Old Man Winter



Old Man Winter.

While he arrives every year, this year he is belligerent.  He is rude.  He is stubborn.  He is that guest at the party who rubs everyone the wrong way and seems to be waiting for you no matter what room you try to sneak away into.  He’s that close talker with harsh breath who makes you wince whenever he is near.

I’ve tried seed catalogs for optimism.  I’ve tried dog hikes in the sunshine.  I’ve tried coffee and hot chocolate and beer.  They all help for a few moments, and then I look out at his whipping wind dragging snow as a hostage and I long for the motherly days of ripening tomatoes and freshly cut grass.

Stock, though, always helps.  There’s something about taking chicken and turkey bones saved in the frigid freezer, adding celery and carrots from the crisper drawer in the chilly fridge, selecting seemingly lifeless bay leaves and peppercorns from the dark cabinet, and pouring cold water from the frosty pipes, putting them all in a cold steel pot and then heating them to a near boil.  There’s something about that pot then simmering for hours as the heat melts the flavors, makes them into something aromatic now, and flavorful later.  There’s something about making something today that can warm the belly and soul for weeks to come, until March arrives with its hopeful longer days and heavy snow that can’t withstand the warming earth, the old man weakening.

I hold hope that this cold, cold winter demolishes bugs like mosquitoes and spring flu, that it does its job of forcing us all to slow down and rest, that it hands to spring and summer a clean canvas on which to paint.

I’m always amazed by nature and its power to do more than we can imagine possible.  It’s been an impressive, humbling winter.   But I’ve seen enough.  That proclamation causes a cold cackle, no doubt, from Old Man Winter.  So, better to huddle up with some warmed stock and wait for him to head out of town, which I know he’ll do on his own time, not mine.

Sushi in Ashtabula? No Fish Story Here!



Chris and I ventured down Lake Rd last night to Shogun, which is a newish Japanese restaurant in Ashtabula.  Tis true!  This burg most think of as offering only diners and dive bars is actually turning out to have some great food.

Shogun is unassuming to be sure.  In fact, it was kind of hard to know that it was open when we drove up.  But once inside, the service was friendly and patient with our questions, the miso soup was umami-ful to a definite degree of happiness, the edamame had a nice salt flake upon it, the pickled ginger was super bright and peppery, and the main courses were quite fresh and filling.

Chris had the Vegan roll, which had avocado, cucumber, carrot, and black sesame seeds on the outside of the rice.  I had the Shogun roll, which is a California roll with salmon and tuna on the outside.  Both were well presented and delicious!

Right now alcohol is BYOB, but they will have their liquor license soon.  And if you like sugar, pack your own as stevia is the name of the sweetener at Shogun.

Here’s hoping they get more business and thrive!  It was way too quiet for a Friday night considering the quality of the food.


New Thermos!

When I fell in our garage a week or so ago, my old faux bois Thermos took the brunt of the fall.  I moved on quickly and found a new vintage Thermos on Etsy.  It even came in the original box!

It’s a beaut: dual pint sides that give me two refills in my travel mug each day at work.  It’ll pay for itself in five days now that I am not paying for Starbucks at work.

And those dual sides could totally hold hot chocolate in one and an adult elixir of some sort should I find myself tailgating or ice fishing.  It could happen…


BBQ, Middle Age, and Learning from my Dad


When I first knew my parents, they were about the age I am now.  They had me when they were about 40, but you really don’t register who an adult is in any thoughtful way until you get to school age, at least in my opinion.  So, when I was about six, I had a pretty good sense that my Dad was someone different than the milkman (though we had that running family joke, of course, like everyone with a milkman did).

In the few years I got to spend with him, my Dad taught me some key skills: how to fish, how to box, how to shoot a gun.  He also taught me to appreciate barbecue–the real stuff, the good stuff from Kansas City, Missouri, where he was born and raised.


So, it was a happy and nostalgic venture indeed that Chris and I made last week to Briquettes on Bridge Street in Ashtabula.  The place has a strong reputation in the region, and it turns out to be very well-deserved.  My Dad would have approved.

Chris had the turkey reuben, which she defined as the greatest turkey sandwich she’d ever had in her life.  When she even praised the coleslaw, I knew we were in happy land. (The fact that she also talked about the ratio of slaw to bird shows she’s probably been hanging out with me a lot.)  I had the three meat platter–pork, chicken, and beef–which comes with two sides in addition to the cornbread it comes with by default: a good smokey mac and cheese and a sweet bowl of beans.  The pork was by far the best–juicy, smokey, endlessly alluring. I would eat some for breakfast, if I had any.

The beer list at Briquettes is also impressive with well over 100 bottled or canned craft beers and many on tap too.  That they have a running Wednesday night special of $1 off all Great Lakes Brewing beer brings a smile to my regionally-biased mug.

The setting of Briquettes is true Bridge Street, with brick walls, and a curved glass turret, a long wood bar, and classy metal beer signs galore.  The neon is tasteful, if that’s possible.  http://www.briquettessmokehouse.com

But at my age, you can only have so much barbecue, at least if you pay attention to things like cholesterol and triglycerides, which my cardiologist does, and which she wants me too.  I guess I can try to eat more herring and oatmeal and mackerel and pretend that I am in a Dickens novel.   Beer and wine are supposedly bad for triglycerides too, and that’s just sad for a middle aged man who has a very European take on imbibing.

Exercise is also supposed to help with those invisible enemies in my arteries.  So, this morning I got up early and did some yoga and the Scientific 7-Minute workout, which is about as much time as I could hold out before I needed some coffee.  And post-workout, my ankle that I twisted last week, and which had been feeling better, is now a bit wonky.  But my triglycerides feel great.  Or not great.  Whichever is better.

And at these times I think of my Dad, who lived a life much unlike he ever planned to once brain tumors started to rule his every moment.  He lost his sight and his marriage and his job, eventually his life.  But I know he still went out for barbecue right up until the end, back in his old hometown of Kansas City and parts nearby.  Maybe he is still teaching me now, many years since he taught me how to lead with a left jab, leave the right amount of worm dangling from a hook, and to keep the right things in my sights.


Pizza and Pipes and Appreciation



Last night I gave Chris a few options for dinner: Vietnamese (there’s a pho place downtown ‘Bula), sushi (there’s a new Japanese place on the way to downtown ‘Bula), or pizza.  She said her usual, “You decide.”  But I pressed the issue and she caved by saying, “chicken tortellini soup,” which meant the pizza place.  It also meant I could have craft beer (I went with Smuttynose’s Big A IPA) and delicious pizza with out driving to Vero or Bar Cento.

Purola Bros Pizza, also known as Bridge Street Pizza, was hopping last night.  There were only a couple of open tables–great to see so many people out.  Courtney, whom we met on our first visit, took care of us, bringing Chris a hot tea immediately and informing me, sadly, that they were out of the Ba Ba Black Lager.  It was only our third visit to the place, but she exclaimed that we’d now been there “like 75 times!”  Very sweet and kind and happy–she is sunshine embodied.

The food was great, and we have a weekend of lunch leftovers ahead of us.  We also learned a lot more about downtown.  We learned that the Briquettes barbecue and craft beer haven used to be in a smaller place across the street.  We learned that the are plans for an artisanal bakery.  We learned that the ‘Bula Farmers Market is held right in the parking lot at Bridge Street Pizza.  We learned that a couple who moved from NYC, who are classically trained French chefs, are opening a place right across from the pizza place this summer.  We learned about all of the motorcycles that will be cruising around in the summer, going to Geneva on the Lake and all of the wineries (Courtney advised we buy earplugs).  We learned about Jake, the young man who founded Harbor Perk, the coffee roaster downtown.  Courtney told us he was  a true driving force behind the rebirth of downtown Ashtabula, that he motivated others, that he was upbeat and engaging, that he was kind and caring.  We also learned that he, at 36, died of brain cancer, a tragic end of a life too short.  You can sense the unstated but real  commitment of those who knew him to assure his dreams for his chosen region in life are carried on even after his death.

We also learned about the Happiness Store.  This is Courtney’s name for Mariann’s Chocolates.  She said she keeps a small stash of cash for when she is having a bad day, and she dips into the spare change and dashes across the street for a slice of the homemade fudge with caramel and sea salt on top.  As Courtney said to us, “how have we not been there yet?”  We will rectify that mistake soon.  Like today.

I’ll be heading downtown for a haircut.  My hope that haircuts out here would be cheaper than in Cleveland have been dashed–still $20.  But hopefully they don’t butcher my crop and have plenty of info to dish on about the area.  I mean, there are few better sources of info than a hair stylist, right?  Except for Courtney.  She’s a gold mine.

The rest of the weekend will be filled with chores and naps and appreciation for the lives we have, the little things and the big things and the people and places and pups.  You need to take time, at least I do, every day to appreciate it all.  You never know when it will be your last time to do so.

But back to the chores and thoughts of the Happiness Store.  We have another workbench to build for Chris, I have an epically shedding sled dog that I have to rake, we might put in a storm door or two while it’s in the 40s, and I have a dratted plumbing problem to figure out that will certainly drive me to, well, drive to get a slab of fudge with caramel and sea salt and embedded smiles.  (I installed a Utilatub for Chris to use for her etching, and the water comes out of the faucet just like it should.  It’s the draining part that’s not cooperating right now.  I must be missing something somewhere…)


Belly Up Dog Yoga Pose


If there’s one thing I’ve learned about yoga, it’s that the animals that certain poses are named after are way better at said poses than I am.  But, there may be hope.  For me.  Yoga-wise.

Here, Sammy demonstrates a new pose that I think I can accomplish very effectively: Belly Up Dog.  All it requires is a warm fire nearby, a hardwood floor (though carpeting will also work), and a carefree attitude.



Dogs, Cats, Cold Snow, and Warm Sunshine


The day started out notably cold today, like three degrees above zero cold.  When I slipped my legs from beneath the comforters (plural, indeed), the cold in the air reminded me of my youth when I lived in a farmhouse that had a thin layer of plaster and lath as a wall, with a pocket of cold air layer behind it, then a layer of asbestos siding, and then the harsh winds outside.  The difference between those walls and those of a canvas tent were fairly minimal on a frigid winter day.  But, it’s what we had and we made do, sometimes without heat, in the years of greatest struggle and, truly they were the years of greatest achievement.

So the cold today in Saybrook was not as bad as when I was a kid and we warmed our shoes on the opened oven door that Mom had turned on in the kitchen to warm the room and adjacent bathroom before we dashed from under the cold blankets.  Still, the dogs were curled nose-under-tail on the couch and the living room thermostat read 55.  Chilly, to be sure.

Soon, though, the sun came up and angled itself upon its low winter arch in the southern sky.  The warming rays pour beautifully into the kitchen when we slide the old farmhouse door out of the way like that very portal was designed by the ancient druids to gain maximum solar effect through openings in stone.  The dogs first gazed out at the neighbor’s yard a couple of acres away and soon succumbed to the sun’s warmth on the wood floor.  The napped all in a row like seals on a warm Cali beach.

But, I am a devotee of weather apps and it sure looks like we have some winter on the way.  Tuesday’s high of no better than two or three above zero, and minus eight Monday night has a way of feeling damned ominous.  And while the HVAC guys who wandered around the basement Friday afternoon like Inspector Lestrade and co. are due back Monday afternoon to fix a stuck zone valve, I am skeptical their work will do enough to warm the zones where the valves are already open.  Not many houses and heating systems are designed to make minus eight feel like San Diego.

The dogs, though, they live in the moment.  And they are napping in all sorts of warm places, belly up to the world, no need to tuck their noses today.

And lest I forget the cat!  Pokey has arrived in Saybrook, safely making his way in a milk crate atop a flannel blanket all the way from Cleveland Heights yesterday.  He’s safely tucked into Chris’s temporary studio for now, with it’s warm printer and cozy closet–far from Stout, who knows not of cats as friends, only foes.  Indeed, tonight he routed a stray one from under the front porch–it shot in front of me like a swallow on a summer’s night and climbed one of our few trees as quick as an ember rises in the night from a campfire.  Tasha yipped at him up on his shaking branch.  Stout kept looking where the cat was moments before (Pokey’s best hope is Stout’s stubbornness), and Sammy just wanted to get back to the cast iron stove in the kitchen, where it’s always warm, sun or no sun.

The cold makes us appreciate the warmth, much as the darkness makes us appreciate the light and the longing makes us appreciate the having.


Snow to Write Home About


The snowstorm of January 2, 2014 in Saybrook, and all of northeast Ohio–heck the whole northeastern USA–is one to write home about.  It’s been falling for over a day now, the wind is shaping it into smooth drifts and cliffs, and the temperatures are falling well closer to zero than they need to be.  But, this is January in the North.  We have heat, power, blankets, and three dogs.  And if there’s been a more ready-made three dog night, I am not sure it’s been in the last decade or so.

Our first week and a few days in Saybrook out in Ashtabula county have been our kind of adventure.   We’ve seen ring-necked pheasants on the roadside, watched over 30 wild turkeys (yes, the bird; not the bottle) jostle in our neighbor’s back acres, discovered remarkable pizza and freshly roasted coffee, met lovely people, painted a room, built a workbench, replaced a zone valve controller, and reminded ourselves that every house built in 1860 needs work even when it seems perfect when you buy it.

The dogs are in heaven every trek we make in the back five acres, all brambles and puddles and darting moles and stinking scat.  Good times, in dog land.

And we are loving the house, and its remarkable kitchen and lovely wood floors and rooms and rooms and rooms–and let’s not forget the kitchen cast iron stove that heats the room and all of us quite happily.

It’s a good life, already, here.  The snow just reminds us it’s winter and we have to wait on the garden, the chickens, and a duckling or two.