog landed, stayed awhile, then just sprang away.  However, the early morning fog in my neck of the woods wasn’t so quick to leave.

I hung around the house waiting, but it hung on as well.

Early Sunday mornings in the neighborhood are already deserted enough without walking around in a fog … the atmosphere that is, not the walker.  (Or, maybe there is a little of both.)

When you get to the Park on a foggy morning, the trees and bushes make it seem a little spooky.  I’ve gone there on other murky mornings when I can see the geese grazing in the middle of the soccer field, their bodies seeming to glide along on a misty cloud, since you can’t see their squat legs or wide webbed feet.

This morning’s sky was tinted like a two-day-old bruise and so gloomy looking that I left the new camera, (which still remains to be christened in the great outdoors), at home.

I carried an umbrella instead, but of course since I brought it along it didn’t rain.

I decided there are a few sure signs that the Memorial Day holiday is on the horizon, among them:

#1 – the gas prices are rising;

#2 – the picnic tables have been placed under the Park pavilion; and

#3 – the neighbors are already shooting off fireworks.

Just as I stepped onto the walking path at  Council Point Park, suddenly the hugest rabbit sprang out of nowhere.  In whatever hidey hole where he had been lurking on this murky morn, it was obvious that he was oblivious to one 5 foot, 9 inch human who came strolling along into his territory.  He did that bunny hop out of a patch of tall grass just a few steps away from me, and when he realized how precariously close I really was to him, a look of sheer terror was in his eyes.

But, to tell you the truth … he startled me as well.

Perhaps we were both a bit spooked by the fireworks extravaganza last night and were still a little on edge this morning.

Or, maybe this “May” hare was late to a tea party, since he entered and exited my personal space at the speed of sound!

Even if I had toted the camera, he was much too quick for me, since this bunny bolted away and quickly disappeared into a thicket of bushes which have leafed out quite nicely so that they hid his big bunny body and tall ears so that I could no longer see his beating heart, nor could he see mine.

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Forget-Me Nots are actually kinda forgettable.

Forget me not flowers

From the confines of my cozy bed, I listened to the news and debated whether to even go for a walk, on this day two of a four-day, rain-filled sogfest.  The 6:00 a.m. news meteorologist reported we had 95% humidity, no doubt due to the non-stop rain we’ve received in the past 24 hours.  Why not create a bucket brigade all the way to California because we have plenty of water to spare here in Michigan?

Though I was inclined to skip the walk, there is my 500-mile mileage goal to be mindful of, and, besides …they said no rain was coming ‘til the 9:00 o’clock hour.  So, I got up and at ‘em and headed out by 7:30.

Whew!  It was humid, just like an August day.  I glanced at the dark and drab sky with the thickening clouds and knew rain threatened in the not-too-distant future, despite their ETA prediction.  But, having taken the effort to get dressed and attach my miscellaneous walking paraphernalia, I set out anyway, taking care not to stray far from home, lest a sudden soaking downpour drench me from top to toe.  I’m not one of those gals glorified in the e-mails that circulate from time to time that proclaims “life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s learning to dance in the rain” … nope, that’s not my M.O. at all.

I headed down toward Wyandotte and the many fog horns filled the moist humid air and sounded like a herd of cattle lowing in a pasture.  It reminded me of when I travelled with my parents to Bavaria this time of year in 1979.  We stayed in a sleepy Alpen town in a small chalet where the owner kept his cattle out back of that bed and board.  During our one-week stay, every morning he let the cows out as soon as the sun was up.  Paying no mind to the early hour (nor his guests), he guided those critters up the mountain, but first they had to pass the chalet, and they did so with their big hooves clomping and clattering along that narrow road.  Each step brought a clanging from the big bell slung on a wide leather collar around their respective necks.  Those cattle lowed from the time they left the barn, all the way up into the mountainside where they were left to graze until the sun sank low on the horizon – then the journey was repeated in reverse.  At least everyone was awake by then.

As I neared the Lincoln Park/Wyandotte border a few spits of rain landed on my glasses, then started dotting my clothes, so I turned around and headed for home which was about a mile away.   As the drops intensified into a light drizzle, I hurried along, hastening my trip by taking a speedier, rather than a more-scenic route home.  I came upon a corner lot where lilac trees in various shades of purple and cream lined the privacy fence.  They towered way over the top of the fence and spilled over, their aromatic blooms filling the humid air with an overpowering scent, just like opening a fresh packet of potpourri.  I would have liked to linger a little longer but I walked quickly to avoid getting soaked.

But, soon the sky opened up and I got rained on – bigtime.  So, there was no need to hurry anymore as I was soaked.  When I arrived home, I went into the backyard to check out my own lilac trees that finally have bloomed, but are now too tall and not within reach to snip off enough bloom-filled branches to make a bouquet to take indoors.  Out back, the air smelled faintly of lilacs, though not as intense as that corner house where the height of the trees was about par with my nostrils.

I took stock of my own backyard, which, right now is largely overgrown and raggedy looking from the recent spate of 80-degree heat and all the rain, plus everything is in “new-growth mode” … uh, where did all the Forget-Me-Nots come from?

Last year, on the opposite side of the yard, I planted a couple of seed packets of Forget-Me-Nots, thinking only 1/3 of them would take and actually grow into plants, and what did thrive would brighten up the early Spring garden and complement the lilacs and clematis.  I must admit I was swayed by the seed packet’s picture of an old-fashioned nosegay and decided the Forget-Me-Nots would be a pretty and practical addition to that small, bare corner of the backyard.  But, as you know … you can’t judge a book by its cover, and the same goes for the illustration on a seed packet.  Just like a few years ago, when my Russian Mammoth Sunflowers that had promised 10 or 12-foot stalks with 1-foot wide sunflowers, and got to maybe 5-6 feet at best with punier flower heads, these plants were also a disappointment since they are not contained in one small area of the garden, but instead are so invasive that they have encroached all over the entire yard in just a matter of days.  They are worse than the wild ivy or Creeping Charlie and already reach my knees.  What the …?  They were here, there and everywhere but where they were supposed to be. …  on the opposite side of the yard.  I caught them climbing up the side of the air conditioner as well as hunkering down in between the roses and hydrangeas and seemingly choking them.   I grabbed a few handfuls of those blasted blooms that were tickling the grille of the A/C and the rest I’ll banish later.

For now, I’ll let them think they have outsmarted me … this time.  Yup, the biggest garden misnomer of all are Forget-me-nots because they are sure forgettable.

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I sure was tempted to pull a Tiny Tim today and …

Fresh colorful tulips in warm sunlight

… tiptoe through the tulips I saw along the way to the Park.  I probably would have done it on a lark, except I might have gotten a citation for trespassing.

Besides my ukulele was out of tune.

It was a bright and beautiful morning, albeit nippy – no, make that cold – when I departed for my walk.  At 45 degrees, I could have strayed back to the Winter duds which still have not found their way to the cleaners, but, instead I opted for a lightweight coat.  In my purple jacket and bright red knitted headband and matching gloves, I resembled one of the members of the “The Red Hat Society” … only minus the frou frou, frills and frivolity.

In the chilly morning air, I had to wonder how all the Mother’s Day baskets and porch pots would fare with tonight’s temps sliding down below 40 degrees?  People will be stuffing their portable annuals into their garage or hut, or maybe even their basement, to protect the tender blooms.  I’m sure today’s newspaper will be thrown over teeny seedlings of tomatoes, cukes and sweet corn.

While strolling down to the Park I noticed that all the tulips have finally opened and they looked beautiful.  It was breezy and the rows of tulips in many gardens were bending slightly with each puff of wind, but the blooms were not yet spent enough to flutter down from the tall stem into the garden bed.

Last week was the Tulip Festival here in Holland, Michigan.  It is on my bucket list one day to visit during tulip time to see the estimated 4.5 million tulips on display in that city.  It would be just my luck to arrange a trip during that one-week festival, and Michigan’s temperamental weather might have caused the tulips not to bloom yet.  Not that I’m a pessimist, but one year my mom and I scheduled our vacation to coordinate with the peak colors for viewing the leaves in Northern Michigan, only to arrive there with still-green leaves on every tree.  It was a fluke due to warmish weather that year, so the leaves had not yet turned the vibrant colors that local leaf peepers swarm up North to see.

I’ve never tried my luck with tulips since we have too many yard critters who are anxious to seek and destroy the bulbs.  When we first moved to Michigan in 1966, my father ordered several dozen tulip bulbs from a nursery in the Netherlands.  They were to grace the side garden.  I can still remember his angry face when he came home from work to find the squirrels had dug up all the bulbs from the ground and hid them somewhere.  There were holes and dirt piles where the squirrels had used their claws in a frenzy to access the freshly planted bulbs.  That is … all but one bulb that they missed.  For decades that one very tall and tenacious, yellow and red, mottled-looking tulip would break through the grass and bloom, despite the garden having been tilled and replaced with sod many decades earlier.

When they weren’t digging up the tulip bulbs for kicks, it seemed those pesky squirrels enjoyed chewing on the tall purple irises that graced the fence line.  They’d pull apart the long and spiky-looking leaves from those plants, much like one peels the skin off a banana.  They’d take a couple of bites, then cast the leaves aside.  I eventually pulled all the irises out as they always were raggedy-looking.

Yup, those squirrels are mischievous little buggers sometimes.

One year I planted sunflowers and the squirrels would scale up the tall stalks, then creep and crawl along the edges of the flower.  Sometimes they would use their acrobatic skills to leap from the fence while trying to reach the coveted “pan” of sunflower seeds.  Their heavy bodies usually caused that colorful flower, resplendent with its end-of-Summer delectable striped seeds, to collapse and come tumbling down to the ground.  The poor goldfinches were lined up along the fence, watching in dismay as the gluttonous squirrels feasted on the delicacy of ripened sunflower seeds.

And, if it wasn’t the squirrels, it was the bunnies.  Sure those cute bunnies with the powderpuff tail that go streaking past you at the speed of sound, make you want to pick them up and stroke their soft fur and feed them carrots.  But the warm fuzzies stop right there when they nibble on your tender plants.  I went out in the yard one time to find an oversized bunny with several strands of my prized Bleeding Heart plant hanging out of his mouth, while he contently chomped on the tender leaves without a care in the world.  I shooed him away, but he came back to finish his “meal” as evidenced when I went out to weed and water the next morning and most of the plant was gone.

That’s why I enjoy other people’s tulips that brighten my walk and I get my critter fix at the Park where I am happy to oblige them with a store-bought treat in their own element.

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Mum’s the word – and grandmum too.

05-10-15

Today’s the day we commemorate our mothers and acknowledge all they do, or have done, for us, and how they made us the unique person we are today.  You don’t think you got to this point in your life stumbling along on your very own did you?  I have no siblings, nor any family members living, so there is no one I can share funny or special stories with today, but, even though this is the sixth Mother’s Day since I lost my mom, I carry many memories of her presence on Earth in my heart and am reminded of her every single day.  I am thankful for the time that I spent with her.  The many pictures that fill the family albums, or are displayed in frames around the house, as well as mental pictures tucked away in my mind, all help to keep her memory alive.  Accompanying today’s blog post is a three-generation photograph that my grandmother, mom and I had taken at a photo studio when my grandmother was visiting us in 1983.

If you are a mother, may your day be just as special as you are.

A mom is a blessing sent from Heaven above, a huggable reminder of God’s unfailing love. ~ Anonymous

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This old dawg is learning new tricks.

05-09-15

Well, I didn’t take a stroll to the Park today because I decided to deal with the new camera … it’s been here since April 18th already.

Two Sundays ago, I cleared an afternoon to read the info and set up the camera, and was quite put off by the large manual, some 113 pages.  Of course, at that time, I just said “ugh” after flipping through quickly.  It turned out that of the 113 pages, half were in Spanish, but still … 66 pages is alot of info to absorb at one time for a small camera.  And besides, when I opened the box up, I discovered no CD, no cable interface cord, and no SIM card.  Well, I had purchased an add-on bundle with a memory card but I was still surprised.  I called up to Best Buy to ask if they had the cord to this model camera – the girl checked and said it was out of stock.  I looked on Canon’s website – also out of stock.  So, essentially I had wasted an hour of my time, and, after discovering none of the familiar comforts of my old Canon digital camera existed in this one, and really put off by the whole disappointing experience, I packed it all up to take it back to Best Buy.

When I returned to Best Buy, I handed over my bag with the camera box and its accompanying bundle items while saying “it is too much camera for me – I really wanted alot of zoom and something fairly simple” (I know I was stumbling a little on the word “simple” since the pair of associates who sold it to me said it was prized for its simplicity and creativity, even shooting on automatic) … well, the sales girl, who was probably in her teens, looked at me like I was a simpleton, heard me out and politely replied “well, it has both those features – this is a great little camera” … to which I responded “well convince me then”  (I am a tough customer).

So, she first proceeded to say I needed no cord and just needed a SIM card reader.  I guess I wore a puzzled expression, so she asked me if I preferred to use the reader on the laptop or get a stand-alone reader, to which I responded “sorry, I don’t know what a SIM card reader is or if I have one or not” all the while kind of lowering my head and whispering while wanting to just cower into a corner.

Some 45 minutes later, I left with a tutorial under my belt and a brand-new $9.00 gizmo in my Best Buy bag.

Finally, this morning I sat down to deal with the new camera and all its paraphernalia.

It took two hours to charge the &^%$ thing.  Luckily, I plugged it in before I had breakfast, then glanced over and the light was still orange, so I had a second, then a third cup of coffee.  I reasoned that reading the directions didn’t help much if you couldn’t turn the power button on.

I drained my last cup of coffee and decided I could get the camera gear all ready.

First, I had to read the directions for the SIM card reader and set it up – okay, that was easy enough, but it only had one small piece of paper which served as directions, and suggested that to save the trees, more info could be found online at the manufacturer’s site.  No further instructions needed – thankfully.

Then, I had to put the  SIM card into the camera.  Well, that would have been a piece of cake, except that it took me 20 minutes to open the package to extricate that little plastic memory card.  It was not even clamshell packaging, just sandwiched in between two pieces of cardboard.  Was there some special secret to getting to it?  While I attempted to rip and pinch and cut open the cardboard, I griped and grumbled about why it was not included with and already inside the camera anyway?  Finally, beads of sweat on my forehead, and amidst shreds of paper littering my feet and the floor, I triumphantly removed it from its wrapper and popped it into the camera posthaste.  Whew!

Finally the green light came on and the camera was charged.

Figuring I’d start out simple, and ease into the task at hand, I decided to connect the wrist strap.  Baby steps, right?  I took the strap out of the little bag thinking ‘this’ll be easy’ which quickly turned to ‘hmmm, where do I attach it though?’   Thinking it nonsensical to need to consult the manual  for the wrist strap, I flipped through page after page anyway, but there was nothing on how to attach it to the camera.  Big sigh.  So, I looked at the camera again, this time annoyed that Canon obviously thought it was an easy enough “install” not to include it in the big fat manual.  Nope, I couldn’t figure it out.  So, in desperation, I looked through the manual again.  Success – I finally found a blurb which said “download the manual at the Canon site to see how to attach the wrist strap” … really?!  Sigh.

I knew then I was in big trouble if I was already dogged by this digital dilemma and feeling the need to consult Cliff Notes to operate the camera.

Grumbling some more, I decided to deal with this small potatoes wrist strap task later and turned the camera on.   Woo hoo – lots of noises … a bunch of bells and whistles and I set to work on configuring the date info and location (New York?), which proved to be a 15-minute task.  I was nowhere close to begin taking pictures.

I noted the serial number and hopped onto the Canon site to register the camera as well as for the wireless method to upload the pictures “magically” to a special Canon gateway site.

I typed in the required info and got to the e-mail address … the computer did an auto-complete then they wanted a second e-mail address verification.  No problem – I retyped my e-mail address, the same one I’ve had since I got my first computer in 2000, and which I’ve typed out a gazillion times.  However, it rejected my second e-mail address, though it was fine with it a mere minute before.  Again – really?!

I had to log out and start back over from scratch.  Annoyed, I typed quickly and the e-mail address took this time thankfully, but as I pressed “submit” I saw my home state was “Minnesota” – not “Michigan”… oops, too late to fix it as it flew off the screen into cyberspace.  I had to repeat the process one more time to register my correct address.   Of course, there was no “contact me” to leave a message to destroy the Minnesota address, just a long list of FAQs to scroll through.

I could feel a colossal headache coming on.

I perused the wireless gateway information and decided that I’d do a Scarlett O’Hara – and save that task for another day.  My head was already swamped with details and I’m really sure I like the download method better.

My prior camera had a viewfinder and this one is a point-and-shoot.  Because I don’t own a smartphone, this new way of taking a picture without the “I spy with my little eye” method kind of threw me momentarily.  Well, I don’t really feel I’m a digital dunce,  and, while I don’t profess to be the bee’s knees, when I reviewed my pictures, I had a half-dozen shots of my knees.  There was one of my wrist and the ceiling as well.  Of course, then I had to read up on how to delete ‘em all.

So, I got up and walked around the house while  practicing zooming in and out on the corner cabinet, the duck decoys in the kitchen and my messy dresser, feeling a little stupid, and wondering who will be my first real moveable subject?  Buddy?  The geese or their goslings?  The squirrel as he tries to scale my leg?

Oh wait – I forgot to learn how to shoot a video, and I promised Buddy he’d be the star of the show.  I’ll target that lesson for a rainy day and when my comfort level is high with this newfangled apparatus  … or at the end of this year – whatever comes first.

Enough of this digital debacle for today – practice makes perfect, so it might be awhile yet ‘til I’m a hot dog with this new camera.

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Head for the border cuz it’s Cinco de Mayo.

05-05-15

Well, the closest border for me would be at the Detroit River for the U.S. and Canada, and, I can’t cross that border to my homeland since I don’t have an active passport.  My new green card is hung up due to my worn-down fingerprints, so I have to send a form to the state police to verify I’ve lived at mi casa for five years – actually it’s been since July of 1966.

Weather-wise, the day has been a carbon copy of yesterday, and has now morphed into a drainy day … that would be dreary and rainy.  In fact I just looked out and it is raining cats and Chihuahuas.

I had some errands to do but the raindrops started … well, that was a shame since my boss is out of the office today and tomorrow.  He is on a cement-hauling steamship in the middle of Lake Huron and enroute to Alpena, Michigan right now.  Had he extended his boat journey, the next stop would have been Duluth, but there is still alot of ice in Lake Superior, so he opted out.  Not a magnifico day to be cruisin’ unless it is somewhere warm and sunny like the Mexican Riviera.

So, are you fixing or feasting on traditional Mexican fare today?  I made myself tortilla soup, but please don’t ask for the recipe, as it is from Meijer’s new bistro-style soup collection.  There’s not much to the preparation … open the box, pour it into a pot, stir and eat.  It smelled so good that I tasted it while it was warming up.  Ay, caramba!  It had plenty of red peppers in it plus a few jalapenos thrown in for good measure as well.  As I type this post, in my peripheral vision I see some serious smoke plumes coming from my ears.  I also slathered some salsa cream cheese on top of a bagel so that was the extent of me getting my Mexican on for this special holiday.

It’s too bad Taco Bell hasn’t finalized home delivery of their food instead of just talking about it, because I’m sure they’d have alot of takers with this rainy weather.

I chose today’s kinda kitschy picture for a little flair for this Cinco de Mayo post.  It always makes me smile, even though it is a little cheesy, especially that striped donkey.  I was on a 10-day tour down the California coast and our group took a day trip to San Diego and Tijuana.  We were advised not to drink the water or eat the food and wait ‘til we returned to the hotel where we’d have an authentic Mexican meal in town.  While in Tijuana, I bought a couple of bottles of potent vanilla for my mom and her friend for baking, plus a mini bottle of tequila with a worm in it for me as a souvenir.  I didn’t bring home a serape, nor huaraches, and luckily I didn’t bring home head lice from donning that colorful sombrero on my head.

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