Monthly Archives: June 2016

Dating Myself

Dear Me:

I know it’s been a while. Sorry ‘bout that. I get busy.  I know, I know. It isn’t an excuse. That’s why I’m going to make it up to you. It’s time for a girl’s night out! Even Kirsten said she’d come—her hubby will watch the kids while we frolic! Go ahead, get gussied. I’ll wait.

Butch's Dry Dock

Surprise! We’re heading to Holland for dinner and a show—Kirsten is meeting us there for a Saturday night on the town! Can you believe it?  Hang on. “Hello?” (It’s Kirsten.) ” Holland Brewery is overflowing? No problem!”

Kirsten suggests Butch’s nearby—so convenient as it is one block west. We whisk off for an alfresco dining experience at Butch’s Dry Dock. You’ve a perky step that wasn’t there earlier in the day.

Have I told you how nice you look? The earrings are a nice touch.

You saunter through the sublimely bland concrete exterior, pretending to belong. The interior hallway displays expensive looking clothes—a well-heeled, faux brick shopping plaza.

Kirsten & Kiri Go Out!

The host leads you to a patio where giant sunscreens shade quiet, well-dressed patrons. Kirsten ‘Woo Hoos’ for you to join her; it’s a bit noisy with the rustle of seating and umbrella adjusting to keep us from drowning in the sun as we eat. You can tell middle-aged moms don’t get out much—we laugh as we decipher the cryptic menu. The rest of our meal we are the table to be! Laughter races from topic to topic. Our neighbors’ conversations never rise above a murmur the whole evening! How do they know when they’re having fun?

This is the fine dining portrayed in rich television dramas. The menu offers carpaccio ‘dusted with cocoa nibs’.  Confit, chutney and cipollini are scattered on the menu in the same casual manner a fast food worker would ask, “Do you want fries with that?” The napkins on the table are cloth, lovingly scrolled in their own holster mid-table. No more McDonald’s cubed food for us! Now you can say you’ve risen to the hoi polloi at least for one meal!

Sexy Leg Martini

Kirsten orders probably the sunniest looking martini you have ever seen—the Sweet Georgia is a slice of pink-orange froth accented with lemon. It tastes like a promise of eternal youth, almost masking the sticker shock of $11.00 with each tangy swallow. One sip is your reward for eyeing the drink like a thirsty spaniel. Kirsten is such a marshmallow!

Our waiter is sufficiently aloof to make a British butler proud, we warm much faster to red-haired Jack (of our hearts) who checks to see our glasses never empty. We dub him the ‘water boy’ as he obviously isn’t a waiter. He fixes our wobbly table and, with a furtive look, first left, then right, promises to provide a diversion so you can steal the menu.

The meal arrives in stages. We share the most exotic spinach salad ever concocted. Spicy bites of candied ginger pair with the grapefruit—but do challenge the palate with pepitas and a rough-ground mustard vinaigrette. The avocado is neutral and balances the whole. The table votes that it is a winner! Huzzah!

Spinach Salad

 

The meals arrive just in time to keep us from hunting down our waiter—though we do dragoon Jack into getting us some salt and pepper.* The verdict on the entrees is mixed. Kirsten braves the ethnic dish ‘Bahn Mi’ and concludes that, “It’s a good pork sandwich, but it doesn’t taste as good as the Bahn Mi served at the more authentic Huyen’s.” Even a dash of balsamic doesn’t fulfill the umami bite she’s looking for.

“You got the best dish of the three of us.” She says, eyeing your flatbread a little wistfully.

Go ahead gloat, I know you want to.

The brandade is good, but a tad salty.  The brandade….you know, the smoked whitefish topped with bread crumbs served in a ramekin on a gold-edged plate?  What? Ramekin.

R. A. M. E. K. I. N. 

No, it’s a little dish to serve small souffles or dips like this one in.  Why would you think I’d be talking about a Norwegian elf? It sounds Norwegian? Just eat your flatbread.**

So the banh mi that’s not a banh mi and the white fish are a smidge disappointing but the flatbread rules. The real draw is the bonhomie, under a hot sun, inviting warm exchanges.

“Will you look at the time!”

We’d better hustle if we’re going to make the show. But of course, there’s always time for a little detour…Chocolate

I see you! You’ve spotted the candy store next door.  So that’s why you skipped dessert! Okay, one…maybe two truffles, but then we’ve got to go!

Nibbling our chocolate, we head to the Holland Civic Theater for live entertainment in a new production: The Lies the Bind.

Kirsten warns us, “It’s a tearjerker.”

I know, I know, I should have checked with you, but I wanted it to be a surprise. Okay, so it’s a drama. I know, you like comedy, but a little drama never hurt anybody, right?

The Holland Civic Theater is located in a corrugated gingerbread house of a building. It even has the curlicue decorations along the eaves.*** It looks like a former church and we, the penitent, file into the pews awaiting the Southern discomfort to come.

Holland Civic Theater

Turns out the small venue is perfect for the family on the brink of tragedy. The space is intimate—you are knees to neck with the audience member in front of you. The line of sight is a bit awkward.

“Someone should tell management to stagger the chairs.” What do you mean, shush?  You shush. Oh right, the show is starting.

TWO HOURS LATER…

SPOILER ALERT

Okay, so next time, we do comedy.  No, I know you don’t like it when bad things like that happen…especially to children. Yes, yes. You get to pick the next one.  A musical? You know how I feel about musicals!  Okay, Galavant was an exception; who doesn’t love a good spoof musical? What about Ella? You mean the movie based on the book Ella Enchanted?  That wasn’t really a spoof musical, now was it!  No, it wasn’t good either. But you’ll admit, Anne Hathaway did her best to save it. Yes, yes. The book is turning over in its grave. Right, no more theater tickets without your express approval.

What? Yes. You can use my hanky. I’m sure you just got something in your eye.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*The subtle hint by condiment omission is that everything the restaurant serves is delicious without question. Only a hairy-knuckled troglodyte would add a thing!

** This is why we don’t go out for fancy dinners—one sip of martini and we’re lost.

***Alright, alright. I don’t know architecture terms.  What do you call that bric-a-brac found along Swiss chalets?

__*__*__*__*__

The Lies that Bind
Veni Vedi et Mortuus Est (We Came, We Saw, Someone Bit The Dust)

 

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A Farewell to Kitsch

Saturday, we over-nighted in Bear Lake – a tiny town 22 miles south of Frankfort, Michigan—the place my son randomly picked on the map that, surprisingly, did not have any hotel rooms available the night before a three-day holiday weekend.* Some people might thrive on the uncertainty of housing and the joi de vivre of impromptu journeys–it gives me hives.  Fortunately, we found succor at the Bella Vista Inn. As it turns out, the relief of making the 2 ½ hour journey was to be compounded by Fate wagging a playful finger in our direction.**

Bella Vista Hotel - Bear Lake
My son can mess up a hotel room faster than I can take a picture!

Bear Lake is a blip of a town, but that is part of its appeal; it isn’t intended as a huge tourism destination. The lake is placid and shallow fairly far out. Kiddos can splash in the water by sandy beaches. Gnarled trees of indeterminate species grow along the lake’s edge. The trunks dip and bend toward the water as the earth crumbles away in gradual increments.

Bear Lake

We’d navigated our way to the tiny motel and decided to walk across US 31 to admire the lake. Our access beach was a sliver of sand in a small crescent carved out from the neighboring trees. But it was sufficient for a quick dip. I opted to stand and watch while my son dabbled in the water. Now that he is older and can swim a bit, I’m less afraid of imaginary undertow currents taking him to Davy Jones’s locker.*** I snap a few quick pics with my phone and upload a selfie-free greeting to all my peeps on Facebook. My son scampers around in the water, barely bothered by his mom’s admonition to “Pull up your shorts, your butt is showing!”  (Time for a new swimsuit, I guess the elastic is blown in this one.) We stop at the gas station/store/pizza joint on the way back to our hotel to grab some dinner. I’m standing in line waiting for a sub sandwich when I get a phone call:

Vacation Reenactment Players present:

Peculiar Coincidence or Celestial Serendipity?

*BrrrrrrrRing* (Honestly I don’t know what noise my phone made, my son changes the ringtone daily.)

Me: “Hello?”

Caller: “K…where are you?” (Names abbreviated to protect the clueless who think this will keep serial killers away.)

Me: “M? We’re at Bear Lake.”

Caller: “I know. I saw your picture on Facebook.  We’re at Bear Lake.  Where are you exactly?”

Me: “Uh…” (I stop to look around for the name of the gas station.) “We’re at a BP across from the Belle Vista Inn. The kid is getting some pizza and I’m waiting in line to get some dinner.”

Caller: “We’re down the road at a campground. We’re grilling hot dogs. C’mon over.”

Turns out it was walking distance from us. This is the kind of adventure you can’t plan.  (Okay, maybe you could plan it, but it would then lack romance—or whatever the parenting equivalent is!)

Pizza and sugary drinks in hand, we followed her directions to what had to be the smallest campground I have ever seen. It was a slice of beach carved out behind the town, lined with camper trailers and crawling with dogs and children.  Friend M was corralling her herd—she has three, which is enough for a herd in my opinion—with equal parts humor and no-nonsense parenting. She could write a book about it if she wasn’t so busy. We exchanged chit chat and delighted in the coincidence that brought us together.

“I grew up here. My grandfather planted trees along this lake.” She stops, looks around and points to a nearby tree. “He planted that one.”

There is pride in her voice. You can tell she is happy to be from a small town and has pleasant memories.  I’ve often wondered what that felt like.

She offers us canvas chairs at her parent’s trailer.  It is a cozy niche just down the road a ways from her childhood home. There, the grandparents are doting on a precious little girl who has decided to wear a batman mask, it slips off repeatedly as she toddles around. It is a bit incongruous with the pigtails poking out on either side of her head. Everyone is laughing or joking about Bat Girl.  I have a feeling I’ve accidentally wandered into a Norman Rockwell life tableau, except that M’s husband is on the road and she isn’t sure when his hectic schedule will bring him back into the family orbit. I comment on the peacefulness of location and she nods.  “This is my oasis—I can relax here.” She hands me a cream-flavored, alcoholic ginger ale. “I could stay here all the time.” Taking a sip of mellow intoxicant, I’m finding myself in agreement.

During the visit, her children are in constant motion—her son is off at the little playground beside the beach. Her daughters are crawling in and out underfoot. M is the serene center of a frenetic buzz of activity.  We stay as long as my son will tolerate and M hands me a plate of potato salad for the road. We hug before parting and I thank her for a wonderful time.  She smiles and says, “We’ll be coming up for a long week around the 4th of July, if you want, you could rent a tent space and join us.”

I’m touched.  It is a generous offer to be included in a family trip. (With a special needs child, it is especially nice to be invited anywhere.) I may question my sanity when I take trips with my son so far from home, but it is moments like these that make it worth the effort.

The rest of our weekend is a blur of touristy moments:

Frankfort, MI

Frankfort has a beautiful grassy park and nearby playground for kids to run around on.  My son looked especially appropriate in his yellow slicker standing on the mock prow of the playground ship.

IMG_3611
Obligatory kitsch tchotchkis.

 

Portabella and Pesto Sandwich - Crescent Bakery
Portabello, Pesto Panini–you can’t say it without drooling, can you?

In town, many shops devoted to the American spirit for shopping and dining abound. The Crescent Bakery & Cafe served about the best pesto/giant mushroom panini I’ve ever eaten. If I hadn’t forgotten my purse and had to schlep all the way back to our car, we might have avoided a major meltdown moment! One caveat if you dine here—it’s a popular place and the service can be slow, which is a bad combination if your son is starving to death before your very eyes. (Cell phones pay the price for such inconsideration.)

Phone Destruction
Farewell Good Friend

 

The death of his favorite entertainment hits my son hard…even though he was the one to throw it in a fit of hunger-induced rage. After lunch, we mourn with ice cream served up at the ever-so-festive The Scoop—a local joint that serves up Moomers Ice Cream.

Scoop Cropped

We are surrounded by candy and sugar on all sides—it is very cathartic. It is also just about the best ice cream I’ve ever had.

 

 

Ludington, MI

We drive to Ludington to spend the night at a Best Western.  Despite being tired from the day, I decide to take the internet’s advice and hit the popular local restaurant: The Old Hamlin.

The Old Hamlin Restaurant

Above the door as you walk in, the sign says “Family Restaurant Since 1926.” They must be doing something right because the place was doing pretty good business despite the later hour. The décor suggested its roots might be as a Greek diner—the dusty murals and ancient faux wood roof tiles suggested a warmer climate. Old Formica tables and naugahyde padded seats welcomed weary travelers; the furnishings’ sturdy qualities matched its customers perfectly. The food was the standard eclectic American Diner fare—good and plentiful. And as a local had suggested, the homemade bread made it worth the trip.

Dinner at The Old Hamlin

Stuffed to the gills, my son and I walked to visit the beautiful nearby Lake Michigan shoreline and enjoy Stearns Park where my son dragged his paper and crayons to every single piece of playground equipment to write numbers in a new, exciting location while his mother climbed sand dunes to get a picture of the lighthouse against the backdrop of the sparkling waves. It was reassuring to learn I wasn’t too old to enjoy a good sunset. (Although I wisely refrained from investigating the skater’s park nearby—one hip replacement is enough for now.)

Ludington Lighthouse Sunset

We walked a bit and discovered another sandy pleasure—beachside cuisine.  At The Sunset Side Concessions, I was momentarily tempted to order Deep Fried Oreos, when my better senses prevailed.

Despite having eaten enough pancakes and bacon to sink a battleship, my son happily gorged on yet another scoop of ice cream (What is a holiday without overindulgence and stomach aches?) before returning to the Best Western, splashing in the pool, and then conking out for the night. (If you are tired out reading this, imagine how exhausting it was to cram all this into a weekend!)

Best Western of Ludington
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like a home away from home!

Sunday heralded the end of our vacation. After barely making it under the wire for breakfast, we packed and visited the lake shore one last time before heading home.

Ludington Lighthouse.jpg
Apparently to be called a “Lighthouse”–you have to be able to live in it!

I managed to lure my child to visit the light-not-a-house via a long walk down the concrete breakwall to the Ludington North Breakwater Light. It was tricky going as he desperately wanted to fling himself down the slanting embankment to investigate the giant, no-doubt-slippery rocks framing the walkway. At the lighthouse–sorry, I can’t break the habit–I was dismayed to discover that, this far north, The Square™ is a tricky device that doesn’t always work if the wireless connection is iffy.  I’d spent the last of my cash leaving a tip for the hotel staff—and on the electric massage chair in the lobby. (The only way to travel.)  The volunteers graciously let my son pell-mell his way up the stairs to take in the view. Since they couldn’t get the credit card taker to work, they handed me an envelope trusting in the honor system to see payment received by check later that week. What a gift that was to a weary mom and an overly excited child.

Ludington Lighthouse View

We snapped a few pictures—my son insisted on photographing the graffiti—enjoying the sun and the boat wakes creating liquid contrails and a mock surf at the water’s edge. All in all, it has been a postcard-picture perfect visit. As the tourism ads voiced by Tim Allen would say, “It’s Pure Michigan.”

Don’t you wonder if Missy & Bob are still together? I like to think they are!

*

So that was our Memorial Day Extravaganza. Mostly unplanned and as spontaneous as I can ever get with my oh-so-special life. I hope you enjoyed tagging along; you’re welcome anytime.

 

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Did you catch the sarcasm in that one?

**Not THAT finger, thank you very much.

***One flavor of paranoia—imagined parental fears.

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Yay, you actually read this far BONUS: Crayon Disaster Number 3

The ill-fitted swimsuit of the above story met its demise later that week in a tragic crayon-related incident. Totally not on purpose.  Who checks the pockets of a swimsuit?