Recipes for a Perfect Fall Day

I was worried about the fall this year, because our summer seemed so brief. And even though we’ve already had a few bouts of lake effect snow, I’ve had nothing to worry about. Our fall has been terrific, and we’ve savored several prototypical autumn days.

Back in mid-October, just after Meg winged her way back to Maui, we joined up with Jim, Jess, and Jackson to sample the local treats at Rennie Orchard. It’s a laid back kind of place where you can pick your own apples (and other fruits when in season) if you choose, and where kids are free to go wild in the small straw maze and other kid-sized structures. A smoky fire smouldered in a pit, giving me a place to warm up after meandering around the grounds. In all honesty, though, I was there for the cider. They do a blend of five apples plus pear (I think I’ve got that right), and it’s my favorite. We followed up our orchard time with a hike through Hickory Meadows – pretty little natural area just at the edge of Traverse City.

More recently, before the first snows arrived, several days of drama dominated our skies. The weather that came with them was gentle, but it pulled me outside multiple times just to oooh and aaah and search for rainbows. Last Tuesday it was so distracting that we piled into the car after lunch and went for a “Sunday drive” around Torch Lake. Alternating rain, hail, snow, and sunshine finally delivered the rainbow I knew was out there. And when we returned home, I was clear-headed enough I could actually focus and get some work done.

And as October winds down, yesterday might just be the most “fall” day of them all. Frost etched the lawn in the morning, but melted off in the early sun. Erith joined us for a trip to Short’s, where she enjoyed a pumpkin ale and I partook of some chestnut bisque. She and I carved pumpkins to the soundtrack from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and then we munched on roasted pumpkin seeds and homemade kettle corn. Lest we get too full, we popped over to the Skegemog swamp pathway for a brief hike where we disrobed cattails like all mature adults do. We rounded out the evening together with a scary movie (The Purge, which was good but would have been more impactful as a book). Before bed, I snuggled by the fire with my book and Tony laughed his way through Ghostbusters.

I wouldn’t dare to choose a favorite day – I love them all – but how ’bout you? Got any favorite fall festivities?

Making Lemonade in da U.P.

We booked a hotel room in Munising, just outside the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore several weeks ago – sometime in September. Astute readers will spot the problem right away: what were we going to do in the area if Pictured Rocks was closed thanks to the childish behavior of our elected officials? Head west, that’s what.

Au Train River as it spills into Lake Superior, west of Munising

We spoke to one of the hotel staff ladies, who relayed some secondhand rumors she had heard: park officials were ticketing trespassers. We won’t even discuss why park officials are working during a shutdown, or why we could be considered trespassers. After looking up the potential costs (up to $500 fine, up to six months in jail), we instead headed to the Porcupine Mountains.

The near end of the park is just over three hours away from Munising (Do you like how I measure distance in time units?), so we again broke our journey into segments. We first played around on the vast expanse of unblemished sands at the Au Train River park before continuing through Marquette.

Fall splendor specimens

This is how paper beats rock
paper beats rock

A few miles south of L’anse at the Canyon Falls Roadside Park, we hopped out of car for a hike. Tony and I stopped by this area during our trip North in January. The smell and crunch of fallen leaves, glorious golden light, and lack of waist-deep snow conspired to make the place more welcoming this time.

We traipsed down the trail along the incredibly scenic Sturgeon River until it ended at the falls.
Canyon Falls - Sturgeon River-3
Sturgeon River light rays

And then we followed another trail down the canyon a ways.

At some point, we realized that the trail didn’t actually lead to a destination. On another day, a trail along a beautiful river has all the makings for a perfect day, but this day we were headed for the Lake of the Clouds. So we about-faced and jaunted back to the car to continue ever westward to our state park haven…where I’ll pick you up tomorrow. Or Friday. 😉

Between L’anse and the Porkies, a typical highway view on our trip
UP fall road

Fudgies Head North

In no particular hurry last Monday, we tossed some hiking clothes and toiletries into our suitcases and departed for a quick trip to the U.P. sometime around 11:00am – which just happened to coincide perfectly with a Petoskey lunch at Polish Kitchen. Since Polish food (at least what we ordered) is sleepy comfort food, and because it takes only the barest of excuses, we wandered across the street to grab coffee before climbing back aboard for our northerly voyage.

shaggy manesOur route took us up the coast, along Michigan’s locally-famed Tunnel of Trees. A gorgeous drive at any time of year, it’s particularly pretty in fall. Because it’s perched directly above the lake, the color comes late to the Tunnel, but gold is creeping into the leaves. Even if it weren’t one doesn’t need fall color to enjoy the sweeping views high above Lake Michigan.

As we neared the Tip of the Mitt (for those of you from afar: that’s the top of Michigan’s lower peninsula, which is sort of shaped like a mitten), we hopped out to stretch our legs (and perhaps find an appropriate repository for the processed coffee) at Wilderness State Park. Sure, there’s a lovely beach there, but did you see those mushrooms? 😉

We made another stop on the south side of the Mackinac Bridge in Mackinaw City. Aside from the bridge and Fort Michilimackinac, Mackinaw City basically consists of hotels, flavored popcorn, and fudge. We left the hotels and popcorn behind (though I can attest that the Oreo popcorn is far better than it looks), but did pick up some fudge.

Mackinac Bridge – can be embiggened
Mackinac Bridge - storm front

Meg giving a clinic on how never to grow up 🙂

Views while crossing the bridge. Just pretend that those spots from my polarizing filter aren’t visible in the upward looking shot.

We were officially in the U.P., but still had many miles to go. Even on the deserted northern Michigan highways, we expected to be driving for two more hours, which is just too much in one go when you’re transporting a badly jet-lagged friend. (If you didn’t catch yesterday’s blog, Meg flew in from Maui the previous night.) So once more, we hopped out of the car at a pretty place and played for a few minutes before finishing up our driving for the evening.

Cut River Bridge. A trail goes all the way down to the lake, but we stayed up top.

Autumn color is (or at least was a week ago) exploding in the central part of the U.P. Unrelated outbursts about trees and hillsides and the general fall beauty that enveloped us amusingly punctuated our conversations. Soon enough, we were in Wetmore – practically to our destination – and since the evening was fading, we stopped once more to take advantage of the remaining light.

Alger Falls
Alger Falls

It’s at this point that we learned an interesting thing. You see, the tiny Mackinac Island reportedly exports over 10,000-lbs of fudge a day (it’s not open to tourists year-round). We’re just not that into fudge, so I didn’t understand this, but I know it’s a thing because locals often call tourists fudgies…which according to Urban Dictionary are tourists

to the northern lower, or eastern upper peninsula of Michigan, especially the Mackinac area. Often these tourist are from lower parts of Michigan, and are usually on vacation “up north”. The name “fudgie” comes from the fact that many of these tourist like to spend lots of time in the many fudge shops in northern Michigan.

I just didn’t know of any. Until Meg joined us. That skinny lady in the above photos ate half a pound of fudge in the two hours it took us to get to Munising! I’ll leave you to decide whether her 2:00am bedtime was a result of the jet-lag or the sugar overload.

Post sunset lavender, seen from a few steps west of our bay-facing room
Sunset Motel sunset

3, 2, 1…And you’re back in the room

Anyone else watch Little Britain? It comes and goes on Netflix. One of the regular characters is a hack hypnotist who brings his victims (of frivolous trickery that favors his laziness) back to consciousness with the phrase in my title.

That’s kind of how I feel. I’ve been away, but I’m back in the room. And I have lots of stuff to share, not least of which are the photos of lovely blond chicks in this blog 😉 I guess I feel like as long as I point out all the pictures, you’ll see that we’ve been busy and understand why I’ve been away without even a Wordless Wednesday.

A large percentage of Tony’s female family members joined us Up North last weekend. His mom (Shari/Blondie), grandma (Mamaw), aunt (Jerri), cousin (Tyler), and niece (Alayna) all rode in one vehicle for the eight ten hour journey, and still managed to arrive in merry (delirious?) spirits. We stayed up way too late chatting and laughing before we got on to the business of enjoying Michigan’s playground the next day.

The sun didn’t burn us with her intense rays, but she did at least visit, which made our trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes pleasant. Alayna delighted in nature’s enormous sandbox and the rest of us oooohed and aaahed at the always impressive views.

Sleeping Bear Dunes panorama

We blinked, and the clock ticked over from afternoon to sunset. We spent the remainder of the light hours playing on a nearly deserted beach in Traverse City, trying to keep warm. Not to worry, we were warm enough for ice cream 😉

We rounded out the evening with a fire (in the fireplace we had installed in May) and then started out Sunday with more activity. Ty and I went for a run, and everyone else did what everyone else does when I’m not there to see or hear it. Which I assume is to make the same noises a tree does when it falls in the woods when I’m not around to hear it.

Despite having been up with everyone since about 8am, time speedily slipped by, and it was after 2pm by the time we finished “brunch” in Elk Rapids. Half the group played on the beach while Tony and I took the other half out kayaking. Then they switched. And then it was dinner time (Tony and I grilled from-scratch pizzas)…followed by ice cream, and later, another fire.

Packing up on Monday morning was a slow affair, as we weren’t in a rush to hurry everyone back home. Five blondes is a lot for one home to sustain, but with all that giggling, we managed 😉 How lucky are we to have this bunch for family?

All photos can be embiggened by clicking 🙂

Treating Visitors Poorly

Please forgive my absence. We have been treating visitors poorly.

Each year my nephews, Zylar (Zy) and Kade, come to visit us in the summer, and since we like to get them out in the lakes, we’ve aimed for late summer their past few visits. This year my sister was able to arrange her work schedule to join them, and brought our mom along as well. One would think the last week of July would be sufficient for planning warm weather activities.

Our guests arrived around 5:00 on Thursday evening, at which point we promptly changed into beach clothes and headed for a swim on Torch Lake. You see, we had all been keeping an eye on the weather forecast, and knew that this might be our only chance all weekend. Friday we attempted beach clothes again in Elk Rapids. It worked for a while. The boys played in the chute in the river (after some convincing, since none of the adults were yet dressed for beaching…and by “convincing,” I mean their Gran tossed one of them in), and then we made our way over to the admittedly warmer beach.

By this point, the sky was fairly darkened by incoming clouds, but breezes were light, and sun shone intermittently. The old folks held down beach towels while the young folks concentrated on constructing sand castles. And then the real weather blew in.

big sky in Elk Rapids

After this, the skies held very little warmth for the remainder of their trip. The boys played some video games with Tony, and we introduced everyone to Phase 10 (a long card game, not entirely unlike Uno). We even soldiered on with a hike up to Pyramid Point. It wasn’t 60 degrees, and the sky rained on us while we made the drive to the trail, but we enjoyed the view – through the falling mist – regardless.

While the clouds were sequestering the bigger drops, Tony and I took the boys over to the Sleeping Bear Dunes to play on the Dune Climb while Mom and Steph opted for the Dune Drive (probably not its most picturesque). Kade monkeyed around in the sand, crawling, rolling, and lolling in it. After we climbed the first major rise, the boys began jumping off little sand shelves. And then we climbed another rise, to find even bigger shelves. It looks like fun, but I am old and frail 😉

We did what we could to empty them of sand – which is to say: not enough. And that’s all right.

Sunday morning arrived, moody. The dark, puffy clouds dotted the sky, alternately threatening rain and actually raining. Deciding it was our last chance to get at least one child out on the water, Tony and I loaded up the boats – between showers – and we took Zy over to Torch. Kade wasn’t feeling quite so adventurous that morning. We hastily unpacked the kayaks, and hurried them into the water. The angry skies questioned why we even bothered – did we not think they would unleash their vengeance? We picked a point to the east (someone’s water trampoline), and paddled there. It wasn’t a long trip, but it was enough. As we rounded our chosen landmark, we spied falling water on the far side of the lake, and I am sure I heard the clouds utter “I told you so.” Like a scene from Deliverance, though much more child-appropriate, I urged Zy on: “Paddle faster.”

Just as we tightened the last strap attaching the kayaks to the car roof, the rain arrived, blotting out the sky once more. Temperatures hovered in the high 60’s, and the mixed weather hung, too. We didn’t attempt any more hikes, but Tony and Zy played some afternoon lacrosse, Kade and I picked some raspberries (which we stirred into homemade ice cream), and then we even squeezed in a walk…after which it rained some more.

And that was it. Everyone packed up and drove south the following morning. In the rain.
The weather has since been behaving itself. Until today. Because we have more visitors on the way.

Click any photo – except that one giant one – to embiggen. There are some fun ones in there that you can’t see nearly all the detail…assuming you want to 🙂