28 August 2009

Michigan '09

Here's the epic update I know you've all been waiting for. Last weekend, I journeyed to Michigan to see my relatives again and attend my grandmother's 80th birthday party along with my father, Jim, and one of my brothers, Nathan.
We left Arizona early Friday morning with a US Airways flight at 7:30am. Since the airlines, in their infinite wisdom now charge for checked baggage ($15), we brought almost everything via carry-on, and only checked one bag for my dad's stuff. The flight was uneventful, since I'd brought 3 books along to tide me over: The First Patient by Michael Palmer, The Dangerous Days of Daniel X by James Patterson, and The Secret of the Seventh Son by Glenn Cooper. I finished Seventh Son in the car that first day.
So anyway, we landed in Chicago O'Hare airport a few hours later, snagged our rental car, and took the 294 Toll Road out of Chi-town, through Indiana, and up into Holland, Michigan. We got to our hotel, the Country Inn and Suites, at around 5pm their time (2pm Arizona time), got settled, and then decided to go visit my grandparents and say hello.
We got there right around dinnertime, stayed for a short while, and then left to get some sleep before the party on Saturday. Back at the hotel, we weren't really sleepy, despite it being 9:30pm there (it was basically dinnertime for us), so Nathan and I decided to wander around the area a little while Dad relaxed. We were staying right next to Dutch Village, a theme park-slash-shopping center, complete with a large wooden windmill, several little Netherlands-themed shops, and Dutch dancers. Have I mentioned before that I'm 50% Dutch? And yes, I own wooden shoes.
Down the way, there was a place called Poker Zone, a poker room business, which I'd not seen before in Arizona. I was curious how they got around gambling laws, since usually that sort of thing is well-regulated. Apparently, it's done based on a division of the Michigan State Lottery, the Charitable Gaming Divison. A charity comes in for 3 days at a time and handles all the money transactions - the proprietors of the business don't have access - and it gets considered a "charity event" rather than a for-profit business. The house takes a maximum $5.00-per-hand rake, to be awarded by the charity at the end of the night, or in the case of tournaments, a portion of the money collected. That might be really fun to have here in Arizona... someone get on it!
The next morning, we were all up bright and early... ish to go over and see if there was anything we could do to help out. Dad and I ran some early errands for my mom back home, which included a trip to Dutch Village for pick up some goodies to bring back for us and for her class (which is studying the Netherlands this year): banket, a Dutch pastry; babbelaars, caramel candies (which are DELICIOUS); smoked Maasdam cheese; and Michigan cherry coffee.
At his house, my grandfather has a big, old barn which has stood for as long as I can remember, filled with tools and assorted antiques from his days working in the Michigan demolition field. Old license plates, scrap wood, antique tools, a few old books, etc. The barn's been a staple of his love of woodworking, and it's where I have many good memories of him from my youth.
Examples of his woodworking craftsmanship: he made the windmill, the fence, and the Dutch figures at the bottom (he and grandma are also skilled gardeners, having planted all the flowers you see in the picture in their garden):From left to right: Nathan, Grandpa, Grandma, and me in front of the barn:One of the things Grandpa needed help with was getting up to the roof to patch a few shingles. I'll be the first to admit I'm no carpenter, so my very handy brother was "volunteered" to go up on the rickety antique ladder (yes, completely made of wood) while I took pictures. Five minutes later, the roof was patched.The party itself was fun, and I got to see many of my family that I hadn't seen in nearly a decade: my uncles Jay, Ron, Mike, and Doug; my aunts Nancy and Carol (the masterminds behind the party setup and the food!); my cousins Danny and Chris (boy have they grown up since I last saw them!); my grandmother's four living sisters and husbands; and of course, grandma and grandpa. I didn't take many photos of the party, and my Uncle Jay should be forwarding me his sometime soon. But I did get this one: my cousins trying to build a tower to the roof of the garage out of a ketchup bottle, salt and pepper shakers, plastic plates, empty soda cans, plastic cups, wooden knicknacks, and one cheeseburger (they succeeded): Otherwise, it was part-rain-part-sun throughout the afternoon, so we mostly kept inside the garage area. I was somewhat disappointed not to have seen my other cousins, Callie, Megan, and Katie, but they were either working that day or were otherwise occupied.
That evening, I went and saw G.I. Joe at the nearby Star Theatre. It was okay. Nothing super special. Decent special effects, a passable storyline, and enough action to keep me engaged throughout the film. It won't win any awards, but it's rentable.
The next morning, our trio went out to Ludington, Michigan, about a 1 1/2 hour drive north of Holland to visit Ludington State Park, something my dad has to do every time he comes to Michigan. He used to camp there as a kid, and he still loves to hike around the Lost Lake Trail:Lost Lake:In some places, the water is crystal clear and as calm as glass:In others, kayakers and canoers come to fish or just enjoy the nice weather and cool water:Lost Lake also has two islands. This is one, with Nathan looking out at it pensively:The hike itself takes you around the lake, starting at a wooden bridge with no handholds, through the forest, and finally through a series of wooden staricases:Along the way, I did manage to make a few friends and play with the macro lens on the camera:Nearing the end of this day, we walked over to the Lost Lake Dam, where, below the coffers, fishermen gather to try to catch some of the big fish, like pike, salmon, and rainbow trout. While we were standing there, some teenager captured a 20-or-so inch Northern pike. The dam:

Monday and Tuesday were less eventful. We drove through downtown Holland to get to a fine goods shop my dad likes to visit to pick up miniature clocks (his collection), and played cards with my grandparents (we take our card-playing very seriously around my family... the game "3-13" can be a duel to the death sometimes)!

Before we left, we took a few more one-on-one photos with my grandparents, like the one below. Tuesday, we had lunch at Bob Evans restaurant, a last-day-of-the-vacation tradition among my family, and my aunts, Uncle Jay and cousins showed up to have lunch and say goodbye one more time before we took off. And long story short, we drove back to Chicago, hopped on the plane, and made it back to Arizona in time for supper.

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