Saturday, May 22, 2010

Takeout in Kettering

This morning we took the Luck's Mixed Beans and headed south on I-675 to visit Uncle Bill and Aunt Ann in Kettering.  We wound up having lunch, and perhaps I'll talk about that, first.  Uncle Bill and I went out to DiSalvo's Deli and Italian Store to pick up sandwiches of an unusually yummy and Italian variety.  Hank stayed with Aunt Ann, and that was probably a good choice, because if he'd gone with us, he would have come back with 67 cannoli, some mousse, and seventeen slices of Italian lemon cake.

Here's the amusing thing, though.  I drove to the deli, which was maybe three miles from Westlawn Drive, and Uncle Bill backseat drove the whole way. It made me feel like I was sixteen again, and believe me, at this age, that's worth a lot.  I just about laughed out loud, and then couldn't tell him what I was laughing at. He's been telling us all how to drive for 35 years.  It's wonderful to know that some things never change.

That's because many other things do change.  I think of my aunt and uncle as they were when they were, well, my age.  Now they're in their 80's; Uncle Bill has lost 30 pounds, Aunt Ann cannot safely go to the refrigerator in the garage because of her walker.  Something about seeing these strong, capable, independent people struggling to manage in their own home makes me feel hollow.  I make jokes about aging, but on a deep, primal level, seeing UB and AA makes me realize how much it sucks.  And we all walk down that path, so the garage we used to haul everything out of and scrub becomes a place we can't even walk into.

Okay, enough of the melancholy.  The other funny story about visiting AA and UB is that a couple of their friends dropped in as we were leaving, and Mrs. Friend said, "Oh, you're the Janet who writes the funny column."  Bwahahahaha.  Maybe.

This evening we're going to Middletown to have dinner with David and Brooke.  I will, I promise, take pictures, because I know how boring it is to be reduced to looking at a can of beans.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Chillin' in Beavercreek

Just a post to say that we will be making more noise soon.  Driving down from Ann Arbor was a total breeze, in of road (straight) and traffic (negligible).  In terms of boring, it was amazing.  Let's just say, the road is neither long, nor winding, but it can make you lose your cookies, and we did.  Further bulletins as events warrant.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Stones in the River

The run-up to this photo will take a while, so first let's just talk about it, shall we?  This is the sculpture, Stones in the River, that lives under the stairs (I am not kidding) in the University of Michigan Museum of Art.  When I saw it last year, for the first time, I was stunned, partly because it is beautiful, and partly because it makes me think of Dad.  Every bit of it is wooden, from the hollow "stones" to the maple bench they rest on. 

Technically photography is forbidden in the museum, but a.) this is unfindable on the Web or on UMMA's website, and b.) no one was looking, and c.) I had my cell phone.  I suppose I could add, d.) I really want to keep this piece in my brain.  It's developed some kind of iconic status, possibly having something to do with a family history of woodworking and a longstanding fondness for rivers.

The art museum wasn't my intention today, because I've been there before.  It turned out well, though, because it's hosting exhibitions of Japanese kimonos and ceramics that were stunning.  I had no idea about the elaborate social language of kimonos, or the history of their beautiful lines, both in form and construction.  The item on the left isn't a kimono, but an haori, a short jacket that shares similar construction details.  There were also kimonos that featured Japanese tie-dying effects, called shibori.  Thousands of small ties make a fabric that looks as if it has been intricately printed.  They take months to make, and even though a shibori kimono would never be worn for a formal occasion, it can be more expensive than many formal kimonos.

My original intention was to tour the UM Natural History Museum.  That fell through because the city of Ann Arbor is using its federal money to make the streets around UM impassable.  After I encountered my third detour, I gave up.  I actually pulled into the bus parking lot for the museum, but didn't want to get towed, so I struck out for the library . . . only to have the same problem.  Sheesh.  The art museum has on-street parking, and that's how I wound up there, again.  I like Ann Arbor; it's not a big city, but it does have the University of Michigan, 66,000 students, all of them driving according to the customs of their state/country/planet of origin.  I was very glad to get back to the hotel.

Hank has finished his meeting, so we're packing up to head to Dayton. We're staying with Bruce and Shirley, delivering beans to Bill and Ann, and everybody will wind up as blog fodder.   Bwahahahaha. 

Ann Arbor and Environs

Yesterday was a no-post day partly because we were traveling, and partly because Hank had to work last night on EPMG requirements that he needed the computer for.  Today he's in a directors' meeting all day, which means that I'm about to go out and play.

But first, some travel notes:

The trip from Pittsburgh to Ann Arbor probably takes about four hours and some change.  We took five, because I had to stop every hour and a half or so and exercise the hip.  Besides, that's a more pleasant and restful way to go.  We left Pittsburgh at noon and were in our hotel room in Ann Arbor, unloaded and stretching, by 5:30, having spent most of the day on the Ohio Turnpike. 

The Ohio Turnpike is I-80, and we paid $11.25 for the privilege of driving on it.  When you get on, just across the Pennsylvania line, you take a ticket that has all the exits printed on it; your entrance point is punched, and you can see how much it's going to cost you to get off.  Further, the ticket warns you that if you get off at the entrance point, you will have to pay the full fare, which for a car is something like $25.  So the minute you take that ticket, they have you.  I felt a little bit like a hostage, but oh, well.

The other thing about the Ohio Turnpike is that much of it is boring, boring, boring.  It's like a deciduous I-64 between Charlottesville and Richmond, a green tunnel beyond which might be anything.  You're never going to know.  Fortunately, we had lots to talk about, but we didn't learn squat about northern Ohio except that it has trees.  We did see Cleveland in the distance, but it's not that close to the interstate, so we took a pass.

We went slapbang through Toledo, though, and both had the same thought.  If you just added that tang of rotting swamp vegetation, you'd think you were in Chesapeake. They look exactly alike.  Seriously.  Drop me in Toledo, and I'll believe I'm in Tidewater.  The Lake Erie area, both Michigan and Ohio, is as flat as Chip's feet.  Flatter.  The glaciers bulldozed it, dropped off the occasional drumlin, and skedaddled.  I have no idea what rivers do around here, but I suspect they do it really, really slowly.  I got all excited on U.S. 23 north of Toledo, because we went down something that was almost a hill; then I realized it was a man-made dip in the road to allow it to go under the rail line.  Sigh.

Call me provincial, but I want my geography to have some bumps in it.  Pennsylvania is fine, with its rolling hills and gentle vistas.  Northwestern Ohio is just a bit overwhelming -- it's all sky.  I suspect the Great Plains are like this, too, which is why people build windbreaks and houses with small windows.  All that sky sits on you like a lid.  You can see clouds that are probably 150 miles away, and a thunderstorm can take all afternoon to arrive.  I'm just more comfortable in the mountains, where even a contrail is an atmospheric surprise.  I digress.

This morning I'm going to shop for a pair of black shoes and then visit the UM library.  Further bulletins as events warrant.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Alas, Poor Betty, We Hardly Knew Ye

Explaining how we became friends with artist, educator, and (currently) fisherman John Mowder would require ten years of history, much of it revolving around the Outer Banks, where John spends most of his summers.  I'm going to skip that and just go straight to saying that spending time with John is ALWAYS a treat, and today was no exception.

John's house is his gallery; it's always changing, but the biggest change we noted today is the presence of his wheaten terrier, Toto.  What a great dog!  He looks a bit like a smaller Wowbagger, (which was bittersweet, because we found out from Chip today that the vet has diagnosed the Wowpuppy's problem as hip dysplasia; I digress.)  He's just a soft, furry bundle of friendliness, so we spent a while at John's kitchen table playing with the dog and catching up.

Then we were off with John to the Carnegie museum, and that's when we discovered that he no longer drives Betty White, his mom's old car.  "She got too demanding," he told us.  "Two weeks ago she needed even MORE money, so I told her she had to go."  The last time we were in Pittsburgh, I saw most of the city from Betty's backseat.  John's new car is a silver Subaru, Bernadette, but she doesn't have Betty's (admittedly neurotic) personality.

The Carnegie pleased us, of course, but it actually surprised and pleased John.  He hadn't been there in a while, and discovered today that the new curator has shuffled the collections, added some excellent pieces that had been in storage, and created some salon-style displays in several of the galleries.  We had a wonderful time drawing on John's expertise.  (Sarah, you really need to do this.  We'll get you up here and let you rant to John about Seurat.)

While John and I were talking about color, line, and whether a person can look at any Edvard Munch painting for too long without going nuts, Hank was lining up shots like this one, where a Rodin bowman is about to shoot us.  We also attracted the attention of a security guard who thought we might actually (the horror!) be touching a Mary Cassatt.  Actually, we were just talking about whether mouths or eyes were the most expressive facial features, and the guard turned out to be quite friendly.

That is one of the lovable things about Pittsburgh.  Most of the people are friendly.  They do not regard others with suspicion or hostility, as a general rule; I'm sure that exceptions exist, since the jerk is a ubiquitous species, but we haven't run into many.

Tonight we had dinner with John and John Mannear (aka Other John) at Hokkaido Seafood Buffet.  We could not find the place again if our lives depended on it, since we were once again whisked through surface streets in Bernadette.  Dinner conversation was a lively combination of art, teaching, folklore, medicine, and the joys of Internet research.  Other John gave me a book, Population: 485, written by the person who lead his visiting writer lecture series this year.  It looks to be both funny and close-to-home for anyone familiar with the vagaries and tragedies of small town life.

We left them this evening, promising to return to Pittsburgh ASAP, and this time to stay at the right Marriott, the one about a block from their house, instead of downtown, where we currently are.  Tomorrow we head up to Ann Arbor, taking the scenic route past Cleveland.  I can't wait, insofar as the Johns talked tonight about how Cleveland is now a ghost town.  We'll see, I suppose.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hip Schmip -- Mucking About in the New River Gorge

We were not in a big rush today, because we had to stop pretty often and let me stretch out the hip.  The absolute best leg-stretching place has to be the Canyon Rim State Park, on the north side of the New River Gorge Bridge.  I can't believe we've never done this -- we did try, once, to attend Bridge Day, but were too late for the festivities.  Today, thanks to on-and-off showers, we had the place almost to ourselves, and it's amazing. 

Even though it was raining a bit when we stopped, we took an easy stroll to the overlook, and THEN went down 600 more feet to a really spectacular viewing platform. (For the record, my hip did fine, although I nearly popped a lung on the climb back up.) The bridge photo here just doesn't do it justice.  The span is so unbelievably huge, and wide, but the scale is hard to discern because it is so beautifully proportioned.  The river below just looked, today, like someone pouring coffee down a chute -- brown, high, and fast moving.  Again, the scale doesn't register, or it didn't until we saw a tiny, tiny man fishing near a boat-launch ramp. He really was almost too small to see. 

Here, pushing through its final range of mountains, it's easy to see how old the New is, compared to the surrounding terrain.  It does not follow the mountains' drainage pattern, easing down some valley.  No, it flows across the range, cutting it in half.  What a nasty surprise that must have been for early settlers moving south and west.

The Canyon Rim park has a nifty visitors' center, with exhibits on canyon life, coal mining, and New River history.  A good time was had by all, rain or no rain.  We arrived in Pittsburgh before nine, discovered that Marriott had upgraded us to a suite, and are now happily swilling diet, caffeine-free Mountain Dew and watching basketball.  Further bulletins as events warrant.

Confessions of a Pittsburgh Fan

We're leaving this morning for our annual anniversary extravaganza, but while Hank catches a quick nap, I'm going to give this trip a quick prelude.  Instead of our more usual planes or trains, we're driving this time, so we can make a large northern loop, see some friends, and attend Hank's quarterly ER director's meeting in Ann Arbor.  The trip that usually takes him less than an hour from Roanoke is going to take us three days, because we're stopping for a while in Pittsburgh. 

It's been about three years since we were last in
the former steel capital of Pennsylvania, but on that trip, among other things, Hank, John Mowder, and I broke into the Frick mansion and fondled the dishes before a docent caught us and politely, but firmly, directed us to a tour.  I have been in love ever since.  This photo, swiped from, shows what you see when you pop out of the Mt. Washington tunnel.  At night, it takes your breath away.

Pittsburgh has done a lot of things right.  When it lost the steel business, it bulldozed the factories along the river and planted parks.  It nourishes a bunch of colleges and universities.  It has cherished its neighborhoods and its blue-collar roots.   I'm looking forward to going back, maybe driving east to Fallingwater, and seeing John and Other John.  Further bulletins as events warrant.