Category Archives: vacation

Matthaei Botanical Gardens

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  If like me you enjoy taking photographs of flowers and/or nature, this is a wonderful place to visit.

Matthaei has several options to fit everyone’s needs or desires.  There are several trails that are open sunrise to sunset seven days a week, plus the conservatory, garden store, lobby and display gardens are open from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm.  Admission is free; they do have a donation box inside the conservatory, and there is a reasonable parking fee of only $1.50 per hour or a maximum of $5.00 per day.  With the size of the venue I opted to pay the daily rate immediately._DSC6631

I arrived at 8:30 am.  It was quiet, with only a few people quietly walking out onto some of the trails.  I grabbed my camera and tripod and decided to walk the Sue Reichert Discovery Trail, which circles Willow Pond.   This trail is only 4/10 of a mile, which they estimate to be a ten minute walk.  I meandered slowly, taking pictures and stretched it into almost an hour, taking time to sit down a couple times on benches that were available.

The difference in time is whether you walk like the average person or walk like a nature photographer, skimming the area for possible subjects to photograph.  Doing so can make a fast walk take quite a while and is why I prefer to partake in such places either alone or with other photographers who understand the time frame needed to fully enjoy the area.

I decided to do the outside gardens first, and in looking over the map not only did I not go up into the Children’s Garden, but I also missed the Perenial Garden, Grower’s Garden, MiSo House and Bonsai and Penjing Garden.  I started in the Gateway Garden, a relaxing spot with benches, rocking chairs and fountains.  I took photographs of flowers there, in the Marie Azary Bock Garden and in the Sitting Gardens before meandering down the Commons, which are bordered by two other gardens on the east and bench seating on the west.

The commons leads you into the Alexandra Hicks Herb Knot Garden.  Here you will find chipmunks scampering back and forth amongst the plants and sometimes climbing up on them as well, but trying to capture them in a photo is difficult.  They are quick little guys!  Once I completed my photo rounds of the herb garden I strolled between that and the perennial garden and went through a vine/plant covered tunnel which led to the opening of the children’s garden.  I had the option of going up into the children’s garden or taking a nature trail around the children’s garden.  What I opted to do was take a short trail not shown on the map into the Oak Openings Garden.

There was nothing to attract my photographer’s eye in the Oak Openings Garden with the exception of wild strawberry plants that had begun bearing fruit.  It was the bright red of the fruit that grabbed my eye as I looked down to scan the ground for photo subjects.  I followed the trail through the Upland Woodland Garden and across into the Wet Woodland Garden.  Unfortunately the hot weather we had been having left nothing  wet, it was, on that day, better termed a dry woodland.  Nothing caught my eye for photographs, so I proceeded into the Great Lakes Garden, which led me into one end of the Prairie Gardens, then the Coastal Gardens and back up where I started in the Gateway Garden.   Unfortunately a group was there partaking in the rocking chairs or I would have grabbed one for a nice relaxing break.

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By now I had been wandering for a few hours and decided to take a snack break before visiting the Conservatory.  One thing to keep in mind, the conservatory does not sell meals, only a limited selection of snack food, candy and beverages.  If you plan to be at Matthaei Botanical Gardens for several hours you may want to consider packing a cooler with beverages and lunch or snack food.   I had not planned that far in advance, so I purchased a small trail mix and flavored water.  There are one or two small tables where you can sit inside to consume your snack, and there are also tables available outside on the deck.  Food and beverages are not allowed inside the conservatory.

The Conservatory has three main areas, the Tropical House, the Temperate House and the Desert House.  Here you will find many plants and blooms to view and/or photograph.  On this day there was a water Lilly in full bloom, Cocoa trees, pineapples growing, sausage trees with their “fruit” hanging in abundance, and numerous other flowers and plants.  The Desert House has the majority of their cactus growing in raised display beds, making it easy to enjoy and photograph the wide variety.  I’m sure this was also done to preserve the fingers of little ones who may be touring with their parents.  Some of those cactus spines are pretty long and wicked looking!

I spent about five hours touring the trail, gardens and conservatory, and I didn’t see it all.  Keep in mind I was walking slow, took several rest breaks on the numerous benches that are available throughout the property, and was taking photographs.  The average person might tour it at a much faster pace.

I would like to go back and walk some of the trails I chose to skip, plus with anything growing outside the gardens and trails are a constantly changing canvas with growing seasons and weather.  If going they do recommend appropriate footwear for walking the natural areas and that you stay on paths due to poisonous plants such as poison sumac and poison ivy growing in natural areas.  The Massauga rattlesnake also inhabits the area.  I did not encounter any slithering reptiles, but did enjoy the “music” of unseen frogs as I walked around the pond.

If you are in the Ann Arbor area I highly recommend a visit to University of Michigan’s Mattaei Botanical Gardens.

 

 

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Filed under Activities, birds, Botanical Gardens, bugs, Discoveries, education, environmental, exploration, flowers, insects, Life is a Melting Pot, Michigan, nature, nature center, Photography, spring, summer, tourism, travel, vacation

A Murphy’s Law Week

There is a saying “If Anything Can Go Wrong It Will” that is referred to as Murphy’s Law. This past week has had an assortment of bumbles that were not of major proportion and actually had positive outcomes.  When talking to my son on the phone about one of them his response was “so basically you did it all wrong but it was still good.”  Murphy's Law - If anything can go wrong it will

Murphy’s Law #1:  I cut a recipe out of a magazine that I thought sounded good.  Thinking I had all the ingredients except broccoli, which I purchased at the store, I pushed ahead with preparations.  A good plan…or so I thought.  The recipe called for Hillshire Farms smoked sausage; I had their Polska Kielbasa so I used that instead.  Next 2 cloves of garlic crushed, I substituted minced garlic.  A large red bell pepper, I had green so the dish wasn’t as colorful but the flavor is equal.  One package of frozen broccoli; I had purchased fresh.  The fresh seemed like a huge amount so I guesstimated how much to throw in.    Tomato sauce, didn’t have any of that either so I measured out an equivalent amount of condensed tomato soup.  No mozzarella cheese in the refrigerator so I used my taco cheese.  On a positive note I did have the instant rice, olive oil and one yellow onion.

The Benefit:  Despite all the substitutions it tasted great and I had leftovers to use for lunch at work and dinner when I got home late.  My son asked me if I wrote down my substitutions so I could make it the same way next time.   It might be easier to re-write the entire recipe!

Murphy’s Law #2 happened when my cable TV box stopped working and my provider informed me it would be $35-$70 to have a service call.  This was the second time the box went out and I told them I wasn’t paying for a service call, I would bring in the box and decide then whether to replace or turn in and cancel TV.

The Benefit:  They could suddenly provide me with a free service call and have the technician call me about one-half (1/2) hour before arrival so I could leave work to meet him at the house.    That led to Murphy’s Law #3.

Murphy’s Law #3:   The day I was to have the service call on my cable TV I received an automated call at work giving me a two-hour block for arrival.  I held for a live person and was informed that they do not make personal phone calls, only the automated system does it.   I explained what I had been told on the phone originally and she said tech’s can’t make calls.  I responded that was not what I was told, that no one would be at the house unless I received a call, and if it doesn’t get handled I will bring in the box and cancel the service, at which point I hung up.

The benefit:  Ten minutes later the service tech called and said he could meet me at my house. That lead to Murphy’s Law #4.

Murphy’s Law #4:  The cable technician and I both anticipated this being a quick 20-30 minute service call/repair.  He ended up at my house working four (4) hours to resolve all issues.

The Benefit:  Numerous problems were discovered which resulted in the replacement of all cables coming into my house, replacement of weird splits to the cable when it was run in the basement, adjustment of the bundle of cords behind the TV putting too much weight on the HDMI TV input and causing problems, replacement of the TV box twice.  My original wasn’t working and was extremely hot, and the first replacement didn’t work.  Four hours later the TV and internet were both working faster and smoother.

Murphy’s Law #5:  I received a telephone call confirming my post-op surgical follow-up appointment, but the time they gave me was an hour later than I scheduled.  The girl found where they did give me the 10:30 slot, but they had keyed it into their computer as 11:30, so she confirmed me for 10:30.  A few minutes later someone else called and said that they had keyed it into their computer wrong, but were heavily booked and if I came in at 10:30, I might not get called until 11:30.  I had booked the appointment six (6) weeks in advance and was not happy.  I asked about coming in earlier, which they were able to do.

The Benefit:  I arrived for a 9:15 am appointment and my name was called almost immediately.  I had X-rays taken, saw the intern doctor, saw the surgeon, and was out the door and on my way to work by 9:40 am.

Murphy’s Law #6:  After analyzing and contemplating for over a week I made my decision on which cell phone to upgrade to and went onto the Verizon website to order, only to find that although it is listed on their website it is not available and they do not have an anticipated availability date.  I didn’t want to wait indefinitely so checked to see if that phone was available elsewhere.  It was, but I either had to pay for it upfront in its entirety or pay interest if I financed it and then it would have had to be serviced through them instead of my cell phone provider.  Ugghhh, back to Verizon’s website I went.

The Benefit:  I decided to get the same brand, just one step down, which was a savings.  The only feature I lost in doing so was the shatterproof shield.  It came with free 2-day arrival and I had it shipped to my work location.  Added Benefit:  It arrived one day earlier than anticipated.

Murphy’s Law #7:  I had shopped and planned several meals to prepare throughout the week, but didn’t get them made due to getting home from work late and not wanting to cook at 7:30 to 8:00 pm.

The Benefit:  I made everything over the weekend and ended up with a batch of leftovers:  stuffed peppers, spaghetti, and chicken noodle soup to get me through the following week.

Murphy's Law - the full versionMurphy’s Law #8:  It has been a crazy couple of weeks at work.  Friday was like a triple Monday.  Throughout the week things had come up that took priority and pushed other things back.  I ended the week feeling burned out and more buried then when the week began.

The Benefit:  I work for someone who understands the pressure and commented that we have both been going crazy, are staying afloat but both need to plan vacation time or we will both burn out.  Added Benefit:  I like to take time off in small blocks and have some short outings/trips planned over the next few months.

Murphys’ Law #9:  I went from an IPhone to a Droid, which results in a learning curve.  First problem was when I was trying to make the transfer from one phone to the other.  I got the IPhone shut down and the Droid on, but it told me it couldn’t be used until I completed some set-up steps and I couldn’t get the steps to work.  I ended up spending 1-1/2 hours on the phone with tech-support to complete the steps.   Thought all was okay, but ran into a problem at work when I couldn’t figure out how to answer the phone.  Then on the second day every time someone posted on Facebook or sent any type of message my phone was playing music really loud, and I couldn’t get the notifications to stop or sound to go lower.  Embarrassing!

The Benefit:  I like the new phone and features not available on my previous model.  I am still on a learning curve but will figure it out eventually.

Murphy’s Law #10:  Saturday I was going to the drive-thru at the bank so wore a sweatshirt and no make-up assuming no one would see me.  I decided to drive through the lot at the car dealership and see what they had in the models I was considering, thinking the dealership was closed on Saturdays.  Wrong!  I got out of the car and was looking at one car when a salesman walked up.   He must have figured any female standing in the rain looking at a vehicle was likely interested in buying.  So there I was in an old sweatshirt, no makeup, hair frizzy from the rain, pricing out vehicles and test-drove one while my vehicle was being appraised for trade-in.

The Benefit:  I got a good trade-in value on my car, was able to lower my monthly payment by leasing instead of buying, and now have a larger vehicle with more room and more perks.

Remember:  If anything can go wrong it will, but if you look for the positive in each situation you will find it and reap its rewards.

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Filed under Activities, Coping, decisions, Discoveries, exploration, habit, Kitchen, Life Changing, Life is a Melting Pot, Meals, nutrician, vacation, work

A Year Of Changes

learn-free-to-be-meIf you have been a reader for a while you know that my husband, Ron,  passed away December 7, 2015 and since that time I have been adjusting to living on my own.  In reflecting on myself now, plans for the future and introspection of the past I have learned a few things.

I am capable of living alone, and doing it comfortably.  When I met Ron I was 19 and living at home with my parents.  I got married,  moved in with Ron and had never lived alone.  I originally found the idea of living solo terrifying but had no choice.    What I have learned is that living on my own has its benefits.  I can set the thermostat where I want and it stays there.  I can blast the radio at 2 am if I chose without having to worry about disturbing anyone else.  I can eat what I want when I want and not have to worry about anyone else.  I can re-arrange and hang photos and other artwork on the walls, removing things that were never my choice to begin with and adding new items that appeal to me.   I can move, add,  eliminate or change anything I chose without wondering if another person is going to like the change.

learn-to-be-happy-aloneAlthough I never paid attention to our finances and had no interest in knowing about them, I am perfectly capable of paying bills, applying for mortgage modifications, listing property for sale, and making decisions on financial assets.   I’m not blindly doing what Ron told me to do as he was dying.  I’m evaluating my own circumstances and making a decision that I feel comfortable with.   My goal for the future is to learn how the stock market and investments work, to understand how to diversify and what everything means  so I can make informed choices.  Hopefully  I will get a grasp on this within the next decade.  I’m really walking in uncharted territory here.

I can now run a riding lawn mower, a weed wacker, call a plumber, take vehicles in for routine maintenance, find and hire repair persons for things such as air conditioning. However I have no intention of learning to run the snowblower.  That thing is just too big.  I’ll kill myself shoveling first.  I even look at the Harbor Freight and Tractor Repair sales flyers now in case there is something I need.  Okay, I’ll admit my big purchase this year was two tarps, but we all have to start somewhere.  learn-dance-in-the-rain

One big surprise, I like to cook.  I know that sounds funny after 34 years of marriage, but I thought I didn’t like cooking.  I have been cooking for myself for a year now and I realize  that I like it.  For the majority of our marriage Ron did all the cooking.  Over the years I told people didn’t like doing day-to-day rush home from work an cook a meal, but I liked doing the larger family meals.  I recently said those words to someone but later in the evening it occurred to me that the statement isn’t true.  I don’t mind cooking for myself at all.  I love grilling entire meals in the summer months.  So why the change in my thoughts?

learn-something-newWhat I have discovered is that it wasn’t the cooking I disliked, it was that Ron always had a criticism of some sort and tended to hover, questioning why I did things the way I did, telling me I should do things differently than I did.  Nothing was ever quite good enough, there was always a “why didn’t you…”  Basically, he thought I should cook just  like him.  After a while I tired of the negativity and simply walked away and left it to him.  He cooked, I cleaned up, and it worked.

Since Ron’s passing I have discovered that I enjoy cooking.  I like throwing foods together to see what I like, mixing different combinations.  If they are all watching from above there are three cooks in heaven that are probably surprised at what they see.

I would say Ron is probably shocked at the things I fix; that I enjoy the cooking and especially like grilling.  My Mother-in-Law is probably happy to see me not measuring, just dumping in many instances.  I learned early in my marriage that if you called her for a recipe she didn’t measure, it was  “till it looks right.”  My father was a great cook.  When he saw me go into the basement and gather an assortment of ingredients, throw them into a pot and end up with a soup he was probably going “hell ya, that’s the way to cook.”  One of my greatest memories is when he cleaned out the refrigerator and made “chili” with the leftovers.  How many people have eaten chili with spaghettio’s floating in it?  I have!learn-who-you-are

When it comes to traveling alone I have mixed feelings.  It is nice because if I want to wander around and/or make frequent stops to take pictures I can do that without any complaints.  Ron and I were both photographers and did that all the time, but the average person does not take pleasure in such activities or delays.

On the other hand, traveling alone can be lonely.   If taking in a tourist attraction, such as wandering a museum or park, you are always alone.  No one to talk with, share discoveries with.   You are always eating alone, and so I always dine with a book.  There is no one sharing your hotel room, no one to sleep with. Maybe we shouldn’t go there.  Let’s just leave it at that.

So learning about me happened by learning to live alone.  What a difference a year has made.  The good, the bad, the indifferent.  What have I learned? I had a fantastic marriage.  I will have a fantastic future.  Different than I planned, but that’s okay.  I have made decisions that a year ago I would not have made.  I have made changes in my life that a year ago I would not have made.  Life was different then.  I was different then.  I am happy with my life, and that is all that matters.  Whatever happens, whatever life throws in my direction, I am ready.  Bring it on!

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Filed under anniversary, Coping, death, decisions, Discoveries, exploration, Family, food, habit, home, Life Changing, Life is a Melting Pot, marriage, Meals, memoir, mind, reality, time, vacation

Sleep In Old-Fashioned Elegance

I arrived a few minutes past the designated check-in time.  Even though I was late and had to ring the bell I was greeted by Frank with a smile and friendly hello.  He gave me a set of keys to my room and the front door.   There was no pressure to immediately produce a credit card or sign paperwork.  I was told that would be handled at check-out.

Frank gave me a tour of the house so I would know where to find amenities such as a refrigerator, microwave, coffee and tea, and a plate of home baked cookies.   He pointed out a buzzer on the main floor that could be used to alert he and/or his wife, Cheryl, that assistance was needed.  Frank then carried my suitcase up the steps and showed me my room and bathroom.  Because my room had a private bathroom down a hall, plush robes were hanging in the closet to use if needed.

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MacLeod House features a large front porch with seating and group of apple and pear trees in the side yard.  A spacious back yard in this country setting provides a peaceful atmosphere for relaxing or sleeping.  Photo copyright 2016 Grace Grogan.

Cheryl came out to meet me before I left for dinner.  She provided me with the time range for breakfast, told me what she was planning to serve each of the days, and inquired as to whether I had any dietary restrictions and if the planned menu met with my approval.  It was friendly, relaxed, courteous.   There are no frazzled workers, elevator waits, loud kids or drunken patrons navigating the halls at 3 am.  It was peaceful, quiet, relaxing.

The home is decorated in antiques.  Furniture, photos, bedding, lamps, decorations, all reflect a bygone era.  It is as if you have stepped back to a time of elegance and beauty.  The old-style lamps in the bedroom give it a relaxing ambiance that no modern light will ever provide.  I enjoyed relaxing in one of the chairs in my room each night, munching on a cookie and reading for a bit.  When I was ready to climb into bed I flipped on the TV for a bit before dozing off.  There is no street noise, no traffic.  The quiet took me into a deep slumber.

Morning greeted me with a bathroom stocked with home-style towels, washcloths, bath rugs, and shower gel.  None of the harsh white, hotel style bath accessories and cosmetics carrying a hotel logo here.  On a table on the second floor landing are  brochures of local attractions and a basket of toiletries in case a guest is in need of something.

Once I was showered and dressed for my day I headed down to the dining area for breakfast.  I found one couple there enjoying their meal.  Another couple joined us a few minutes later.  Cheryl prepared our breakfasts as we arrived.  French toast with creme cheese and peaches, served with sausage links on day one, omelets and thick toast with jams on the second.  Coffee, tea, orange juice and water were available, as were breakfast breads.    It was pleasant talking with other guests, learning where everyone was from, how long they plan to stay, where they have dined in the area, and sights they have taken in.  A nice pleasant way to start the day.

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By now you may realize that my stay was at a bed and breakfast, more specifically MacLeod House in Newberry, Michigan.  This was my first time staying at a B & B and I loved the experience.  I will definitely look into this type of lodging when traveling in the future.  Being a solo female traveler, I felt so much more secure in this environment than I do in a hotel or motel.    No large parking lots, elevator rides and long hallways to navigate alone.  It is a cozy, friendly atmosphere.

When I made my reservations I was told that I would need to change rooms from one night to the next due to a prior reservation.  It was handled easily with me packing up my bags before I left in the morning for my day out.  When the rooms were cleaned my bags were moved to the new room.  This turned out to be a wonderful opportunity because it allowed me to stay in two different rooms, each with their own unique decorating scheme.   My first night I was in the Rose Room, which I found cozy and inviting.  This room had a private bath down a small hall; room amenities included plush robes to use if needed.  My second night was in the Gold Room, which was a bit larger and had a private attached bath with a footed tub shower.  They also offer a suite, which I did not personally view.  I have no idea which room I will select the next time I visit that area, as each is unique and inviting.

Newberry is near many local attractions such as Taquamenon Falls, Oswald Bear Ranch, Ste. Saint Marie, and Pictured Rocks.  I highly recommend checking them out the next time you are traveling in Michigan’s upper peninsula.

MacLeod House
6211 County Road 441
Newberry, Michigan  49868
Phone:  (906) 293-3841
Email:  fcicala@up.net
Website:  Macleod House Bed and Breakfast

 

 

 

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Filed under Life is a Melting Pot, Michigan, reality, travel, Upper Penninsula, vacation

What is a Vacation?

You may consider my title a strange question, but I think it is worth exploring.  I was recently reading a posting from my Facebook memories feed about the planning of my itinerary for a trip my husband and I were planning to go on.  One of the comments on the post was that I needed to relax, it was a vacation.  That got me thinking, what is a vacation?Vacation - go someplace you have never been

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary a vacation is a period of time that a person spends away from home, school, or business usually in order to relax or travel.  That sounds simple enough, but is it?    People vacation in a wide range of ways, and the trick is to find people who like to travel and relax in the same manner you do.  It also may mean you need to make adjustments to the way you travel in order to accommodate everyone’s desires and interests.

My husband, Ron, and I always traveled with an itinerary.  I read tourist books and mapped out our trips.  I knew what we were doing each and every day, and quite frequently we were up with an alarm clock to make sure we arrived at places when they opened to get a jump on the day.  That is how our kids grew up.    There were many people that thought we were nuts, but then those same people would say “wow, you saw/did a lot on your trip.”  Well yes, that is the result of planning and being on the go.

We would hear people talk about their vacations, traveling somewhere and then spending a good portion of their time sitting around a pool, or on the beach, sleeping in late and doing a lot of nothing.  People would go camping and spend the majority of their time sitting around the campground, chatting with other campers, sitting around bonfires, etc.  When Ron and I heard vacations such as those being described we would think “how boring.”

Vacation - Life is a TripSo which is the proper vacation?  They both are.  A vacation should be whatever you want it to be.  Do what makes the days fun-filled and relaxing for you and your travel companions.   People are unique and everyone has their own set of needs.  What is good for you may drive me bonkers; what is right for me may leave you feeling stressed and exhausted.

Then I started wondering how my vacation plans may be affected by the fact that my husband has passed and I am now alone.  Ron was always a morning person — his feet hit the floor and he was off and running.  I like to get up and see and do a lot, but I frequently start my day at a slower pace than he liked.    I think I will find a balance for myself that is similar to what I have always done, but maybe a bit more relaxed.  Whatever I end up doing, it will be the same.  It will be different.  It will be me.  That is what a vacation should be.

 

 

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Filed under Cleaning, exploration, habit, Life is a Melting Pot, nature, play, summer, travel, vacation

Prepping for Vacation is Work

My husband and I are taking a long weekend to attend the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’ve come to the conclusion that preparing to take a trip is exhausting.  I want to get my desk caught up at work because I will be off Friday and Monday, so I’ve been getting up and going into work an hour earlier than normal each day this week, and then staying 30-45 minutes longer than normal.

Then once I get home I have other prep to do.  We are doing strictly carry-on luggage, so had to pare down our camera gear considerably to make sure we could get that in.  Of course packing for 3-4 days in an airline regulation size bag is tricky, but I think I’ve got it workable.  Then of course the bag to go under my seat with a book, travel vouchers, camera, camera gear, etc.  Could it get any more complicated?

Yes it can, our flight time is so early in the morning that I realized we are going to have to get up and on the road around the time I normally go to bed.  I’m excited, but I have a feeling it is going to be an exhausting trip.  Being photographers we don’t want to miss any photo ops so will be up and on the field bright and early when it opens, and then be shooting all the way through the event.  I’ve discovered I can’t fit my tripod into my carry on luggage, so I’m bummed about that as there will be fireworks each night, but I’ll manage somehow.

So, is travel worth it if you have to wear yourself out in the preparation?  Yes, It always is, and it will be this time as well,  However as I sit here typing this post and realizing how tired I am from this screwed up week I truly do believe that Prepping for Vacation is Work!

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Filed under Festivals, Life is a Melting Pot, travel, vacation

Bear of a Week

Photo taken at Oswald Bear Ranch.  Copyright 2015 Grace Grogan.

Photo taken at Oswald Bear Ranch. Copyright 2015 Grace Grogan.

I hope everyone had a fun, relaxing 4th of July and are rolling into what finally feels like some summer weather here in Michigan.  My life has been a whirlwind.  I haven’t processed the photos from our trip north to Newberry, in Mchigan’s upper peninsula, where we visited Oswald Bear Ranch and Tahquamenon Falls.I’m including a couple teaser photos in this post just for fun.

Tahquamenon Falls.  Copyright 2015 Grace Grogan.

Tahquamenon Falls. Copyright 2015 Grace Grogan.

Of course we had 4th of July last weekend, and now I am only working 1/2 day on Thursday (July 9th) and then heading straight from work to Grayling, Michigan for a girls weekend with my sister and two cousins.  It should be a fun, relaxing weekend and I am looking forward to it.     Here’s wishing everyone a great week.

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Filed under Family, vacation

Preserve the Memories

Every person has moments that are uniquely memorable.  They are experiences that make you laugh, make you smile, and you think you will never forget them.  To a certain degree you don’t forget, but generally the memory is tucked away, filed in the back of your brain and rarely shared with anyone again. Memories - random memories that make me smile

Writers are the exception to this because they tend to put things in writing.  Journals, family letters, scrapbooks, blogs, articles and books all contain snippets of a writer’s memory.  The average person often looses those memories.  They may post them on a social media sight such as Facebook, but eventually the memory is lost and forgotten.    This is a sad loss, because your children, grandchildren and others should be able to someday enjoy the joy in whatever happened.

I recently flipped though a notebook of newsletters I have sent to family members over the years. Flipping through that notebook I was reminded of things not forgotten, but tucked away in my brain.    I encourage everyone to preserve their memories in written form for future generations to enjoy.  It doesn’t have to be something extraordinary, just a simple diary or journal will serve the purpose.  Years from now you can revisit those memories on your own, or your decedents can enjoy and treasure them.  You may be thinking, what kind of memories do I write about?    It doesn’t matter, it can be the mundane, everyday stuff or it can be a special moment in time.

When my daughter, Caroline, was about three years old she and a neighborhood girl followed the ice cream truck down the street in our subdivision.  They followed it for a long enough distance that the ice cream man finally gave them each a popsicle and told them to go home.  How do we know?  Because my husband and the other girl’s father were talking and discovered neither of them had made the purchase.    Speaking of ice cream trucks, I remember when I was a child my sister having saved up pennies and used them to pay for her ice cream.  I can still remember the look on that driver’s face when my sister handed him that baggie full of pennies.  Priceless!

My son, Patrick, came home one time and talked about he and a friend rigged up a “motor” to propel a boat they had down a canal.  When Patrick told me about it I thought he was making it up until a woman that lived on the canal happened to be telling a story about these two boys who devised a way to  propel their raft down the canal and she was quite impressed with their inventiveness.

Memories - a way of holding onto the things ou loveThe memories you record don’t have to be lengthy, just tidbits of life that reveal personalities, activities, and the joy of living living.    Small glimpses at life, such as Patrick calling me up at work and saying “I’ve got the eggs boiling, how do I double them again?”.  What he wanted was the recipe for making deviled eggs, but I could not convince him it was “deviled” because in his mind once you cut that egg in half, mixed in the ingredients and put them back together they were “doubled.”  To this day he loves “doubled” eggs.  Patrick also loves Fruity Pebbles cereal.  I have photographs of him eating it as a before bed snack, and as he got older the bowl got larger.  Why use a cereal bowl when a large Tupperware bowl that will hold half a box works just as well?  Patrick is now an adult, but a stroll down a cereal isle where Fruity Pebbles are on sale makes me smile because I know if he were still living with me I would be stocking up.

My daughter, Caroline, attended almost all the formal dances in high school and we usually managed to find her formals at very good reduced prices.  It was the most expensive gown we purchased that the spaghetti got dumped on.  Luckily it was a dark red/maroon dress and a quick stop at home to wipe it down between dinner and dance and no one was the wiser.  Then came senior prom.  Caroline was going to attend with her boyfriend but they broke up.  She then had someone else she was going with, but he had a death in the family and had to go out of state unexpectedly.  Caroline had tons of male friends offer to escort her, but she viewed them as friends not dates, so someone set her up with a blind date for prom.  The guy she got set up with did not look like her type at all, and the date flopped.  They attended the dinner, but shortly after he got ticked off about something and walked out, leaving Caroline stranded at prom.   Rather than get upset Caroline figured she was at her prom, knew plenty of people, and would be able to hitch a ride home when the time came, and she did.  Her analysis of prom – best formal she ever attended because once the blind date walked out she didn’t have to deal with any jealous boyfriend/date issues and was able to really enjoy the evening.

We have many family vacation memories as well.  Almost every vacation included playing putt-putt at least once because Patrick loved it, touring an historical home because I love them, and an amusement park.  I remember watching Caroline and Patrick come off an amusement park ride that my husband and I did not want to ride.  As they approached us at the same time we heard Caroline say “I’ll never ride that again” and Patrick  said “that was awesome, can I go again?”.   Patrick loves amusement parks.  Due to a rainstorm at Disney on our last day of vacation we almost missed a plane because Patrick wanted to ride the Mine Ride one last time (he was only four years old at the time).  None of us will ever forget the mad dash from rental car check-in to luggage check-in, through security, and a run down the hall towards the plane.  Once Caroline and Ron had boarded the stewardess came running down the hall at Patrick and I to assist with our carry-on bags, and as we stepped onto the plane the doors slammed at my back and she said “sit anywhere”.

Life is full of memories.  Cherish them.  Little things, like when I sat in the back seat during Patrick’s road test for his driver’s license and the tester’s leg kept getting in the way because he wasn’t used to having someone take their road test in a stick-shift vehicle.   Patrick passed the test.  Caroline having to repeatedly pull forward and try over and over to back the trailer down the boat ramp for the first time.  A huge line-up of boaters developed as they waited.  I had walked over and offered each an every one of them the opportunity to cut in and go first, but they all waited patiently, having at one time been in that same spot themselves.  When Caroline  finally dropped the jet skis into the water the crowd waiting to use the ramp gave her a massive round of applause.Memories are special moments that tell our story

I could continue to write memories for a long time.  Tidbits of life that are fun to remember, such as  my husband and I taking our motor home to a campground for the first time and he mistakenly putting the levelers down as far as they go so it felt like we were climbing into a tree house every time we entered.  Instead I am going to close by challenging each and every one of you to preserve your memories in a written format somewhere for you, your children and grandchildren to someday read and enjoy.    Those memories tell important stories about your life and personalities.  Don’t let them slip away.

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Filed under Family, kids, Life is a Melting Pot, memoir, travel, vacation, Writing

Same But Different

After an 11-day vacation my husband and I arrived back home the evening of August 17th and I am still working on getting back into the swing of things.  Our trip was within our own state, but to an area that was very different from where we live.

Motor home and car.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Motor home and car. Photo by Grace Grogan

We began with a two-night stay in Boyne Falls, Michigan for a memorial service. We have a motor home and had booked into a campground there that is located on a country road. What we found, luckily after we had left the motor home at the camp and were driving only our car, is that the GPS does not distinguish between good country roads and seasonal, 2-track roads. We also discovered that it is possible for a GPS to get confused because after taking us down an assortment of roads it took us back down the same roads we had just come from. So much for a GPS being able to navigate from Boyne Falls to Boyne City — it couldn’t even find our campground!

Mackinac Bridge during Orange Barrel Season.  Photo by Grace Grogan.

Mackinac Bridge during Orange Barrel Season. Photo by Grace Grogan.

Our next destination was Iron Mountain, located in Michigan’s upper peninsula. Our drive from Boyne Falls to Iron Mountain was uneventful, unless you count orange barrels on the Mackinac Bridge an event. Of course all Michiganders know that summer is “orange barrel season” and why should a bridge be any different?  What we found during our stay in the UP is that although we were in the same state, the environment and way of life is very different.

Iron Mine Tour.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Iron Mine Tour. Photo by Grace Grogan

Iron Mountain is on the south side of the UP very close to Wisconsin and about midway across.  It is home to one of the world’s largest ski jumps, and if you drive to the war memorial there it will take you up to where the jump is located for a beautiful view of the area.  We enjoyed a tour of the Iron Mine in Vulcan, where they take you approximately 425 feet below the earth’s surface into the mine.   Mining has not been conducted there for years but it is interesting to learn the conditions under which they worked and the tools used to drill in the mine.

Iron Mine Tour Photo by Grace Grogan

Iron Mine Tour
Photo by Grace Grogan

Our main objective of the trip was to photograph waterfalls, lighthouses and nature.  We were disappointed that although we passed several Moose Crossing signs the moose were not being cooperative and we never saw one.  We did see several deer, wild turkeys, and what we believe were a couple coyotes.    We found that while some waterfalls are well known and have a lot of visitors, others are secluded, hard to find, and require driving down narrow county dirt roads that are only slightly wider than a car width and you will only find the waterfall if you are lucky because they are not well marked.

Walking to a waterfall.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Walking to a waterfall. Photo by Grace Grogan

Driving down county roads can be interesting.   We came across lumbering areas where we stopped to take photographs, and discovered that semi-trucks coming at you on those narrow dirt roads drive at a pretty good rate of speed.  Don’t forget to roll up your window because you will be engulfed in a smog of dirt after they pass.    Much of the UP is National Forest, so you are driving those narrow dirt roads with huge trees on both sides.  We commented on how beautiful they must be during the fall color season.

Bond Falls.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Bond Falls. Photo by Grace Grogan

Part of the UP is Eastern Time and the other portion is Central Time, and as we drove to our various locations we were constantly bouncing from one time zone to the other.  The solution, leave your wrist watch on Eastern, set the microwave on Central, and your cell phone will automatically change for whatever time zone you are in.    Although this did not have a massive impact on our vacation plans, you do have to keep that in mind when considering the hours a place is open or when you make reservations.

Lighthouse - Marquette  Photo by Grace Grogan

Lighthouse – Marquette
Photo by Grace Grogan

Two of the lighthouses we visited are private and can only be seen by tour.  We luckily stumbled upon them at the correct time to take part in the tours and learn about life at those locations.    The job of lighthouse keeper was a lonely existence for both the keeper and his family, as they were often in places that were located out and away from other civilization.  Climbing a lighthouse that is part of a home is an easier, shorter climb for a great view.   By the time you begin your climb up the spiral staircase to the lantern room you are already on the second floor of the home and only have a bit farther to go.

Iron Mountain View from War Memorial.  Photo by Grace Grogan.

Iron Mountain View from War Memorial. Photo by Grace Grogan.

I have given you a few details on our trip, but the question you may have is why did I say it is “Same But Different?”  Because it is.  I live in Michigan’s lower peninsula in the thumb just south of Port Huron.  When you cross from the “mitten” into the UP in some ways you take a step back in time and into a small town existence.  A “big city” has a Walmart and a KMart, and some fast food establishments, there aren’t many big cities in the UP, Iron Mountain, Marquette, Munising and St. Ignace are those that come to mind immediately.    The rest of the UP has small towns, no fast food, and the towns have long stretches of roadway between them.  Of course you can always find a restaurant serving pasties wherever you travel, something you will not find in lower Michigan.  A pastie is meat and potato with maybe a couple other veggies in a crust.  They were carried by miners down into the mines to eat for their lunches.

Walking to a waterfall. Photo by Grace Grogan

Walking to a waterfall.
Photo by Grace Grogan

We traveled Highway 2 several times and it is a long road of forest and very few cars.    You spend a lot of time driving in the Ottawa National Forest or the Hiawatha National Forest.  The UP does not have “rest stops” like we are familiar with where you have a nice modern building, vending machines and bathrooms.  When you travel in the upper peninsula there are Roadside Parks with picnic tables and the bathroom facilities are actually outhouse toilets.  Did you want to wash your hands?  If fussy about that you better carry some hand sanitizer.    We noted that most vehicles on the road are clean without any with damage from accidents or rust.  When living in an area where you have to drive for miles between cities without any other cars, homes or businesses between having a well maintained vehicle is a must.  While there are miles and miles of desolate area there is no litter.  Here in the lower peninsula you find litter everywhere, but not in the UP.  We never once saw so much as a gum wrapper on the ground – clean and natural as it should be.  Uppers take pride in their environment and it shows.

We will definitely go back to the UP for another vacation.  It was relaxing, has great photo ops, nature, and requires a lot more time to explore than we allowed.  If you want to go somewhere that is the “Same But Different” take a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

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Filed under environmental, exploration, Life is a Melting Pot, Michigan, nature, travel, Upper Penninsula, vacation

Uninhabited and Unconnected

This past weekend I had the fun of staying on an uninhabited island with my sister and two female cousins. It is a unique experience, something everyone should do at least once in their lifetime.

There is something about being away from everything and unconnected from the world — no TV, no radio, no telephone (cell phones only worked down by the water, not in the lodge), no electricity, no indoor plumbing except for non-consumable water at the kitchen sink, no air conditioning, no street lights, no cars, no other humans on a 263 acre island.  There is an operating lighthouse and you may see ships and other boats passing in the distance  on Lake Huron.   It is a peaceful existence.

Captain Mike transports us from the boat dock to the island.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Captain Mike transports us from the boat dock to the island. Photo by Grace Grogan

Our journey began at a boat dock in Alpena, Michigan.  It is there that Captain Mike met us.  He loaded our luggage and coolers packed with food for the weekend onto a boat and transported us 2-1/2 miles out to Middle Island.   The Middle Island Keepers’ Lodge where we stayed is a former U.S. Coast Guard foghorn building that has been transformed into a beautiful and comfortable lodge.   The lodge is a 2/3 mile walk from the boat dock down a trail through the woods.  Captain Mike loads up and transports all luggage to the lodge for you.  If you are unable to make the walk you can hitch a ride in the small 4-wheel vehicle he keeps there for providing luggage transport.

Walking from the boat dock to the lodge.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Walking from the boat dock to the lodge. Photo by Grace Grogan

Ready to begin our adventure in true fashion, we all elected to make the walk.  On the journey we walked past a more rustic cabin that is also available for rent on the island, and another trail that leads down to where there is a sinkhole in Lake Huron.  The trail to the lodge is peaceful and quiet, the perfect beginning to our weekend.   Once everyone has arrived at the lodge and the luggage is unloaded Captain Mike gives a tour of the lodge and shows everyone how to operate the propane lighting inside the lodge and the propane heated shower out on the deck.    While we get settled in Captain Mike goes out to cut and deliver firewood to the campfire area down on the beach.    Captain Mike then leaves us on the island and will return on Sunday to provide us with the opportunity to tour and climb the lighthouse before transporting us back to the mainland.

The dining area of the lodge.  Photo by Grace Grogan

The dining area of the lodge. Photo by Grace Grogan

The lodge is roomy and comfortable with a large modern kitchen.  The range and refrigerator/freezer are powered by propane.  There is running water in the sink that can be used for washing dishes, bottled water is provided for human consumption.  The sink and shower water is pumped in from Lake Huron.  A comfortable dining area, a couch and two chairs, plus a bar area with four stools provides plenty of seating.

In the main area there are propane wall-mounted lights.  A small free-standing fireplace is there for use in cooler months, but there was no need to use it during our stay.  Large windows, a front door, back door and sliding door provide plenty of cross ventilation to keep the cabin comfortable.   For families there is a loft accessible by ladder that holds another table and chairs, a single bed and bunk beds, making this an ideal family retreat.  For eating and socializing there is a picnic table on the grass out the “back” door, a table and four chairs on the back deck, and a bench and washline on the main entrance deck where the shower is located.  Even the porta-potty just off the main deck area is clean and contains a battery operated light for nighttime use.

Sunset as seen from the fire pit area on the beach.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Sunset as seen from the fire pit area on the beach. Photo by Grace Grogan

As the golden hour approached we ventured down to the beach and fire pit area to light a fire and watch the sunset.  The beaches here are not sand, they are covered in limestone/shale rock.  As we watch the sunset over Lake Huron we notice that a huge flock of seagulls nest on a strip of land that juts out into the lake, and they periodically take off in large groups for a moment before once again landing on their nesting area.

As night falls we are able to watch the lighthouse come to life, with its beacon reflecting into the water.   Without the distortion of city lights the sky is pitch black and the stars are crystal clear.  A beautiful sight.    Our flashlights came in handy making the walk back up from the fire pit to our lodge.   When you are used to always having some form of unnatural lighting around it is amazing how absolutely pitch black nighttime is.

Middle Island Lighthouse.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Middle Island Lighthouse. Photo by Grace Grogan

You may think you sleep soundly, but when there is absolutely no sound except the distant sound of waves on the beach you learn how soundly you really can sleep.  I live on a state highway and am used to sleeping with the sounds of cars going by off and on all night, plus the vibration of ships going up and down the river and the occasional sound of their fog horns.  On Middle Island when you go to bed and there is no sound.  Quietness envelopes you into a deep and peaceful sleep.

Our first night on the island we stayed up late socializing, but Saturday night we made sure we went to bed at the reasonable hour of midnight and set an alarm to watch the sunrise Sunday morning over Lake Huron.  I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but that was a beautiful and peaceful sight as well.  The sun rose at approximately 6:08 am and there was only one lone sailboat out on the water at that time of morning.   A sight definitely worth rousting yourself out of bed early for.

Sunrise over Lake Huron.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Sunrise over Lake Huron. Photo by Grace Grogan

What do you do on an uninhabited island?  Spend time talking to people, really talking without the interference of tv, computers and text messaging.  Read a book or the newspaper articles that Captain Mike keeps on hand that tell about the island and special events that have happened there.  A small selection of games, puzzle books, and cards are on hand.  Read the journal books that people have written notes in talking about their stay on the island.  Everyone loves the time they have spent on the island and there are repeat visitors who have made journal entries over the years during each visit.  One thing is certain, everyone enjoys their time spent on Middle Island.  That was one of our Sunday activities, each of us wrote our own short paragraph about our stay on the island, and it was fun to read each entry.  Although the majority of our time was spent together as a group, our thoughts and experience the things that inspired us about the island, varied slightly.

Walking the trails on Middle Island.  Photo by Grace Groan

Walking the trails on Middle Island. Photo by Grace Groan

If you are physically able to do so do not miss out on walking the trail on the island.  Allow about four hours and take a water bottle with you.  If you have any physical challenges a walking stick or in my case, a cane are also important…and don’t forget to take your camera.  This is mostly a walk through the woods, but there are areas were Lake Huron is visible, and you will encounter nature in various aspects.  I personally could have done without walking my face into a few spider webs, or the large daddy-long-legged spider that I noticed crawling on my chest, but those things are minor compared to the beauty of nature experienced throughout the walk.  Huge butterflies, live snails, and spiders spinning webs were some of the things viewed.  The sound of birds singing up in the trees provided beautiful background music.  We were told that there are several deer on the island and did see their tracks but were not lucky enough to encounter any.  Nature has its own way of creating unique beauty, from gnarled upturned tree roots to wild daisies trying to take over the pathway. There was always something to capture our attention.

Middle Island Lighthouse.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Middle Island Lighthouse. Photo by Grace Grogan

Had someone told me I could survive and enjoy life without tv, radio, internet/computer, telephone, motorized transportation, electricity and indoor plumbing I would have questioned the intelligence of their statement.  What I found is that when eliminated from my life for the weekend I did not miss them.  A stay on Middle Island is the perfect getaway.  We are used to being connected at all times, we operate on a schedule and are always checking our watches, crowding activities into our busy lives.  A weekend on Middle Island eliminates those things from your life.  From Friday afternoon to the time Captain Mike picks you up on Sunday you are free to relax, not pay attention to time or schedules and enjoy the beauty of nature as it was created.  We all left certain that we will return again some day.

 

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Filed under Activities, birds, exploration, Family, friendship, Life Changing, Life is a Melting Pot, Michigan, nature, Photography, travel, vacation

Blue Water Summer

Fireworks as viewed from Palmer Park in St. Clair.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Fireworks as viewed from Palmer Park in St. Clair. Photo by Grace Grogan

As we approach the 4th of July weekend many towns across the United States will be having fireworks, festivals, parades, and other ways of celebrating our Nation’s freedom. The Blue Water Area is no exception. What I find a bit disappointing is that so many cities hold their fireworks on days other than the 4th of July, and I am pleased that where I live, St. Clair, Michigan, fireworks are still held on the 4th of July over the St. Clair River each and every year. What is even more wonderful about this area is that all summer the Blue Water Area is filled with a variety of things to do all summer.

Soldiers take a break during the Feast of the St. Clair in Port Huron.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Soldiers take a break during the Feast of the St. Clair in Port Huron. Photo by Grace Grogan

The summer kick-off is the Feast of the St. Clair, held every Memorial Weekend in Port Huron. This festival has been held for thirty-four years and is a living re-enactment of 18th century life.  During the event Pine Grove Park is home over 100 colonial star camps and has more than 600 re-enactors who participate.   Attendees can visit four different periods of Blue Water history, Native Americans, French explorers, British traders and American Revolutionaries.  Battles are re-enacted and period life is demonstrated, including cooking, crafts, and children’s games.   The re-enactors actually camp in the park during the event, cooking their own food over an open campfire, sleeping in authentically styled tents and dressing in period costume.

The new River Walk in Port Huron located on Desmond Landing.  Photo by Grace Grogan

The new River Walk in Port Huron located on Desmond Landing. Photo by Grace Grogan

After the Feast of the St. Clair, you are never without something to do in the Blue Water Area.  Be a Tourist in Your Own Town lets both locals and tourists visit a wide variety of museums, the lighthouse, take a cruise on the Huron Lady II, and participate in numerous other activities, with transportation between locations provided by the Blue Water Trolley.  Whether riding during the event or at any other time, you can sit back and for your ten cent fare enjoy a one-hour tour of various attractions and historic sites in Port Huron.  Well worth the investment!

The BW Sandfest is a professional sand sculpture event conducted by The Sand Lovers and is held on the grounds of the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse in Port Huron.  Photo by Grace Grogan.

The BW Sandfest is a professional sand sculpture event conducted by The Sand Lovers and is held on the grounds of the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse in Port Huron. Photo by Grace Grogan.

It doesn’t matter when in the summer you visit, there will always be something to do.  Art Fairs are held a various times in Lexington, Port Huron, Marysville, St. Clair, New Baltimore and Algonac.  Fishing is a popular sport and you will find things such as the Salmon Steaks in St. Clair or the Pickerel Tournament and Festival in Algonac.

If you are into cars or antique boats you will not be disappointed.  Many car shows and cruise nights are held including the Port Huron Cruise Night and Car Show, The St. Clair Classic Car Show, Antique Boat Show in St. Clair, and the Antique Boat Parade in Algonac.  Marysville hosts two car shows back-to-back with Rumble in the Park featuring hot rods, custom and muscle cars followed by The Past and its Wheels featuring cars built before 1959, including the Wills Sainte Claire cars that were built between 1921 to 1926 in the Marysville Factory.  The Wills Sainte Claire Museum is open the second and fourth Sundays of the month August through September and is one of many area museums.   Other local museums include the Carnegie Center, Thomas Edison Depot, Huron Light Ship, Bramble, and many small local museums in the various towns along the waterfront including New Baltimore and St. Clair.

Port Huron Float Down and Bramble Museum.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Port Huron Float Down and Bramble Museum. Photo by Grace Grogan

Don’t leave yet because we have more fun activities for you to attend.  The Bay Rama Fish Fly Festival is held every year in New Baltimore is now in its 50th year and is the only Fishfly Festival in the world.  It includes a carnival midway, live music, and various family activities such as pie eating contests and various games.  Maritime Days in Marine City is an annual three-day event that includes music, food, fun and a parade.  A new event, now in its second year is the Blue Water Sand Fest, voted by USA Today as one of the top 10 in 2013, its first year here in the Blue Water area.  The event is held on the grounds of the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse and features professional, advanced amateur and amateur sand sculptures.

Offshore Racing on the St. Clair River between Michigan and Canada.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Offshore Racing on the St. Clair River between Michigan and Canada. Photo by Grace Grogan

Events surrounding the water abound.  In St. Clair you won’t want to mist River Fest and Offshore Classic Racing.  The event features a carnival, spectators can visit dry docks, wet docks, and of course watch the offshore powerboat races on the beautiful St. Clair River.

Port Huron also hosts an Offshore Powerboat Race event and the famous Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Sailboat Race.  This sailboat race is a popular event in Port Huron, featuring a carnival midway and various activities downtown and along the waterfront.  Walk along the Black River to view the boats that have arrived to participate in the race, live manikins,  food and fun abound.  Thursday is family night, and Friday is boat night, a huge celebration the night before the race.  Saturday morning line up along the Black River to view the boats as they parade out of the river and onto Lake Huron to begin the race.  An annual event on the water that draws thousands of participants and spectators is a free event, the Port Huron Float Down.  Participants climb into inner tubes, rafts and any other type of floating device at Lighthouse Beach just north of the Blue Water Bridges and then float down to Chrysler Beach in Marysville.  A fun event for all whether floating or watching.

Boat Night in Port Huron takes place the Friday before the Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Race.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Boat Night in Port Huron takes place the Friday before the Bayview Port Huron to Mackinac Race. Photo by Grace Grogan

As the summer winds down into fall, an event you won’t want to miss is Whistles on the Water in St. Clair.  This event features antique steam whistles from lake freighters and passenger ships and is one of the largest gatherings of large steam whistles in the world.   The whistles are attached to one of the largest portable steam boilers on earth specifically designed to blow whistles using a fire-tube boiler that generates steam pressure to blow the whistles.  Free ear plugs are provided to visitors as when the whistles blow it is really loud!  A fun activity for children is a set-up on the waterfront of smaller whistles where the children can pull the cord to sound off one of several whistles.    The event is combined with “Chalk the Walk” which allows both adults and children the opportunity to color the walks of the St. Clair Mall with drawings using sidewalk chalk.

Whistles on the Water is held in St. Clair, Michigan.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Whistles on the Water is held in St. Clair, Michigan. Photo by Grace Grogan

This is just a brief overview of various activities in the area and you may want to check Discover the Blue  travel guide to get a more complete lineup of everything there is to do in the beautiful Blue Water area.    You won’t want to miss taking a walk along the boardwalk in St. Clair, the longest freshwater boardwalk in the world.  Stop by Desmond Landing in Port Huron to visit the Boat Nerd and stroll the new River Walk you will find there, walk the pier in Lexington, stroll under the Blue Water Bridge along the Thomas Edison Parkway in Port Huron, or walk the boardwalks in Marine City, New Baltimore and Algonac.

I love living in the Blue Water area, which to me is small town living with all the advantages of a tourist town.   It is a Melting Pot of things to do, with something for everyone.  If you’ve never visited the Blue Water area, put it on your next vacation itinerary, you won’t be disappointed!

Blue Water Trolley - It only costs a dime to ride!  Photo by Grace Grogan

Blue Water Trolley – It only costs a dime to ride! Photo by Grace Grogan

The beautiful St. Clair River as viewed from Palmer Park in St. Clair, Michigan

The beautiful St. Clair River as viewed from Palmer Park in St. Clair, Michigan

 

The Thomas Edison Depot Museum sits under the Blue Water Bridges on the Thomas Edison Parkway in Port Huron.  Photo by Grace Grogan

The Thomas Edison Depot Museum sits under the Blue Water Bridges on the Thomas Edison Parkway in Port Huron. Photo by Grace Grogan

 

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Filed under Activities, Art Shows, Blue Water Area, events, Family, Festivals, Lake St. Clair, Life is a Melting Pot, Michigan, spring, travel, vacation

TALLER, FASTER, STEEPER

We live in an age when amusement parks are constantly striving to have the biggest, fastest, and steepest roller coaster or other thrill ride in the country and/or world. As I watch year after year each new addition is taller, steeper and faster than the ones before it.  I keep wondering when we will exceed the limit and some horrible disaster will occur.  Maybe I’ve gotten too old, maybe I’m a skeptic.  I used to be a lover of thrill rides, including the roller coaster, but now I look at many of the new rides and say “no way.”

Carousel at Crossroads Village.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Carousel at Crossroads Village. Photo by Grace Grogan

What I find amazing is that what used to be a thrill ride, the carousel, is now a meek and mild ride.  In the early 1900’s carousels turned at a very fast rate of speed.  There are still a few of those antique carousels that travel at original speeds, or even at lowered speeds that are still very fast.    I rode one at the Herschell Carousel Factory Museumin North Tonawanda, New York.  The ride had been slowed down, but because it was designed as a thrill ride it was still very fast.  The fastest carousel in Michigan is located at Crossroads Village and Huckelberry Railroad.  This antique carousel goes so fast it is hard to capture in a picture at full speed, but photos shows how fast it is moving.   Carousels in modern times go up and down at a much slower pace, but other amusement park rides are constantly being built to move at extreme speeds, with the main focus on roller coasters.

Carousel at Crossroads Village and spectators.  Photo by Grace Grogan

Carousel at Crossroads Village and spectators. Photo by Grace Grogan

My greatest fear is that a mechanical failure on one of these mega coasters is going to cause an horrific accident.  Anything mechanical experiences breakdowns, and roller coasters are no exception.   Anyone who frequents amusement parks knows that roller coasters get stuck, need repairs and have breakdowns.  While modern tracking systems are far safer than the old original tracking system, I still fear we are pushing the edge and disaster will eventually strike.

What inspired me to write this post was a video I watched of Gravity Max, the “Vekoma Tilt Coaster” located at Discovery World in Lihpao Land in Taiwan.  On this ride the roller coaster  climbs up a hill, then is locked into a section of track that is at the top, after which the entire track and train tilt 90 degrees forward and down where the track then locks into the next piece of track before being released.  As I was watching the video, which gives you a rider’s perspective, my first thought was “what if the brakes fail on that flat piece of track?”.  The coaster and track is tilting down with nothing to hold the coaster in place, other than the brakes, until it joins the next piece of track and is securely locked into place.  If the brakes fail during the tilting down process the coaster would slide right off the track and free fall.  Maybe I’ve gotten chicken over time, but to me the chance of failure and injury is greater than the thrill of the ride.

I was raised in a time when the Gemini and the Corkscrew coasters at Cedar Point were considered big and scary.  That isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed a few developed since then, but in the past ten-fifteen years, they have extended beyond my desire.  Magnum XL-200 was one of the first that I decided was too high for me to find fun.  This was the first roller coaster to top 200 feet in height and travels at a speed of 72 mph.    Then Top Thrill Dragster came out and I couldn’t believe the steepness of the drop.  When you go from zero to 120 mph in less than 4 seconds and are traveling 420 feet straight up and then straight back down within 17 seconds, my mind can not find the fun and excitement in that kind of terror.  Now coasters have gone beyond that.

Unfortunately my fears somewhat became a reality in July 2013 when Rosy Esparza told park employees at Six Flags in Arlington Texas that she did not feel secure in her seat on the Texas Giant.    Rosy was assured by a ride operator that as long as the restraint clicked she was fine.   The horror of this story is that Rosy was riding with her two children, who witnessed their mother fall to her death when her restraint came undone and she flew out of the ride.  The Texas Giant is, or at least was at the time, the world’s tallest steel-wood hybrid roller coaster, traveling at a speed of 65 mph and has a 153-foot high lift and a bank of 95 degrees, one of the world’s steepest drops for a wooden roller coaster.

While we don’t hear of accidents on a regular basis, it is important to realize that amusement parks regulate themselves and when the accident occurred the investigation was conducted internally.  There is no “big brother” watching to make sure that the rides you get on are properly maintained.  Without federal regulations each state sets its own standards, so in many ways the level of rider safety is subject to the integrity of the amusement park.  Following the accident in Texas Massachusetts Senator Edward J. Markey stated “A baby stroller is subject to tougher federal regulation than a roller coaster carrying a child in excess of 100 miles per hour.”    Six Flags over Texas was in compliance with the states requirements at the time of the accident.   When planning your thrill seeking trips keep in mind that the amusement park industry is self-regulated and if a park or ride does not appear to be well-maintained than you may want to use discretion on whether or not to ride.

Not to dampen the fun and excitement of thrill seekers, of which I have one in my family, I am sure many readers out there think I am nuts for being cautious or fearful of the the advanced height and speed that rides now have.    I have a son that has always loved the bigger, higher, and faster roller coasters and other thrill rides and I am sure that if he visits an amusement park in the future he will be seated on some of those same rides which absolutely terrify me.    I bid all of you thrill seekers a safe and fun ride.  As for me, I think I’ll go check out the 1920’s carousel.

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Filed under amusement park, carousel, cedar point, Life is a Melting Pot, roller coaster, six flags, thrill rides, vacation