What am I going to do this summer?

I just walked home from meeting with my supervisor to go over my first annual evaluation in my new job. This should be the last time I have to go on campus until August–not that I don’t want to be there. It’s just that this is my first summer since starting college that I haven’t been working a job that has regular hours. I’ll be teaching online throughout the summer, which is real work, but it’s work that I can do anywhere (such as looking out at the Atlantic Ocean, which I may do while at Myrtle Beach next week) and anytime (including on BST, British Summer Time, which I’ll be observing while in the UK the following week). So I’m determined not to set foot in my office until my contractual obligations begin again in August.

My summer is almost comically full. For most of June and July, I will be making periodic stops at home just long enough to repack my suitcase, mow my lawn so that it doesn’t look like a jungle, and get the chiropractic adjustments I’ll need after all the flying and driving I’m going to do. Oh, and somewhere in there, I’m getting a haircut. Besides the trips mentioned in the previous paragraph, I will be visiting family in Pennsylvania and friends in Virginia. I also have tentative plans to visit the famed Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the short sliver of the year in which it’s not covered in snow, and I may combine this with a pilgrimage/research trip to northern Minnesota to see the town (Hibbing) in which I set my zombie apocalypse novel but which I’ve never visited. I’m a little nervous to see the real Hibbing, but if I find that my portrayal is wildly inaccurate, I can always change the name to Unspecified Northern Midwestern Town–or chalk the differences up to zombies.

I almost just typed the sentence, “But I don’t want to waste this summer,” and then the smarter and kinder part of my brain was like, “You know that resting, spending time with the people you love, and seeing more of this beautiful world is not ‘wasting’ the summer.” This is true. However, there are a few things I’d like to accomplish besides traveling and teaching online. One is to continue the dent I am making in my reading list. Last fall, I took inventory of the books I had been buying over the past few years and realized that my to-read list was out of control. So I divided the books into categories and have been making my way through a selection of them each month. In my suitcase for the beach trip, I have packed Roald Dahl’s The BFG, which, in the form of a small mass-market paperback, even looks like a light beach read. But I’m also probably going to bring along the massive hardcover biography of Thomas Hardy that might take me into July.

In addition to reading, I would like to start writing the sequel to my zombie novel. I’m still trying to decide what to do with the first one, Sam’s Town (yes, that’s an intentional reference to The Killers’ album), though I’m leaning toward self-publishing it as an e-book. (My reasoning, in short: I want some people to read it, but I don’t have any expectation, need, or desire to make an income from it, so I might as well send it out into the world in the quickest and most straightforward way possible so that the few people who are going to read it can get started on it.) And I plan to make some more revisions to it after my beta readers are finished with it. But in the meantime, I want to start working on the sequel, Sam’s Home. (It’s a pun! “The home of Sam” or “Sam is home.”) I wrote a 200-word scene last week, and I want to keep going while I have the momentum. I know it will involve another road trip, some romance, and probably the death of one of the main characters. But more on that later.

So that’s what I’m going to do this summer. I’m not sure how much blogging I’ll be doing, but I won’t go completely off the radar. Do you have any big plans for the summer?

stuff I’m enjoying right now

It’s time for one of those posts I do every once in a while about things I’m into, from no particular category, in no particular order.

1. The Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden. The book club I was part of in Virginia (I keep in touch with these friends and try to read the books when I can) chose book one, The Bear and the Nightingale, as this month’s pick. I voraciously consumed it in a little less than a week, and now I’m on book two, The Girl in the Tower. (I decided to buy the whole trilogy yesterday in book form yesterday even though I already have two on my Kindle. They’ll look nice on my shelf.) I’m loving this historical fantasy about pre-tsar era Russia, with its beautiful descriptions, nuanced and mostly likeable characters, and a fairy-tale quality that comes through in unexpected ways.

2. Audm. This subscription app allows me to listen to long-form journalism pieces from some of America’s most respected publications. It entertained me (and provoked thought) throughout most of my drive from Michigan to Pennsylvania on Friday. I’ve listened to articles (just to name a few) about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, why most Americans don’t cheat on their taxes, and a man who got out of a white supremacist group in Britain and started working against them at risk of his life. I also listened to a profile of folk singer Rhiannon Giddens, which alerted me to her new album there is no Other, which I then looked up and listened to for the rest of my drive. (item 2.5) It’s a haunting, minimalist album that I’m not going to try to describe because I’m already using pretentious music review cliches. Two thumbs up.

3. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)My mom is working her way through all of Adam Sandler’s movies because she and I are going to see him live next week–another story for another time–and I joined her for this 2017 Netflix original featuring Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, and Emma Thompson, among others. It’s about an ageing artist who has a chip on his shoulder about his declining reputation and, more importantly, who’s made a mess of his relationships with his children. Then he collapses and ends up in a coma, and the kids and his flighty current wife have to figure out what to do. That sounds unpleasant, but the dialogue is fascinating. It’s how real people talk. I aspire to write dialogue like that. There were many moments when I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. And the ending was pretty hopeful, believe it or not. Two more thumbs up.

4. Dirty Turtle at The Meadows Frozen Custard. Last night I made my mom go with me on a sort of summer-kickoff mini-adventure. I wanted to watch the sun set from a spot where I’d never seen it before, visit a war memorial (in honor of Memorial Day), drive with the windows down, and eat ice cream. It was a cloudy evening, so we didn’t see much of a dramatic sunset–plus we were nervous that the community park was serious about closing at sunset and that we would get stuck in there overnight, so we just did a driveby of the war memorial and then drove to a nearby housing development where we parked by a vacant lot on top of a hill and watched what was left of the sunset. But we did get a delicious frozen dairy treat, even though I was envisioning hand-dipped ice cream rather than the soft-serve custard that The Meadows dishes out. That’s okay, though–I ended up really enjoying the Dirty Turtle my mom recommended: chocolate custard with walnuts and salted caramel. I’m not sure why places like this think it’s cute to put “dirty” in the title of their food and drink items; I think in this case it just meant that the ice cream was chocolate? I don’t know. But I could definitely eat one of those again. FYI, The Meadows is a chain of custard parlors (? is that a thing?) in Pennsylvania and Maryland only (I think); perhaps those of you in other locations can suggest this flavor combination to your favorite local ice cream joint.

Let me know what you’re enjoying in the comments!

 

 

 

the Amway River Bank Run

It’s time for me to make my annual moderately profound post about how I’m not fast or athletic but I am stronger than I think and yes, I really can run long distances (okay, not “ultra” distances. Give me a break.). You are probably tired of reading these posts, but in case you’re not, here and here are some examples to help you catch up. Although I know these things about myself, I am still awed almost to tears each time my hobbit body crosses a finish line. I crossed another one on Saturday, so I’m going to write about it, and if you don’t want to read it, you can skip it.

But this time, I’m going to focus mostly on the race itself, not on my performance or lack thereof, so this is also kind of an event review post–still not very exciting for most of you unless you live in the Grand Rapids area or enjoy shelling out money to travel to races. You know what? I’m writing this post for myself. There we go.

The 41st annual Amway River Bank Run, a 25K (that’s almost 16 miles) road race, took place this past Saturday. My two running buddies from Virginia flew in on Friday afternoon, we picked up our packets at the crowded DeVos Place (now I know how to get to DeVos Place! GR milestone), and we spent the evening in a low-grade panic while eating healthy food from Core Life Eatery and then cookies from Cookies and Cupcakes by Design across the street (where we would return the next day for our traditional post-race cupcakes). We got up early Saturday, now in a total fog combined of panic, tiredness, and cold, and drove downtown to park in the Pearl-Ionia Parking Ramp because we had seen on the website that it was going to close at 6:45 am, and we thought it made sense to beat the crowds and park there. It kind of made sense. We sat in the car for over 45 minutes, trying to stay warm (it was 38 outside), staring at Grand Rapids Community College’s Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall (which looked pretty when the sun started coming up over it), talking about how much we hated running, and wondering why were were doing this. Then, shivering, we found the starting line, took a few pictures while we were still looking cute and–more to the point–alive, used the portable toilets, and huddled for warmth inside DeVos Place until it was time to start.

As we knew we would, we appreciated the cool weather once we got started. Although (spoiler alert) I still felt like I was going to die at the end of the race, this experience was much less horrible than the marathon I ran last year at this time in the blazing heat of Waco, Texas. The temperature was perfect, and the wind created a moderate challenge only near the end of the race. (Running against the wind always makes me smile a little anyway because I like that Bob Seger song.) The course, on the other hand, was not what I expected. I was picturing us running downtown the whole time, but instead, we left Grand Rapids proper fairly early on (by way of a really ripe-smelling sewage treatment plant–maybe they should rethink that leg of the route) and ran on the access road along 196 that I have seen people running along before–it seems to be a common route for race events. We crossed into Wyoming and then Grandville (where we glimpsed that bizarre apartment building that looks like a hulking castle) and briefly Walker before turning around and heading back toward GR through the Millennium Park area (which looks really cool! I want to go back and explore). Honestly, the route was kind of boring, but there were bands playing, volunteers cheering and handing out water and Gatorade, and mile marker signs with snarky and/or inspirational quotes. The quality of the event was on par with that of the Virginia Ten-Miler, which for me is the gold standard of races if only because I’m so used to it.

But this was the Ten-Miler plus a 10K. And it was hard. Around the half-marathon mark, my legs told me they weren’t going to run anymore, so I walked for a while and tried to do some dynamic stretching, which didn’t help. (N.B. There was a Coca-Cola bottling plant around this point in the race. You know what would have helped? An ice-cold Coke. Idea for next year, people.) So then I told my legs to shut up–we were going to run the rest of the race. And we did. Highlights of the last few miles included crossing the Grand River and running the last quarter-mile or so uphill, with people lining the street who didn’t have a clue who I was but were still cheering for me (or maybe for the woman who passed me on the curve by Madcap Coffee, but I’m going to believe it was for both of us). This is the part where I got a little teary. I had been listening to a Queen-based Pandora station for the whole race, but here I took my headphones out and listened to the crowd and my ragged breath. And I felt like Rocky, because I went the distance.

That’s as sentimental as I’m going to get this year.

my first winter in Michigan

Here are some things I learned during my first winter in West Michigan:

  1. Weather-related cancellations are rare. They are more likely to happen due to cold than to snow. I understand this because I know that cold can be dangerous, especially to the very young and the very old, but driving on slippery roads with low visibility is also dangerous–just saying.
  2. Speaking of slippery roads, I learned that I can drive okay in snow but that I will feel much more comfortable in an all-wheel-drive vehicle. I came to this decision when my Mazda 6, which has served me well for nearly 10 years, got stuck in the snow twice in one day in February. I plan to begin shopping for a small SUV soon.
  3. On the other hand, I learned that I probably don’t need a garage or carport. This had been one of my must-have items when I began home shopping, but I ended up buying a garageless house that fit nearly all of my other needs and desires. I talked about installing a carport, but now I don’t think I need it. Defrosting my windshield in the morning is a minor inconvenience, and anyway, I live close enough to my job to walk when I don’t feel like digging out the car.
  4. I also learned that you find out who your friendly neighbors are in the winter. During the late January polar vortex, one neighbor whom I hadn’t met saw me struggling to shovel out my driveway and came over with his snowblower. It was too cold to exchange pleasantries, so I still don’t know his name, but I’m grateful to him. Other neighbors helped me push and shovel on that day in February when my car got stuck twice.
  5. And finally, I learned that I can handle a Michigan winter. So to those of you who were hoping to gloat when I came crying back to Virginia–sorry, you don’t get that satisfaction. Heh, heh.

fun house!

Over the weekend, I moved into my new house in Wyoming, Michigan (nowhere near the state of Wyoming, just like the college town where I went for my Ph.D. coursework, Indiana, Pennsylvania, is nowhere near the state of Indiana). My previous house, in Virginia, was a modular on a slab, built in 2005, so while it was almost maintenance-free, it wasn’t a home with which I would associate the word “character” (though, to give the previous homeowners credit, they had added a really cool tile floor in the kitchen and some lovely landscaping outside). But my new home was built in the 1940s and has a basement and a little Cape Cod-style upstairs level, so it’s full of character, quirk, and whatever else you want to call it. I have always loved houses with funny little alcoves and cupboard doors in unexpected places, and my new house has plenty of these. Plus, the previous homeowner left a number of built-ins (such as corner knick-knack shelves) and a few non-built-ins (such as an old but functional metal desk in the basement) around the house, so I’ve been having fun running around the house thinking of ways to use these little surprises, even the ones that aren’t terribly functional. Here are some of my favorite features:

  1. The ultimate hiding place. In the upper level, there are two recesses in the sloped ceiling/wall, one of which contains a bar on which I’ve hung clothes. There’s one spot where the recess goes back deeper than the opening, so if I push the clothes aside, I have a perfect hiding spot. But it gets better: You can only get to the upper story through the bathroom, and when the door is shut, it just looks like a closet. Hey, wait, I shouldn’t be telling you this, in case we play hide and seek in my house someday (a likely scenario). I think I mentioned in a previous post that I enjoyed hiding in the sloped closets of the Cape Cod house where we lived when I was a little kid, and apparently I have not lost that joy.
  2. The wonky antique cabinet. In the basement, there’s a large old wooden cabinet that isn’t built-in but appears to be very heavy and unwieldy, and the basement stairs are not conducive to carrying furniture, so it’s functionally part of the house now. (I would love to know the story of how it got down there in the first place–or maybe it was built down there.) The doors don’t quite shut right, and it badly needs to be cleaned out (it’s full of random home improvement stuff, including some paint cans that may come in handy) but as my antiques-minded sister pointed out, if I ever felt ambitious, I could paint it and put new doors on and have a lovely showpiece. Or it could just remain a quirky conversation piece.
  3. All the basement shelving I could ever want. This one isn’t quite as exciting as the others, but because I’m going to be using the laundry primarily for laundry and storage (there’s also a guest bedroom down there, which is slightly larger than my “master” bedroom), and also because I’m kind of a hoarder, the amount of shelving down there is a dream come true. In addition to the built-in shelves and table, the previous homeowner left a large metal portable unit that’s going to be perfect for hanging just-washed clothes. And there’s even a sink next to the washing machine, which I appreciate for its novelty as well as its utility. (I guess it’s not that unusual to have a sink next to the washing machine, but I’ve never had one before, so it’s fun.)

I could go on: There are lyrics to John Lennon’s “Imagine” painted on the inside of the door frame of the room I’m going to use as a library/reading room (not a design choice I would have chosen, but I can think of worse songs she could have picked); there’s a grapevine Christmas wreath up in the eaves of the shed, so I’ll have to get my ladder and see if I can dig it out, and there are TWO lazy susans in the kitchen cabinets. There are mirrors and coat hooks in convenient places–that’s less money I’ll have to spend at Lowe’s–and I even like the colorful cabinet hardware and light switch plates in the kitchen. I live in a fun house, and I can’t wait to get all my stuff unpacked and make it truly my own (oh, and to decorate it for Christmas!).

planes, trains, and radical hospitality

This past weekend, my family watched the John Hughes comedy Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987) like we do every Thanksgiving. This movie works so well because the two main characters, played by Steve Martin and John Candy, subvert stereotypes that are often present in run-of-the-mill comedies. Martin’s character, Neal Page, is a twist on the workaholic dad character so common in 1980s and 90s family comedies. Unlike most of those characters, Neal desperately wants to get home to his family, but can’t because of a relentless series of logistical mishaps. He also embodies the tightly-wound neurotic character type, but whereas that type often appears as an antagonist or as merely the butt of unkind humor, Neal, as the point of view character of the film, is utterly sympathetic. Candy’s character, Del Griffith, (SPOILER ALERT–but seriously, you’ve had 31 years to see this movie) is a homeless widower, a character who might be a tiresomely pathetic victim in a lesser movie, but he’s also that annoying guy who sits next to you on an airplane and talks your ear off. But as we, through Neal, get to know Del, we are led into sympathy with him as well, and we come to understand that he talks because he’s lonely. He is vulnerable not only because he is a homeless widower but also because he is a traveling salesman–someone who, like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, survives by the good will of others–but he is also incredibly savvy and resilient.

I realized this year, more than ever before, how much I relate to Neal Page, especially in his very physical and verbal displays of frustration. I really see myself in the scene where he throws an almost acrobatic tantrum–and literally throws his car rental agreement–in the remote parking lot where he gets stranded after he gets dropped off at the alleged parking space of a rental car that doesn’t exist. Co-workers probably think Neal is a calm, mild-mannered guy, but he has high standards for himself, other people, and the universe at large, and when those standards aren’t met, he doesn’t know what to do. So he explodes, and sometimes he hurts people. I can relate, so very much. (I gave a major character in the zombie apocalypse story I just finished writing, Adrian Fallon, this same flaw. I also realized after watching the movie on Friday how much the road trip elements of my story had been influenced by Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.)

I think nearly everyone can relate to Neal–who, again, is the character through whom we experience the story–in one respect. The whole way through the film, we’ve been imagining, along with Neal, these idyllic scenes of what his family must be doing at home. Through him, we’ve experienced the gradual stripping away of comforts he has always taken for granted–money, transportation, warmth, privacy, security. (These are things, by the way, that Del, a perpetual traveler, cannot take for granted. I think the heavy trunk he carries around represents the burden of the constant stress of the road.) By the end, we, along with Neal, want nothing more than to go home, take a shower, eat Thanksgiving dinner, and go to bed. Yet (spoiler again) Neal makes the radical decision to turn around and invite Del to share Thanksgiving, one of the most intimate holidays, with his family. There’s a lot of talk today in the blogosphere, the publishing industry, churches, etc. about “radical hospitality.” Planes, Trains, and Automobiles shows us, profoundly, that tired, frustrated, flawed people are the ones who can best show such hospitality.

 

 

home shopping tips from a non-expert

I spent the greater part of Saturday looking at nine homes in the greater Grand Rapids area, and my offer on one of them was accepted the next day. So congratulate me, friends–I’m now in some stage of owning two different homes. Fortunately, I’m not paying mortgage on both! (The closing date for both the one I’m selling and the one I’m buying is October 31–happy Halloween to me.) This has been my second time shopping for a home, so from my limited experience, I would like to offer you some simple tips.

  1. Speak your reactions aloud. Even if it’s something really obvious (“And here’s another closet”), process your observations verbally and externally. This will not only reinforce your memory–which will become important when the houses you’ve seen all start running together in your mind–but it will also help your realtor know what sorts of things you like and dislike, as well as what sorts of things you might not be noticing at all. Which brings me to my next tip…
  2. Know your areas of in-expertise, and let your realtor know. Right from the start on Saturday, I told my realtor, “I’m not good at noticing things like the age of the wiring and the furnace, so I’d appreciate it if you could point those things out to me.” Your realtor is not the stereotypical crooked used car salesman, so admitting your lack of knowledge is not setting you up to be swindled. Your realtor wants to help you find a safe, quality house and be satisfied, so even if he/she is the listing agent of the house you’re looking at (which doesn’t happen that often in my experience–maybe it would in a less-populated area), he/she is acting in your best interest.
  3. Accept that you won’t get everything on your list. I stole this one from my realtor. He said, “You’re going to have a list of about ten things you want in a house, and you’re going to get about six or seven of them.” That made-up (but pretty accurate) statistic sounds like a bummer, but as you look around, you’ll start to realize which of those items are the most important to you. And you may be able to compensate for some items: The house I’m buying doesn’t have a garage, which–because of the lake effect snow I’ve been warned of–was a pretty important item for me. But because of the low price of the house and the nice-sized driveway, I have the money and space to get a carport installed. (I could probably put an actual garage in someday too, but that’s more space for me to fill up with stuff. #hoarder)
  4. Take your time, and get a second opinion. I’m not only a hoarder; I’m a rusher. In life in general, it’s hard for me to slow down and really pay attention. I think a lot of people are like this today, so this is one reason why it’s good to have a realtor to help you notice things you might have otherwise skimmed over. If you’re buying a house alone, I also recommend taking someone along with you–I’ve brought my parents along with me while home shopping. Just make sure you don’t end up with a Say Yes to the Dress scenario. That show used to stress me out because these brides would bring huge crowds of family and friends to their dress fitting sessions, and then they’d have huge crowds of opinions to deal with. And it always seemed like there was at least one naysayer, impossible to satisfy, and at least one person who wanted to control everything. Often the sessions would end in yelling or crying. So, for your sanity, when you go home shopping (or wedding dress shopping, I guess), bring only one or two people whose opinions you trust but who won’t be offended if you disagree and who will let you make the final decision.
  5. Have fun! This goes along with the previous tip: It’s hard to have fun if you’re in a rush. On Saturday, I succeeded pretty well in making myself slow down and have a nice time exploring the homes and the area. It helped that it was a beautiful day–a quintessential First Day of Autumn. But regardless of the weather, take the pressure to find the perfect home off of yourself and enjoy the opportunity to snoop into houses you’d never get to see otherwise. Go ahead, open all the little doors and find out what they lead to. (I do this compulsively–I’m kind of like a child in this regard. This is especially fun in old houses, where you might find an old milk-bottle delivery slot, or at least a laundry chute.) Make jokes about what they’re hiding behind the doors, especially if you’re in a creepy basement. Make up stories about the people who live or have lived in the house. And if you happen to visit a home that’s having an open house, make sure you get some coffee and donuts!

the journey north, part 2

I decided to go ahead and narrate the second half of my M22 road trip while it’s fresh in my mind. When we left off, I was standing atop Old Baldy Dune in the Arcadia Bluffs Natural Area, having a bit of a spiritual experience. That was my only outdoor adventure of the day, the rest of which was spent mostly eating. In fact, I spent a good portion of this trip eating. But I think I balanced this activity out pretty well with walking. Every day of the trip, I took a long walk if not a full-blown hike.

On the way to my next planned stop, I went into Frankfort, my new favorite town, and stopped at the Crescent Bakery, which I had seen the day before. It’s a popular spot; there was a line out the door when I stopped (granted, it’s a small building). I had a dirty chai (chai tea latte with a shot of espresso–I always feel like I need to explain that) and a cinnamon sugar cake doughnut that was good but not quite up to the standard of Mama’s Crockett’s, which is one of the things I miss most about the Lynchburg area.

Next, I made my first of two stops that day in Glen Arbor. M22 goes right through the center of town, and some of the most popular shopping destinations on the route are here, creating a perfect storm of foot and car traffic. Fortunately, my destination, the M22 Store, has its own parking lot. You can rent kayaks and other outdoorsy equipment here, but I was there to shop the merchandise branded after the famous route. I bought an M22 sticker for my car, which has previously played host to stickers for the Blue Ridge Parkway and Route 12, the road that spans the length of the Outer Banks. I also bought a raglan shirt that I think is supposed to be for men, but I chose it because the M22 logo is small and subtle, meaning that I can probably wear the shirt to work.

The other thing I wanted to do in Glen Arbor was get a piece of cherry pie at Cherry Republic, but I decided to come back for that after lunch, which I planned to eat at the Village Cheese Shanty in Leland. When I arrive in Leland around noon, it was crowded as well; I had to park several blocks away from Fishtown, the Lake Michigan-side historic district that is primarily made up of small, weathered board shanties, such as the aforementioned cheese one. The VCS is small, hot, and crowded, but it’s really good at sandwiches. I ordered the Leelanau (name of the county where Leland is located, as well as Leland’s other lake), which is a roast beef sandwich with veggies and local fromage blanc–a soft, spreadable white cheese with herbs. I enjoyed my sandwich on a bench away from the crowds, from which I could see the lake.

Then I headed back to Glen Arbor, which by this time was so teeming with pedestrians and cars that it was starting to stress me out. I parked along a residential street and then walked to Cherry Republic, which consists of a restaurant, a store, and a “tasting room.” I didn’t want to wait for a slice of pie in the restaurant, which looked busy, so I bought an entire freshly made (still warm) pie in the store. Why not? I carried my cherry pie to the Cottonseed, an upscale (read: expensive) women’s clothing boutique whose front-porch end-of-season clearance section intrigued me. I found a light ivory-and-tan striped dress (with pockets!), basically the perfect summer dress, which I wore to work yesterday in defiance of the rule about wearing white after Labor Day. Next, I went to Leelanau Coffee Roasters and got a chai freeze and carried it down to a little strip of beach where I took yet a few more views of the lake (some lake–I lost track of what I was looking at) for my Instagram followers.

By then, it was mid-afternoon, so I decided to head toward my lodgings for the night. I followed M22 North to the point where it turns around and becomes M22 South. I didn’t stop in Northport, the town on the point, but continued to Sutton’s Bay, where my hotel was. Sutton’s Bay marked the farthest point of my trip; I didn’t follow M22 to its terminus in Traverse City (I decided to save that for another trip). In Sutton’s Bay, I stayed at the cute M22 Inn (another old-style motor lodge) and ordered a pizza from Roman Wheel, which makes the good, greasy pie you expect from a small-town pizzeria. I ate that and a slice of my cherry pie while watching Fear the Walking Dead in my hotel room.

On the last day of my trip, instead of taking Siri’s recommended fastest route back to Grand Rapids, I decided to retrace my route along M22, stopping in places that I had enjoyed to get in one last visit (like Frankfort; this time I walked out on the pier to Frankfort Light, which is a rather forbidding, prison-esque lighthouse) and in places that I didn’t love the first time, to give them another chance (like Glen Arbor, which was much more peaceful when I stopped for a coffee early in the morning on Labor Day). I also stopped in Northport this time just to say I’d been at the tip of the peninsula; their waterfront area is beautiful, and Barb’s Bakery has good cream cheese danishes but doesn’t take credit cards on orders under $10 (but checks are accepted).

I enjoyed this trip immensely, and I can’t wait to go back “up north,” as the phrase goes around here, in the fall to enjoy the beautiful foliage for which the area is famed.

 

I’m in love with a sand dune.

This past holiday weekend, I went on a road trip inspired by an article about Michigan’s scenic highway M22 in this month’s issue of Midwest Living. I want to give you a quick travelogue in case you’d like to follow this same route yourself.

On Friday after work, I made the approximately two-hour drive (with traffic) from Grand Rapids to Manistee, where M22 begins. I immediately went to Manistee’s working Coast Guard lighthouse, where I got some pictures and stuck my feet in the sand for the first of many times over the weekend. Then I crossed the Manistee River (like many of the towns I visited, this one has two bodies of water–in this case, the river and Lake Michigan) to the small but vibrant downtown area. By 7:30, a lot of places had closed already, but I picked up some delicious shrimp tacos at The Fillmore and took them back to my hotel. I stayed in Manistee’s recently remodeled Super 8, which was much nicer than I had expected. (By the way, expect lodging prices along M22 to be jacked up over holiday weekends, as is generally the case in vacation areas.)

I got up early the next morning and went for a short run along the well-lit Riverwalk. After grabbing some free breakfast at the Super 8, checking out, and visiting the lighthouse one more time, I hit the scenic road. My first stop (other than at the very nice EZ Mart in Onekama) was in Frankfort, which turned out to be my favorite town along M22. First, I visited the picturesque Point Betsie lighthouse north of town. I didn’t stay there long because I got drenched by a sudden rain shower that was probably worse on the point, with its wild waves and fog, than it would have been in town. Soaked, I headed into Frankfort to do a little shopping. I bought a sandpiper hoodie at Michigan Rag Co., which specializes in casual wear screen-printed with cute animals, and a pair of fleece-lined leggings at a women’s clothing shop a few doors down. (I wish I could remember the name.) Because I was still wet, I ended up changing into my new clothes at one of Frankfort’s public restrooms. I was highly impressed by the fact that most of the towns along the highway provide free public restrooms near their waterfront areas.

I got back on the road and next stopped in Empire, where I got a sandwich from the Shipwreck Cafe. (All the sandwiches are named after ships that went down in Lake Michigan–I had the Three Brothers, an Italian sub.) Then I hit the Empire Bluffs Trail. Although the views along this hike were breathtaking, I was frustrated and a bit frightened when the trail, which the Midwest Living article had led me to believe was a 1.5-mile loop, did not seem to be looping back around. When my footing got harder to maintain (I was hiking along the side of a dune) and I was no longer seeing other people on the trail, I decided to turn around. I think I still got the full experience, though I’d be interested to go back and see if there’s another trailhead. I next went into Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park (it costs $20 per car for a pass that lasts for a week–kind of high if you’re only planning to be there for a short time, like me) and drove the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which includes a covered bridge, some beautiful woods, and the Sleeping Bear Dune itself. I didn’t enjoy the dune as much as I might have on another weekend; it was crawling with people, many of whom were ignoring the sign cautioning them against going down the steep slope lest it take them two hours to climb back up. It’s still an amazing sight, though. By the way, if when I say “dune” you’re picturing gentle, rolling hills like at Kitty Hawk, NC, think instead of a massive sand bluff overlooking the lake.

My hotel that night was in Bear Lake, so I had to retrace my steps to get there. Fortunately, nothing along M22 is that far apart. I probably could have stayed in Manistee that night as well, but it was fun to experience the Alpine, a Budget Host Inn that retains the charm of an old-school motor lodge. After checking in and hanging out in my room for a while (the rooms need some updates but are clean and comfortable), I went back into Manistee to do some more clothing shopping at a store I’d seen the night before. Then I went to Onekama for the second time that day (though at first I didn’t realize it was the same town) and had a chicken finger basket and a peanut butter milkshake at Papa J’s, where you can also play putt-putt if you’re not traveling alone. (I enjoyed traveling alone for the most part, but there were a few times, like this, when I would have liked to have a buddy!)

The next morning, I went back to the EZ Mart in Onekama for a breakfast sandwich, and then I went to hike another trail. I am so thankful to the manager of the Alpine for recommending the Arcadia Bluffs trail area; this was not originally on my list of things to do, but it ended up being possibly my favorite experience of the trip. The highlight of this trail system is another dune, Old Baldy. You can either take a short, half-mile walk directly to the dune, or you can take a mile-long scenic hike through the woods, which I did on the way out. (I took the short way back.) Although Old Baldy looked a lot like Sleeping Bear to my untrained eye, I enjoyed the experience so much more because I was the only person standing on the dune–partly because it’s less popular and partly, I’m sure, because it was still relatively early in the morning. I got tears in my eyes from the magnificent curve of the dune, the stunningly clear blue water, and the stillness of everything but the breeze and the gentle lake waves.

Okay, I said this was going to be a “quick travelogue.” I should have known. I’ll pick up with the second half of my journey next week.

celebrate good times

My sister got married on Sunday, so I would like to write a blog post about the profound meaning of celebration. Unfortunately, I am exhausted from the wedding (the early-morning hair appointment, the frequent unbidden weeping throughout the day, the dancing), but also from the drive from western Pennsylvania to my new home in western Michigan the morning after the wedding and the effort since then to carve into the mountain of furniture and boxes that resulted from the condensing of a three-bedroom house into the two-room (plus bathroom) apartment where I am living until my home in Virginia sells and I can buy a new one. And now I’m sure you feel exhausted from reading that grammatically correct but epically long sentence.

So I’m just going to make a couple of observations about celebration and hope they make sense. While I’ll be focusing mainly on the wedding in these remarks, I also want to note that I participated in a celebration of another kind on Friday when one of my online students successfully defended her master’s thesis in a conference call with her committee, of which I was the chair. Witnessing this victory got the weekend off to a celebratory start!

  1. Celebrations can be hard work. Although I was my sister’s maid of honor, I live relatively far away and so did not participate in much of the logistical preparation for the wedding. I know my sister and mom put many hours of work into acquiring decor, putting everything into labeled boxes for the wedding coordinator to set out, and taking care of innumerable other tasks. The result was gorgeous–my sister has great taste, and it showed in both the ceremony and the reception. As I mentioned earlier, the day of the wedding, though joyful, was also hard work–I know the bridesmaids will testify along with me to the difficulty of standing on chunky gravel in thin shoes throughout the ceremony, and I know the groomsmen were sweating in their long sleeves and vests. (I realize that sentence sounds silly, but it’s true! Outdoor weddings are beautiful but no picnic!)
  2. And then there’s the emotional labor. The bride and groom are marking a major life change, so they’re undergoing massive emotional stress (the good kind–eustress) that probably doesn’t really hit them until the honeymoon. But there’s also emotional labor for the others involved. My immediate family members and myself were surprised by how hard we were hit by the realization that Sarah was joining a new family and things would never be quite the same again. That night in the hotel room, which I had shared with Sarah the two previous nights, I kept bursting into tears when I saw something that reminded me of her. It was kind of ridiculous–I had to remind myself that she hadn’t died. There are other sources of emotional stress too: the worry that things aren’t going to go exactly as planned, the sadness of remembering family members who did not live to see the occasion, and the melancholy that many single people experience at weddings, wondering whether they will ever have their own. (I’ll be honest; I felt that a little bit.)

Well, shoot. I didn’t mean for this to be such a depressing post! I guess I was just trying to process why I feel so incredibly drained right now, because I know it’s not just from driving the Ohio Turnpike for hours (although that is rather soul-sucking) and moving boxes around. I am very happy for my sister and her new husband, and for my thesis student, and I’m happy about the new beginnings I’m celebrating in my own life. Celebrations are wonderful; I’m just thankful we don’t have to have them every day!