Friday, January 2, 2015

Field Guides Tour: "Arizona Winter Specialties"

For those of my friends, birding buddies and FB friends who also happen to be birders, below is a summary of my experience during six days in the Phoenix / Tucson area with Field Guides, arguably the most reputable bird tour company operating out of the U.S. --
Bird species seen (* indicates first time seeing, ** indicates my second time ever seeing this species or sub-species):

Greater White-fronted Goose
Snow Goose
Cackling Goose**
Canada Goose
American Wigeon
Mallard (Mexican)*
Green-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal**
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Gambel's Quail**
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Neotropic Cormorant*
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret (first time to witness it fishing by wiggling its toes)
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
White-faced Ibis
Black Vulture**
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Harris' Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk*
Common Gallinule
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Black-necked Stilt
Mountain Plover*
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Long-billed Curlew
Least Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Inca Dove**
Greater Roadrunner
Western Screech Owl (heard)
Great Horned Owl
Burrowing Owl*
Anna's Hummingbird
Broad-billed Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Lewis' Woodpecker*
Acorn Woodpecker*
Gila Woodpecker
Red-naped Sapsucker**
Ladder-backed Woodpecker**
Northern Flicker (red-shafted)
Gilded Flicker*
Crested Caracara**
American Kestrel
Merlin (first viewing of the Prairie race)
Peregrine Falcon
Prairie Falcon*
Rosy-faced Lovebird* (recently added to ABA list)
Hammon's Flycatcher*
Gray Flycatcher**
Dusky Flycatcher*
Black Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher**
Loggerhead Shrike
Plumbeous Vireo*
Cassin's Vireo*
others in the group got Hutton's Vireo
Mexican Jay*
Chihuahuan Raven**
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Bridled Titmouse*
White-breasted Nuthatch (interior west)
Rock Wren
Marsh Wren
Bewick's Wren**
Cactus Wren*
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher*
Black-capped Gnatcatcher*
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Western Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
Curve-billed Thrasher
Bendire's Thrasher*
Le Conte's Thrasher*
Crissal Thrasher*
Sage Thrasher*
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
American Pipit
Chestnut-collared Longspur**
McCown's Longspur*
Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's)
Black-throated Gray Warbler*
Painted Redstart*
Green-tailed Towhee**
Spotted Towhee
Canyon Towhee
Abert's Towhee*
Rufous-winged Sparrow*
Chipping Sparrow
Brewer's Sparrow*
Black-chinned Sparrow*
Vesper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow*
Black-throated Sparrow**
Bell's Sparrow (Mojave)*
Sagebrush Sparrow*
Lark Bunting*
Savannah Sparrow
Baird's Sparrow*
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow (mountain)*
White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel's)
Dark-eyed Junco (first time to see pink-sided)
Northern Cardinal
Lazuli Bunting*
Red-Winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird**
Brewer's Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch**
Lawrence's Goldfinch*
House Sparrow

Birds that are not in taxonomic order because we had to write them in at the bottom of our checklist:
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Black-bellied Whistling Duck**
Red-breasted Merganser
Sinaloa Wren (heard only)
Winter Wren (heard)
Greater Pewee*
Pacific Loon*

Desert Cottontail
Black-tailed Jackrabbit
Round-tailed Ground Squirrel
Arizona Cotton Rat
tracks of Collared Peccary

My constant companions through this gruelling week of being in the field every day from dawn till dusk were a pair of Blundstone boots, which kept my feet comfy all day. I didn't even feel a desire to change into different shoes for dinner each evening, and they took me through all kinds of terrain from sand to rocks to mud to snow. The iPhone app "iBird" was my field guide of choice since it doesn't require me to carry a book in the field and because our guides' encyclopedic knowledge allowed me the luxury of leaving the book in the van.

Species hoped for but which we did not manage to get include:
Ross' Goose
Eurasian Wigeon
Cattle Egret
White-tailed Kite
Golden Eagle
Ruddy Ground Dove
Fulvous Whistling Duck
Barn Owl
White-throated Swift
Magnificent Hummingbird
Elegant Trogon (we came close--it was seen in the morning at a state park we visited the same afternoon)
Arizona Woodpecker
Sinaloa Wren (we staked out its nest site a long time but only heard it)
Townsend's Solitaire
Rufous-backed Robin
Olive Warbler
Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Happy birding!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Spread Too Thin

I have good news and bad news.

First the bad news. I don't expect to have the time, inspiration, nor energy to post on this blog for a little while. I'm not sure if I'll continue it at all. Here are a few factors influencing my thinking on this:

1) I've begun an exciting new venture that is very time consuming, but one I love pouring my heart into.

2) I feel my voice doesn't really add any value to what is already out there in the realm of reviewing area restaurants, museums, and events around Windsor Detroit. In fact, as someone who is basically a homebody, I am probably the last person who can be relied upon to get out there and cover the roasted chestnuts at Winterfest this Saturday, take wonderful snapshots of the Artcite receptions, or even review films at WIFF.

3) I am not a good photographer.

What it boils down to, I guess, is that this blog was probably more of a passing fancy than a calling. This is not the realm in which I have a unique, outstanding, and/or especially valuable contribution to make.

The good news is that I have figured out where it is that I am supposed to be writing, what it is I'm supposed to be writing about, and that it is definitely an area where I can make an impact.

So I hope you will forgive me while I pour myself into that. I'm just not someone who is comfortable giving five endeavours a lick and a promise. I'd rather pare it down to just one or two and do a bang up job, a job I can be really proud of.

What is your passion? When you find it, are you able to cut other things away to make room for mastery or utter devotion?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Chef is Back

After a stint in Niagara Falls, my partner is back living at home and working his favourite gig of the year, which he likes because it is both indoors and close to home. That means I get to benefit once more from his culinary talents and penchant for healthful meals.

Salmon, peas with mushrooms, carrots, brown basmati with toasted pine nuts

Tortellini, peas, mushrooms

Tonight it's Tuscan beans and greens again. We can't get enough of that northern Italian traditional dish that's so full of fibre and vitamins!

What are YOU having tonight?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Castagnata / Chestnut Festival (Windsor)

The only way you're likely to hear about this annual festival is to drive down Erie Street (Via Italia) the first week of November and look at the poster in the window of the St. Angela Merici Hall and Centre. This year it was on November 9th, last year the 17th.  This year I remembered my camera.

Tickets went up this year from $20 to $25 per adult, but it's a structural fundraiser for the parish. An adult ticket gets you two wine tickets, and all the chestnuts you can eat, plus trays of focaccia, cheese, grapes, and prosciutto.

Last year we walked in close to 4:00 and almost couldn't find a place to sit, as there were so many tables marked RESERVED and many people saving seats for friends. This year we had the good sense to show up early so as not to face that problem; the family at whose table we sat last year ended up joining us!

the cheese tasted wonderful on the focaccia

yummy grapes
freshly made focaccia

Very lean prosciutto.

Bring a pocket knife for the chestnuts.

It was a fun evening.

trying not to smile in case my teeth are purple

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Ukrainian Restaurant (Windsor)

It was a tough decision Friday night whether to thank Chuck for all his cooking lately by taking him to Matryoshka or The Ukrainian Restaurant. We flipped a coin and ended up at this little gem tucked away on a residential street near the intersection of Giles and Marion.

At first we were the only diners, but the proprietress had served two or three more parties by the time we left. The dining area feels like half 1950s soda fountain, half your grandmother's house that hasn't been redecorated in decades. It was charming to eat off of mid-century modern plates, helping ourselves to whichever beverage we wanted out of the black refrigerator while Anna in her warm blue sweater toddled from dining room to kitchen and back, wearing (metaphorically speaking) all three hats: server, cook, and busboy.

Service was slow since Anna has no help, but the uniqueness of the experience made us forget about time and just take it all in.

We eat had a bowl of borsch to start. Chuck had the cabbage roll perogy combo, while I had cabbage rolls alone. We drank water and finished by sharing a piece of walnut torte.

Cabbage Rolls Perogy Combo

Four Cabbage Rolls

Walnut Torte
I would definitely recommend that you check out this quaint little restaurant before Anna retires.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Grace in Small Things 83

I'm brimming with pride at my students' "systems of the human body" posters that they spent two days meticulously planning, colouring and labelling.

Watched an afternoon student use a calculator for the first time and get excited at learning to ADD the total of items in her shopping cart, MULTIPLY to ascertain the tax, SUBTRACT to figure the change from a $20.

Snuggling and affection abound.

I outwitted the raccoon last night re destroyed birdfeeders. That makes the score raccoon 9, Kelly 1.

Wet fall weather brings sweet memories.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wordless Wednesday 20

Lamb with Caramelized Shallots (Chuck)

The scent of something caramelizing in vinegar greeted me when I came through the door after day's work. It was hard for me to stay out of the kitchen, hard not to peer at what Chuck was doing in there, hard not to ask for a sample. It just smelled SO GOOD.

After about an hour I finally got to sit down to what must have been Chuck's most amazing creation to date. The shallots and mushrooms had slowly, ever so slowly caramelized over low heat until they were the consistency (and taste) of dark, sticky onion candy. The lamb was moist. The carrots, asparagus parmesan and garlic mashed potatoes perfectly complemented the meat. The salad of field greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers with walnuts, blue cheese and Chuck's signature vinaigrette was delicious, as always. I gasped and sighed my way through the meal, savouring every bite and squirrelling away a little for the next day's lunch.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Beans and Greens (Chuck)

Since I'd attempted various versions of this Tuscan dish Chuck discovered in Niagara Falls, NY's Italian neighbourhood, Chuck decided to give it a go. His was very delicious, though Michael's Restaurant still takes the prize.

Chuck also served salmon and brown basmati with toasted pine nuts.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Grace in Small Things 82

My partner and I work well together in our wee kitchen. Last night he offered to join me in preparing the Forty Garlic Chicken in the slow cooker, even though it was high time I cooked for him. He manned the skillet while I peeled the garlic.

This gave me time to join him in watching a movie on Hoopla (thank you, Windsor Public Library). We saw God's Pocket, which he thought was weird and I thought was almost worthy of Cohen Brothers, with a bit of Tarantino thrown in.

Since my volunteer stint tutoring the Monk in English is drawing to a close upon his departure from Canada, I offered to start up visiting a hospice patient. But then another volunteer was assigned to this person. So I will soon have almost every day after 3:00 free and unscheduled. This gives me no excuse not to work on a paper to submit for publication to our professional journal.

Having Bhante's undivided attention a couple of hours each week has been a blessing and has helped me in my Buddhist practice. I especially appreciated hearing how he got on with the young men next door and their dog (one of those breeds that looks bred to fight). The dog was terrorizing the parishioners who would come monthly to do some groundskeeping at the house, as they had to trim hedges on the border between the two properties. He told me, "The dog is not a problem anymore." I asked him how he did it. With the young men, it was a matter of a series of over-the-fence discussions about life. In other words, they got to know one another. With the dog...well. Bhante went out onto the back deck to drink his morning tea one day and there the dog was, free and staring at him. Bhante said he first stared back, then pursued the dog. It ran off and stayed missing for two days. "We have many stray dogs in Sri Lanka. I know how to handle them," he said with a mischievous smile.

When the neighbours found the dog and returned it to the yard, the dog never again acted menacingly toward Bhante, and the boys agreed to bring the dog inside during groundskeeping. The very day Bhante told me this story, I had a chance to see said neighbours through the window taking their sleek, muscular dog for a walk on a thick chain. With their turned-around caps, cigarettes hanging from their mouths and saggy pants, they are not people I would ever have talked to had they been my neighbours. Thank you for the lessons, Bhante.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Arepa Cafe (Toronto)

I'd been dreaming for a year about the Venezuelan quesillo at Arepa Cafe. Since tasting it for the first time while in Toronto for last year's conference, it has become my favourite dessert in the world. It's a melt-in-your-mouth cross between cheesecake and flan--just lightly cheesy enough with a burnt sugar taste in the caramel-like top layer. 

Venezuelan quesillo

The arepas and other menu items at this cute cafe make the walk or street-car ride up Queen Street West well worth it. I didn't even mind getting caught in a light rain without an umbrella, nor even being splashed by the passing car that sped through the puddle. Dining at Arepa Cafe made it all worthwhile.

sugar cane lemonade at Arepa Cafe

I had the black bean, avocado, cheese and plantain arepa. The mais flatbread reminds me of my southern mama's hot water cornbread, while the combination of blackbeans and sweet plantain was slightly reminiscent of Japanese mochi filled with sweetened adzuki beans.

black bean, avocado, cheese, plantain arepa with side of slaw

A wonderful contrast to my lunchtime dining experience at Burgers n Bistro, the service at Arepa can't be beat. Staff there show that they truly care about your every need and preference. Prices are in keeping with a modest cafe, making the menu very accessible to those on a budget.

The next time you're in the area, do check it out!

Arepa Cafe on Urbanspoon

Grace in Small Things 81

being able to attend and present at this year's TESL Ontario conference, thanks to...

  • my colleague V, who kept pestering me and telling me that my ideas were worthy of sharing
  • getting the hand-holding I needed to find first-time courage from Brock University's John Sivell
  • J, who had to stay back in Windsor and cover my morning class
  • S, who covered my afternoon class (I wouldn't entrust their tender care to just anyone!)
  • now that it's behind me, feeling completely confident that I can do it again on my own

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Walking Tours of Windsor's Heritage Homes

When I returned to class on Monday, I found that one student had actually taken advantage of Doors Open Windsor to tour the Cooper Aeolian Organ Museum as well as the Windsor Community Museum. He had enjoyed both, but especially liked witnessing a restored organ being played.

Hearing him report on his thorough enjoyment of the tours prompted me to reflect...

"You know, ... um... we could take a tour of the architecture of Victoria Avenue if you wanted to." To my surprise and delight, the majority of them began to nod enthusiastically.

So we spent all of that week boning up on the styles we would encounter on our walk: Victorian styles and elements such as Italianate, Picturesque and Queen Anne; Romanesque Revival, Tudor Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival, American Foursquare and Craftsman. We learned terms like "facade," dormer," "gable," and "wrap-around porch." We played with adjectives and their antonyms, like symmetrical and asymmetrical. Throughout the week we made the terminology and concepts our own through a great variety of activities--the labelling of pictures, matching exercises and surveying our peers for their responses to such questions as, "Would you rather live in an older home or a modern one?" and "Which style do you hope to see on our walk?"

By the time our field trip day rolled around, we were eager to undertake this great scavenger hunt for an American Foursquare, a Craftsman Bungalow and Italianate windows.

Using a self-guided tour booklet available as a free PDF,  we set out on a picture-perfect fall day at our first Queen Anne, now Hikari Japanese restaurant and learned the following before continuing our stroll southward:
From the outset, Victoria Avenue was intended to be a gracious, residential street. In fact, the Windsor Land and Building Company placed conditions on buyers of building lots, which stipulated a minimum setback of 20 feet, a house value of at least $3,000 (considerable for that time) and assurance that any business carried on would not be deemed a nuisance on a private residential street.  As a result, the earliest houses, built between 1890 and the Stock Market "Crash" of 1929, show diversity of design and, in spite of recent renovations, quality of material and fine workmanship. They were the valued residences of some of the most influential and respected families during this middle period in Windsor's evolution - doctors, merchants, lawyers, educators, politicians and industrialists whose ideas molded this municipality. 
Indeed we found excellent examples of all the styles we were seeking. A gorgeous American Foursquare has been lovingly preserved by a law firm right next door to us. While some Queen Annes have been allowed to deteriorate, or have been cut up into four and six apartments, others have been preserved beautifully. There were many examples of Tudor Revival and a few Craftsman homes. One homeowner enjoying a mug of tea on the edge of his chest-high unkempt wildflower garden that hid the lower half of his English cottage from view asked if I had a spare handout. I obliged as a student complimented him on the yard.

One highlight of our walk came when the owner of the only Italianate house came out to chat with us as her husband continued painting. He had, she reported, completed the arduous job of scraping all the paint off the entryway columns to reveal imported marble. The beautiful century-old wood on window trim had also been liberated of its layers of paint! The tiny eyebrow window in the roof shed light on a sewing room they used as a linen room, she said. We gave them a round of applause for saving an architectural jewel.

Our walk left me with a renewed appetite for my old game of viewing all the houses on the Windsor Heritage Register, ticking off twenty to thirty per summer/fall, and I stopped in Walkerville with my printed copy of the register in hand.

Back in the classroom the next day, we satisfied students' question, "What would these homes cost today" with a few minutes on and enjoyed a virtual tour of the inside of an unusual blue Georgian home designed by Albert Kahn. Oh, look! It has an eyebrow window, too.

P.S. If you enjoy touring pre-war homes and neighbourhoods or are interested in Windsor-Detroit history and architecture, be sure to check out the blog International Metropolis.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fun Free Event: Doors Open Windsor 2014

Since we spent yesterday in Greektown, my enjoyment of Doors Open Windsor 2014 was limited to today, Sunday. Other duties and activities pared down my free time today, as well, so I narrowed my priorities to a private home; I can see the insides of churches and breweries anytime. I chose the French farmstead that I've visited on my bike while ticking off properties on the Windsor Heritage Register, a hobby that motivates me to get out and cycle far and wide.

two houses were moved and joined to make one

items currently on load to Fort Malden
original floors

exterior of the now joined houses
With a little time left, we stopped to tour the street-scape of 200 block of Prado Place, another area designated on the register that we'd already toured on our bikes a time or two.
Clinker bricks!


unique curved chimney
If you didn't catch Doors Open this year, I hope you'll join in next year.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Grace in Small Things 80

this poster at the door of an Ontario Early Years Centre where parents drop off their tots

and this sign on the baby gate

discovering that my morning students have a keen interest in one of my hobbies--learning about the houses and properties on Windsor's Heritage Registry

feeling supported by a colleague, made to feel less alone in an area of frustration

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Grace in Small Things 79

I have three students I've been urging to go to the next level because they are ready. They don't want to go. It's a nice problem to have, I suppose...students who want to stay in your class forever and ever.

Me today to the head of maintenance: "Can you cancel the fire department if the smoke detectors are set off about 30 seconds from now? It was just sparklers. I made the students take them outside."

(The answer was no, you can't cancel a fire alarm, but also that the gadget on my classroom ceiling is a heat detector.)

Ducks with a sense of entitlement flying up into the yard as soon as they hear me arriving home from work.

A full belly.

And a warm bed.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Grace in Small Things 78

The number of things I haven't had to go out and buy lately because my partner says, "I have one of those in my basement." LOL.

A gorgeous late summer day spent getting chores done with the door open, squirrels, sparrows and mallards coming for handouts. It will be soup weather soon.

Liking the people who sign my paycheque. I realize how rare and blessed I am in that way.

Laundry done, lunch box packed, lesson planning finished, chores accomplished. All by 6:00 p.m.

Feeling ever-so-slightly optimistic today about the planet and the possibility of turning around our destruction of it.

The County Diner (Tecumseh / Windsor)

I think I've just discovered a new favourite place to get a late weekend breakfast: The County Diner just out Manning Road on the outskirts of Windsor. The parking lot was full when we pulled up at around 11:30 a.m., a good sign.

Upon entering, we were promptly invited to sit anywhere; there were still two booths open. The menu is right on the laminated placemat, so no waiting for that (unlike, for example, Rise N Shine).

After ordering two coffees, we were given the option of milk or cream, and a generous amount of it came in a little pitcher. Coffee cups are clear glass. Interesting detail.

The standard 2-egg breakfast that I get everywhere is over $6 here but portions are more generous than at the 'under $5' places. Also, they don't charge extra for rye toast nor if you choose pea-meal bacon as your meat. I loved the huge plate, which allowed me to engage in my egg gymnastics routine of slipping the toast under the eggs without having to eat the potatoes first in order to make room for this trick. Yolks were perfectly in tact when they reached me, something not true at the last two places we've broken fast.

The server checked to make sure I wanted onions in my potatoes, another customer service plus.

Chuck's scrambled eggs came on top of corned beef hash (house made from scratch, he checked) and were served on a mini cast iron skillet nested on a wooden board.

What I like most, an element lacking at Skippy's, was that the home fries had been in the skillet long enough to achieve that crispiness around the edges, and the onions were nicely caramelized--to the point that the tiny bits were downright crunchy. Awesome!

The place is decorated with antiques and faux antiques, such as an old gum-ball machine, while vintage looking store signs cover all walls. But the interior still feels airy and clean.

Servers are super friendly and attentive, seeming to really enjoy their repartee with regulars. I'd drive out here for breakfast again in a New York minute.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Hidden Artwork of Downtown Windsor

While killing a bit of time before a workshop yesterday, I happened upon some amazing "intentional graffiti," or graffiti-style murals.

First I had photographed a mainstream mural visible from a street, of which we have many gorgeous ones gracing buildings all over this lovely city.

Then I ducked into an alley and stumbled onto this:

And this one, in front of which I will definitely NEVER park my car. I promise.

By the time I spotted this one, I was starting to feel like I'd entered a gallery. I began slowing my pace.

Then I turned back and noticed this one.

There is some serious talent in this city, eh?

I think this was my favourite.

But this one is nice, too.

At one point I popped out of the alleys just in time to see the morning breeze lift a Pride Flag.

I love that downtown Windsor embraces its slight grittiness. If you want to stroll through this outdoor gallery and check out these and many more amazing murals, duck into the alley between Ouellette and Pelissier north of Wyandotte Street, south of Park. At least I THINK that's where I was.