Mostly Michigan (and a little of Canada)


Ever been to Michigan? I think it might be the sort of place you would not plan to drive through/to unless you live there or have family to see, but let me just say – it is a much-overlooked state worthy of a visit!  I particularly love all the fir and spruce trees that remind me of Christmas 🙂  The countryside is just as beautiful as upstate New York, with plenty of woodland, lakes, and streams to keep the state lush through most of the summer; there are a good number of cities to make it not inconvenient to live even in the most rural of areas because it’s not difficult to get the things you need; and, best of all, there is a ton of farming to keep the roadside stalls full of fresh corn, tomatoes, berries, cucumbers, and melons in the summer.  I was really looking forward to this stop not only because of the family we would see, but because of the food we would eat 🙂 My parents recently visited the Henry Ford Museum which they said was excellent, and we can also highly recommend Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan, a cute little Bavarian town.  I’m sure there are plenty of other great things to see and do here as well, but I am mostly just struck with how beautiful it is each time I visit.

We left Niagara Falls yesterday morning and stopped quickly to refuel but then drove the rest of the way – about 4 1/2 hours – without any stops. We had driven through McDonalds for breakfast as I mentioned yesterday, but after that we didn’t let the children have anything to drink because we didn’t want to have to make any pit stops.

The traffic on the Bluewater Bridge heading IN to Canada – after our hold up the night before it made me wonder – why was everyone going to Canada this weekend??

Flags in the middle of the water crossing the bridge into the US

We crossed into Michigan via the Bluewater Bridge, and an interesting, totally American thing happened to us going through the checkpoint.  I say it’s very much something you’d only see here, but if you’re reading from another country and think you might have this occur there, too, let me know – I’d be interested to hear from you.  The border guard was chatting with John as he checked our passports – talking about John’s service in the Navy and his own son in the Coast Guard who is a rescue swimmer (which came up because we’re driving a van with temporary registration in New York – ie, no license plates – and we have no real address to give when asked, so the fact that we are in the middle of a military move is central).  Then the guard said he had five children of his own, and we said we had just had number six – and the guard said, “A quiver full!”  Then John said, “God bless you” as we pulled away, and the man responded, “He does everyday!”  I know if you’re not a person of faith, someone’s blatant Christianity might bug you.  I don’t think this man would have said anything to us had he not sensed that we were also Christians.  Using the term “full quiver” implies that one is blessed with many children by God, from Psalm 127:3-5:

“Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.”
What I mean about this being so American is that it seems like this is the only place I have been where a person can – and does – wear his faith on his sleeve.  Often I think people try to be considerate of others when deciding how to speak of their faith in public (I should hope that they are sensitive to the feelings of others), but in America, at least it’s still acceptable to talk like this to total strangers.  From what I have seen, in the European countries I’ve visited, especially the UK, faith is a non-issue.  It doesn’t seem to affect the daily lives of a great majority of the people.  I felt out of place there, being so profoundly conservative and having deep religious convictions.  Even the military of the UK is fairly liberal compared to our generally conservative military members, so, other than our small church, there was nowhere that I felt I could openly discuss my faith in regular conversations.  It seems that here in the US, religion isn’t the only thing that people are more open about – people readily discuss their political views on all sorts of topics.  I’ve always heard it said that two things should be kept away from the dinner table — religion and politics — that in “polite society” you avoid difficult conversations centering around divisive issues.  Maybe that’s the difference – Americans seem to be less interested in what is “polite” and more concerned with being transparent and open about their views.  Hmm. It was just a breath of fresh air for me – another patriotic “God Bless the USA” moment (referring to the Lee Greenwood song of the same title in case any of the non-Americans didn’t catch the reference 🙂 )  Yes it’s cheesy, but along with the totally American picnic food I had in Michigan, this open and friendly border guard just really made me feel at home 🙂
 Arriving around 1:45pm, as we made our final turn we were greeted by the sight of my dad (Grandpa Rickwalt to the kids) waving from in front of the house, about 100 yards away.  The kids were so excited to see Grandpa, as they had planned on seeing him when he visited us in England and joined us on our trip to Scotland earlier this month, but plans had changed at the last minute and he had not been able to fly out to the UK.  My dad was ready as well to finally meet baby Daniel 🙂  The children had a great time just running around my uncles’s backyard for a bit while we waited for all the troops to gather so we could descend en masse on one of the local parks to have a cookout.  The relatives who had read my blog knew what I wanted – sweetcorn!  My aunt had to cook it before we could head over to the park, so she let me be the taster to check the corn for doneness.  It took a whole ear, but I was able to determine that the corn was, in fact, “done” to perfection.  The kids needed some, too, since we had starved them out all day.

Daniel really took to my cousin Brian 🙂

Going to this particular park had a twofold purpose – it provided lots of playground equipment for the kids to let off steam, and it is located next to the woods where my dad and his siblings all goofed off during their childhood.  It’s also across the street from where their house was (it’s been torn down in recent years) and next to the cemetery where all the Rickwalts have been laid to rest.

My Great-Grandparents

After playing at the park and eating, we all hiked through the woods on a little trail where my cousin’s wife Norma had placed a few geocache treasures.  We hadn’t been planning on searching those out, so we didn’t have the coordinates printed out for searching, but since Norma was with us, she was able to point the children in the right direction so that they found the cache and were able to pick out a few trinkets they liked.  They told her she should hide more things in the woods for next time, and Patience said she needs to make a treasure map with “X” marking the spot.  I think the geocache was a big hit 🙂

A good family friend, JJ, lined us all up for a few pictures. The ones that turned out well with my parents are on his camera, so it will have to wait 🙂

This is what all the girls were doing, so they were doused with the hose in the driveway when we got back to the house and then spent an hour in the bath 🙂


My cousin’s wife Norma holding the little man

It’s funny the things that excited me laid out on the picnic tables.  I mean, I normally wouldn’t go into raptures about potato salad or deviled eggs, but I am really appreciating those things after the year in the UK.  Definitely the best potato salad I’ve had in forever, and there was even a delicious “grape” salad – red and green grapes, along with chopped walnuts, in a sweetened sour cream and cream cheese dressing.  Sauerkraut and Polish sausage.  Delicious cupcakes (made from a Duncan Hines mix – why mess with perfection??).  A couple of different pasta salads.  My parents picked up some Kentucky Fried Chicken – no big deal since we had that in England, but the BISCUITS. Oh, the biscuits. Yum, yum, yum (to those of you in the UK – those are not cookies, but are sort of a salty, buttery, fluffy scone.)

My cousin Scott – all the kids loved him

On our hike through the woods my dad and his brother (who most of us think look like twins) searched the older trees for their parents’ initials which had been carved there long ago.  We never found them, but it was fun to think of my grandfather there as a youth in the 1930s memorializing his sweetheart 🙂

Dave and Don (that’s my dad, Don, holding Greer who’s blowing smooches) – do you think they look alike??

My Dad and Uncle Dave looking for their parents’ initials
The trees next to the property where my dad grew up are all Maples and were actually used for syrup for years.  It was so strange to see grass where the house used to be, and to know that there had been a basement that was all filled in now (it even had a plain dirt hole in the floor for storing potatoes all winter and walls of shallow wooden shelves to store all the canned goods they put up each fall.)  There was the tree we always gathered under for family picnics.  There were the bushes (now huge) that had lined the front porch. I can’t lament the passing of this particular house, as it was certainly tiny and worn down and not built of something to withstand centuries, but I can be sad that all the days of that house have gone, along with many of the of the major characters in those acts of the play.  My dad has told us so many neat stories of growing up in the poverty of the 1940s and 50s in rural Michigan – being pulled around in tin buckets, making up games from almost nothing, even being hit by a car trying to cross the street on the way home from school when he was a child!  It was a different time when small treats were big news.  I even remember my Grandma hand washing the dishes when she was in her eighties– she raised seven children in that 3 bedroom house – and worked as a schoolteacher the whole time – while making homemade bread, all their food from scratch, handwashing all the dishes, and hanging clothes out to dry.  (Okay, okay, all you people in England are thinking – what’s the big deal? Tiny house, no dishwasher, no clothes dryer? I guess we’re just used to a lot more luxury over here normally 🙂 )

By the “picnic tree” where we had family gatherings, looking at the lot where the house stood that saw my Grandfather and my dad as kids – in the background is the house my dad’s brother Dean owned, now lived in by my cousin Marc and his wife Norma.

But I digress…the rest of the night was spent with coffee (and Bailey’s Irish Cream) or wine, snacks, and good conversation.  I even had some of the yummy berries and melon later on as an entire fruit salad was discovered in the fridge, forlorn from having been forgotten earlier, left behind when we all went to the park.

My mom with baby Daniel – the wine and snacks were her idea 🙂

Claire snuggling up on cousin Scott’s lap

We are about 9 hours out from our next stop – a small town in Iowa near Omaha, Nebraska, to see two families we have known a while.  Google maps said it was a 13 hour drive, but good old “Jill” (the GPS lady) said it is only 12 hours.  So we’ve been on the road a little under three hours now.  A few things we love about our new van: the driver’s side window rolls all the way up! The back windows can be cracked open!  Cruise control!! Seats that recline and move forward and back!!! (Can you tell how excited I am!??) A 6-disc CD changer! AIR CONDITIONING! (it’s even dual-zone!)  Tinted windows!  We are LOVING the van 🙂  Music we are loving right now – the album “Bring Yer Weliies” by Gaelic Storm; Gordon Lightfoot’s Greatest Hits; Nickel Creek’s first album (particularly “The fox went out on a chilly night…”); Adele; Mumford & Sons; a mix from the iphones – Duran, Duran, Goyte, The Killers.  John finally broke out the Nintendo DS’s.  We have two of them, and I think the children have never even seen them, much less played on them!  John has them for himself, although I think he’s used them just about once every six months.  (We also have a PSP – wondering when that one is going to show its face…) The only thing they have ever used to play games is one of our iphones, so this is a big step up for them!  The van doesn’t have a tv, so they’ve been doing really well just playing with each other and reading, but this is our first 12 hour driving day, so I’m glad we have a little something extra to keep them occupied 🙂  Modern technology – something to love at times.  Another good example before I close out for the day – we just bypassed a spot where I-94 to Chicago was completely closed (not sure how much of it was closed, but a sign said “I-94 closed at Exit 66” about 6 miles before Exit 66) by using google maps on my computer on which I am typing right now – because one of our cellphones is broadcasting a mobile hotspot for wifi.  Sure, we could have figured out an alternative route on the GPS or used a cellphone to navigate, but having a larger picture on which to zoom in and out and to be able to easily move around on the screen sure was nice.  Of course, I guess we could have just used one of those old paper things – what are they called….maps?