Welcome to my ramblings...

Come with me as I travel through the real places of my life and into the steep, switch-back roads of the imagination. Join me. You'll be good company and your thoughts are welcome.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Road Trip: Exploring Northern Michigan and the 45th Parallel

A road trip from North Carolina to Michigan takes you through the beautiful New River Valley in southwestern Virginia and through West Virginia where the New River flows into the Kanawha. The Kanawha in turn flows into the Ohio. 
Crossing the Ohio River on a beautiful September day
Michigan is less about rivers than lakes. We were headed for Traverse City, known to be a foodie town up north on Traverse Bay. The idea: find adventures, learn something, and eat some good food.
Boardman Lake in Traverse City, MI
Traverse City was warm and breezy when we arrived at the Cherry Warehouse Loft we had rented through vrbo.com. On Lake Avenue near Boardman Lake, we were three blocks from Front Street with all the many shops and restaurants and just four blocks from Grand Traverse Bay.

Grand Traverse Bay

Outdoor dining at The Towne Plaza. Outstanding menu!

State Theater on Front Street

We hoisted our luggage up the steps over the kitchen of the The Parlor Bar, unpacked and went downstairs for happy hour. We would be sleeping in the old cashier's office where cherry farmers used to sell their crops.

Tuna bites and a taste of locally distilled bourbon

The best thing about Northern Michigan is the outdoors. Lake Michigan is beautiful with light sand against water in all shades of blue, including ice blue in winter. From Traverse City, driving west to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Leelanau Peninsula is worth an investment of at least two full days.

From Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive we walked out to the shore for our first sighting of Lake Michigan.
Lake Michigan near Empire, MI in September 2016
Lake Michigan north of Empire, MI in September 2016
Leelanau Peninsula is carved by dozens of hiking trails and scenic drives, and dotted with wineries, distilleries, and eateries.
Hiking for the long views on Empire Bluff Trail
Sleeping Bear Dunes in the distance from Empire Bluff Trail

Lake Michigan from the top of Sleeping Bear Dunes

Chldren enjoying Sleeping Bear Dunes Park
The pastoral green peninsula is surrounded by Lake Michigan on the west and Grand Traverse Bay to the east, rich with lovely views. And along the way, several smaller lakes, Little and Big Glen Lakes and North and South Lake Leelanau added more and more blue. 

We drove the Wine Trail's Northern Loop, which includes eleven wineries and found a favorite Pinot Grigio at Blustone Vineyards which we could later enjoy for dinner at the Red Ginger in Traverse City.
Blustone Vineyards on  a high spot, Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan
Perhaps any seafood meal in Leland would be outstanding, but we only tried the fish and chips at Cove by the water. Fried lake whitefish is incredible. Why order anything else!

Fish and Chips on the water at Cove in Leland, MI
Leland, on the 45th Parallel, sits halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. Not a bad place to celebrate a 45th anniversary. Completely unplanned, this coincidence.

Diana and Traylor celebrating 45 years on the 45th Parallel
By late afternoon, we had located the Grand Traverse Lighthouse at the top of Leelanau Peninsula where Lake Michigan meets Grand Traverse Bay. We then drove down the Grand Traverse Bay Loop which includes eight more wineries. No way to see all of them.

Back in Traverse City, we settled on The Filling Station for dinner, an old train station turned microbrewery and pizza restaurant with indoor/outdoor seating. Extremely filling...

Pizza with locally grown Japanese Eggplant
Large Salads and Craft Beer 
Another fishing town on Lake Michigan is Frankfort, southwest of Traverse City. We headed that way the next day, looking for the The Betsy Valley Trail for a bike ride around Crystal Lake. 

Crystal Lake in Beulah, MI

Where the water is indeed crystal clear
We biked the trail almost to Frankfort then returned to Beulah for a Deli-style picnic lunch from Folgarelli's Market and Wine Shopwe had packed before leaving the city.

Picnic lunch from Folgarelli's Market and Wine Shop in Traverse City
Pier at Beulah, MI

Beach at Beulah, MI
We later drove out to Frankfort and explored the town, its neighborhoods and wide inviting beach.

Neighborhood in Frankfort, MI

Downtown, Frankfort, MI

Beach, Frankfort, MI

Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City

Finally, back in Traverse City for the night, we walked to dinner at the Red Ginger restaurant on Front Street where we had a top-notch Asian dinner that was not all fish.

Tuna Sashimi at Red Ginger

Kung Pao Halibut
Thai Salad with Petite Filet Mignon

On a rainy day, we visited The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, once a long-time State Mental Institution or asylum with a fascinating history. Now it's a new conversion of the old buildings into shopping, housing and offices.


It feels a little creepy at times, looking around at the interior, thinking of how the mentally ill lived, but it's full of art and lighthearted activities now. Excellent and creative Italian food And someone must still buy fur coats.
Fridrich Furs
Gift Shop

Fine art created from tiny stitches

Due north of Traverse City, the long and narrow Old Mission Peninsula that splits the Grand Traverse Bay is worth exploring, too. Saturday was a brooding sort of cloudy day with calm water. We stopped by Chateau Grand Traverse and had a tasty glass of red on the patio before driving out to the end of the peninsula.

 There we saw the Old Mission Lighthouse.

We learned that Michigan is third largest producer of apples in the U.S. after New York and Washington State. They increasingly plant high-intensity orchards heavily pruned.

Apple orchard on Old Mission Peninsula, MI
We visited the Jolly Pumpkin Brewery and ate dinner at the Mission Table, a farm-to-table restaurant.

Mission Table Restaurant

Mission Table salad with all local ingredients

Never knew we would enjoy Michigan so much. Travel is something one should never put off. So on we go, across the bridge to St. Ignace on the upper peninsula, next stop Mackinaw Island, like going back in time...........

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Annual Grape Harvest

Labor Day is for Labor! At least it is here. By September 1, some part of our grape crop is peaking.
Warren removing the netting with care
After two years of losing whole crops to critters (birds, turkeys, deer, raccoons, and who knows what else), Traylor added bird-netting to our two most productive rows this year. It worked. We were able to maintain and reap a big harvest.

Uncovering the protected grapes 

Traylor harvesting Foch grapes early September, 2016

Chambourcin grapes
 At harvest-time, we welcome the help of friends and extended family. It's a big job, but we enjoy the work and the fellowship.

Paige harvests while her dogs rest in the shade

Foch clusters

Chambourcin clusters

Ruth and Tom work a Chambourcin row.

Seyval fruit ripening

Seyval grapes protected by netting, still ripening

The Crew: Warren, Tom and Paige Ghareeb, Ruth and Traylor, fun times
Best in show

De-stemming makes for stained hands

An occasional spider hides within clusters. Warren dislikes

Each one gallon bag of grapes makes about 4 cups of grape juice which we convert to jelly. It's a process. We freeze the grapes to preserve freshness until we can get through the stack, working mostly on rainy or windy days when we want to be inside. Nineteen gallons this year.

Nineteen Gallon Bags of Grapes Labeled and Ready for the Freezer
Are you wondering when we will start making wine? Well, have you tasted the jelly?

Dozens of boxes of delicious grape jelly have been added to the cellar by November

The vineyard after twelve years
This is an experimental vineyard and the current mission is to learn through trial and error which grape vines produce best in our soil and climate in Ashe County. So far, the three shown above: Foch and Chambourcin (red French-American hybrids) and Seyval (white French-American hybrid) have been the most successful. Many other varieties have been ripped out and replaced. 

In summer, fog blankets the vineyard many mornings but lifts by mid-day.
Fall paints the vineyard and all its surroundings.

Early snow sends in the vineyard into hibernation.

Spring comes at long last to warm the cool vines.

If you believe that life is not about the destination but the journey, this has been and still is an exhilarating romp.