All this happened, more or less...

My name is G and these are the true stories of my adventures.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Facebook Win!

Sunday night, I went to a casino for the first time in my life, where Stride and I miraculously won $250 playing $5 blackjack. I posted a facebook status to that effect and today, this ad showed up on my homepage:

O facebook, you kill me!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Guest Blogging

Look for my guest blog about Tahquamenon Falls to appear on (offering cheap tickets and other travel info) next Thursday, August 26th! My article can be found on the onetravel blog.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Pleasant Penninsula: Drummond Island


The last day of our northerly vacation coincided with the first day that my parents were going to be in the UP for their annual getaway, so we decided to crash their party on Drummond Island.


It was Mom's idea to go the the Fossil Ledges on the northeast edge of the island. The ledges are precisely what they sound like -- a coastline of layered stone eaten slowly away by Lake Huron. The result of this slow-motion shattering is a series of rocky terraces stretching out into the water, blurring the border between the island and the lake in a truly entrancing way.


Of course, like most places worth going to, the Fossil Ledges are on what we might call the path less traveled. You have to make your way through Maxton Plains, a nature preserve inhabited by a rare combination of plants and animals. If you don't get eaten by any bears, you can continue north-ish on the dirt road, which gets progressively rockier and narrower.


To add to the fun of our trip, recent rain had flooded several parts of the road so that Dad had to guess how deep the water was and where the rocks were. The good news is that the road is basically limestone, not mud, so (as we were reassured several times) "you won't sink." However, that didn't do much to relieve our concerns about flooding the engine, popping a tire, or eviscerating the car on the large, frequently submerged, rocks.



If you ever attempt this drive, we recommend doing so in a high-riding vehicle like a Jeep or a truck. Our research shows that with some ingenious navigating a Pontiac Vibe can successfully make the trip, but as we all know, not everything that can be done should be.


When we got to the final drive leading to the Fossil Ledges -- a drive which is unmarked and easy to miss unless there happen to be other cars parked near it -- we had to abandon the Vibe and go on foot because the rocks were just too imposing to risk their wrath any longer.


Once we finally got to the ledges, we discovered that it was well worth the perilous journey, and we spent quite a while wandering up and down the mile-long stretch of coast, picking through the rocks to find fossils of shells and coral and all manner of creeping little denizens of the waves.


Even despite a little rain, we spent over an hour strolling this uniquely beautiful little stretch of coast, taking photos and hunting for cool fossils and just enjoying the fresh air and the water.



For the most part, the rough drive makes the Fossil Ledges a fairly secluded spot, but Stride did make one new friend while we were out there and few people we passed on the way all stopped to exchange information and advice about navigating the road, in typical friendly Yooper style.


Times are not good in Michigan right now. The economy is rough and a lot of people are struggling, but this trip has reminded me that we still have a lot of incredible things to be proud of. Here's to you, Pleasant Peninsula!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Pleasant Penninsula: Tahquamenon Falls


On Sunday, we took on one of the crown jewels of the Upper Peninsula: Tahquamenon Falls, a series of rapids and waterfalls in the Tahquamenon River that are extraordinary not just for their size and beauty but also for their unique golden-red color. Cedar, hemlock, and spruce trees in the surrounding forest and swamps infuse the water with tannin (or tannic acid), the same astringent found in grapes that makes your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth a little bit after a sip of good wine. The acid has two important effects on the water -- it softens it so that the falls produce prolific amounts of foam and it gives it this incredible coloring. While the intensity of the color varies throughout the year, at its richest, the whole river looks like a flow of liquid amber.



The Lower Falls are a series of several rapids that flank a small island. For the best view, you have to rent a rowboat from the park and heave-ho your way to the island, which has a little hiking path to follow and allows you to get right next to the water. Fair warning: The water is very accessible from the island and we saw several people wading in it and allowing their small children to wade in it. This is a really effective way to lose a small child as the river's sandstone bed can be extremely slippery and the current, which seems harmless enough in the shallows, gets treacherously quick around the rapids. Even a grown man can easily lose his footing and end up sleepin' with the fishes, so keep to the shore and keep a close eye on your kids.


Shallow but fast-moving water through the Lower Falls. All the park signs through this area say "Beautiful but Treacherous."


This is as far into the water as we got, even though it was a hot day and the river was tempting. Safety first, boys and girls!

Disclaimer: Stride is a professional adventurer. Do not attempt this at home.


There's about a four-mile hike from the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls. This path starts out as a well-maintained boardwalk along the river but quickly becomes a rugged, often overgrown, trek through the woods with several steep inclines. There are a few gorgeous vistas and some beautiful stretches along the river that make it worthwhile, but be prepared with some good hiking shoes, bug spray, water, and snacks, and keep in mind that once you get to the Upper Falls, you've got to get back.


Along the way to the Upper Falls, we spotted the work of one Michigan's original lumberjacks. He apparently got distracted and couldn't be bothered to finish off this poor tree.


The Upper Tahquamenon Falls is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, second only to Niagara. Obviously, the fifty-foot drop makes this waterfall a bit more formidable than the rapids downstream, so you can only approach it by standing on a lookout platform.

After we had taken in the view and the foam and the incredible amber water, we got an anticlimactic bite to eat at the nearby lodge and then started the four mile hike back to our campsite at the Lower Falls.



The main strip of Paradise, MI, the town closest to Tahquamenon Falls State Park, is quite the booming metropolis, sporting approximately two greasy spoon diners, one chainsaw art gallery, and this root-beer-stand-turned-trailer-lot. We settled on breakfast at a blueberry-bedecked diner called the Berry Patch. Imagine, then, our dismay when we discovered they didn't have any blueberry pancakes. Not my idea of Paradise. :(

But it didn't matter anyway because Monday morning we were off to our next adventure at Drummond Island

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Pleasant Penninsula: Whitefish Bay

Iroquois Pt Light

With near 3300 miles of coastline, the state of Michigan is home to over 115 lighthouses, each of which is a unique and beautiful spot to stop and enjoy the water and the view. Point Iroquois Lighthouse, located on the southern rim of Whitefish Bay, is no longer operating, but part of the original structure has been converted into a small museum and the rest into a private residence. The grounds and the building are extremely well-kept, and both the museum and the lighthouse tower are open to the public, so you can hike up the 72-step spiral staircase for a fantastic panorama of the American and Canadian coastlines and any freighters passing through from the Soo Locks into Lake Superior.

View from the Lighthouse

Iroquois Pt

From the light, you can stroll down the boardwalk to the beach. Michigan has almost endless stretches of pristine, sandy beaches where you can stretch out in the sunshine or build castles or bury your toes among the warm, sparkling little grains. Point Iroquois is not one of them.

Because we are tough, we braved the rocky shore to cool our heels in the bay and check out some of the beautiful (if slippery and unforgiving) stones that give it its kaleidoscope of colors. Most of the stones here are too big or too round for skipping, but it's a great spot for agate-hunting. I do recommend you bring your Crocs along though.

Iroquois Pt

After picking our way gingerly back up to the car, we continued around the bay to Whitefish Point, home to a larger, less-photogenic lighthouse and a much more walkable beach.

Whitefish Point

With skipping stones a-plenty and a sweeping view of Lake Superior, Whitefish Point is an ideal place to stroll. Most times of the year, you can't stand in the water for more than a few seconds without going numb up to your ankles, but over the Fourth, it was surprisingly hot and the normally frigid Lake Superior was actually refreshing.

Whitefish Point

In addition to the lighthouse itself, Whitefish Point boasts a little complex of buildings that include the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (with an admission cost of $12/head, which Stride declared was too much money to see "stuff that's wrecked") and a fudge shop. He doesn't look very impressed with the fudge either...

Fancy Fudge

On the drive back, we stopped for a coffee at the Dancing Crane, and had one of those rare moments of truly finding a diamond in the rough.

Dancing Crane Coffee House

Stride got a fruitylicious smoothie and I had my standard latte made from their home-roasted beans. While we sipped, we played with the games, toys, and other gadgets they have scattered all over the place. Stride beat me handsomely at checkers and we both struggled to master Gravitation, the greatest game of all time.

Dancing Crane Coffee House

If you're in the area, I definitely recommend that you pop in here and enjoy the great service, food, and atmosphere for a bit.

Dancing Crane Coffee House

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Pleasant Penninsula: Sault Ste. Marie

Mackinaw Bridge

One of the surprising perks of dating someone who's from out-of-state is that the landscapes of our childhoods are entirely different. He grew up on the Mississippi in a family that spent that summer vacations taking epic road trips across the American West. I grew up in Michigan camping on the Great Lakes. The most epic journey of my youth was hiking the dunes around Sleeping Bear. However, since we're both in the Pleasant Peninsula right now, I've been showing him around several of my childhood haunts and as he sees these places for the first time, I get the chance to rediscover some things I'd taken for granted.

Ship going through the Locks

Over the Fourth of July this summer, we went camping up in the UP (that's the Upper Peninsula) and visited several places I hadn't been to since I was a kid. Now the Upper Peninsula is sort of a funny place. It constitutes about a third of the state, but to be honest, I usually forget it's there. Most of it is Hiawatha National Forest, and the few cities up there are separated by vast stretches of pine-covered hills. In short, it's the sort of place people move to when they want to get away from other people.

But in the summer, if you're looking for some incredible scenery in a spot that's a bit off the beaten path, northern Michigan is the place to go.

Ship going through the Locks

Our first stop was the city of Sault Ste. Marie (pronounced "Soo Saint Marie"), which is located on the US/Canadian border on the canal that ships must navigate to get between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. Due to the 21-foot drop between Superior and Huron, there's a system of locks in the canal large enough to accommodate the over 10,000 vessels and 86 million tons of cargo that pass between the lakes every year.

At Sault Ste Marie

Next to the locks is a gorgeous park where Stride and I loafed around in the sun while we watched the ships.

Fountain by the Locks


The downtown of Sault Ste. Marie has a few kitschy shops and a couple interesting art galleries, but other than that, there isn't much else to do, so we entertained ourselves with a rousing round of mini-golf. In spite of a few runaway balls, we did pretty well and ended up tying -- which I take as further proof of our seamless teamwork.


Whenever I travel, I like to keep my eyes open for amusing signs -- some defy logic, some are charmingly susceptible to misreading, and some, like this, reflect our culture's ever-waning common sense. I suggest this experiment: Let's get rid of all the signs like this and see what happens. If someone wants to sit on this dilapidated rail fence perched precariously over a ten-foot drop into a 200-Flushes Blue mini-golf pond, let 'em! What's the worst that could happen?

Stupid Sign

Friday, July 9, 2010


A world of "no."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Know Your Roots: The Vampire Rant

In the midst of all the hype about the latest Twilight movie, my friend Kate recently wrote an article for Marie Claire that takes a look at the least sexy vampires to grace the silver screen. I think she's on to something here, but I'd like to take it one step further and give my (unsolicited) opinion about the whole vampaphile phenomenon.

While I'd like to simply rant about what horrible books the Twilight series are, they are merely a pawn in a much larger game that seeks to sexy-fy the vampire. To understand why this annoys me so, you'll have to take a look at the history of vampire lore and the very core of what exactly a vampire is.

To get to the root of the vampire, we have to discuss some pretty nasty stuff, so this is fair warning that what you're about to read might make you throw up in your mouth. If you think you can stomach it, do come along with me as I lead you through the magically un-sexy world of...


Virtually every human culture has myths and folklore surrounding the notion of undead human corpses, and the drinking or sucking of blood is associated with demons and monsters the world over, but the vampire as we know him originates in Eastern Europe and his classic traits arise from a charmingly medieval misunderstanding of the spread of disease and the decomposition of the human body.

In medieval Europe, as human populations began to explode and those humans became increasingly specialized in their trades, the rise of early urbanization meant that not only were there more people than ever before, but that they were also living in closer quarters than they ever had. Close proximity to each other (and each other's waste -- ew!) led to the rampant spread of disease. The most nefarious of these was, of course, The Black Death of the 14th century, but other smaller epidemics were a common cause for panic, and as we know, humans are at their most creative when they are ignorant and panicky, so this is a period rich in folklore and superstition.

One of the delightful off-shoots of so many folks dying so quickly was the frequent use of mass graves, and because those graves were often reopened to add fresh bodies to the heap, those doing the burying were learning a lot more about decomposing human bodies than ever before. Now if we imagine ourselves to be a medieval chappy reopening a mass grave, we might expect that the bodies inside -- which haven't been eating or drinking since their deaths -- would be drying out and shriveling up and turning to bones, much the way we dry out and shrivel up if we don't eat while we're living, but that, unfortunately, is not the case. Instead, the bodies are swollen and, horridly, leaking blood and other fluids from their noses and mouths -- mouths which are gaping open to reveal hideously long teeth. Even in cases where the bodies were wrapped in burial shrouds, the fluids leaking from the mouth would have quickly decayed that portion of the shroud, leaving that blood-curdling image of the gaping black mouth and the fangs. Modern science tells us that this is not the stuff of nightmares but actually, albeit completely nauseating, the natural changes that a human body goes through as it decays. The rotting corpse swells with gases and fluids, which the pressure forces out any openings it can find, and as the gums dry and recede, the teeth appear to grow longer and sharper -- disgusting, but all totally normal, particularly when the bodies aren't treated or embalmed in any way before their burial.

However, our poor medieval chappy doesn't have the advantages of our modern education and so what he sees, understandably, is a body that is apparently engorged with blood. Mix that with the fact that around him, seemingly healthy people are quickly succumbing to some mysterious condition that is leaving them pale and sapped of life, add a dash of that ingenious human creativity, and you come up with the not-so-irrational notion that the dead bodies are rising from the ground (under the cover of night, obviously, since we never see them), feeding on the blood of the living, and then tucking themselves cozily back into their graves while their victims grow steadily more ill and eventually join them.

Everyone knows you shouldn't kiss a plague rat on the mouth, so why would you make out with a plague corpse?

Needless to say, the medieval vampire is not exactly a sex symbol, except perhaps for some rather troubled necrophiliacs...

... That was too far, wasn't it? Sorry.

Anyway, from these rather stomach-turning superstitions comes the classic image of the vampire, who first takes a tangible form in Polidori's The Vampyre and then more famously in Bram Stoker's Dracula. The character of Count Dracula, who is based not only on medieval superstition but also on the very real person of Vlad the Impaler, is the image from which all modern vampires spring, and I believe, in its move toward a vampire who is cunning and sophisticated, takes the first step toward the "Vampires are Sexy" notion.

If you are a fan of the Twilight "saga" (We'll discuss the bastardization of the word "saga" some other day) or of vampire stories in general, I absolutely insist that you read Stoker's classic tale of horror. You see, while I would not describe Stoker's count, his brides, or the hapless Lucy as sexual, I think this is where some sensuality creeps into the vampire story -- not in the sense of victims being attracted to vampires, but in the sense of vampires being attracted to their victims. Dracula doesn't entrance Lucy with his smoldering good looks or his bad-boy attitude; he has to literally entrance her (as in "put into a hypnotic trance") to get close to her. Jonathan is perhaps an even better case; he is completely repulsed by Dracula's brides who are pale, fangy, and ugly. The attraction here is completely from the vampires' side, much the way that you feel a magnetic draw to a juicy steak, but the steak, presumably, doesn't think you're that cute. Somehow modern vampire stories make the completely irrational leap to Bella the Steak thinking Edward the Carnivore is hot.

Bella the Steak says, "Ooo, I'd like to get me eaten by that carnivore!"

Another aspect of the original vampire lore that is crucial to the Dracula story but somehow conveniently disappears in modern vampire stories is that the vampire is not human. Now let's all repeat that together, boys and girls: Vampires are not human. They are soulless corpses that used to be human but are now possessed by demons. That's right: DEMONS. Count Dracula the Vampire has no connection to the late Count Dracula the Person and does not, to any degree, retain his human personality. If you'd like proof of this, consider Lucy's harrowing transition. She is clearly NOT Lucy after her transformation; while she knows Dr. Van Helsing and the others, she does not retain any of her emotional connection to them. Her fiance goes from her dearest love to a juicy steak in the blink of an eye, and she goes from our sweet little victim to the undead corpse stalking children in the park. It is the destruction of the vampire -- by staking it through the heart, stuffing its mouth with garlic, decapitating it and placing its head between its feet (all very sexy, by the way) -- that exorcises the demon and allows the deceased person to finally R.I.P.

The key to modern vampire stories, such as Twilight and Interview with a Vampire, is the sympathy the audience is supposed to feel for the vampire, based mostly on the idea that the vampire is just some poor victim who, like Louis or the Cullens, thinks killing people is wrong and either feels regret for eating people or eats rats/deer/rare steaks instead. These modern stories cast vampirism as a sort of unfortunate madness, something we shouldn't blame the vampire for and something he feels just awful about and wishes he could escape. But Dracula feels as much regret about eating Lucy as you do about that steak. Possibly less.

To Anne Rice's credit, Lestat is at least nasty and ruthless enough to repulse us, but she still misses the mark here because even Lestat has way too much personality for a vampire. He's riddled with all kinds of human emotion and desperately desires companionship, which he gets by way of transforming Louis (with a lot of gay overtones). Even in his absolutely most terrifying moment when he returns from the swamp looking decidedly un-sexy, he still plays the frickin' piano.

"Yes, Mom, Louis is my eternal companion, but I like to eat chicks -- I swear!"

So when we take the vampire and 1) make him good-looking so he can seduce us, 2) grant him a human personality and soul so that we can forgive him for all that neck-biting and life-force robbing, and 3) give him a conscience so he doesn't bite necks and rob life forces in the first place, what are we left with?

Well, let's see: we now have a regular guy who's not only going to look hot for eternity but is also going to live for eternity, which makes him... O! NOT A F'ING VAMPIRE. Now he's just a hot guy who's never gonna die -- who wouldn't want to hook up with that? And why would Bella not want him to suck on her neck so she can be hot and never die too? Sounds like a deal to me. Meyer even eliminates all the classic drawbacks to being a vampire -- like not being able to go out in the sun or eat garlic or look at crosses or be around holy water -- simply by having Edward "poo-poo" them. The only downside seems to be that you occasionally make a fool of yourself at birthday parties and leave everyone feeling awkward, but come on, that's not a vampire issue, Jasper -- we all do that! And on top of that, Meyer's vampires have superspeed and superstrength and other special powers. They are Superman sans the kryptonite. And somehow we're supposed to believe that these are poor, tortured souls who just wish so much that they weren't vampires. What a stupid fricking premise for a movie a whole mother'lovin' series of movies.

Meyer and the other proponents of the "vampires are sexy" myth seem to think they're a bit ingenious for turning centuries of lore on its head but I, like the venerable Miss Prism, "am not in favour of this modern mania of turning bad people into good people at a moment's notice" (The Importance of Being Ernest). Where are Arthur and Jonathan and Dr. Van Helsing while we're mooning over Dracula? Are our heroes now so few and so far between that we have to fall in love with the monster?

Well, have fun making out with your plague corpse, Bella, but I for one am going to stick with humans, however mortal they may be.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Shaw's Garden, St. Louis

Well, my first visit to St. Louis must have gone well because the next time my boyfriend went home to see his folks, I got invited to tag along. This time, on top of some great family festivities, we also went to the beautiful Shaw's Garden and got some cool photos. In addition to just being a fabulous botanical garden, Shaw's Garden (or The Missouri Botanical Gardens, officially) is exceptional because it is divided into several small gardens, all with very different atmospheres, as you can see from the photos below.

Shaw Gardens


Shaw Gardens

The Japanese Garden -- much larger and more open than most gardens in Japan, but still, they captured the spirit well.

Japanese stone lantern

Shaw Gardens

Shaw Gardens

Shaw Gardens

The sundial's off from the watch by an hour because of DST, but otherwise, remarkably accurate.

Shaw Gardens

One of about a half-dozen couples we saw either getting married or having their photos done in the gardens that day.

Water lilies

Shaw Gardens

Shaw Gardens

Shaw Gardens