Monday, September 12, 2011

A Michigan Vacation With Kids: Saugatuck

Michigan seems like a dream to me now.

Feeling a little Simonion nostalgia for our Big Trip, after all, it was a whole month ago and the details are getting soft. No man in a gabardine suit, but there was a bit of "I'm lost," while everyone was sleeping. Oh, you know me; there's always some falling down. But most of the days and nights were very happy; I'm flying high on progesterone which made the whole trip possible (I will save the TMI medicinal details for another post.)

Small towns sometimes give me the Been There Done Thats, (Love ya, Delavan!) but Saugatuck just keeps getting better and better. Of course it is our gatekeepers, dear cousin Sally and her lovely hubbie Erik, who enrich and deepen our time with dollops of family love, local culture and stories from the front lines of small town life.

Erik is a part time first responder for the fire department, (his pager took him out of bed five times the Saturday night we arrived but he was sweet and amiable as ever over breakfast the next morning at the Elbow Room) and Sally does design and cheerleading for the historical society and the chamber of commerce so they both have their hands deep in the good stuff of this beautiful arts and agriculture community.

There's news of a big developer from Oklahoma trying to buy up land north of town, (he offered one landowner with acres of untouched nature the grand sum of one meeellion dollars.) There's a drive to save a Douglas root beer stand from the '50s, built from 110 curved redwood staves in the shape of a giant barrel.

(I'm always tickled at how the characters in the small town stories keep cycling through - like a play with a big cast but few actors who are compelled to play multiple parts. The guy who runs the dune ride, the restaurant owner, the fire chief, all keep reappearing wearing different hats. The mayor catered the wedding of my friend Chris, who has a summer house here, and who, to my thrill, I ran into when we were both taking morning runs along beautiful Lakeshore Drive.)

Sally's current projects (of many!) include the design of The Village Table, "a delicious history of food in the Saugatuck-Douglas area" including stories of a 1917 fried muskrat banquet (sauerkraut on the side) and plenty of yummy contemporary recipes from local restaurants. Drunken Shrimp Sambuca from Everyday People, anyone?

The Village Table devotes an entire chapter to that local favorite, ice cream, and after dinner on Saturday, Sally gave the girls a plastic baggie and helped them pour in sugar, half and half and some vanilla extract. They sealed up the bags, then placed them in larger baggies with salt and ice. We helped the girls squeeze and pummel their bags and five minutes later, voila! Ice cream!

Can you guess how much the girls love coming here?

Sunday was rainy, so we took the girls to the Express Yourself Art Barn where the girls happily painted ceramics under cheery Christmas lights and giggled as they slurred the name of the place. The barn door was open to a view of the cool rain and a gorgeous Midwest garden in bloom.

The sun had reappeared by the time we were finished so we headed for the historical museum on the shore of the beautiful Kalamazoo River streaming north on its way to Lake Michigan. We parked at the base of the 323 step staircase that takes you over the wooded dune to gorgeous Oval beach. Sally thought the stairs would be too much for little Nora and I agreed, but guess who was the first one to the top?

Her bolt up Mount Baldy caught up with her later, though, after the chain ferry and the ice cream and trampoline-bungie jumping. Nora slept for two hours in Randy's lap while Mia and I walked to the Douglas Beach to dip our toes in.

At our modern Saugatuck rental house, there was a big screen TV but no cable. A DVD player and a single Lars Von Trier DVD. I found this really funny. So did Erik, who knows the gloominess of the auteur who defies the bonhomie of the rest of Denmark.

Dune ride views. Developers are drooling to turn this land into a gated community.

Chain ferry! We loved the guy with the propeller hat.

I'm pulling the chain ferry! I loved the chance to slip in a bicep workout.

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