Aug 18, 2012

No, Really!

I made a promise to myself that I would blog out every day's activities from now on.  On days that I didn't have anything to report I'd go do maintenance on another blog or work some photo albums and post them.  I made the promise at the beginning of our vacation and did a pretty good job over the first three days.

Honestly, I've still been blogging but haven't been able to post anything.  Between the rural mobile signals and bad campground WiFi connections (I know, right?) I haven't been able to post anything.  But I write it and save it and when I get back to civilization I will post entries.  And I won't even count it as a current day, but as a past day overdue.

Posting from a barely coherent signal in a campground, by a campfire,

Copper Island

Woke in the middle of the night to the sound of an approaching train.  Apparently he crossed a number of intersections, as he blew his horn at least half a dozen times.  Other than that, it was the sleep of a dead man.  No rain, not much wind and  chilly enough to make the sleeping bag feel like a warm savior.

Headed out in search of coffee, thinking that of course the college town(s) of Houghton/Hancock would have a million coffee shops.  Took us three more towns and a shot of sporadic Internet access to get enough bandwidth to search and find one.  All week I'd been plagued by bad signal on the Interwebs, both on T-Mobile and to a lesser extent Verizon.  The price one pays for being remote and scenic, I suppose.

When we stopped for coffee there was a liquor store that looked like set dressing for Northern Exposure.  And it had a Husky hanging his head out the second story window watching the people pass by.  Awesome.

We stopped at the Keewenaw tourist information center but they were closed.  On a Saturday in the height of tourist season.  Go figure.  Pamphlets in the lobby but not much help.

Our first real touristing of the day was at the Delaware mine.  A few gravels roads took us to a hilltop parking lot.  In the middle of the lot was a dirty three legged doc that didn't give a damn if we wanted to drive in there.   We went around him.  But it was clear he ran the place.  We got our first view of the forests from above and it was spectacular.

The office/gift shop had a couple skunks.  They were feeding them and they were as cute as rats!  Maybe even more so.  We geared up for the mine tour (45 degrees all year round) and after a short orientation video we headed down the 100 steps to the mine.  It really was just a couple hundred yard long mineshaft, but they had a section with modern lighting and a section with lesser lighting to simulate the 19th century technologies used at the time it was in operation.  It was so cool, so dark, and such a relief from the heat outside.  There were some more exhibits outside the mine, but nothing especially interesting.  Mostly ruins and old (unlabeled) mining equipment.

The roads to Copper Harbor were wonderful.  Twisting both up and down and sideways, smooth black pavement and trees arching over the road.  Like something out of a video game.  If it weren't for the motion sickness overcoming half the car.  The girls were both feeling a bit queasy, so we went slowly and opened the windows.  A little Dramamine and things got better on the return roads.

Copper Harbor struck me more like Grand Marais MN or any other artists community.  Lots of interesting shops (to some) and restaurants, but not a lot of family friendly fare.  We went on down the road to Fort Wilkins, a recreated/preserved fort from the time of the mines in the last 19th century.  It was your typical historic fort, but had no live interpreters (or dead ones, for that matter.)  The exhibits were very interactive and Lily spent quite a bit of time baking bread, setting and clearing tables, and serving us all in the dining hall. She loved it.

I was, of course, in heaven.  Nothing like an old fort and the promise of a good gift shop  to get my blood pumping.  Something really drew me to this fort, and I'm still not sure if it's because I was stationed there in a previous life, or maybe my Dad and I made it all the way up there on our Lake Superior Circle Tour when I was in high school.  (1500 miles in three days!)

A kayak glided by the parade ground on the lake shore.  I'm pretty sure it was homemade, maybe a Glen-L, but couldn't tell for sure and a stranger was riding in it, which obviously means I couldn't ask.  But it was pretty and Lily said that kind would be acceptable.  She's the one who's pushing me hardest to make my own.  Maybe I'll build a pair.

The gift shop did not disappoint.  I got a hand assembled/printed book called "Life aboard a Lake from 1964 to 1999" -- perfect!  I don't even care that it's on dead trees, it's such a treasure trove of information about Lakers, ore carriers and such.

While Jill shopped for dinner at the (no kidding) General Store in Copper Harbor, Lily and I checked out a gift shop or two.  We also stumbled upon a craft fair.  We didn't buy anything, but Lily handled it pretty well.  She's learning slowly that you don't have to buy to appreciate.  I was inspired by a few booths and a little disappointed in a few others.  I recognized some of the patterns from online sites and woodworking magazines, and really had to wonder if they could get the amount of money they were asking for their work.  If so, I really need to get into the craft show circuit.

Another booth had a collection of variations on a fish skeleton theme.  The head and tail as intact pieces joined by a single dowel, riblike dowels extending top and bottom from that "spine" -- they look really cool and I'll want to try and make one of those first.

My sister Lisa told us we had to go on the Brockway Mountain Road.  We weren't sure what that was, but it looked like it would have a good view or two.  And indeed it did!  It felt like you were at the top of the world.  After stopping at one pullout for pictures we went even higher than we knew we could go, and ended up at the clear top of a mountain.  There was a large sign describing the view, a lone gift shop and a 360 degree panorama.  The peninsula, Lake Superior, and more forest than you could shake a stick at surrounded you on top of the highest point for miles.  The guy at the gift shop was a bit of a rambler, but when I asked if he got any good storms up there he lit up.  Apparently you get to watch the storms come in from very far away and it gives you lots of time to get all amped up.  Would be fun to see.

In the middle of all of the tourists half a dozen ham radio operators were running equipment, tests, and doing signal checks.  From the looks of things they were hitting targets on the ground and in the sky.  I wanted to know more, but my own social anxiety paired with the likely social anxiety of the ham nerds was like opposing poles of a magnet.  No eye contact!

Driving along the south shore of Lake Superior in the late afternoon felt like being on the coast of California.  The waves weren't rolling in like they were the previous day, but it was still beautiful, breezy, and cool.  We looked long and hard for "the perfect beach" on which to have dinner and let the kids play in the waves again.  We were not disappointed.

We ended up at Sand Bay Beach, a huge expanse of sandy beach wide open to the waves.  Ample parking across the road along with picnic tables and a bathroom made it the perfect dinner spot.  Jill set up the grill while I hung with the kids on the beach, then we swapped and I finished up cooking the dinner as they played.  By the time they came back wet and exhausted I had a pretty little picnic table set with paper towel napkins, plastic silverware and everything.  We had baby back ribs and fresh corn.  It was perfect.  Sun dropping in the sky at the end of a long day made going back to the campsite an easy affair.  The drive back took us through more country that reminded me of Big Sur in California.  Deep forests breaking open to views of the shore, with the occasional shop or house sprinkled in for good measure.

We stopped at a shop on the way back for necessaries (liquor and milk) and I got one of the best souvenirs of the trip - Lava soap!  Do you know how hard that is to find back home?

We got back too late to do any grilling of pies, but we did have a nice little fire.  I did as much typing up of trip memories as I could, but it was difficult not having a reliable Internet connection.  Yes, I know, we were camping.  But all I wanted to use it for was posting these memories.  It's so hard when you get home to recall the spirit of the trip and the calm with which you would normally tell the story.  I'm actually finishing these up in the car on the way home as Jill takes a turn driving.  Oddly enough once we got into Wisconsin the signals started happening with more predictability.

We're all getting tired at this point and are torn between wanting vacation to last forever, and wanting to get home.  Stability can be welcoming.

Aug 17, 2012

Treacherous And Deadly

It was a dark and stormy night.  In the distance, a dog barked.  And then a really loud pickup truck drove through the campground.  No, a really loud truck.  One of those huge "I have to prove something" trucks.  Just before we set up the tent the night before, the ranger stopped by to tell us the weather service issued a high wind warning.  Just to let us know.

I slept through most of it, but there was little or no rain.  Jill felt the tent rise up from the bottom once but we had used every stake we had and it held quite nicely.  I've decided I like our tent.  No rain leaks, held up to the wind, and now that we know what we're doing, it's a pretty quick set-up.

When morning came it was drizzling.  And I really didn't want to get up into the cold morning air, pack up a wet tent and all of our gear, and get moving.  I just wanted to stay curled up in my sleeping bag for a few days.  We all overcame our issues (the kids take to bribery quite well, BTW, and I will move for a cup of coffee) and we ended up getting out of there at a decent hour.

The whole time we were at the campground these kids were riding their bikes in circles, seemingly everywhere.  If you wanted to go to the bathroom, you had to weave through the circuit.  Which would have been ok (never) if they didn't have a sign up that said "no bicycles" right there.  Also, the kid picking his zits in the bathroom mirror.  Grumpy me.

On our way out of the campground the kids were on their bikes in the road.  And by kids I mean the range is from age 3 to age 7.  Little kids.   I had to stop and wait for them to get out of the road.  And they didn't.  They kinda sat there like "what?" while I had to wave to get them to move.  I finally went around them.  I wanted to run them over but Jill told me that wasn't the right thing to do.  Their lucky day.

Our next stop was the falls.  Taquamenon falls, upper and lower.   Leading us into the parking lot was a Mercedes SUV.  I went through the list of reasons one would have for getting a Mercedes SUV and came up with nobody I would want to hang out with.  Plus, they were driving like mad folk.  As we wheeled into the lot in our Obnoxious Chevy SUV I saw two guys get out of the Mercedes.  Odd.  Then I saw the bumped sticks.  I was immediately aware of the fact that I was a middle aged, wide middled guy with two crazy kids and a wife.  I was wearing a pith helmet and plaid shorts.  I was the anti-cool.  And I was totally fine with it until the gay guys showed up and I remembered that there was a world out there that didn't consist of old RV driving couples, Italian (or Illinois) tourists and college kids working summer jobs.  I was the cliche that they laugh about later in the comfort of their hotel rooms while I'm arguing with a 9 year old girl about why exactly she can't get that t-shirt at a gift shop.  It's a personal problem, I'll get over it.  But it made me self conscious for the rest of the day.

The falls were pretty cool.  There were multiple falls and an island in the middle.  You could walk around the whole deal on a path and look at everything from the shore, or you could rent a rowboat and row to the island.  There's a sign before the waterfalls that tells you not to row over them.  So for $15 or so you can put your family in a boat just above a waterfall and row them across a river to an island.  Apparently this goes much smoother than I would assume, as they're still in business.  Remember the list of tourist-types from the last paragraph?  I can't imaging any of them (including some in my class) making it across a river in a rowboat.  But row they did, and all is well.  I was elected the rower, which surprised me since I assumed Lily would want to try and row us over the falls, but whatever.  I felt a bit like Charon on the river styx.  Eli goggled that I knew something about mythology, but I told him if it has to do with hell or death, I was all over it.  That boat was made out of steel, the oars welded and screwed and tied into place.  There was no way the oars were coming loose, and I think if the boat went over the falls it might have just stuck to the upper lip and sat there.

Upon arrival on the island I was feeling a bit spent.  I was looking for a water fountain but really wanted a gatorade fountain.  We were greeted by this sign:

I wish this sign had been on the other side of the river.  But that would have affected row boat rental income.  I particularly enjoy a sign that uses the phrase "treacherous and deadly" and it became my catchphrase for the day.  I liked saying it in a "Richard Nixon as a Pirate" voice.  Eli liked it too.  He was still trying for an English accent but missing it by an Australia or so.  Ironically, this was the week we could have sent him to acting camp with a focus on accents.  Go figure.

The island had a nice path running around the perimeter, with a good view of the falls on either side.  There were railings, as well.  Signs every few feet said to stay on the path, as they were trying to repair the damage done by countless humans traipsing around in the underbrush.  (My phrasing)

So we round the corner and find the iPad family.  Mom was helping the two boys through the fence, dad in the background taking a picture with his iPad.  So much for staying on the path.  And who takes pictures with an iPad?

After a brisk rowing back to shore from the island we headed up to the gift shop.  Eli needed a sweatshirt, as his only sweatshirt had been soaked the night before.  And it was a gift shop.  I didn't get anything, but got a few ideas of things I could make at home out of wood.  Eli found an awesome wooden sword in a wooden sheath.  Very nice work for $6.

The second stop of the morning was at the Upper falls.  Now THESE were waterfalls.  Large, wide, and well paved.  The path, that is.  It reminded me of the headwaters of the Mississippi.  Lily was exhausted, so we parked ourselves on a bench and had a lovely father daughter chat about nothing and everything.  She was so tired she felt like a sleeping baby, completely limp.  I convinced her to make the final stretch to the car and everything was okay from there on out.

Let me just say something about waterfalls.  They are imperfections in a perfectly good river.  The bigger, wider the waterfall, the more obvious the imperfection.  I don't think anybody shares my view here.  But I found it interesting once I came up with that perspective.

From the last falls we were on Moose Watch.  I've never seen a moose in the wild before, and the campground actually had a FAQ on the bulletin board by the bathroom.  One of the questions was "where can I see a moose?" -- it actually gave a location where you can occasionally spot one.  I'm not sure if that was a valid answer just to shut people up, or you could actually see one there.  We didn't.  Nor did we see one for the rest of the Upper Peninsula.  Ok, there are 150-200 moose in the whole state, and the odds of seeing one are pretty slim.  But I really wanted to see one.  I've had a longstanding bounty of $100 for a moose sighting.  Lots of rules, of course, given my kids:
  • I can't have seen it first
  • I must see it once it's pointed out
  • Must be live
  • Must be wild
  • Must be real
  • Pictures aren't required but desired
  • False positives cost $10 each instance
I have the same rules for a Capybara in MN/WI, but that's worth $1000.  It could happen.  The idea behind the bounty is twofold.  First, it gets the kids looking out the car windows.  It's hard to pull them from their glowing screens sometimes.   Second, it employs more eyes to look for my elusive moose.

Long drive later, no moose, we end up in Munising at a Hardees.  I liked my Mushroom Cheeseburger but was burping that smell for two days.  A short drive found us at the Pictured Rocks.  We chose one of the many viewing areas and headed up the paved path to a platform overlooking one of the most amazing views of Superior I've ever had.  It wasn't the rocks so much as the weather.  The wind was up quite a bit and the lake was a cobalt blue with many whitecaps.  It looked like the ocean.  It even sounded like the ocean.  The waves were crashing on the rocks and blowing spray up the rocks.  Tremendous!

We went to a less obvious platform and got to see the rocks from a different angle.  Again, pretty rocks, but cooler lake.  If you looked down at a certain spot of the shore and waited for the right size wave to crash in, you could see a rainbow appear in the mist.  Beautiful.

In tyhe parking lot we saw a real jeep.  Dirty, muddy, not jacked up.  Like an army jeep almost.   And it had a similarly grungy trailer.  It looked like it had been to war and back.  Two little boys and their father sat by it.  The dad was smoking.  I think he was the Marlboro man.  We don't approve, of course, but I'll bet those kids and that dad had some stories to tell.

A short drive took us down below those rocks to the beach.  It was a lovely, wide, sandy beach.  The waves crashed on the shore like real oceanic waves.  They even had that sudden silence every few minutes.  The kids wanted to put their feet in the water -- just like Jill always done.  Jill did, but the kids had their own version.  Lily ran up and down trying to catch up to and then run away from the waves.  It was pretty cute.  Eli, on the other hand, went to war.  He stood in water to his knees and when a wave approached he would swing both hands together smashing into the wave.  He would do that for hours if allowed.

The day was getting long, so our next stretch took us to Baraga, where our campsite for the next two days waited for us.  Driving into the campground it looked for a moment like it was a KOA style open lawn with as many campers crammed into one space as possible.  Happily, it was a bit more spread out.  Our site was wide and open with enough trees to make you feel like you weren't on top of one another.  We were thrilled.  And it was clear weather.  It was so nice there were a few bugs here and there.  But we welcomed them with open, dry arms.

We made pizza pies with our campfire sandwich cookers, and the kids set up the tent all by themselves.  I think they were going for shock and awe, so it's not something I'm expecting every time we camp.  But you never know.

Sleep came early, but not before Jill and I spent some time by the fire reading and writing after the kids had gone to bed.  We looked up and saw so many stars, the Milky Way galaxy, a floating satelllite or two and a single falling star.  Awesome.  A chilly but dry bedtime ended a long but fruitful day.

Aug 16, 2012

Wet and Wild at Whitefish Bay

Waking on the island for the last time, perhaps for a year, I ran through all of my options.  Coming up with no reasonable way to just stay there forever, I got up.  After ferryinig back to Mackinaw City, we headed to Mill Creek for their Adventure Tour.  Along with the real working sawmill they have an :adrenaline course” that includes a climbing tower, rope bridge, and most importantly a zipline.   The last time we were there Lily was just a smidge too little to do it, so for the last two years it’s all she could talk about.  The weather wasn’t exactly cooperating, so they did the course backwards in order to get the zipline in case it rained.  It did, but not much.  Lisa and I waited on deck to wait for the folks to come down the zipline and had a nice little brother and sister chat.  I caught video and pictures, love my phone!

At one point Lisa thought she heard the kids on the climbing tower, and we were worried we were going to miss them.  So I did “the call” and a few moments later got the return call from the other direction -- over by the zip line.  We both laughed, and I said that was the most effective and practical use of “the call” we’ve ever experienced.

What’s the call?  I don’t exactly remember how it started.  We think it began when the new neighbors moved in with two kids just about the same ages as ours.  There is a creature in Episode I of Star Wars (Boga) that makes this whoooop whooooooop screeching noise.  So Eli’s imitation of that noise has become the family “call.”  When he or the neighbor kids want to play they just go outside and whoop.  Sometimes when we’re in a crowd and I need to get their attention, I whoop.  It’s one of the best ideas our family has had.  Every family should have a call -- just make sure it’s not ours or we’ll get confused.

After a successful Adventure Tour we got to watch the sawmill demonstration.  I’ve seen it before but it’s aways cool.  So much wood and water working hard and making so much noise and action -- and then more wood.  I said something about maybe building a miniature version of a sawmill at home and when Jill said it was a good idea I mentioned I meant a life sized one and thank you very much for the permission.  I was kidding of course, but now Lily wants me to do it.  Jill talked us down to simply a zipline in the backyard.  I’ll help, but that’s all her problem.  I mean idea.

I checked out the gift shop and once again found nothing of interest.  Sometimes I find something cool though, so I keep looking.  I really enjoy gift shops and most of the time I don’t even buy anything.  Some of the requirements of a cool item are:

  • Unique to that location
  • Not something I can get online (have to waive that rule a lot, as most things are)
  • Not too expensive
  • Must cause someone else to go “oh that’s cool!”
  • Must be something I can live with.

For the most part I fail at gift shops, but sometimes I win.  Like the time I got a flint and steel kit.  That was (and still is) awesome.  I even started this evening’s fire with it.  Ok, I used a few lighters also, but it began the embers quite nicely.  Another great gift shop purchase was the sunglasses holder that didn’t end up working on my glasses, so Eli got to use it.  It’s a simple strap but it has a huge fishing bobber in the middle, so it looks like you’re walking around with a bobber on your back.  I guess you have to see it to really understand.

As we’re making our purchases Jill throws something on the counter and tells me I can’t look.  So I’m not sure what she’s getting -- there was nothing cool.  I checked!  When we get out to the car she says “Happy late father’s day!” and gives me a twelve page set of instructions for building your own saw mill.  Seriously!  So now all I have to do is translate feet to inches and build me a mill!  She rocks.

Lunch in Mackinaw City at Darrow’s with the cousins before a sad farewell was successful.  Super good Mushroom burger.  Hit the road and made it to Whitefish Bay by late afternoon.

The shipwreck museum was great.  I was holding my expectations down, and it was better than I could have guessed.  We got to climb the lighthouse, I saw the rescue exhibit in the boathouse, and we saw a little film about the Edmund Fitzgerald.  The gift shop had me all aflutter, but I think they figured out that boat nerds tend to be old men with lots of money, as the prices of some of the prints (come on, they’re posters!) were astronomical.  But I got a “make your own Fitz” kit and a map of the great lakes and a book about crime on the lakes.  You can’t pass up a book that has “booze” and “broads” in the subtitle.  I’ll let you know how that turns out.

The rain started on the way up to Whitefish bay and really never stopped until dinnertime.  Setting up camp in the aftermath of drizzle was fun.  When you hear the wind come up, hide under something, as the trees are about to dump water on you.  But the sun came out a bit and we had a lovely evening.  The park ranger came by to tell us the weather service was warning of high winds and rain later.  We just decided to use all the tent stakes and hope for the best.

Dinner was Dinty Moore stew and buttery biscuits.  The kids mostly ate biscuits, but Jill and I made obscene noises while eating ours.  They were that good.  Being out of the rain, tent set up and some beverages with Jameson in them might have had something to do with that.  But they were indeed good.  I chose it as one of our meals as it was my Dad’s secondary meal.  His primary of course being beans and weenies.  I think we did him proud.

So here I sit blogging by the fire as Lily roasts mashmallows and Eli reads.  Jill’s puttering around and all is well.  If this is the last blog entry, it likely that storm came in stronger than we thought.  Or we didn’t cook the biscuits long enough.   Hopefully we’ll let you know.

Aug 15, 2012

Cycles and Swimming

Our last full day on the island before moving on to the Upper Peninsula was full of simple fun.  We rented a couple tandem bicycles for a ride around the island.  Not "riding around the island" but actually riding AROUND the island.  It's really easy, because all you have to do is "keep right" and "stay out of the water."

A halfway stop at British Landing for ice cream was a welcome break.  Not from the strenuous riding, but from the weaving and dodging slow bikes, people standing in the road, bikes parked across the road.  It was an encyclopedia of bad bike etiquette and poor bike safety.  But that's to be expected.   It's a lovely ride, however, and the lake views are unparalleled.

Near the halfway point of the ride you pass by the docks.  They are a simple concrete and steel pier that is used by delivery boats and some other utility craft.  We passed a lot of people stopped there, relaxing, taking pictures, and having a grand time.  I'm pretty sure most of them thought they were at British Landing.  And in some of those groups were an annoying person saying "but I don't think the British build a pier and then invaded.."

When the groups get back on their bikes and head down the road, they will find the real British Landing, complete with restrooms, ice cream shop, parking areas, picnic tables, and most importantly, signs.  And that annoying person in their group would have their proud "told you so" moment.

I told Eli he was not permitted to use any kind of accent while we were at British Landing, but I have to say it was hard not to say it internally as "Bri 'ish Landing."

A picnic lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches was capped off with ice cream from the stand.  It was soft serve, and I really enjoyed my "twist," as I hadn't had one in many years.  But I think Jill may have been thinking it was going to be a gourmet ice cream stop, with many flavors and decisions to make.  Of course, that would have made the order more complicated, etc.  On a hot day, any ice cream is a win.

After the ride we returned the rented bikes and headed off to the Grand Hotel to go swimming.  For a small fee non-registered guests can enjoy their pool.  It's a classic, and it felt like a scene from "Dirty Dancing" with the resorts in the 50's.  Shower before you go in?  We don't have showers, sorry.  Lifeguards every ten feet watching you every move?  We have a guy who wanders around occasionally yelling at kids not to jump off the large pool toy anchored in the shallow end.  It was awesome.  The water was warm, the Styrofoam noodles plenty, and we had a lot of fun jumping in the deep deep end (9 feet!) over and over.

Jill and began our pool experience by sitting down comfortably in the shade.  She passed out and I sat there in a stupor trying to decide on a nap or not.  I made a joke about finding a cabana boy to bring me a Pina Colada.  The deal we worked out was that if I went in first she would get me my Pina Colada.  So I went in. It was warm water, crazy kids, and a great pool.  After having a few boot camp flashbacks while trying to get from deep water to shallow water, I fell into a nice rhythm of crazy fun with Eli and then a little more deliberate fun with Lily.  She always has some sort of mission or plan she's working on.  Eli just wants to make big waves or stay underwater longer or some sort of mischief.

When Jill and I traded places and I had my trusty Pina Colada, all was right with the world.  For a while.  Until Lily decided to walk across the bottom of the hot tub.  She ended up going in over her head in boiling hot spa water.  She was not pleased.  Eventually she was ok, but it took quite a bit of love and a new sno-cone to fix her.  Did I mention the pool had all you can eat sno-cones?  Nice.  Overall the kids loved the pool.  I enjoyed it as well.

We went back to the house for a good old fashioned Craig Happy Hour.  Lots of good eats, as many family members as we could find within a state's borders, and lots of laughter.  We had so much to eat we decided to skip dinner an just pig out.  The dog, Bentley, even got in on the fun.  At least most of the family got to try Jill's famous devilled eggs before he got to them.  I hope he liked them!

Speaking of Bentley, I found out early on that if I did a particular goofy voice and narrated the dogs actions, Emma would be put into fits of silent laughter that only revealed themselves by her choking noises trying to gasp for air.  It was awesome.  So I did it a lot.  It didn't help that the dog has these expressive eyes that look human.  I think it's the spacing.  But when he looks at you he judges your soul.  And with my narration.. well, it gets kinda goofy.  So we did that a lot and it was good fun.

Jill and I went out on a double date with Lisa and Steve.  It was great fun.  We were adults going out on the town.  Well, as long as there wasn't live music, because that's a little annoying.  And we wanted to sit down. And a patio would be nice.  Oh and appetizers.  But they have to have good beer.  Ok, it was a couple of old couples looking for the least annoying nightlife ever.  But we did find the right spot and it was great.  We got to try good drinks, made quiet judging comments about the young family that didn't seem to understand that a baby in a bar was a bad idea, and we got to see how close the bat would fly before hitting Lisa.  Sadly, the bat never got her.

We did, however, move on to the Best Bar Ever.  Of course I don't remember the name, but that usually comes with finding a good bar -- fuzzy details.  I know our server was Luke Perry researching a new role.  And that he knew beer better than I did.  Which isn't hard, but it's still impressive.  Jill ordered (and enjoyed) something called Grog.  Kelsey came to join us and might have made Steve tear up.  Which isn't easy.  Kelsey left for his ferry and ended up missing it.  When we asked why the responding text was "it's complicated" and it truly was.  Rather than tell the story, I'll let it be mysterious and thus ten times more interesting than it was.

We also got to meet the girl Kelsey had been on a date with earlier that evening.  She was a really nice, really pretty and really interesting girl.  We were almost polite to her, but Lisa knew her and that allowed us (me) to be as obnoxious as we (I) pleased.  Pretty sure I didn't say anything horrible.  The evening eventually ended and we passed out happily in our wonderful guest room in an awesome house build in 1848.  Never did get to see a ghost, though.

Aug 14, 2012

A day on Mackinac Island

Our day started leisurely enough.  It was nice not to have to get up, get to ferry, get on Island, and then begin our day.  Instead, we just got up and had a nice breakfast and headed out.  The house we're staying in is almost visible in the image below, but you can see a large fenced yard in the middle right of the image.  That's their back yard.  If you know the island and the town, you'll notice that it's just on the edge of, well, everything.

 For every wonderful thing there is a price, albeit small.  Living one block off the main drag, surrounded by history, you end up on tour routes.  It was a bit unsettling the first few times they passed by, and they pass by regularly.  But eventually you ignore it and it becomes just another set of clomping horse hooves.  I'm not saying I timed my leaving the house with the tours passing.  That would be tacky.  But I wish I had better timing.  :)

By late morning we had our act together and rented some horses.  If you're on the island and you don't have the opportunity to stay in a "private residence" just rent some horses.  People would poke each other and look with amazement -- "oh, look, horses!" -- on an island filled with horses, somehow those riding horses are more interesting.  What these people don't realize is that we're not riding horses.  We're renting a small space on top of a large animal that has been programmed to walk the same route over and over again.  Our skill level had more to do with the level of docility of the animal, nothing more.  I could have told them I was a rodeo clown and that I owned a herd of horses, I would still have gotten the same horse.

The kids had a great time, and the adults enjoyed it.  But we were certainly hurting by the time we got off the horses.  Old bones and such.  But it was a wonderful opportunity and I had a lot of fun.  Lily would go riding every day if she could.  Jill and I are on the "once a decade" plan.

After a simple and excellent lunch back at the homestead we recharged our batteries a bit and headed up to the fort.   We have all been to the fort a number of times, but for the first time we set the kids off by themselves.  Lily and Emma took the camera and went off and had lots of fun taking pictures.  Lily took a LOT of pictures.  But they had fun:

The boys went off and toured the fort, seeing more than I thought they would.  Jill and I took up the role of an older couple who move slowly through boring (to others) exhibits.  At one point I sat patiently waiting for Jill to read all about the war of 1812.  But I was sitting in front of a maritime display that had a cool model boat and a song being played by a concertina.  Heard that song about 15 times.  It was awesome.  And nobody complained that they were hungry, bored, or tired.

A stop at the tea room for Lemonade and Pecan ball, a stop at the gift shop (no joy this trip, I have all the cool toys) and we rolled down the hill back to the house.  Again, so nice to walk in the door, lose the shoes and sit down for a while.  Bliss.

I took an evening stroll to check out the touristy shops down the lane, checking my options for a power-shopping trip tomorrow.  I'll be able to take the kids to two or three places, let them pick their trinkets, and get out with nary a tantrum in front of hot pink t-shirts with offensive sayings on them.

The island is a magical place.  If I ever won the lottery I would buy a cottage as close to downtown as possible, sit on the porch and complain about all the damn tourists.  It would be heaven.

Aug 13, 2012

Off to Michigan

After a nice, not too long drive to Rhinelander to see Great Aunt Lil, we enjoyed the evening wandering through the local quarry sliding down sand hills and collecting rocks.  The kids posed for pictures and finally washed their feet off again at the  

This morning, we had a medium sized drive from Rhinelander to Mackinaw City.  A picnic at Escanaba (in da sunlight) and a quick stop at the Most Awesome Rest Area in Naubinway proved a wonderful afternoon's frolic in the waves.  The water was warm, the sun high, and the kids excited.  Totally out of character, I even took my shoes off and wandered out.  The water was low -- or the sand was high -- so we got to walk way out and the kids ended up getting completely wet.  But that's expected.  Jill's tradition is to stop and put your feet in every Great Lake you see.  It's a wonderful tradition but makes going to see the fall colors an intimidating affair sometimes.

 We made it to the ferry before any rain, but as it was getting choppier and windier the breeze was up.  We watched the other ferry pass by, it was quite exciting.  It was even more exciting when we hit the wake and the spray hit us.  Eli and Lily were drenched.  It was awesome!

We finally made it to Mackinac Island and were met by my sister and her clan at the dock.  After a lovely pizza dinner downtown on the island, we walked both blocks back up to her summer house.  It's amazing to be so close to the heart of the island.   It's even cooler to come out the front door and have the tourists look at you in awe -- someone in a house so deep in town and not a B&B.  We're island rock stars for the week!

And the views are great!