Category Archives: Travel Broadens the Mind

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?

 

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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.*
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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…
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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?
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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.

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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.)**

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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…

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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.

Say Cheese!

Some days, you just gotta get your funk on!  So, of course, you go to your local specialty cheese store. If you are feeling blue, have they got the cheese for you!

 

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Located south on Fuller Avenue not too far past the intersection of Michigan and Fuller, in Grand Rapids, MI. Drive too fast and you’ll miss the recessed lot–twice if you are absentminded!

 

I recently explored the highly-select, curdled delicacies of The Cheese Lady. This particular gouda merchant has been in business for over five years within walking distance of where I work. I have never been to such a specialized store since I visited the short-lived “Get Oiled” lubricant emporium at a nearby mall.* That establishment overestimated a beer-drinking town’s appetites for strictly olive-oil based tastes. Fortunately, cheese goes magnificently with beer. So, against the economic odds, The Cheese Lady is thriving.

 

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If only this were a scratch-n-sniff website. Mourn that it is not!

 

You wouldn’t think you’d find someone willing to pay $28.00 per pound for a cheese.** But, if you casually drop into the conversation that you are a blogger, apparently they are willing to break out the 15-year-old, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, to dazzle your senses.

 

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Much more pleasant than it looks! But highly reserved! Do not try to chat up this cheese. It doesn’t do casual conversation!

 

I was given several different samples to try–like many addictive substances, the first taste is free. My personal favorite was a strong cheddar with a soft name: Prairie Breeze Cheddar.  If you go to their site, you can read the details–or misread them as I did–and learn that this cheese is made by milking the Mennonite Amish in Iowa. I hope it isn’t a painful process, but even if it is, it is certainly worth the price for the pleasure. (I’m sure there is a bondage joke somewhere straining to break free in that sentence.)

Prairie Breeze has the bite of a 10-year aging process and the crystallization that makes each nibble a squeaky pleasure against the back of the teeth and palate. It is also made of vegetarian rennet – in case you are squeamish about abusing animals for your taste buds but not enough to eschew cheese consumption entirely.

I’m a bit of a foodie, I know a hard Italian can be found beyond the covers of a romance novel.*** But this place had names for cheese I’ve never heard of. I’m scanning the wall of exotica and I point to one that just screams to be tasted, which is how I ended up the victim of what has to be a practical joke cheese.

 

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Just in case you doubted it…squint and look at the bottom of the fourth column. You’ll spot the witch in question!

 

If you have a penchant for the pungent, you may want to give it a try. (Or, if you are a wicked prankster and have a cheese-loving victim in mind…) Sample the Red Witch.  She’s to die for. Be warned, I had to spit the offending Wiccan out of my mouth because it went past my ‘blue cheese’ tolerance levels into a zone I gaspingly describe as “People Actually Eat This?” It is definitely an acquired taste. It was also created for a specific event so it’s a limited ‘pleasure’ to be had before it’s gone, gone, gone.****

 

Cheese 4
Hand-rolled by virginal Swiss maids sporting obligatory blond braids and wearing traditional costumes. Feel free to yodel while unrolling them.

 

You don’t need a special occasion to stop by. However, it’s a great location to throw together a one-of-a-kind gift. The store sells decorative baskets so you can pull together your sundry delights. There are cheeses galore and more–gourmet items you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else. There were some gorgeous, if pricey, clay sculptures, cheese boards and other sundry specialties to round out your gift giving. Crackers, jams, and dried fruit combos abound. It is definitely a store for the upper market, but, even an everyday person like me can drop a few dollars or sample for free the forbidden fruits of years of cheese making tradition. I missed out on the dessert cheeses this time around. I plan next to hit the blueberry stilton and tantalizing-sounding cranberry wensleydale–in honor of my favorite British duo: Wallace and Gromit.

a-wallacegromit

I may even beg a little mango ginger or lemon stilton while I’m at it. I am not above groveling. For cheese is a pleasure one should not deny oneself. It is a gift from the moldy gods! And there’s nothing funky about that!

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Not the real name of the establishment, I’m saving their dignity. I entered “Get Oiled” in wonder a few years ago honestly expecting someone to jump out and yell, “Surprise!” revealing it to be a giant hoax. The next time I visited the mall, it was no longer there. Perhaps it was a Potemkin Olive Oil Village?

**You’d be wrong. *nibbles 1-ounce purchase*

***I’m looking at you, Fabio!

****While eating the Red Witch, I highly recommend you gasp, “I’m melting, I’m melting,” before sinking to the floor in a collapse, just to add authenticity to the experience.

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.

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…

Driving With Sushi

california-rolls
Warning: Contents May Be Deadlier Than They Appear

 

Sushi may be a finger food–it’s small, compact and easily consumed coming as it does in bite-sized portions–this does not, however, make it an appropriate fast food for road trips. Let me explain.

Driving to Chicago Friday, we get a late enough start to greet not only the oncoming rush-hour traffic but this also forces us to face the blizzardous conditions which everyone and their mother knows is heading this-a-ways.* Not to mention, I manage to miss lunch in favor of haphazard packing and random dithering. This is why, when I make a final stop at the Meijer store to pick up the kid’s medication, I grab an impulse carton of veggie sushi to nosh on while motoring. This will prove to be the most ill-advised snack choice ever.***

I am smart enough to set up my sushi before putting the car in gear. (What kind of idiot would want to open a soy sauce packet with one hand, after all? Ha ha ha.) So, the giant rectangular clamshell lays spread-open next to me–half filled with happy little California sushi rolls, the other half swimming with a brown pool of Kikkoman joy.  Child in tow, snack in hand, we set off.

The car slithers out of the parking lot.  I snack and squint trying to see where I’m going between the swirling snowflakes that take up 90% of the visual spectrum.

As I tentatively nose out into traffic, I’m dipping a roll into the soy juice as a car going at least 60 mph in the parking lot tries to barrel past us. I slam on the brakes. And even though I am going turtle speeds, the flotsam and jetsam clogging the front seat undulates forward in a sluggish lurch. Most of it is stopped by all of the other stuff packed there. Yay. Not, however, the sushi.

Fun Fact: Do you want to know the Number Two Reason why sushi isn’t a travel-approved snack food?  It is round. Round = bad!

My sushi flies, joyful little bobbles, skittering all over the seat.  Fortunately the soy sauce only threatens to overturn onto my purse where it has fallen to the floor. I’m madly scooping the runaway snack food while I simultaneously managed to avoid the collision and get into a lane. I do not whip the other driver the bird, but only because I don’t have a free hand. I do curse them soundly. My son is learning many important life lessons, no doubt; I’m just not sure what they are.

After this I keep a fixed eye on the windscreen, inching our way to the interstate. The sushi will have to wait. My stomach growls its disapproval.

My hockey puck of a car joins the highway and I sigh with relief. Settling in, I crank up the book on CD. We have four hours of cautious, but ultimately safe, driving ahead. From here on out, it should be smooth sailing. (Cue ominous music.)

I reach for a congratulatory, slightly smooshed, ball of rice and vegetables. Here I discover the Number One Reason sushi is not recommended as a mobile food source. I blindly grab a roll, dunk it with my growing expertise into the soy sauce, and pop it in my mouth.

It is right at this moment, I am reminded what else they put in the standard sushi setup. If you don’t know, grocery stores pack this Japanese delicacy with tiny accompaniments of everything you could want: twelve decorative food objects come with soy sauce and a tiny plastic fence blockading a swirl of pickled ginger and a daub of mushy green stuff. I had forgotten about the mushy green stuff. You should never, EVER forget about the mushy green stuff. The fence is the guard rail of the food tray; it is put there for your safety. The sushi had crossed the fence!

I manage not to steer the car into a ditch while scrambling to suck down the entire 24 ounces of mixed regular and diet cherry Coke I had lugged from the same store as the sushi. Fire appeased, victory is mine. Sort of.

driving-with-sushi-snip

I survive Driving With Sushi with a greater appreciation for ginormous beverages and an improbable will to live despite eating an entire glop of the dangerous green paste.  Learn from me, children: Do not eat wasabi while driving. Wasabi is the killer food equivalent of texting. Perhaps sushi in cars should be avoided altogether. It appears I am not alone in this opinion!

On the upside, my mouth stayed warm all the way to Chicago.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*My mother in particular. She made a point of warning me to beat the storm. I suspect latent childish resistance to following her advice correlates to our delayed departure.**

**This is where I find out if my mother actually reads my blog. Don’t feel the need to tell her.

***Most people would say I was mistaken to purchase supermarket sushi just because it was SUPERMARKET SUSHI. Congratulations. You were proved right. Happy?

Tempest in a Tea Pot…

Saturday, I fulfilled a long-awaited, death-defying pleasure—learning The Way of Tea (Chadō) at the Meijer Gardens’ Japanese Tea House in Grand Rapids, MI. Allow me to take you on the journey…

[Insert wavy time machine effect here.]

The day has a mugginess to it that only people of equatorial descent can appreciate. Occasional breezes cause drops in temperature that turn skin from sweaty to clammy in a soggy instant. The air practically vibrates with thermal shifts.

Ten or so participants mill around a bench at the matchiai—the waiting area outside the tea house. Fellow guests discuss the progress of the formation of the Japanese Garden—opened just last year—as well as the availability of tea houses in the surrounding area.*

tea house crop

The Meijer Gardens’ tea house is surrounded by lush greenery and the walkway leading to the building is paved with irregular stones. Discrete signs warn visitors to watch their step. A guide explains the unevenness of the path is intentional—so that you pay attention to where you walk in a thoughtful manner.** She also warns us to ‘bow low’ as we cross the threshold—both to humble ourselves in preparation and to prevent head injury in the taller guests.

Our hostess appears, a slender woman in a yellow kimono, beckoning us with a soft voice to follow her.

 

Hostess 1

We duck under the low gate between the matchiai and the cha-shitsu—or tea house proper. Near the entrance, a wash basin gurgles. We are told it is intended for guests to purify and refresh themselves before entering—though we are asked to admire it from afar. We remove our shoes before slipping into the small building.

The tea house was built in Japan, disassembled, shipped here, and reassembled on site. It is modeled on Japanese specifications—with some allowances for Western comforts. The floor is not entirely made of tatami—and we are not required to scoot in on our knees as proper guests would expect to do. Once seated on square, silken cushions on benches along the wall, we meet our hostess, Yumiko Narita and her assistants: Tomoyo Koehler, who plays the role of ‘guest’ in the demonstration and Miyuki Muramoto, who afterward helps to serve the visitors.

Koehler Bows to Scroll
Tomoyo Koehler–The guest.

Anita Savio, the Public Affairs Director from the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit, narrates for us throughout the chanoyu (tea service). She says that, typically, the exchange is presented in silence with rare scripted exchanges between the hostess and her primary guest.

Acceptable questions the guest may ask include the origin of the bowl that is central to the ceremony. The chawan at this service, we learn, comes from the Shiga Prefecture—which in Japan is the sister state to Michigan. The bowls and utensils were commissioned there specifically for this reason. Much admiring of the bowl is required before, during, and after the tea is presented and drunk. Additionally, the guest might comment on the weather…this would have been helpful in the hours to come…had we actually discussed this.

Names and steps for the tea service whip past in swift progression. I do my best to follow each detail, but at one point I decide it is easier—and more in keeping with the spirit—to witness rather than try to capture the experience in my cramped notes.

Koehler with Wagashe Treat

Anita Savio describes the honors of being a guest—approaching on one’s knees to kneel and offer respect to the scroll which has been chosen particularly for this occasion. Later, Miyuki copies the artistic Japanese swoops into my notes. She explains the sentiment “Ichi-go, Ichi-Ay means “One Time, One Meeting.” This seems like an appropriate statement for the rare pleasure of watching a centuries old art form. Or you could say:

“One only has the present moment—the future is not a promise.”

(How do you like that foreshadowing?)

guest_with_scroll_and_flower_by_wxnut-daeswaj
Scroll and chabana (flower arrangement) with Tomoyo Koehler as the guest.                         Image courtesy of wxnut.deviantart.com

 

We learn that the outside world rank does not signify—that all are equal inside the tea house. Thus it is very bad manners to wear jewelry or other signs of wealth. (I surreptitiously sneak my necklace into my bag upon hearing this.) No doubt we are breaking many rules but, as foreigners to the art, we are forgiven our ignorance.

A red silk cloth is used to purify already clean utensils. We learn that the scoop used for pouring the water is called a kagami—the same word the Japanese use for ‘mirror.’ The hostess holds the kagami up and looks into it before using it, as if to measure her soul for readiness for the ordeal ahead. (Although there may be poetic license in this interpretation—everywhere I have since looked online the scoop is called a hishaku—though there are various schools of chanoyu.)

 

Narita with Fukusa
Yumiko Narita with the red silk ‘fukusa.’

 

About half-way through the ceremony, rain begins to fall. Each plink of water hitting the tile roof accompanies the delicacy of movement as first the bowl is tempered with hot water and the whisk is similarly primed to make it flexible.

Yumiko Narita - Hostess

I watch the graceful movements between the hostess and her guest—every bow, shuffle, gesture and placement of utensils marks appreciation for the craft and respect for all in attendance. The bowl for serving tea is rotated clockwise in several stages. It is like a ballet for a beverage. As you watch, you realize this is an act of love; for no other reason fully explains why anyone would devote this much time and effort to perfecting an ancient tradition.

Botan - Peony

We are given a round, pink sweet that is served before we drink. It is completely unforgivable to add sugar or honey to the tea, but the sweet—or wagashi—serves the function of balancing the bitter. Made of azuki bean paste, it is an unfamiliar taste though not entirely unpleasant and similar in texture to marzipan. It is beautifully shaped to mimic a ‘botan’ or peony flower.

Nature suffuses the tea service. There are special teas held at different times of the year. A garden surrounds the tea house where guests may take their repose before or sometimes during the services at a longer ceremony. It is carried into the space in the art of chabana—the flower arrangement that is crafted to complement this day. It is in the errant wind that blows through open windows.

Koehler Serves Tea
Anita Savio details the ‘beautiful face’ to each bowl as Tomoyo Koehler serves tea.

 

After the ceremony, we visitors are given our own bowl with a unique design. Of note, the bowl is turned until the ‘best side’ faces the guest. Bows are exchanged and before the guest can taste the tea, the bowl must be admired. In the ceremony, there are multiple stages of sitting the bowl on the tatami and admiring it and asking questions of its heritage before the bowl could be returned—beautiful side facing out.  Fortunately, as witnesses, we are not required to be so precise—a simple bow suffices both in receiving and returning the treasured tea bowl.***

As the tea ends we are free to ask questions.

We learn that both the hostess and first guest are wearing the kimono of married women—long sleeves are reserved for maidens for the length is better for flirting. The kimono has no buttons, zippers, or pockets. This raises the question ‘where do you put things?’

Tomoyo Koehler demonstrates the usefulness of sleeve folds where she stashes her fukusa—or silk napkin. For larger items, she shows us a rectangular fabric purse that she turns and slips into the drum-style obi she wears at her back. The greatest decoration can be found on the obi. Some ways of tying the material can be very elaborate in shapes like fans, bows, and butterflies.

The tea we attended is only the smallest portion of a full-length ceremony. A full-blown service might take four hours or longer and involve a first tea—a thicker Matcha tea—and a meal of sumptuous cuisine (Kaiseki-ryori) in bite-sized portions. We are offered the lighter, final tea. In truth, what we were given seems thick enough. I thought it looked a bit like blended wheat grass and tasted like an herbal remedy rather than the clear green tea I am familiar with.

We also learn that the fan that is brought by the guest is strictly ceremonial and is never opened. It represents the weapons that Samurai warriors would leave outside the tea house—eschewing violence in favor of humble accord with all guests. The small fan is presented on the tatami, the guest bows to the scroll and, once seated, the fan is placed behind the guest the entire time.

The chado—the art of tea—stems from a tradition brought back by a monk who visited China. At the time, tea was considered medicinal and served a holy function to help the monks stay awake during meditation. When the expensive habit was adopted by the aristocracy and then later was taken on by the Samurai class, the formality of tea preparation and service ascended to a cultural tradition which lasts to this day. It is an art which takes a lifetime to master.

“One must first study to be a guest before one can learn to serve.” Anita Savio.

There is no way to truly convey the gravity and generosity of these women in inviting us to this experience. Yes, we paid a fee to attend, but the intent when participating in the tea is that one is personally invited to a sacred space. And by the end of the chadoyu, you certainly feel honored.

My first epiphany of the day is—one can either experience or observe—you cannot do both.

My later epiphanies will blow you away. But that will have to wait for the next installment entitled “Tea with Tornados.”

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Apparently there are closet tea worshippers throughout Michigan: http://www.teamap.com/states/state_MI_Name.html

**Concentrating on not breaking your ankle is very Zen!

***In my next life, I want to be treated with at least half the respect those bowls were given.

 

____________________________________________________________

(You read this far bonus!)

Note: all Japanese terms used here were stolen from reputable websites—my laughable approximations of what I heard deny I have any talent as a linguist.

Tea Terminology: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_tea_ceremony

More about the complex ceremony: http://japanese-tea-ceremony.net/

Camping Is To Poetry


Thank you, thunder, for reminding me

I ought to have gone to pee

Before I fell to sleep

A rush through camp to avoid the damp

Is a minor victory

If only it weren’t three

In the morning.

Back to the tent, lickety split

Quick, before the rains can test

The seams which silicon did seal

On pained hands and knees

A much better use than augmented breasts.

Now I lie and listen to the score

Descending elegies of rain doth pour

As my child and I sink to the lowest point of the floor…

I fear a microscopic leak (or four)

Escapes the air mattress–oh what distress!

But I shan’t complain in the thunderous rain

The cool night air and the lightning’s glare

Through which I cannot sleep

For now I think the ramen soup I drank

A lazy meal choice I cannot thank

Means I have to pee again.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*Camping is to poetry as incontinence is to convenience.

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.