Last Week’s Good Things

notebookThis is the New York City version of this week’s good things.  Because I was out of town over a weekend, it also is a very loose version of what “last week” means. Traveling does that to you!

It all started with the fact that I was extremely lucky to get chosen to go to a training sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. Added to this was the fact that my hospital supported me going. The conference was in New York City and started last Friday and went through the weekend. I tacked on a few personal days on the end so Dan could come in and we could spend time with Sam and Jean. Oh, what a great time it was.

From a slew of many, here are a few of last week’s good things:


The People of New York City – It seems a cliche to give the people of New York a hard time for being pushy and difficult. On this trip, I have to say, I very much noticed the kindness of people everywhere. I arrived in the city late Thursday, Once I checked into my hotel, I went around the corner to have a bite to eat. I was the only one in the restaurant and I am sure that everyone was ready to go home. Rather than feeling a nuisance, I was treated graciously and did not feel rushed in the slightest. I noticed the same kind of feeling everywhere I went. Walking along busy streets, I noticed that people went out of their way to apologize if they bumped into you. In the subway I got a few “excuse me” and “pardon mes.” Particularly in businesses, I was treated warmly and appreciatively. We buy into stereotypes too easily. chambers

The Municipal Archives – Tuesday morning I went to the Municipal Archives of New York City. I had been in touch with the staff there for a couple years. When I knew that I would be coming to visit, I really got serious. The staff had located some documents that were potentially helpful to the research that I am doing. I was going to be able to get there and look at them! The archives are located at 31 Chambers Street amongst all of the city government buildings. These buildings are pretty awesome to behold. We made our way to the location on a Tuesday morning after a Monday holiday. The subway was jam packed, but easily negotiable. Once I got to the archives and checked in, I became a little worried. We could not find my request. With assistance from the helpful staff, we located the papers and I was able to get to work. It was great! All around the spacious room, people were delving into boxes of records or microfilm. The staff walked about answering questions. There was a young man sitting next to us looking at city planning records dating back to who knows when. Two brothers were looking up family history prior to  taking a journey to Eastern Europe. For my part, while the records that I had to look at didn’t reveal much that I didn’t know, there were many interesting things that I found and I made copies of to bring home. It also made me so thankful that items associated with an event that happened more than eighty years ago were filed away in a box and someone from the midwest can send an email and have those items waiting for her when she comes for a visit!  2013-10-15 10.22.41

Meeting Some New FriendsAlso associated with my research, I got to meet a couple more family members of my research characters. We met J and his daughter for breakfast on Monday morning. We spent a delightful meal getting to know each other and recounting how all of this happened. I also got to hear about A’s special stuffed animal who shared breakfast with us. Because of this breakfast venture, I now know what Halloween costume is perfect for a seven year old growing up in New York City – Eloise, of course! I also clearly understood, once again, what a gift I have been given to find this story. I continue to try to write this history up well. In the process, I have uncovered some interesting things, that I have been able to share with kind, welcoming, accommodating family members. Meeting some new family members and being so warmly welcomed for what I have done was humbling. samandjean

Sam and Jean – As a parent, you want to see  your children in happy relationships. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot you can do to secure such a thing. You try to model well, but even that can be challenging. In the end, you just have to hope. So, the best part of the trip was getting to spend time with Sam and Jean. It was our second chance to meet Jean, and it proved to be quite great.  I smile just thinking about how good I think that they are together. They seem to make each other laugh a lot – which I think speak volumes. They appeared caring to each other in many ways. On Sunday night we got to take Jean out to dinner without Sam as he was working. It felt easy and comfortable. A very good thing for the week!  2013-10-15 12.10.19bouchon

Food of New York – This trip provided an over the top food experience. Due to the good food connections that Sam and Jean bring to the table, we had two nights where fabulous New York City chefs cooked for us. At Bouchon Bakery and Cafe in the Time Warner Center, we got treated courses that ranged from a beautiful potato soup to a peanut butter and jelly dessert presentation.  At Blue Hill in Greenwich Village, the table kept producing more  treats like fresh local vegetables perfectly seasoned with salts, a chicken dish with mushrooms and a tomato sauce that was unforgettable and a pumpkin seed candy that spoke autumn. We also had some nice Belgian inspired food at Resto. Delicious tacos in Brooklyn. Decadently greasy burger and fries at Shake Shack. Chewy wood-fired pizza and yummy appetizers at Franny’s in Sam and Jean’s Prospect Heights neighborhood. Goodness!

It was a fun week. Getting out of town and spending time with co-workers, thinking about how we can do our work more effectively, was inspiring. Spending time in an iconic city inspired me to understand the world in a better way. Enjoying food in an indulgent way was, nonetheless, magnificent. Being with people I love was more than good.

On the Bourbon Trail

Back in July, I wrote about the wonderful road trip that we took to New York State. I need to write about the continuation of that trip that took us to Louisville, Kentucky for a couple days. It seems appropriate to rectify that omission at this time since, of course, September is National Bourbon Heritage Month and Kentucky is the mecca of bourbon.

A disclaimer I should make, I do love me some bourbon. Those of you not familiar with this brown liquid could possibly use a bourbon primer. The first mantra is “all bourbons are whiskeys, but all whiskeys are not bourbons.” Bourbon is and always will be an American spirit. Just as real champagne must come from the Champagne region of France, bourbon that is sold in the United States must be distilled in America. How that bourbon is made is decreed by US statute which requires:

  • production in the United States
  • that it is made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn
  • that it is aged in new, charred oak barrels

There are also rules as to what percent alcohol it goes in and is taken out of the barrel. Anything labeled “Straight” bourbon has been aged at least two years and it not blended with other spirits, nor does it have added color or flavor.

There are several legends surrounding the origins of bourbon, but one of the most robust is that Elijah Craig, a Baptist minister in Kentucky, put his moonshine in charred barrels after a fire went through his property. The resulting product was a revelation. This story has been discredited, but suffice it to say that sometime in the early 1800s, moonshine created with the calcium rich waters around Kentucky started being stored in charred barrels, shipped down the river to New Orleans, and loved by many.

We arrived in Louisville on a Friday afternoon. We stayed at The Galt House Hotel, right in the center of Louisville. Wonderfully, there were races that day at Churchill Downs. We got to spend a couple hours sipping mint juleps, betting on races, and admiring the wonderful crowd – including some fantastic women’s hats and men’s seersucker. IMG_6077 IMG_6074

The real mission of our time in Louisville happened Saturday. We had booked a Bourbon Trail tour that left our hotel at 7:30 Saturday morning. What a delightful adventure it was. Our co-tourists were enthusiastic and friendly. We had people from Canada and the US – all who loved bourbon and who had wanted to make this trip for a good long time. Our tour guide, Bob talked to us continuously as we drove out of Louisville and towards Bardstown, Kentucky. I can listen to men with Southern accents for a long time, and when they are talking about bourbon and history, I kind of swoon. IMG_6109

We made three stops during our almost ten hour voyage. Our first stop at Maker’s Mark was the longest and most informative. We toured the property – which was absolutely gorgeous – and learned about the Samuels family who created the distillery, how Mrs. Samuels came up with the concept of the dipped in wax bottle, and about the process used to create their bourbon from grain to bottle. I think that the smile that Dan had when he stood by that giant tub of mash told the story of what a delightful time this was. DSCF7362

After our tour, we got to taste several of their products and then had the opportunity to shop in their gift shop where Ali and I got our tourist on and dipped our own bottle of wax to take home. IMG_6105

Back on the bus, Ali wondered why we didn’t buy a bottle to share on the voyage. Bob had let us know that it was fine to do so and there happened to be ice and water in abundance in the back of the bus. Dan went back in the store to cure that problem. The bottle was opened and our friendships with our co-trailers was cemented.

The rest of the day had us lunching at a little spot on the Maker’s property, then we were off to The Barton 1792 distillery, and finally to the Jim Beam distillery. Along the way, we got to learn more about each other, bourbon, and Kentucky. It was very much a fine time and worth the  decision to add it to our itinerary. DSCF7403DSCF7388DSCF7415DSCF7417

Back at our hotel, we made plans to eat dinner with Lynn and Neil who made the trip from the Toronto area. Usually they travel on motorcycles, and they had actually gotten married on a trip to the Sturges motorcycle event. They were a fun couple and adventurous eaters. We had an amazing dinner at Milkwood, which is owned by Edward Lee – a former Top Chef contender. We ended the evening in the restaurant on top of The Galt Hotel, overlooking the beautiful city of Louisville. DSCF74302013-06-29 22.17.25

It was a wonderful time!


Last Week’s Good Things

I have had a really nice week. It was one of those week’s that I have thought more than once what a lucky person I am. On Saturday, I got to talk to both kids who both sound really happy. Just that could make a week. As it was, there were a number of other things too. These are five of them:

1. Lift Every Voice – There has been much in the media this week about the celebration around the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s Dream Speech. One morning this week, something that I was watching had a clip of a performance of Lift Every Voice and Sing – the African American National Anthem. The words of the song were originally a poem written to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday and introduce Booker T. Washington. Hearing the song made me immediately recall the many elementary school programs where Sam and Ali and their classmates would sing this song. Those of us in the audience would be welcomed to sing along. Sadly, I don’t have a video of one of those performances, but I found one on Youtube that has the same spirit – complete with the hand motions that made every song better!

2. Thank You is an on-line mechanism for teachers to seek funding for the things they need for their classrooms and students. If you know a teacher, you know that they spend a good piece of their own money to buy things that help them do their job and take care of their students. I know that almost every weekend, Ali is running an errand to get something that she needs for the week ahead. Last year, Ali did a DonorsChoose campaign to get her classroom some very basic supplies: bathroom passes, bins, an electric pencil sharpener, pouches for supplies, and a laminator. Just with these items, she was able to organize her classroom better and create more learning opportunities. This week we got thank you letters from her class. They are all quite precious, but this is one of my favorites! I can’t wait to see what Ms. Ryan’s class has on its wish list this year! If you have a chance, go to the site. I’m sure you will find someplace to put that extra $10 you had this week.halls-1

3. My Job – There are some weeks when I am writing this blog post up, one of my motivations is bringing to mind the good things so I don’t dwell on the not so good things. Admittedly, my job can fall into that latter category at times. But it is never because I don’t like my job. I really do love what I do, and I have been so lucky to be given the chance to do things that I find exciting and challenging. There are times that my job is very stressful and the things that I have to do are not fun.This week, however, I had little to grouse about and much to enjoy. I got to have some really great conversations with people that created new energy and enthusiasm. I saw people step up to new challenges with excitement and energy. I heard about new work that is being done that can potentially lead to better outcomes for the children that we take care of. Every week will not be as good as this week, but that some weeks are as good as this past one, makes me grateful.

4. Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival – Last year was the first official year for the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival in Kansas City. The resurgence of spirits over the past few years has made events such as this more common across the US. The model is the iconic Tales of the Cocktail held each year in New Orleans. Founded by Ryan Maybee, Doug Frost, and Brandon Cummins, this 5 day event is a good thing in my book. Last year we went to one seminar; this year we made it to two. On Friday, we went to a discussion among Ryan, Jim Meehan (who runs PDT in NYC which is perhaps the coolest bar I have ever been in) and Angus WInchester (an “Ambassador” for Tanqueray Gin). They spent two hours giving advice on opening your own bar. Listening to such personable people, who have obvious passion for what they do, was fun and informative. They made it moreso by serving a Meehan and a Maybee inspired cocktail during the presentation. Saturday we attended the seminar on new innovators of American whiskey. Fittingly, the event was held in famous Prohibition era boss, Tom Pendergast’s office space. F Paul Pacult and Sean Ludford provided a fascinating historical retrospective of American whiskey making. We then tasted ten different craft spirits that are now being produced in the United State. Some day I will write more about this topic, but I will leave it by saying that this was a very good thing. Both events were $15 a ticket and were executed well with fabulous volunteers. Hats off to everyone and I can’t wait until next year.Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 10.13.54 AM

5. New Yorker Cartoons – A few years ago, I got a form letter form Bob Mankoff that charmed the socks off of me. He was looking for people to buy a book of New Yorker cartoons that he was editing. He sold me with charm and humor that seemed to speak directly to me. This week, I came across a posting of Bob Mankoff’s favorite New Yorker cartoons and a link to his TED talk on the anatomy of a New Yorker cartoon. I thank Mr. Mankoff for going through those 1000 ideas every week to choose the fifteen cartoons that will end up in the magazine and more often than not, make me happy.


Last Week’s Good Things

It was pretty easy to come up with a list this week, even if we did have to say good-bye to Ali and Banjo again. Here are some of the things that made it a good week for me.

  1. An Ali Day

I switched my day off this week so I could spend the day with Ali. Unfortunately, Dan had to to go to work, much to Banjo’s dismay.

Image 3We had a very fun day that started out with a trip to Costco and then to Bob Jones shoes – where the mannequins kept scaring us, but we were still able to buy some shoes.

Image 4We went to one of Ali’s favorite lunch stops – The Drop – where she always gets their bruschetta. After lunch, there was more shopping and we capped off the afternoon by getting manicure/pedicures. This was a first for me, but I was assured that I would not be tickled, it would not be awkward, and that I would enjoy it. It was totally a nice experience and I can say that my feet have never felt as pampered. The woman and man who took care of us gave Ali a hard time for living so far away and leaving so soon. I liked them. We capped off the day with dinner at Lidia’s. It was hard to see such a fun little visit end, but we made the most of the short time she was here!Image 5 2.Khaki Dance

I was reading an article that mentioned this Internet phenomena song, Hot Cheetos and Takis. It was one of those things that I bent down the corner of the page to remind myself to go and take a look. Y.N.RichKids are part of an afterschool and summer enrichment program in Minneapolis. The Hot Cheetos song got posted last summer and got all sorts of love – including over 7 million views to date. Goodness me, it made me smile, but this other song that the same kids do made me ecstatic! I just sat there for the whole five minutes with a gleeful smile on my face. 

3. A Reading Saturday

Dan had a meeting on Saturday so I was home alone and did not really have anything scheduled until dinner time. I started working on my vacation album (see #4), and then I picked up our book club book and started reading. At about 6:30, when it was time to go over to a friend’s house for dinner, I turned the last page. It has been a long time since I have spent almost a full day reading. It was purely wonderful. Image 1

4. Starting my Vacation Album

Since doing my Italy photo album (which is still not quite finished), I am bound to the commitment of making real photo albums of yearly photos and special events. This week, I got my prints back from our Roadtrip vacation, and I pulled together all of the this and thats I collected along the way. Now it comes down to taking the time to sit with it all and get it in the book and in place. So far I have gotten us out of town, to Dayton, staying in Jamestown, and meeting up with Sam and Jean in Cooperstown. It is looking pretty good.Image

5. Riesling

Sam has been all about Riesling this summer. I have not had much Riesling lately, so we went ahead and bought a couple bottles recently. The two that were recommended to us by the guy at Gomer’s were dry and very nice. A chilled glass of this at the end of a summer day is a very good thing. Image 2

Last Week’s Good Things

IMG519Early this past week, the temperature outside hovered around 80 and there was a moment that I considered switching on the air conditioner. Between Wednesday and Thursday, something unnatural happened to drop temperatures more than 30 degrees and to make snow fall from the sky. Despite that nonsense, there were things that made last week good. Here are some of them:

  1. Lunch with Steve – I met Steve a few years ago when I started working on the book that I am writing. It turns out that Steve had made contact with Marcia’s family around the same time that I did. He wanted to ask some questions for research that he was doing about blood banks. The timing of our inquiries was strange in itself, but, perhaps the strangest thing is that Steve lives less than a mile away from me. Two people, working on two different projects but involving some things in common, making contact with a person in California around the same time – and we live within blocks of each other! I still marvel at that, and I am so thankful that we have gotten to know each other and share what we are doing. Friday at lunch we talked about one of my chapters, and just about stuff in general. He has let me borrow some of his old books on transfusions and I have loved going through them and both picking out the things that are useful to my work, but also enjoying some of the oddities of medical history in them. Like this:


Yes, that is a woman cuddled up to a sheep as she is connected to it to receive its blood. It turns out that those kinds of transfusions weren’t very useful. Lunch with my friend Steve, talking and reading about transfusion … definitely a good thing!

2. The griddle – To celebrate Cinco de Mayo at work, we had Quesadilla Day. We can do that because we have a wonderful griddle that comes out on such occasions. One of my co-workers rescued the griddle before it became a part of a cleaning out donation at her house. She wondered if we might be able to use it in our office, and I firmly gave it a thumbs up! The griddle has been used on Ultimate Grilled Cheese day, Reuben Day, Pancake Day, and now Quesadilla Day.

3. Mint julep in silver cups – I have always wanted to have pretty silver mint julep cups. Last year, I found some on line at a reasonable price. By the time I got them, however, our mint supply was in bad shape. Since then, they have sitting on the shelf, waiting. Over the last few weeks, the mint is returning in force, and the running of the Kentucky Derby made for a great opportunity to initiate the cups. Getting the cups down, however, I found that the pretty shiny silver was now tarnished. The homemade method cleaning method that I found that worked like a charm was toothpaste. A little toothpaste and elbow grease cleaned beauties up. With mint, bourbon, sugar, the cups, a muddler, and the nifty ice crusher that Dan found on ebay, we toasted Orb and the other horses that ran a muddy but exciting race on Derby

IMG_20130504_2038334.  My job review – I had my job review this past week. It went well, and I had the satisfaction that those who took the time to comment on my performance think that I get my job done well. What really meant more to me, I think, was the number of people who commented that I treat people well, that I am kind, and that I always make time for others. I do try to always be kind, and I do try to be there for others. I think that it makes a difference in how I feel about the job that I am doing, and it was nice to see that others appreciate it.

220px-Bernie_film_poster5.  Bernie – Dan and I watched Bernie last night. I have heard good things about this movie for awhile now, so I had it in my Netflix queue. This is based on a true incident that was reported in the pages of Texas Monthly by writer Skip Hollandsworth. Jack Black plays Bernie Tiede, the assistant funeral director in the small town of Carthage, Texas. He is pretty much adored by everyone because of his kindness and helpful disposition. In the story, Bernie befriends the town’s wealthy widow (Shirley MacLaine), who is universally disliked because she is plain mean. As their relationship goes on, it becomes more and more emotionally draining to Bernie who must always be at her beck and call. One day, he snaps and he shoots her with the armadillo gun. Matthew McConeaughey is the town district attorney who has to prosecute a man that the town, for the most part, sympathizes with and understands why he would have shot her. It is crazy entertaining and makes me love Jack Black even more than I did before.

Last Week’s Good Things

This week, more than most, it was important to pay attention to the good things that slid into my days. My list is actually longer than the five (plus one bonus) that I put down here. The truth, truly is that if you keep your eyes open for good, you will find it.Scanned Image 131020000

  1. I was going through a box of papers (because I am one to have many boxes of papers), and I came across this picture of Sam and Ali that I drew several years ago. It doesn’t look a whole lot like them, but it captures pieces of them that make it highly recognizable. That is me peeking out of the window.
  2. Believe it or not, one of my good things was the customer rep guy I talked to at T-Mobile. Dan has been traveling quite a bit this month, and he texted me that he was about to run out of minutes on his cell phone. I called up the 800 number and talked to a very nice man. He looked at our account and laughed with me as I pointed out that we are probably T-mobile’s longest served customer (11 years!). He then proceeded to give me some bonus minutes and thanked me for calling and being so nice.
  3. I work at a children’s hospital. My job focuses on clinical research for children with cancer and other blood diseases. This week, our Grand Rounds’ speaker talked about the progress that has been made in treating children with cancer. A major factor of that progress is that those who treat children with cancer decided many years ago that the only way that they would find answers was if everyone cooperated, treated children the same ways, and combined results to determine what works best. The cooperative clinical trial movement in children’s cancer research became the model for all research. It is why the percentage of children surviving a cancer diagnosis is so high. After the talk, I suggested to one of our doctors that we send out a note to our surgeons and pathologists who help us so much in making our clinical studies so successful. He told me that it was a good idea, but I should go ahead and send it. I sent it out under the names of our research team. The number of doctors who took the time to say thank you for the nice email and express their own pleasure in being part of the solution warmed my heart.Gatsby1
  4. I finished reading The Great Gatsby this week for about the third time. The copy that I read was the one that Dan had for one of his college English classes. Some of his annotations in the book charmed me or made me giggle. Then, the New York Times had an end piece in the magazine where they showed covers of Gatsby over time. Loved that!gatsby3
  5. Dan and I had the best day on Saturday! He had been gone all week, so I wanted to spend the day doing stuff together. I went out for a walk, came home, and then we hit the road. We got an early lunch, followed by going to the theater to watch 42 – which  we both very much liked. After the movie, we walked around Barnes and Noble for about an hour. I realized that it had been a long time since I had just done some bookstore browsing. Of course I found some bargains. From there, we did Dan’s birthday shopping, went to a favorite liquor store emporium, bought some steaks to grill out, Dan experimented with a new cocktail that was successful, ate dinner, and, finally, ended the day by watching stored up DVR’d sitcoms. Winner.
  6. Bonus one: I wrote quite some time ago about going to hear Jules Feiffer and Norton Juster talk. That was wonderful. This week, I found out that there is a documentary coming out about the creation of The Phantom Tollbooth. Lordy me, I can’t wait.phantom

Last Week’s Good Things

  1. Vanderbilt Student Playing with Billy Joel – My love for Billy Joel came with his release of The Stranger,the year before I went to college. I didn’t know much of his other work, but once at college, his music was in heavy rotation around campus. “New York State of Mind”  became a favorite, and it brings on a nostalgic pop culture reaction every time I hear it. This video is circulating around. It charmed me.
  2. 1998 New York Times article from Jim Bouton’s son asking the Yankees to let his dad play in the Old Timers Game – Last week I wrote about finishing Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. To get ready for our book club meeting, I did a little research on all things Bouton. One of the repercussions of the book’s publication was George Steinbrenner’s refusal to invite Bouton to return and play in the annual Old Timers game. Steinbrenner was not happy with Bouton’s portrayal of iconic Yankees like Mickey Mantle. This did not even change once Mantle wrote his own tell all book. In 1998, Jim Bouton’s daughter was killed in an automobile accident. The next year on Father’s Day, The New York Times published an open letter to the New York Yankees asking them to let bygones be bygones, and invite his dad to play. Michael, who was in college at the time, wrote:

       I see this as an opportunity to get my father some extra hugs at a time in his     life when he could use all the hugs he can get. It is something he would never seek for himself – he is going to kill me when he reads this – and maybe the kind of thing only a son or daughter can do for their father.

It is a sweet piece. The Yankees invited him, and I expect he got lots of hugs.

3.  Sitting on patios- On Monday, I wore my snow boots to work and I was bundled up in sweaters and scarves. On Thursday, the weather changed and the coat that I wore to work in the morning could be shed in the afternoon. Friday, I met a friend in the late afternoon and we sat on the patio at Julian and had a glass of wine and a chat. Last night, we grilled steaks and had a Manhattan on our patio. The weather board says that cold weather is coming back to town tomorrow, but I am thankful for these days of spring.

4.  fried egg sandwich with bacon and blue cheese – I love a good sandwich, and I made a pretty delicious one Friday night. This had a lot of flavor going on and made me very happy

5.  Dance lessons – One of the Christmas gifts that I got from Dan this year was a promise of dance lessons. We started two weeks ago. It is a very casual, low pressure format. We have fox trotted and waltzed. Next time we are in Italy and there is music in the piazza, we will be ready!

Patio Time

Living close to the city means that our acreage is the stereotypical postage stamp lawn. When we first moved into our house, about 1/3 of the backyard that we did have was taken up by a chain link cat run. Not having or ever planning to have a cat, that was one of the first things to go. After that, we built a couple raised beds that through the years have grown tomatoes (that we have graciously shared with the neighborhood birds, squirrels and rabbits), basil that keeps our freezer stocked with pesto year round, and hops that have flavored Dan’s beer. Memories of little kids helping me plant or pick, make me smile.

As we settled into the house and the kids got a little bigger, the backyard housed a swing set that was carried from a neighbors house. The kids would play out there some, but the space was never conducive to romping play time.

The kids got bigger and the swing set got moved to another location.  Weeds got the better of what grass was there. Our goal for the space became keeping it under control and not be an embarrassment. We were not always successful.

But a couple years ago, Dan had an epiphany that he was no longer going to be held hostage by hot, humid Missouri summers (I probably should not recount here how he phrased his new commitment, but it was spoken in some colorful language). He would spend more time outdoors. I committed to doing the same.

One step we took towards this commitment was to buy some new lawn furniture. Now with a place to sit, we began a habit of spending some time outside before dinner. During our sitting time, we came upon an idea that promised to make our new ways even better! We wanted to build a patio.

I expect that other couple are like us. We have decided upon many things throughout our years of marriage that have never come to fruition. We can put a lot of thought, enthusiasm, and time into an idea to see it fall off the radar as time goes on. For this patio thing, we got enthused, checked books out of the library, went to the hardware store to look at materials, and searched the Internet. We planned walkways and planters and seats. We thought about the tools we would need to make it, and the friends we might be able to recruit to help us. As last summer was coming to a close, we didn’t have a patio or even a final plan. We did, however, have David.

David has been our go to guy for the things in our house that we really do NEED to get done, but we couldn’t possibly do ourselves (we are not the handiest). He has painted our house, worked wonders on our wood rot, replaced our windows, and turned a bathroom into a much nicer place.

We finally stopped our monkey business and called David to see if he would make us a patio. In the next few weeks, we had what we needed. It is not extravagant in any way, but it makes us very happy. Now that the clocks have changed and we have more evening, there are not many nights that we don’t get home and head for some patio time. Last weekend, friends unexpectedly came by in the afternoon to watch the theatrics of Dan brewing beer in the backyard, and we ended up spending some hours just hanging out on a beautiful day. It has become exactly how we envisioned it.

It really is a quality of life thing that keeps giving. Now I want the grass that we have to be nicer. I want the weeds growing on the fence to be nonexistent. I want the raised beds to not only grow, but be pretty and fragrant. Already, we have hummingbird feeders and bird baths sprinkled around the yard to invite the bird traffic.  It is the synergy of a pleasant thing.
This weekend promises to be another lovely one here in Missouri, and today is Friday night cocktail night. I am thinking that we might try an Old Pal tonight as we cap off the week and head into the weekend.

Cocktail time – The Yale

We started the cocktail thing a few years ago when we instituted a Sunday dinner challenge with a friend.  Because we usually had the meal covered, his contribution became a cocktail.

We began the ritual with a classic that was repeated over several meals. The Old-fashioned is a favorite of his and he fancied himself a pretty fair maker of the concoction. He did not lie. His version, brings together rye with muddled cherry, orange, sugar cube, and bitters. He believed that Peychaud’s bitters from New Orleans was a secret to even greater success, but when our cocktail odyssey began, the variety of available bitters was scant. We settled on the bitters that was on the grocery store shelf. Our source in New Orleans (shout out to you, Ali!), however, came through for us. That Christmas break, she returned home with Peychaud’s for all. We then had our go-to Old-Fashioned.

Not that we would ever get tired of the Old-Fashioned, but a time did come when we decided to venture beyond the tried and true. Holy cow, what fun! There is something thoughtful and ritualistic about cocktail mixing that I really embrace. Goodness knows I find nothing the matter with pouring a glass of wine or a good beer, but mixing a cocktail means considering what it will be, if the ingredients will be available, and when it should be served.

That brings me to the Friday evening cocktail. Friday is typically my day to stay home and write. I also am usually in charge of dinner that day. Dan will get home in the early evening and before we dig into a meal, we often settle down for a cocktail. It is a time to break the work week from the weekend. It is a time to change the pace and set the tone for the hours to come.

Today I am already thinking of The Yale. The Yale, like many cocktails, has several different interpretations. One reason for this is because one of the original ingredients was something called Creme Yvette. Creme Yvette is a liqueur that was made out of a violet found in Italy mixed with vanilla and other spices. The resulting product smelled of fresh picked violets and had a beautiful lavender shade. When Creme Yvette ceased being produced, the go to substitute was the similarly colored, but quite differently flavored, blue curaçao. Doing a search on The Yale cocktail, you will find several recipes that still use that substitute ingredient.

But a few years ago, an Austrian company began combining a grape brandy with violets that grow high in the Alps. The cocktail world had back its violet liquor. I first met Crème de Violette at a wine tasting. The distributor was set up in a corner with his tall slim bottles. I went to taste the Crème de Violette and before it hit my mouth, I got the aroma of violets. I bought a bottle with little idea of what to do with it.

And that is how I discovered The Yale – a cocktail that was first mixed in 1895 in the hey day of New York City mixology. A few years after it was first cited, it became a standard recipe in the prestigious Yale Club in Manhattan. There, alums could sit back with a chilled beverage boasting their school color. It combines a classic martini base of vermouth and gin and adds violet and bitters. Delicious!

I take my version of the Yale from those who brought back the violette:

Stir in an iced cocktail shaker until well-chilled:

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1/3 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1/3 ounce Creme De Violette
  • dash bitters (Peychaud’s is what I use)

Strain into an iced cocktail glass.

Cheers and Happy Friday! Do you have a weekend introducing favorite?