(Written Saturday, October 19th at 10am)
Total Days: 15
Total Mileage: 4,100
We are just leaving Michigan and heading to Chicago after a wonderful 4 night/3 day visit with Don’s family in Spring Lake. We are pretty sure we set some sort of record for most activities fit into one visit. Living on the West Coast gave me many opportunities to introduce Don to my friends, family, and childhood memories, so now it was Don’s turn to take me down memory lane. In addition to eating tons of delicious food from Don’s favorite restaurants and old jobs, we spent quality time with his mom and dad, grandma, sister and her family, and with some of Don’s old friends. It did manage to rain on us the whole time we were there, but it was still a memorable and fun visit.
On Tuesday we drove along the Lake Michigan coast for hours, stopping for just a bit at an apple orchard for some cider donuts and then in the town of Empire to check out Sleeping Bear Dunes. When we finally arrived in Muskegon, we were sufficiently starved enough to justify eating a huge dinner of steak, mac and cheese and more from Logan’s Roadhouse…one of the many restaurants where Don worked as a line cook in his younger years. We then drove to his parent’s home in Spring Lake and ended the night with an introduction to Don’s family’s home and a couple hours of conversation and story-telling.
The next morning I was able to get up at the break of dawn to join Don’s mother, Sherri, at her school for the first half of the day. Sherri teaches special education at a middle school and I am always looking for opportunities to check out different teaching styles, meet new students, and just simply hang out in a classroom. The teacher inside me has been quite deprived for the last couple years. I had a great time teaching and spending time with Sherri in her element, but was also happy to be picked up by Don and his father during the school’s lunchtime. Teaching is exhausting and I was already overwhelmed just thinking about all the work I would have on my plate if I were a full-time classroom teacher. Don, his father Rod, and I went over to Grandma’s house for a tasty lunch and more sharing of stories. From there Don showed me all around Grand Haven. We walked along a pier out to a big red lighthouse, but not all the way to the end because the waves were massive and I was afraid of being washed away. We explored the downtown area and then Don took me by his high school and a few more of his old job locations. We even spent some time in a very cool outdoor store called Earth’s Edge where we felt right at home. That evening Rod made us a tasty crock-pot roast and we spent some time relaxing in front of the T.V.
On Thursday the plan was to drive out to Don’s sister’s home in Grand Blanc, Michigan; about 3 hours from his parents’ home, for a sleepover and a chance to meet her 10-month old baby Evelyn. In the morning Don and I spent some time at the local coffee shop getting “work” done and then ate stuffed hash browns at Dee-Lite Bar and Grill (another place Don used to cook). (I told you we did a lot of tasty eating!) We all drove out early afternoon and stopped along the way in the festive Bavarian town of Frankenmuth. The town is home to a couple tasty German restaurants, tons of shops, and most importantly, Bronner’s…the largest year-around Christmas store in the world. This place did not disappoint. After a delicious family-style feast we wandered all around the Christmas “mall” in a state of awe. You’ve never seen so many ornaments in your life. In addition to the huge selection of stuff you could buy, they have set up whole Christmas scenes along the walls. It is like a shrine to everything Christmas, and it made me smile and hum Christmas music the rest of the evening. When we finally got to Don’s sister’s house, it was already a little late and Evelyn was in bed, but we stayed up late with Morgan and her husband Mark and had a wonderful time talking about everything from philosophy to life plans to embarrassing camping stories.
Yesterday we got to spend the morning with Morgan and her very sweet Evelyn. We drove 3 hours west and made our first stop at “Crane’s Pie Pantry Restaurant,” a cider mill and u-pick apple orchard that reminds Don of childhood. Don’s parents met us there for lunch and we indulged in homemade chili and cinnamon rolls. Unfortunately, Evelyn is fighting a cold and felt quite miserable all day, so there were lots of tears in between the ridiculously cute smiles and giggles. We all went back to Don’s parents’ place for a relaxing afternoon and evening. Even Grandma came over to hang out! Last night we went out for a couple drinks to yet another of Don’s old haunts, “Kirby’s” in downtown Grand Haven. We met up with an old friend Kristen and her boyfriend Andrew and after discovering that they are moving to Central America in January for an indefinite amount of time, talked all night about travel, Spanish, jobs, and money. The live music provided great background noise, and in the end, our drinks were comped by good-willed friends and family. It was a great way to end our time in Michigan. After a difficult morning of goodbyes we are Chicago bound, and we’re not gonna lie, we’re pretty excited to hang out in the windy city.