A First Class Surprise

I just returned from a very fun three days in Santa Fe, New Mexico with two friends from high school. Yes, you heard that right, high school. Luther High School South in Chicago, Illinois to be exact. And once we took a minute to think about that, we realized we have been friends for 50 years.

But this post is about coming home. I love to travel and on this trip I had a wonderful time visiting a place I had never been before and seeing it with good friends was an extra treat. However all good things come to an end and one must face the trip home. I never sleep well the night before I leave so I woke up tired and on top of that this day is always made more difficult when you have to depend on the airline industry.

We live in three different cities, so of course we were flying out at different times on different airlines. And, since we had one rental car, we all had to leave for Albuquerque, from Santa Fe, at the same time. By 8:45am we were on the road. By 10:30am we had returned the car and were on the shuttle to the terminal.

At noon, I waved goodbye to Audrey who was flying to Chicago.wave

An hour later, I waved goodbye to Lynn, whose home was Golden, Colorado.

As I walked to my gate I checked my phone.  A message from Delta informed me I was going out at 3:35pm instead of my original 3pm departure. Ho, hum. More sitting, more waiting. I had to make a connection in Minneapolis to get to Green Bay but this extra 35 minutes wasn’t going to affect me much. Around 2:30pm another message from Delta command came in, my flight had now been changed to 4pm. Since my knees are not made for running, I was officially nervous so I headed for the agent at the Delta desk. He tapped a bunch of keys on the computer, told me I would be departing from D4 in Minneapolis and then said the approximate 37 minutes from concourse B to D was doable. He hoped I could make it since he didn’t see any hotel rooms left in Minneapolis. What?

I certainly wasn’t the only person who had to make a connection so on the loud-speaker he informed the masses that once we were ready to board we should do it quickly. And on the other end if you weren’t making a connection could you remain in your seat and let those that did, get out first. The first part sort of happened, the last part didn’t. And to make it even more crazy we flew into G18 not B at 7:26pm. I had 27 minutes to make my 7:53pm takeoff.

G18  to D4 in 27 min

G18 to D4 in 27 min

In the terminal I said to the agent, “D4!” He pointed in the direction of that long hall near the bottom of the map. I hustled. By the time I got to C and turned left I was whipped. A few steps down on this hall I saw my salvation, the tram. It was arriving in 36 seconds and would take me to Concourse D.

On I got, off I got, and up to gate D4 with 15 minutes to spare. The only person in view was the agent at the gate. My boarding pass scanned, down the ramp I went, into the plane and down the aisle to seat 12F …where another woman was sitting.

I can only imagine the look on my face as I thought. “Oh crap, they gave my seat away or this woman is lost or who knows…but I am so damn tired I don’t want to deal with this.” Then the woman said, ” Are you 12F?”  “Yes,” I replied as I fumbled for my boarding pass. But before I could continue she said, “No you’re not, you’re in First Class.” And she held out her ticket to me.ticket

I think I mumbled something about being tired, it being a long day and what a surprise this was. She smiled and said, “Have a cocktail.” I thanked her and turned back to the front of the plane………to the other side of the curtain.

I took her advice and had a glass of wine (no charge in first class), stretched out my legs and flew home.

The last miracle, my luggage made it too.

Another Turn of the Page: Yikes! It’s June.

Next Thursday is the June book group meeting and I haven’t even posted May. Not like I have thousands of rabid readers out there in blogland clamoring for my next post but I do like to keep current. At our last meeting we had an all time high in attendance, fourteen. The daughters of two of our members were in town and came along and shared their current reading and it seemed no one else was on vacation yet. I have to apologize that I could not locate one of the daughter’s books. She said it was The Samurai’s Daughter and it was published in 1936. She couldn’t remember the author. I found, “A Daughter of the Samurai” by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto but I wasn’t able to verify if that might be the one. Oh well.

But back to the crowd. We try to keep our meeting to an hour and I was skeptical that was going to happen however we got around to everyone in the group in just about 70 minutes. This group is getting very good at summarizing their reading. Let’s see how good I am (with a little help from Goodreads). Here’s the list.

May1. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lustania by Erik Larson (2015) 430 pages. An engrossing story of the sinking of the luxury liner, Lusitania, by a German U-boat in 1915.

2. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (2014) 398 pages. Well if you don’t really LOVE elephants this book isn’t for you. The plot is basically about a missing person and includes psychics and a private investigator and did I mention – elephants. Reviews are mixed.

3. Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult (1993) 464 pages. Surprisingly we had two Picoult books reported on by different readers. This one is about a girl whose mother walks out on her and her father when she is a little girl. The girl spends the rest of her life trying to make sense of her mother’s abandonment.

4. Driftless by David Rhodes (2008) 352 pages. Rhodes follows the lives of the residents of the fictional rural town of Words, located in the Driftless area of southwestern Wisconsin. The author is a poetic writer who perfectly captures the characteristics of rural life and the personalities of the people who live it.

5. At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen (2015) 348 pages. Set during WWII, Maddie, her husband Ellis and his best friend Hank leave their pampered high society lives in Philadelphia after falling out of grace with family. To prove themselves they cross the ocean in search of the Loch Ness Monster. Our reviewer said it sounds more exciting than it reads.

6. Takedown Twenty (2013) 307 pages & Top Secret Twenty-one (2015) 341 pages. by Janet Evanovich  Our Stephanie Plum lover has finally caught up with the series. Says they are still good and funny. It will be interesting to see what he reads while waiting for #22.

7. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (2013) 416 pages. The story of the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew and their quest for gold. A team, composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, who defeat elite rivals from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler.

8. Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis (2010) 352 pages. An alternate history of World War II. It’s 1939. The Nazis have supermen, the British have warlocks, and one British Secret Agent tries to use both for victory.

9. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (2011) 707 pages. An excellent biography about a brilliant visionary but not a very good person. Jobs gave Isaacson exclusive interviews for this book.

10. Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier (1935) 320 pages. They don’t make covers like that anymore. The story: It’s early 19C in Southern Cornwall and Mary Yellen’s dying mother asks her to sell the family farm and join her Aunt Patience and her husband at Jamaica Inn in Northern Cornwall. A spooky, gothic tale. Vintage DuMaurier.

11. Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong (2004) 527 pages. An epic Chinese tale about the dying culture of the Mongols (the ancestors of the Mongol hordes who at one time terrorized the world) and the parallel extinction of the animal they believe to be sacred: the Mongolian wolf.

12. Compelling Evidence by Steve Martini (1992) 448 pages. A really good courtroom thriller. #1 in the Paul Madriani series.

13. The Stranger by Harlan Coben (2015) 400 pages. “Someone, a stranger, approaches Adam Price and tells him something provocative about his wife, Corinne…a secret she’s kept from him. And so begins a story of deception, mystery and conspiracies that escalate dangerously.” -Goodreads

Lunch: A Simple Charcuterie/Antipasti

As I was about to open a can of soup for us, Curt said, “Did you forget I was going to prepare a charcuterie for lunch?” I had forgotten.

He and a friend had gone antiqueing and junking yesterday in Door County. However it is morel mushroom season in Wisconsin so there are other fine goodies to be had in Door County besides old postcards and interesting farm tools. Along with the cherry butter he bought me, he had picked up a basket of morels. Some of those mushrooms had been designated for today’s lunch.

Now technically, a charcuterie is a platter of cured and prepared meats, sausages and patés, along with some cheeses. Our only meat was a dry cured salami. Thus I am suggesting we also had antipasti even thought this was the meal and not the entrée or ‘appetizer’.

plattersThe plate on the left has toasted baguette slices topped with butter-fried morels.

The plate on the right has blanched green beans and Michele’s Polish Tomatoes. That is tomato slices with salt, pepper, sugar and dill. Our friend Michele in Indiana served us these some 30 odd years ago and they are a fine simple preparation.

Since this was lunch, an iced tea and a paper napkin was all that was needed before we started to eat. We will save that can of soup for another day.



One more bird story. Promise. (for now) But this is a good one and it demonstrates why I love to go birding with my son.

First, a little about the bird, the American Woodcock. This bird is very secretive and has excellent camouflage so for the most part you are going to hear him before you see him, if you see him at all. An exception to this rule was a woodcock who took up residence right under a window at our friend’s house. He called us and said, “Hey, we got some weird bird here under our window.” We rushed over and was amazed to see a woodcock. Usually they look like this:

There's a woodcock in this picture. See the outline on the right picture.

There’s a woodcock in this picture. See the outline in the picture below.

hiddenThe one under their window looked like this:


Still blends in pretty well but he moved around so he was spotted

If you are trying to find a woodcock, you go out at dusk, starting at the end of March, in a likely habitat. A brushy field is good. Then you listen. If one is in the area he will make a peent! sound, then about 6 seconds later another peent!. This goes on for a while and then he will take off in a crazy zig zag flight (his wings make a twilling sound) and then land pretty much back where he started and call again. He’s looking for a lady friend. Some years we have heard the peent! and one year we heard the flight sound and a dark object whipping through the sky ( just barely). But this year we have had no luck.

Okay. Flash back to Sunday evening, May 10, La Crosse, Wisconsin. My husband and son and I have spent all day birding and now we have gone to dinner in La Crosse. No tiny town. It was Mother’s Day, busy downtown, cars, bars, general ambient sound. It is dusk and we are leaving the restaurant, talking and laughing, while we walk to the car and suddenly my son Nathan says, “Woodcock!” and stops.



“What?” Here? In town?” I say.

“Yes, listen”, he replies.

We shut up and listen.   “PEENT!”   “PEENT!”

Yep, he heard a woodcock.* They don’t usually make that sound when they fly so it must have been sitting on a roof. We don’t know. But Nathan heard him. And then so did we. I love my son.


*revision: After further consideration based on habitat Nathan feels he heard a Nighthawk. Everything else I spoke about applies. Difficult to find and mostly active at dusk. Calls extremely similar. He still heard it over the noise of the city.

Finding Birds: Target – Warblers

The weather turned on us. Overcast, cool, breezy.

Mississippi River marshes

Mississippi River marshes

Our next two stops were Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday and Wyalusing State Park on Monday. Both of these parks are along the Mississippi River on the western side of the state. Trempelaeu is near La Crosse, Wisconsin; Wyalusing is further south. Sunday started out not too bad but as the day wore on it got cooler and windier. A front was moving in and with it cooler air and eventually rain overnight. But the birders continued to pursue the elusive warblers.

Not posed, this is how the guys really look while they are looking

Not posed, this is how the guys really look while they are looking

Unfortunately the warblers must have been huddling under their covers hoping spring would arrive. We only got four new ones for the day: american redstart, yellow warbler, northern waterthrush, and Wilson’s warbler. All great birds but we were hoping for larger numbers. Yes, a waterthrush is a warbler and I managed to get a picture of him as he hunted through a mudflat.

Northern waterthrush

Northern waterthrush

Of course while we are searching for warblers we also look at everything else that flies, crawls or walks past us. Least flycatcher, Blue/gray gnatcatcher, and an Orchard oriole completed the rest of the day.

Orchard oriole, a deeper cinnamon red than the Baltimore

Orchard oriole, a deeper cinnamon red than the Baltimore

Monday we went to Wyalusing State Park. We had high hopes because there are some sparrows and warblers that are only seen in this area. But the day didn’t even start out well. It was already cool, 57, and it just got cooler. By the time we were done with lunch it was 52. Birds still have to eat so we saw a few beauties but once again the numbers were low. Prothonotary warbler topped today’s list, followed by a Blackpoll. I’ve linked you to a view of a Prothonotary because getting a picture of a warbler takes the patience of a National Geographic photographer.

A highlight of this park is a view of the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers.

Confluence: the joining of two rivers

Confluence: the joining of two rivers

Another notable thing here is a monument to the last Wisconsin Passenger Pigeon. We paid our respects. Look up Passenger Pigeon, it is a sad story about the elimination of a species.pigeonNo photos of sightings today but for those of you keeping track we saw: red-headed woodpecker, indigo bunting, yellow-throated warbler, scarlet tanager and veery.

Oh wait, it looks like they’ve found another good one. Time to grab my binoculars and join the guys.


Finding Birds: Crex Meadows

While searching for promising birding sites Curt discovered Crex Meadows Wildlife Area which is about 2 hours north of Eau Claire* where my son lives. So this morning we picked up our son Nathan at 8:00 AM and headed out.crexAt 30,000 acres, Crex is one of the largest state owned wildlife areas in Wisconsin. The area is a combination of wetlands, prairie and woods so we were hoping for a wide variety of birds. As we got closer I started going through my directions and maps but once we got to Grantsburg, the town adjacent to Crex we saw this sign.followNice. But what goose? Well it was really geese and they were painted on the road every block or so, or at an intersection if you had to make a turn. Very clever. I put my map away.goose2This was also Global Bird Day so we were counting every bird we saw in order to submit it to Cornell Lab of Ornithology to be added to the cumulative world list. I’m sure we didn’t see anything unique but it was a lot of fun. For the day we found 48 species (pretty low over all), 34 of those were just at Crex, 11 were new to our yearly list. Some highlights were a common loon, eastern towhee, vesper sparrow, field sparrow, solitary sandpiper and a spotted sandpiper. Many of the birds we saw just wouldn’t pose for the camera. Here are few that did.

Horned grebe, female and male

Horned grebe, female and male

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

Green Heron

Green Heron

That’s all for today. Tomorrow onward to Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.

*unless otherwise indicated all towns, refuges and wildlife areas mentioned are in Wisconsin.

Finding Birds: Migration 2015

If reading about birds bores the heck out of you, the next four posts are going to put you to sleep. I’ll see you readers in about a week. For the rest of you, today we started a five day birding trip across Wisconsin from Green Bay to Eau Claire. From there we are visiting wildlife areas from Grantsburg, WI down to Wyalusing. Hopefully we will be seeing a lot of birds and some of them will pose for pictures.

Here are today’s highlights. First stop was Bergstrom Marsh off of highway 54 near Black Creek. This is a pretty big marsh where in the past we have seen ten different waterfowl at one time, short-eared owls and black terns. Today wasn’t that dramatic but we had some nice sightings.

First, goslings have hatched. We saw at least four different clutches with Mom and Dad guarding their every move. Even though I was in the car this gander is questioning my right to look at him and his.

"You looking at me?"

“You looking at me?”

Further into the marsh we came upon white pelicans. On the left a large group was flying over and then came in for a landing. Here is one hitting the water.landingOn the right, there was a group just swimming on the water. At first I couldn’t figure what was happening because I was just looking at them without my binoculars. Pelicans are pretty big so you can see them easily with the naked eye. But until I raised the binoculars I didn’t realize they were feeding. And on top of that, it was breezy and the wind was blowing their tale feathers as they raised their rumps into the air. So cool.

Bottoms up!

Bottoms up!

Finally the new bird we saw for our yearly list was one of the best, a yellow headed blackbird. They sit a long way off on the cattails so having a good zoom lens is a must. This was the best shot but I think you get the idea. Let’s hope the next couple of days are as successful.

A jewel in the marsh

A jewel in the marsh

Fried Chicken

Do you ever get tired of gluten free, fat free, raw, whole grain, baked not fried, low carb, ….blah, blah, blah. All of that is good, sure, but sometimes you just get a hankering for….fried chicken. Curt had that urge last week. I bet as a kid I had fried chicken at least twice a month. But now I couldn’t remember when we last had fried chicken, not even the Colonel’s, so damn it, it was time!

Curt decided to use just boneless thighs and breasts. He first seasoned the chicken with three blended seasonings from Penzey’s Spices, Balti, Mural of Flavor and Tandoori.
spiceBalti: coriander,garlic, ginger, cumin, Ceylon cinnamon, mustard, cardamom, clove,fennel,fenugreek,chamushka, star anise, cilantro, anise seed and bay leaf

Mural of Flavor: 12 spices and herbs, shallots,onion, garlic,lemon peel, chives, orange peel

Tandoori: coriander, cumin, paprika, garlic, ginger, cardamom, saffron

Then the chicken was drenched in flour which had been seasoned with paprika, turmeric and salt and pepper. The pieces then went into buttermilk and back into the flour mixture.

chicken2Once the oil was at 350 degrees, the chicken went in.

chicken1After ten minutes, turn.

chicken4Now 8 – 10 minutes on this side. Once you deem it cooked through, drain on some paper towels and put on a serving plate. Now don’t get distracted by the local news on the television in your kitchen because your fried chicken will get a bit dark like ours. The good thing is it still tasted wonderful. We had ours with cole slaw and bisquits. Yum. Today -fried chicken, tomorrow -back to salad.


Another Turn of the Page: Because it’s Still too Chilly to Garden

“It’s the same thing when I’m gardening or reading. It’s just me and what I’m doing,
or the world I’m reading, and nothing else.”
Jennifer L. Armentrout, Onyx

greenbksMaybe I should have quoted T.S. Eliot instead, “April is the cruelest month.”  We had a couple of great days. Warm enough to get into the yard and do some raking. Plant some onions, paint the deck. And then, SLAP! It got cold and chilly and windy and back in the house I went. However, I could still read about raking and planting and painting or anything else I wanted to, no matter what the temperature. So take that April!!

The forecast is for warmer weather next week so today I best get caught up on my reading before the garden calls to me. Here’s what the book group read in April while they waited for Spring:

april151. The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman (2014) 368 pages. I presented the author Alice Hoffman because I had read this book. How the lives of two very different people intertwine. Coralee, daughter of the impresario of a “freak show”. She also performs in the show. And Eddie, son of a Jewish immigrant. He is a photographer who shoots the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

2. The Wild Truth: The Untold Story of Sibling Survival by Carine McCandless (2014) 256 pages. The author is the younger sister of Chris McCandless, the young man who went into the wilderness of Alaska and never returned. His story was made famous in the book, “Into the Wild.

3. I Got Cancer but Cancer didn’t Get Me by Nick Nesvacil (2014) 140 pages. The gal who reviewed this enjoys reading books about local issues. Nick, the author, details some of the tools cancer patients and their support teams will need, and shares the story of STINGCANCER, the student-driven support group he founded in his role as a teacher and coach at Preble High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

4. Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Biography by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pamela Smith Hill (2014) 400 pages. Using additional manuscripts, letters, photographs, newspapers, and other sources, award-winning Wilder biographer Pamela Smith Hill adds valuable context and leads readers through Wilder’s growth as a writer.

5. Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich (2011) 305 pages. Yes, number 18 in the Stephanie Plum series. And Evanovich has still got it.

6. Remembering Mother, Finding Myself: A Journey of Love and Self-Acceptance by Patricia Commins (1999) 275 pages. A book about understanding our mothers as women and feeling an ongoing connection with them.

7. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015) 336 pages. A thriller very much like Gone Girl. You won’t like any of these people and make sure that you don’t believe anything they say. It starts out slow but at one point you won’t be able to put it down.( I just finished reading it before I wrote this and it was better than Gone Girl.)

8. When Books went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Manning (2014) 288 pages. The story of a program that delivered millions of books to Americans in the military overseas during World War II.

9. Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie (2014) 416 pages. A historical novel about the invention of moveable type told from the point of view of the three men responsible, Peter Schoeffer, Johann Fust and Johann Gutenberg. Fascinating.