Category Archives: Photographic Memories

Bucket-Listing Jamaica…

I can’t fit it all in.

Flashes. Snapshots. Moments swish past:

The chatty family at breakfast–who shares an understanding of the role of stress in caregiving those with special needs. How did Alicia do on her conference call, I wonder?

 

IMG_5262.JPG
One intrepid couple dared to bring their bikes into The Grand Hotel. Said vehicles were immediately booted and left as a warning to other would-be brash parties.

Biking hither and yon, a velocipede pedestrian torquing her camera like an unwieldy bolo tie at every scenic vista. I’m kind of suprised I didn’t garrote myself with my Canon by accident.

What I have learned thus far:

  • Strangely, the police station is not open for tourism. They were polite, but firm. I’ll just have to count the windows and make my best guess.*
IMG_5136
Is it me, or does the police station look more like a church or school house?
  • Ditto for the hospital.  Though, a very nice nurse did mention that patients could be airlifted via helicopter, saying, “When in doubt, we ship them out!” She was also very pleased to tell me that the medical center was one of the few “free standing emergency rooms” in the state. Now, to Google exactly what the significance of that is so I will be duly impressed…
IMG_5152
The modernity of the lone island medical facility is no doubt highly reassuring to its patients.
  • The airport is a parking lot for planes…planes with highly trusting owners. Apparently a 12-and-a-half-million dollar jet called a Citation Sovereign + landed there just a few weeks ago. I speculated that the ‘plus’ stood for that extra half million. I wonder if they left the keys above the visor?
IMG_5356.JPG
Planes could literally drive up to the Airport Office to check in.

People on vacation are willing to talk to strangers–probably in greater detail than they would anywhere else. Especially the newly weds.

Congrats once again to the couple from Holland who showed me their wedding photos and chatted in the shade by the Arch Rock waiting area. I’ll make sure to check out Kollen Park the next time I’m visiting Holland. May you live a long and happy life together, may all your worries be in your past.

Arch Rock.jpg
One is not allowed to leave Mackinac Island without proof of visiting Arch Rock. It is just not done!

Seriously, for such a small island, there is an inordinate number of hills. And rocks. And horse hockey.

IMG_5159.JPG
It is hard to take a bad photo of The Grand Hotel. It is possible, however, to nearly be run down by a horse and carriage while doing so. So, be warned!

I managed the tour of the Grand Hotel, getting some good photos and ideas for the finale–yet to be written–but what I really gained was an appreciation for the staff. The many kind people who work there–as well as a mother who took time to chat with me while her son ‘shadowed’ an employee in the program in hopes he might work there himself when he graduates from high school.

This mom had worked there in the summers of her youth–right around the time the hotel was last renovated. She confirmed that the wallpaper was original, they have no ‘servant stairwell’ (cross that one off the list), and that the wait staff, musicians, and bartenders were housed in buildings down from the hotel, back in the day. The building women stayed in was the John Jacob Astor house which is now called The Grand Cottage. The men were housed elsewhere–possibly in a building called “The Twilight” which is a forest green house down the hill, take a left, and the first on the right. (You can’t miss it.)**

IMG_5204.JPG
A small portion of the infamously long grand porch.

Slipping in and around busy bartenders, waiters, flower vendors, and the myriad other people working the hotel, I was routinely helped, with courteous, generous insistence.

My favorite stop had to be the Tea Shop. The Jamaican clerks were all natural charm and chatted about tea choices and even laughed when I read off a menu item identifying the contents of a $130 cocktail available in the nearby bar.***

125th-anniversary-cocktail
Image of the 125th Anniversary Cocktail stolen from TripAdvisor–I couldn’t afford to order the drink myself!

I finally asked how I could say ‘Hello’ in the patois of Jamaica. A painstaking effort was made to help me try and say it right: ‘Wha Gwahn’, is what it sounded like. Which could almost be a contraction of ‘What’s going on!” I also practiced the appropriate reply: “Arri, mon!” (Perhaps, ‘All right, man?”) Strangely, the language seems even harder to speak when stone cold sober. Go figure.

I ordered my tea and wandered off to drink it, forgetting entirely to pay. The assistant apologetically brought this to my attention–as if they were at fault for wanting payment!

Tea with Me
The author – who gussies up for the occasional selfie!

The young lady and I chatted for a bit. I told her about my son and asked her about autism awareness in her native land. She told me that everyone knows about autism because a great lady wrote a book about her son and it became very well known. I only wish I had taken down the name of the book! Antonette concluded by saying, “Don’t be afraid to bring your boy. Jamaica will be a great place for him. It’s all love!”

How can you turn down an invitation like that?

Her manager called her back to duty, I hope she wasn’t in trouble for taking so much time with me. If he only knew the kindness of such a gift. The thought that somewhere, out there, is a world full of people who would welcome my son with open arms.

It’s all love indeed.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*As dedicated a writer as I am, I wasn’t willing to get arrested to achieve my goals.

**Maybe you can’t miss it, but I certainly did. It is only gravity that keeps me from wandering off this planet by mistake.

***Maybe you’d prefer to save money and make the 125th Anniversary Cocktail at home? A quick search online reveals a bottle of the 100-year Grand Marnier Centenaire costs only $116.00, the 150 Anniversaire Grand Marnier comes in at $219.99 a bottle (Kaching!, and edible gold leaf–strangely enough–is the least expensive ingredient. It’s available, of all places, at Walmart for $76.45 for a pack of 25 squares. Don’t believe me? Check it out here:  Gold Leaf at Wally World.

_________________

And bonus points go out to anyone who noticed what is particularly strange about the bicycle depicted in the close-up of the wallpaper. I didn’t see it the first dozen or so times I tried to upload the pic from a location Where the Wifi was Iffy. (Which once I wrote that down, looked like a book title for a modern day sequel to Where the Wild Things Are.)

Drunk Biking on Mackinac Island*

 

I hit the island like a tropical storm…wearing makeup and shorts and a sweater and a rain coat. (I’m prepared for anything.)

The confusion at the docks means either I gave my luggage to a porter…or someone just made off with my computer.**

Once I’m checked into the B&B where I’m staying, I dive for a bike to start my two-wheeled therapy.

#I’M FREE!#

In a giddy rush, I tackle the 8-mile circumference with stop-and-go glee.

Stop-and-go because everything is a picture.

And I mean, E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.!!!

I’m stopping at every cove, each turn reveals a new sparkling shore.

I even photograph the rocks!

Hand to Rock
“To skip, or not to skip?”

 

(I chuck it at the rolling surf, continuing my life-long experiment in how much I suck at skipping stones.)

Bike - Wood Mansion
This is new…which is unusual for a national park which limits development severely.

 

 

 

There are oddly shaped trees and new construction–I wonder what the islanders have to say about the double-decker mansion going up on the east side??

BIke - Tree
Make your own caption!

 

I meander my way past a makeshift driftwood chair and table hosting a solitary cairn.

I stop to chat about this and that before, I’m off again, weaving my way until I am fish-hooked by a marker signifying the filming of ‘Somewhere in Time.’ A rock with a plaque reads “At this site on June 27, 1912 Richard Collier found Elise McKenna” making fact of fiction.

Bike - Is It You
Even on the farthest shore, you cannot escape this movie.

 

Does stopping to take a picture mean I’m perpetuating the lie?

The omnipresent seagulls make me a little paranoid…I mean, they are following me everywhere.

I stop to write bad poetry about seagulls pinned to the sky by the wind.

BIke - Seagull4
Whenever I see a solitary seagull, I think, “Jonathan Livingston, I presume?”

 

I circle back to the noisy, tourist-engorged center of town…

Bike - Town
Taken without permission…but they did just stand there blocking my shot, so…

 

I clickety-click my way to “The Dock Shack” to ask a few questions about the island’s private harbor to make sure a scene in my book will actually work. I’m assured that the larger boats could dock at the privately owned pier at the far end where my heroine meets a watery fate. (Though, not fatal, as she’s only twelve.)

Narrow Escape Route
I took the weirdest tourist photos. I’m lucky I wasn’t reported for crawling around the library trying to get pictures of the interior of a locked building.

 

I have qualms about whether a golf cart could get through this narrow passage way…but then decide that fiction makes all things possible. (No matter how improbable.)

And then, thirsty, but elated, I belly up to the best scenery you can find–overlooking a miniature golf course. I dine with a view of happy families as far as the eye can see.

Water melon Elderflower Cooler
My innocent-looking Drinky-Winky.

 

I sip my watermelon/elderflower cocktail–fluffing my violet so it doesn’t get sucked up the straw.

And I listen…

To the “Good Game” family as they cheer each other on:

“Go, Team Justin!”

(If he’s no taller than his putter, that makes him four, right?)

“Go, Team Evan!”

(Stoically, Evan waits his turn as Justin putt-putts the ball to the cup in what had to be eleventy-hundred strokes.)

Everybody is a winner!

“Crack!” this is the sound their sister’s swing makes as she whacks the ball–hard–and it hits the flag sinking into the cup in a single move. I doubt professional golfers could duplicate her efforts.

She’s all poise and nonchalance as she retrieves her ball.

Everyone high-fives each other and they totter off the 18th hole.

As they leave, I can still hear their echoing ‘Good Games’ wafting behind them.

Then there was the artist earlier in the day. I’m perusing her exhibit and overhearing a NSFW conversation about a date that went nowhere.

“And then, I ask him…’Are you a good kisser?’ And he says, ‘I don’t know. You be the judge.'”

The conversation goes in and out like a static-y station on the radio as I move from room to room. I hear the last bit as I bring my purchase up.

“And then he offers me the couch…’Or,’ he says, ‘you can sleep with me, if you want,’…but that was too weird, so I didn’t go to bed with him.”

To me she says, ‘That’ll be six dollars.”

The waiters behind me are bantering, bringing me back to the here and now. Despite the chill of dusk, there is something warm in their words. They speak in drawling tones–a language born under a hot sun, where humidity slows the syllables and hard consonants are too much work.

Is it…French…? Or…Spanish? I can’t quite tell.

When the waiter returns, I start to ask…and then notice under his name, the tag actually says, “I am from Jamaica.”

We chat for a bit and he tells me he’s been coming here for five seasons now. Flying in from Detroit or Chicago and driving up together.

It’s then that I notice his name, and I’m startled into asking:

“Fitz? Isn’t that a German name?”

He looks at me with his soulful dark eyes–a rich brown to match his skin–apparently unperturbed by my rudeness. “Oh yes, there are lots of Germans and Irish in Jamaica.”

I don’t question it at the time…but now I am wondering if he was pulling my inebriated leg?

I borrow a menu from my neighbors–a father and daughter who’ve been sharing the view of the perfectly manicured lawns.

We exchange “Where are you froms?”

Turns out–we live about ten miles away from each other.

I learn that I’ve been sitting next to a member of the cast of Annie–a production run by Hope College.  Ellie tells me that she’s playing “Molly” and that she has a few lines of dialogue as well as singing. She speaks like she’s been in theater for years. She’s ten!

I ask in a conspiratorial whisper, “Do you have a real red head to play the lead?”

She shakes her head. “No, they dyed her hair!”

“Would you have dyed your hair for the part?” I ask.

She considers this. “Well, if it was for a big theater. Yes. Not for just a local production.”

My head is spinning, and not just at the savoir faire of the pint-sized talent beside me.

I eyeball my drinky-winky…

Hey, where’d it go?

I pay my bill, trying not to wince at the total.***

“How much alcohol was in that drink?” I ask Fitz.

“Only a shot and a half of vodka, plus the elderflower liquor.” He seems surprised by my lack of backbone…or knees. “Should I call you a ride?”

I hold up my helmet. “No…’v got my bike. The B&B ‘s not far.”

I pour myself out of the restaurant, slurring my way back to the bike rack. I miss every single horse plop on the way back to the B&B.

Surrounded by families biking, building cairns, playing golf, and being chauffeured by a proud parent from stage to island and back again…I’m tipsy enough to be missing my son.  And hoping he’s having as much fun as I am.

There is no high like the freedom from parenting…but a little elderflower liquor certainly doesn’t hurt.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*Also drunk blogging…

**Hint…I’m typing on it right now.

***Welcome to the island, all major credit cards can be maxed out here.

Holy Crepe!

Sometimes, life just hands you a plate of crepes!

*

I’m taking my post-luncheon peramble to the Fulton Street Farmers Market Wednesday when I stumble on a gloriously sweet find. The Crepes By the Lakes mini kitchen was hopping with customers despite the small crowds.

I had already had my lunch for the day, so it was a total indulgence to get in line for a warm, made-to-order crepe. There was so many choices, despite the petite dimensions of the mobile kitchen.

Crepes Menu
Apparently, hanging your menu at toddler-accessible heights has its drawbacks.

Owners and entrepreneurs, Stephanie Lenhart and Courtney Verhage, were dicing tomatoes and spinning crepes while chatting with customers. It was a busy scene, but they willingly stopped for a photo when the powdered sugar dust settled.

Crepe Makers - Stephanie and Courtney
Stephanie (left) and Jen (right). Courtney ducked in and out and missed the key photo shoot.

 

Crepe on Straightish
Not just a runny pancake! A runny pancake with style.

 

Because of customers, there was only time for a few quick questions–besides the one the cook shot me: “Would you like strawberries with that?”*

The dynamic duo were somewhat challenged by windy attempts to blow their sign off the cart and plates and napkins flapping like signal flags at the start of a race. But they had happy smiles as they described their products.

Courtney pointed to the Cubano–the first item on the menu–letting me know that this would be their entry in the annual Grand Rapids “Grandwich” competition. Voting begins July 5th and you just have to check the Crepes by the Lakes Facebook page to find a location where you can hunt down this origami-folded entrant:

Crepe - Cubano Ingredients

Sadly, I did not get a picture of a cubano, however, there is video available on the Facebook page that’s downright sizzling:

Cubano-Food Porn

My personal choice looks pretty sedate by comparison, but don’t let looks fool you!

Crepe
Cinnamini-Goodness!

 

After a healthy toss of powdered sugar**, I ducked into a nearby farmers market stall to taste test my prize. The warm, buttery slip had been folded into a fan shape. You couldn’t see the precious berries until you sank your teeth into a crispy edge and they popped up with an ooze of butter and cinnamon/sugar liquid.*** It was sweet and yet savory. Each mouthful served up a rich texture of the best a thin pancake can offer, down to the very last, sinful mouthful.

If you go…make sure you are willing to leave, fingers dripping in butter, with a guilty trace of indulgence on your lips.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*Strawberry-Bedecked Answer: Yes. Yes I would.

**Warning, powdered sugar will blow up in your face if you let it. It’s the sugary shrapnel of pastry-artillery fire.

***Author stops typing momentarily…*Drool*…to wipe keyboard.

 

All Who Wander…

Visiting Nowhere May Just Be The Best Thing Ever

 

Buddys Beach
Jordan Lake Beach in Lake Odessa, Michigan
 

Does anybody remember the classic American small town? Anybody?  I grew up in such a place–so small, the population numbered under a thousand and there was only one traffic light (and it was the flashing, blinky-red kind) as you drove through.

This weekend, my son picked Exit 59 off Highway 96 heading eastbound, toward Lansing, Michigan, as his road trip du jour. We’d taken this route a few times before, but never got past a quick, farm-glutted glance at Clarksville and a Where-The-Hell-Are-We-Now? tour of Saranac, Michigan.*

This time would be different!

“Okay honey. We’re at Exit 59. Which way now?” I call from the front seat.

My child, who has been grinning the entire way, begins barking commands:

“Right.”

“Straight.”

“Left”

Eventually we ended up at a most-delightful destination: Lake Jordan in Odessa, Michigan.

Odessa MICH

We dined at the under-construction, but-still-popular Buddy’s on the Beach. Even with half the building covered with rough-edged plywood, the place was hopping. I only saw two servers working the floor and they never stopped moving.

Buddys 1
Buddy’s on the Beach – Getting a Facelift!
 

Tequila–I’m not making this up–was our waitress and, even though the meal took a while to arrive, due to the popularity of the joint, she stopped frequently to check to make sure we were okay. She recognized Little Man’s quirky behavior right away and gently made sure he was doing okay, even though she had to be off-her-feet, worn-out catering to so many.

The food definitely falls into the standard diner fare–burger, fries, pizza–category. Hearty and hot and big enough for leftovers to go home. I would say, the pizza definitely looks like the star of the establishment. They were flinging pies and burgers left and right. I had ordered a wet burrito and it was huge. I had to double-check to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently ordered the ‘Grande’ size which claimed to be a pound and a half.

“Nope, ” says Tequila, “If no one asks, we always serve the smaller size. The Grande is huge.”

She holds her hands out like she’s carrying a football…or a ten-pound baby.

Baby Burrito - Not Actual Baby Size
Baby Burrito – Not Actual Size of a Baby.
 

Little Man, of course, went with his favorite: Bacon and Pepperoni Pizza.

Pizza - Bacon and Pepperoni
I had to get a picture quick before it was all eaten!
 

The food was good, solid fare. I suspect ordering a burrito at a place that specializes in hamburgers and pizza was probably an oversight on my part. But it was good-n-plenty enough. The French fries that floated past me looked to die for.

The place is family friendly, even with a smallish bar on site.

Bar
Just turn left at the side entrance, you can’t miss it.
 

I suspect the beer-on-tap is intended for the thirsty ten-pin aficionados in the adjoining bowling alley.

 

Bowling
Well not THESE aficionados…unless it’s rootbeer on tap.
 

If you travel with a special needs child, this might be a chancy place. It was a little dark, and crammed with families and the neighboring bowling alley added a certain level of excitement. That said, the wait staff was superlative. The management even schlepped orders when necessary.

The outside park with a clean, if unsupervised, swimming area, was inviting and the small-town atmosphere couldn’t be matched by any five-star establishment, no matter how nice the décor.

You could tell Buddy’s has higher aspirations by the in-laid flooring and outer-space, motion-sensor sink and hand dryer in the women’s restroom:

Flooring not pictured because guests were using the facilities, but trust me, Buddy’s is going places. Although…for the men…the trip requires a detour:

Port-a-John Option

We dined and dashed, but I was able to see that a special event was taking place in the bowling area. Tables had been set up and crafts like crocheted blankets and other miscellany were on display. A quick inquiry turned up that it was a local fundraiser for the “Richards Family.” I was assured it was referenced on Facebook, but a later search turned up unsuccessful.

I kick myself now for not being more diligent. This is the kind of effort that deserves recognition. It is representative of the kindness of small towns that doesn’t tend to hit the big-time news.

Calling Buddy’s the next day didn’t clear things up. The manager I spoke with hadn’t been there Saturday. He thought it might be a softball fundraiser for the local Lakewood Girls’ Fastpitch Softball team and recommended I check out the school’s website. I uncovered zilch! Another no-go for my investigative reporting.

I can recommend the Annual Lakewood Area Lion’s Club Chicken Bar-B-Q, however. It smelled fantastic as they were setting up. And if my kid would have hung around for its start time four hours later, I’d be reporting the quality as well. A picture will have to suffice:

Lake Odessa BBQ
They take their rotisserie chicken Bar-B-Q seriously in these parts!
 

Sadly, the event happens only once a year. So, set your calendars for a nice weekend in May 2018 and check back. I certainly plan to.

From the winding, lonesome roads of Michigan. Peace out!

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*Not to diss Saranac but even the people who are born there probably wonder how the hell that happened! According to Wikipedia, the claim to fame of the 1.15 square mile village is the ‘world-renowned’ geologist J. Harlen Bretz.

Easy Baked Escapes

 

 

Prison - Chronophobia Image
Why do the schools do this to us?  Why? Photo courtesy of dogbrindlebarks.blogspot.com

 

Day 104 of Spring Break.

I think the guard is becoming suspicious…

*-*-*-*-*

Plans are in place. Only one more day before I am free.*

I’ve tried to hide my growing excitement. I still swear like a drunken sailor whenever I step on crayons in the yard.

I only hope I didn’t give it away earlier. Boss Baby was playing in the rec room. There’s this scene where the kid is grounded—his bedroom is his prison. When the kid’s talking, wizard alarm clock tries to grab a shank to make a break for it, I about died laughing!**

Man, if that isn’t a sign I need to get out of here, I don’t know what is.

It wasn’t always this way; I used to have a life.***

Okay, so maybe casing the Gem and Mineral show isn’t the act of a repentant criminal, but can you blame a gal for seeking any kind of distraction when serving a life sentence?

Rhinestones
Rhinestones $2.00? And they call me a thief!

 

 

All I want is a little clarity…cut, color, and carats! And what do they give me? False hope diamonds!

Strawberry and Yellow Obsidian - Manmade
How come the pink obsidian gets a cool name but the yellow is just plain yellow? Sounds like a little rocky discrimination going on.

 

Breaking rocks in the hot sun would be so much more pleasant if we were hunting out sparkly specimens that look like dragon droppings!

Rainbow Pyrite
Titanium Rainbow Quartz – If a stone is ‘enhanced’ by technology in a lab–it’s okay. If I enhance my product and sell it as real–it’s called larceny by fraud.

 

When I get out…I might even try my hand at a little fancy re-marketing. No longer will I be the chauffeur who slavishly drives the ‘Boss Baby’ wherever his heart desires.  No! I will be the wild, carefree road warrior women envy and men want. (Hey, if we’re going to fantasize…)

I will hit the interstate for places unknown. I will decide my fate. Or, at least, I won’t default to Highway 196 and exit 41 as the corrections officer insists we take every time we do roadside clean up.

My parole hearing is coming up, so I baked the warden a mini devil’s food cake. I know…shameless pandering.

EasyBake Dreams
Go ahead and say it. You thought getting ‘Easy Baked’ in prison was a euphemism for something terrible that happens with a kitchen implement.

 

I even invited the corrections officer to supervise so he wouldn’t suspect anything.

Easy-Does-It
It only took us two tries to figure which was the correct end to put the pans. What genius!

 

I have to say, they didn’t turn out so bad–for prison food.

Two Cakes
They let us use the ‘good’ penitentiary china.

 

After slaving away for, like, forty minutes, we have a decent product, if I do say so myself.

The warden scarfs the thing down and I ask him, “So, wasn’t that fun?”

You wanna know what he said?

“No!”

There’s no respect in this joint. No loyalty. None.

That’s why I’m oughtta here tomorrow. I’m gonna Easy-Bake my way into my own ‘early release.’

This time, I won’t forget to put the file into the cake.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*…to have a nervous breakdown.

**True. This happens. In a movie about a baby there is a reference to a shank. And I did laugh loud enough to be rolling on a floor except movie theater floors prohibit that kind of enthusiasm.

***Okay, that’s a stretch. Only Webster’s would call what I do on a daily basis, ‘having a life.’

__________You’ve read this far bonus:_____________

In case you wondered how it is I–an adult with a boy-child–have an Easy Bake Oven, here’s the story behind the best Christmas present I ever got.

This is a blog post I wrote before I ever became a blogger. Posted on The Green Study–who is to blame for giving me my first taste of fame and is responsible for my continued life of blogging crime:

It’s A Wonderful Easy-Baked Christmas

Kiri Cake
Justice never tasted so sweet!

 

 

Scaling The Asylum Walls, Masonic Temple of Doom and Other Autistic Adventures…

They say you can never go home again. What they fail to tell you is, really, you can never go back to any place you’ve ever been…and sometimes, you’re lucky not to get a restraining order enforcing it.

Continue reading Scaling The Asylum Walls, Masonic Temple of Doom and Other Autistic Adventures…

img_3613 

Alone he walks,

His cape a tattered wave of blue,

To meet the sunlight and the shadow as equals

Laughing as leaves fall, making spirals in their descent,

Through elegies of air.

 

best

So still he moves,

Leaning into a soundless void.

Planets in their orbits spin

And yet no shift in his equilibrium shows

That he is out of synch with a world

Built for words.

img_3640

______________

Images from a recent walk with my son, I was inspired by the drape of his blue blanket to wax poetic. Happy Halloween everybody. Nanowrimo begins tomorrow. Do not expect great things from me until December.

 

Tea with Tornados

 

On the heels of my last post “Tempest in a Teapot, ” today follows the story with an introductory Haiku—poorly crafted poetry that tries to sum up a day in seventeen syllables:

As tea steeps, rain weeps

Water fills both bowl and sky

Prepare to drink deep.

I leave the Japanese Tea House buoyed with happiness and a certain sense of rightness with the world. It doesn’t last long.*

Kiri in the Rain

I take my complimentary shocking-yellow umbrella from our Meijer Garden’s guide—I almost bow from recently-acquired habit—and pause to pose in front of a font for a photo. (Hit *like* if you love alliteration.)

As I am leaving, the guide casually mentions that a ‘storm’ is headed this way and I should make sure to head in by 2:00.

Bridge in a Storm

I scramble around the larger Japanese Garden to admire the lush-to-the-point-of- heaving-bosoms blooming flowers in the rain. I ‘Cecil B. DeMille’ a few of them with dew-laden close-ups. I might have asked a few of them to “Come on, show a little stamen and pistil.”**

I stalk the Bonsai garden—a human sequoia in a land of miniature conifers. I took several snaps of the plump, if bruised, pear growing on its tiny parent. It struck me funny that I was giving produce the paparazzi treatment when I pass it up with barely a blink at our local grocery store. (I am high on centuries of tradition, what can I say? I am a wild woman.)

The rain is steady–not too heavy but definitely a presence. My shadowy, wet companion. At one point, I am juggling the umbrella and trying to photograph the Korean Hornbeam*** when I drop my iPhone. Fortunately, it hits the rocks glass-side up, or I’d be crying in the rain.

Korean Hornbeam
Infamous Hornbeam – Destroyer of Cell Phones.

 

I stop in the rock garden on my way out. The nearly invisible poetry etched into the massive boulders is made visible by the downpour.

RAIN FALLING IN SPRING

AND I AM SORRY

NOT TO BE ABLE TO WRITE

 

Rain Haiku
My new excuse for not writing – Rain Delay.

 

 

I’m eating lunch in the Meijer Gardens’ café, surrounded by raindrop streaked windows and Chihuly glass installment on the ceiling, when I turn my phone back on to check for messages. There is a mildly alarming inquiry about my son from the babysitter, so I call to check on him.

That’s when I get the news…they are in the basement…there is a tornado alert for the area. I should seek shelter.

We exchange a few frantic words before I head to the front desk.

“Uh, are you all aware that there is a tornado alert?” I whisper this as if I’d cause a stampede if overheard.

The huddle of women with grey-to-frosty-white hair helmets look up from an iPad and confirm they’re tracking its progress.

“Don’t worry. We’ll let everyone know if we need to move to the shelters in the basement.”

I shrug, I’ve done my part. But in my head, I’m thinking. “Don’t tornados move pretty fast?” I make my way to the basement to grab a seat before anyone else does. Because…priorities!

Pretty soon, everybody else with an iPhone or other device is making their way down there ahead of an official announcement. If there is ever another mass extinction it will be because someone decided to wait until they were sure disaster was heading in their direction before taking action.

It’s getting crowded and suddenly all of our phones are going off announcing the approach of the storm. The officials finally make it official and start herding people into the area that is the ‘actual’ storm shelter. (Apparently they don’t consider a need for access to plumbing with the same level of urgency I do.) A service door leads to an unfinished concrete cavern filled with twists and turns and lots of unused equipment and staging material. We are urged to move as far back in the space to make room for everybody. I’m surprised by how calmly everyone is taking this. Inside I wonder if we really ought to be more concerned.

I spy a few of the people I ran into while walking the garden. I’m glad they made it back—but I do wonder about the second tea ceremony that was supposed to start at 2:00. There is a really evil part of me that whispers “Aren’t you glad you signed up for the first showing at 11:30!”

I pass members of a wedding party, one of the women is still holding a glass/candle concoction which would be an excellent thing if anyone wanted a light. (I see a future market for wedding planners —decorative flourishes that function as emergency provisions in the event of a disaster.)

I finally choose a spot that circles back to a secondary exit. There is light spilling in from the corridor so it isn’t totally scary if it is a bit cold.

Across from me a family—two grandparents, a family friend, and two children—are trying to get comfortable on the floor. I look around. Nearby there are folded chairs and a huddle of employees who, by their uniforms, work in the kitchens upstairs.

“Would it be okay if we got out the chairs?” I ask one of them. I have to repeat myself because it appears the young man isn’t used to actually talking with the visitors to the Gardens.

Minutes later, our area is much cozier with scattered seating. I quash any guilt I might feel because the woman across says, “Oh, that’s so much better.”

We exchange a few pleasantries before settling into a tense wait-and-see. The children are scared. You can tell by the way they clutch the toys they’ve brought with them. I honestly don’t feel that much fear—probably because I have no clue what kind of damage a storm like this can do. You see…

I am a tornado virgin.

I have never lived through any major storm—beyond the huge snow storm of 78’ when I was a child. And all I remember from that week was the isolation—school was canceled and we were unable to leave because the roads couldn’t be plowed. (One of the joys of living rurally.) I do recall my brothers and I deciding that the four-foot drifts were an invitation to jumping off the roof and sinking over waist deep in snow. We had to swivel back and forth to worm our way out. Oh, I’ve had to hide in a few basements on occasion, but they had always turned out to be false prophecies. So, I had a cocky optimism that this time wouldn’t be any different.

Minutes creep past. The littlest girl across from me is crying with that suppressed sob-hiccup combination that can be so cute even when they are earnest tears. I can’t make out what she is upset about other than it involves someone or something called…Balthazar?

So, I ask. Partly to hopefully distract the child and, well, because I am curious.

“Who is Balthazar?”

The little girl blinks tear drenched lashes and utters a nearly incomprehensible string of words:

“I…I…he’s…I left him…and…he’s in danger. I…I…what will…I do…if…” She trails off with more tears and no doubt a snuffly nose.

Her grandmother brushes a strand of hair away from her flushed pink face and leans toward me.

“It’s her toy…I think it’s called Bulbasaur. Or something like that.”

“It’s Bulbazar, Grandma!” This comes from the second little girl ensconced on the other woman’s lap.

A discuss pops up about the pronunciation, but Grandma shakes her head.

“No, I think it has S.A.U.R. at the end—like a dinosaur.”

“What exactly is a Bulbasaur?” I ask.

If I had known the torrent of information that was about to rain down on me, I might have tried to save myself. But then, again, there was no Wi-Fi signal and there really wasn’t anything else to do. So, I took an unscheduled course in Pokémon 101. The little redhead across from me apparently had a masters if not a doctorate.

At one point, she tells me her name is “Kay”

(Names changed just because.)

I tell her, “My name starts with a ‘K’ too!” She beams at me; we are now friends for life.

She points to her sister, “That’s Dee.”

“I recognize that is Pokémon.” I say, pointing to the yellow pillow-type thing Dee is holding as if someone were threatening to take it from her. Then I point to whatever lump is in Kay’s hands. “But what is that?”

Kay giggles. She holds up a lumpy, terry-clothed thing.

“It’s a towel! ‘Cause I did a ‘Dee’!”

And then she plops the thing against the side of her head.

Of course. This make perfect sense. No doubt my expression says as much.

Her grandmother laughs and explains. “She bumped her head earlier and they got her a cloth with ice in it.”

Kay holds back her bangs to reveal nary a bruise. The ice must have done its job or the strawberry hair is hiding the evidence. Kay is now picking through the washcloth and slips a sliver of ice into her mouth with her grandma none the wiser.

Grandma smooths the bangs again, adding, “Anytime we bump our heads, we say we are doing a Dee because she used to run into all sorts of corners and things when she was little.”

Kay pipes up again and points to her sister. “Yeah she bumped her head a lot! So we say ‘We did a Dee.’”

Everyone is nodded and smiling. Then Kay adds, “And when we fart we say we did a ‘Kathy’. Because Grandma farts a lot!” And she points back at her grandmother, who is now laughing—though a tiny bit mortified by this announcement.

Grandma Kathy murmurs something about maybe sharing too much information but she isn’t really mad and her granddaughters know it because they are both laughing, snuggled safe in loving arms.

Kay pops back up from this to launch into a detailed explanation of Bulbasaur’s relationship to Pokémon.

I learn there is something called the Rocket Team—and they are definitely bad guys. And someone named Ash who spends a lot of time in the gym.

The grandma throws in a comment to clarify a point Kay is trying to make with hand gestures that look like something is exploding.

“The Pokémon can evolve.” She says.

But into what is never clearly explained. I picture something like a Transformer—which is my cultural experience with toys that are more than meets the eye—but rounder and cuter.

I learn that the Pokémon can fight. That Pikachu has a secret weapon—something called a ‘Thunder Shock.’ And here, Kay puffs out her cheeks and demonstrates:

“His cheeks blow out really loud and he says, ‘Pikachuuuuuu!”

Apparently this devastates his enemies.

The girls are laughing and chatting back and forth when all of our phones go off at once.

Some of the alerts are voiced announcements notifying us of a Tornado alert in our area and to seek shelter. There is something really unnerving about the shrill cacophony of notes chiming throughout the cement block room. No one is laughing now.

There is a human instinct to huddle. To crouch low as if to make a smaller target. I find myself looking at the little girls across from me shrinking back and arms that had been holding them loosely now tightened. Reassurances are whispered and Grandpa is a stoic figure who rarely says a word but is a calm presence in the face of the unseen.

I try to comfort them, knowing I am helpless to be there for my own son tucked in the basement with a babysitter who definitely deserves more than I pay her.

“So, the alarms are like the ‘Thunder Shock’ Pikachu makes. It’s just a reminder to be careful.”

Then a little girl in a frilly dress toddles past and loses a bow. The pink ribbon falls near my feet and I seize the opportunity.

“Look she lost her bow. That’s a bow alert!”

Kay is delighted by this idea. When an oblivious little boy in an adorable suit trundles through bumping into nearly everything in his path, she calls out, “Baby Alert.”

Soon Kay is reciting once again the episodes and even an entire theme about her favorite TV characters. She sings some sort of anthem—it went on for about seven verses—and it is too fast and her voice is too high for me to do more than pick out one word in ten.

I’m reminded of the scene in Finding Nemo where Nemo’s dad is listening to the baby sea turtle explain the way to get to the East Australian current. After the pipsqueak voice winds down, Marlin says:

“You know, you’re really cute, but I don’t know what you are saying! Say the first thing again.”

For whatever else I miss, I understand that this language is helping Kay and Dee to deal with a frightening situation. No one can call out. All attempts to text and get replies are blocked by the surrounding concrete cocoon that keeps us safe from tornados as well as causing wireless signal fatigue. So, while we sit and try not to worry about the ominous thumps we occasionally hear overhead—we share our stories to distract each other.

Dee Kay
Thanks to ‘Kay’ and ‘Dee’ who made sitting through a storm a lots of laughs.

 

Instead of spending our moments anticipating whooshing air signifying imminent destruction, we find the strength to laugh, to find the humor and our humanity in the darkness.

Eventually, the crowds that had been loitering near raw plywood and collapsed tables usually only seen fully clothed with the ruched skirts to protect the legs’ modesty, start to part. People drift away and cheers go up as we realize the danger is past. With very little fanfare, the crisis is over.

I say goodbye to the girls and soon the crowd separates us. We are all ready to be done with the claustrophobic space.

The wedding party is making its way back to their celebration. I spot a woman who is still clutching her slice of wedding cake. I can’t help but comment on her foresight.

“Well, I didn’t want to miss out if it was gone when we got back!” she says with a smile.

“I am just surprised you didn’t eat it while waiting.”

“I didn’t have time to grab a fork,” she replies.

I laugh, “A little thing like that wouldn’t have stopped me!”

Before we part, we agree, this is a wedding no one is likely to forget!

Outside, there is little evidence that a major storm front has gone through.

“Another much ado about nothing!” I think.

It’s not until I am nearing home that I spot the devastation. Trees that had survived sixty to a hundred years of bad weather were torn and scattered on front yards and crushing cars and houses like giant match sticks dropped by a careless hand. I’m not even a mile away from home and it suddenly strikes me how close it came. How violent the winds had to have been to snap oaks and other hard wood like dry kindling. I later learn this was a weak system–only a category EF-0. I don’t want to ever see what something stronger could do.

My house and family are fine–two city blocks west of the path of destruction. I pay the sitter and she shrugs off the seven-hour ordeal caused by our separate vigils in the dark. Thankfully, my son was totally oblivious of any danger.

I didn’t really face the dragon—but I felt his breath on my neck. I survived his reign of terror and I can imagine how differently things could have turned out.

Thus ends my tale. The only thing left is an appreciation for Japanese culture which creates a tea to feed the soul and a Pokémon to calm the tempest in the pot.

I leave you with a final haiku:

Trees dance and bow low

Thunder applauds with fierce claps

Making dancers fall

 Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

* It never does

**Floral porn, take one—“Come on, you know you want to bee pollinated!”

***You were expecting a dragon ala Harry Potter, weren’t you?

Of Rainbows and Quixotic Meandering

I am here. On the brink. Come join me.

*

Three days of travel and the start of our adventures in Minnesota begin soon. But first, a recount:

Day 1: Unmitigated disaster. See link.

 

Boat 4Day 2: Waves of Nostalgia

We cross Lake Michigan from Ludington, MI and discover exactly how big the ‘Great Waters’ really are. Overly excited child keeps a thrilled eye on the cars and even boats being loaded onto the S.S. Badger. The ferry has a proud history serving transit needs of travelers on the lake. I’d tell you all about it, but people took up the space in the history lounge sleeping on every surface, making it hard to take notes. This is our first non-vomitous boat ride (for child and, by extension, me).  Hurray for Bonine and sea bands. 

 

 

Boat Pic 2
It’s like a turducken – A kayak on a boat in a ferry.

 

Deposited in Manitowoc around noon (we crossed a date line so I’m can’t remember if it was Michigan or Wisconsin noon) we head to a park recommended by a fellow blogger!* Fritse Park is well worth the bizarre detour from the highway—I think I took seven turns in about two miles.  The playground is impressive, though my twelve-year-old apparently had reservations about the incredibly long slide built into a hill.  We walked the bridge that spans two cities and enjoyed the view and the stern breeze which threatened to swallow my hat until I just clutched it there and back. I’m just glad I hadn’t read this article before visiting.

 

Fritske Park 6
Hats off to the windiest bridge in Wisconsin.

 

It was a brief stop on our journey to Wautoma where we traveled the back roads to find relatives who live so far off the grid, the GPS tracker wished us good luck and shut itself off. A home-cooked meal of cheese sandwiches and salad and a nice long conversation about mutual relatives and photo admiration capped the day.  On the way to our cheap-but-clean accommodations at Motel 8 a giant rainbow spanned the sky as if welcoming us to a brighter, more beautiful journey than the one we set out on the day before.

Day 3: I see dead people.  Lots of dead people.

Adolph
Meet my unfortunately named grandfather.  He went by the nickname “Chi” because he hated his name long before someone ruined it for everybody.

Two cemeteries and about three photo albums worth of ancient German heritage abounds in Merrill, Wisconsin. A lie on Ancestry is revealed and I am scandalized that someone co-opted the wrong grave markers to claim a heritage that isn’t ours.  Either that, or my distant cousin, Lee, is wrong.  But with his facility at naming generations of Krueger/Latzig family members, I doubt it.  That he visits the graves weekly and tends their flowers suggests he had more vested in the memorial than just capturing a photo, like I have. (See photos below of the true headstones.)

We visit a former convent/girls school to reminisce with one of the last matriarchs of my father’s generation—Joan. She is 87 and, despite admitting she has memory loss, seems pretty sharp and witty during our visit. She even tolerated my giant twelve-year-old sprawling on the tiny floor of her assisted-living quarters. She shows off the photo albums she compiled. In them, pages and pages of documents identify the family tree. I see pictures of my father in his infancy and grandfather dressed for hard work, welding pipeline in unidentified states. I meet new relatives in grainy black and white and faded Kodachrome color. The photo album’s shiny pages make for poor copying, but I do my best to snap pictures on my cell phone. There is a comforting sameness to the faces—sturdy, kind, loving. Family.

Eileen and Ethel Gehrt
Okay, maybe not all of the family was sunshine and lollipops!

Day 4: Get up and enjoy continental breakfast at Quality Inn & Suites, Menominee, WI. Son insists he wants to swim, so we wait the half-hour for it to open and he dips in it for about 5 minutes before saying, “All Done.”

I review our options and consider a nature walk, until I step out and see the rainy weather.  Oh well, we did make a stop at a really good gas station.** If you haven’t heard of these, Kwik Trip was just about the best gas station I’ve had the pleasure to stop. So, here are pictures of its glorious selection.  May you all be so lucky in your travels.

 

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*I will happily give credit to said blogger, just as soon as I figure out who it was.

**You may take pictures of your cultural landmarks and famous fountains.  Me? I’m impressed with a gas stop that has fresh produce and every recharger you could hope to find in stock!

Signs Along the Way

Sometimes, you just need a little encouragement. Welcome to a journey I’m calling “The unintended road trip on the serendipitous path of lung-wrenching discovery.”

*

It is the Fourth of July and the crabby son needs quelling; so into the car we hop. My child barks directions: “left,”  “straight,” “more” from the back seat. We drive south along Highway 196 headed nowhere in particular–when someone suggests ice cream.*

Saugatuck Tea Co

We brave the lovely town of Saugatuck packed to the gills with red-white-and-blue spangled holiday goers. Quirky shops nestle along the Kalamazoo River. While the pre-teen scarfs gelato as if  I hadn’t fed him in weeks,  I manage a quick interlude at the Saugatuck Tea Company. Decorative teapots and art-inspired mugs lure shoppers in. A huge Russian Samovar painted in bright, enameled colors squats in a corner behind a room divider–the space manages to be bright and airy despite its modest dimensions.

In addition to tea paraphernalia, one entire wall offers loose-leafed teas with elaborate names like ‘Dragon Tears’ and ‘White Monkey Paw.’ I exchange words with the proprietress. She waves me to the wall of glass jars and lets me sniff the various contents. When I mention a favorite tea I purchase from a rival gang Teavana and how expensive it is, she suggests I get the list of ingredients next time I’m there and she can try to reproduce the results.

After smuggling my score out of the store in an attention-getting paisley bag, my child and I meander. With no great plans, we are unbound by expectation. It is very carefree and relaxing. I suspect this is what leads to the eventual cacophony epiphany to come.

We pass the gazebo in Wick’s Park and I can’t help myself, I have to stop and photograph the beautifully painted cinder block building that houses the public restroom. Who wouldn’t want to pee here?

Then, it is along the water to the nearby point of local interest–the chain link ferry.  I brought my son here many years ago, when he was just a little guy. In a fit of nostalgia, I drag him to recreate the experience.

Saug - Ferry 1

College students busk for tips, joke with passengers, and lure small children into photo ops turning the hand crank that churns the small boat across the river on a rickety chain. It is a swift journey and we are deposited on the other side to seek the experience that will make our day: the climb to Mount Baldhead.

Saug - Boy Crank Boat

As we leave the small boat, the crew encourages us to: “Be careful as we disembark.”  And in passing, they say, “Oh, enjoy the 302 steps up! Don’t worry, it doesn’t get hard until the last two!”

Saug - Vertiginous Climb
No, the photo is not distorted–it really is that steep…and sideways.

Join me in the ascent. And like the experience itself, I will let the view speak for me…mostly because I am wheezing and turning magenta as I make my way up the vertiginous climb.

My son quickly leaves me in the dust. He prances ahead a spastic, loping blur of red–I am struck by the fanciful notion that for once, the sun/son rises in the West. Hypoxia sets in very quickly it seems.

As if climbing a sheer-faced cliff, the higher up I get, the less oxygen there seems to be–despite the valiant effort my lungs make imitating a wounded bellows. I get dizzy by the fourth flight and feel as though the signposts are talking to me***:

Cautionary warnings mark the trail, if only you know where to look:

Saug - Tears Ahead
At first, I thought, “How nice. Tears ahead-zero!” then I realized…it was a drawing of a tear.

 

Saug - Post - Watch out for Ticks
With artwork like that, how will anyone tell a tick from a hollow raisin with bad hair?
Saug - Warning Prepare to Die
My name is Iniego Standish, You killed my father…

 

I pause frequently to admire the view/find peace with the inevitability of death.

Saug - 97 Steps
A 12-step program sounds much easier in comparison.

Before long, the signs of the prophets speak their words of wisdom–no subway walls required:

Saug - Keep it Up
Try not to infer sexual innuendos as you go.  It’s hard…see…but try.

 

Many have come before us…

Saug - L & E 2015
We marvel at cave drawings–why not this?

Some found love to hold and keep them strong–quite recently it seems:

Saug - Hanny & Maddie
It’s been less than a week, I wonder if they are still together?

Some return with their love to mark the passage and constancy of their union:

Saug - Yes We Did It
Remember what I said earlier about not finding suggestive interpretations: “We did it!” At least their initials are not S & M.  That would have just nailed it.

Some are a bit defiant about it:

Saug - Janna and Todd Were Still Married
Note: It is 2016 and they have been silent for three years. One hopes it is not the end of love for Janna and Todd.

Step-by-gasping-step, life lessons are revealed…though the truth is somewhat debatable:

Saug - I have never Left any of you
“I have never left any of you” is crossed out to read “I have always left of you.” Personally, I’m going to agree with the one who has a better grasp of the present perfect tense.

Some who wander the path share their pain with the world:

Saug - I may be sad but I m not weak
A brave girl, that Summer Weersma.

She has a lot in common with a fellow traveler:

Saug - I beat breast cancer

 

And then, there is the impetuous voice of youth speaking to the ages:

Saug - Dick & Balls
We may  never know all of life’s mysteries, but at least we know someone has much love for “Dick & Balls.”

The stair treads pass slowly. I pause more frequently and try not to feel as if one quick shove would send me over the edge. The signs urge me on….

I reach the top victorious where my son hands me his lemonade to open. I stagger over to admire the view which is truly spectacular–if somewhat buried in the surrounding trees.

Saug - View 1

I get mere minutes to enjoy the splendid view before my child hares back down the path as if gravity has no greater significance than a propellant to urge him onward. I am more cautious–and cognizant of how difficult it would be to get a gurney up to retrieve my broken ass if I fell.

Saug - Back Down Again

There you have it. Wooden aphorisms mark a trail for the intrepid explorer to follow. You can be your own Magellan–circling the world to find answers to life questions. You can take the wisdom of others–picking and choosing to see what fits.

You can wear your epiphanies on your chest–much like my son’s perspicacious porcine persuasion.

Saug - Eat Bacon
My son’s love of bacon has led to a variety of pork-related t-shirt slogans. He no doubt has bacon epiphanies.

 

Or you can wander off the path to make new discoveries and record them in out-of-the-way places to be discovered or not as the universe sees fit.

As for me, I follow the signs that speak to my heart:

Saug - Gelato

 

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*It might have been me.

**I now have ‘connections’–so, if you need some prime, illicit loose leaf, you know who to call.

***Actually, I did not see most of these signs until I was making my way back down. Call it ironic hindsight.