Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sweet Vacation Part 6

The Americans being fired upon by the British during the War of 1812

Inside Fort Mackinac

Do, Mom, Nora and J on the Grand Hotel porch

The Grand Hotel coach dropping off guests

Inside the entrance of the Grand Hotel
Have you ever been called a "fudgie"?  If you have, then I know that you visited Mackinac Island and sampled several pieces of the world famous fudge!  There are really about 5 companies on the island that all do a wonderful job and they ship fudge and other goodies all over the world.  Some companies also feature salt water taffy, (interesting in a fresh water state) or carmel corn, but I have two favorite companies.  Murdock's Fudge has my favorite dark chocolate pecan. JoAnn's Fudge has the sweet and  salty, butter pecan; and dark chocolate Traverse City cherry.  You can stand and watch these confections either inside or outside of each shop being made in deep copper kettles and then cooled and shaped on cold marble slabs.  Even on the hottest summer day, the candy makers toil over their copper pots and marble slabs. 

After a delightful lunch at the Pink Pony, the restaurant inside the Chippewa Hotel, our family was warmed and dry enough to head for Fort Mackinac.  This stone fort was constructed by the British during the Revolutionary War, as they were fearing that the Americans would take over Fort Michilimackinac.  The fort on the mainland was dismantled and parts were taken across the straits to the island.  Lumber was also cut and shipped from a sawmill on the mainland that was started by Robert Campbell at the state park site of Historic Mill Creek.  It was a three year construction that was followed by the British burning Fort Michilimackinac to the ground.

Of course the fort was surrendered to the Americans following the Revolutionary War. However, neither the Americans nor the British were in a huge hurry to change the occupancy, because the British remained in the fort on the island until 1796!  Of course, since the British knew the island so well, they could easily find a path to haul a few cannon and troops up the backside of the fort; which is exactly what they did during the War of 1812.

Mom and I took taxi up to the fort from downtown while the rest of the family hiked up the front walkway...a great hike, if you're in shape!  Now, when I say's not your typical yellow cab.  There are no motor vehicles on the island, except for an ambulance and a couple of MDoT trucks that I saw sneaking around at the top of the island.  Our cab was yellow with red spokes on the wheels and fringe around the edges.  It was pulled by two gentle chestnut colored horses.  For $5.75 we had the best tour and view of the island.  We went up the West Bluff of the island, past many beautiful painted ladies that were being winterized and the Governor's Mansion!  The Governor's Mansion is a summer vacation home for the governor of Michigan.  It is used a few weeks each summer by most of our governors.

After touring the fort, be ALL piled into a taxi to head over to Grand Hotel, another world famous gem on the Mackinac Island.  For $10.00 you can tour the entire hotel, with the exception of the guest rooms!  It was well worth the money.  The hotel is beautifully appointed and has some small shops, a gallery of famous people that have stayed there and many artifacts from the making of the movie with Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymour, "Somewhere in Time".  The 1980's film was made on the island, one of the few times that a motorized vehicle was driven.  I had always wanted to tour the hotel, so it was a dream come true.

It was a fabulous ending to a "sweet" vacation!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sweet Vacation Part 5

Nine years ago, today October 5th, 2002, my little sister, Do and J were married on Mackinac Island.  Now, all of our family vacations to the Mackinac area must include a trip to the island.  We were all excited about this trip to the island, because we had purchased tickets for specific destinations in advance.  We had planned to return from the Soo in time to make the 10:30 a.m. ferry on Sheplers to the island.  All was going well, we were at the dock by 10:00 a.m. with our tickets, except for one minor was raining steadily!

We were prepared with rain slickers, umbrellas and hats, but it was just really wet!  The one disappointment was that this particular ferry trip was going to take us under the bridge before going on to the island.  However, it was too windy and foggy to go under the bridge that day!  Oh well, we still had big plans and a little water won't stop these Michiganians!

We decided to walk around for a while before having some lunch and heading up to Fort Mackinac, but Do and J had their own agenda for our "walk".  They led us down Main St. past the "painted ladies", which are the beautiful Victorian mansions and hotels along this street.  It became apparent to us quickly that we were headed to Mission Church, where Do and J were married on that perfect autumn day. 

When we arrived at the church it wasn't going to be open to the public for another 15 minutes, so Do and J decided to simply stand on the steps and renew their wedding vows!

Here is the happy couple outside Mission Church...
Awww...aren't they sweet?
Happy Anniversary, Do and J!
More about Mackinac Island tomorrow...and "fudgies" -- Life is oh so sweet in Michigan!

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Sweet Vacation Part 4

The next stop on our family adventure was in Sault Ste. Marie, the second oldest city in the U.S. (St. Augustine, Florida is older). Sault Ste Marie, or the Soo as we call it, was named by the French explorers that were shown the treacherous rapids by the Ojibwa Indians. "Sault" means rapids in French so Sault Ste. Marie loosely translated is "Rapids on the St. Mary's".

We went on the Soo Locks boat tour on Sunday morning, into the afternoon. It is a 2 1/2 hour tour of the beautiful St. Mary's River, the Soo Canal and the locks.  The locks were built in the mid 1850's to help commerce on the Great Lakes.  When it was completed in 1855 it immediately allowed the "Lakers" (freighters) and the "Salties" (ocean-going vessels) to travel the 21 foot drop between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.  The mines of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan could now ship the ore much more easily (iron and copper) to the mills of the northeast.  This was also a great help to the North during the Civil War.

There were four locks, however, the Poe (1968) and MacArthur (1943) locks are the only locks in operation at this time.  They can hold the 1000 ft. lakers that are used for shipping today.  The Davis (1918) and Sabin (1919) locks are too shallow for today's shipping.  A groundbreaking ceremony was held on June 30, 2009 to begin the project to replace the Davis and Sabin locks with a new superlock. The channel needs to be deepened, however the project was put on hold by the federal government on June 17, 2010.

We all enjoyed the trip through the locks, but J, our resident engineer, spent the entire afternoon on the top floor of the tour boat and took photos (Do says at least 300!). 

We ended our day at the Sugar Island Ferry dock, southeast of town, just past the city campgrounds.  They have a great drive-in there called Clyde's Drive-in. Clyde's has car-hop service and they serve delicious thick shakes (I had cherry) and juicy olive burgers and fries!  You can sit and watch the small car ferry travel back and forth to Sugar Island as you munch on your food.  Clyde used to work for my uncle and his father on the ferry at one time and then years later opened the drive-in.

Like I always say..."life is sweet in Michigan".  If you would like to go to a website and see how the Soo Locks work, go to

We're going to the island that is the turtle's back in part 5!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Sweet Vacation Part 3

Our mother, Audrey, is originally from the infamous Pickford, Michigan. Pickford is a small town in the U.P. that is 20 miles south of Sault Ste. Marie. My brother-in-law J had never been to the U.P. other than crossing the bridge to St. Ignace and turning around and driving back across. So, Do (my little sis) decided this would be a good time for Mom to act as tour guide and tell J the stories that she has always shared with us. We had two vehicles on this trip so Mom hopped out of the van and into Do and J's CR-V and away we all went.

Mom has always told us about the log house that her parents had built for their little family in Pickford. It sat just beside the school. She told us how small the house was and how it had no running water or even a bathroom. They carried water from the neighbor's house until they had a well. However, then they only had a cistern pump on the side of the kitchen sink. The laundry was done in tubs with a scrub board. Now they did have electricity, but Mom was 6 when they got their first electric washing machine and the stove was always a wood cook stove. Now, it was the depression, but progress came even slower to the U.P.! Mom's family moved to another home when she was 10 and long after that their house was sided over the logs.

A few months ago a close family friend told us that his cousin had purchased the little house to remodel for his mother. We made sure that we drove through Pickford and past the house on Mom's "tour." The house looked cuter than I remember seeing it in years...all painted up and re-landscaped.  Do and J wanted to take Mom's picture in front of the house and as they were standing in the road, Jerry, (the current owner) came out of his house next door!

After Mom reintroduced herself and told him that this was her childhood home, Jerry invited all of us in to see the little house. Mom was delighted to be inside and see the improvements that were being made and giving us the tour of what she remembered from her childhood. Two of my favorite parts were actually seeing the logs inside a wall that was being repaired and going to the second floor and seeing where Mom and her sisters played with their dolls.

I love it when history lessons come to life...especially when it's family history!

Here are some photos of this little unexpected adventure!

Mom is the baby and her family is in front of the log house, about 1932.
Mom in front of the modernized log house, circa 2011.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Sweet Vacation Part 2

I consider myself quite open minded about some of the traditions that have cropped up in Michigan over the last few years. We are notorious for our classic car shows...after all we were the automobile hub of America for many years!  However on this trip we experienced something that I never even imagined I would ever see.  The day before we arrived we had been told that there would be an Owosso Tractor Parade over the Mackinac Bridge.  It turns out that is was more tractors than just those from Owosso, (which is our hometown) but for the entire weekend we were seeing those tractors on trailers and flatbed trucks.

Now, on Saturday evening, there was an even more amazing site...a lighted Trucker's Parade over the bridge!  The semi's came across the bridge with their trailers and cabs all lit with neon lights in a caravan across the was quite a sight to see.  However, when they crossed the bridge they continued driving through Mackinaw City blowing their horns as loud and long as possible!  What a traffic jam they created in town and then they drove back across the bridge again to St. Ignace!

We all decided that this was about the most redneck event that you can find in Michigan!  It was a very bright and loud hour and what a way to spend your Saturday evening!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Sweet Vacation Part 1

There is nothing like a Michigan vacation to inspire a few blog posts! Our family took a trip together last weekend. Now that might not sound like an unusual thing, but "our family"consists of 5 adults over the age of 40 and four of us are females!  My brother-in-law, Jeff, is a very brave and patient man!  Hence the reason my sister Do refers to him as her "superhero"!

The trip began where all of my favorite vacations begin--Mackinaw City. It is pronounced "Mack-i-nah", no matter how it is spelled. Mackinaw City is spelled with a "w" due to the fact that it was named by the British.  The French spelling is on all other sites...Mackinac Island and Mackinac Bridge.

We paid a visit to fort at Colonial Michilimackinac in the city. The Mackinac Historic State Park center is nestled under the causeway to the bridge. As soon as you enter the center your senses take you back 300 years. You are greeted by a state parks employee with Native American flute music softly playing in the background and a large voyageur canoe overhead. There are barrels to replicate the trade goods of the voyageurs and bundles of trading furs from the Indians. This was the favorite rendezvous point of the French and Indians' fur trade.

After purchasing our tickets there was a very well-done 13 minute overview of what actually happened at this historic site in the video screening room and then we exited the building into the cool breeze and beautiful beach of the Straits of Mackinac. I can't adequately describe the gorgeous hues of blue, green, and turquoise that are created in the straits. You have to experience it to believe it. This is where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan flow into each other.

We had walked just a few yards when we began to smell wood smoke from a campfire. Now this is unusual at most historic sites, but not around this here--this weekend was devoted to honoring the King's 8th Regiment that was stationed at the fort from 1760-63. Reenactors were camped for the weekend outside the fort and came into the fort while we were visiting to pick vegetables from the gardens for their dinner.

We toured the various buildings and participated in the fort orientation provided by the uniformed fort interpreters. I believe they signed up an 8-year-old and two 16-year-olds into the King's service, (but only if their parents agreed)! We also saw a demonstration of finger weaving by an interpreter who was making a belt for a voyageur.  We also saw the progress being made by state archaeological team to restore as much of the fort as possible.  I can't remember a time when archaeologists weren't digging at the fort.  They have been searching for artifacts since 1959!

I hope you will stay tuned to the blog for this little travel journal. Tomorrow I'll tell you about the "night life" in Mackinaw City.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ham and Cheese Bites

Today, I thought it was time to share a quick recipe with you.  I served this at my sister Nora's birthday party last month and they disappeared faster than I could make them!

Ham and Cheese Bites were made for a quick snack using just what I had in the refrigerator! It's quick and easy! You need a can of crescent rolls, cubed ham and shredded cheddar cheese. Heat your oven or toaster oven to 375 degrees.  Cut each crescent roll in half the short direction.  Place one cube (about 1 inch square), in the center of each small triangle and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese to cover the ham.  Lap all of the edges of the triangle over to cover and make a little bag.  Place on a cookie sheet for 10-13 minutes, until golden brown.  Let cool for about 2 minutes and serve immediately.

Simple and yummy!  I know a little pig named Hank at Piggy Bank Parties that would just LoVe this little recipe.  I have to go watch the Wolverines vs. the Fighting's a nail biter!  M go BLUE!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mapping out the Great Lakes State

If you don't live in Michigan, you may not realize that Michigan is actually made up of two peninsulas. The Lower Peninsula is shaped similar to a left-handed mitten, which can be spotted on any map, glove or from outer space. If you get creative, the Upper Peninsula is shaped like your right hand--palm down, thumb pointed down, pinky slightly separated and placed just slightly above and to the left of the mitten. (That's how we do it at school!)

The Lower Peninsula is connected to Indiana and Ohio, but the Upper Peninsula touches Wisconsin and Minnesota.  And although they all touch the Great Lakes, Michigan is called the "Great Lakes State".

Of course we are surrounded on three sides by the largest group of fresh water basins in the world, but Lake Ontario does not touch Michigan.  There is an easy way to remember the names of Great Lakes--H.O.M.E.S., which stands for Lakes Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. 

Everyone should have an opportunity to dip their toes in the most beautiful fresh water in the world, even though it might be an icy cold dip!  If you don't love multiple shades of exotic blue water and gorgeous sandy beaches that seem to go on forever, then maybe I can interest you in one of our 11,000 inland lakes that are perfect for swimming, boating, skiing and simply viewing.

Come join us in the Great Lakes state because "Life is sweet in Michigan"!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

School Days

It's been a while since I have blogged, I'm new to this blogging stuff and I really didn't know where to go with this.  So on with the adventure...

Since school started in Michigan the day after Labor Day, (state law) I have had "school" on the brain this week.  (I am a retired 4th grade teacher, after all.)  Your mind immediately goes to opening day with freshly sharpened pencils, new crayons and those fresh, slightly nervous faces.

A new school year always held an anticipation for me, too.  I couldn't wait to share exciting information about Michigan with my fourth graders.  I always started the first Michigan Studies lesson of the year by telling them that by the time they finished the year, they would know more about Michigan than their parents ever did!  That always captured their attention: to know more than their parents did about anything.  Their parents didn't have Michigan Studies when they went to school.

I hope I can capture your attention and make you want to learn more about the "sweet life" in Michigan!  Stay tuned for tomorrow's post.

Have a great day!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Greetings from Michigan!

Are you a traveler?  Do you like a mix of history and scenic beauty?  Then you need to plan a trip to Michigan!  August is the height of blueberry season in Michigan's Lower Pennisula, (the mitten) and they are plump and juicy!  We are having an unusual summer, as are most areas of the U.S. this summer, however the farmers say the berries are great.

Where should you head to for those juicy, blue morsels?  The shoreline of Lake Michigan is packed with fruit farms and stands.  You can hardly go 10 miles without seeing a U-pick billboard  or a farm stand.  However, there is another great place to find blueberries and that is the little town of Montrose in mid-Michigan.  This week has been their Blueberry Festival and the farms are at their peak.

So, if you are looking for a beautiful drive on the way to your next blueberry pie, take a drive to our fabulous "mitten" and see what other little surprises we have in store for you!

I'm off to wash up the 5 lbs. that I bought at the farmer's market yesterday!  Life is so SWEET in Michigan!