Thursday, September 25, 2014

My yuppie shopping hell

While we were in northern Ohio, I found myself in - what was to me - yuppie shopping hell.

I was designated taxi for a trip to the dentist which happened to be next to a big shopping area, not a mall really, but a bunch of free-standing big-box stores next to a strip mall. So there I was, in a huge parking lot, surrounded by a huge Target, a huge Marshall's, a three-story Kohl's and Lowe's (which by definition is huge).

I was in fact looking for two kitchen items: a two-cup Pyrex measuring cup and an inexpensive knife sharpener. (I'd already been to two stores looking for these same two items.) Shouldn't be a problem, right? Wrong!

The huge Target had two knife sharpeners, one an electric whiz-bang for $52 and another for $22. A new set of knives was less expensive! Oh - and no two-cup measuring cups. One-cup and three-cup, yes, but no two-cup. Marshall's had the measuring cup but no knife sharpeners. Kohl's and Lowe's didn't have either.

What struck me - beyond the fact that in all that stuff I couldn't find two, simple, basic items - was just how much STUFF there was. Racks and piles and shelves and on and on of...stuff. It was overwhelming.

I admit I don't like shopping in the first place. Shopping is something I do out of necessity. It is not a calming recreational activity. I couldn't wait to get out of whichever store I was in. Too intense. Overwhelming. Couldn't breathe. And all that stuff. More of it in more colors and more sizes and more brands doesn't make it better. It just makes it more. Consumerism run rampant.

That - the consumerism - more than anything is why I don't want to move back to the States. 

I can only imagine what the average Puerto Rican shopper would think in a place like I saw. Shopping here is a national past time. I often think it's a good thing we're in a recession. I can't imagine how people would be, how crowded stores would be if there was actual money. Maybe our little Walmart plaza would look like that place in suburban Cleveland. God, I hope not.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Notes from the roadtrip

From Ohio we hit the road for a short visit with family and friends in Kalamazoo. We met up with a lot of friends at a mostly impromptu "we're going to be there tonight" get-together at Bell's.

After a couple of changes of plans, we had a wonderful breakfast with our son Jason on Saturday before hitting the road again. The last minute plan changes meant we didn't get to see some people we'd hoped to see. We are truly sorry about that.

One of those last minute changes was instead of heading to the UP driving north through Michigan, we headed around Lake Michigan through Chicago, Milwaukee and on up through Wisconsin.

I don't think I've ever seen the sky over Chicago so clear.

The main reason for the trip around the lake was so we could stop in Milwaukee at the Mots Kite Festival. For years we performed flying kite ballets in the sky at this festival. Because of the economy we haven't been able to get back for a few years. This trip was just to say visit with many of our kiting friends, not to perform. But we did spend a lovely afternoon with some fabulous people.

Thank you all for the warm warm welcome. We love you guys! (Scott, how were you not in this picture?)

A sidebar to our stop in Milwaukee was LEON's!

I've written about Leon's before: purveyors of the the world's best frozen custard, inspiration for the drive-in in the TV show Happy Days.

When we performed at the festivals in Milwaukee. Leon's was always our last stop headed south out of town. This time, it was our first stop going in since we would head north out of town when we left. Strawberry sundae with buttered pecan custard topped with extra buttered pecans. Oh my... GOODNESS!

From Milwaukee it was north on I-43 along the western coast of Lake Michigan to Green Bay. Green Bay is more than a storied NFL franchise, more than a city of that name. There really is a bay named Green Bay. It is a long "sub-basin" at the top of Lake Michigan.

We stopped for dinner in Green Bay at a little place called Plae Bistro. It has great reviews and recommendations, all of which say "don't be put of by the location." That is absolutely true. It's a great little restaurant that apparently has been there for several years. is the only business open in a strip mall that faces the back of a Holiday Inn. The ambiance inside and the food more than make up for the weird location. Even the little patio area (the "plae pen") is nicer than the setting would indicate.

Did I mention the food? How about pecan-encrusted walleye? Oh yum!

After dinner we headed up the west shore of Green Bay and crossed into the Michigan UP at Menominee. We spent the night in a motel right on the bay shore. When we woke up, we were ready to start our Upper Peninsula adventure.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Back to the beginning

So the main reason for this trip...

A couple of months ago our daughter Amy called. When she and Miquel got married they didn't have a honeymoon. So for their anniversary they wanted to Tortola (a friend has a house there they could use) and would we watch the kids?

Watch the kids in Tortola? Hell yes!


Okay, so we'll meet you in San Juan and the kids can stay with us. Right?


New house, new town, first week of school and all that.

They went to Tortola, we went to - wait for it - Cleveland!

But we did get to spend 10 days spoiling two of our grand-children. We got to take them to school and pick them up everyday. We sent to the pool and had ice cream at Malley's. Kennedy learned to ride her bike without training wheels (Kai learned a week later.) and learned to kick in the pool with straight legs. We took Cody (the dog) running in one of the near-by parks and he learned to swim in the pond.


They are so amazing! and we had such a fabulous time with them!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Chasing waterfalls

The second reason for going to the UP - after Pictured Rocks - was waterfalls. The UP has dozens, maybe hundreds of them. The same sandstone escarpment that forms Pictured Rocks forms the ridges a bit inland that water tumbles over.

The most famous of all the UP waterfalls is Tahquamenon Falls. The Upper Falls is the second largest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. Four miles downstream from the Upper Falls is the Lower Falls, a set of five drops. Tahquamenon was on our list for our last day: we didn't make it. That story coming up.

We did make it to seven other falls, some right by the roadside, some a hike back in the wood. Some were in "well-developed" areas with parking and trails and "facilities." Others (our favorites) were more rustic on paths less traveled. You can see a bunch more waterfalls on our Flickr page.

So why not Tahquemenon? We planned to go to Paradise (yes, Paradise is in Michigan's UP), Whitefish Point (near where the Edmund Fitzgerald went down) and Tahquemenon Falls on Wednesday, our last day in the UP. But...Tuesday night we caught a weather report. A big storm was coming across the Midwest and heading right for us. Gale force winds, heavy rain, flooding. The biggest worry for us was we were on the north side of the Mackinac Bridge.

The Mackinac (pronounced mack-en-naw) Bridge is five miles long and connects the Upper and Lower Penensulas over the Straits of Mackinac. Winds howl through the Straits anyway. When there is a storm and high winds, they close the bridge. We were on the "wrong" side to get stuck on.

So early Wednesday morning, instead of heading for White Fish Point and Paradise and Tahquamenon, we headed south for the Bridge. We drove straight through to Cleveland, nine-and-a-half hours.

On Thursday, we checked the news for the UP. Winds blew through at over 60 miles an hour. There was flooding. The public dock in Munising - where we'd been the day before - was damaged and closed. Lake Superior went from flat, calm, beautiful to raging 14-foot waves. Surfers (in heavy wetsuits) were surfing the waves in Marquette. The water temperature in the lake dropped more than 20 degrees overnight. The air temperature dropped even more.

We were very happy to be on the south side of the bridge. And the extra day in Ohio gave us extra time to visit family.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pictured Rocks

So we've been away for a while. Did anyone wonder why? We were off-island for three weeks visiting, taking care of grandkids and doing some site-seeing. This is going to be a multi-part tale of the trip but not necessarily in chronological order. In fact, the first installment is from the middle of the trip.

(Disclaimer: any friends along the way whom we did not see, we are so sorry. Truly. Except for the first week, which was locked in, we deliberately kept things flexible. Translation? Some visits got in, some didn't. We enjoyed every one of the visits we made and sorely miss the ones we missed.)

So where do people who live on a tropical island go on vacation? Would you believe the Upper Peninsula of Michigan?

For those who don't know Michigan, first, it's way up north in the U.S. It has two giant peninsulas in the Great Lakes: the Upper Peninsula and (cleverly) the Lower Peninsula. The two are divided by the Straits of Mackinac (pronounced mack-a-naw). The five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge connects the two halves. Before the Bridge opened in 1957, the only way to get between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas was by ferry or by driving around Lake Michigan through Indiana, up through Chicago, Illinois and Wisconsin. People who live in the Upper Peninsula are called "Yoopers." Those from the Lower Peninsula are called "Trolls" (because they live "under the bridge").

The northern shore of the Upper Peninsula (UP) is defined by Lake Superior, the largest and deepest of the five Great Lakes. That northern edge of Michigan is home to one of the most amazing places on this earth: the Pictured Rocks National Seashore.

For 12 miles of coastline great brightly colored sandstone cliffs rise 200 to 300 feet above Lake Superior. The colors come from minerals dissolved in spring water that seeps through the sandstone and runs down the face of the rock, White is calcium, black manganese, red iron, green copper.


The rocks look like great drip paintings. The colors are everywhere.

The Pictured Rocks are why we came to the UP on this vacation. Nine years ago, on our first vacation to the west side of Puerto Rico, we visited a beach called Punta Borinquen. Elaine's first thoughts her first words were, "It looks like Pictured Rocks in the UP!" I had to admit that even though I lived in Michigan for 25 years, I'd never been to the UP or to Pictured Rocks. This trip was to make up for that deficit.

So here is the cliff at Punta Borinqen:

 Here are two more photos of Pictured Rocks:

 Crazy similar! Very different formations - the UP is sandstone, Borinquen is limestone - crazy similar. More about Lake Superior coming soon. 

There are many more photos of Pictured Rocks on our Flickr page.