Springtime in Michigan

22 04 2006

April is one of those months. In Australia, it is autumn and the weather can be absolutely beautiful or pretty miserable. In the US, it is springtime and the same can be said about the weather.

We arrived in Chicago on the night of April 13 to a city that had just experienced 80F weather, so the night was warm and balmy. No need for the polar fleece jackets at all. The weather report for later that night was thunderstorms and pretty gloomy weather. April 14 (Good Friday) dawned fine and sunny – blue skies, little or no cloud – and with no evidence of the thunderstorms predicted the night before.

We had picked up the rental car the night before (another Chrysler 300 from Thrifty… with the extra charges) and stayed overnight at an Extended Stay America hotel (always good value for money) close to O'Hare Airport.

The drive to Manistee was expected to take 4-5 hours, but Chicago is one of those cities where there's ALWAYS construction happening on the freeways, and so it was that day. By the time we got to Michigan City in Indiana it was nearly lunchtime, so we stopped for a bite to eat and asked some local police the best way to get to Manistee from there without going on the Interstate (I didn't have a map this time).

After a bum steer from the local cops, we finally stopped and bought a map from a gas station and got on the right road heading north instead of due east as the cops had told us!

It was a pretty drive and a beautiful sunny day, and we arrived in Manistee around 5:30pm local time. We went straight to my cousin Shelley's kitchenwares shop (The Ideal Kitchen, River St, Manistee, MI), which she'd opened only three days before. The shop is fabulous and she's carrying an extensive range of good quality items. Tim (Shelley's husband) was there and the twins arrived soon after. Lots of hugs, laughs, and chatter.

We checked in to the local Microtel Inn and Suites and dropped off our stuff before heading over to their house for dinner (home-made hamburgers done on the char grill outside – yum!) and lots more talking.

The Tim Tams went down a treat. I don't know what it is about Tim Tams, but everyone in the US who's ever tried one loves them! We taught them how to bite off the ends and use a Tim Tam as a straw. Tim used his as a 'straw' to suck through some whiskey, Shelley sucked up a chocolate liqueur (Temptation?) through hers, while the girls sucked milk through their Tim Tams. Too funny!

Next day we took a long drive through upstate Michigan, driving from Manistee up Highway 131 Petoskey and then on to Mackinaw City and the Mackinac Bridge. Again, the weather was superb. Everything is starting to green up – the buds are appearing on the trees, the grass by the side of the road is already green, and some flowers are blooming – daffodils mainly.

I thought I'd be a bit scared going over the Mackinac bridge as it's very high and about 5 miles long, separating Lake Michigan from Lake Huron and the main part of Michigan from the Upper Peninsula. But it was fine. The bridge has a low gradient to its peak and is not scary at all. Then again, it was a fine, sunny day with light winds. I don't know whether I'd feel the same in a raging blizzard…

We intended having a bite to eat in St Ignace (pron. St Ignus), but it was closed! A 70F day, fine, sunny, warm… and almost everything was closed. The locals weren't too friendly either. I stopped in one general store type place and asked if they had fudge (the girls had recommended we get some). "Noop" was the only response. When I asked about pasties (recommended by Tim), the answer was also "Noop". That was it. No suggestion on where I might get some, no "can I help you with anything else?", just "noop".

So we turned around and went back to Mackinaw City (6 miles away across the bridge) which was open. We found a pastie shop and had a pastie with taco sauce and sour cream. Very big, but nice. Origins are the Cornish Pasties brought across by the miners who worked the copper and iron mines close by. As far as we could tell, pasties just aren't available anywhere else in the US. These were nice – very meaty.

We headed back to Manistee via Petoskey and then Highways 72 and 22 following the shores of Lake Michigan down the west side of the Michigan peninsula. The road only touches the shoreline in very few places, so we were mostly travelling through farmlands and woods. Very pretty, helped by the fact that it was a GORGEOUS day for a drive.

Saturday night dinner at Tim and Shelley's was chicken in a crock pot. Delicious. The girls paraded their prom dresses (the prom is next Saturday and they graduate in May; they're both off to College in Grand Valley (?) in the fall – one to study Business, the other Education).

We spent Sunday morning at Tim and Shelley's. Again, the weather was gorgeous and we sat out on the back deck in the sun for quite a while. Easter Sunday lunch was 'big-ass ham' with all the trimmings – and it was delicious. Shelley's a great cook and her plans to run cooking classes in the store are a good idea.

All too soon our time with this lovely family was over and we headed south on Highways 55, 115, 10, and 127 to central Michigan to stay with Shelley's Mum and Dad (and my aunt and uncle) – Lois and Harold – for the remainder of the week.

Daffodils

For the entire week the weather has been fantastic – blue sunny skies, with hardly a cloud. The days with Harold and Lois have morphed into a bit of a blur. Lots of talk, laughs, terrific meals, and cards… Euchre and a new game called "Jokers and Marbles". The girls against the boys – and by Wednesday night the scores were 5 to the girls and 2 to the boys.

On Tuesday night, Brian (cousin) and Cathy came by and lots more talk and laughs, especially some of their stories about the Caribbean cruise they all went on a few weeks ago to celebrate Harold and Lois' 50th Wedding Anniversary (which was actually last year). And on Wednesday night Bruce (cousin) and Nancy and Brian and Cathy came over. Liz (Brian and Cathy's daughter) stopped by as well. We watched the DVD from the cruise and saw Harold getting his "Mr Sexy Legs" award!

On Wednesday we drove to a mall close to Lansing (Meridien Mall) and did some last shopping as we leave the US on Saturday. It was such a warm and beautiful day that we stopped by an ice-cream stand and had some HUGE ice-creams – Traverse City Cherry Fudge hand-dip for me, and Blueberry soft serve for my LP.

I'm writing this on Thursday morning (April 20) and the weather today is also expected to be fine, warm (75F) and sunny, and looking out the window across the farm right now, that seems to be a very accurate prediction.

Update: Thursday we went to Owosso for some groceries and a late lunch of ribs at Eddie O'Flynn's! Mmmm… Then to Joanne and Bubba's on Lake Victoria for raspberry pie and some card games. No wonder so many Americans are big… all that food! It all tasted wonderful, but the serves were so big. I ate my four very large ribs, then left the pork tenderloin and whole chicken breast and took them in a 'doggy bag'. Way too much food.

BBQ Sampler at Eddie O'Flynn's

Friday was our last day with family. We left just after noon and headed to Chicago, stopping in Portage, MI for last minute shopping at Best Buy and Barnes & Noble. We arrived in Chicago around 5:30pm so with the stop it was about a 5 hour drive. The weather reamined gorgeous and the construction areas on the interstates weren't too problematic.

We had dinner at Chilis after checking in to the Extended Stay America near O'Hare Airport. Unlike previous trips to the US this was the first and only time we had Chilis – usually we eat there quite often.

Photos…


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