TRAVEL

Back to Chicago

Headed Towards Home, the Long Way

Luckily the road back to Chicago was not as grueling as it had been in the other direction, perhaps because the bad construction was earlier in the day and Bill was driving.

We arrived in Chicago late afternoon and headed towards our hotel. I used the Hotel Tonight app for the very first time and found a deal for a Hilton Garden Inn in Evanston at a pretty decent rate. I had downloaded the app a long time ago full of hopes of quick weekend getaways. That had not materialized, but it came in handy for this use.

There was one little hitch in our get along. Chicago was under construction. Our GPS would send us in one direction and the detour sign would send us in another. Can you say annoying? I know we went by one particular area at least three times. Mr. Bill was not a happy camper.

Our arrival in Evanston was a little happier. It was calm and charming. We found our hotel very easily, but we chose not to take advantage of the hotel’s valet parking (for which there was a charge). Instead, Bill dumped me and the luggage at the curb and parked next door at a municipal parking lot.

Once we were in our room, it was definitely time for Mr. Bill’s nap. Perhaps I was reading or catching up with social media, but what I should have done was catch up with my travel journal. My last entry had been leaving the hotel on our way back to Clarkston. That should tell you just how disruptive that little business related snafu was. My vacation had been derailed and a day later I still had not picked up all the pieces. I was merely doing what came next.

A Little Surprise

Thanks to social media, we had learned that one of our very best friends was going to be in Chicago the next day. Ludger (He was the one getting married in my At the Whim of the Gods Tale.) was going to be at the Chicago Merchandise Mart for a show the next day. The reason it could be a surprise was because while Ludger has no social media footprint, his wife does keep up with us on Facebook. So, as Bill napped I was cooking up the details with Tammy.

Next up was dinner. Come back next week and I’ll introduce you to Terra & Vine, a great place for a meal.

TRAVEL

Vacation Interrupted

The Trials & Tribulations of Small Business Ownership

And now let us interrupt your vacation and drive you to madness! People who work for others often think how lucky those business owners are. The employees have visions of them taking off whenever they want, never having to ask for a raise, always having someone else to do the dirty work and getting downright rich. Granted there are probably some of those business owners out there, but the rest of us poor stiffs are lucky when our income beats our expenses, we have to worry about all kinds of compliance issues and we work virtually all the time. Even when we are away on vacation, the phone rings and we have to put on our professional voice.

We’ve owned Spot On Images since 2017. Slowly and carefully we’ve built a reputation for providing great real estate marketing images to some of the best Realtors® in our area. I already shared the nightmare I went through trying to get out of town, but I thought we’d gotten the kinks out. I really didn’t anticipate much of a problem.

However, when I got back to my family’s house and tried to download the images our photographer had sent, it just wasn’t happening. Thank goodness, I have forgotten every little detail of the headache, but I don’t know that I’ll ever forget what a headache it was.

After getting the images sent off, I relaxed, watched a movie with my family and enjoyed the pizza we ordered for dinner. Since this time we did work out all the kinks, I anticipated getting all the photos delivered without a hitch the next morning. Then we were planning to go to Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village. It was going to be great – right.

Well, thanks to Murphy’s Law, for the first time in I can’t remember when, the editors did not get the images back to me early in the morning, as they always did. When Bill woke, I was on pins and needles. He tried to scrape me off the ceiling, but it wasn’t doing much good.

I am deeply invested in the well-being of our clients. It’s why I stayed up the whole night before we left on vacation. I’m not the sort to say, “Gee sorry, the photos came in late, you’ll just have to wait, because I’m getting on a plane.” To make matters more personal, our clients are my friends. Our marketing plan is me. I went out and found these people myself and made promises to them. They aren’t faceless names who chose us off the internet.

In this case, the photos came so late that my friend was already wondering where they were. We have a 24 hour turnaround and the 24 hours had passed. I had let her know we had run into some problems, but she’d made promises to her clients that their listing would be up. We were late.

I sent the photos off as soon as they came in, but our rather new photographer had not satisfied our client with his shooting skills. Had we been at home, there were so many things we could do to resolve all this, but as it was, there were only so many things I could actually do. I did all of them and the listing went up, but not to the standards my friend and client expected.

By now, the whole morning was gone and I was literally sick from dealing with all the stress. Greenfield Village was not in my future. The guys and the kids found things to do, like tennis and other activities at the neighborhood’s country club. Maggie took me to a really cute shopping center which focused on local craftsmen. However, the day had been ruined. Too much stress and frustrations for a shopping trip to fix.

That evening, all of us had dinner together at the club. Things were winding down. It was time for us to head back to Chicago.

TRAVEL

Our Day on Mackinac Island Winds Down

Strutting and Putting

After our “witty” carriage driver dropped us off at the tourist trap terminal, another carriage took us into town where we reconnected with the rest of the family. The girls were shopping and the boys had found some putting greens. After buying up some obligatory Mackinac Island fudge, Bill and I strutted off in the direction of the putting greens.

Were I the type to wear sensible shoes, this little stroll would have been a lot more fun, because the scenery was charming – one lovely Victorian home after another. As I’ve mentioned, the Grand Hotel has a dress code and in honor of my mom, I held myself to an even higher fashion code. I’d worn a pair of strappy, high heeled espadrilles to go along with my large-brimmed sunhat and floral dress.

Now on a normal day, these shoes serve me well. In my experience with them, they had qualified as comfortable shoes. Stomping up and down the hilly streets of Mackinac Island they were torture chambers.

I wasn’t totally insane. I had put a pair of flip flops in my back pack, but I’d waited a little bit too long to change into them. By the time we met up with Shad and Daniel, I had blisters on the bottom of my feet. Every step was miserable and quite frankly there were a lot of steps.

Please, I Just Want to Sit Down

Bill scurried down to the putting greens as soon as he saw the guys and I trudged on to a promising looking patio. You can see the yellow umbrellas in the first photo above, it was near by, but to my poor sore feet, it felt like another mile.

As I approached, I observed a couple of tables with patrons, but the balance of the tables were empty. So, I imagined being able to sink into a seat and take the load off my poor tired dogs almost instantaneously. However, the restaurant was not exactly happy to see me.

In fact, they really didn’t want to seat me. At first, they just shuffled me back and forth between an outdoor hostess station and another one inside. I’m not usually the pushy type. Tell me no and I will go away, but a quick survey of the area told me these were the only seats within sight line of the golfers.

The only options I could imagine to relaxing under one of those yellow umbrellas was either plopping down in the grass, which I am allergic to, or figuring out someplace else to go and then walk there. Desperation was setting in.

The people in charge had left me standing somewhere in between the two hostess stations without any indication of what their problem with me might be. A waiter approached and asked if I was there for dinner. I said no, I just wanted to have a glass of wine while my family played on the putting greens. “You leave by seven?” I looked at my watch. Seven was still hours away. “YES! I leave by seven!!”

The waiter led me to a table and I wanted to kiss him. Instead, when it was time to go I left him an obscenely large tip. Come back next week and find out what happened next!

TRAVEL

Carriage Ride on Mackinac Island

Not What Mom Had in Mind

One of Mom’s fondest memories of Mackinac Island was a carriage ride around the island, so of course, I wanted to take one, too. I am quite certain things had changed since Mom visited, because I do not remember my carriage ride with same fondness she remembered hers.

To begin with, I think her ride was on a Grand Hotel carriage, driven by a member of the excellent Grand Hotel staff. Mine was not. We caught a carriage downtown that took us to the tourist trap of all tourist traps. Little did I know that short trip would be the best part of the experience. Our carriage driver for that short hop was a Mackinac Island long-time resident. She knew and loved her horses. Her carriage was pristine. She knew and loved the island.

Then we arrived at the terminal. In non-Covid times it is probably a bustling building. For us it was an empty barn-like place with a tacky souvenir shop. Like most Covid-related disappointments, I just tried to ignore it. The carriages bringing customers from downtown dropped people off on one side and the tour carriages were loaded on the other. We went through the building, to the tour side and waited for our carriage to arrive.

I have nothing to say about the carriage ride except that the driver was a disaster. Some kid from someplace else and limited carriage driving experience was our driver. He didn’t know or love the horses. He certainly didn’t know or love the island. What he loved was himself and his wit. Yep, it was miserable.

However, Mackinac Island was beautiful and much of it I would not have been able to see without the “witty” carriage driver, so I am glad I went – this time. I would never do it again. I would ride bikes like my family did while we took the carriage.

I’m not going to let a bad driver keep you from seeing the beauty of the island though, so here are some pics.

The day isn’t over, yet. We got back together with our family for some final moments on Mackinac, so come back next week for some more fun (and no “witty” carriage drivers.

TRAVEL

On Our Way to the Grand Hotel

An Exciting Day Begins

For years, it didn’t matter which exotic and exciting place I told my mother we were about to visit, her response was the same, “I sure wish you’d go to the Grand Hotel.” Well, when I woke up in the Marriot Courtyard Inn in Petoskey, Mom’s wish was about to come true.

I was up early like I always am and hit the shower, because we had tickets for the first Shepler Ferry Boat of the day. Then I went down to the cafe where I’d already scoped out the fact that they had Diet Dr Pepper. Returning to the room, I helped Bill get ready for the day, because we all had to report to the lobby at 7:30 AM sharp. Our ride on the ferry was without incident and we were soon on Mackinac Island.

Welcome to Mackinac Island

We made our way down the gangplank and onto the island. The one thing everyone knows about Mackinac Island is that there are no motorized vehicles allowed. Near the pier you can catch many types of horse drawn vehicles, but we opted to walk up the hill to the Grand Hotel.

What a charming place it was! My excitement was building with every step. I was nearing the place my mother had recommended to me for years on end.

Then suddenly the wait was over. I was at The Grand Hotel.

If you’ve never been, then be warned, you can’t just waltz in for a visit. There’s a $10 per person fee for everyone. And you can’t show up barefoot in your bikini. Proper dress is required. After 6PM men require a jacket and The Grand Hotel does not believe women should wear slacks. I guess we passed muster, because they gladly took our money and allowed us to take our self-guided tour of the grounds.

My mother had told me all about rules and for her sake I’d dressed up for our day on Mackinac, from my full brimmed sun-hat, to my floral dress, to my snazzy shoes, I was intent on making Mom proud.

The place has a huge visual impact, but I just couldn’t wait to get out on that long front porch and sit in one of their rocking chairs. Mom loved everything about The Grand Hotel but she loved those rocking chairs best of all. I finally planted myself in one and whispered to my mom, “Well, Ruth, I made it.”

Emotion swept over me in a way I never expected. Tears began to run down my face and my shoulders shook, from my sobs. I guess everyone else thought I was crazy, but Mom and I were having a moment.

The tears passed and the moment was over. I was ready for my self-guided tour. Bill and I headed one way and the rest of them headed in another. Here’s a sample of what we saw.

After walking around inside the hotel, we set out to see something of the grounds. Everything is immaculately maintained. I saw no leaf out of place, no paint beginning to peel and every single piece of grass seemed to be part of a large shag carpet. Here’s a few of those exterior shots, including our fellow travelers and us.

Our sweet nephew had arranged for us all to have the amazing buffet lunch. Soon it was time to make our way back to the dining room to be seated. I was really excited, because my mom had certainly been fond of the meals at The Grand Hotel. Come back next week and find out how it was.

TRAVEL

Chateau Chantal

Elegant Winery with Breath-taking Views

To top off a marvelous day, our nephew had one more place to show us. After our historical break, it was time to hit our last winery. This one was Chateau Chantal and it had visions of grandeur.

Chateau Chantal is more than just a winery. It is also an inn with 11 guestrooms, so driving up to it, one had the sense of driving up to something magnificent. I can imagine that a stay there would be quite nice. If northern Michigan is on your list, I can recommend staying here as your headquarters, while you spend several days exploring the area.

The beautiful aerial shot is an result of Bill bringing along his drone on this vacation. We’d already had it out once, showing the kids how it worked, flying it around their neighborhood. The grandiose vistas around Chateau Chantal inspired him to pull it out again.

Perched on the highest ground in the area, the chateau dominates the landscape and from it’s patio you can see just how beautiful the area is. The architecture is reminiscent of a chateau, but one on a rustic farm, not something like Château de Chambord.

Entering the front door left one a little confused about what to do. There was a host/hostess station, but no one was stationed there. An area appeared to be roped off for a line, but there was no line. So, we wandered in and the guys tried to figure out how to get tastings and perhaps a bite to eat. The tastings were great. The bite to eat was packaged snacks that tasted as if they’d been waiting for a while to be chosen.

Still the view was out of this world, so we enjoyed it. Most of the others agreed it was the best winery of the day. Personally, I gave wine honors to Black Star Farms, though it’s not a place I’d want to spend an afternoon. I thought be best experience was at Mari Vineyards and I still regret we didn’t have a picnic.

Winding Down from the Wineries

Remember the trials and tribulations of getting out of town. You know the ones where I had to stay up all night to get work from our editors delivered to all our customers, before we left town. Then there was the early morning flight and the five hour road trip. Well, it all caught up with me and after we climbed back in the car from visiting Chateau Chantal, I dozed off.

We checked into the Marriot Courtyard Inn in Petoskey and the rest of the crew went to dinner, but this girl went to bed. Before moving on to our next adventures, I will share a few pictures, but come back next week, because we’ll be going to Mackinac Island!

Architecture, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Mari Vineyards – The Oak Island Winery

Thanks to the Curse We Had a Great Experience

Yep, I’m a fan of The Curse of Oak Island, but Shad, who did all the planning, is not a Lagina Brothers groupie. When he sent me an outline of what he intended for us to do, I did some poking around on the internet. It’s there I saw Mari Vineyards on an attractions map outside Traverse City. I knew this was one of Marty Lagina’s many enterprises and it would not have any direct connection to the TV show I loved, but I still wanted to go. Our host accommodated my desire.

WOW! Is This It?

Fresh off our visit to Black Star Farms, we were hoping for something a bit more, shall we say, engaging. While a covered porch and adjacent farmyard has a certain allure for some people, it’s not exactly my scene. Mari Vineyards suited my taste to a tee. To begin with, the winery sits on a gorgeous piece of real estate, with a commanding view of the area. Even if wine is not your thing, you can’t help but love the view.

As you can see from the first photo, the architecture and accoutrements are also much more upscale. The patio was particularly inviting. I loved the exterior so much I never made it inside, but according to the others, the restroom facilities were nice and the staff was pleasant.

Honestly, however, the wine was not outstanding. I’d give the wine honors to Black Star, but if I was looking for a great way to spend an afternoon, Mari Vineyards would win hands down and I’d probably bring a picnic.

Traveling with Kids

So, I don’t do kids. I like to see them at church and I enjoy my great niece and great nephews in very short spurts, if they can be returned to their parents after a bit, but I don’t dote on them the way some people do. That being said, these kids were pretty great. Major kudos to the parents in both cases. Hannah and Daniel are both obedient, intelligent and respectful.

Hannah is a sweetheart all the way around, perhaps a bit of a Daddy’s girl, but who could blame her Dad when she works so hard to please him.

Daniel is a whole ‘nother ball of wax, a real cut up and slightly naughty. Catching him for a photo was a hit or miss thing. He seemed to know just when to make that face or strike a pose to highlight the imp inside.

Hannah, who is older, can sit quietly and needs little supervision, with or without her ipad. Daniel can sit quietly forever, if he’s playing a game, but once the electronic devise is ripped from his hands, one needs to keep an eye on him and should you fail to do so, he’ll find a way to get your attention.

Wineries are not exactly kid-friendly, so after our second one, we took another tack, visiting the Old Mission Lighthouse. Come back next week and check that out!

TRAVEL

On the Road Again

Our Family’s Home

Visiting Michigan

Imagine our joy when we arrived at this beautiful home, which is even more beautiful inside than it is outside. Waiting for us was Bill’s niece, Maggie, her husband, Shad, our great niece, Hannah and our great nephew, Daniel. They were the most gracious hosts and hostesses you can possibly imagine. A big meal was planned and it seemed everyone had something exciting to say. I would tell you more, except for the fact I can barely remember anything. I was a zombie.

I do know the first order of business was to reorganize all our luggage, because we were leaving the next morning for a road trip. Eventually, I excused myself from all the fun and slept like the dead. I’m sure I missed a lot. These are Egyptians. Life begins at about 9 PM.

On to Traverse City

I can’t help it. I was up at five. I took a bath and got myself ready for a day of sightseeing. Bless my family’s heart! My love of Diet Dr Pepper is well known. The frig was stocked well with them and my nephew, the doctor, said my red eyes and slight sore-throat would succumb to a Claritin. By 7 AM I was human.

My great niece and I took the seats at the very back. She was an absolute joy and a great travel partner. My great nephew was a little fussy. Within an hour, we made the first potty stop. By about 10, we had to make another one. Too many women in one car. Hannah and I were the most frequent potty flyers.

The Apache Trout Grill

The first official stop on this road trip was the Apache Trout Grill. Though I had never heard of it, it’s popularity cannot be denied. We shared Brussel Sprouts and Shrimp Bruchetta for appetizers. For lunch I had something call Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad, which doesn’t begin to hint at the Bleu Cheese, Cherries and Mandrian Oranges which were in it. YUM!!

But the best was yet to come. Behind the restaurant is a dock with chairs all lined up for your relaxation comfort. Here’s a few of our moments on the dock.

After allowing our delicious meal an opportunity to digest it was time to take on the afternoon’s agenda of wine tasting. Come back next week and taste along with us.

TRAVEL

Michigan Bound

The Bags Were Packed, But the Business Wouldn’t Let Go

For one of the few times in my life I left the planning to someone else. My nephew, Dr. Megala, had lots of good ideas about what we should do while we visited Michigan, so I left it to him. Meanwhile, I was squaring things away so our business would actually let us leave.

As fate would have it, we had to do five different shoots the day before we left. Thankfully, we had a second photographer, so Bill only had to do three, but while we had a second photographer, I was still the only one handling the post production end of things. This trip would be our first stab at remote operations. Bill had bought a new laptop in recent months, so my primary job was to make sure everything worked.

I had checked and double-checked every link, every app, every email address – anything I would need to do my job while I was gone. There were only a few jobs sprinkled throughout the time we’d be away, but I was still nervous. As a way to test everything, I was going to use my laptop to process the jobs that came in that day.

In order to speed up the process, Bill met me mid-day with a photo card with two of his jobs, so I could start downloading images. When I came home from picking it up, our second photographer had emailed me his first set of pictures, also. I sat down at the laptop and began to process the jobs. The laptop told me it would take about 20 minutes to download the first shoot. Nothing out of the ordinary. We use raw images which are huge.

Not long afterwards, the laptop changed its mind and told me 45 minutes. Soon it was reporting a new time frame – 5 hours. FIVE HOURS!! Assuming it must be something wrong with the laptop, I went to Bill’s computer and tried to download another set of photos. His computer said it would take 2 days. I went upstairs to my computer. It wanted 5 days!!

When Bill got home I had decided our network was broken. Oh, I could get email, social media and all kinds of other things on our wi-fi, but nothing was downloading anywhere. I had pulled out my mobile hotspot and was about to load it with gigabytes. He decided I must be doing something wrong, so he wanted me to explain everything I’d done in the hours since he’d left me the photo card.

Now, as much as I love this guy, I was frantic and he was using his calm, cool tech-support voice. My hair was was on fire and I was on the verge of a total meltdown. I tried to be calm, I really did, but I wasn’t very good at it. Somewhere along the way, as I explained the problem and recounted my steps, the computers decided perhaps they’d only need another half hour or so to finish downloading the first job. We don’t have a clue what changed, but something did.

On a good day, it would take about five hours to download five jobs and send them to the editors. I’ve improved the process in the months since, but I was still figuring things out back then. Having started with two of the jobs in mid-afternoon and the others coming in shortly afterwards, I should have been done by dinner time.

As it turned out, it was bedtime before I got all the images downloaded and sent to the editors. I’d asked for a rush on all of them, so even though I was exhausted and was supposed to wake up at 4, I wanted to get a confirmation the editors had them and to have some kind of idea when they’d be ready.

Up until then, when I asked for a rush, I got an immediate confirmation and the images would be returned within the hour. That’s not what happened this time. Finally, sometime after midnight I got the confirmation they’d received all the jobs, but in spite of all my begging emails, I didn’t get the five jobs back until 3 AM! THREE AM!!

Bleary-eyed from being awake for 22 hours or so, I was totally stressed out and started delivering the jobs via email with tears in my eyes. At 4:05 AM the jobs were all sent and I walked downstairs to get ready to leave the house at 4:30 AM.

Now, I thought I would receive a hero’s welcome when I reported to the bedroom. Instead someone in this household, who will remain nameless, started telling me I had done it all wrong. Some day I will forgive him, but I am still working on it. Come back next week and see what happened next.

TRAVEL

New Year, New Trip

What Have I Done Since the Last Trip?

The pandemic has been tough on this traveling girl. In 2020, I was still blogging about the adventures of of my Anniversary Cruise of 2019 and was glad for the chance to get caught up. When that was over, I shared a trip to Arizona we’d unknowingly squeezed in, right before Covid-19 became a thing. That took the blog through the early part of 2021, but in my real life, I hadn’t been anywhere since February of 2020. So, I recapped a few of the local things I’d done for distraction during what I thought was going to be the end of the pandemic.

Only the pandemic stayed and Bill wasn’t budging. He’d kept me home (as in, in the house) for months on end. Several of my friends had used the break from normal life to travel, but not Bill. For one thing, real estate had been deemed one of those necessary industries and Bill’s a real estate photographer. While many of the other photographers in our industry chose to take off, Bill kept on shooting and because of that we were busier than ever.

For the other thing, he was of the opinion that the closer you stayed to home, the less likely you were to get the virus. We didn’t get the virus, but I nearly went insane tied to the house. I was thrilled when various networking groups started meeting. I’m not that crazy about networking, but it was better than staying home.

During the pandemic, we had a vacation package I was dying to use and I must have planned a dozen different vacations to take advantage of it, but none of them came about for a variety of reasons. Then I planned a holiday road trip, but that didn’t happen either, because the pandemic had an uptick at the end of 2020 and on New Year’s Eve, hen we were going to pop up to Oklahoma, the sky started falling.

In March, as senior citizens, we got both our Pfizer vaccinations, but by then business picked up. Not that it had actually ever slowed down that much. December was a little slow, not dead as it had been in the past, but at least we got to breathe. In January, the phone started to ring again and by March we were in over our heads. We had to outsource our editing, just to keep up.

Let’s Go to Michigan!

About this time we got an invitation we couldn’t resist. For several years we’d been promising our niece and nephew in Michigan we’d come see them. The pandemic kept us from keeping that promise, but now we were vaccinated. When they extended the invitation again, we had to say yes. It’s not that we were in anyway reluctant to see them. It’s just that Bill still had his Covid concerns. However, my mental health was also a concern and if I didn’t go somewhere and soon, then who knew what might happen. So, even though the invitation was for July, the busiest time in our business, it was the right time to visit Michigan, so we started making plans.

Among those plans we started interviewing photographers, found one we liked and started training him to expand our ability to satisfy customer requests and to let us leave town. We still warned our best customers that while we’d have a photographer to handle them, if they wanted Bill, they needed to get the homes shot by a certain date. Come back next week and see how that went.