Autumn in Michigan

My blog has been around for 3 seasons now. You have seen my pictures of beautiful blue ice on the bay and the craziness of Perchville, a mid winter Tawas Bay tradition. You have read my posts about springtime and the joy of seeing my garden start to bloom.  And there were a LOT of posts and pictures of summer time here in Northern Michigan.  Those are all great seasons and there are things I love about ALL of them. But there is nothing like fall in Michigan!

This is the time of year our state shines.  The 7 weeks from the middle of September thru Halloween have always had a special place in my heart.  Football games, cider mills, pumpkin painting, fall color tours, bonfires, warm days and cool nights.  What’s not to love?  These are some of MY favorite things:

Fall Camping

I have been camping in Petoskey in October on a couples trip. Our campsite was absolutely gorgeous surrounded by trees full of orange and yellow leaves. We did the famous Tunnel of Trees drive, sat around a bonfire, did some stargazing. I’ve also camped with the whole family this time of year.  For those trips we found campgrounds that had Halloween activities and made our reservations early. Tawas Point State Park just did one this past weekend. Hayrides, pumpkin painting, lawn games, a dance, trick or treating.  My kids have many memories of those weekends.  Whether you want a romantic weekend away or a family friendly weekend, give camping a try.  If you don’t have an RV you can find a campground with cabin rentals.    Michigan CampgroundsMichigan State Park Campgrounds

Cider Mills

Who doesn’t love a warm cinnamon sugar donut that melts in your mouth and some apple cider to wash it down?  You can also go on a hayride to pick your own apples or pumpkins, find your way through a corn maze, pet some farm animals  and browse homemade arts and crafts.  There are a LOT of options at cider mills these days!  Check out this link and see which one best fits your needs. Michigan Cider Mills

Fall Colors Road trips

It’s tricky to time your road trip just right to see the leaves at peak color.  I’m going to post a map below (ignore the dates).  You can use this map to see the general zones, each zone being about a week apart.  The predicted peak dates are always dependent on weather.  Cooler weather makes the leaves change faster, warmer weather makes the color take a little longer to peak and one bad wind storm can take away all the leaves overnight.  Keep an eye on the latest forecasts and color reports and go from there.  If you are making reservations ahead of time and need a best guess I would say you are going to see some fall color for sure the 2nd/3rd weekends of October in the upper peninsula and northern lower peninsula and then the 3rd/4th weekends for the bottom half of the lower peninsula.

I’ve already mentioned the Tunnel of Trees in the Northwest part of the lower peninsula.  Another pretty route is the River Road Scenic Byway in Oscoda.  I did a whole blog post about that road if you look back in my archives.  There are MANY beautiful places to kayak, picnic or simply admire the view.  A new one for me this year was in the Northeast part of the lower peninsula. US 23 from Au Gres up to Mackinaw City. That one will take a  3 hours around with no stops.  But you are going to want to stop! There are 5 lighthouses, many waterfront roadside parks and several state parks along the way.  If you leave the Au Gres/East Tawas/Oscoda area by 9am you should be able to stop and visit some of these places along the way, find a nice place for lunch and still make it to Mackinaw City for sunset by the bridge.  I suggest eating dinner after sunset in St. Ignace so you can enjoy the lights on the Mackinac Bridge on your way back over.

Here are some other popular road trips Michigan Fall Color Drives

 

 

Honorable mentions

Other favorite fall activities for my family include Friday night football games when our kids were in marching band, Cedar Point’s Halloweekends, haunted houses, watching the Lions win or lose on Sundays and of course, passing out candy to trick or treaters!

I know many of my readers live in Michigan and share in my love for this time of year.  For those of you that aren’t as lucky, I highly suggest a visit during this magical time.  If you need help with planning just let me know, I’d be happy to help.

One Pot Creamy Pasta

Sometimes you come home after a long day and want some comfort food but don’t have the energy to tackle a big meal and clean up.  Well, THIS is the meal for you.  It’s creamy, simple and delicious.  And you don’t have to go to 3 stores to find the ingredients which is always a bonus!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound angel hair pasta
  • 3 cans (14.5 oz) chicken broth (tip-just go with the 3 cans instead of trying to do the math with a bigger carton!}
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream (NOT to be confused with cool whip/whipped cream!)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • Parsley

Instructions

1- Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large pot over medium heat.  Add minced garlic as soon as butter is melted and cook for 1 minute, drop the heat if necessary so it doesn’t burn.

2- Add the chicken stock to the pot.  Once it comes to a boil add the pasta.

3- Cook the pasta, stirring frequently until done.  It won’t take long, maybe 5 or 6 minutes.  Most of the broth will be evaporated.

4- Turn off heat, add the remaining butter, heavy cream and cheese.  Toss until well blended.  I use tongs for this part.

5- Serve immediately, top with parsley and additional cheese if desired.

That’s it. I told you it is easy. Enjoy !!

Does Life Have to Be a Competition?

Sometimes it feels like our whole lives are a big competition.  It starts when you are a kid and your parents compare your grades to those of your siblings. In elementary school when you are faced with spelling bees, picking teams for kickball and who’s artwork is picked to be on display in the hall.  In middle school and high school when you start competing for choir or chair placement, sports teams and school plays. Scholarships and college placements.

We grow up feeling like we HAVE to compete with those around us.  That is how our society is built.  Don’t get me wrong, a little healthy competition is a good thing.  It pushes us to do a better and challenge ourselves.  But it is SO EASY to get completely wrapped up in it and not even realize it.

My family is a competitive family.  We love board games.  When our kids were little we taught them to shake hands at the end and say “good game”.  We tried to teach them to be a good sport and realize the value of winning and losing. I see kids go down the line after a baseball/hockey game and shake hands or high five their opponents.  Do they even realize WHY they do it or how important it is? If I could go back in time I would make sure I was having those conversations with our kids because I don’t remember if we ever did.  Later on when they were in choir, band, and theater we talked about how they aren’t always going to get the role they wanted or be first chair.  How it was important to be happy for those that earned those spots and try again next time.  That isn’t easy for ANYONE to do.

When I was in my 20’s/30’s it seemed EVERYTHING was a competition!  When you have little kids EVERY conversation seems to go back to “is she sleeping through the night/off the bottle/talking yet?”  Why didn’t we talk more about how we were feeling or the struggles of young motherhood?  Motherhood is not a competition and I promise you by the time the kids are in high school NO ONE is going to care how old they were when they started using the toilet!

I was only 25 when my oldest daughter started preschool.  I remember standing in the hallway waiting for class to be over so I could sign her out.  The other moms were older than me, had nicer clothes, better cars and seemed so put together. Here I was a stay at home mom with her hair in a ponytail, no make up, my younger daughter in a stroller next to me, feeling like I had to clarify that I CHOSE this life. No one talked to me and I felt so beneath them.  It wasn’t until my youngest son started preschool that I realized I had been wrong. I was 32 by then and had a nice house, a new car, pretty clothes and was standing in the hallway waiting for him to get out of class with the other moms.  Most of the other moms were around my age and many of us knew each other from our older kids.  But there was a young mom too.  She stood off to the side and didn’t interact with anyone.  I noticed she drove an older car and didn’t take much care with her appearance.  It clicked with me at that moment that she may feel like I had all those years ago.  Looking at it from a new perspective I realized that those other moms had never MADE me feel that way.  They were never rude or looked down on me.  I was the one who doubted my own self worth.  I never went up to them and joined a conversation.  I stood off to the side feeling inferior and blaming them for it.  Why didn’t I see that sooner?  I made sure I started conversations with the younger mom and smiled, nodded and made polite conversation when we ran into each other around town for the next decade.

When I was in my 30’s our business peaked and we were living the good life.  Huge house and acreage, boat, RV, nice vacations.  I had everything I had ever dreamed of and yet I STILL didn’t feel good enough sometimes.  I was still jealous of some of the other women. Their nails were better, they took fancier vacations, they had bigger cars.  It wasn’t until we lost it all in the recession that I realized just how good we had it, and how lucky I was.  Why is it so hard to appreciate all that we have until we lose it?  Why can’t we see that we don’t HAVE to compete with the neighbors, the other moms, our coworkers until after the fact?

My 40’s have brought me more clarity.  Part of it is having the kids get older and starting their own adult lives. That means I have to start doing MY own thing too. Part of it is going through the downsizing process and knowing how very few material things we really NEED.  Spending all those months packing, sorting and donating things that don’t really matter in our day to day lives. Simplifying our lives.  I know a big part of it is spending all that time with my mom over the last few months of her life.  Nothing really shows you what really matters until none of it matters.

My life now is a lot simpler than it used to be.  We live in a small space and I love it. I am no longer worried about friends that have bigger houses or newer cars.  I don’t care if someone can sing a song better than me at karaoke, can walk further or faster than I can, take better pictures.  I am learning to accept and appreciate myself and my own talents.  I can be genuinely happy when good things happen to those around me and not feel like that means I am lacking in some way.  That doesn’t mean I never feel jealous or less than.  It just means I am learning how to deal with those feelings in a more productive way. I don’t let them linger.  *Gratitude*Patience*Service*Kindness*

My flower garden really brings it all home.  I had some flowers that bloomed right away and then faded.  I had some that were steady all summer long.  And I had late bloomers that I didn’t even thing were going to make it that outlasted all the other flowers and are still going strong.  The flowers aren’t competing with each other. They aren’t comparing which has more petals or attracts more butterflies. They accept who they are and do their own thing.  And that makes them all beautiful in their own way.

 

 

2019 Summer Reflections

This was our first full summer in our new East Tawas home. The first summer of “retirement”. My first summer as an empty nester. While it was hard in some ways, and there are things I will change for next year, for the most part it was a great summer. I know technically summer has a couple more weeks left and I will enjoy them. For the purpose of this post though I am referring to summer as Memorial Day through Labor Day.

We were busy almost every weekend.

We started off the summer with friends up for Memorial Day and ended with different friends up for Labor Day. We also had friends here 4 other weekends, Jack and Cassie each spent 2 weekends here and Chad and I were gone for 3 weekends. And just like that, the 15 weekends of summer were gone! As much as I love playing hostess and opening up our home to our friends and family, I REALLY enjoy not having plans once in awhile too during those peak summer weekends. So next year I plan on spacing out our visitors a bit more so that we have some down weekends too in the summer. Spring and fall are beautiful times of year to visit!

I discovered how many cool things our town offers in the summer.

There were Community Concert Band performances on Monday nights a short walk away from our place. They got rained out a couple of times but we did make it for a whole performance and a couple of partial ones. I was very happy to see how many people in the community were in attendance. Side note: most people like to people watch, but I was fascinated by the assortment of portable chairs people had! There are SO MANY options now!

Tuesday nights brought the street dances to downtown East Tawas. A different live band played each week and people brought their wonderful portable chairs again. Everyone enjoyed the music on those warm summer evenings and the kids and couples danced in the streets!

There was an awesome 4th of July parade, Summerfest weekend, Blues by the Bay, Uncorked (an art and wine festival), Sidewalk sales, 2 arts and crafts shows at Shoreline Park. Not to mention all of the live music at Bikini’s beach bar. There was PLENTY of entertainment to be found!

We started a garden

We lovingly planted and cared for our garden plots in the community garden. I celebrated the blooms and was sad over the ones that didn’t make it. I discovered that giant zinnia’s really ARE giant! Chad harvested his veggies and I learned new ways to cook them. He pickled peppers for the first time. We were also heartbroken when a bad wind storm destroyed all but a few stalks of his corn. We know what to do differently next year so when the season is over we will prepare the soil and get an earlier start next spring on prepping and planting. It’s been a fun project.

I got involved in the community

I worked a few weekends at the Friends of the Tawas Point Lighthouse and State Park farm market table. I really enjoyed talking to people, both residents and tourists. Everyone has a story about the Point and it felt good to be able to answer some questions. I also volunteered out at the lighthouse and helped give tours a few times too. My favorite assignment by far was being up in the tower and pointing things out to the visitors. The views are amazing! When I was stationed at the bottom of the tower I had a lot of time to chat with people waiting to go up, many of them camping locally or visiting for the day. I met people from all over the country, and even a few from overseas.

I did a lot of reading

I didn’t realize how much I missed reading until I had the time to do it again! I finished 15 books over the last 3 months. Books on Shipwrecks and Great Lakes Ghost Stories, romances, adventure, mystery. My favorite place to read is my own deck. Many afternoons I could be found outside under the umbrella enjoying a good book. Some days I even walked down the street to the bay to have lunch, take a dip in the water, and read by the beach. Those were my favorite afternoons.

I danced, a lot.

When you live in a beach town it only makes sense to spend as much time near the water as you can. So Bikini’s Beach Bar was our home away from home. Only a short walk away, we spend many weekends there talking to the friendly waitstaff and bartenders, listening to the live music and making new friends. I dragged my poor hubby up to dance many slow dances with me. He reluctantly will do some fast dancing with me too, but usually I am able to find other people so he is spared. He would much rather watch from a bar stool! Our visiting friends and family have all met our resort buddies as we always seemed to end up there at some point over the weekend.

 

Things I wanted to do more of

I wish I had been able to swim more with Chad. We only had a handful of days when it was still hot enough by the time he got home from work that we could do some evening swimming. He is off on the weekends, but our weekends were so busy that it didn’t allow for many beach days. I’m hoping we get some hotter weather later this month so we can swim once or twice more!

Picnics. We only did it once but it was fun. We packed up the picnic basket and walked down to the beach a few blocks down. We found a picnic table in the shade and played cards and people watched. It was a beautiful afternoon and I wish we had done it more often. There is still time to do a couple of fall picnics, as long as I don’t get sidetracked!

General Observations

-Parking is very hard to find in town, even during the week. Plan on walking a few blocks.

-Avoid Walmart on Mondays, Fridays, weekends, 1st of the month, and anytime you see the senior bus out front!

-Turning left onto Newman from 23 should be avoided whenever possible

-During a big mayfly hatch you are gonna see people freaking out by the water. I am probably one of them.

-Take a garbage bag with you to the beach to pick up what other people leave behind.

-NEVER change your plans based on the weather forecast!

The summer flew by and I am already looking forward to NEXT summer! In the meantime there are a lot of things to look forward to this fall. Like watching the Detroit Lions find new ways to lose a game, fall leaves and pumpkin spice everything!

Au Train, Michigan

Au Train is a small community about 20 minutes west of Munising in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There is a small market to buy bait, groceries and ice cream. And not much else. It’s a blink and you miss it kind of place. But it is very pretty and definitely worth the short drive for a restaurant, gas or shops. Our group rented 5 cabins on Au Train lake, which is connected by a river to Lake Superior. Our cabin overlooked the lake and every day I woke to a beautiful sunrise. Our resort had boat rentals and while we didn’t catch anything we could keep, we had fun trying. The lake is pretty quiet. There were some kayaks and a few other boats out with us, but nothing that would disrupt your ability to enjoy a good book by the shore.

One of the reasons this area appealed to me was because we could do small day trips from there. I’ve lived in Michigan my whole life and it is still one of my favorite vacation places. There are so many beautiful places to see. The following are the highlights of our trip and I provided links when possible for further information.
Cut River Bridge on US-2, about 25 miles West of St. Ignace. From the road you won’t understand the fuss, but stop at the roadside park and follow the short trail. The architecture of the bridge makes for some very cool pictures. You can walk under the bridge and if you are feeling adventurous, go down the 240 or so stairs to the bottom to see the small river. Bathrooms and picnic tables available. Cut River Bridge Park


The Waterfalls. A trip to the U.P isn’t complete without visiting some waterfalls. We did 2 day trips to see 6 local waterfalls and then saved Tahquamenon Falls for the last day. You could spend a week just exploring waterfalls! For information on more falls visit Waterfalls of the Upper Peninsula

Au Train Falls

Sable Falls

Tahquamenon Falls

Wagner Falls

Munising Falls

Miner’s Falls
Pictured Rocks Sunset Cruise. I’ve done the cruise several times but this was the first time I had done the sunset one. The setting sun really makes the colors pop. I would definitely recommend checking this one out! We went the 2nd week of August when the sunset was around 8:55pm. The sunset cruise starts at 7pm and gets back about 9:40pm. Get there EARLY if you want to sit on top. We were there at 6:30 and most of our group didn’t make the top deck. INSIDER TIP- Everyone one seems to want to sit up top, but if you want the best pictures you are better off sitting below deck next to a window. Also- the gift shop will be open after the cruise. Pictured Rocks Cruise


Lakenenland Sculpture Garden. About 15 miles East of Marquette. We saw this place on the side of the road and decided to stop in. I am so glad we did! A very talented artist uses this acreage and 1/2 mile trail to showcase his work. It is open 24/7 and there is no charge, though I do suggest contributing to the donation box at the entrance to help keep it going. For more information and pictures visit Lakenenland


Pictures Rocks National Lakeshore. As many times as I have been to the U.P, I had never driven the whole 42 mile park from end to end. We started in Grand Marais and finished in Munising. At the Grand Marais end there is a huge beach and then miles of steep sand dunes. Then the other end is where you find the pictures rock cliffs. Inbetween there are hiking trails, waterfalls and gorgeous overlooks. Our favorite was the Log Slide Overlook. It was a sunny day and the water looked as pretty as any I had seen in the Caribbean! Another thing I really liked is that this 72,000+acre National Park is a favorite with hikers and campers and as such there are multiple places to stop for bathroom breaks or a picnic. Everything was well marked and accessible. Pictures Rocks National Lakeshore


Presque Isle Park, about 10 minutes North of downtown Marquette. We didn’t plan to go here, we were just driving the coast and came upon this little gem. This park has picnic areas, bathhouses, bike trails, cliff diving, black rocks and scenic look outs. We stopped to walk out on the big blacks rocks that very much reminded me of Hawaii. I wish we had more time to stay because we barely scratched the surface of this pretty place! Presque Isle Park

These are just a few of the places we saw on this most recent visit to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I know there are many, many more wonderful places to visit. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments.

Have You Tried a Group Vacation?

Romantic vacations are great Lounging by the pool, dancing, moonlit walks on the beach, sleeping in, room service, fancy dinners and carriage rides in the park.  Just the two of you blocking out the rest of the world.  Chad and I have been to Maui, St. Thomas, the Bahamas, Manhattan, San Francisco, Vegas, etc.  They are like bonus honeymoons!

Family vacations are also great. We did many fun family vacations with our kids were young.  A 3 week RV trip to South Dakota, Panama City Beach, Disney World twice, The Wisconsin Dells, Alaska, The Outer Banks, The Smoky Mountains.  It was great to have the kids undivided attention, explore new areas, play board games and make those memories together.

But there is something special about a GROUP vacation!!  We did a few group vacations with a few other families before the bulk of our kids hit middle school/high school.  Then with so many kids in the group with conflicting schedules, not to mention many changes in the adult lives too, the vacations stopped.

They were never far from my mind though.  As the unofficial “planner” in our group, I saw a chance to resurrect them last year.  By now the youngest kids in the vacation group were older high schoolers. I found a place on Drummond Island that had enough cabins for our group and I sent out an email to my friends, not sure if anyone else would even be interested anymore.  They must have needed the vacation as much as I did…because within a few weeks we were all booked!  We had an awesome time.  Some nights we did potluck dinners, almost every night we gathered around the bonfire.  We were able to catch up with each other over the course of the week instead of just the normal few hours we share here and there in our everyday lives. A group vacation kind of combines the romantic and the family trips.  As a group we don’t all do everything together. Sometimes a couple will go off on their own, or our now mostly adult kids will come up with an activity on their own.  Sometimes the guys go out fishing while the women go to town.  Whatever you want to do, chances are you can find someone else in the group to go with you if you want company. Everyone has their own idea of what a vacation means. For some it means getting to sleep in. For my husband it is a chance to visit other cabins in the morning and share a cup of coffee. For me, I like finding a quiet, shady spot to read.  I usually finish 2-3 books that week! I also bring my camera everywhere I go!  For my family, we try to balance resting and relaxing with offsite fun.  So we spend about half the week around the cabin napping/reading/fishing/visiting friends and the other half off exploring and sightseeing.  Other families may want to be on-the-go more, or not go anywhere at all!  And it all works out. Drummond Island actually worked so well that we did it again this year, and already have next year’s trip booked.

2018 Drummond Island, Mi (I wrote a blog post about it, check the archives)

2019 Au Train, outside of Munising, Mi. (will write a separate post about that)

2020 will be northern lower Michigan.

Our vacation group changes a little year to year.  Sometimes a family can’t come, or a new one wants to join.  Some adult kids are able to make it, while others aren’t. (I actually love that all of our kids have known each other their whole lives and actually keep in touch and maintain those friendships.)

I treasure the friends that are able to make it, and miss the ones who aren’t.  It isn’t easy to commit to a week a whole year out so I really appreciate the fact that these friends do. I’ve had a couple of recent losses and if it has taught me anything it’s that TIME spent together it the most important thing.  It’s so easy in today’s world to put things off because you are busy. So when you can get 5 families together for a whole week it is a blessing.  And one that I am already looking forward to again next year.

BBQ Chicken Sheet Pan dinner

Here is the recipe post I promised. {Thank you all for your support and prayers regarding my last post}

I discovered sheet pan meals last year and they have quickly become one of Chad’s favorite meals.  A quick Google or Pinterest search will yield dozens of recipes.  The following is a combination of different recipes that work well for me.

Supplies:

A sheet pan with sides.  A standard size works well for up 1-2 people, an XL pan is good for 3-4 people.

Cooking spray

2 medium size mixing bowls and spoons

small bowl and fork

aluminum foil

cutting board and knife

 

Ingredients:

Boneless/skinless chicken breasts (1 large breast for 1-2 people, 2 large breasts for 3-4 people)

1 package your favorite brand smoked sausage with casing on, don’t get skinless! (will only use 1/2 of it for 2 people)

Corn on the cob (do not use frozen) 1 per person

1 of each: Red bell pepper, Red Onion, Zucchini, Squash (May substitute for green/yellow pepper or white onion. May also omit one vegetable and add more of another. For 2 people use 3 vegetables,  for 3-4 people use 4 vegetables)

4 tablespoons Olive Oil

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2  tsp ground pepper

1/2 cup BBQ sauce

butter

Salt and pepper

 

Making It:

1- Preheat the oven to 425 and spray sheet pan with cooking spray.

2- Combine the brown sugar, paprika, chili powder, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in the small bowl.  Mix well with fork, set aside.

3- Wash and trim chicken breasts and cut into one inch strips.  Cut sausage into bite sized, equal pieces.

4- Put both meats in a medium mixing bowl, toss well with 2 tablespoons of Olive Oil and coat with mixture from the 2nd step.  Make sure meat is thoroughly mixed and coated and then set aside

5- Clean ears of corn so there is no husk or silk. Rub with butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper and double wrap in aluminum foil.

6- Cut other vegetables into one inch chucks.  Put in the other mixing bowl, toss with remaining olive oil and salt and pepper (to taste) until evenly covered.

7- Spread meat on one side of the pan and veggies on the other.  The wrapped corn can go in a corner.  If you don’t have room for the corn you can put them directly on the oven rack, just watch for dripping.

8-  Bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes. This is why you want to make sure you have cut everything into similar sizes so it cooks evenly.

9- Pull out of oven, brush the meat with the BBQ sauce and put under the broiler for 2-3 minutes.  You should see the sauce start to caramelize on the meat and the veggies get a roasted look to them.

Enjoy!  You will find there are a lot of variations and I have yet to have it turn out the exact same way twice.  You can do all chicken or all sausage, use different veggies, omit the corn.  It’s very customize-able.  Just make sure you use fresh ingredients and cut everything into similar sizes.