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Thankful Thursday V – Spring Is In The Air

I just got in after running any number of errands and getting the groceries done. I’m sweating. But that’s ok, because this Thursday I’m thankful for spring arriving.

Now if you want to get technical, spring doesn’t “arrive” until some time next week, based on the earth’s tilt and so on. But I’m a weather buff and a naturalist and meteorologists and ornothologists alike consider March 1 through May 31 “spring.” Enough for me to go with, even if it wasn’t 80 and tropically humid outside with the threat of tornadoes penciled in for the weekend. Which it is.

Spring was always a joy for me when I lived in Canada. Arguably summer was my favorite season but spring had a whole lot going for it, enough for it to create the weather equivalent of a “two-sided hit single” to me. Now, spring in Ontario can be a bit of a tease… I’ve seen snowstorms at Easter and fruit trees blossom before one last blast of Old Man Winter and his sub-zero temperatures blew back in. Not to mention that early spring can often be dreary, rainy and cool. Still, to me that beat drearier, snowy and colder. Spring always had its appeal because quite frankly, I don’t like winter. I don’t like being cold, I like lots of daylight and the emotional boost (not to mention Vitamin D) it gives me, I don’t like having to wear heavy coats and gloves. I don’t like seeing young women bundled like penguins in heavy coats and gloves…err, when I was single that is! What I do like is being comfortable outside and seeing the landscape awaken day by day…the grass getting greener, the trees leafing out, new birds arriving by the day, people crowding into garden centers with happy plans. And of course, baseball being back, which I looked at a few weeks ago.

Here in Texas, spring often creeps in almost unnoticed, mainly because winters often dress up like it. This year is a bit different of course, after the state saw record cold temperatures, eight to ten days straight sub-freezing temperatures and an ice storm that shut down stores and electric plants alike. Texans can welcome spring with the gusto of Canadians this year. I am!

Spring! Co-recipient of Dave’s “Best Season of the Year” award. How about you, friends? What’s your favorite season?

The Ordinary Recipe For A Magical Life?

The Magic of Ordinary Days was a 2005 movie starring Keri Russell and Skeet Ulrich. The Dust Bowl-era flick cast Russell as an unmarried yet pregnant young city girl shipped off to an enter into an arranged marriage with a Midwestern farmer to prevent shaming her family. As films go, it wasn’t bad. As titles go though, I always thought it was extraordinary – the magic of ordinary days. Recent events though have made me think it is not only extraordinarily good, it is a “design for life”… to borrow another title, that one from a Manic Street Preachers song. I might go so far as to say it could just be the “secret of life.”

I always liked the title because I guess I like surprises less than most people, it seems. I quite like predictability even when it seems mundane to others. This past week has made a lot of people around here begin to see the wisdom of that themselves. If the past year, with Covid being a most unwelcome addition to our lives and dictionaries hasn’t been enough, here the last eight days have. The unparalleled week of winter here in Texas, complete with 0-degree nights, freezing rain storms, snow storms, impassable roads, massive power outages and a number of major fires caused by power flashing back on after those outages have made people start to recognize how much we normally take for granted. Electricity. Running water…when it’s not running out of the ceiling when the pipes freeze and burst. Mail delivery. Bread, milk, soup on grocery store shelves. Roads that can get us to those shelves safely. There’s a lot to like about mundane, ordinary days.

I think that’s rather the recipe for a good life, or a satisfying one at least. I love birds, as you may already know. I’m excited when I see an endangered species or rarity that’s 1000 miles outside of its normal range, but I find a lot of happiness looking out at the feeder in the front yard seeing all the common species, many of which I’ve seen more days than not since I was a teen. The birders I know who become obsessed with the life list and checking off rarities on a checklist tend to be a little high-strung and irritable, I find. Sure, love seeing that Kirtland’s Warbler or the arctic-dwelling Snowy Owl that finds itself flying across an Oklahoma field, but if you can’t get pleasure from watching the antics of the Cardinals, Robins and Mockingbirds outside your window, you’re probably going to be frustrated a great deal. Likewise, by all means enjoy your birthday, the week at the beach in summer, the Christmas lights and gifts on December 25th. But if you want to be OK, learn how to love the times when you’re at work. Shopping for potatoes. Sitting at home in the evening with your better half watching a re-run of a sitcom you’ve seen so many times you’ve memorized the lines. Because there are a lot more of those times than the lottery wins or once-in-a-lifetime gifts to open. Once you realize that, those moments will become just a bit more special still…but the other 99% of your life will become a lot more so.

Next time you’re heading home and the traffic in front of you slows to a crawl remember it… there’s a Magic of Ordinary Days.

Books About Touchdowns And Touchy Divas

So, if you were wondering, I’ve been trying to keep up on my reading through the past few months, still looking to meet my New Year’s Resolution of reading more books than I did last year (when in turn, I think that was also a resolution for 2019.)

A couple I’ve read recently were classic guilty pleasure “summer reading” titles, both by Emily Giffin. Giffin is by now one of the more established romcom/romance writers around and a longtime fave of my sweetie. My first introduction to her material was through the movie Something Borrowed, a likable little flick starring Ginnifer Goodwin at her cutest, Kate Hudson and a pre-action hero John Krasinski. It (spoiler alerts afoot here!) involves Goodwin and Hudson’s characters, Rachel and Darcy respectively, being childhood friends now turning 30. Darcy is the spoiled, self-centered one engaged to the millionaire blue blood lawyer, Dex, while Rachel is quiet, demure, brainy and seemingly a pushover. As it progresses though, we find Dex and Rachel have loved each other for years and when Darcy has a pre-wedding fling, the other two are thrust into each other’s arms. Meanwhile, Krasinski’s all-seeing, all-wise Ethan is a straight-talking friend to all. It’s fun, it’s lightweight and while not an Oscar contender, there are far worse date-night movies around. The movie actually ends with a scene from a sequel…which for what ever reason, never was shot.

The sequel, Something Blue, follows the same characters, but is told from the point of view of self-centered Darcy who simply can’t believe her meek, plain friend “stole” her guy and overlooks the fact that she too had an affair…with one of her guy’s groomsmen. And that she’s pregnant with twins, a result of said affair. Ethan’s moved to England to work and Darcy decides to go to him to avoid the gossip and stares around the fancy places that were her previous haunts.

Since the movie wasn’t made yet, and now Krasinski is a big-time star, and the young women just aren’t that young anymore, probably never will now, I decided to pick up the book for some light reading and to see what happened to those characters.

I wasn’t necessarily instantly taken by the idea by reading about obnoxious Darcy’s exploits that much, and the first few chapters are only readable because it’s funny how self-absorbed she is. And how I can imagine every one of us has met at least one “Darcy” in real-life! But as the book progresses, Darcy is forced to look in the mirror (she can no longer see her feet by looking down) and grow up a little. By the end, she’s managed to become a likable character and as with most romance books-movies not written by Nicholas Sparks, there’s a pretty happy ending for all.

That led to my sweetie rummaging around in a closet and pulling out another book by Giffin, The One & Only for me to read. This one quickly set the tone as being football-centric, and as a big baseball fan who cares little for the gridiron and Friday Night Lights, I was a bit reluctant to even dig past the first chapter. But I was glad I did, as it ultimately was a pretty good book, more nuanced and thought-provoking in fact than the other two. And as a resident of football-crazy Texas now, I loved picking out the telltale signs of life in King of the Hill-land… Shiner Bock being the go-to beer for locals, the Whataburgers, the October days that still feel like mid-summer in the desert.

While still a romance, The One & Only is more drama than comedy, and could borrow from Law & Order‘s “ripped from the headlines” tagline. Again, spoiler alerts ahead although I will try to limit the detail. The story revolves around a football-crazy stathead girl, Shay. She lives and breathes football (which again, might seem foreign to most of us not born in the southern Plains but rings true here) living in a thinly-disguised version of Waco. Her city, “Walker”, like Waco, is obsessed with college football, has the team colors everywhere in the city, and is home to a “near Ivy League” private religious university which has a powerhouse football team, playing in a stadium on the shores of the Brazos River just south of Dallas and a populace with seems overcome with their despise for the University of Texas team. It’s surprising Walker didn’t have a reality-TV couple making home renovation programs there in the  book.

Shay has an entry level job at the university and a pothead boyfriend, but is friends with people in high places, Texas-style, including the aging football coach at the university and a high-profile pro player for Dallas who’d gone to school in Walker. Suffice to say she’s challenged to leave her comfort zone and apply herself a little and soon she’s got a better job and a chance at a better relationship. In time she’s forced to confront questions about her own loyalty to her school and “BFF” vs. her boyfriend. Not to mention, knowing which beau is best.

Although the story centers around Shay, a relatable enough young 30-something even for those of us who don’t share her passion for all things football, but in doing delves into the psyche of the sport and its stars. It examines recent scandals involving university players being accused of impropriety and team official’s turning a blind eye through a surprisingly thoughtful lens.

If you need a lightweight summer reading escape, Giffin’s Something Borrowed/ Something Blue aren’t half bad choices. If you’re a football fanatic, or want some grit with your love stories, The One & Only might be just that.

Boffo Beer Blog, Week 8 : Drinking For God

I decided to do God’s work for the latest beer adventure. Because I savored a beer intriguingly, maybe a little pompously even, named Save The World Agnus Dei, or Witbier. With a name like that, it would be almost sinful not to give it a go, wouldn’t it?

Turns out there’s a good reason and interesting story behind the name. The little brewery from near Austin, TX, bills itself as “a philanthropic brewery” dedicated to “making the best Texas craft beer and giving back.” They work as a non-profit, with profits going to various charities including Meals on wheels, Habitat for Humanity and ones designed to get food to under-nourished children. It was begun around 2012 by a husband and wife team, Drs. Dave and Quynh Rathkamp. The pair were both pediatric doctors in the Dallas area before they decided they wanted to do something different.

Dave says he wanted to do good but also enjoy himself and that his passion for beer was the special gift from God. He’d been a homebrewing hobbyist for over a decade and had slowly converted his wife. She describes herself as a wine lover when they got together but had been won over to “the dark side” by him and his old recipe brews. they relocated to Marble Falls, about 20 miles outside of Austin, and built a small brewery and restaurant. The latter has a selection of board games and ring toss for people to have fun with while testing the selection of brews which tend to be European-styled ales like a Belgian pale ale, a Farmhouse ale and a Grisette, a light, lemony drink.

This one is a typical wheat beer, which they describe as a “thirst-quenching rendition of the classic Belgian wheat ale brewed with orange peel, coriander and a carefully sourced third spice.” Curiously, coriander is derived from the cilantro plant, but it is the seeds which taste quite sweet and fruity, a sharp difference from the bitterish leaves Mexicans love for their sauces.

Save the World suggest pairing it with fish dishes and cheeses, but as it turns out, I had a 12-ounce bottle with a takeout dinner of fried chicken, a couple of the restaurant’s surprisingly hot jalapenos and a roll. The beer showed a nice orangey-golden color and looked, as billed a little “hazy” when poured. It didn’t have a lot of fizz or head.

At first taste, it was very pleasing. I’m partial to wheat beers, their clean feeling and tendency to fall somewhere between the watery disappointment of big brewery lagers and weighty ales. Usually they are brewed with a bit of citrus which gives just a wee hint of sweetness. Which was exactly what this one was. Clean tasting but with a good amount of flavor, just a hint of sweetness which was more noticeable when had with the chicken. The brew did an admirable job of keeping its flavor even with the jalapeno and cutting the burn of that pleasantly. It went down easily and really seemed refreshing. It was rated at 5.7% alcohol, but left me with a tiny buzz characteristic of a stronger drink, making it seem like not a beer for lunchtime or before going out on a road trip, but a very good dinner accompaniment or watching a movie sipper.

All in all, I rate it 4 out of 5 for stength, 4 and a half out of 5 for flavor and


Four and a half halos out of five! It makes me want to see how many other ways Dave and Quynh will let us “save the world.”

Boffo Beer Blog, Week 7 : Mermaids And Unicorns Promise Mouth Magic

Well I tried for a truly magical beer experience in the latest Boffo Beer Blog. I sampled True Vine’s Mermaids & Unicorns beer, to go along with a bowl of beef stew and a cheese bagel. Expectations were high, especially when confronted with the mirth-filled 12-ounce can, brightly colored and bedecked with a picture of, yes, a mermaid riding a unicorn. This should be some special drink!

Unlike some of the small breweries I’ve looked at so far, True Vine is really new and still quite small. Based out of Tyler, Texas ( a smallish city not too far out of Dallas), it’s barely five years old. Inspired by reading a biography of the Guinness family, a married couple, Ryan and Traci Dixon began brewing some beer in their own garage around 2014. With good feedback from the locals, opened a tiny, 2000 square-foot brewery in town in 2014. Mermaids & Unicorns was one of their first two flavors and remains a mainstay of their small company, which now boasts about ten or so brews, all with lively, whimsical can designs. There’s a coffee porter, a peach-infused one and one that wins for the name alone, Chubby Angel Babies. True Vines say they are guided by the principles of integrity, community and love.” Hard to find fault with that.

They’re now available throughout a good number of locations in Texas, but haven’t matched the success or growth of some of their Lone Star counterparts – yet. But, like some of their bigger competitors, they recently opened a taproom and restaurant on site, with artisan pizzas being a menu star and live music on the weekend an added draw. What they don’t have yet is as detailed or complete website as many microbrews.

Anyway, I popped open the can full of expectation, and poured the brew into a frosty glass. Although the brewer itself doesn’t seem to detail their drink online, Specs says it comes in at 5.5% alcohol and features a “malty, bready (flavor) with hints of peach and orange.” Upon pouring, it looked a pleasant enough golden tone, slightly cloudy, but seemed to have little fizz and produced only a minimal, thin head. Waiting to be ridden away to beverage utopia on a unicorn being hugged by Splash-era Daryl Hannah, I expected something wildly different and wonderful.

The unicorn turned out to be more of a run of the mill donkey and Daryl nowhere to be seen or felt. The first impression of it was that it had a relatively mild flavor with a noticeable bitterness. More sips did reveal a tinge of citrus, but a very subtle one. It was fairly “smooth” to use that million-dollar beer buzzword, but nothing out of the ordinary in any way. It paired fine with the stew, but didn’t noticeably bring out the flavors of the food or drink; with the cheese bagel somehow the drink’s bitterness seemed a little amplified.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression this is a bad beer. It’s not. It’s perfectly acceptible and a unicorn’s horn above some of the mass market convenience store competition. The can is a keeper for collectors and the drink worth buying it for. What it is not however, was particularly memorable or distinctive, let alone magical. I’ll grade it about 7 out of 10 for strength, 6 for flavor and all in all….


three unicorns out of five.

Boffo Beer Blog, Week 3 : Shiner Frost

This week it was time for a bolero and cowboy hat as I downed one of the quintessential Texas brews. Well, actually I wore no hat nor string tie, but there’s no exaggeration to say that Shiner is a brand as synonomous with the Lone Star State as cowboy boots, long-horned cattle and oil rigs. I sampled one of their seasonal, winter beers – Shiner Frost.

Shiner is the label name for Spoetzel Brewery and the town it’s located in. The small town between San Antonio and Houston has become something of a tourist attraction because of the beer, promoted in the state with a series of witty TV ads. Unlike the two Michigan breweries I’ve looked at so far in this series, Spoetzel has a lot of history. It was founded by Kosmos Spoetzel in 1909, Somehow it *ahem* even seemed to come through the Prohibition years A-OK.

Despite the popularity of the brand (now making over 6 million cases a year), it’s stayed in Shiner and every drop of their various brews come from that one spot. And a wide range it is. They are best-known for their Bock, which they note means “goat” hence the ram on their packaging, but they offer some other year-rounds including a Black lager, a light blond lager and Ruby, a grapefruit-infused lager. Although their bock seems like it would be a strong brew (as anyone who’s had authentic German or Dutch bocks would assume), it comes in at just 4.4% alcohol and a decidedly lighter flavor than its Euro cousins, seemingly in keeping with Texan tastes which seem to run towards beers lighter both in taste and alcohol strength.

As varied as those are, the more interesting choices from Shiner are typically the limited-time seasonals, such as a Pecan porter and a Smores-flavored one, both part of their winter package. The one I tried, Frost, is also a part of the winter sampler from them.

Spoetzel describe Frost as a “Dortmunder Style” beer. Dortmunders were originally brewed in Dortmund, Germany, and are closer to pilsners than anything else, although a little maltier and darker than most pilsners. The Texans go on to say Frost is a “deliciously distinctive seasonal (which) brings a hint of malty sweetness that quickly fades to show a crisp, hoppy character” perfect for frosty days. It comes in at 5.0% alcohol, about average overall but surprisingly a bit higher than most of the other offerings in the Shiner family.

This weekend, I opened the 12-ounce bottle and found it had quite a head when I poured it, although that quickly dissipated. It was a little cloudy and a deep golden color, as it were indicating what it was – a slightly more robust version of a normal lager.

I had it with some piping hot pepperoni pizza making for a nice late lunch. Now, perhaps like you, I’ve never been all that clear on the differences between the terms breweries love: “malty” and “hoppy.” But seems like the malty comes from the grain – wheat beers, for instance taste discernibly different than ones made from corn – and relate to how “smooth” the beer tastes and how sweet. The hops on the other hand, give it the character and bitterness (or lack of.)

Well, my first impression was of a rather ordinary beer but a little bitter. Seconds later, it actually seemed to leave a more bitter aftertaste. If there was a malty sweetness, I missed it.

Now, that’s not to say it was a bad beer. Not at all. It’s flavor and texture were decent, and preferable to some of the really watery light lagers so favored in these parts. But the aftertaste was a little on the strong and bitter side for my liking and it didn’t pair that well with the tanginess of the pizza sauce. I’d say this might be a beer better suited for having with a lighter, blander snack like plain potato chips or microwave popcorn.

Not a bad drink, but not one that stands out enough to make me likely to choose it again when there are so many fine brews out there left to sample. Overall, I give Frost a 6 out of 10 for flavor, 6 out of 10 for strength and


three out of five billygoats!