Happiness in February



February has come into view and with it, my focus has adjusted from worrying about freezing pipes and snowy driveways to perusing seed catalogs and planning for garden spaces.  Happiness.

Up close to the house there are some lovely, sunny spots for herbs and leafs greens.  And out in the expanse of a yard, there’s a southerly slope of land just south of the barn foundation that will be perfect for deep-diving potatoes and ever-reaching and -rambling pumpkins and squash.

What I am most excited about right now, though, is a bed I’ll be putting within the southernmost part of the old bank barn foundation.  There’s no obvious prior use of this section of the 1860-built barn.  Rusted chicken wire and a frozen river of melted glass–from the blazing fire–points to possible storage.  But the weeds, seen pictured here with Sammy wandering amongst them,  have grown vigorously since the barn met its sad end.  And if weeds can grow, then I can get vegetables and fruits to grow.  The end of one thing leads to the start of another.  Comforting on this day of sad news in the world, though that seems every day, the older I get.

In old Europe, it is very common to grow plants near stone walls for the extended heat the rock provides long after the warming sun has set.  So, this plot, now populated by your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine grasses, will before long be home to fat tomatoes, spicy peppers, and waving swiss chard.

Winter will have a few more days of glory, but soon, I will be tilling soil and planting seeds.  That is happiness in waiting.


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…)