Monthly Archives: July 2015

Western Michigan: Lakes, Sand Dunes, and Lighthouses

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After spending two days in Detroit, I went off to Western Michigan to spend some time in Michigan’s outdoor wonders.

Our first stay was in Grand Haven, which get its nickname “Coast Guard, USA” because of its more than 200-year association with this branch of the military. Every summer, there is an event known as Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival that pays tribute to these servicemen and women with a carnival, firework displays, parades and tours aboard ships.

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Two other summer fun offerings are a Musical Fountain, a popular synchronized light and music tours, and historic trolley tours that show and tell more about Grand Haven on wheels.

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Though my visit to Grand Haven was during the warmer months, I’ve been told there are activities to do here year-round. One of them is for nature lovers. Rosy Mound is a system of dunes with hiking trails that take you through wooded areas eventually leading you to sand dunes. It’s a fairly easy walk to and part of you path takes you a section of red pine trees that are like a miniature version of California’s redwoods. Planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps, these trees not only provide good shade on a warm day, but also are pretty to look at.

If shopping is more your thing, you’ll find it in Grand Haven’s downtown area with clothing boutiques and specialty goods stores.


For some down time, I recommend stopping for a drink at Odd Side Ales. It’s a brewery inside a former piano factory that concocts an inventive list of suds ranging from the light Citra Pale Ale to the dark and spicy Mayan Mocha Stout. On one back wall, you’ll spot beer labels framed as works of art – they look like it too. Odd Side Ales doesn’t serve food, but you can a good meal at Kirby Grill, an American restaurant with nice deck views and a selection of salads, sandwiches and pizzas inside a former hotel.


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After Grand Haven, my next stop was in Ludington. Once home to a major lumber industry, Ludington is a destination that brings back vacationing natives and keeps locals around with much to do. Former baron mansions have become B&Bs, and you can find quaint lodging such as the Summer’s Inn.

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Ludington’s downtown area has a good mix of restaurants, bars and stores. If you’re craving for ice cream, head ASAP to House of Flavors. But be patient. Here you can expect a line out the door at this diner/ice cream institution with classic flavors and in-house creations such as Blue Moon. Carrot Cake was my favorite. For lunch or dinner, The Jamesport Brewing Company offers good meal options with beer choices extending to German lagers and American ales.

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Park lovers will have a good at the massive Ludington State Park, which has options that could keep any outdoors person busy. Here you can go on hiking trails, spend time on beach areas, and hit the water to do anything from swimming to boating to SUPing. Michigan has the most lighthouses in the U.S., and you’ll see one of them in this park: the Big Sable Point Lighthouse.

Ludington is also located near other natural attractions such as the Silver Lakes Sand Dunes. Take a ride on them by letting Mac Wood’s Dune Rides do the driving on their 40-minute excursions. Another lighthouse to see near Ludington is the Little Sable Point Lighthouse. For a small admission fee, you can climb up the staircase and spend some time on the lookout area.

Two Days in Detroit, Michigan

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My time in Detroit for an assignment gave me an eye opener about the city – and the views were good. Though the city is still facing fiscal challenges, I saw a lot of what’s driving The Motor City in a different way.

Over the two days I spend there, I saw signs of Detroit’s revitalization that involves small businesses and community initiatives. Here are some places I went to or activities I did during my stay that give an insider’s view of D-Town.


Detroit Experience Factory Tour
Detroiters know their city better than anyone else. Especially Jeannette Pierce. About seven years ago, she co-founded a nonprofit group to provide local perspectives to visitors that eventually has turned into what’s now called the Detroit Experience Factory Tour. As DXF’s Executive Director, Pierce led my group on a bus tour, taking us around different sectors and taking about everything from its legacy with sports teams (the Old Tigers Stadium is now a public park) to turned around neighborhoods. One stop brought us to the Guardian Building, a National Historic Landmark from the late twenties that only took seven months to build.

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Another stop on our DXF tour was Ponyride. Once a foreclosed warehouse, this 30,000 square-foot-location in Detroit’s Corktown district has been transformed into a multi-co-share working space where up-and-coming nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and companies occupy various floors and sections. With a low subsided rent (under a dollar I’ve been told), about 30 tenants run their businesses from here. For example, The Empowerment Plan is an organization founded by a design student that hires previously homeless women to assemble a coat that can be turned into a sleeping bag. Other vendors here produce clothing, ironwork, home furnishings, a beard balm, and even coffee. Ponyride is open to the public Wednesday afternoons at 2 p.m. where they can politely observe most tenants at work.

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Cass Corridor Design District
This Midtown district holds shops featuring locally and overall Michigan made products that are pretty top of the line. One example is Shinola, a high-end company that produces handmade watches, bicycles, journals and leather goods. The craftsmanship is definitely there. Another shop is this district which has a lot of fun and various priced items is CityBird. Owned by siblings Andy and Emily Linn, CityBird carries merchandise like books about Detroit, coasters made from tires, artisan soaps and even Michigan shaped cookie cutters.


DNR Outdoor Nature Center
It might sound odd at first to have a wildlife center in a city, but that’s the point behind the DNR Outdoor Nature Center. Based in a former factory building near the Detroit Riverfront, the new center serves as an educational resource for Detroit youngsters and their families. It features replicas of natural settings, hands-on exhibits and educational displays. Visitors will encounter everything from a giant oak tree to a waterfall area and a house and yard to show the importance of taking care of natural resources. There’s also a yurt where youngsters can play in while their parents learn where to go camping.

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Belle Isle Park
Another option for finding shade is Belle Isle Park, a 985-acred island park that lines along with the Detroit River. You’ll also find nice views of its neighbor, Ontario. The park also has a number of attractions, including the oldest aquarium in the United States, a conservatory, a fountain, athletic fields and Dossin Great Lakes Museum, which is all about this area’s nautical history.

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“The Z” Parking Garage
Parking garages are purely functional but this one in downtown Detroit is more visually appealing. Called “The Z” because of its letter-minded shape, this 10-floor garage/retail property near the corner of Library and Gratiot doubles as a gallery space. Walls on each level have been turned into canvases featuring murals or street art that have been designed by 27 artists from around the world. If you have the time, take a ride on the glass elevator to each floor and hop off to take a quick look.

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Detroit’s Restaurants
Like manufacturing, Detroit’s culinary scene is cookin’. Newcomer Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails supports local farmers by incorporating their catches and crops into seasonal menus and serves its namesake botanical liquor straight or in cocktails. Fellow newbie Selden Standard is a hot spot with its small plates and craft cocktails. Long-timer Traffic Jam and Snug has an onsite dairy and a rooftop garden with fun interior décor from antique shops or donated by customers. At the historic Eastern Market, find vegetable, fruit and specialty vendors and then grab breakfast or lunch at Russell Street Deli. Back Downtown, try the Coney Island dog, a local favorite, and see which is better: American Coney Island or Lafayette Coney Island.

When You Should NOT Drop Everything and Travel


Photo via Les Haines via Flickr

Like me, well-meaning travel writers and bloggers promote why you should go off and travel. And, more like me, at times you have to weigh the balance of measuring spending money on experiences – and what your decision can cost you.

Recently, journalist Chelsea Fagan penned a great piece about the notion of choosing the experience of continuous travel and financial risks that come with it on her personal blog, “The Financial Diet.” Fagan examines the viewpoint that (especially younger) people have about long-term travel as being a must-do, don’t worry about money experience. Whether they have it or not.

In her piece, Fagan talks about an internet, well-to-do acquaintance that decides to get her master’s degree in Europe because it’s an “opportunity to learn and expand her mind. Fagan also points out that her friend’s “opportunity” won’t really guarantee anything but that her friend can take that risk due to having a financial safety net.


Photo by frankieleon via Flickr

While Fagan does admit she has done some modest travel, she is pretty sound about how putting yourself in a monetary bind to travel “just because” adds up. I definitely agree with Fagan about not putting your financial future in jeopardy, yet I have to challenge her on this sentence: “Traveling for the sake of travel is not an achievement, nor is it guaranteed to make anyone a more cultured, nuanced person.”

As someone who travels for business and personal reasons, my experiences have been rewarding and enlightening. They’ve also resulted from choices; not privilege. Having come from a hard-working family, I fund my travels through different means of income. In my twenties and thirties, I held part-time retail jobs along with my full-time office one, did a unique but well-paid pet sitting gig, and parting with unneeded but still valuable junk. I gave up weekends to work and spent money when necessary (like toothpaste and gas).

Now in my forties and more self-employed, I have to admit that travel can cost me in some ways. Sometimes I’ve had to pass on a freelance assignment due to being away on one. Or as I give my ongoing clients my travel schedule, I do worry that maybe a day might come where they won’t need me anymore. Plus there’s the other side of this debate: regret. Or maybe FOMO. Or my fear of looking back as a sad, old woman who wished she did more with her life.

And though I’m dealing with a financial pinch right now, I have to say that I wouldn’t trade in my experiences for anything else. I also agree with Fagan in that being able to travel, or not, doesn’t mean that a person is any less, but I do think people should pursue this opportunity if they have the chance, and means to. Maybe it can’t be right away or in the way that you want, but do what you can without breaking your bank.

Just don’t sound like this person.