Crossing the Mackinac Strait

A Great Lake was calling; we chose Huron and the town of St. Ignace, a place that a local restaurant bills as a “Drinking village with a fishing problem,” St. Ignace is the touristy gateway to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; it sits on the Mackinac Strait, which divides Lake Huron from Lake Michigan. The most important thing we needed to learn is that Mackinac is pronounced Mackinaw by the locals—they look at you funny if you mess that one up.

Among its many charms, St. Ignace has direct ferry boat access to Mackinac Island and the Grand Hotel, the filming location of the greatest chick flick ever, Somewhere in Time. Visiting the island was high on our agenda.

The 500 mile drive from Cincinnati took just over eight hours with a rest stop to eat the lunch we’d packed, then a very quick pit stop for gas a hundred or so miles further. As we pulled into St. Ignace we began looking for our hotel, where we’d be staying the next three days. The Holiday Inn Express was quiet, well situated, reasonably priced, and, delightfully, our room overlooked Lake Huron. The ubiquitous seagulls were noisy, but otherwise not a problem unless some idiot decided to feed them. Pro Tip: Do not ever feed seagulls. They’re perfectly capable of finding their own food.

After cleaning off the road dirt we headed to a restaurant where we thought we’d eaten our last time here, 10-12 years ago. Sadly, it wasn’t as good as the last time; or, was it even the same restaurant? Jen and I are in disagreement about which. My prime rib was good, Jen’s lake perch, one of the reasons for coming, wasn’t good at all, and the service pretty well sucked.

After dinner we strolled the boardwalk that runs along the shoreline. The highlight for me was the Municipal Landing, where many grand boats, both large and small, were docked. Our favorite was the small sailing vessel with the wood trim. municipal landing

Upon returning to the hotel we found an orange full moon rising over Lake Huron. Photography ensued. orange moon rising

We’d had a long, exhausting day. Jen and I had a final glass of wine on the hotel room deck then slept like the dead.

Day One — Mackinac Island

We were up and functioning by about 8:30. We threw on some clothes then went to the lobby for the provided breakfast. I found the turkey sausage to be excellent, although the scrambled eggs were a bit watery. Afterward we hung out in the room for a bit, drinking coffee and reading the day’s news, then prepared for the day ahead.

We wandered around town on foot for a bit, poking into shops and looking at real estate notices. We got ourselves to the Star Line terminal before Noon for the uneventful boat ride to the island.

Approaching the island we were able to see the previously mentioned Grand Hotel. Grand Hotel

As we disembarked the morning overcast was beginning to burn off. We decided to wander the tourist-trap main street of the island. We went into a few t-shirt shops, most were trashy; our primary goal was to ride bicycles around the 8.2 mile island. Note: The red line on the image running along the perimeter of the island is the walk/bike path.

There are three or four bike rental vendors within a quarter-mile of each other; we chose the closest and rented a couple 21-speed bicycles for a few hours. This sounds routine, however the last time I was on a bicycle was April 2014 when I broke my left elbow and right hand in an accident. I’m not prone to fear, but I will admit to apprehension while donning elbow pads. When properly equipped, we hopped on the trail and headed out of town.

The “trail” was two-lane and paved, and importantly for two out-of-shape older ladies, mostly level. Mackinac Island bike trail

Early in our ride we came upon small mounds of stones and pebbles, called rock cairns, whose tradition dates to prehistory as a means of marking trails. Today they’re mostly a means of self-expression. There are hundreds of cairns along the perimeter trail. Cairns

For us the most striking feature of the island was the absolutely crystal clear water along the shoreline that photographs don’t do justice. clear water

We finished the three hour ride in about as good shape as we started, but we were getting hungry. We decided to go to the best t-shirt shop we had seen, buy a couple shirts to commemorate our ride then look for reasonable food. The shirts were easy, reasonable food—not so much. We split a hotdog then made our way back to the dock for our ride to the mainland. rooster tail

After arrival at our hotel, we made a modest effort to clean up then went to dinner at a place we’d seen the night before. Once again Jen had lake perch that was not exactly what she wanted. We realized Lake Huron perch was going to be served differently than Lake Michigan perch in Wisconsin. After eating we headed back to our hotel room and waited for the moon to rise again. Of course it did, but not as photogenically as the night before.

Day Two — We Don’t Got No Stinking Beaches

Jen awoke with a stuffed head and chest congestion, coughing and sneezing—not a good sign. We went to breakfast anyway; it wasn’t as good as the day before. Afterward we putzed around the room for a bit then put on our bathing suits and went in search of a “public beach,” as in a sandy place we that would allow us to sit in the sand and get wet in a Great Lake. Apparently folks in the Mackinac Strait are more interested in pulling fish out of the water than getting wet in it. Despite repeated attempts, none of the locals could direct us to a sandy beach. Frustrated, we went back to the hotel where Jen took flu medication and tried to nap. I found a place in the lobby conducive to reading.

Eventually, needing sustenance, we tried our third different restaurant. We avoided fish and ordered hamburgers that turned out to be so awesome that we splurged on dessert. Due to Jen’s illness, day two was pretty much a bust. When you go on vacation you take your chances; after almost twenty years together this was our first that ended badly.

Day Three — Get in the Car; Drive Forever

After breakfast we loaded the car for the dreaded eight hour drive home; we were on the road a little before 9:00 am. The first 2 hours were awesome. I set the cruise control at 79 MPH and all I had to do was steer; there was hardly any traffic. But the further south we got the more cars were on the road. We stopped for fuel and food near Flint. The most difficult part of the trip was after crossing into Ohio, dealing with traffic due to accidents and construction-narrowed lanes. It was a very stressful nine hours plus to get home. The relief upon our arrival was palpable.

Aftermath

The flu made Jen miserable on the drive home. She was a trooper, hanging in for the long journey. For some reason I avoided getting sick until Saturday, when I was in the middle of a round of golf. I survived, shot 90, then dragged my body home. Jen in the surf We thought we might find property we could purchase, use as a vacation rental until Jen retired, then live there several months of the year. Due to the lack of any beach that’s unlikely now. The Upper Peninsula is still interesting. We’ll find another excuse to go there one of these days, if for no reason other than Mackinac Island still has places we haven’t explored.

A Competitive Spirit

I’m competitive. No, that’s not quite right. I’m really competitive. I didn’t start out that way.

I’ve participated in athletic activities of one sort or another my entire life. My early years were consumed with baseball, football, and basketball with neighborhood kids. As I got older the sports I chose changed—baseball evolved into softball, football became a spectator sport, and I found basketball less than appealing when not played by just my friends and me at the hoop next door. Early in adulthood I was introduced to golf, and participated sporadically for decades. I played softball well into my fifties.

The Vineyard #5 green

During all that time there was only one constant—I was competing against myself. Whether I won or lost didn’t matter as long as I played the game to the best of my ability that day. About eight years ago I began to take golf very seriously. I joined leagues that offered competitive opportunities. I continued my detached, I’m playing against myself, attitude that kept me from viewing my fellow competitors as anything other than friends with whom I was playing an enjoyable round.

I can’t pinpoint the moment when my competitive juices changed from being very general to having a specific target. I noticed it recently when playing in my club championship with the woman who was leading after the first round. I was determined that my second round score would be better than hers, and since we were in the same group I knew exactly what she was shooting. She had an off-day; I beat her by 8 strokes! Then I was two strokes behind the new leader heading into the final round. We rode in the same cart so I knew exactly what I had to do throughout the round. As it turned out, she played better than I did. I never caught her, and I’m OK with that because she’s my friend.

Competing directly against other golfers adds a dimension to my game. My fear is that I’ll develop a “win at all costs” attitude which will lose friends and make the game less enjoyable. The fact is I like the new balance. But if you see me getting cranky on the course you have my permission to tell me to get over myself.

It’s been a busy golf tournament season. My last of the year, the Metropolitan Senior Women’s Championship, is next week. I’ll post a recap of my Summer tournaments after.

The First Hurdle

When I was in high school, fifty years ago, girls were permitted only minimal athletic activity. It was a cultural thing. When Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended in 1972, became law, schools receiving federal funding were required to provide equal opportunity for female students, including athletics.

I attended a high school track meet yesterday. This, my friends, is the result of Title IX. I freaking love it.

the first hurdle

The intensity, focus, and desire to succeed is etched on each face. The innate athletic ability is obvious. I don’t know which of these young women won the race, it ended about 70 meters past my standpoint. But it doesn’t matter. The participants in this heat and the one following, and all the track and all the field events were winners when they stepped onto the field.

We Ordered FitBits Today

We ordered FitBits today. I think I’ll enjoy using mine. I get a kick out the Pedometer++ App on my iPhone, which provides steps walked and flights climbed data, but in order for it to work I have to keep the phone in my pocket. That isn’t always convenient. For example, when I’m playing golf I keep items of golf equipment in my pockets.

FitBit also provides data I couldn’t get from an iPhone, or an Watch for that matter. I’m anxious to have access to sleep data. It’s been a very long time since I slept through the night. FitBit might get some useful diagnostic data that will help me resolve that issue. Or, it could just be old age, in which case I think I’ll take what I can then plan on a permanent sleep sometime in the, hopefully distant, future. In either case, I’ll have data.

The fitness band will pair with my iPhone, though it won’t use Apple’s Health App. I’ll still get real-time data based on my activity, or lack thereof.

So, should I expect that having an activity monitor on my body 24/7 will motivate me to get more exercise? I don’t have that answer yet. Stay tuned.


UPDATE April 18

Our FitBits arrived yesterday, but we didn’t know it until this morning when I looked at the FedEx Web site to see when I might expect delivery. Imagine my surprise when I saw they’d been delivered Friday. When we got it inside, we tore into the package then began setting up our new fitness trackers. After that, we went for a 1.7 mile walk around the neighborhood. I hope we keep our activity level up.

We like our new devices, but there’s one item we’ve identified that’s not up to expectations. The associated application provides for entering the food eaten during a day then compares it to calories burned. Unfortunately there is no discernible way to enter real food. All choices seem to be restaurant food. That is not realistic, unless the target audience for the device are upper-income 20-somethings who never learned to cook. Nice try, FitBit. Those are the people who will be buying Watches.


UPDATE April 19

Our initial reaction is that FitBits have become problematic due to wildly inaccurate readings. I was surprised this morning when I found that after I had gotten out of bed, then walked the 14 steps to get downstairs, and the 18 steps from the bottom of the stairs into the kitchen, that I had somehow accumulated in excess of 4,000 steps. Based on my activities today I should have had fewer than 5,000 steps counted. As of 11:26 PM FitBit has logged 12,856.

Equally unreasonable readings have caused Jen to decide the FitBit isn’t worth the cost. I’ve made some adjustments to the settings in the hope that it will all better when I get up in the morning. I’m holding out for anywhere from a day or two, to a week to decide whether they both go back or not. If return is the final decision I will be sad.

The Plant Farm

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to photograph flowers and stuff at Greenfield Plant Farm on Clough Pike in Anderson Township.

greenfield sign

It’s still early Spring, but the plant farm was pretty gorgeous anyway. The management allowed me to wander around the facility as they were closing for the day, which meant I wasn’t distracting customers. I walked the facility twice—things I missed the first time around I caught the second.

yellow flower 2

I photographed lots of flowers, but at a plant farm brightly colored blossoms are ubiquitous.

harvester wheel

I found the not expected, like a rusted harvester wheel in front of a flowering tree or sections of white picket fence nailed to a barn wall, more interesting.

fence wall

You can never have too many photographs of flowers, can you?

red flower 2

I’m especially happy when I can combine flowers with a quirky viewpoint

pot through the pump

I’m grateful to the owner and the manager at Greenfield for allowing me to wander. I get a kick out of setting up shots and clicking the shutter.

Life is more pleasing these days. I’m getting out with the camera frequently, and I’m playing golf (more on that later). The depression of Winter is evaporating. Good riddance. Spring is finally here!

Communing with the Dead

I have a fondness for strolling around old cemeteries. I like imagining the times in which people lived. Was the occupant of the grave alive for the Declaration of Independence? What about the Constitutional Convention? Or, the Civil War? Conflicts aside, I wonder what social changes occurred during the person’s lifetime.

eleanor land

Yesterday Jen and I went to Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum. Neither of us had been there before, but we had both heard of its beauty. We spent about 1 1/2 hours walking and photographing.

Our area has just come out of a hard winter. There were few flowers or trees in bloom. The statuary and mausoleums made up for the lack of colorful bushes.

angel statue

One overriding impression I had was some people had an overblown opinion of themselves. Sculptors and architects must have been among the most sought-after artists in their day.

monster mausoleum

We got some exercise, contemplated history, and generally had a great time.

spring grove pond

There’s so much we didn’t see. We’ve vowed to return when the flowers are in bloom.

I Deserve This

I left Jen holding down the fort while I went off to practice photography and golf. Time will tell whether either is successful. One thing is certain, I need time away from Cincinnati. I deserve this.

March 16

I’ve never had so much difficulty getting out of my neighborhood. The Ohio River is at its highest level in 18 years, so did I bother to check the news about commute difficulties?

As a result my 650 mile drive to Wilmington, North Carolina took an hour longer than anticipated. Because I listened to an audiobook the miles, and the hours, melted away.

Upon arrival in Wilmington I looked at my first pre-selected hotel; contrary to Google Maps it was further from the beach than I wanted. I opted for my second choice, Shell Island Resort, which was not.

view from my room

March 17

I crawled out of bed early enough to photograph the sun leaping out of the Atlantic Ocean this morning. It was a learning experience. I don’t have a polarizing filter so I had to pay attention to camera settings. The lifeguard stand in the photo below provided foreground.

Sunrise!

After sunrise I hurried to Wilmington’s Echo Farms Country Club, where I played my first golf since the beginning of November 2014. Although the outcome wasn’t great I’m not displeased with the way I played — I applied some of the golf lessons I’ve taken this Winter.

Following golf I drove to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I’m staying at the Springmaid Beach Resort for only one reason, the pier.

Springmaid Pier

What’s on top interests me far less than what’s underneath.

Pilings and Waves

I think waves crashing into symmetrical piers is compelling.

Under the Pier

I was pretty happy shooting underneath until I noticed some surfers. This is all so new and interesting to me. I’ve never photographed an ocean, a pier, or a surfer.

Sunset Surfer Shooting the Pier

I had a pretty good idea Springmaid was not going to be accommodations that suited me, I came here to photograph the pier.

More golf tomorrow.

March 18

Myrtle Beach sunrise was a disappointment when compared to Wrightsville Beach the previous morning.

Myrtle Beach Sunrise

Myrtle Beach’s redeeming features included photographs of the pier and most importantly, playing golf with my friend Kay, and her friends Carol and Carolyn at Arrowhead Country Club. I played poorly, 49-55, but we had a great time. In addition to the horrible shots I hit there were also some that met my expectations. I’ll definitely go back to play golf with my friends.

Following golf I took a leisurely 2 hour drive down the coast to Charleston, South Carolina, where even the Old Town tourist areas are classy. Antebellum buildings, cobblestone streets, and great food are just some of the attractions. I stayed at the Andrew Pinckney Inn, which was in a wonderfully charming, restored older building. I arrived early enough to do a photo walk around Charleston’s Old Town. Regrettably I picked the wrong restaurant. I had deep-fried soft-shelled crab. The rock-hard crust was all I could taste. I wish I’d chosen better.

CHS French Quarter

Rain is a big part of tomorrow’s forecast in the Southeast. The same holds the following day. I’ll find somewhere to hit golf balls then base my activities on what feels right. I expect I will sleep in either Hilton Head or Savannah tomorrow night.

Stay tuned. More to come.

March 19

Indeed, rain was falling when I awoke this morning. It was also windy and cold. I went to the hotel rooftop terrace, the fourth floor, where I could see all the way out to the port (Charleston is a short city).

CHS sunrise

With no prospect of golf I loaded up the car for the two hour drive to Savannah, Georgia. As expected, it was raining here too. I had a reservation at a hotel that was built in 1790, but on my arrival I had to wait three hours to check-in. I spent the time eating lunch and wandering around town.

Savannah’s image is tied to moss-covered trees. As soon as I arrived I started seeing them.

SAV - mosstree

Of course, my best “mossy-tree” was photo bombed by a sign.

The hotel has plumbing and electricity, as well as wi-fi. What it doesn’t have is an elevator so I walk up four flights of rickety, narrow stairs to get to my room. My bed is a four-poster and the hotel is, reportedly, haunted. I’m enchanted.

I have a 10:00 am tee time tomorrow. After that I may begin my trek home. I’ll probably make it a two day journey. Once again, stay tuned.

March 20

By a stroke of good fortune I avoided whatever hauntings took place overnight. The rain ended, but in its place was a dense fog. Undaunted, I made my way to the Bacon Park Golf Course. For those in the know, it’s a Donald Ross course built in the 1920s and is similar to one of his courses I play regularly in Cincinnati. The resemblance is unmistakeable.

As I was alone I played a very quick nine holes, then jumped back into the car, this time headed north. I’ve thrown in the towel; I’m on my way home. It was with no small amount of longing that I gazed at the last Hilton Head Island exit off I-95. Maybe next time. I’m breaking up my drive home with an overnight stay in a characterless hotel in Asheville, North Carolina.

March 21

I was on my way out of Asheville with a full tank of gas just after 8:00 am. What should have been about a five-hour drive took close to seven because of two inexplicable bumper-to-bumper backups.

I extricated myself from the vehicle in my driveway at 3:00 pm, completing my 1,690 mile journey. Not long ago Apple Maps received criticism. I’m here to say I got where I needed to go, flawlessly.

Final Thoughts

I can’t close this post without summarizing. I headed South to photograph sunrises and play golf.

what I came for

I did both, although clouds and rain prevented them occurring in the quantities I’d hoped.

Any anxiety I may have had as a single, older woman going on the road without a master plan was unfounded — I just needed to pay attention to my surroundings. I arrived in each city without a hotel reservation, yet always ended up where I wanted.

The downside was that even though I was unscripted, the first couple of days were non-stop — get up, photograph sunrise, hurry to play golf, drive to the next city, look for a place to stay, try to find acceptable food, sleep, get up and do it all again. My vacation had turned exhausting.

Even with that, the good outweighs the not-so-good. I expect to do a similar trip again. Next time I’ll chase sunsets.

The New MacBook

This past Monday, March 9, Apple held a press event in San Francisco where, as expected, they introduced the Apple Watch. What wasn’t on everyone’s radar was a new MacBook.

Despite pundit claims to the contrary, the new MacBook is clearly not an upgrade of the MacBook Air. Even though it has brilliant new features such as the “tactic” trackpad and “butterfly” keys, the “M” processor is significantly less powerful than i5 in the least capable MBA. Existing MacBook users would be sorely disappointed if they replaced their current notebooks with the new device.

Although Apple hasn’t said so, I think the new MacBook is intended as an entry level computer for those who have never used a Mac but have a fondness the iPhone and iPad. People in this category won’t miss peripherals because they’ve never had them. The retina screen will be completely familiar to those whose only prior Apple hardware has been iOS devices.

The trackpad and keyboard advances will make their way into the existing MacBook line. I’ll be happy to have them when it’s time to replace my 11-inch Air.

Another Winter of Despair

feb snowI enjoyed Winter during my airline days because dealing with snow, ice, and cold temperatures added variety to what had a tendency to be boring during milder seasons. Commencing flight on a frozen morning in Grand Rapids, Michigan for example, would frequently terminate at that evening’s destination, a sunny and warm Columbia, South Carolina. The yin-yang of Winter weather over the Eastern half of the US provided great contrast and an interesting life-style.

Even after my flying days were done, while I was employed, Winter was never worse than cold and occasionally inconvenient. But since I retired three years ago I no longer have ten hours of my day reserved for what I found to be engaging. Overcast skies, temperatures in the mid–20s, and wind chills into the teens is pretty typical Winter weather in Cincinnati, which means it’s uncomfortable just being outside.

2015 was a Winter Without Snow until February, then everything changed. First, temperatures plunged into negative numbers then during about a week our area experienced what the news called “16-inches of the white stuff.” Some would envision snowball fights and snowmen. That makes my life sound benign. Regrettably there’s nothing kindly about moving 90 feet of wet, heavy snow so I can get to the grocery. Tonight the expectation is another six to eight inches—and yet again a morning with a shovel. Thankfully we’re not dealing with Boston-esque quantities of snow, but it’s still a pain in the ass.

My Friend Shirl

UPDATE: Today, February 21, 2015 at about 6:30 pm Central Time (just over an hour ago), Shirley Williams passed.

Aside from my observations below, Shirl was the the absolute best of my three “mothers-in-law.” She was kind; she freely shared her love and thoughts on life. When I saw her last Tuesday I knew it would probably be the last time. Our hearts ache. Rest in peace, Shirl. You were the best.


I was grateful for the opportunity to go with Jen to visit her mother in Wisconsin earlier this week. Jen’s mom, Shirley (Shirl to her friends), is in her mid–80s. She was active and in reasonable health when she fell and broke her pelvis in September last year. That event was the precursor to a string of health issues that has culminated in the last week with a bad drug reaction, a diagnosis of pneumonia, then confinement to the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital.

shirlShirl has had a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) directive for years. She was a fan of Jack Kevorkian and a member of the organization formerly known as the Hemlock Society. As long as I’ve known her she’s been adamant about dying with dignity, on her own terms. Now Shirl knows she’ll never recover and that she’s dependent on others for every one of her needs. She receives an occasional small-dose Morphine injection to mitigate pain, but it’s only temporary relief from the sore she developed while being bed-ridden after her fall. She’s frightened, has lost all control over her care, and regularly begs her caregivers for a life-ending overdose. How did she get to this point?

I am not a medical ethicist, but with a DNR I think Shirl should have been allowed to pass peacefully upon arrival at the hospital. I get that healthcare professionals are expected to extend life and that an emergency room isn’t equipped to be hospice care. But I contend draining her lungs constituted resuscitation which violated her end-of-life directive. Shirl did not want to live her remaining days in pain, in fear, and not in control.

Right now Shirl is “hanging on” whether she wants to or not. We learned tonight that she’s being moved out of the ICU, headed for Home Hospice, which will allow her to pass comfortably in familiar surroundings. That’s small comfort for having to suffer days of discomfort. She’s Jen’s mom, my friend, and everyone who knows her will miss her terribly when she’s gone. She should not have had to suffer the indignity to which she’s been subjected.