Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wildflowers in bloom

I've been meeting up with one of my girlfriends once a week to walk (and chat, of course) at a local park after work, and one of the parks we've tried has several big areas of wildflowers that are fully in bloom right now. I had to go back with my camera!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Inspiration in Holland and Saugatuck

After finding such great inspiration from our previous vacations in Colorado and North Carolina, Mom and I made gathering more of that inspiration one of our missions while on vacation in Michigan.

We make it a point to eat at locally owned restaurants and seek out locally owned boutiques and stores in the areas we visit. I love this for many reasons. One, we're supporting those local business owners whose very existence keeps life interesting. Two, we're witnessing and appreciating the area and its own character, which you can't get from larger chains and businesses. Three, when you purchase something made by a local artisan, you know you'll be one of the few people in the world -- if not the only one -- who owns that item. And for those of us with an interest in creative fields, it serves as inspiration for your own work.

And "inspiration" and "stealing" are two different things. I'm talking about the inspiration side of the equation.

Through some great recommendations, Mom and I heard that the Saugatuck area of Michigan is known for its arts and crafts scene, so we decided to end our trip with a stop there. (Bonus: it meant we were three hours closer to home.) When we researched hotels for our one-night stay, we weren't able to find much in our range in the actual town of Saugatuck, so we stayed in Holland, instead, which is a larger town and about 20 minutes from Saugatuck.

I'll admit, my outsider's idea of Holland wasn't overly enticing. It seemed as though everything I'd ever seen or heard about that town related to wooden shoes... and kitschy really isn't my thing.

I'm happy to say now, though, that I was wrong -- both Mom and I were impressed with Holland. Dutch history and tourist attractions may be one of the main things they advertise, but we found the town itself beautiful and the local shops top-notch. Downtown Holland (where we spent most of our time) even boasts snow-free sidewalks in the winter thanks to heated cobblestone walkways.

On our way out of town, we drove by the only operating Dutch windmill in the United States:
We spent our final morning strolling through Saugatuck, which didn't disappoint. Again, the local galleries and stores were great. An art fair was scheduled for the day we were there, but by this point I was feeling like a sponge that had soaked up its fill of inspiration-water... so we stuck to the town, grabbed lunch at a restaurant along the water's edge, then headed home.
Mom and I both came back from vacation feeling relaxed and energized, and we both have lots of great ideas for our own creative businesses. I'm looking forward to adding some new items to my Etsy shop in the coming months!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The changing landscape of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

I admit it, I've lived in Indiana my whole life and have never visited the dunes in northern Indiana along the southern shore of Lake Michigan.

I can now say, though, that I have visited the dunes of Lake Michigan. I just traveled to Michigan to do it.

As the week warmed up and the sun struggled to shine again, Mom and I took a day of our Traverse City-area vacation to head west to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This park area came highly recommended by friends who've lived in the area.

Neither Mom nor I are sit-forever-on-the-beach people, so we did a driving tour of the area that included the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive within the park. It's a 7.4-mile tour that was well worth the visit. Along the drive, you get to see and understand the landscape and formation of the area, which includes both forest and dunes.
These dunes were much taller and more expansive than I'd imagined, and it also put into perspective for me just how big the Great Lakes really are. At one point along the drive, you can walk out to an observation deck that sits about 450 feet above Lake Michigan.
The dunes drop off steeply from the top of the dune to the shore of the lake, and some brave souls chose to descend the slope and then climb back up to the top. We stood and watched them for a while and couldn't help but think that it looked like they were voluntarily competing in a challenge on the Biggest Loser.
The landscape was really beautiful and incredibly delicate. We were amazed to see with our own eyes just how much it changes from year to year, primarily by wind alone. Some trees' roots were entirely exposed, leaving them barely hanging on.
In some ways, it reminded me of Yellowstone, because the dunes are so different than the landscapes I'm used to. Areas of Yellowstone made me think of the surface of the moon, with small geysers and bubbling mud pots scattered throughout the park -- and the dunes, in some ways, felt that way, as well.

As we left the park, we stopped by the park-sanctioned Dune Climb, a specific dune open for climbing, to see the people taking the challenge to the top. This didn't seem nearly as impressive after seeing the folks on the dune earlier in the park, but I'm sure it was more difficult than it looked! I know how challenge it is just to walk on flat, level ground in sand, so I'm sure trying to climb it is 10 times harder.
This is definitely an area of Michigan I'd recommend visiting, and you should do it soon, before the dunes are worn away!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Petoskey stones and mushroom houses in Charlevoix

I was the Rock Girl when I was a kid.

Not rock 'n' roll. Rocks, the ones you find on the ground.

I loved them, collected them, bought them, searched for them... it was an endless fascination for me. I really shouldn't be saying that in the past tense, though, because it's essentially still true: when I visit a bead shop and comb through the options for making new jewelry for myself, it's the stones and gemstones that grab my attention. Sparkly? Nah. Clay? I'll pass. Give me the rocks!

I think I bought a little drawstring bag of polished stones on every family vacation we took. I found one trip especially cool when we visited Yellowstone: We found a store outside the park that had a promotion in the store that lured you to buy a bag of uncleaned stones, sort through them in their pan-for-gold-in-the-water setup, and have the chance to find raw semiprecious stones.

I still have that bag of rocks.

I no longer keep a box of ordinary (but each with an interesting feature, of course!) rocks under my bed, but I'm still drawn to beautiful rocks.

The Petoskey area of Michigan is famous for a particular fossil-stone that washes up along the shores of Lake Michigan. On our trip to Michigan last week, Mom and I planned a visit to Petoskey (about two hours north of Traverse City) and Charlevoix and included some time combing through the shores.

Unfortunately, the weather gods over Petoskey gave us a 55-degree day with rain, fog, and 20+ mph winds.

Call me a wimp, but those aren't exactly the conditions that make me want to stand barefoot in the water and look for rocks.

I was brave enough to get out and get some photos, though, and I did come home with a (small) bag of pretty, smooth bleached-white stones.

Thankfully, by the time we got to Charlevoix, the skies cleared and the temperature climbed above 60 degrees. It was a photo of Charlevoix in a Michigan travel magazine (a photo taken in the exact spot as the one below) that had convinced us to take this trip, so we were both looking forward to visiting the town and checking out the local shops.
We were honestly a little disappointed. The number of shops was relatively small, and it seemed as though there really wasn't much to see or do in Charlevoix unless you had a boat and wanted to just sit along the water's edge. (And believe me, there were some nice boats around town!)
Not many people were on the beach that day, though we did see some impressively hardy souls sunning themselves on their yachts or balconies. Mom and I, on the other hand, had our jackets and sweatshirts zipped up to our chins.

The part of the town we found most interesting were the Earl Young homes. Earl Young was an architect in the first half of the twentieth century who made his mark by designing stone houses that are fondly called "mushroom houses" or "fairy houses", or more recently, "Hobbit houses." We found a rough map online and walked around town to see some of these interesting homes.

Most of them have curved, sloping roofs with cedar-shake shingles and chimneys that appear to be topped with dripping icing. Some are tiny, some are huge, and I'd have loved to have a chance to see inside one! Here are four of the ones we found:

As interesting as it would be to live in one of these homes, I don't think I'd ever want to live in a house that enticed people to constantly walk or drive by and take pictures. I like space, peace, quiet and privacy a little too much.

What about you -- would you live in an architecturally interesting house that drew attention like this?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Skipping town for a vacation - and some great wine!

Mom and I have made a tradition of taking a girls-only vacation together each year, and that's exactly what we did last week. Last year we trekked to the mountains of Asheville, NC and Knoxville, TN, so this year, we chose to surround ourselves with water instead. Traverse City, MI was our destination, and we capped it off with a couple days in the artsy communities of Holland and Saugatuck. Neither of us had spent much (if any) time in these areas, so we had a lot of fun just pulling ideas together for everything we wanted to see and do.

When we discovered that this particular area of Michigan is known for its wine (who knew?), we decided to make wine tasting one of our first activities.

Traverse City sits at the base of two peninsulas: the Old Mission Peninsula and the Leelenau Peninsula. Old Mission Peninsula is especially perfect for growing grapes for wine, because it sits a hair south of the 45th Parallel (the same parallel that runs through Bordeaux, France) and the bays on either side create an ideal microclimate.

View Larger Map

We drove to the very tip of the peninsula first to see the lighthouse. This was the first lighthouse I've visited, and I was surprised to see that it was essentially designed as a house with a light tower on top. I hadn't realized that not all lighthouses are singular lights atop narrow towers.

On our way back south, we visited our first winery, and it turned out to be our favorite: Bowers Harbor. It's one of seven wineries on the peninsula. Another 19 wineries call the Leelenau Peninsula home -- but because of that perfect microclimate, many of them grow the bulk of their grapes on Old Mission.

At Bowers Harbor, the facility was small and homey, and we chatted with the owner while we sampled a handful of her wines. Bowers Harbor harvests the majority of their grapes by hand, because it's less damaging to the delicate grapes, though many others harvest primarily with the help of machinery. We wondered about the feasibility of growing an organic vineyard versus through traditional means, and she said that the Michigan region isn't very friendly to organic growers because of the high likelihood of mildew.

I'm proud to say that we enjoyed this winery so much that we bought an entire case of wine. Not bad for our first stop, huh?

After Bowers Harbor, we ventured a few miles down the road to one of the first wineries to stake claim on Old Mission: Chateau Grand Traverse. This one caught our eye in the Old Mission brochure because it mentioned free tours of the production facility.

And Mom and I love a good tour!

The feeling we got when we walked in the door was striking: though the facility was beautiful, and the tasting room several times larger than Bowers Harbor's, it felt impersonal and commercial. We'd had such a great time at Bowers Harbor that we didn't even feel compelled to elbow our way up to the bar and sample the wine.

We did take the tour, though, and it was worth the 30 minutes! My favorite bit of information we learned: We'd noticed rosebushes growing at the ends of the rows of grapes, and we wondered whether it was purely aesthetic or for a specific reason. Interestingly enough, roses thrive and sicken in the same conditions as grapes. So if they notice a suffering rosebush at the end of a row, they can diagnose and pinpoint a problem before it taints an entire batch of wine.

We wrapped up our day back in Traverse City with some shopping downtown on Front Street, which had some great local shops -- including a nice little yarn shop that called Mom's name immediately.

It took a lot of convincing for me to get her to check out another shopping area the next day, though: the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. It's a former state hospital and asylum, renovated into office and shopping space. It was admittedly a little creepy, especially since the primary shopping area is in a basement of one of the buildings, with low ceilings, concrete walls, narrow hallways... it was easy to imagine the previous (likely unhappy) residents of the facility. We didn't linger here, and we left the campus to find dinner elsewhere.

I applaud the renovation effort, though! It's great to see a historic site being made over and put to good use, instead of razed and built from the ground up.

I have much too many stories and photos from the trip to cram into one post, so I'll have more in the coming days!