Around the Mitten 2015

Recently Rich and I embarked on a big adventure: bringing our new-to-us boat from a marina in St. Clair Shores, Michigan to our lakehouse in Spring Lake – a trip around the Mitten State that totaled nearly 400 nautical miles.

Captain Rich with his new boat right after we did the sea trial.

When we first looked at the boat, a 2000 Carver 404, it was in the middle of January and boating season seemed like it was a million miles away. The sea trial was scheduled for a Saturday morning in April, so we slept on the boat the night before. We both slept well and were excited about the idea of spending many more overnights on this boat than we did on our old one. The morning of the sea trial was bitterly cold and gusty – challenging circumstances for Rich to try driving his new boat for the first time. It all went fairly well though and got us excited for our big solo excursion.

Belle Maer
The night before our big trip.

The morning of our departure was a foggy one and we were delayed by a couple of hours. Finally it lifted enough for us to be able to leave the marina, and it turned out to be a nice sunny day. The trip through the St. Clair River was uneventful, and after we passed under the Bluewater Bridge, we were treated to a breathtaking view of the clear, calm, deep blue waters of Lake Huron.

Entering into Lake Huron. I felt like we were on a space ship launching into outer space.

Our first day, Thursday, turned out to be the only day I was able to work on my tan. I discovered that the aft deck is a heavenly place to lie in the sun, especially with a glass of wine nearby and jazz playing in my headphones.

White legs
My pale, dry Michigan legs are in desperate need of a tan.

We spent the evening in Harrisville Harbor. Rich had made reservations for our two ports of call and because it was such a slow time of year, he was able to call ahead and get help from the harbormaster, greatly reducing the stress for the first mate (especially considering that my sole boating skill consists of doing the splits when jumping onto the dock to tie off the spring line). The harbormaster recommended a pub that was in walking distance from the harbor, and we had a relaxing meal there. Harrisville is a nice little town but quiet. Quite different from the resort towns on the west side of the state, which are thriving and filled with quaint boutiques and eateries.

Us on the bow
On the bow of the Just Like Heaven in our first port of call.
boat - sunrise
Beautiful sunrise in Harrisville.

The next morning Captain Rich let me take a quick shower at the marina, and we hit the water right around 7:30 a.m. We saw a beautiful sunrise, but the day clouded over quickly and got chilly. I was a little disappointed that the sun wasn’t shining when we passed under the mighty Mackinac Bridge, but at least it wasn’t raining.

Mighty Mac
This sight never gets old. The stunning Mackinac Bridge.

Shortly after we made it into Lake Michigan, the water became extremely choppy and fog rolled in. It was a pretty hairy ride for a while. But when we stopped in Harbor Springs for fuel, everything seemed to calm down and the sun was out so we decided to push on to Leland where we had a reservation for a slip.

Harbor Springs
Stopping for fuel in Harbor Springs. There was still ice in the marina!

Unfortunately the fog and rough water came back and the ride into Leland was another nail biter (for me anyway – Rich handled it all like a pro). We couldn’t even see shore until we were almost right on top of it. But the harbormaster was waiting to help us so docking was fine, and we enjoyed a fun evening with our friends Jeff and Norma who came over from their cottage in Traverse City.

Both of us are sporting some serious boat hair, but we were extremely pleased to have made it safely to our second overnight port of call.

Saturday, home stretch day! The weather was pretty miserable – drizzly and really cold. We showered quickly and I picked up breakfast sandwiches from a nearby diner, then we set out. The water was rough again – not choppy but big rollers – and again we had fog. At one point Rich had me take the helm while he went to check some stuff below. I was nervous and it gave me a new respect for his captaining abilities. The fog continued to thicken and by the time we got to the Grand Haven channel, it was like pea soup. Fortunately, there were very few boats in the channel, and Rich’s keen navigating skills prevented us from colliding with anyone.

Me at the helm
Me at the helm

We had to call ahead to have the Spring Lake drawbridge lifted and while we waited, we idled and drank a glass of wine together. We were both elated and considered the trip a complete success! I was also extremely proud of my fiance for his adroit handling of his new boat, how quickly he learned all the equipment including the radar, and how well he navigated some seriously rough waters. All in two and a half days to boot. This was no small feat!

Success!! Back in familiar waters, he’s finally able to relax.
Drawbridge into Spring Lake. We’re still not sure if we need to have it raised for us to pass under, but we didn’t want to take any chances the first time.

We were so happy when we finally rounded the corner into our beloved Laguna Bayou.

Laguna Bayou – a welcome sight!

Docking at the dock at the lakehouse was a piece of cake. The boat looks beautiful in her home slip!

Home slip
The Just Like Heaven in her home slip. The old Rinker looks dwarfed in comparison.

A few things I learned:

  • Even though the boat’s bathrooms (in particular the master bath) are nicely sized, it’s much easier to take a shower in marina bathrooms.
  • On such a big boat, it’s hard for the first mate to be of much assistance to the captain. Doing the splits between this boat and a dock would probably send me to the hospital!
  • Preparing meals when you’re cruising, even on a big boat, is challenging, and you probably won’t end up doing much. It’s much easier to bring stuff that’s pre-made (and easy to eat) or to buy prepared food onshore to eat while cruising.
  • Sleeping on a boat is heavenly.
  • Most wine glasses don’t fit in the cup holders.

So that’s the story of our 2015 Pure Michigan Around the Mitten trip. All in all it went like clockwork, and we can’t wait to take the Just Like Heaven on many more adventures.

European Hanging Basket and Herbes de Provence Dinner

Several years ago my friend Norma and I took part in a “Holiday Decorating on a Shoestring Budget” workshop at a magical place in the countryside of southwest Michigan, Southern Exposure Herb Farm. We were delighted with the experience (you can read more about it here) and finally got a chance to go back recently.

Norma and me at Southern Exposure
Here we are in the Hog House, where the cheese demonstration took place.

The retreat we took part in this time was the European Hanging Basket and Herbes de Provence Dinner. It was a little early in the season for many spring flowers to be appearing on the farm yet, but the place still looked enchanting and it was nice to be able to see it in the daylight.

The owner, Curtis Whitaker, remembered Norma and me (or seemed to) which we found very charming. Two other groups of ladies were at our table but they all seemed to want to converse among themselves, so Norma and I had a chance to chat and catch up (and share the carafe of white wine conveniently placed in front of us).

The food was sublime: homemade bread with herb butter, chicken stuffed with brie, a fresh green salad with artichokes and more brie, haricots verts, and the most amazing scalloped potatoes I’ve ever had. Since both of us have been trying to detox and eat clean for the past several months, the meal was beyond decadent; in fact, neither of us could finish our plates. The dinner was followed by apple pie with lavender ice cream, which Norma didn’t touch but I had to at least sample. It was absolutely amazing; I never thought I’d like lavender flavored anything but the ice cream was wonderful.

The photo doesn’t do the dinner justice. Those potatoes!

Following the dinner we were split into groups and moved to different areas of the farm where the resident experts gave us a variety of demonstrations. My favorite was the lesson on how to make the perfect mojito.

Place into a glass:

  • ¾ – 1 oz. simple syrup
  • 4 mint leaves (no stalks)
  • ½ lime, quartered

Muddle the mixture and add 1.5 – 2 oz. rum and ice. Top with club soda and stir. Take a small mint bunch and give it a “slap” to release the scent; place in glass as garnish.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of the mojito, but I did snap a shot of this beautiful space right outside the Milking Parlour where the demonstration took place

Finally, we ventured into the tented workspace where we put together our baskets. The baskets were already filled with the individual plants, so all we had to do was take them out of the containers and make room in the baskets for everything, then cover it all with moss to hide the soil. The baskets are filled to the brim with edible flowers, herbs and scented botanicals that are meant to be snipped and used for cooking and drinks all season long.

The baskets include:

  • Swiss chard – for soups and salads
  • Purple flowering kale – decorative; leaves can be used for salads and garnish
  • Viola – salads; nice as a garnish on cakes and desserts
  • Dianthus – ideal to accent drinks and desserts
  • Mojito mint – ideal for mojitos of course; also good for tea and dessert garnishes
  • Basil – pasta sauces, salads, chicken and other meats
  • Creeping rosemary – lovely with chicken, fish, potatoes, casseroles
  • Lemon thyme – vegetables, chicken, salad dressings
  • Parsley – any food except sweets; add at the end of cooking
  • French tarragon – good with chicken, salad dressing, sauces

Here’s the finished basket. It needs to be hung in full sun with good ventilation, and the plants should be trimmed regularly to keep them full and healthy. I can’t wait to hang mine at the lakehouse to enjoy all summer long!

finished basket

A few other tips and ideas we brought home include:

  • Herb butter is easy to make: make sure to use sweet cream UNSALTED butter that is at room temperature (but not runny). Mix in 8 lemon thyme leaves and 8 chopped rosemary leaves (no stems), place into a pastry bag and pipe onto baking sheet; freeze and use as needed.
  • Herbed brie is a simple, delicious appetizer: trim the rind off the top and sides but leave it on the bottom so it can served as a base. Sprinkle the top with chopped rosemary, basil, lemon thyme and lemon zest. Slice into small pieces and place onto individual crackers an hour or so before your guests arrive.
  • For the best homemade pesto, use Pecorino cheese.
  • Plant creeping rosemary in strawberry jars.
  • As the lemon thyme spreads in your basket, add soil to the tentacles (mist with a bit of water). This will help it grow. In the garden, press the tentacles of creeping herbs into the soil.
  • Violas are lovely as garnishes on cupcakes or muffins. Use a bit of honey to make them stick to the top.

Southern Exposure is truly a hidden gem in southwest Michigan. If you have the opportunity to visit, I highly recommend it. It’s a wonderful outing for friends, sisters and mother/daughter groups, book clubs and bridal parties. They offer a plethora of hands-on workshops in the spring and fall, as well as theme dinners, bus tours, garden weddings and travel adventures around the world. To learn more, visit here. Just make sure to sign up early because all of their events fill up fast!

Sourthern Exposure exterior
Here’s one of the buildings at Southern Exposure with the gardens in full bloom.

Laguna Bayou

One of the things I’ve loved doing is taking pictures of the bayou our lakehouse is situated on. I love capturing the changing light, leaves and water. The changes from season to season are the most dramatic, of course, but subtle shifts happen even from moment to moment.

Spring Lake is unusual in that it is very long and narrow with a ton of little bayous and bays. Some of the larger bayous have names but there are many smaller ones that don’t, at least as far as we know. We used to drop anchor in an unnamed bayou that we dubbed “Spartan Bay.” When we bought the lakehouse, we weren’t aware of a name for our little bay so we named it “Laguna Bayou” after one of our favorite places – Laguna Beach, California.

Here’s the first bayou shot I took, shortly after we took possession of the lakehouse. This was a happy day, because we had just gotten the boat out of storage and brought it to the dock for the summer!

Here’s Just Like Heaven, all ready for summer. Judging from the lack of boats in front of our neighbors’ cottages, we may have been a little over-eager to get our boat into the water.

This is the bayou in early summer, late in the day. I love the golden glow from the late afternoon sun.

laguna bayou

This shot is the one that’s featured in my blog header. It was taken in the middle of the afternoon on a beautiful Sunday in July. I had a heavy heart when I took this because it was time to head home. There’s nothing sadder than having to tear yourself away from this!

Laguna Bay

Here’s another late afternoon shot taken toward the end of summer.

Late afternoon on the bayou
You can see the tiki lights that we added to the boathouse. Rich really wanted to have at least one gaudy decoration at our new place, so this is what we decided on. They’re actually super festive and fun!

This was a gorgeous fall day, with the leaves just starting to reach peak color. We had just taken the boat over to be stored for the winter.


We got an early snow in mid-November, while there were still leaves on some of the trees.Snowy bayou

We went back to the lake the day after Christmas and there was no snow, but I loved this beautiful sunset.


Rich’s sister and brother joined us for New Year’s Eve at the lakehouse. I caught this shot right after we got there as the sun was setting. I love the combination of colors with the periwinkle clouds and the pink sunset.


Then just yesterday Rich was snowed in for a while, and he sent me this shot of the lake effect snow that had hit the west side of the state. It was amazing because we had nowhere near that amount of snow in the Lansing area. This picture almost looks like it has a black & white filter on it, but this is actually full color!

wintry bayou

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of capturing the changing beauty of our bayou, and I’m especially looking forward to seeing it all decked out for our big event on July 25.