Two Girls and a Truck!

Last year, my younger sister Renée was offered an opportunity to transfer to San Diego, CA to a new satellite office of her company after working there on a project the previous year. Eager for a new adventure, she jumped at the chance. At Christmas, she expressed some trepidation at the prospect of driving across the country and wondered if I might like to keep her and her kitty company on the drive. After my cross country travels the previous summer, I told her yes! As the July move loomed closer, she brought up the subject again and I reassured her I was game. How could I pass up an opportunity to see more of the country as well as a city I hadn’t yet visited?

At the beginning of June,  movers packed up her house and she and her kitty Rigger moved in temporarily with my mom until the July move-in date. Her plan was to fly me to Chicago, pack up a small truck with her remaining personal items, work stuff, and Rigger, drive to SD and then fly me back to Louisville. I was excited for another adventure, as well as the chance to spend some time with my sister. I eagerly plotted the 4-day trip, making our hotel reservations in advance. It was a fairly straight shot that would take us through Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, a smidge of Arizona, Nevada, and California.

On July 1st I took the short flight into Chicago. The next morning, we picked up the 12 foot box truck and packed all her remaining belongings in the back. Rigger was given a dose of a kitty knock-out drug and she was stowed in a nice roomy wire cage that fit absolutely perfectly between the two seats in the cab.

Rigger in her truck home

Rigger in her truck home

After a tearful goodbye with Mama, we headed west on I-88 at about 10:30am. Rigger meowled but as the drug took effect, the white of her third eyelid closed over her eye and she settled down. This route was familiar to me; I’d traveled the state of Iowa many times while I lived in Iowa City and Ames. Soon we passed into the flat state of Nebraska. Dark skies and thunderclouds loomed ahead in the west, but luckily we’d left late enough that we dodged them all. As we approached Grand Island, NE, our first stop, the skies cleared and the sun shined brightly into our eyes. We celebrated our first complete day with a couple of Blue Moons at the small bar and grill at the hotel.

Blue Moon!

Blue Moon!

The next morning we rose early, drugged the kitty cat, and set off. I dreaded the remainder of Nebraska, remembering it to be flat and ugly. However, it was much prettier than I recalled from years past – lush and green from all the recent flooding rains. Eventually we crossed into Colorado, and as we drove through Denver the snow capped Rocky Mountains appeared before us in the hazy sun. As we passed Empire, my WAZE app directed us off of I-70 due to some construction. The detour was just as gridlocked, but took us through Clear Creek Canyon, a spectacular canyon with a stunningly picturesque creek where kayakers and rafts rode the rapids. We were grateful to crawl along the detour, viewing the magnificent beauty around us.

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IMG_6610After getting back onto I-70, the landscape was even more breathtaking as we drove past Central City and Vail. We stopped for the night along the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. After a nice outdoor dinner at a local Mexican place with a couple of well-earned margaritas, we wandered around until we spotted a sky lift upside a local mountain. We snagged a couple of tickets up the lift to the top of the mountain, where Renée posed in front of some adorable wooden bears and moose characters.

Renee and her friends

Renee and her friends

Saturday we left the beautiful little resort city behind, along with the Colorado River, and headed into Utah. Rigger was having an especially difficult morning, meowling louder and longer than usual. Afraid that she might not have gotten that ½ pill down earlier, Renée pulled over at a scenic view to re-dose her. While we were there we took in the beauty of our Utah surroundings.

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IMG_6650Rigger slept soundly as we continued across the hot state of Utah. As we passed the exit for Moab, I looked longingly to the south towards Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, both of which I have yet to visit. Finally we merged onto I-15 South, past Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. After a short 20 miles or so across Arizona, we crossed into the state of Nevada into the blistering hot small town of Mesquite. Our hotel for the night was nice and new, but very isolated. We walked around the blast furnace heat looking for a place to eat with no luck. We got back into the truck and drove to the edge of town until we found a Peggy Sue’s Diner and had a light bite.

The hotel was perched high on the edge of town, and we had a good vantage point for the 4th of July fireworks taking place at the casino that night. After a spectacular sunset, we found a spot on the edge of the parking lot and watched the fireworks display.

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DSC04030At last it was Sunday, our final day of driving. We packed Rigger one more time into her cage and departed early. We had the road to ourselves until passing through Las Vegas around 10am. After that, the throngs of holiday gamblers headed back to California. Traffic was heavy all the rest of the way. And unfortunately, the scenery between Las Vegas and San Diego is nothing to write home about!

IMG_6675We passed the final hours of the drive listening to some great podcasts, most notably Marc Maron’s WTF show. We heard some wonderful interviews of Barak Obama, Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air, and comedienne Andrea Martin. Renée also shared her excellent taste in music, and introduced me to a fantastic group, the California Guitar Trio. We listened to their amazing renditions of Beethoven’s 9th Ode to Joy, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and the jazz classic Caravan. Extraordinary musicians!

Finally we arrived in Vista, about 20 miles north of San Diego, and pulled up to her cute townhouse. Rigger was released from her 4-day prison into her new home as we unpacked several boxes into the house. After relaxing for a bit, we drove a short distance to Renée’s office, met her super nice French coworker Francois, and unpacked the remaining items from the truck.

Monday morning I bid farewell to my wonderful little sis, hopped a shuttle to the San Diego airport and headed home to Louisville. Although she lives hours and hours away from the rest of the family now and we will miss her terribly, I’m so proud of her for taking a leap of faith and moving to a new city across the country. I was grateful to have the chance to spend some time with her, and experience some beautiful country at the same time. The amazing adventures continue!

Goodbye, Montana sky…

IMG_6490My time in Montana has come to an end. For now. I was here for only 4 ½ months, but it felt like much longer. This beautiful city of Missoula became another home to me, and I will take part of it with me while leaving part of my spirit behind.

I will miss SO much. I will miss watching the sun rise each morning, casting its first rays high atop snow covered Squaw Peak, making it glow bright white before gradually casting its glow down the dark green, pine covered mountains throughout the valley.

I will miss the sunset behind those mountains each evening, watching as the spectacular colors in the huge expanse of the sky change from yellow to orange to pink and then purple.

I will miss looking out my window and seeing my dear friend, the Clark Fork River. I’ll miss walking right out my building to the banks of the river to watch all the surfers, kayaks, and rafts on Brennan’s Wave. I’ll miss my walks on the Riverfront path, watching the fly fishers as they rhythmically cast their lines out over the waves. I’ll miss falling asleep each night and waking each morning to the soothing sound of the rushing river through my open window.

I will miss my hikes up Mount Sentinel to The M, from which I never tired of the most spectacular view of the city, nestled in this beautiful valley surrounded by snow capped mountains.

I will miss my gym, Missoula Underground Strength Training. I’ll miss how everyone who works there treats every single person who walks into the gym with incredible respect and care, regardless of their age, weight, or physical abilities. I’ll miss the Saturday community-wide bootcamps. I will miss everyone I befriended there, several of whom share the same spiritual path as I.

Being here gave me a wonderful opportunity for self discovery. I was entirely too distracted by my “life” for the past several years. Work, the gym, VOICES, friends, my relationship. I was so busy being distracted that I was sleepwalking through my life… numb, unhappy and unable to connect with my inner self enough to find my purpose. But for the past several months, all those distractions were gone.  I was alone in my apartment, with a figurative mirror in front of me every direction I turned. I couldn’t avoid it, and I had to look at myself. It’s one of the most painful things I’ve ever done. But there was nothing else to think about….my life  and what it’s been, where it’s led me, and where I want to go. And most of all – what has kept me from going where I want to go.

I have confronted all sorts of false beliefs that have ruled my life: I must be perfect or no one will love me. I need approval from others. I’m not smart enough or good enough. Nothing I do is of any value. Recognizing those false beliefs is the first step; dispelling them is something I’ve worked on this entire time, and something that I will continue to work on. Luckily I have found a wealth of spiritual resources with which to guide me. I have found my life’s purpose and set myself on a course to fulfill that. For the first time ever in my life, I am confident that I am headed in the right direction.

I named my journey last summer Alise’s Amazing Adventure. I realize now that my whole LIFE has been an amazing adventure. And I am overwhelmingly grateful for every single thing that has happened along the way. The happiness, the joy, the victories, the hardships, the heartbreaks, the defeats. I’m grateful to the Universe for teaching me all of those lessons. I look forward to more adventures ahead, and I can honestly say that I look forward to and welcome the challenges. Because without them, we can never continue to learn and grow.

It was almost this exact time last year that I left Louisville, my friends and family, and embarked on my summer of adventure. Now, as I leave Missoula, I’m re-posting the same image that I did last year. I will keep this in mind for the rest of my life. We must accept and embrace change, we must leave our comfort zone and step out into the unknown, or we will never learn the lessons that life is teaching us. I’m so looking forward to what this next chapter in my life holds!

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A Look Back and Ahead

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I’m reflecting on 2014, a year of immense change for me. Very early in the year I made some decisions that involved a huge amount of courage,  which led to a happiness and joy I’d never experienced before in my life. As we look ahead to a new year, I offer some words of encouragement and inspiration.

  • Take a leap of faith. You are stronger and more capable than you realize.
  • Instead of running away from your fears, turn around and face them head on. Get out of the safety of your comfort zone and embrace your fears. It will lead you to incredible growth, self-discovery and fulfillment.
  • Let go of worry. Just let it go. There is so much we cannot control, yet we make ourselves sick worrying about it. Take care of yourself and let the Universe take care of the rest.
  • Listen to that teeny tiny voice in the back of your head that you know in the depths of your soul speaks the truth.

I am about to enter the new year and undertake another adventure. To take a bigger, longer leap of faith. Instead of a relatively short, 3-month adventure, in which I visited many friends and family and traveled to warm, sunny, lush and inviting places, I am about to leave my comfort zone and move to a city in which I know absolutely no one. In the middle of my least favorite season, to a city and state where the cold and snow of that season is magnified. For perhaps twice as long as I was away this summer.

Why?

Because the teeny tiny voice in my head, the little voice that I never even realized was there until this past year, urges me to. It encourages me to continue to face my fears, to leave my familiar home and friends and surroundings and go to the place that beckons my soul. To go to that magnificent state with the immense sky and write about all I have learned so that I can help others realize that yes, you can change your life for the better, and that you, and you alone, are in the driver’s seat of your life, and that you can and will find happiness.

I will admit that I’m more than just a bit scared. But I’ve spent too much of my life giving in to the fear that pulls me back into the safety of doing nothing. For the first time in my life, I choose to believe that I do not have to hitchhike on the back of someone else flying through the air – that I have my own wings that will carry me safely through this next chapter of my life.

I woke up several times in the middle of the night, realizing that I was scared of taking this next step. And that teeny tiny voice spoke to me, loud and clear. “You will be just fine.”

Happy New Year to all of you!

Some fun in Mystic and Newport

“Lobster Rolls….” My brother’s eyes seemed to glaze over as he talked about this delicacy that I must be sure to have while visiting the Providence RI area. I had no idea…I pictured something off of a sushi menu. I would be in for a surprise!

After a lovely visit in quaint historic Cooperstown, I made the drive to Warwick, RI, just south of Providence, right on Greenwich Bay. I arrived around dinnertime, so with my tummy rumbling, I wasted no time in searching for the best lobster roll around my motel. Again, thanks to the wonders of Yelp, I located a highly recommended spot just a half mile from my motel. How can one go wrong with a cute little lobster atop the building?

IMG_4956I went up to the counter and admitted I’d never had a lobster roll. The girl told me I had a choice when it came to lobster rolls: hot with butter or cold with mayo. I thought for just a second and opted for the hot sandwich. I chose a side of slaw and in a few minutes I was rewarded with this magnificence:

IMG_4957It was freakin’ delicious. The bread was fresh and toasted. The lobster was juicy and succulent. I pretty much demolished it in a matter of minutes. Then chased it down with a regional brew:

IMG_4958The next morning I hit the road early and headed southwest to the little town of Mystic, CT. Many folks had suggested that a great place to visit there was Mystic Seaport. It is the largest living maritime history museum in the world.  It is notable for its huge collection of boats and sailing ships, and for the re-creation of an entire 19th-century seafaring village. I’ve never sailed and I’ve been on very few boats in my life, but I found the hours I spent here fascinating!

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Here’s the shipyard where they do all sort of renovations on the numerous ships harbored there. They have craftsmen using the original techniques of shipbuilding. It’s kind of fascinating to see history preserved this way.

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DSC03438One of the many ships housed here in Mystic Seaport.

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This exhibit houses the 50 foot long scale model of Mystic River and West Mystic circa 1870. The detail is staggering.

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DSC03455This is the prized resident of Mystic Seaport. It’s the Charles W. Morgan, the only surviving wooden sailing whaling vessel. This vessel must be continuously renovated in order to be preserved. They allow visitors to walk around the ship and it’s really COOL! That is, unless you actually had to live on it at sea among a whole crew of smelly seamen.

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DSC03467After three and a half hours, it was time for lunch and luckily there was another highly recommended spot close by. This time I ordered a lobster roll cold with mayo. Delicious, in a different way!

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IMG_4964My tummy full, I got in the car and made the short drive to Newport to enjoy the second half of my day. I wanted to do something that would incorporate some physical activity along with the sights of Newport, specifically the beautiful homes and the lovely oceanfront. Lucky for me there is a beautiful 3.5 mile cliff walk that fit the bill perfectly.

IMG_4981Here are some of the beautiful houses I saw along the Cliff Walk.

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IMG_4973And here are some beautiful shots of the shoreline.

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IMG_4977Beautiful sights. The trip is winding down and there is one more spot on the map – Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park!

There’s No Crying in Baseball!

My mom, my big brother and I are die hard baseball fans. Kevin knew that I would just love going to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame. So after I left Niagara Falls, I headed that way.

My tour of Niagara Falls had ended about an hour and a half later than I’d expected it to, so I got a late start on the long drive to Cooperstown. This time of year and in that part of the country it gets dark earlier and earlier. By the time I turned off Interstate 90 to the back roads it was pretty dark. The hotel I’d booked was about 5 miles outside of Cooperstown, but I had no idea that meant it was in the middle of NOWHERE!!!  I finally found the hotel in the pitch black and checked in at about 8:30pm. Thankfully so, since the desk actually closed at 9pm. And how fortunate was I that they had discounted Hall of Fame tickets available!

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The next morning I awoke and looked out the back window. The hotel was right on Otsego Lake and I had a beautiful view.

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Then I walked down to take a look at the lake itself. A gorgeous morning!

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The lake was pristine and clear. And cold!!!!

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I walked out front to take a picture of the hotel. I looked across the street and was startled by something I saw in the window. Upon closer inspection, I laughed.

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I made the short drive into Cooperstown and since it was early, I searched for breakfast. I found this fantastic little diner and had a delicious breakfast of corned beef hash!

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By the time I finished breakfast, it was past 9am and the museum was open for business! I was ready for a nice day of baseball education.

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 Of course I had to find all the Cubs displays. Let me just say there’s far too much Yankees stuff and not near enough recognition of MY team!

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I found the women’s baseball section. It was fascinating to read about and see all the women who have been part of the AAGPBL. Gosh, I would have LOVED to have played baseball!!!

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Next,  I went into the room celebrating baseball in the movies and saw memorabilia and movie clips from my favorite baseball movies of all time: A League of Their Own, Field of Dreams, and Bull Durham.

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Finally, I visited the Walk of Fame and saw the plaques for all my beloved Cubbies in the Hall of Fame.

bbSatisfied with my four hour visit, I headed out of town. On the way out, I passed by Otsego Lake and couldn’t resist one more shot. So peaceful.

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The Gremlin on My Shoulder

This morning I woke up sad. And scared.

I’m sad because my Amazing Adventure comes to an end this weekend.

I’m sad because I’m done driving to new and exciting places.  The beauty of this country and all its natural wonders is spectacular and breathtaking. There are so many places I still would love to see.

I’m sad because I have enjoyed the hours of solitude driving in the car with my thoughts to myself, with the miles of road ahead of me and the ever-changing landscape surrounding me.

I’m sad because I’ve loved writing about my adventures, incorporating the pictures of my experiences and sharing them with all of you.

I’m sad it’s over. I would like to continue on and on, because as long as I’m on the road, I don’t have to face the reality of my life.

Because I’m scared.

At first thought, I’m scared of deciding where I want to live. Then I’m scared of finding a place to live and finding a job.

But truly, I think most of all, I’m scared that, back in the reality of my everyday life, I will not be able to  sustain the changes I’ve made over this summer. I feel like a completely different person. I may look the same to you all when I return (although my hair is shaggy and I’ve put on some lbs), but inside I feel completely different. Which is a WONDERFUL thing – I have shed layers of unhappiness and old beliefs and habits and feel like the true Alise. But I’m scared of being completely different in the same environment once I return to Louisville. And I’m afraid to trust myself to maintain this new, authentic “me.”

Today I received an email from a friend I visited last week. She told me something that five other friends along the way this summer have also told me. She said “I’ve always looked up to you.” An incredible compliment – but one that I still, even after all my self realizations, have a hard time believing and accepting. Despite realizing all summer that I am all I need, that I am completely self sustaining and wonderful and fun to be around and happy and strong and worthy. But it’s been easy for me to do on this trip, when I”m traveling around with no responsibilities or decisions to make other than where I’m headed next. But, once I return to Louisville, in my old environment, and have to start to make some life choices, I’m afraid to trust in the new “me.”  Because I’ve spent my entire life telling myself that I can’t, that I’m not worthy, that I’m not enough, and boy those old habits and patterns are hard to break.  I said to a friend earlier today that I feel like I have this nasty little gremlin on my shoulder, who has re-appeared and is still whispering the same old shit into my ear, and I feel like I must find a way to throw it off my shoulder once and for all. And it’s so hard because it has always, always been there.

My dear friend Leah gave me a lovely book right before I left – I Can Do It, by Louise Hay. It’s a fantastic book of life changing affirmations, and I’ve been listening to the CD at various times along my trip. It occurs to me that I should listen to it some more on my way back to the ‘Ville. I’m determined to find the trust and confidence in myself – and believe it, and live it – for the first time in my life.

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Honeymoon Capital of the World

My Amazing Adventure was going to end after I finished my visit in Detroit. At least that was the plan. But….while I was at my mom’s, my big brother Kevin was there and asked “where are you going after you leave here?” I took out my huge map and said “Well, I’ll visit you and Karen in Grand Rapids, then go to Ann Arbor, and end in Detroit.” He looked at the map to the only big blank space on it and said “What the heck? How come you’re not going to anyplace in the Northeast????” I had no reply. At least no reply that was going to satisfy him!

Kevin proceeded to write down his suggestions for the continuation of my trip. I was actually excited about it, since I had been a bit sad that my adventure was about to come to an end. I was ahead of schedule anyway – now I had an excuse to keep going!

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So, on Sunday I left Detroit and headed east! It was a drizzly dreary day as I drove through Cleveland, Erie, and finally Buffalo, NY. And when in Buffalo, I guess one may as well try some buffalo wings, which I did at the restaurant that supposedly invented them.

IMG_4935A dear friend had suggested that I try a boat tour of Niagara Falls, so I took her advice and booked a tour for the following day. I spent the night in Buffalo and headed for Niagara Falls the next morning. I arrived in plenty of time (yes, I still have the early habit) so I stopped at a little place for breakfast. Ladies and Gentlemen, this was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had on my adventure. It was also the cheapest by FAR. I had two eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, toast and coffee for $3.75.  Holy Moly!

IMG_4939Fully fueled for the day, I drove to the tour pick-up spot. At 10:35, the bus pulled up and I, along with several other couples, loaded ourselves on. It was captained by a very unique guide, Chuck. Chuck was 61 years old, in incredible shape, with a LONG pony tail down his back. Chuck had clearly been doing this for many years. He let us know that he was going to give us the tour of our lives, and that he was watching out for us and was not ABOUT to let us get ripped off by all the tourist traps along the way. Our adventure began.

Chuck was like a Mother Hen, directing us here and there. Our first stop was the Cave of the Winds. Chuck took care of the paperwork, issued us our tickets, and ushered us into the room where we were given our designer sandals for the day. He even gave me the insider tip to twist the straps so the sandals would fit tight.

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From there, he sent us down the elevators, where we traveled 175 feet below and were given lovely yellow ponchos. We got into line for the incredibly awesome deluge at the base of the American Falls! WOW!

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Next, Chuck took us to Three Sisters Islands, where we got off the bus and took a little walk to all three for views of the rapids in the Niagara River right before Horseshoe Falls

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Next was a stop for lunch, and then, what we’d all been waiting for…MAID OF THE MIST BOAT TRIP!!!

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Chuck found a parking place where there was none to be found. This guy knew everything! He then quickly ushered us through the ticket booth to the distribution of the BLUE ponchos.Then, he left us in line for the boat with strict instructions to find a spot on the CANADIAN side of the boat on the upper deck when we boarded. He assured us this was the best spot of all. We all heeded his advice and upon boarding rushed to the spot. The boat departed and the voyage was spectacular! I was SOAKED!!!

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Chuck met us as we all got off the boat and took us to the top of the observation deck for some classic Falls pictures.

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Pretty flowers also along the way. Who doesn’t like pretty flowers???

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What a fantastic day, and I’m so grateful that I took the tour. I have found on my adventure this summer that tours are the BEST way to see the sights, and they are worth every penny. Plus, I got to meet some fantastic folks along the way. And the nicest part of the day didn’t have anything to do with the beauty of the Falls. One of the couples on the tour who sat right behind me on the bus were from Cincinnati of all places! At the end of the day, as we all departed, the man from Cincy turned to me and said “It was so nice to meet you. Every time I looked at you today you were smiling.”

Another reinforcement!

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A Couple of Days in The D

detroit 2My friend Dana helped me set up my blog. Later that evening, over a beautiful dinner and spectacular bourbon, Dana and her husband Brian shared how they had bought and were renovating a house in Detroit. Dana said that I MUST visit them there along the way. While I was in Ann Arbor, I messaged her with not much hope, since I would be leaving Ann Arbor over the Labor Day weekend and didn’t expect that she’d be up in Michigan at that time. Imagine my surprise when she said yes, absolutely, and in fact she was turning 40 and was having a celebration that weekend in Detroit. Perfect timing!

I’d made the drive to Ann Arbor to Detroit many times in the years that I’d lived in Ann Arbor – playing in the Michigan Opera Theater orchestra. I’d never spent any real time there though. Detroit is quite a broken city – it’s bankrupt to the tune of 18 BILLION dollars and there are over 50,000  (yes, that number is correct) abandoned, broken down, and decrepit houses everywhere. But there is an effort to try to bring it back to life. Foreclosed and abandoned homes are auctioned off – you can buy a house for around $1000 – with the hope that the re-investment in the economy will help to bring the city back to life.  Dana and Brian are part of that effort, and I give them HUGE props for this.

IMG_4901I arrived at their house around 5:30pm on Friday, just in time to assist with the final preparations for Dana’s party. The backyard was tented, there were pretty white lights strung along the tent and a little firepit was loaded and ready to go. I met Brian’s sister and her partner and started the celebrations with a nice glass of Russell’s Reserve Rye. Let the party begin!

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DSC03266The weather was perfect outside and Dana and Brian’s friends were wonderful. I lasted until about 11pm when I collapsed into a sleepy tipsy heap in my sleeping bag.

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IMG_4895Saturday morning I woke to the smell of coffee and wandered into the kitchen to find it full of party guests. After breakfast and party clean-up, Brian took us on a little tour of the area. It was heartbreaking to see such beautiful houses, some of which would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in another city, just empty and abandoned. We also found some interesting urban artwork and graffiti along the way.

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IMG_4920After we returned from the tour, we headed out in caravan to the Detroit Eastern Market. I have never been to a market so HUGE! Produce, restaurants, food trucks, music, and more. It was incredible!

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DSC03277This young lady had her boom box playing accompaniment while she played the melody to True Colors. She was fantastically talented. Perhaps the blue violin had something to do with it!

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DSC03279That evening we had plans to go to Bakers Keyboard Lounge, the world’s oldest operating jazz club, about 10 minutes down the road. This is a really neat little spot, and Dana and Brian said the food was fabulous. I tried the fried chicken, with mac and cheese and greens. The best fried chicken I’ve EVER had . I’m pretty sure I licked my plate clean.

IMG_4926The highlight of the evening, however, was the music. Allan Barnes and his group played. Allan is a fantastic saxophone/flute player, and completing his group was a trumpet, bass, guitar, piano and drums. All of them were top notch musicians. Enjoy a bit.

 After a couple of sets and some great food, we headed out to a tiny neighborhood bar until the wee hours of the morning to shoot a few games of pool with a few beers. So pleased that I was able to celebrate along with Dana and her friends!

Next….an unplanned coda to my trip!

Tree Town!

I lived in Ann Arbor a total of eight years,  two of those at University of Michigan completing my Master degree in horn. I’d been looking forward to spending a few days with my friend Dean, whom I’d always known as a music theorist but had moved over to the Women’s Studies faculty at the University of Michigan.

I drove into Ann Arbor late Tuesday afternoon and down the familiar streets – I couldn’t resist turning onto Fountain Street to see where I lived for several years. Still even the same color!

DSC03254Dean had recently bought a fantastic old three-story Victorian house on Washington Street in Ann Arbor. She’d been renovating it and had just moved in a few days before my arrival. I turned onto Washington street and parked in front of her house. I heard rumbles of thunder quickly approaching as she answered the door, looking the same as she had 20 years ago but with a super cute short haircut. I received the grand tour of her house and its impeccably tasteful renovations. One of the most fascinating features were her screened skylights that open remotely – and then automatically close at the first drop of rain! The kitchen was stunning, with a gorgeous marble slab island and matching countertop. During the tour, I was introduced to her two kitties, Phoebe and Millie. Well….let me rephrase. I met Phoebe in the flesh (uh, fur) and was introduced to the lump under the covers of Dean’s bed – Millie apparently. The poor thing was having a difficult time with the move to the new house. Although I was convinced that my overwhelming kitty magnetism would draw her out and win her over, she resisted.

After the tour and introductions (and a pretty fierce thunderstorm), we walked to the downtown area in search of dinner. I was shocked to see the Blind Pig still standing, and bummed to see that Del Rio’s (a great burger/bar spot) had gone away. However,  just a bit further down Washington Street we saw an inviting spot, the Ann Arbor Brewing Company. We walked in and took a seat. I looked over the beers and selected a very interesting porter. It was indeed very smoky.

IMG_4863After a delicious dinner – I had a tasty burger on a pretzel bun and sweet potato fries – we set off on a little walk through her neighborhood. The weather was perfect – warm but with a lovely breeze. We talked and talked while we walked to our destination. Dean was catsitting for her friend Erik, so we stopped by and I was treated to another kitty fix, this time courtesy of Sebastian, a handsome and very friendly cat.

IMG_4867Wednesday morning we hung around the house. The cable/internet serviceman was there so we relaxed while he did his work. Well, I relaxed while Dean made me some strong French Press coffee and a lovely breakfast.

IMG_4869Later that afternoon we headed to the neighboring town of Dexter to Dean’s old house to pack up some remaining items and do some cleaning. After that we made our way to the old Bill Knapps where Zingerman’s had opened a great sit down restaurant, Zingerman’s Roadhouse. It was only Wednesday night but the place was PACKED! I chose the fried chicken while Dean opted for a lovely beet salad and some yummy sweet potato fries. The chicken was out of this world.

IMG_4866Thursday morning Dean had some things to attend to around the house, so I offered to tackle the yardwork. It’s one of my favorite things to do and I find it very gratifying. It was sunny but cool and not at all humid. I mowed the fairly long grass, and then took out the weedeater and went to town on the edging of the sidewalks and all along the side and back of the house. Finally, I brought out a broom and dustpan and tidied up my mess. I was pretty proud of my work and Dean was ecstatic! Our chores completed, Dean made us a tasty light lunch with ingredients taken from her garden.

IMG_4870After one more stop to the Dexter house for some final packing up, we braved the hoards of students returning to town and stopped in The Jolly Pumpkin for dinner. (It’s actually more spooky than jolly!). Anyway, it was a fun place, and I had a delicious chocolate stout and you guessed it, a burger!

The next morning Dean made sure that I was well-fed before I hit the road. Fresh green beans from her garden, potatoes, greens, and eggs made up a spectacular frittata.

IMG_4880Oh, and Millie did grace me with her presence a couple of times, but Phoebe – she’s my bud!

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Lake Michigan & Grand Traverse Bay!

I had one day to fill after I left Kevin and Karen’s before heading to Ann Arbor.  I have always loved the Traverse City area so I eagerly made plans to spend a day there. Monday morning Kevin headed back to Chicago way before Karen and I were up. Karen and I had some coffee and then I said goodbye and headed out the door. It was a cloudy cool morning, and there was a strong chance of thunderstorms all along Lake Michigan that day. But, I was determined to have a wonderful day, no matter what the weather!

I started up 31 North, and it was my plan to stop at as many points of access for Lake Michigan before stopping at Sleeping Bear Dunes for a visit. At my first view of Lake Michigan, I saw and heard the thunderstorms looming off to the west. I snapped a few pictures before getting back to the safety of my car, whereupon the skies opened up and it poured.

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The picture in my head of a perfect summer day at Sleeping Bear Dunes seemed in jeapordy, but I reminded myself not to let the weather affect my positive attitude! As I drove closer to the dunes, I noticed that the skies became a bit brighter. I stopped at another nice little spot with a historic lighthouse that unfortunately was closed, but had a nice view of the beach.

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I also saw this early sign of Fall along the way. Sigh….I know many of you love Fall, but I’m always sad to see Summer go.

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Finally, I pulled into Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.

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My plan at Sleeping Bear Dunes was to drive the Scenic Loop and then drive the additional mile to do the traditional “Dune Climb.” I drove the loop and came to one of the most famous spots. I walked out and saw these signs in front of me.

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This sand dune was the GRANDADDY of them all. I saw about three folks who had just finished climbing up this mammoth 450 foot dune. They were soaked with sweat and their faces were red. And all of them proudly proclaiming the time it took them to scale up. I overheard someone say that one of them, a young girl, had climbed it in 11 minutes. Uh…wow! I looked down the massive dune, looked at the folks at the top, took off my sandals and said, “Ok folks, see you later!”

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It is crazy getting down this dune. You really have to keep your weight back or you will pitch forward and tumble head over heels to the bottom. I kind of turned myself a bit sideways and made it all the way to the bottom in about 3 minutes. I snapped some pictures at the bottom, but it really doesn’t give you an idea of the how high it really looks from all the way at the bottom. I found some pictures online that really illustrates the scale of the hill.

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I found it impossible to stand upright and climb. I had to lean over, almost in a crawl, and use my hands. It was exhausting from the start, but here’s how I did it. I took 30 steps, then rested. I repeated that all the way to the top. It took me 20 minutes to climb. I think this woud be an ideal crossfit challenge workout. And Erin Stimac would like to use a weighted vest!

After the climb, the more sedate Dune Climb a mile down the road held no more appeal to me, so I headed out of the park. After a few miles I saw the perfect stop and rewarded myself for my workout on the dune.

ice creamI continued north and in no time made it to the quaint little town of Leland. I parked my car in the waterfront Fishtown area and wandered into a few cute little shops and then down to the waterfront.

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The afternoon was waning, but I had one more stop to make. Many years ago, my brother Kevin had taken the family on a weekend trip around this area. We’d stayed at the Chateau Grand Traverse Inn within the Chateau Grand Traverse Winery on the peninsula in the middle of Grand Traverse Bay. It’s a magnificent winery, and I wanted to go and pick up a few bottles to bring back with me. I made the easy drive up the peninsula and made it to the winery around 5pm.

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I elected for a little tasting of 6 delightful wines before making my decision, and walked up to the checkout. The girl at the register and I started chatting.  I said I’d been there about 8 years ago and she asked what brought me back. I told her my story about my adventure around the country, and how I’d found a couple of cities along the way to where I was considering relocating. When I came to Montana, she told m that she’d lived for years in Missoula, one of my spots! She shared with me what it was like to live there, the culture, the weather, etc.  Amazing what can happen when you start opening up yourself to others. I left the winery with a big smile on my face. Oh, and with some nice wine.

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Traverse City, my destination for the night, was only a short 10 minute drive from the winery. I arrived to my motel, which was right across the street from the Bay, checked in, and found my room. I walked right past a group of three women, relaxing outside their room on comfy chairs, drinking beer and laughing and having a wonderful time. I greeted them with a jolly “what a great start to the weekend!” before I realized it was Monday evening! They laughed and so did I, as I admitted that I have no idea what day of the week it is anymore.

I unloaded my belongings into my room and took a quick shower, washing away the sweat and sand that I’d collected on my climb at the Dunes. I dressed and headed out to The Filling Station, about two miles down the road. The Filling Station is in a historic railroad depot, and it was filled inside and out with a lively evening crowd. I walked in, ordered a beer and a lovely pizza at the bar, got my drink, and relaxed. I was also treated to a live little Celtic combo, playing some really fine tunes. The pizza arrived shortly thereafter and I pretty much demolished it, having worked up quite an appetite from my day at the Dunes and subsequent shopping.

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The next morning, I made my final stop in the area. I made the short drive down to Interlochen, MI, home of Interlochen Arts Academy, where I’d spent the summer before my graduate studies at University of Michigan. Unfortunately gates were up at the entrances prohibiting me from wandering around, but it was a nice memory!

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Next stop: Ann Arbor. GO BLUE!