A Wee Road Trip

On a whim, spur of the moment, fly by the seat of our pants type situation our family took a trip to the western side of Michigan over Mother’s Day weekend. My husband very nonchalantly said to me one day that he would like to see the tulips in Holland, MI , and I was like, well let’s go! We had originally planned to go to Mackinaw for that weekend, so he already had the time off – we just switched our destination at the last minute. And I was really glad that we did! I love northern Michigan but that weekend would have been absolutely freezing – we were cold in Sauguatuck and Holland, but nothing like it would have been in Mackinac.

It was not easy finding reservations at the last minute, especially ones that were not $400 a night. We ended up staying outside of Holland, for which I was grateful, as it was nice to visit the tulip festival and have a place to retreat that was less crazy, especially with our four year old in tow. The hotel we stayed at was one of a few that are out that way that I have always wanted to stay at – the Saugatuck Retro Resort, which is a restored and renovated motor lodge from 1966. The decor is mid-century modern, which I love, and it was super clean. I am one of those weirdos about rooms and cleanliness and this place passed my inspection. I have a love apparently lately for vintage style travel and the Saugatuck Retro Resort did not disappoint. I only wish we could have been there later in the season as the motel offered a communal fire pit and a great looking pool, as well as grills for guest use. Definitely a place to remember for the future.

We left early, stopping only for road provisions at Avalon Bakery in Detroit for croissants and cookies and headed out west, destination Windmill Island in Holland. I was there once as a very little girl but I didn’t remember it. It was insanely beautiful that day, with a super blue sky and a riot of tulips everywhere. I didn’t expect all the people there who came strictly to take photos in the tulip gardens, decked out in particular outfits to strike a pose, although I could see why they would! Some people were very respectful of the flowers, while others tromped all over them trying to get the perfect picture, which was sad. One woman was screeching at her kids and changing her lenses repeatedly trying to get her shot, all while squashing tulips beneath her Hunters -it was pretty sad. For the most part though, people were there to enjoy the scenery and take in the tulips. We walked around, visited the windmill, and poked around the tiny Dutch village replica, where I bought Wyatt a teeny pair of wooden clogs and a wooden duck call. (he loves ducks..)

The Visitors Center told me that there were 4 million tulips planted around the city, which was mind-blowing! That is a ton of tulips. But the results were majestic. They lined every street along the curb, and great fields were planted in open spaces. It was certainly a visual treat. Our motelier told us that it is the biggest tourist event in Michigan, which I was not aware of. I haven’t checked this fact, but I could believe it by the sheer number of people who were there. It is just a small time frame in the spring, during the peak of tulip season, but they definitely make the most of it. We took in the sights and then left the city for a little family time away from the biggest crowds.

We wound up in Saugatuck, which is where we were staying anyway. In search of coffee, we bumbled into a newish looking brewery that was a hop, skip, and jump from our motel, thanks to Google literally giving us the closest place that coffee could be found. The Guardian Brewery was new and bright and clean, and the coffee was delicious, probably because they use it to make a coffee porter. And of course, while we were there, we sampled their menu, both food and beer! I had the asparagus and wild rice salad, which was so good, Billy had a grilled ham and cheese, and since they did not have chicken tenders for my picky eater, he had chips and guacamole, that we of course helped him eat. Everything was absolutely delicious. It was a bit of an early bird dinner/late lunch, which put us at a weird schedule, so we went back to our room and let Wyatt decompress and be a kid for a bit, before hopping back in the car and tooling around town, looking about. We had a lovely evening, sitting outside the motel later, in the gloaming, as my dad would say. The motel was empty at the point except for us, so we had the place to ourselves, so we let Wyatt use his duck call. It was just nice to sit out there with our tea and each other’s company.

The next morning we stayed off the beaten path, and had breakfast at a local diner called Vicki’s, where Wyatt proceeded to eat two orders of bacon and a little bit of pancakes. After filling up on toast and scrambled eggs and bacon, we went to the DeGraaf Nature Center and spent a good few hours there, watching birds and hiking around. We are big nature center people, and they had a wonderful one. Wyatt enjoyed all the animals that lived there, especially the two screech owls who talked to us. He wasn’t so sure about the giant rabbit though lol. He is such a bird kid already! He can imitate bird calls almost perfectly, it kind of amazes me honestly. We saw 6 new birds to check off our list, and the pretty white trilliums that bloom in the woods in the spring. We also spotted fiddlehead ferns near a small stream as well! I love their spiral shape as they grow. They also had a small trail of rocks, as I called it, and I was tickled to see that there was a stone called a puddingstone! I am not sure why, but I really liked its name. It just made me smile.

Wyatt was so ready to go back to the room for a bit and get his wiggles out and watch some well-deserved Daniel Tiger, so we went back there for a bit. We spent the rest of the night shopping our way through Saugatuck’s downtown, where I could have probably bought a billion things, but I ended up buying only a book of poems written by a local poet and writer. For dinner we went to The Butler, a tradition for us. It is situated right on the water, and this time, it had special meaning for me. My aunt, who passed away in February, loved this restaurant and would drive all the way across the state to eat there, and then come home after. I think it was more for the experience of it, to just take a road trip, eat, and come home, but it was something she did. It was a moody evening, raining but very peaceful, and we raised a glass to her memory.

The next morning was mother’s day morning, and when we drove into town for breakfast we saw all the ladies dressed up, surrounded by their families, going to their breakfasts. We didn’t have reservations anywhere of course, so we found an awesome little bakery by the water where we literally got the best cup of coffee we had all weekend, and bagels. We had a water view and the place to ourselves and I couldn’t have asked for anything more but that perfect moment with my two guys.

A Bird’s Eye View

2019-03-25Saturday was a warm, bright, sunny day – the perfect spring day really.

Good thing we waited until Sunday when it was chilly, cloudy and gray for our family hike! Lol. Oh well. We dressed warmly and headed out – we usually try not to let weather stop us, unless it is extreme weather, of course.

So we headed out, braving the overcast skies and the cold air. We had a purpose to our walk this time too – to try out our new Kelty Kid’s hiking backpack carrier. We didn’t have a ton of time either, which ended up being perfect because we found a new cool place to hike when we want just a short little saunter in the outdoors. It is close to our home, and in a wetland area, which we normally don’t hike in for some reason, even though we live in the Great Lakes State!

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The trail was short but we saw so much during our adventure! We heard the whistle of the red-winged blackbirds, back in town after their winter away; we saw sparrows and chickadees, flickering about, singing and chittering to us from their perches high up in the still bare branches. We saw a plethora of waterfowl, from swans to mallards to ring-neck ducks to buffleheads (I love that name!) We even saw a beaver quickly duck under the surface of the water just a few feet in front of us! This was pretty cool, since beaver have just really recently returned to our area after 150 years – a very good sign regarding the ecological state of our waterways!

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As I said, we had a mission Sunday, to try out the Kelty. I was so impatient to get out and get going honestly, the excitement to see how it was going to work for our family was making me antsy! For us, it is not just a convenience but world-changing. As Wyatt has cerebral palsy, and is making progress every day with his walking, but we still need a way to get outdoors and take longer hikes right now. In our lives before becoming parents, this was something Billy and I did regularly and for vacations. Trips to walk the Appalachian Trail, trails “Up North” in Michigan, those are fun good times to us. It is so important for us to continue this, and share this passion with our son. We have so many national parks we want to visit – we just need to be creative! As Wyatt is getting longer and bigger (not necessarily heavier lol!) carrying him just in our arms isn’t cutting it. And honestly, it’s not cutting it for him anymore either. He needs to be able to experience the woods and trees and the birds and everything a little differently too – this way, in the pack, he can see looking straight ahead of him, see as we see, a whole new perspective! He can also reach up and out to touch things, learning and experiencing the outdoors in a new way.  He even got to use his own binoculars to look for birds! We loved it, and so did he!! He had such a great time, riding around on his dad’s back. He didn’t want to get out honestly, and wanted us to keep going! And we would have had we had the time. However, much longer adventures are now in our future!

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As we walked, I could swear I heard the hooting of an owl somewhere, although Billy missed it so I could have imagined it. I didn’t imagine however, the Bald Eagle that soared overhead. They really are such majestic creatures. It was a perfect ending to our walk, one that signifies more freedom for our family, with a visit from a Bald Eagle.

Saturdays are for family

Saturday is our designated day for us, as much as we possibly can. Our weeks are so full, with work and school and therapy and appointments and cleaning and chores and all the stuff that comes along with living everyday. So we set Saturday aside as our day. The day we let things go, and just be together.

This past Saturday it was very much needed. It’s been an intense two weeks emotionally for me, and I do best when I get space and quiet to process things. We were predicted to have some crazy bad weather later that night through Monday morning, but when we left the house it was a brilliantly sunny day. A little chilly, but warm enough to get outside, walk around a bit, and soak up a little bit of sunshine.

We headed to Belle Isle in Detroit, somewhere we haven’t been for a while. The river was full of giant freighters, making their way through the Great Lakes, and people were running, biking, and two people were even playing hockey on the ice on one of the ponds. We took our time driving around, looking for birds. We eventually pulled into the nature center parking lot to get out of the car and stretch our legs a bit, and get some air and some of that sun. We walked on the trail behind the nature center, among the tall frozen grasses, the sounds of birdsong surrounding us.

 

Being out in the air was so restorative. You can take a deep breath, and feel yourself just relaxing and letting go of things that are bothering you, at least for a little while. And when you have two guys with you that look like lumberjacks, even better.

We of course popped inside the nature center after our walk. It was nice to warm up a bit, talk to the interpreters, and sit and watch the birds from the viewing area.

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And sometimes you see more than birds!

When we had hung out long enough, we bundled back into the car, shared a snack, and headed into the city, to one of our favorite bakeries, Avalon. If you are ever in Detroit, they make some fantastic bread and cookies. Usually Billy stops on his way home from work on Friday nights to get us fresh bread for Saturday morning breakfast, but he hasn’t had a chance lately. So we decided to get our bread for the week since we were already in town anyway.

I always want to go a bit crazy in there and buy everything, but I practice some restraint. This time we got a baguette, challah bread, a raisin bread loafling, an olive bread loafling (they were made from the dough that wasn’t enough to make a full loaf – so I am calling them loaflings..), a plain croissant, three cookies, and a peanut butter and chocolate brownie. I refrained from the Rose Latte which sounds amazing, and the chocolate croissant – this time at least! The sun was shining bright through the windows, it wasn’t crazy busy, and there was a man playing some music on his trumpet, so we stuck around a bit to listen and enjoy our cookies.

Eventually though, we had to head for home, but we did so with restored spirits and full bellies.

Hello, February!

Have any of you seen that meme that says “January was a tough year, but we survived”? That is pretty much how I am feeling. January was a rough month, but we made it. We were sick a lot, stuck inside, the weather trapped us indoors, and we didn’t get to do a lot of the things we planned. We did have a lot of good family time at home, but we are feeling a little stir crazy. We usually love to hike and be outdoors in the winter, but January kind of kicked our butt this year, including slamming us with a polar vortex on its way out the door. So hello February, we are glad to see you!

The arctic freeze last week was horrid, leaving us layering up inside, gathering all of our blankets, and in general causing us to be slugs. We were as toasty as could be, and then there was a fire in a nearby county that depleted natural gas reserves. We got an alert to turn our heat down to save resources so that we didn’t run out! That was a fun turn of events. Not only that, but the rest of the lower peninsula had to worry about losing electricity as well. Our city actually has its own power company, so we are generally not down long, so in the event of losing heat, we could have used an electric heater. Not fun, but doable. Thankfully it didn’t come to that though!

By the weekend, Wyatt and I were crawling the walls. When Billy got home from work on Friday, we ventured outside for the first time in days, and headed to one of our favorite restaurants, Joe’s Hamburgers. It is an eclectic mix of local history, hockey, and burgers and beer. Everyone must have had the same idea, as it was packed, even early in the evening when we went.

Saturday we ran a bunch of errands, then we got to play! We spent most of the day gone from the house – we went to the nature center, where Wyatt had a blast exploring. Then we took a long ride in the car, where Wyatt promptly fell asleep after having exhausted himself at the nature center. We stopped for pie to eat at home, drank some coffee, looked at the frozen tundra that Michigan had become, then turned the car toward home. My mother-in-law came over to watch little man so that we could get out for a bit the two of us, and so Billy and I went on a winter night hike through the woods followed by a bonfire and s’mores.

The night was perfectly clear and still and cold. There is nothing like the magic of being in a winter woods at night. Lucky us, as we started down the trail a majestic great horned owl chose to fly overhead, leaving his lady owl on their nest to keep their eggs warm. After our walk, we gathered around a warm bonfire, making s’mores and learning about the area, and sharing our own stories. I managed to eat three before calling it quits, getting marshmallow all over my gloves since I am perpetually messy, but the little boy who was there with his parents devoured six, and managed to keep his gloves marshmallow free!

The full moon this month is the snow moon, so called that because this was a time of heavy snow. Hopefully though, we are done with big snows around here! It is also a time for renewal, so we are taking this month to try to focus on things that renew us, as a family, and as individuals. I have been wanting to practice yoga again, as I used to go religiously before Wyatt, so that is a huge goal for me personally this month. As a family we are focusing on our garden – planning it, starting seeds if we need to, looking forward to the warmth of spring and the return of wild and bright colors.

Anyone else have any plans or goals for this month? Were you excited to see January go?

This journey began with a bear..

A Pooh Bear, to be specific.

My first introduction to the hills and dales and woods of England had to be Winnie the Pooh and his gang of friends. I read books, listened to records, watched the show, as they cavorted around the 100 Acre Woods, getting into scrapes, helping each other out, teaching me about friendship. I soaked it up, every bit, like Pooh and his precious honey.

Later, my mom gave me a set of James Herriot books one Christmas. This was probably the time I fell in love with the natural world of England. I read this series cover to cover, and although I did not always understand everything that was happening as I was kind of young still, I knew that there was something special happening. My suburban eyes were opened to another time, another world. a completely different way of life, that of a large animal country vet. I always loved animals, and these books made me laugh, but they also made me cry. Herriot’s love for his Yorkshire Dales made me love them too. These became books that I reread still to this day. Incidentally, my grandfather was born almost exactly to the day, one year before James Herriot, in the very same town of Sunderland, England. I like to think about them possibly being strolled about on the same sidewalks and into the same shops.

Later, I found Watership Down, not quite a book about the English countryside or woods, but nevertheless, these rabbits braved their way across many a hill and forest until they reached Watership Down. And is still my very favorite book today.

Somewhere in all this, I gave my heart to British nature writing – something I didn’t even realize I was completely avid about until a year or so ago, when I stumbled upon Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel. His poetic observations captured my imaginings, and my love of nature. Like Herriot, his love of his homeland and surroundings is quite evident in his descriptions, the beautiful imagery and words. Stempel describes himself in The Wood as a country writer, writing what he says he knows best. In Meadowland, the Private Life of an English Field, Stempel shares his field study in diary form of the life and death happenings that occur there, the flora, the fauna- the wildflowers, the foxes who seem to recognize him from his rambles, the hedgehogs and birds, to the smallest little insects.

Since then I have read The Glorious Life of the Oak, which is about exactly what you would think, the Oak, its significance to England’s history, folklore and poetry. I learned more than I thought I could ever learn about the Oak tree, which is quite alright, as our family holds acorns and oaks symbolically, as symbols of hope and strength. This Christmas, my husband gifted me The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood, and I have been savoring it, reading it slowly, but still I am almost done with this foray into an English wood.

As a nature lover, I was stunned to learn that the new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary decided to drop about forty words, all pertaining to nature. They deemed these words not essential, not used enough by children to warrant their place in the dictionary, and were replaced by tech words like blog, cut and paste, voicemail. The list of lost words included so many of my favorites things! Dandelion, acorn, bluebell, fern, magpie, otter, willow- all gone from the dictionary, but hopefully not from the minds of the people who use it. Author Robert MacFarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris have created their own book, a place for these words to live on, called The Lost Words. This book is amazingly beautiful, with gorgeous full page artwork illustrations, and poems designed to capture the readers mind and imagination, to keep the words and what they represent alive. It is one of my favorite books, and I love getting it out and looking through it with my son.

I imagine I will keep this up, reading more of Lewis-Stempel and MacFarlane and whoever else I run into on the way. They are amazing tributes to our natural world and inspirational, encouraging me in their way to get outside sometimes and enjoy the wonders of nature, away from my phone and my computer and television. To look and listen and watch and be a part of that world too. And maybe one day I’ll even get to England!