Category Archives: benzie

early autumn

We’ve lived through a blazing hot stretch of weather, quite unseasonable. Last week, L & I retreated up north to try to escape it; we were largely unsuccessful. However, we did manage to find cool breezes at the mouth of the Platte River where it flows into Lake Michigan, although the dunes across the water were obscured in heat haze.

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Gradually, over the course of this week, the heat has loosened its grip, but not before we experienced record temps and the hottest day of 2017 in Detroit. Who says climate change is fake news.

With the weather change came an enervating sinus headache that confined me to my bed for a day. It was a day that I needed, hidden away from the world in clouds of diffused Thieves Oil, knitting and watching old PBS dramas about Queens Elizabeth and Mary Stuart, gunpowder plots and treason. Work has been especially tiring lately due to hopefully temporary atmosphere of toxicity and politics that leaves me rageful and completely apathetic by turns. Having been in the corporate world for now fully half of my life, I understand that these times ebb and flow and it’s best to just lay low and ride them out. But it can be a bit taxing to live through.

The bright spot of the week was, unexpectedly, a visit from colleagues from China. There was a striking moment at dinner when one half of the table was talking about social media, how difficult it is to be exposed to so many headlines and clickbait and opinions at the speed of light, how difficult it is to stop and read and research and think and formulate opinions for oneself rather than simply reacting. The other half of the table was discussing how they have to switch VPN’s constantly to obtain access to Google and other Western Internet sites. We find a VPN, the government shuts it down, and we find another, one of my colleagues shrugged.

Now,  finally, my front yard is full of leaves. The grocery stores have big piles of pumpkins and cornstalks. Miss L and her neighborhood friends run and laugh in that particular early-autumn gold light and it’s time to plan her Halloween costume.

I hope you are enjoying your early autumn (or spring for my Southern Hemisphere friends) wherever you are.

xo.

 

 

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Betsie Bay Frozen 5k & warm snap skiing

Over the long President’s Day weekend, Jax & I loaded the kids (Miss L and his 2 teenagers – well, one is almost a teenager) into Finn (my Subaru Outback) and went north. There were running shoes in our bags and skis in the luggage box on the roof and we made good use of them over the weekend. On Saturday morning, Jax & I and his son B ran the Betsie Bay Frozen 5k. This is a great little event that supports nonprofits in the Frankfort / Elberta area, aka my happy place. A February event in the Betsie Bay area is typically snowy and arctic, but this year’s weird winter made it a perfect springlike run, with temps in the mid to upper ’40’s.

The event starts about halfway up the steep hill to the Elberta bluff, which overlooks Lake Michigan. It’s a perfect pre-race photo opp, with the lake, the Frankfort lighthouse and dunes in the background. Because parking is limited up on the bluff overlook, runners pick up their packets at the Frankfort American Legion hall and are bussed over to the start. It’s such a fun way to meet other runners and I hadn’t ridden on a school bus in years.

The first 100 meters or so is a sharp downhill, which is the perfect start for a race as far as I’m concerned (although I don’t know how they manage it during a normal winter – I could envision a pileup of runners at the icy, snowy bottom!) I’m a slow start runner so anything that forces me to go out at goal pace warms me up faster and usually improves my overall time. Next, you run through small Elberta, past the Cabbage Shed restaurant (the owners were outside with signs advising us that after the race, we’d more than earned a pint or two of Guinness) and out onto M-22, where you cross over the mouth of the Betsie River and wind down onto Main Street in Frankfort. The course is fairly flat after the initial downhill, and the locals come out to cheer you on, and the bus drivers that dropped you off are passing you on the road, honking and yelling their support. I surprised myself with a 27.18 finish, not a PR but a strong performance for me in a mid-winter event when my training has been spotty (I still got schooled by a lady in her 60’s and another lady pushing a stroller!! This event is stacked). Jax & B harbored secret hopes of placing, but had to content themselves with placing in their age groups only, as the event was chock full of Traverse City Track Club runners who blew everyone’s doors off. This was actually disappointing as there were tons of raffle items and little prizes for the top places. More so than any event I frequent, the local merchants and businesses donated a lot of cool swag and I was a bit deflated to walk away with nothing but my swag bag (not even my shirt – it was too big so I gave it to B).

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Miss L watching me come through the homestretch. She ran me in from here. ❤

 

On Sunday, we enjoyed skiing at nearby Crystal Mountain in 50-degree temps. Rather, Jax & his kids skiied while Miss L took her first-ever lesson and I sat on a hay bale in the sunshine, knitting and feeling happy to watch her joy. I’d paid for a 2-hour group session, but the warm temps had apparently diminished the attendance levels, so Miss L had a ski instructor all to herself. Midway through the lesson, they took a snack break for hot chocolate and L stripped off her jacket and finished the lesson in her shirtsleeves. She was a quick study and as I sat there watching her, I thought that few things in life are as pleasing as watching your child learn something new, have adventures, and accomplish things.

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The face of a happy mom.

After her lesson, Jax and his daughter took L on some of the easy hills so she could get good use out of her new skills. I knitted away and after an hour or so, Jax came down the hill, followed by a little pink streak who swooshed by me and came to an expert stop a few feet away.

 


Yup, Miss L is a natural on skiis, and reminded me of Little My in “Moominland Midwinter”, learning to skate on table knives and toboggan on a silver tray, wrapped in a tea cosy.

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labor day

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Although I generally hold a low opinion of humanity en masse, at times I can’t deny our basic sameness. It amazes me sometimes that the things that make me happy make so many other people happy, too; different backgrounds, values, personalities, cultures, and yet, this long weekend, we fought for elbow room in the same places to do the same things. We were drawn to blue sky and shimmering expanses of water. We were drawn to sunsets and the sight of the milky way over a cooling sand dune. We were drawn to shallow brown rivers warm under a bright sun.

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There’s some aspect of our humanity that is drawn to these things, that feeds off these sights and feelings and sounds, we’re similarly nourished by them even though we might not know why or even that we are; we just know we want to be close to them.
After this weekend, Up North will start to return to its off season. The crowds will dissipate and the hours of sunlight will decrease. The woods and the water will become cold and the seasonal businesses, the farm stands and ice cream parlors, will shutter for the long, drifted winter. I sat on the beach off Peterson Road and thought that it was almost unbelievable that in just a few short weeks, the hot sun will be gone. No more bright towels and dogs in the waves, toddlers with sand pails and adults drowsing under umbrellas – just a stretch of grey, icy shore under a slate grey sky, scoured by wind and snow. There’s something deeply satisfying about that cycle.

merry merry

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somewhat blurry pic of the ginormous real tree at cherry republic, glen arbor

Miss L and I spent a few days Up North and are just back downstate for Christmas. In contrast to the last two winters in Michigan, it’s been mild and warm, without snow. This has contributed excessively to allergies, sneezing and sinusitis, and although I wouldn’t wish for another deep freeze winter, I would prefer a hard cold day of snow to a nonstop muddy downpour.

The upside to the lack of snow was that I could trail run a bit. I feel like I’m starting to get my running mojo back, breathing easier, moving more nimbly, letting my mind roam around while my body does what it is trained to do.

When I came downstairs in the morning, ready to go, wearing my white and grey brand name running jacket, though, my parents dug their heels in.

Even in the Sleeping Bear, they said, there are hunters in the woods, and wearing white is the worst thing you can do. You look just like a deer flicking its tail, they said.

Here, they said, and handed me a bright orange cap. I reluctantly donned it.

Not good enough, they said, and my father disappeared to dig around in his closet.

HERE, he said triumphantly, and presented me with a choice of either a hunter’s vest with bright orange accents or a yellow anorak, both of which belonged to him.

YOU ARE KIDDING ME, I said.

No we are not, they said, so I donned the enormous yellow XL anorak that flapped like a sail around me. Miss L thought this was hugely funny yet horrifying, so I had to hide my own horror and reinforce that safety comes first. It’s not a fashion show, I said, it’s about being safe and making good decisions. I donned the orange cap with as much dignity as I could muster and avoided looking in the mirror on my way out the door.

I had an amazing trail run despite the flapping anorak and hit the last mile, feeling relieved that no one had seen me in my strange garb. My muscles were loose, nothing pained me, and my breath came evenly. I watched where I set my feet, leaves and twisted tree roots, wood soil turning to sand and back again, there on the edge of the lake. I’d heard gunshots in the woods, too, so my parents’ admonition seemed less far-fetched. Then, suddenly, I heard a friendly voice behind me calling out that she was passing me on the left, and a woman darted around me. Did you hear those gunshots?… she called as she flew by, up a slight rise littered with dead leaves, her breath showing in billows. She was slim and athletic, wearing running pants and a stylish lavender running jacket. Yes, I called back. That’s why I’m wearing this…I shook my father’s jacket.

I saw you, she called back, and laughed a bit, and took off again , leaving me in her wake.

She was stretching out in the parking lot of the Old Indian trail when I finished, and we chatted companionably for a few minutes. She was an Ironman, which made me feel less bad about being schooled by her on the trail. She was also really friendly and avoided looking at my strange outfit, which made me like her more. We agreed it was a great morning run – mild, clear, and the views of Lake Michigan from the trail end were pretty amazing.

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12.2015 lake michigan view

Plus, I didn’t get shot by a half-drunk hunter, so that’s a bonus too. Thanks Mom & Dad. It’s nice to see love in action, displayed in small acts of concern and caution, even if the expression of it is in an XL yellow anorak.

 

It’s always tough to leave the place I like the best to come back downstate, but I think it’s important for our family to have Christmas in our house (or at Miss L’s dad’s house) when she’s young, and it’s also important to me that she gets to see both of her parents on Christmas. Maybe that will change as she gets older. In fact, I’m sure it will, as our relationships change, as we all move on and grow, but for now, it works and everyone is happy with the arrangement. Her dad will come over tomorrow morning for breakfast and coffee and to open presents, and the fact that we can do that is a gift in and of itself. I am as always aware of how truly blessed I am on this Christmas Eve, and I hope all of you are as well. Merry merry.

 

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The big holiday push is (almost) over – mostly over because I am not a New Year’s Eve person and usually spend it in bed with wine and my Kindle.

Christmas week was busy but gratifying. I felt the extra responsibility to make sure that Miss L’s Christmas was fulfilling and joyful and that she didn’t feel any sadness or anxiety. I made sure she spent time with everyone she loves, including her dad. It meant a lot of driving and running around for not just me, but my extended family, too, and it brought to mind the old saying about taking a village to raise a child. Everyone in Miss L’s life helped to make her Christmas wonderful, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without that village, especially my parents. They made sure there were lots of gifts under the tree so that Santa could be the hero that he should be in every six-year-old’s eyes. Their generosity and unselfishness where we are concerned – well, it’s true love.

Anyway, the holidays were, for me, what they are supposed to be – displays of love, affection, and connection, the reaffirmation of good relationships.

In the midst of everything, I tried to take some time to give myself a few little presents, too, in the form of moments collected. I spent some time in my favorite place on earth, worshipping the way I do.

a cold hike in the sleeping bear dunes to lake michigan

a cold hike in the sleeping bear dunes to lake michigan

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wearing miss l's russian hat for a trail selfie

wearing miss l’s russian hat for a trail selfie

a morning trail run in the sleeping bear

a morning trail run in the sleeping bear

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post-run, i got to relax in a small northern michigan cafe with a ginger lemon scone and a double shot skim latte while two little lovely elves finished christmas shopping.

post-run, i got to relax in a small northern michigan cafe with a ginger lemon scone and a double shot skim latte while two little lovely elves finished christmas shopping.

benzie

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When I tell people that my folks live Up North, they invariably ask me if they live on the lake, or in Traverse City, and I know they are imagining a resort community with discreet mushroom colored cottage-type baby McMansions. Boat shoes and white docks. I laugh and tell them no, and leave it at that. I can’t imagine moving Up North to live around the same kind of people in the same kind of houses and clothes that you escaped downstate.

Benzie County – last time I checked – had 1 stoplight and my folks live in a small town filled with hilarious small town stories and characters. I have signed informal confidentiality agreements with my privacy-loving parents, so I cannot reveal either the town or the stories, but suffice it to say that the tales of  local government alone would fill a tragicomic novel. The scenery is spectacular – pine woods and small blue green lakes, white sand and brown rivers, dunes and forests. My mom thinks a Sasquatch might just live in the dead stream swamp. Blue sky and cherry orchards, deer grazing in the fields, turkeys ambling out of the thickets. My mom’s garden is full of poppies and daisies, foxglove and iris nodding over a white picket fence that my dad made.  His workshop is in the pole barn, equipped with a radio perpetually tuned to NPR and a small woodstove, and his carved owls, bears, and decoys line the shelves. In the winter, the locals ride their snowmobiles down to the local bar, and if there’s a band playing, you can hear it all the way down Main Street. At night, the coyotes may just come down from the fields to pace the back alley and wake you up with their squabbling. I wouldn’t mind retiring up there someday, if the boat shoes and baby McMansions stay away for awhile.

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If you’re ever in Benzie County, a couple of local places for you to check out.

Beedazzled

You would come for the soaps and candles, and stay to soak up their beautiful farm gardens.  Nothing is artificial or structured – the flowering trees, herbs, bits of art and garden spaces all seem to have naturally grown and flowered in perfect symmetry. There are observation hives and other brightly painted bee boxes set around the gardens, and the steady drone of the occupants coming and going is carried on the breeze along with deep tones from the many windchimes. The little store and workshop are in the snug barn, behind a wide open porch set with cushions and rocking chairs. This is a  business that grew up out of a passion and a lifestyle – keeping bees and making soap and candles and coaxing life out of the world around them. This business makes you feel quite certain that you are getting pure, whole ingredients – exactly the kind of place where I want to put my money. The store smells like pollen, dried herbs and flowers, and beeswax; their gorgeous soaps imbue everything with their natural perfume. I store them in my linen closet or in my drawers before I use them and the sunshine smell to me is always Up North.

PS – they have a mail order business too, link above. My favorite soap is the classic Pollen Pleasure but I also love the Peppermint Patch!

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St. Ambrose Cellars

IMG_20140716_145156Beautiful Mission-style tasting room in which to sample meads and estate wines under the watchful eye of the bee goddess. They use local grapes and honey from the apiaries at Sleeping Bear Farms (here’s a cool video, if you are interested in bees and their winter travel plans) and are very generous with their samplings (if you check in on Facebook from their tasting room – which can be tricky if your provider isn’t robust, they’re a ways out in the big blue country – you get a free wine glass!)  I’m definitely a wino (hahaha – ahem) and enjoyed their reds, but at their coaxing, I sampled some meads. Mead isn’t usually my thing, but I came away with two “howlers” of draft mead – both light and bubbly and refreshing – the ginger and an apple cider type and feel quite pleased as they’ll refill the pretty brown glass jugs for a significant discount, if I bring them back.