Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Three Weekends, Three Islands

As we close out of July, may I say, it has been waterful. Ba-dum-bum.

If you stop reading this blog because of that, I'll understand. Also, if you want to see any of these photos in more detail, just click on them. A blown-up version should load on your screen.


Some of you may recall that I've mentioned I'm not the greatest athlete. Having been thus far irreparably scarred by gym class, I still think in terms of my middle and high school's timing requirements when I work out. (They were called Presidentials. Is that national, or did my school district just call it that to imply that if you couldn't run a mile in whatever minutes or do 60 situps in whatever minutes, you were unpatriotic? As the Fat Kid In Gym Class, I was terrified of and humiliated by Presidentials. There wasn't a Presidential in dodgeball, so I never did well.)

So pretty much since the very second I met Josh, I've been begging him to take me to batting cages to teach me how to hit a ball. I feel that this is the one athletic feat I must overcome in order to feel like a complete person. Our first spring together, he took me to Rye Playland, where there's a slight fatal-accident problem and also where they filmed Big, although those two characteristics are unrelated. There had been cages there, but when we got there they had been long closed. So we rode the log flume instead.

That was in 2000. Seven years ago. That's a lot of begging to hit a freakin' softball to nobody.

This year for my birthday, he surprised me and took me to the batting cages at Turtle Cove Golf & Baseball Complex, located in the Bronx just across a bridge from City Island. City Island is a small island with the air of a New England fishing community. You feel a million miles away from the city, the food is delicious, and it has a lot of character. On our way home from a road trip to Maine five years ago, we stopped to have dinner on City Island because we weren't ready to go home.

The trains were, of course, completely screwed up, being a Sunday. When the J train finally came

we sat across from Fanny Pack Man.

The cages were great. The stalls all opened to the same common space

where a guy ran after the balls with a golf club and putted them into a hole where they'd re-enter the machines and shoot out at you and oh my god I'm 12 because that whole thing sounded so dirty.

Also dirty?

I am thrilled to say, dear reader, that not only did I hit the ball, it went forward. And sometimes it went forward with a certain amount of force to go farther than two feet in front of me. I was thrilled! I conquered my Gym Trauma! I was kind of good! I wasn't the worst batter there! Elation!

We took the bus to City Island afterward for dinner. Pretty!

And then we walked. The island is replete with lots of old mom-and-pop businesses. There was an antique store that looked like it opened at the beginning of the Paleolithic Era

for all your duck and disembodied steering wheel needs.

There was also this:

I know I've never written about my Doll Thing. I don't like talking about it, it makes me very upset, but it should be obvious from this picture that they are evil and want to eat your head:

"Coooooome with us. BE one of us! Drink tea with us out of wee teacups! We will eat your head!"

"You will be squished like us! Squish squish squish! Joiiiiiiiin us!"

Let me be clear: I do NOT like dolls. But it was a great birthday.


Josh's aunt and uncle have the most excellent beach house on Fire Island, which is off the coast of Long Island. It's 32 miles long and roughly a half-mile wide, though where the house is, it's only about a quarter-mile wide. There are no cars. You don't have to wear shoes. The house is directly on the sand dunes overlooking the beach on the Atlantic Ocean. We sit on the deck for three days, watch the waves, and do absolutely nothing.

It's heaven. I have a theory that one weekend there adds roughly six months to your life. It's the only place in the world so far where I truly feel I can relax. Bliss.

Because there are no cars, visitors (and the few year-round residents) schlep their stuff to and from the ferries in Radio Flyer wagons.

Here are some of the things you find when you walk around Fire Island from town to town:

Anthony Rapp! Judy Gold! But not together!

Most homes on the island have fencing to keep out the deer, who roam freely in public spaces.

And every time we go, Josh does his "If it's an island, how did the deer get there?" bit. And then, "I'm not predictable. I'm consistent."

Stuck to the side of an electrical box:

General, all-around beach deliciousness:


My mother turned 60 on July 1. This notable event was commemorated with an entire-family trip to northern Michigan. To make this happen was nothing short of a miracle, as there are now 10 of us living in four different cities with various work schedules and other roadblocks that make getting all of us in one place near impossible.

Which is why it was important to have Thomas on our side:

The drive from Detroit is about four and a half hours. Josh and I rode up with my youngest sister, Lauren, and her boyfriend, Wes. Lauren just turned 23, but when she was 12 and getting ready for her bat mitzvah, my two other sisters and I tortured her with what our speech at her party would be. In essence, we told her we would:

1. Dress in green sequins so we could
2. do an interpretive Dance of the Frogs with
3. temporary tattoos of the Golden Girls up and down our arms highlighted by
4. Rue McLanahan displayed prominently in our armpits.

So I bought Lauren this for her 23rd birthday:

I'm not sure if Rue had any assistance writing this tome, but if she had a ghostwriter, that person was certainly the turd in the English class punch bowl.

The book, uh, could have been better. I'll just say that. Perhaps I'll ask the ghostwriter to meet me out on the lanai to discuss this over Rose's Gerfleurgeneurgen cake.

We stopped at a 7-11 for gas, Simpson's Squishies, and, unexpectedly, a vat o' meat substitute.

Heh. Beef Stick.

We went to Harbor Springs for dinner. It's one of the many beautiful towns at the top of the Michigan mitten.

The fam:

From left: Stephanie's husband, Josh; me; my husband, Josh (and yes, it's often confusing in conversation); Lauren's boyfriend, Wes; Stephanie; Lauren; Jennifer's fiancé, Brian; Jennifer; Dad; Mom

The first morning, we had breakfast at the Flap Jack Shack.

I had the grilled wi-fi. It was divine.

Lauren works in PR and one of her clients is the Leelenau Wine Cellars, a winemaker in the Leelenau Peninsula, located at the tip of the pinkie of Michigan's mitten. Along the way, we got lost. So we stopped here to chat with the helpful folks at OnStar:

If more companies used the last letter of their company name as part of their acronym just so they can spell a word that they probably shouldn't want prospective customers to associate with their business, and then filled their marquee with some jacked-up text that makes sense to no one, it would be incredibly confusing but a lot fabulous.

This is the area around Leelenau Wine Cellars' tasting room. Spectacular.

We were invited to visit the impressive vineyards and processing plant where they make the wine.

Afterward, we drove to Traverse City to catch the last day of the National Cherry Festival.

While we were there, they were setting up a stage for a live performance by none other than ... Kellie Pickler. The Romantics and Marshall Crenshaw were also slated to play during the course of the festival, so I imagine many medleys of "What I Like About You" and "Some Day, Some Way" filled the skies of Traverse City. Sadly, we missed the cherry seed spitting contest, so Stephanie took it upon herself to fill the void. A splendid arc, ifidosaysomyself.

A bank in Charlevoix:

We all assumed they're open from 12:01 a.m. Monday until 11:59 p.m. Friday night. And that, my friends, is DEDICATION.

Ever since I can remember, my mother has played mah jongg on Monday nights. She's played with the same women (lovingly nicknamed the Auntie Mahj Ladies) for years, and they always have the same food spread at every game: veggies and dip, M&M's, Twizzlers, and Brach's chocolate-covered raisins. So on this trip, Mom taught us how to play mahj, and Steph brought along the candy. An excellent time.

I managed to win without understanding a single thing about how to play. This is not reflective of my mother's teaching ability at all. She was a great mahj teacher, but I just think I'm really bad at it. I'll stick to euchre, which I'm also bad at but at least I can play without raising my hand every two seconds and saying, "I don't get it."

Our last full day was spent on Mackinac Island, located in Lake Huron between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan, in the shadow of the Mackinaw Bridge. (If I go into the spelling and pronounciation here, my head may explode. But there is an explanation, I swear.) The bridge is the longest suspension bridge in the world, and it's the dividing line between lakes Michigan and Huron. The island itself is a well-preserved historical relic that was established back in the 1600s. Like Fire Island, there are no cars, but there are a lot of bikes, horses, cheesy T-shirt shops and places to buy fudge. Though visiting Mackinac Island was a major part of my youth, I hadn't been there since my 20th birthday, and I didn't remember it being this beautiful. Anyway, to borrow from the Fug Girls:


JEN: (in front) I did it! I won! I did it!
LAUREN: (behind Jen's shoulder) What, who won? What did you win?
JEN: Oh my gosh! I won! I'm the Cherry Festival Queen!
BRIAN: (next to Jen) Hang on, I have to call my family. They're never gonna believe this.
DAD: That's my daughter over there! The Cherry Festival Queen! Whaddya know, would you look at that? My own daughter!
MOM: Jen, I hate to tell you this, but if you're going to be Cherry Festival Queen, you should probably put on some deodorant.
LAUREN: Hey, I can't see! What did she win?
BRIAN: Guys? You're never gonna believe this! Guess what happened to Jen?!
JEN: I get a tiara! Woo hoo!
WES: (behind Lauren) This is SO awesome. I bet we get all the cherries we can eat for, like, a year cuz we know her.
LAUREN: Would someone please tell me what she won?!
JEN: I get to be on a float! Isn't that the coolest? Woo hoo!!!
WES: Lauren, ask her if she gets benefits.
JOSH: I don't know any of you people.

The bridge:

This dog is wearing a sundress.

Before the dog was moved to its next destination, it was strapped to its owner in a pink-and-white gingham doggie frontpack and a pair of pink sunglasses was put on its head.

I am not kidding.

I've mentioned in the past how I feel about this. So I need say nothing else, other than the fact that I shall be praised for my restraint in not posting the full close-up photo of the dog in all its refinery, as it also depicts the owner, and while I think her judgment is ... in question, I don't want anybody to track her down and throw kibble through her windows for putting shades on her pet.

The Grand Hotel boasts the longest porch in the world.

They also ask that you pay $12 to walk the grounds if you're not a guest. Um, I'm totally sitting on my couch right now for free, so. If I add a couple cushions to the end of the couch, it would be really long, so.

After the island, we drove across the bridge to the Upper Peninsula because none of the boys had ever been there. There isn't much to do in that first town on the other side ... until you find the Mystery Spot, of course.

This place is amazing. It's in the middle of nowhere, and apparently, the guy who claimed the middle-of-nowhere land had some surveyors come out to his property so he could see what he had. None of their tools worked properly, and they found that the land sat above an iron ore deposit or some such thing. You walk to this place and your balance is off, you get dizzy, and even though regular instruments indicate items are level, everything is crooked and off. You can do things like this

and feel like you're standing perfectly straight. (Granted, the structure was built crooked to illustrate the shift in balance, but everything is level.)

While you're at the Mystery Spot, you can also walk through a maze

and play miniature golf.

It was an excellent time.

And then I came home and bought a pair of jeans in a size I haven't worn since college. Mystery indeed.

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