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Up North: Bay View Wine Trail

28 Jun

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Today’s excursion takes us to northwest Michigan’s Bay View Wine Trail. We picked up a brochure in town with a list of all of the wineries and an area map, let’s go. Heading east out of Charlevoix we quickly find ourselves looking at beautiful countryside, roads are smooth and absent of traffic. Rudbeckia Farm and Winery is tucked away on 190 acres of farmland and open fields, a small metal building welcomes visitors. You can sit outside, have a glass of wine and something to eat, play Bocce or corn hole, go for a walk, you can even fly a kite. We’re here to do a tasting. Inside we have the pleasure of meeting one of the owners, he tells us the story of how he went from living on the east coast to having his own winery here in northern Michigan; let’s just say it’s a dream come true for he and his wife. We taste wines and continue our chatter, they serve both wine and beer in Riedel Crystal tasting glassware. We enjoy everything we try, decisions made, we make our purchase and it’s on to the next place.  

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Walloon Lake Winery is family owned with 7 acres of grapes on the 36 acre farm; they produce boutique wines made from cold-hardy grapes. I really like this place and always look forward to coming back. The building is unique, made from stacked cordwood, it’s pretty inside and out. Sunlight floods the tasting room, it has an open, airy feel, lots of wood, Michigan-themed artwork, wooden crates hold bottles of wine and Walloon Lake Winery merchandise; their logo, of course, is the shape of Walloon Lake. The resident dog greets us at the door, he checks us out then finds a place on the floor to take a nap. We begin the tasting process, I find I like everything they produce here; before long I realize we’re going to need a box… We go out to the patio to take in the view, it’s absolutely gorgeous; vineyards, rolling hills, valley’s, wooded areas, check out their tractor–sweet! 

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The drive to the next winery rewards us with stunning vistas, changing elevations, farms and plenty of fresh country air; Kris could drive forever up here. Up ahead we see a historic red barn with the American flag painted on the side, this is Resort Pike Cidery And Winery. The petite red building in front of the barn is the tasting room, white lights and flags dangle from the pergola that covers the patio. Their logo is part apple, part grape, love it. The interior is compact, rustic and casual feeling. The back bar is home to 20 taps delivering sparkling wines and ciders, they make root beer too! We have the place to ourselves so we can take our time tasting and talking, that’s one of the perks of coming up north before the tourist season is in full swing. One more bottle to add to our box…

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We traverse inclines and slopes, twists and turns through tranquil surroundings, Mackinaw Trail Winery is next. The building is larger and fancier than the previous wineries, situated on 30 acres, 15 of them are dedicated to growing grapes. Family owned, the winery is best known for its fruit wines. Having been awarded over 50 medals and 6 Best of Class awards it is one of Michigan’s most awarded and recognized wineries. The tasting room is spacious, there are tables and chairs, multiple shelves filled with bottles of wine and a large bar for tastings. At this point we’ve had a lot of wine and we’re starting to get hungry so we get an order of pretzel bites, served with mustard and a cheese sauce for dipping I find myself wishing we got 2 orders. I’m not really fond of fruit wines but I have to admit Michigan wine-makers produce some really excellent varieties. We go down the list choosing and tasting, I like to try and get something different at each winery we visit; we’re bringing home a bottle of their Estate Grown Frontenac Gris.

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Petoskey Farms Vineyard and Winery will be our last stop before lunch. We turn in off of Atkins Rd to find a farmhouse-looking-building in saddle brown with red trim with a breathtaking view of  22 acres of farmland, an 11-acre vineyard and lush green pastures. The 60′ long outdoor patio is empty today, I imagine it’s in high demand on the weekends. The quaint interior is done up in wood, stone and warm colors. One of the owners is behind the bar, we strike up a conversation immediately; turns out they relocated from Rochester MI to Petoskey to take on this amazing adventure. You can’t go wrong with a Michigan Riesling, the 2016 Whitecap is really nice too, but the 2017 First Crush, an Estate Sweet Rose is the one we’ll take home. 

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Walloon Lake Village is just a hop and a skip from here, when we asked for local restaurant recommendations Barrel Back was suggested every time. This is our first visit to Walloon Lake, I’m looking forward to checking it out after we eat. Barrel Back Restaurant sits on the shore of Walloon Lake, the building is shared with a marina; the restaurant is on the upper level, the lower level is Tommy’s, a water-skiing and wake-boarding Pro Shop. The term ‘barrel back’ refers to the boat design of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s wooden boats, think Chris Craft. The restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating, we opt for the patio, looking around I think you have a view of the lake from anywhere you sit. Food is prepared using a number of wood-fired appliances including a pizza oven, grill and a rotisserie smoker. We order off the happy-hour menu and are eating in no time. The black bean nachos are topped with tomato, sweet onion, pepper jack and provolone cheese, salsa and cilantro-lime sour cream, yum! The Asian lettuce wraps are equally delicious, Asian-spiced ground chicken, peppers, cashews, black sesame seeds and romaine lettuce to scoop it into. I’m so glad we found about this restaurant.

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A little Walloon Lake history. The lake itself is glacier formed, they say the water is so clear you can see the bottom 30′ down. The late 1800’s were the heyday of Northern Michigan’s lumber industry, over a 20-year period all of the White Pines were cut down, the industry then moved south to hardwood forests. That left railroads with trains and nothing to transport, hey, how about people? The railroad companies turned northern Michigan into “Vacationland”, they built hotels and resorts creating a destination for city folk to escape the summer heat. They ran publicity campaigns drawing people from Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St Louis, Kansas City and Chicago. They touted crystal clear water, beautiful views, great fishing and boating. In 1891 Walloon Lake Village was accessible by a spur from the main trunk line of the railroad. People came, and they continued to come, year after year, many built their own cottages, visitors became residents. Ernest Hemmingway’s family had a cottage here, he spent his first 22 summers at Windemere on Walloon Lake. He often used the area as a setting in his short stories featuring Nick Adams. The cottage is still owned by the Hemmingway family.

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The village was hit hard by the most recent recession and a number of other ongoing factors. Developer Jonathan L Borisch stepped in and rescued the village where he spent his childhood summers. He and his son have opened retail shops, Barrel Back Restaurant, many businesses and the 32-room Hotel Walloon; let’s go inside. From the street you’d swear this was a historic hotel, the architect did a marvelous job capturing that back-in-time elegance that’s so sorely lacking today. The lobby is a wonderful blend of old-fashioned opulence and modern flair. To the right is a lovely seating area with turquoise-painted wood panels and ceiling, bold fabrics and a red-clad chandelier, I feel like I’m on Mackinac Island. The hotel manager spots us and comes over, we explain that we’re ‘just looking’, we are offered a tour. The hotel is stunning, everything is gorgeous, impeccable, every last detail has been thought of. The hallway to the elevator features wainscoting and tin ceiling. Rooms are spacious, comfortable and inviting, there’s an underlying historical feel in the space. Lots of painted wood, wainscoting and serene water views. Instead of taking the elevator to get back to the main floor we opt for the stairway through the hall of mirrors. We’d love to come back and stay at the hotel.

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Across the street are a few small businesses, the antique and sweet shop are both original cottages from back in the day. We take a look through  Vintage Mercantile, they have an eclectic mix of items from vintage toys to glassware, metal signs to furniture; I like the old wagon out front. Sweet Tooth lives up to its name; candy, ice cream, fudge. There’s an old-fashioned ambiance here; glass jars filled with colorful candies, pretty wooden shelves, antiques here and there; a black and white photo shows the cottage back in the 1940’s. You can even purchase a shovel and pail for playing in the sand. Of course it wouldn’t be vacation without ice cream… We take one more look at Walloon Lake, the sky has become overcast, the sun hidden behind the clouds, the water placid. Northern Michigan is filled with treasures from charming small towns and magnificent lakes to picturesque landscapes and did I mention wine?

Up North: Random Acts of Leisure…

18 Jun

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We start our morning on Sturgeon Bay  It’s Tuesday, a normal day for the rest of the world, kids are in school, folks are at work, there’s not a soul around. We park along the side of the road and walk out to the lake, the only sound we hear are waves lapping at the shore. I reach down into the crystal clear water, it’s cold. Yellow butterflies flutter around our heads then cluster together on the sand. After a time we drag ourselves back to the car and make our way south.  We drive through the Tunnel of Trees, M119, one of the most scenic drives in Michigan; high upon a bluff, Lake Michigan on our right, a sea of Trillium on our left. There’s something in the road ahead, Kris comes to a stop, it’s a fox, he trots casually across the narrow road, finds a comfy spot in the tall grass and makes himself at home. Just ahead is Trillium Woods Vintage Boutique and coffee shop, we grab a couple of espresso’s and continue. 

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Pond Hill Farm is home to a winery, brewery, cafe and farm store; open year-round it has become an agritourism destination. We turn in off of M119, parking is plentiful. Walking toward the rustic buildings we stop and watch as a group of girls pick, rinse and pack fresh rhubarb. Look at those stalks, the fade from green to red, we stop to talk, when offered a taste I eagerly accept; it’s kind of tough on the outside but I manage to bite through, the inside is tart but pleasant, not bad. The market is loaded with goodies; fresh produce, wine, beer and rows and rows of canned goods made from scratch. You’ll find the usual jams, salsa and veggies but have you ever seen IPA Beer Jelly or Cherry Wine Jelly?

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I pick up some blueberry jam and a bottle of Spicy Peanut Sauce then join Kris upstairs. Cafe diners are eating on the deck on this beautiful day, we round the corner to the tasting room and take a couple of seats at the bar. Today’s beer list has some interesting offerings, we’re here for the wine. We taste several then order a glass of the Schoolhouse Red, it’s so good we buy a bottle for home. Outside we walk over to the vineyard, the vines are just coming to life as new leaves emerge on woody vines. Fields are mostly bare, greens grow robustly in the greenhouse. Baskets of flowers are everywhere, customers come and go in a constant stream carrying away Petunias, Geraniums, Begonias and Lobelia.

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About 5 miles down the road we find ourselves in downtown Harbor Springs. There’s this amazing area we keep wanting to check out called Wequetonsing, today is the day. Back in the late 1800’s We que ton sing (as they wrote it then) was originally a Presbyterian summer resort, in 1880 it changed hands so-to-speak and became a private association. I found the original By Laws of the association online, I love some of the descriptions, “the water approach to the grounds presents a picture of rare beauty; they rise from the water in gentle terraces, and are covered with a luxuriant growth of young trees in great variety…” how about “a safe and healthful place for families to reside during the heated season”. All are true. By 1888  12 trains passed daily during resort season between Petoskey and Harbor Springs with a stop at Wequetonsing, they had a train depot and a pier for small steamers, a large hotel had a dining hall that could seat 200; there were about 40 cottages built by that time. I imagine women with parasols and large hats, kids splashing in the water, men in suits and ties strolling the sidewalks. Though many things have changed, the beauty and the elegance, not to mention the magnificent cottages, still remain.

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A walk along Beach Drive is like going back in time. Going south you have a panoramic view of the north side of Little Traverse Bay on the right and stunning, historic cottages on the left. The cottages are immaculately kept; freshly mowed grass, porch boxes and planters filled with newly planted annuals, an American flag billows in the breeze. I will generalize and say most buildings are built in the Victorian style of architecture, there are definitely exceptions. Porches are large and can support several seating areas for optimal water views. Some cottages are still wearing their winter clothing, closed off with heavy visqueen sheeting. Craftsmen are hard at work making repairs or renovating before the summer season officially begins. White is the exterior color of choice, you’ll find some houses with a splash of color; spruce green, navy blue and a few in yellow. Lawns are deep green, trees and shrubs are filling out after the long winter; I find myself looking from side to side, lake-cottage, lake-cottage.

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Each home is unique; balconies, turrets, wide staircases, stone, fancy railings, look at that one with the bunting, oooh, this one has Geraniums lining the lengthy walkway, that yellow house is different, low and wide, look at that eyebrow window with the portholes. Some of them have names, I think Cedarmere is my favorite; a majestic beauty overlooking the shoreline. Common areas include a croquet court, I recognize the familiar sound of the mallet striking the ball. Three gentlemen dressed in white and wearing hats have just finished a game; now that it’s empty I can get a closer look, they have the same grass as a golf course for the court area, fancy white wickets pushed into the ground are all that remain of the game. This community was built during America’s industrial dynasty, I’m so happy to see it preserved.

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Our next stop on the tour is Boyne City  There have been a lot of changes over the last decade. Despite being located at the southeast end of Lake Charlevoix, the quaint little town had become stagnant. Local small businesses in the southern section of Boyne City came together and created the SOBO District, the city invested in itself and became a Main Street Community; downtown was revitalized, buildings restored, new development came in retail and residential. Boyne City is once again vibrant and active. There are 11 miles of lake frontage, parks, beaches and a boardwalk. Downtown is home to boutiques, restaurants, a bookstore, galleries and coffee shops.

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It’s getting late, most of the shops have closed. Freshwater Art Gallery’s doors are still open, fabulous things are everywhere. The one-of-a-kind bed is a real attention grabber, look at it, all handmade from wood and branches, imagine the dreams you’d have sleeping in it. Metal art, jewelry, glass, baskets, clever lamps. Kris likes the painted Up North scenes, the Northern Lights photos are very cool. The gallery also doubles as a concert venue.

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We walk around taking note of the lovingly restored buildings and public art, I’m thirsty so we drop in at Lake Street Market. This place has everything, food, drinks, cheese, baked goods, wine, art, and it has great rustic charm. Before we go we visit the Alpine Chocolat Haus, it’s just not vacation without ice cream. I can see we need to come back and spend more time here.

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Time to get back to Charlevoix The Beautiful. The shortest way to get there is to take the Ironton Ferry from Boyne City to Ironton; it crosses the south arm of Lake Charlevoix at a very narrow point. The 4-car ferry has been in operation since 1876, in those early days it was powered by horses; the onboard gates were electrified in the late 1970’s. We’re in luck, the ferry is on its way back and we’re first in line. The fare is only $1 today and worth every penny. I love that this ferry still exists. We reach Ironton on the other side, we’re about 5 miles from Charlevoix.

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Back at Abide we freshen up and put on nicer clothes for dinner at Grey Gables Inn Restaurant. Grey Gables is located in the Belvedere Club, like Wequetonsing, the Belvedere Club started out as the exclusive Charlevoix Resort Association in 1878, cottages continued to be built and in 1923 the name was changed to The Belvedere Club. The restaurant and Inn are original cottages from the 1930’s. Tonight is sushi night at Grey Gables. The restaurant is lovely, decked out to the max in Victorian decor; floral wallpaper, bold colors, frilly crystal chandeliers. The staff is friendly, servers attentive, at this time of year most of the patrons are local. We order 3 sushi rolls, while we wait our server brings us a bread basket, clearly he could tell we were hungry. We polish off the bread just as the sushi arrives; nothing fancy, a veggie roll, Sunny and an M-80, all was fresh and good. It has been a full day of beauty and delight. 

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Columbus: Art See…

16 Apr

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Our visit to Ohio’s capital city continues with the Columbus Museum of Art. The Neo Classical  building opened in January of 1931, there have been several expansions through the years, the latest, 50,000 sq. ft. that includes a new wing, atrium and cafe. That said, if you’re expecting the DIA, you’ll be disappointed, this museum is not of that stature. The collection includes late 19th and early 20th century American and European modern works of art. The museum holds the world’s largest collection of works by Columbus artists Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, Elijah Pierce and George Bellows. Contemporary Art, Folk Art, glass, photography, expressionist works and social commentary art can all be found within its walls. 

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We park in the lot adjacent to the building, it’s nice outside so we take some time to explore the grounds. A new garden courtyard provides seating with a nice view of the surrounding area; sculptures are made of stainless steel and wire, painted steel, aluminum and bronze. I’m not sure why but the tall metal strips in red, white and blue remind me of bacon–I must be hungry. The new wing has a limestone base, the rectangular-shaped gallery space is covered in panels of green-patinated copper with deep-set floor to ceiling windows, very modern looking. We use the north entrance stepping into the natural-light-infused atrium. I can see straight through to the front of the museum, lounge areas look inviting, directly above, 35 glass boats dangle, catching the light. We take the stairs to the second floor, small rooms contain video and projection installations. Large, modern works of art hang on stark white walls, individual wood planks lay side by side, it makes me think of fettuccine (why does everything remind me of food?). ‘Back of Kelly’ is a startling life-like recreation of the back of a man, I like the Nocturne Navigator, the skirt of the dress looks like stars in the night sky.

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The original building remains opulent; fancy metal grates act as windows, elegant light fixtures hang from decoratively painted ceilings. Dale Chihuly’s glass art always commands attention. Here the walls are soft colors; vanilla, lavender, blue. Wood floors creak beneath our feet, we traverse long halls, duck in and out of galleries viewing pieces by Charles Demuth, Francis Criss, Clarence Holbrook Carter, Niles Spencer and Norman Rockwell’s Morning After The Wedding. A giant sunflower under glass glows in the center of a gallery, it’s beautiful. We are delighted by the works of Renoir, Monet, Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Degas, Juan Gris and Diego Rivera. Some spaces have seating, allowing you to relax and really absorb the art. In the hall terrazzo floors gleam, different kinds of glass are displayed in cubicles.

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On the bottom floor there’s a whole section designed to get visitors creatively involved. A black wall is covered in art made from Post-it notes, it’s amazing what some people have made from sticky squares of paper. The Wonder Room is awesome; duck under draped pieces of cloth to a burgundy-painted room with a blanket fort, a giant spider web made from vintage textiles complete with super-sized bugs and a fashion station where you can create garments for a dress form. It’s a pretty cool space, great works of art hang on the walls as inspiration, tables are filled with materials for you to create your own great work of art, kids and adults seem to be enjoying the experience equally.We find ourselves at the original entrance, to me this is the prettiest part, architecturally speaking. The ceiling is amazing; blue, cream, yellow, green and gold all working together to create lovely patterns. The chandelier hangs from a central panel, potted palms sprout from urns, marble steps, brass railings and archways  foreshadow the treasures on display inside.

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 We’re headed over to a warehouse called 400 West Rich in Franklinton; Heather at the Terra Art Gallery  in Dublin recommended we check it out. Franklinton was the first American settlement in Franklin County, founded in 1797, it was annexed to the city of Columbus in 1870. Much of the land lies below the level of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers, floods have taken their toll through the centuries. With a new flood wall in place the area is no longer considered a floodplain, making this district just west of downtown ripe for redevelopment.  400 West Rich resides in a warehouse built in 1910 by D.A. Ebinger Sanitary Manufacturing Company, this sanitary porcelain manufacturer invented the public drinking fountain as we know it. EBCO left the building in the 1950’s, a series of interesting tenants followed; Sweden Freezer, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Eickholt Glass. Today it’s a combination of artists studios, galleries and Strongwater Food and Spirits; let’s go in. A grin creeps across my face when we step inside, this was the lobby the EBCO warehouse, the terrazzo floor is spectacular, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an intricate pattern before. The furniture is pure mid-century, love the colors. Look at the old receptionist’s desk, how about that rotary phone? Up a few steps we are in the bar and dining space, they’ve even turned former offices into little dining rooms. 

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We chat with our server about the building, Franklinton and Columbus in general, he points out the mural of Grace Darling, she was a media celebrity in 1838. She and her father were responsible for rescuing shipwrecked sailors from the SS Forfarshire. With a little help from our server we make our selections and in no time lunch is served; everything looks delicious. The Farro salad is excellent, the grain is tender, radishes and cukes are crisp, peas, sweet drop peppers and sprouts add sweetness, the soy sauce vinaigrette adds the perfect amount of saltiness. The Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich stacks pickles, arugula, red hot aiolo on top of a spicy chicken breast all held together with a brioche bun. It has a nice kick and excellent flavor, the red hot is not the overwhelming flavor. Before we leave we take a peek at the event spaces, the original sawtooth windows are now used in the ceiling. Original birch wood has been repurposed into tables and the bar. Here and there leftover machinery, tools and bolts lurk about. What a great way to re-use and old warehouse.

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As we drive around the district a little we see a sign for Glass Axis, oh good, they’re open. The building is another left-over from like 1902, it’s now used as a glass-making facility. The non-profit allows the public access to well-equipped studios for all forms of glass art including stained and fused glass, torch and hot glass blowing and sculpting and neon art. They offer hands-on classes, demonstrations, public programs and even event space. A student removes his rod from the furnace, we watch in fascination as he gently blows into one end and a glass piece begins to take form at the other end. It’s really warm standing by the furnace, at least 6 other rods are warming up. We walk past bowls of glass chips, kilns, huge gloves work tables and a variety of other glass-related tools and equipment. At the back we wander into the gallery, shelves and pedestals hold glass in a variety of colors and forms. Vases, bowls, garden stakes and unique light boxes capture our attention; many of the items are for sale. I’m glad we were able to stop in. I imagine the next time we visit there will be a dozen new businesses here in Franklinton. Time to bid Columbus farewell; thanks, it’s been fun!

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Heading to Columbus

5 Apr

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Our annual search for Spring leads us to a quick jaunt to Columbus Ohio on Easter weekend. In just over 3 hours we can be looking at Daffodils, Tulips, Magnolias and flowering Pear trees. We can stroll the streets of German Village, maybe have a coffee while sitting at a cafe table or park bench. Then again, you never know what Mother Nature has in store. We’re taking our usual, scenic, route 257 along the shores of the Scioto river. Arriving in Dublin we make a quick stop at Hayden Falls before lunch. We park in the small lot on the side of Hayden Run Rd. A stairway leads us down to the river, the current moves rapidly, the 35′ waterfall stands at the end of a boardwalk straddling the Scioto River.  The trees surrounding the river are still bare, bright green moss clings to the limestone. The closer we get to the falls the thicker the mist, the wooden walkway is wet, the sound of the waterfall roars in the wind. Kris puts up his hood and stands at the end of the boardwalk, water rushes over the cliff’s edge, crashing into the river below. The river has swelled from all of the rain, making the waterfall even more dramatic. The boardwalk is popular; we encounter those out for daily exercise, visitors taking photos and locals just hanging out.

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Dublin has a quaint, historic downtown filled with independent shops, restaurants and boutiques. We park on N High Street and walk a little while we decide where to have lunch. I love the stone walls and old architecture, look, Daffodils are blooming. Harvest Pizzeria comes highly recommended so we’re giving it a try. The lunch rush is over so we practically have the place to ourselves. A friendly waitress gets us our drinks and tells us about the daily specials. Harvest is regional to Ohio, they source their ingredients from local farms and businesses. The place is attractive; lots of wood, strong colors and bright artwork. We’re having the pizza and salad special. We choose the Mean Green Salad; spinach, arugula, watercress, red and napa cabbage, snow peas, sprout blend, toasted pepitas, pickled blueberries with an avocado goddess dressing, it’s super flavorful and fresh. The Spicy Yuma Pizza has a blend of 4 cheeses, chipotle-spiked tomato sauce, roasted red peppers, chorizo, jalapeno, corn and cilantro; look how pretty it is. It tastes delicious; spicy but not overdone, I love the crust, thin, crispy and chewy at the same time, good choice!

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We follow the Scioto River all the way from Dublin to Columbus, it’s a lovely drive. We park on Broad St, the river on one side, the LeVeque Tower on the other. Last time we were here the building was undergoing renovations, we’re anxious to see how it looks. A little building history: Originally named the American Insurance Union Citadel the 47-story skyscraper was completed in 1927; it was the tallest building in the city until 1974, today it is the second tallest.

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You may recognize the name of the architect, Detroit’s own C. Howard Crane, think the Fox, Fillmore, Detroit Opera House, Orchestra Hall… LeVeque Tower was his tallest building. The cream-colored terracotta is decorated with figures along the facade and pinnacle, it has an octagonal bartizan at the top, making it the most recognized building in the city. It was designed with 600 hotel rooms in 2 wings and is attached to the Palace Theatre. The name has changed several times through the years, in 1977 it became the LeVeque Tower. The most recent renovation was completed in 2017, it’s currently a mixed use development of apartments, condos, offices, a restaurant and a Marriott Autograph Collection 150-room hotel.

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We enter the Art Deco structure through the revolving door, we are greeted by hand-painted Byzantine-style designs on the ceiling and walls. As we move further inside the hallway opens up into a lounge area. The original building features are combined with a celestial-inspired theme; I really like the funky light fixtures. Making our way to the second floor we have an open view of the lobby area, it’s gorgeous. Cream-colored columns are grounded in black and burgundy marble, there are touches of gold throughout the decor. To one side is The Keep, a modern French Brasserie-styled restaurant and bar. Rat Pack style music plays in the background, low light, brown leather chairs and rustic sconces give the dining area a clubby, masculine feel. The restaurant opened about a year ago to rave reviews, it was voted one of Columbus’s Top New Restaurants of 2017. Next time we’re in town we’ll have to stop back in. 

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The Columbus Metropolitan Library has been in this exact spot on Grant Ave since 1907. The building was constructed with money donated by Andrew Carnegie. In Ohio alone 104 libraries were built from 79 grants awarded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York from 1899-1915; that’s amazing! The Italian Renaissance building faces a newly renovated plaza, the fountain anxiously awaits warmer temperatures. It’s bright inside, among all of the white my eyes are drawn to a series of spheres hanging from the ceiling. Standing still for a moment I am able to take in the space. Though there has been much modernization, most of the original architecture remains. The sloping, sweeping staircases are wonderful; metal balusters topped with wooden handrails. Light pours in through tall rectangular windows, wide-veined green marble, thick moldings and a spectacular floor. Long halls have barrel-vaulted ceilings, white rosettes cling to a teal-colored background. A series of colorful stained-glass skylights allow more light to seep in.

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We come to the huge addition put on in 1991, a vast open space bringing the square footage to 255,400. From the main floor we can see the corridors that surround the second and third level; I love that they left the back wall of the original building. It’s all very open and light, lots of glass and metal. The 2016 renovation opened up the interior by adding windows that run the height from the second to third floor giving visitors a sweeping view of the adjacent Topiary Park. A multi-hued canvas print depicts Columbus back when rail yards and train tracks criss-crossed the city, the LeVeque Tower stands prominently, its image reflected in the Scioto River. We make frequent stops at the windows, looking out on the city skyline. A lot has changed since that print was made, but the capital city still remains a vibrant, beautiful, active place to live, work and play. 

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Time to go to Cleveland…

18 Feb

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In late December we packed a few bags and pointed the car toward Cleveland. The city is full of good restaurants, great architecture and fun things to do. Instead of  heading directly to the 216 we stopped in at the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton OH. Established in 1991 to showcase WWII aircraft, the museum is located on the grounds of the Erie-Ottawa International Airport. We enter off of State Rd, the complex is huge, parking is easy. The lobby gives way to Gallery 1, Civilian Aviation, display cases and glass shelves display aviation items and National Air Race memorabilia; I’m not really into planes so I’m not sure what I’m looking at. I walk around looking at displays and reading signs, suddenly I find myself fascinated. We are near the Lake Erie Islands, you’ve probably heard of, if not been to, Put-In-Bay, I guess I never really thought about it but airplanes were an important form of all-season travel between the islands and t0/from the mainland. An old billboard reads “Fly Island Airlines” on the famous Tri-Motor, hhmm, what is this Tri-Motor? 

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The Ford Tri-Motor is an American 3-engine transport aircraft brought to the world by Henry and Edsel Ford, production started in 1925 and ended in 1933, 199 were made, it was nicknamed The Tin Goose. Henry Ford brought us the first paved runway, the first passenger terminal, hangar, airmail and radio navigation. Over 100 airlines flew the Tri-Motor, the design was superior to other airliners providing comfortable passenger service, safety and reliability. It spurred the first coast-to-coast flight by Transcontinental Air Transport (later TWA), in 1927 a Ford Tri-Motor was used for flight from Key West to Havana Cuba. Locally the Tri-Motor was a familiar sight over Lake Erie, it hauled passengers and freight, was used as an ambulance, school bus, hearse and mail plane. The plane had the capability to take off and land on short runways like the ones on the islands. Tri-Motors were used by second and third-tier airlines well into the 1960’s, I read some are still in use today.We continue through the gallery looking at black and white photos, TWA uniforms, models of planes and steamships; we watch a short film about Lake Erie ice fishing. Tables are being set up in Hangar 1 for an upcoming special event, we pop in for just a minute to check out the red plane, a silver 57 Chevy and an beautiful green Chrysler.

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It’s a short walk out the back door to the next building into Hangar 2, here we find a bevy of military vehicles; tanks, Jeeps, motorbikes and planes. Information and photos accompany most displays, there’s a lot to take in. A Grumman TBM 3E Avenger and a North American Harvard IV look small in the vast space. A vintage B-25 airplane named Georgie’s Girl features a beautiful woman with a halo (scantily) dressed in white, this would be Angela, the other side belongs to Helena, in red, with horns and a tail–cute. Another section of the building is dedicated for restoration, there’s a lot of it going on. We get a guided tour of the area, the big project is the PT 728 WWII boat. Sitting disassembled on jacks and cinder blocks there’s much work to be done, pieces are scattered about, new engines are covered, waiting to be installed. When finished, the hope is to be able to take tourists out in it. The museum is also home to the Tri-Motor Heritage Foundation and the Tin Goose Diner, a 1949 diner out of Elizabeth NJ.

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We’re off to the Cleveland Museum of Art, one of the world’s most distinguished comprehensive art museums and one of our favorites. Our DIA membership gets us into the special exhibition The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920’s for free. This is the first major museum exhibition to focus on American taste and art during the 1920’s and 30’s. I love this time in American history, think about it, WWI had ended and we won, confidence was high, money was flowing, women earned the right to vote, European designers came to America, American artists studied and traveled abroad, social mores were redefined. It created a culture of elegance, glamour, decadence, extravagance; it was an era of change and contrast, and it was oh, so beautiful!  

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Look at these pictures; vibrant colors, streamlined designs, sumptuous materials. Cleveland’s own Rose Iron Works created the stunning Muse With Violin Screen, made of wrought iron, brass, silver and gold plating it’s a real eye catcher. The jewelry is to-die-for, dazzling diamonds, emeralds, pearls, much of it Art Deco in design. One look and you know what period the furniture is from, great lines, not necessarily comfortable. I recognize the white chair with the striped fabric, it’s on loan from the DIA, the super-cool green desk and chair were manufactured in Grand Rapids MI. Extravagant clocks and watches, amazing silver tea service sets, coffee servers, candle holders. Check out the massive chandelier, it’s incredible, opulent, all of that crystal, it reminds me of a fountain, it was made for the 1928 International Exposition of Art and Industry, as were many of the items in the exhibition.

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Attention to detail was really important, everything was pretty; perfume bottles, mirrors, hair brushes. The trophy for a 1923 ice skating competition is made of rock crystal to look like frozen water, silver, lapis lzuli and marble. Moving on to fashion, there’s a lovely display of dresses, think ‘flapper’; fringe, rhinestones, multi-levels, scalloped hems. Gone were tight fitting waistlines; women threw away their corsets and opted for a loose fit, they bobbed their hair, smoked cigarettes and danced. Automobiles followed fashion and design, the red 1937 Cord is a perfect example of streamlined design. I’m hoping the exhibit will travel to Detroit, I’d love to see it again.

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Every time we get to Cleveland there’s something new on Lorain Ave, tonight we’re having dinner at Xinji Noodle Bar. Located in a 2-story brick building the decor is industrial and playful. The brief menu is filled with Asian and Korean favorites, I sip on hot green tea waiting for our dinner to arrive. The Vegetarian Ramen is mushroom broth with a variety of mushrooms, Napa choy and of course, noodles, it’s soooo good! The Korean Fried Chicken Bao is outstanding; white chicken, sweet and spicy chili, pickle and Taiwanese cabbage, I think I could eat another. The Spicy Pork Dumplings came highly recommended, I can see why, they’re delicious. Another great find!

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Having a nightcap at Stone Mad Pub has become a Cleveland tradition for us. The place is charming; lots of wood, not too loud, a fireplace and great service. We hang out at the bar people-watching, chatting with the bartenders; Kris enjoys his whiskey, I’m having Bailey’s, my idea of dessert. It feels good to relax, to escape the real world, even if it’s only for a little while. 

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St. Paul: Homes and Gardens

6 Feb

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We have a full day of exploring St. Paul planned, let’s start with the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park. It’s another hot and sunny day, we follow fellow visitors from the parking lot to the conservatory; the exterior plaza is a combination of concrete, sculptures and raised beds. The glass structure was built in 1915, it’s owned and operated by the City of St. Paul, admission is free, a voluntary donation of $3.00 is suggested and is well worth it. Inside we follow a concrete path through lush green foliage that leads us to the Sunken Garden, it’s stunning. I stand there for a few minutes just looking around, I just love these enchanting old conservatories. We’re slightly elevated here, the surrounding structure feels like we’re in a magnificent greenhouse, a beautiful wrought iron fence acts as a balcony, we have a complete overview of the garden. Narrow arborvitaes stand in tall lines along the sides, yellow cannas are blooming, straight down the middle is a reflecting pool, at the far end is Harriet Frishmuth’s bronze sculpture Play Days. Star-shaped lights watch over the garden, this is the conservatory’s show house, it changes with every season, I’d love to see it at Christmas time.

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The Palm Dome is 64′ tall and 100′ in diameter, filled with tropical palm and cycad species, some are over 100 years old. Orchids and Bromeliads are unique with their colorful blooms and thick leaves. We keep a leisurely pace meandering from one area to the next, the North Garden contains useful plants; aloe, banana, bamboo, coffee, fig. In the Fern Room a gentle waterfall spills into a tranquil Koi pond; children are excited to see the fish. There are over 100 species of fern and fern allies here, I’ve always been fond of the lacy foliage. Water gardens surround the exterior of the Visitors Center. Water lilies float in shallow pools with rock bottoms; white ones, purple ones, short, tall, pink centers, yellow centers, they’re beautiful but the most intriguing has to be the Victoria Water Lilies known as “Blooming Victorias”. Lime green platter-like plants float on the still surface, the edges curl up creating sides to the platter, revealing a fuschia-like color around the edges, I have never seen anything like them before.

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We drive to our next destination, Summit Avenue. The street runs just west of downtown St. Paul and continues 4 1/2 miles west to the Mississippi River; this is the longest avenue of Victorian homes in the nation. Populated with historic houses, churches, synagogues and schools, it was named one of the 10 “great streets” nationally in 2008. Oh, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (born in St. Paul) lived here too… Most of the homes were built between 1890 and 1920 some appeared as early as the 1850’s; out of 440 original grand mansions 373 remain today, isn’t that amazing? Let’s face it, in those days there was a lot of wealth, men got rich off lumber, mining, railroads and banks; it was a time like no other. We definitely need to take a walk. The homes are built on a bluff, stairs take you from street level to front doors, on the backside of the homes the mighty Mississippi flows below; every house is beautiful, seriously. Each home is different even though many were designed by Cass Gilbert and Clarence Johnson. Notice all of the detail in the brick and stone, the chimneys and porches. The flowers that fill urns and pots are enjoying a warmer-than-usual September, hydrangea are popular here too. I notice several of the houses have covered porticos from the horse and carriage days.

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The grey and plum Victorian with the amazing porch and pointy turret was built in 1891 as Mrs. Porterfields Boarding House, they say it was home to some of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary friends, it’s a beauty.  An orange-brick house has white-painted wood over the porch and along the roofline, notice the stone ‘stripe’ and ornamentation. The dark brick mansion is fantastic, look at that place; stone details, slate roof, I like the rounded window on the side. The big grey wood-shingle house is unique, lots of detail here, especially above the entryway, I admire the way they painted the grapes and vines in color. We duck down Heather Place to see the stucco and stone house, it’s enormous; 10,000 sq. ft of Tudor Revival blended with Cotswold cottage it’s a real charmer; I’ve always been a sucker for the cedar roof that wraps around the edges. The rose-colored castle is one of my favorites, built in 1883 for a coal and lumberman, it has a skylight next to the turret.

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We come to a lookout called Overlook Park, there was a hotel here in 1859, wealthy folks traveling by steamboat would often stay here, it offered the best views in St. Paul with a large observation deck. After the hotel burned down it became a park in 1887, the ornamental fence you see on the right is original.The large Eagle statue was created by Louis Saint Gaudens in 1890, after being moved all around the city it was placed here in 1999. What an amazing view! Down the street is a lovely Georgian Revival built by a bank president in 1909; I am constantly struck by the time period these mansions were built, homeowners maintain them diligently from lawn and landscape to copper downspouts and roofs. There’s a lot of chunky stone, orange brick, turrets, arches, dentils and columns in stone and marble. Attorney William Lightner’s house was built in 1893 in the Richardsonian style, the exterior is Purple Sioux Quartzite and Kettle River Sandstone. The Germanic Institute was built in 1906 as a private home for the George W Gardner family complete with a third-floor ballroom, ratskeller and 9 fireplaces; the Germanic-American Institute purchased the home in 1965. One of my other favorites is the Driscol Warehouser house, Frederick Driscol, a newspaper magnate built this 11,000 sq. ft. mansion in 1884, a mix of Queen Ann and Gothic it has 8 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. It was later purchased by Fred Warehouser, a man who owned the largest lumber company in the world, he certainly had good taste.

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We arrive at the James J Hill House after the last tour has started. Since we’re from out-of-town the kind woman behind the desk invites us to have a look around the first level on our own, thank you! James Hill was super-rich, he purchased the nearly bankrupt St. Paul and Pacific railroad in 1878 and over the next 2 decades worked relentlessly to push the line north to Canada and then west across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean; it was then renamed the Great Northern Railway in 1890. His other business interests included coal, iron ore, mining, shipping, banking and agriculture–yes he had his hand in everything; he was one of the wealthiest and most powerful figures of his time. He built this opulent, 36,500 sq. ft. home in 1891 and died here in 1916.

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Four of his daughters were married in the home, it has 22 fireplaces, a reception hall nearly 100′ long and 16 crystal chandeliers. The home is a profusion of elaborately carved woodwork, ornate plaster ceilings, skylight, built-in organ complete with organ pipes; it has everything a railroad titan could wish for. At the time it was the largest and most expensive home in the state of Minnesota; the final cost for construction, furnishings and landscaping for the 3 acre estate was $931, 275.01. After James and Mary Hill passed away the children gave to home to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul in 1925. It was acquired by the Minnesota Historical Society to be used as a historic house museum in 1978. 

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Aren’t you thirsty after all of that? Thankfully Bad Weather Brewing Company is close by on 7th Street. The taproom serves up a constantly changing menu of beer and house soda. The space is industrial-modern, glass roll up doors open to the patio, colorful lettering fills the menu boards. A couple of seats open up at the bar, we move quickly to claim them. Beers are named using weather terms: Cauld Weather, Ominous, Windvane, you get the idea, the labels are cool. I’m drinking the Galactic Tide Porter, Kris takes the bartender’s suggestion; we both enjoy what we’re drinking. This place is buzzing, the line to order seems endless. We enjoy our conversation with the bartenders and invite them to the Mitten state to check out what we’ve got brewing.

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There’s a few hours left before we have to leave for the wedding, we head over to our airbnb. We have rented a Mid-Century Modern house tucked into a quiet neighborhood, it’s perfect for us. We have our own driveway and entrance on the first floor, the place is tastefully decorated, luxury linens, full kitchen, snacks; everything we need to feel at home. Our host is outstanding. Time to kick back and relax.

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The wedding is at Redeemed Farm in Scandia, about a 40 minute drive. Our route takes us north and east into the countryside. We  enter the barn, climb the stairs to the loft and take our seats before the ceremony begins. The bride is gorgeous, the groom wears a big smile; the ceremony is lovely. Our evening is spent visiting with the bride and groom, eating, drinking and catching up with friends, perfect. The setting is beautiful, the barns rustic and quaint, like an old-fashioned fairytale. Congratulations kids!

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Michigan: Thumbin’

4 Jan

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 Since we’re stuck in a deep freeze right now, let us take you back to a warm, sunny September day in Michigan’s thumb…It’s the end of summer, sunshine and warm temperatures suggest otherwise; it’s a perfect day for a road trip in the country. Heading north we drive past picturesque farms; cornstalks have been picked clean, cows and horses graze under a powder blue sky. Located in the northwest region of the thumb, the city of Gagetown has an architectural gem known as the Thumb Octagon Barn. This historic structure was built in 1924 by a Mr James Purdy, when he was traveling out west he had seen similar barns in Iowa, when he arrived home he hired local builders George and John Munro to construct the barn. George and John consulted with the local mathematics teacher to help them with the calculations needed to build an octagon-shaped building. The barn is just beautiful; painted white with deep green roofs, it’s quite a sight! Each of the 8 sides measures 42′ 6″ and is 24′ high, it has a 3-stage roof, the first level is the longest and sports a dormer on each of the 8 sections, each dormer has a 9-lite window, the second level has more windows and a much shorter roof leading to the third level, the cupola, where we have more 9-lite windows; there are 288 individual window panes in the barn roof. Evidence of a lightning rod system still exists.

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Walking toward the barn we notice a tour has just begun, we join the others and are brought up to speed. The interior is quite spectacular in its own octagon way; you can see all the way to the top, sunlight filtering in from all those windows, narrow ladders are built into the structure, boxed-in ducts make up the ventilation system, the circular track over the loft area is for the hay car system. The ground floor of the barn is a poured cement foundation 4′ high that supports a 20′ high timber-framed wall. All of the timbers came from on-site, the land was dense with Tamarack trees, the Munro brothers cut the trees into timbers and used them to build the barn. Mr Purdy owned a lumberyard in Gagetown which provided the rest of the wood. The perimeter of the barn on the lower level is original, the silo is gone, the old tack room is now the welcome center. They have some great photographs of the barn when it was new and what it looked like when the Friends Of The Thumb Octagon Barn took it over. You know the story, the property had gone into foreclosure in 1990, the Michigan DNR bought the property from the bank to be incorporated into the Gagetown State Game Area. The buildings were in such bad shape they likely would have to be demolished. Local citizens stepped in, formed the “Friends” and saved the Purdy family homestead. The DNR allowed the friends to have all of the buildings and 10 acres of land.

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Our guide points out notable parts of the structure, he tells us stories about Mr Purdy and what Gagetown was like in the late 19-teens and 20’s. I won’t bore you with a lot information but I do want to share this: James Purdy joined his father at the Bank of P.C. Purdy and Son at the age of 21, James went on to become the bank president; his bank was 1 of only 2 banks in the state of Michigan to remain solvent during the Great Depression. Afterwards Purdy met with other bankers and formulated a plan where the government would insure the investors money, supported by President Franklin Roosevelt, the FDIC was born. Moving on. The Octagon Barn is now an agricultural museum; artifacts, farm equipment, butter churns, and milk separators are on display, oh look, there’s a crate from Stroh’s Ice Cream. There’s a nice saddle in the stables, the wooden model of the barn is amazing.

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We move on to the house, it was actually built before the barn; the Purdy’s moved into their 15-room, Craftsman-style bungalow in 1922. Our guide takes us through the rooms, the master bedroom is on the first floor and has its own attached bathroom. I really like the natural stone fireplace in the family room, the Craftsman style really shines in this area; thick wooden beams on the ceiling, book cases that flank the fireplace, wide wood frames around the windows, the french doors that lead to the dining room. A showcase holds dozens of Mrs Purdy’s diaries, she documented her life from 1895-1954. Her grandson preserved, then donated them to the “Friends”; they were helpful during the restoration. The kitchen has a built-in ice box and a big blue stove, the pantry holds spices and staples every household needs. Upstairs there are 7 bedrooms, each has a transom window, there is a full unfinished attic. There’s a porch on every side of the house except the south side. The large, covered front porch hosted many dances back in the day. 

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We follow the brick-pillard porte-cochere out to the garage, a blue car bears a Dodge Brothers emblem. Mr Purdy built his own powerhouse on the property, nobody is sure of the exact date. The 12×20 ft ornate brick building has been restored, the 32-volt DC Delco light system allowed the Mr Purdy to be self-reliant by providing electricity for his personal needs, he joined the Detroit Edison grid in 1938. The Purdy’s sold the farm in 1942 and moved back to the city of Gagetown. We are told this is the largest wood-structure octagon barn in the United States, it really is impressive, come up and see it sometime.

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We drive northwest past fields of windmills, acres of crops and yellow patches of ragweed, reaching Caseville in time for a late lunch. Thumb Brewery on Pine Street is the perfect place for dining Al fresco. The patio is full so we grab a table on the porch, having eaten here several times we know what we’re going to order, all I have to do is check out the beer menu. We’re ready when the waitress arrives, she returns quickly with an oatmeal stout for me and a hard cider for Kris… that really hits the spot. The BBQ Chicken flatbread has shredded chicken, bacon, yellow peppers, onions, cheddar-jack and a spicy BBQ sauce on a crisp flatbread–a great combination of flavors. We take our time eating, we have no schedule, it feels good to relax.

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In Michigan you are never far from a big, beautiful body of blue water, in this case it’s the Caseville Harbor on the east shore of Saginaw Bay. The Caseville Pier extends 1800 ft. out into the bay, it’s gorgeous! Boats enter the bay through the mouth of the Pigeon River, there’s a steady stream of boating traffic this afternoon. We walk to the end of the pier. The surface of the water is sparkling like diamonds, wispy clouds paint the sky, fishermen head out to try their luck, sailboats glide by, to the right we see a sandy beach. Are you feeling warmer yet? I will leave you now with that picture in your mind, you’re welcome. 

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Dublin Ohio: Looking In

23 Jul

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Today we’re in Dublin Ohio, a suburb of Columbus located near the west bank of the Scioto River. In the 1800’s, early settlers named the village after their birthplace, Dublin Ireland. For many years Dublin was a sleepy little town, it wasn’t until 1987 after reaching a population of 5,000 residents that it was declared a city. Between the construction of I-270 and major corporate headquarters like Wendy’s and Ashland moving in, the city has grown tremendously. If you’re into golf you probably know Dublin as the location of the Memorial Tournament, a regular stop on the PGA Tour. Jack Nicklaus is from Columbus, he designed the course at The Country Club of Muirfield Village. We’re in the quaint little downtown, “old Dublin”, where Bridge and High Street were once filled with bars and pubs, there was even a stagecoach stop in town. Let’s take a stroll.

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Brick-lined sidewalks take us past 200-year-old buildings standing on tree-lined streets; green plaques identify buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. The architecture is early 19th century, houses are wood-sided and painted in pastel shades of yellow, blue, green, burgundy and white. A tiny stone cottage has red-trimmed windows that match the Geraniums sprouting from window boxes. Hydrangeas are in full bloom, branches sag with the weight of the flowers. It’s the first weekend in July, American flags wave in the breeze, red, white and blue pinwheels are spinning. Stone fences with wrought iron gates stand guard in front elegant homes, sweet potato vines spill from pots crowded with Petunias, Daisies, Begonia and Marigolds.

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Cozy shops are integrated into the neighborhood, Chelsea Borough Home is filled with home goods such as furniture, clocks, vases, candles and accessories; it smells good in here too. An Irish flag hangs outside of Ha’penny Bridge, the shop sells imports of Ireland. I admire elegant crystal and china from Belleek, there are lots of shamrocks, pretty plaids, jewelry, scarves and adorable children’s clothing. We grab a couple of cold brew coffees and a few chocolates at Winans. I notice many of the windows in buildings are still original, I can tell by the waviness of the glass. We stop in the French bakery, La Chatelaine, a glass case holds red, white and blue macaroons. At the intersection of Bridge and High streets we find the Daily Chores sculpture, it was inspired by Dublin’s historic town water pump that sat in the middle of the intersection in the early 1900s. City planners are careful to keep the integrity of Dublin, new buildings blend seamlessly with the old.

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All of this walking has made us hungry; at last we settle into a table on the patio at Dublin Village Tavern; it’s a perfect day to eat outdoors. The tavern building was built in 1889, it was originally a hardware store, then it was the Post Office, DVT opened in 2000; the original hand-cut oak studs and beams are still supporting the structure. There’s a picture of George Killian Lett–the grandson of the founder of Killians Brewery in Ireland from his visit to the tavern hanging in the brick room. Shortly after we place our order the Irish Egg Rolls arrive; corned beef, sauerkraut and swiss cheese served up with a side of 1000 Island dressing–they are so good….Next the Fresh Veggie Sandwich; cucumbers, radishes, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, red onion, avocado and arugula held between slices of 12-grain bread; crisp, cool and flavorful it hits the spot on a warm day.

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Dublin is also known for its Art In Public Places program, we’re going to check some of it out now. A short distance down High Street leads us to the place where an old blacksmith shop stood in the late 1800’s. Now there’s a structure made of thick green and yellow metal wires criss-crossing to form walls and a roof. It was designed to conjure up a memory of George M Karrer’s workshop. Field of Corn (With Osage Oranges) is next. 109 human-sized cement ears of corn stand on property that was once farmed by Sam Frantz. Walking around I notice a distinct row pattern as if I was actually looking at a corn field. The detail is pretty amazing, rows of niblets tucked tightly into the cob, some pieces are decorated with strips of material or random items. The sculpture symbolizes the history of the community’s farming legacy and is a memorial to the rural landscape.

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We drive over to Ballantrae Park, a master planned park and residential golf community. At the entrance to the subdivision we are greeted by Dancing Hares, a 15′ tall trio of dancing bunnies perched atop a 20′ tall hillock.  Dancing Hares was commissioned in 2001 by Edwards Golf Communities as the whimsical centerpiece for Ballantrae’s entry park. We climb the steep grassy hill to get a closer look, the artist has combined everyday items into the sculpture; I see coins, a light bulb, comb, wrench, miscellaneous hardware. It reminds me of those pictures in the Highlights magazine where you have to find the hidden objects. At the base of the hill is an interactive play fountain, in the afternoon heat it’s the place to be. It’s fun to watch the little ones marvel at the spouts of water shooting up from the ground–the parents look like they’re having a good time as well.

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Time to head to our hotel room. We have a little time to rest before heading to the Ohio Expo Center, tonight the Detroit Roller Derby All Stars are playing the Ohio Roller Girls, it should be a good match-up. I’ll let you know how it turns out…

Petoskey: Downtown

27 Jun

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Today we find ourselves in Petoskey MI, a picturesque coastal town on the southeast shore of Little Traverse Bay. This quaint little community is home to charming galleries, boutiques, fine dining, cafes, coffee shops and great architecture. Ernest Hemingway spent every summer from 1900-1920 on Walloon Lake and used this part of northern Michigan as the setting for several stories. And of course, as all Michiganders know, this is where our state stone, the Petoskey Stone resides.

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We park on Division St near the Crooked Tree Arts Center, a gorgeous, newly restored, 130+ year old church used for art exhibitions, concerts and live theater. Walking, we make a right on Mitchell, businesses line both sides of the street; this is the Gaslight District, think of Mitchell as Main Street. We stop in the Northern Michigan Artists Market, the name says it all, works by local artists include glass, spectacular sunsets captured in oil, jewelry, hand-dyed scarves, handmade cards, photography and wood-carved items from boxes to bottle stoppers; I like the variety of mediums. Next door is Petoskey Cheese, in addition to a nice selection of domestic and imported cheeses they sell jams, pickles, crackers, mustard and olives. They also serve pizza and salads, they’ll even pack you a picnic basket to go–sounds perfect for a sunset on the beach.

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Continuing our walk we pass Pennsylvania Park, the sky is getting dark, it looks like rain, on Howard Street we pop into North Perk Coffee. The coffee menu is lengthy; hot, cold, latte, nitro, you name it. They roast their own beans (Petoskey Roasting Company) so the staff is knowledgeable about what they serve. We sip on cold brew until the rain lets up. We duck into NorthGoods, this is a store you can really spend some time in, two floors of beautiful things everywhere you look. A combination gift shop and fine art gallery they carry the work of about 100 artists and craftspeople including Gwen Frostic, Pewabic and Motawi Tile Co. There is definitely an “up north” feel to the merchandise, lots of mitten-shaped items, Petoskey stones galore, unique hand-made furniture–the pieces look like they  grew in the woods. Watercolors, oil and acrylic paintings, jewelry and glassware, chess sets, clocks, ok, you get the idea. If you’re looking for something special as a gift or for your home, you’re sure to find it here. Be sure and check out the original safe, this wing of the shop was an old bank.

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Flower boxes and planters decorate storefronts, Tulips are still in bloom this far north, umbrella stands are filled with giant red, white and blue pinwheels. The streetscape is charming, shop windows draw us in, staff members at each business are friendly and helpful. We taste vinegar and oils at Fustini’s, have a second cup of coffee and an awesome toasted coconut donut at Dripworks, Mettlers American Mercantile features a wonderful handpicked assortment of American-made items from men’s and women’s clothing to items for the home–the speakers made from instrument cases and old suitcases by Vintage Volume are super-cool.

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Tom Symons General Store opened in 1956 in one of the city’s oldest brick buildings, he brought luxury items like coffee, spices, gourmet products and a vast wine selection to the people of Petoskey. In the late 1970’s Symons began offering freshly baked breads, cookies, croissants and deli sandwiches to its customers. Tom’s son opened two restaurants, Pierson’s at Boyne Mountain Resort and Chandler’s just around the corner from the general store. Today the family still runs the business, it maintains its old-world charm with original wood floors, tin ceiling and selection of old-fashioned candy. You can sample cheese, do a wine tasting, purchase gourmet seasonings, sauces and Michigan-made food products. Downstairs the wine cellar is rustic and enchanting; old brick floors, ancient wood beams and low plank ceiling. I’m told 500 bottles of wine line these walls, looking around I believe it. To our surprise and delight there’s a small amount of seating in the cellar for Chandler’s, we are so having lunch here. Lunch turned into brunch once we got a look at the menu. The Blueberry pancakes are outstanding, made with ricotta they’re tender and fluffy with the perfect amount of fresh blueberries and a touch of lemon. Taylor’s Hash is a poached egg sitting on a stuffed hash brown topped with a tasty hollandaise, super delicious!

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We continue wandering through the Gaslight District. If you’ve been to Petoskey you’ve been to Cutler’s, you’ll recognize it immediately by the yellow awning. They have everything you could want for the kitchen from small appliances to serving pieces and linens; you’ll also find up north themed goodies. Store owners make the shopping experience interesting for men too, take Robert Frost Fine Footwear, sure they sell high-quality men’s and women’s fashions but check out the model wooden boats, motors, scale model cars and airplanes. Next we meander through Dave’s Boot Shop and Russell’s Shoes, to be honest I’m not sure where one ends and the other begins because they connect through an interior open doorway. What I can tell you is together they carry every kind of footwear you need or want for every member of your family. The interiors of the buildings appear as I imagine they did back when the structures were built; lovely embossed tin ceilings, built-in wooden shelves and a fantastic array of antique light fixtures. They have church pews to sit in for trying on shoes, a ladder that slides on a ceiling track to reach boxes on the top shelf, vintage counters and showcases, they even have an old Buster Brown clock.

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We’ve had a wonderful day in Petoskey from the shopping to the food and that view… It’s always hard to leave this area, we’re already looking forward to our next visit.

UP NORTH: Just Beautiful…

13 Jun

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Today we’re in Wine Country driving next to sandy shorelines on roads that slope, meander and snake past vineyards, orchards and turquoise blue water. To get here we didn’t need plane tickets or passports we just pointed the car northwest and drove until we arrived in Traverse City. We cut into a neighborhood that follows the coast line, as soon as we turn onto East Bay Blvd our vacation officially begins; stunning blue water on the right, magnificent homes on the left, I could spend the whole day looking at this view. We continue on East Shore road and are treated the same spectacular scenery. It’s late May and it seems we have Old Mission Peninsula all to ourselves, only one thing to do now, let’s go visit some wineries.

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We make a left on McKinley Rd, Black Star Farms will be our first stop. Vineyards and orchards surround the tasting room and state-of-the-art wine-making and distilling facility. The quaint building of red with white trim overlooks east bay. Inside a round bar constructed of wine barrels takes center stage; here we taste wines, ciders and spirits. I like everything we try but one stands out from the rest, Sirius Maple, an apple wine with maple syrup, it’s really nice, wrap one up please. I walk around the tasting room looking at bottles stored vertically and horizontally, cork screws, stoppers, gift bags and wine glasses, each bearing the Black Star logo. At the register bottles of wine wear ribbons and medals as Michigan wines continue to earn accolades.

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Further up Center Rd an Italian-looking villa sits high on a bluff, this is Mari Vineyards. Owner Marty Lagina chose to grow exotic varieties of grapes that don’t normally grow in Michigan; Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, along with classics like Cabernet-Franc and Merlot. The planting of thousands of vines took place in 1999, it was quite an undertaking, at one point vines were grabbed haphazardly from their soaking tanks and planted, the problem was nobody knew exactly which varieties they planted so the first 7 rows are a random assortment of grapes. 2006 was the first year for the official production of Mari’s flagship wine named Row 7. We step inside the building, wood and stone make up the majority of the decor, Medieval-style chandeliers hang from antique-looking beams. A small group is at the tasting bar, I sidle up alongside them and study the menu. Kris and I share the tastes, this way we can try more without slurring our speech. Kris heads out to the patio, I join him after paying for our bottle. It’s a postcard view; west bay, hillsides, vineyards and wildflowers. Visitors relax in chairs, feet up on ottomans sipping rose’, not a bad way to spend the day.

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Hawthorne Vineyards is one of the most secluded wineries on Old Mission Peninsula, the tasting room is surrounded by woods and vineyards with a picturesque view of west bay. The owners purchased this 80 acre farm filled with grapevines, cherry and plum trees; they planted additional vinifera on 26 acres. This boutique vineyard features small production wines from their estate fruit. The private driveway weaves its way to the stone and blue-sided tasting room. Inside the quaint space pale green walls meet up with a white ceiling, large windows reveal rolling hills and barns. We try wines made from Lemberger, Merlot, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Cab Franc grapes and fruits. The Cherry Splendor was our favorite, made from Balaton and Montmorency cherries it is the perfect balance of tart and sweet.

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After all that tasting I’m thinking it’s time to eat. We cut over to Peninsula Drive and enjoy the drive along west bay until we reach the old Bower’s Harbor Inn and Jolly Pumpkin. Just inside the entrance a variety of Jolly Pumpkin swag is for sale, I like the t-shirts. We are routed to a table on the far side of the dining room passing a multitude of beer mugs hanging from the ceiling, glass grapes and an eclectic mix of light fixtures. We get right down to business and order some lunch, fortunately the place is kind of quiet this late in the afternoon so our food comes out quickly. The Rocket Arugula Salad is a tasty mix of arugula, apples, spiced walnuts, mango ginger Stilton cheese, fried parsnips, tossed in a champagne vinaigrette. The BBQ Chicken Pizza features grilled chicken breast, red onion, pickled jalapeno, mozzarella and white cheddar sitting atop a bbq sauce covered crust,  outstanding, all of it. 

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The front property at Bower’s Harbor Inn is Mission Table restaurant and tasting room. The upscale farm to table restaurant serves up local ingredients inside and on a gorgeous waterfront deck; we’re here for a tasting. Inside we make a sharp left to the tasting bar, taking our seats we are given a choice of tasting beer, cider or spirits, you can even mix it up, which we did. A couple of beers, a cider and some bourbon lead to a conversation about the Inn, turns out the place was built in the 1880’s. The building was remodeled in the 1920’s when lumber baron JW Stickney and his wife Genevive bought it. There’s an eerie story attached to the estate. Genevive had health issues so an elevator was installed in the house. At one point Mr Stickney hired a nurse to help care for his wife, the nurse became his mistress. Stickney died of a stroke, leaving the house to his wife but all of his money to the nurse. Genevive became depressed and hung herself from the rafters in the elevator shaft. They say she still haunts this place to this day; lights turn off and on, same with the faucets, mirrors and paintings fall off the walls…Boo! We’re able to have a look around upstairs and downstairs; lots of dark wood, leaded glass and pretty fireplaces.

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We continue our scenic drive north to the end of the peninsula coming back Swaney Rd. We stop at Haserot beach and marvel at the clarity of the water, tourist season hasn’t begun yet so the place is ours. Back to the car, we go south on Smokey Hollow Rd following the water to Bluff Rd; just us on a 2-lane road feeling like we’re in a dream. Vineyards, farms, hops, fruit trees; boats tied up to docks beckoning to go out into the big lake. Low clouds hover on the horizon, enormous, tasteful  homes being built in the sand, islands  in the distance, today it feels like they’re showing off just for us. We drive on, the water pacifies us, we delight in the beauty surrounding us; no billboards, strip malls, gas stations, traffic jams, is this heaven?

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We have time for one more stop, Bonobo Winery  has a different feel to it. It’s  more of a contemporary-rustic style with an elegant flair. Bonobo offers tastings, wine by the glass and small plates curated by Mario Batalli; here you are encouraged to linger, hang out for the afternoon. The winery is owned by Traverse City natives and brothers Todd and Carter Oosterhouse. If the name sounds familiar to you, you may have seen Carter as one of the resident carpenters on HGTV’s Trading Spaces, yes, that guy. The decor actually looks like it could be on HGTV, little sitting areas, lots of unique and vintage items carefully placed throughout the space. Grapes are estate grown and wine is produced on-site. Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling; we’re here for the wine. I order a glass of the recommended white and join Kris on the deck.  We sip slowly taking in the panoramic view, it really is breathtaking. 

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As hard as it is to drag ourselves away from all of this we still have a drive ahead of us. We’re able to catch the sunset in Charlevoix, gorgeous! Now on to Petoskey…