Monday, April 22, 2024


Elijah the Prophet, from a 16th century Haggadah. The traditional belief is that Elijah will herald the coming of the Messiah.
To welcome Elijah a cup of wine is left on the Seder table -- "Elijah's cup" -- and near the end of the
ritual, someone opens the door, inviting him in, all hoping that his arrival will bring peace to mankind.
From the Haggadah: “This is the promise — not only once did they arise to destroy us, rather in every generation they rise to destroy us. But the Holy One Blessed Be He will save us from their hands.”

This evening, April 22, is the first Seder, the traditional meal that celebrates the beginning of Passover. The Passover holiday is celebrated mainly in people’s homes, though there are sometimes communal meals as well, especially for those who are separated from their families such as students who live away from home. The “Haggadah” is the book of rituals, readings, and prayers that is used for the service that accompanies the meal. I suspect that the above quotation is on a lot of people’s minds this year, along with the irony of a wish for a peaceful world.

Although not religiously observant, we usually celebrate Passover in our home or with family or friends. I’ve written about it many times. Because we had a family visit last week, we ate Passover food early, so here are some pictures illustrating traditional foods that we enjoyed ahead of time.

“Conundrum” is a great name for a wine at Passover.

Wine is one of the traditional items on the Passover table. During the ceremony, all participants drink four glasses of wine at specific times as the Haggadah requires. The start of the ritual is the reading of The Four Questions, asking “Why is this night different from all other nights,” and beginning the explanation of the celebration of the Exodus from Egypt as presented in the Biblical book of Exodus. Since a conundrum is a puzzling question I thought the wine was very aptly named. (Note: for those who observe the kosher dietary laws, this is not kosher wine.)

Two foods that are part of the ritual: Matzo, the unleavened bread eaten as the Israelites fled Egypt,
and Charoset, a combination of grated apples and nuts, representing the mortar that the enslaved Israelites used to build the Pyramids.

Our table setting for our pre-Seder meal.

Symbolic foods: egg, parsley, horseradish, wine.

Another food that’s not required but is traditional: matzo ball soup.

Gefilte fish is not part of the Haggadah ritual, but it’s a key dish in many people’s Passover meal.

Recipes using dried fruit such as prunes are a Passover tradition.

Blog post and photos © 2024 mae sander

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Reading and Enjoying Spring Weather

 Julia Alvarez: The Cemetery of Untold Stories

Julia Alvarez is a wonderful story teller! In this novel, a successful New York writer decides to return to her childhood land: the Caribbean country of Dominica — which is also the birthplace of Alvarez. The character brings with her many boxes of notes and materials from novels that she hasn’t written, and creates a “cemetery” for these unrealized projects and the characters they were going to develop. She commissions a talented sculptor make a monument to each persona whose story she didn’t finish. 

The characters who now inhabit these monuments come to life and tell their stories to a local woman who has never read fiction (in fact, she can’t read at all). I loved reading these intertwined tales, along with the story of the illiterate woman herself, and of her family, which also has some members who have become successful American immigrants.

There’s so much in this novel — themes of identity; themes of chances and of opportunities both taken and missed; themes of good and bad family relationships; and themes of the history of the island, which is divided into two countries: Dominica and Haiti. Really good reading!

Claude Izner: Murder on the Eiffel Tower

This is a historical novel that takes place in Paris in 1889 during the great exposition for which the Eiffel Tower had just been built. The painstaking historical detail in the novel is fascinating — I assume it’s accurate, but I didn’t check. For example: 

“I was lucky enough to see the exhibition of Japanese prints organised by the Van Gogh brothers. The Great Wave by Hokusai made a real impression on me.” (p. 17)

“The Colonial Exhibition was made up of numerous buildings, either standing alone or grouped into indigenous villages. Victor did not wait to look at the seven pediments of the temple of Angkor but hurried towards the red structure of the Colonial Palace, an architectural mish-mash of Norwegian, Chinese and French Renaissance styles topped by green roofing.” (p. 60)

The food details are especially fun:

“Fried-fish vendors and left-over food sellers were setting up their stalls in the wind. Dishes of beetroot sat alongside rounds of cold black pudding.” (p 161) 
“In the kitchen, Germaine, with tousled hair and apron askew, was stirring the contents of a saucepan with a wooden spoon. Victor sniffed, recognising the aroma of partridge and cabbage in a cognac sauce.” (p. 207) 

Unfortunately, as a detective story this novel is too complicated. One murder after another piles up, and one man becomes obsessed with the murders and tries to figure out how they are linked and who is the perpetrator. At a frantic pace, he follows one suspect after another, becoming exhausted and confused. He also falls in love with a woman who is also enmeshed in the goings-on. He keeps having migraine headaches, or being hit over the head, or being baffled and overtired, or pursuing the love interest instead of the mystery. He’s always trying to think of some elusive insight that he can’t quite bring to the surface. There’s too much of this type of description:

“An idea was taking hold, but just out of his reach. He put on his frock coat as his mind worked on. … His memory was still teasing him: it was something to do with a name he had glimpsed recently, a name … But what name?” (p. 203)

I found the author’s mystery skills somewhat clumsy, and the piling-on of details and events somewhat unbelievable. Compared to Agatha Christie or other classic writers of the twentieth century, Izner just isn’t quite as good at creating a plot, embedding clues, or building suspense. I’m thinking of the well-formed detectives, victims, by-standers and witnesses in the novels of Martin Walker or Elly Griffiths or Donna Leon, and I just don’t find Izner’s focus and clarity to measure up.

Spring Pictures from This Week

Sunrise outside my bedroom window.

Just before the rain.

The beaver lodge at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
Last year, the beaver built a dam across the stream, but a winter storm washed it away.

Michigan students painting “The Rock” — maybe in anticipation of finals during the next two weeks.

The magic spoon turns purple when the frozen ice cream touches it.
After a spring walk in the woods, we stopped for ice cream.

I enjoyed a scoop of each of these flavors.

Blog post and all photos © 2024 mae sander
Shared with Sunday Salon at Readerbuzz.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

For Valerie-Jael

Valerie-Jael at the blog Bastelmania often posts photos of the ephemeral chalk drawings by Ann Arbor artist David Zinn. As I live in Ann Arbor, I’ve managed to see a few of these drawings in the thirty-odd years that he’s been providing them for the entertainment of our city. During these years, he was also pursuing a career as a cartoonist, illustrator, and commercial artist. However, as the drawings are mainly made in chalk, they don’t last very long.

In 2014, David Zinn painted a magnificent — and long-lasting — mural on the wall of a downtown parking garage, depicting Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain. Here it is, as I recently saw it while walking up Fourth Street:

Gene Kelly and the lamppost, singing in the rain. I’ve showed it before, but I want Valerie-Jael to see it again.

As always with David Zinn’s work, there’s a tricky part. The lamppost is not where it seems to be.

Here’s my brother Arny with Gene Kelly and the lamppost: showing how it really is.

From David Zinn’s website: the artist chalking one of his more typical works.

David Zinn says of himself: “David Zinn has been creating original artwork in and around Ann Arbor, Michigan since 1987. For more than twenty years, he freelanced for a wide variety of commercial clients while simultaneously sneaking “pointless” art into the world at large. … David’s temporary street drawings are composed entirely of chalk, charcoal and found objects, and are always improvised on location through a process known (to almost no one) as ‘ephemeral pareidolic anamorphosis.’”

Blog post © 2024 mae sander 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Birding in Costa Rica: Len’s Presentation

The Washtenaw Bird and Nature Alliance (WBNA), formerly called the Audubon Society, invited Len to give a talk about our recent birding trip to Costa Rica. The talk — which included a number of our photos and additional material about Costa Rica and its bird life — took place Wednesday, April 17 at the Ann Arbor District Library. You can watch this talk on the library’s Youtube Channel here. 

Len and the library tech support person preparing for the talk.
The library has excellent video projection equipment.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

A Heron Rookery and Some Turtles


The herons are nesting at Kent Lake MetroPark.


A Few Smaller Birds

And the Cranes

Photos © 2024 mae sander

Monday, April 15, 2024

Beautiful Weather at Last

Cooking and Eating Outdoors

Finally, the weather has become warm and sunny. Sunday we ate lunch outdoors, and cooked dinner on the grill. Sitting at the outdoor table is such a pleasure after months of cold and rainy weather. Will this last? I hope so.

Lunch in the back yard: a tortilla casserole and some La Croix water.

While Len was making a fire, Carol, Nat, and I enjoyed great bread that Len had baked earlier in the day.
A ray of sunshine descends to the bread like the light in a medieval or renaissance painting.

Some sherry seemed like the perfect drink with the fresh bread.

Marinated chicken and red bell pepper on skewers: first grilling of the season.

Carol baked an orange and almond pie. The red fruit slices are blood orange.

Spring in the Arb

Saturday we took our first walk in the Arboretum for months. We found that the boardwalk is currently under construction, and that there’s still a huge project to remove many large trees that fell in a major storm last year. Despite these issues, the woods and the river were very pretty while we were walking, and we saw quite a few different species of birds. My favorites were a bluebird and two red-tailed hawks.

Blog post and photos © 2024 mae sander