In My Own Backyard

Being a new resident of Michigan my husband and I have spent the summer exploring many of the small towns on the western side of the lower peninsula.  We have discovered some beautiful art galleries, unique antique stores and loved the beaches and lighthouses all along Michigan Lake.

It has been interesting to me to discover that many of my new friends who have lived in Michigan for years have never visited many of these places.

Funny how we will spend time and money to visit far away places while often ignoring what is in our own back yard.

Yesterday was a beautiful fall day and we wanted to get out and enjoy the day.  We wondered “Is there anything near our new home town that we have not bothered to check out?”

Yes – In a town just 20 miles from us we found a castle and some interesting history.

On the outside it looks like a castle from a fairy tale.  On closer inspection we discovered it was built in 1922 by writer James Oliver Curwood as a writing studio.  Overlooking the Shiawassee River Curwood composed many of his novels here.  The castle was not meant to be a home.  This was  Curwood’s “man-cave.”

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It was easy to see why Curwood built his castle here by the river.  It is a beautiful, peaceful place.  After visiting the castle, we enjoyed the walk by the river and shared the view with some friendly ducks.

This writer who was ranked among the top-ten best sellers in the United States during the early 1920’s was born in Oswosso Michigan.  His novels and short stories and the movie scripts based on his writings made him a millionaire.

Curwood loved the wilds of Canada and was an enthusiastic hunter for many years collecting trophies which he hung in his castle.   Spared by a bear he had shot and wounded, but not killed, he became an advocate of environmental conservation and education.  Shortly before his death in 1927 he was appointed to the Michigan Conservation Commission.

His books were based on his experiences in Canada.  Hundreds of movies have been based on or inspired by Curwood’s stories, including the 1934 movie “The Trail Beyond,” which starred John Wayne.

Only four years after he finished building his castle, he died of blood poisoning.  At the time of his death, he was the highest paid writer in the world according to the Curwood Castle’s curator.

The City of Owosso celebrates Curwood’s birth each year with a festival.  The event is a weekend long celebration centered around Curwood Castle.   They also hold a writing contest for young authors.

All summer we have traveled 50 to 200 miles to see the sights of western Michigan while totally ignoring this beautiful spot and this bit of history right in our own back yard.

I wonder, do you also travel far from home to visit historical and/or beautiful places while driving right by treasures in your own back yard?

 

 

A Busy Summer is Over – But 2020 is Coming

Hard to believe it has been one year already.  Exactly one year ago today my husband and I left our home in northern Illinois and traveled to the middle of Michigan to a new home.

The metropolitan area we lived in known as the Quad Cities has a population of over 400,000.  It includes five larger cities:  Moline, East Moline and Rock Island on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River and Davenport and Bettendorf on the Iowa side.  Interspersed between and around those five larger cities are many smaller town so that you can drive from one town right into the next.

Moving from that highly populated area to a small town of less than 8,000 is quite a change.

But it has been a fun year as we have spent the summer exploring our new state of Michigan.

Our first road trip was to Flint Michigan – a city we heard so much about in the news for the water crisis.  Visiting the city we found there is a lot of history beyond the news reports.

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From Flint we headed to Frankenmuth a place where you can enjoy all things Bavarian and it is Christmas there all year long.  Frankenmuth – Michigan’s Little Bavaria

Come spring, we headed out again.  The first trip was a short one – just a few miles down Route 21 to Ionia.   On the way there we turned off to look at a small town on the way.  Muir.

There was really nothing there to recommend the town except we came across this historic church.

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You can read more about this historic church in my post Getting Off the Beaten Path

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this church is considered to be the mother church for the Disciples of Christ denomination in the Grand River Valley and is one of Michigan’s oldest Disciples of Christ congregations.

On to Ionia where we discovered a beautiful courthouse that boasts black and white marble floors, fourteen marble fireplaces and a beautiful walnut and butternut staircase.

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The town has some beautiful old Victorian homes and I loved the brick streets still in use on Main Street.

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Next stop was the Fort Custer National Cemetery.  All the flags along the main entrance to the cemetery was very impressive.

In early spring we headed to Holland the Tulip Festival.

Beautiful does not begin to describe this visit!  This town is on our list to revisit next spring.  We only spent one day there but next year we want to take two to three days to take in all the beauty.

Check out all the beautiful pictures and story of Holland in my post:  Welkom to Tulip Time

My husband has began painting again and one of his goals this summer was to photograph and then paint some of the many lighthouses in Michigan.

We captured Big Red at Holland.

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Big Red Lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses in Michigan.

Beginning American history nuts, a visit to the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids followed.  I was never a fan of President Ford but after visiting the museum and reading more about him, I came away with a much different opinion of him and his time in office.

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Read more about the museum at Gerald Ford Presidential Museum

Lowell Michigan was our stop in July.  The day we were there they were celebrating their annual Riverwalk.  What fun we had watching the parade and all the ducks.

We enjoyed the views of the Flat River and our delicious meal at the Flat River Grille.

Getting off the beaten track we discovered a village almost lost to the world just a few miles north of Lowell.

The village of Fallassburgh is like stepping back in time.  Way off the beaten path, few visitors find their way here, but it was a beautiful, peaceful place.  A Village Time Forgot

As we enjoyed the lakes and beaches and neat little towns we found a desert in Michigan.  Well, not really a desert but some great sand dunes.  A Desert in Michigan?

As summer came to a close we visited two more towns and they both rate, along with Holland, as ones I want to visit and spend more time in next summer.

First one was Manistee.   Not one but two beautiful beaches and another interesting lighthouse made this a favorite.  Which Town is My Favorite?

Our last town of the year was Frankfort.

It has been a busy summer!  One more trip to make before winter sets in.

Next week we head out for the tunnel of trees.  Voted by USA as the Best Scenic Autumn Drive in America I’m looking forward to that trip.

Hibernating then for the cold Michigan winter, we will be drinking hot tea as we watch some of our favorite movies by the fireplace while studying maps and making plans for another summer of adventures, God willing, in 2020.

 

 

 

Even My Husband Speaks “Southern”

I’m still laughing today!

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All my married life my husband has teased me about my “southern twang.”  There are many words that I clearly do not say correctly – that is – if your standard is the “General American” accent.

Brendan Houdek, a Speech Coaching Associate at New York Speech Coaching and the Head of New York Speech Pathology describes this manner of speaking as:

“this term is typical when referring to a dialect that is clearly American, but has none of the distinctive features that categorize a particular region, ethnic group, or  socioeconomic status. Upon hearing someone speak with this particular dialect, it would be difficult to determine where he or she is from, other than being from the United States of America.”

Although I was born in Illinois (southern Illinois) all my life people have consistently asked me what part of the south I am from.  They usually guess Tennessee or Kentucky.

When I purchased a smart phone and began using the app that allows me to speak my text, it was hilarious some of the ways the app interpreted what I was saying.  One text  repeated a phrase I said – but the phrase came out totally different from what I said and was using what I would call “bad language.”  My youngest daughter who received the text, knowing how much I frown on “bad language,” had to forward it to her siblings with a note that basically told them:

If you get a text from Mom and she is swearing at you, she has not had a stroke or become senile, she is just using voice translation for her text.

They all had a good laugh at my expense.

Following up on that I recently discovered that much of the way I speak can be traced all the way back to my Scot-Iris ancestry.

Check out my story:

Smart Phones and Southern Twang

So, for years my husband has had fun laughing at my accent.  He always has this big grin on his face when people ask me where I was born and comment on my accent.

But this weekend it was my turn to laugh.

We ventured out on a road trip to a nearby town and checked out the art galleries and antique stores.

Entering one store, I quickly found a collection of old books.  I’m a book lover and my attention was all on the books.  My husband, who never meets a stranger, struck up a conversation with the owner of the store.  I had not said a single word when I heard the owner ask my husband where his home was.  Telling her he was originally from Illinois, her response made me laugh.

“It must be southern Illinois.”

She indicated she heard a southern twang in his voice.  He was speechless as he had never been told that he had an accent.

After all these years – I’m laughing at him.

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Which Town is My Favorite?

We have lived in Michigan for eleven months and I am surprised at how many of the towns in this state we have visited.  Each one has only added to my love of this state.

The latest town we visited was Manistee.  Located between Ludington and Frankfort Michigan we made this our base as we explored both this town and traveled north and south on different days to view more of Lake Michigan and the port cities.

The town has two beautiful beaches to explore.

The first one has a lighthouse and a causeway so that we could walk out to the light.

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The day we walked out the lake was pretty calm.  Two days later I would have been a little afraid to make that walk as the waves were crashing pretty high over the walkway.

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This light is at the end of a pier where the Manistee River meets Lake Michigan.  It is 39 feet tall and built from cast iron.  The light was built in 1872 after the first was completely destroyed in a fire that swept through the area in 1871.

The day we were at the beach there were families everywhere enjoying the beach, the boats, the sky.

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The second beach we visited early in the morning and had it all to our self.  This beach was even more family friendly with picnic tables, areas for sand badminton and play areas for the kids.  We enjoyed the birds and the quiet walk along the beach.

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We laughed at the sign telling us we could make it to Wisconsin in 54,200 strokes.  Since I cannot swim at all and Paul is no Olympic swimmer we decided to not try that.

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Found some neat artwork of fishes made from metal.

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In the late 1800’s this city was a part of Michigan’s lumber era.  Known as “Lake Michigan’s Victorian Port City” the city claimed more millionaires per capital than any other city in Michigan.  Today you can still see some of the beautiful homes that the lumber barons built.

Finding a good restaurant in a new town can be tricky.  Appearances can be deceptive.  We have selected places where the outside looked great only to find terrible service or less than desirable meals.  We have also taken chances and stopped at “holes in the wall” only to find some of the best food ever.

Highly recommended by the locals, we had supper at TJ’s Pub.  The atmosphere was great and the food even better.

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The pub was in the historical Ramsdell Inn.  This magnificent building was built in 1891 for only $35,000.  I cannot imagine what this structure would cost today.

We ended the day with a walk along the Manistee River.

rwThe Downtown Manistee, Michigan Riverwalk

For this book lover, who can resist a used book store?  I found a good used book on Elizabeth I for only $4.95.  Since I love American history and also English history,  of course, I had to buy it.

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I could have spent a fortune here as they have a lot of the old classics.  But I was a good girl and quickly left after my one purchase.

Every town I visit I think “this is the best so far.”  Leaving Manistee I was saying that – but then came Ludington and Frankfort.

If you love beaches, neat small towns, great food and lots of trees, come visit Michigan!

 

 

 

 

Still Chasing Lighthouses

The forests in Michigan in the latter half of the nineteenth century helped build the expansion in cities like Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee.  Along with the abundant supply of trees in Michigan, the Great Lakes provided the means to transport the lumber to these cities.  But lighthouses were necessary for ships to navigate safely in the unpredictable waters of the Great lakes.

Two of these lighthouses were Big Sable Point Lighthouse and Little Sable Point Lighthouse.  In our recent road trip to the west side of the mitten we explored from Frankfort to Ludington and on our list of “must sees” were these two lighthouses.

Unfortunately we discovered a visit to Big Sable Point Lighthouse required a walk of  1.8 miles there – and then back.  My husband could probably have made the walk, but for me it was impossible.  So the only thing we have of Big Sable Point Lighthouse is the pictures we got from post cards.

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They do offer a bus ride to the lighthouse twice a year so I am hoping next spring we can go back and ride out to the point.

The French explorers called this area Grande Pointe au Sable.  The stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline between Big Sable Point and present-day Ludington was a dangerous area.  Twelve ships wrecked in 1855 leading the state to ask the federal government for a light station here.

In 1867 Big Sable was built.  Its tower is 112 feet high, only one of a few Michigan lighthouse reaching 100 feet.

Shortly after its construction was completed the brick began to crumble.  Steel plates were installed around the light tower.  Cement was then poured between the bricks.  Mariners complained that they could not see the tower during the day because the bricks, which were cream colored, looked too much like the sand.  Thus the black and white colors.

This lighthouse was the last of the Great lakes to become electrified.  That paved the way for automation and the lighthouse was closed in 1968.  However, the light still comes on automatically at dusk until dawn and can be seen approximately 18 miles out in Lake Michigan.

Disappointed that we did not make it to the lighthouse – but that gives us something to plan for our summer trips in 2020.

Thankfully we were able to reach Little Sable Point Lighthouse.  Named by the French Petite Pointe au Sable is translated into Little Sand Point.

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Constructed in 1874 it is one of the tallest in Michigan at over 100 feet.  There are 130 steps to climb to the top.  A few years ago I would have attempted it.  Sadly, today my arthritic knees did not permit that.

Still, it was great to see the lighthouse and the beach there was beautiful.

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Funds for the lighthouse were approved by Congress in 1872 but the point was inaccessible by roads so construction was delayed until 1874.  Even today getting there by road was a little scary.  Very narrow and winding with little room for two cars to pass.  When I was beginning to think we were driving to the middle of nowhere, we turned a corner and there it was.

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Like Big Sable Point Lighthouse, this lighthouse was also painted white so the mariners could see it better.  Since it was the lighthouse keeper’s responsibility to paint the tower each year, I am sure this was not a decision they welcomed.  In 1977 the tower paint was removed and the lighthouse was restored to its original brick.

Little Sable Point Lighthouse has the special distinction of having a woman lighthouse keeper.  She only served for one month but my research showed me there were many women who manned lighthouses throughout the Great Lakes region.

As I shared in an earlier post, Michigan with 3,288 miles of shoreline, is home to more lighthouses than any other state in the USA.  We have spent this summer exploring many of them – and my husband has been busy painting some of them.

Michigan’s Lighthouses

Summer is going by so fast, I am not sure how many more lighthouses we can tour this year – but that will give us something to look forward to when the winter snows comes.  If we ever run out of lighthouses to explore in Michigan, our neighboring state, Wisconsin will provide more lighthouses for our adventures.

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A Desert in Michigan?

When I think of sand, I think of the desert.  But how neat to enjoy sand dunes right here in Michigan – right alongside a beautiful lake!

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We explored the sand dunes at Silver Lake.  They are located along Lake Michigan between Muskegon and Ludington.  Over 2,000 acres of sand, the dunes are part of the Silver Lake State Park.  The park also includes four miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan, a mature forest, hiking trails and a sandy beach.

The state has set aside 450 acres for off-road vehicle rides.  Riders can bring their 4 x 4’s or they can rent off-road vehicles specially designed to meet the challenge of driving on sand.  An ORV (Off-Road Vehicle) sticker and a ten-foot orange flag is required to drive on the area.

There is also a section set aside for pedestrians to walk or sand board.

The southern section is reserved for those who do not want to drive or walk on the sand dunes but do want to explore them.  Mac Wood’s Dunes Rides has leased this section from the state park since 1930 and takes visitors on a great ride.

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My husband and I chose to take the tour and it was quite a ride.

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Our driver was a retired school teacher who has been driving the buggies every summer for 20 years.  The ride was about forty minutes and covered seven miles of up and down and around corners.  Although he never went faster than 35 miles (I was sitting next to the driver and kept an eye on his speed), it seemed much faster.  When we got the top of a hill he would speed up just before we headed down.  The kids on the ride loved that and screamed with delight.  We were entertained with silly stories by our driver and he also shared some of the history and ecology of the sand dunes.

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Along the way were things designed to give a laugh like this pair of legs sticking out of the sand.

We stopped at the top of one of the biggest hills and got out to take some pictures.

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Some of the information he shared with us explained a little of how the dunes were formed.  His explanation was simple, but here is a more detailed explanation for those of you who are interested.

When you think of sand dunes, you commonly associate them with the desert. If Michigan is not a desert, then why do we find dunes here? The answer lies in the Great Lakes, primarily Lakes Michigan, Superior and Huron. All along the shores of these
beautiful lakes, wave action sorts the sediments in the near-shore area. As the waves pound the beach, much of the finer-than-sand-sized materials are carried out into deeper water while the sand-sized grains and larger particles and pebbles are moved nearer to the beach. During storms, large quantities of sand are moved past the beach. Eventually these piles dry out.  Until the sand dries, water between the grains holds the sand together. The adhesive quality of the water makes the sand temporarily immobile. The adhesion does not remain after the sand dries. The dry sand can then be transported and winnowed by the wind.  The wind carries the sand inland, where it is deposited as a dune.  A plant or some other object may deflect the wind. The deflection causes the wind velocity to decrease, and the sand is dropped or deposited. This leads to the formation of a larger and larger mound that will eventually become a dune. In time the mound may
become big enough to cover the object that started its formation.  In Michigan the supply of sand is not constant. So, in time, the dunes become covered with grasses and other forms of vegetation – even trees. In fact, some of Michigan’s sand dunes look more like “tree dunes”.  The climate encourages this vegetative cover. The presence of ground water near the surface further promotes vegetation. When vegetative cover prevents
the wind from moving the sand, the dunes are stabilized.  However, if the protective vegetation is removed, or if there are exceptionally high winds or the groundwater
level drops, the sand is exposed to wind erosion, and movement or migration begins again. The area where migration begins is called a blowout. Renewed dune movement can bury anything in its path, even the forests which once may have stabilized the dune. An example of a buried forest can be seen at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.

Copyright © 2001 by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Geological Survey Division (GSD).
The DEQ GSD grants permission to publish or reproduce this document, all or in part, for non-profit purposes.
The contents of this electronic document (whole or in part) can be used if, and only if, additional fees are not
associated with the use or distribution of this document and credit is given to the DEQ GSD and the author(s).
This copyright statement must appear in any and all electronic or print documents using this file or any part

 

 

 

Food – Restaurants and Rubber Duckies -Lowell Michigan

A fun trip this week to Lowell, Michigan.   Founded as a trading post in 1831 by Daniel Marsac on the Grand River, in 1851 when a post office was established it was named Lowell after the township.  Located about 20 miles from Grand Rapids, this small town has a six-block downtown with antique stores, art galleries, restaurants and boutiques lining Main Street.

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In 1999 this downtown area was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

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Since my husband began painting again in his retirement, the first places we headed were the art galleries.   We found beautiful paintings – and some what I can only call “different” paintings.

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I love the picture of this old man!

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The colors here are so vibrant!

The Flat River meets the Grand River here at Lowell.   Duck boats are available to take a ride on the Flat River.

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We also saw plenty of ducks while we were there.

Real ducks.

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And rubber duckies.

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This weekend was the Riverwalk Festival and the folks from the local Art Council had a float playing on the “duck” theme.  We were walking along the street right beside this float as they played the rubber ducky song – and by the time it ended my husband had removed his hearing aids – and was ready to scream “enough!”

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It was neat to walk along the Flat River and enjoy all the arts and crafts and local food on display all along the riverwalk.

And lunch was delicious at the Flat River Grill.

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After exploring this unique and interesting small town, we headed north to the covered bridge at Fallassburgh.

You can read about this bridge and the village time forgot in my blog:

A Village Time Forgot

If you are ever in the Grand Rapids Michigan area, it would be worth your time to take a side trip to Lowell.