Monthly Archives: July 2019

Haiku 5, by Pumpkin

Once again, Pumpkin shares his feline wisdom and creativity.



Trapped in a small pen.

Like a dog, confined, exposed.

Detest this deeply.

(The above haiku reflects his  service experience at Entegra last month. We couldn’t leave him in the bus, so brought him into the customer lounge. He was Not Happy.)


King Pumpkin

She says it’s her spot.

Silly human, you should know,

Every place is mine.



Want to see more? Check out Pumpkin’s Haiku One, Two, Three, and Four. He’s such a talented feline!


Campground Review: Petoskey RV Resort, Petoskey, MI

046Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Petoskey RV Resort
  • Dates of stay: June 29 – July 28, 2019
  • Location: 5505 Charlevoix Ave, Petoskey, MI  49770
  • Type of campground: Private / Sun Communities
  • Cost: $62.55/night
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: Seasonal (May 1 – Oct 31)
  • Accepts mail / packages: yes
  • Cell reception: ATT OK
  • Website:
  • Pros: beautiful resort, many amenities, free breakfast
  • Cons: a little pricey

Full Review

I had high expectations for this resort coming in — the reviews were good and I’ve had good experience with Sun Communities properties in the past. Petoskey RV resort did not disappoint! It is an absolutely beautiful place.

First our site:  we got a back-in, paved, level, full hook up site that included 50 amp electric and very decent cable TV. It was big enough we could park our toad and motorcycle with no issues. The interior roads are wide and easy to maneuver with the largest rig. Even though there were trees around us, we had no trouble with our satellite TV. The Sun Wifi worked as well as any campground wifi I’ve seen so far — not good enough for streaming, but better than my ATT hotspot most of the time. I used it a lot. The lot was one of the less expensive locations because it was next to the busy highway, but I wasn’t bothered by any highway noise.

It should be noted that we were in the “older” section, with beautiful mature trees and landscaping. A brand-new section on the other side is much more open with sites appearing to be closer together. Some of the pull-through sites have a funky slope – part level with the last bit curving up to the roadway. If you pick one of these sites, check to make sure it is appropriate for your rig. Personally, I prefer the older side.

The resort has a ton of amenities! The fabulous clubhouse has a large gathering space, a billiards room, card room, fitness center, theater room, laundry facilities and locker rooms. FREE continental breakfast (juice, coffee, donuts, bagels, cereal, fruit) is served every single morning from 9 to 11 am. The locker rooms are as nice as any spa with spacious, tiled showers, lockers, restroom and sauna. The clubhouse area also includes a pool, hot tub, tennis/pickleball court, and putting green. A large fenced dog run is available near one end of the resort. Several rows of park models (small one bedroom cabins) are available for rent.  Everything is meticulously cared for and the property is beautifully landscaped.

The resort is conveniently located less than 10 minutes from Petoskey, many shopping options, and the Odawa Casino. The paved Little Traverse Wheelway (bike path) is just across Hwy 31, giving easy bicycle access from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs.

I loved this resort. The amenities were fantastic and the staff and guests were friendly. The only downside is that it is a bit pricey, but hey, sometimes you get what you pay for. Our $62.55/night was for a monthly rate – electricity is included the first month.

Bottom Line: Beautiful resort, 5 star. Pricey, but worth it!


Petoskey Wrap-up

We’ve enjoyed our month here in the Petoskey area. When we weren’t biking, hiking, and visiting famous tourist places like the Soo Locks and  Mackinac Island, we also did quite a bit of touring on the motorcycle along scenic roads. One of these is known as the “tunnel of trees“, a winding, hilly byway which reminds me just a bit of the Smoky Mountains roads. There are so many beautiful views of water here, one around almost every bend.

Sometimes you encounter the unexpected, too. The other day, we were taking a motorcycle ride around a lake and found that the road crossed an inland waterway. Not by a bridge – by ferry! Propelled by a chain drive, the ferry chugs back and forth transporting an endless stream of passenger cars. We waited in line for a bit, as the ferry capacity was only 4 cars.  When it was our turn we drove on, paid our $3, and took the five minute ride across the water. Upon reaching the other side, we simply drove on. You don’t see that every day!

I’m still painting rocks, and found the mother lode here on the rocky beaches of Lake Michigan. Since free is good, we took bins to the public beaches and loaded up! Lake rocks are perfect – rounded and smooth.  No exaggeration, I probably stowed at least 75 pounds of rocks in the basement – hopefully a year’s supply! Jeff used to fuss about weighing down the bus, until we got an actual weight on our rig that showed us to be 8000 pounds below capacity. He no longer says a word about my rocks!

We also took full advantage of the Little Traverse Wheelway bike path. On a busy art festival day, rather than drive and hunt for parking in downtown Petoskey, we rode our bicycles the 5 miles into town. No muss, no fuss. We browsed the art fair displays and I acquired a Petoskey stone, in jewelry form.

Going south on the bike path takes you to Charlevoix, another charming harbor town. It’s a pleasant 25 mile bike ride (round-trip) from our campground. We spent a fair amount of time in Charlevoix – browsing the shops, walking the parks, and watching boats go through the drawbridge channel.

Charlevoix hosted its annual Venetian Festival last week, so one of our final activities in the area was attending the festivities. At the concert venue (a harbor-side bandshell with grassy risers), you are permitted to set up camp chairs beginning at 8 am, which we did. Jeff joked that in Miami, you’d go back and your chairs would be gone! Here, people still respect others’ property – our chairs (and everyone else’s) were just fine. We went back later in the day to enjoy dinner, the carnival, live music, a boat parade, and fireworks. All free!

Attending functions in a small town creates a completely different atmosphere than in a big city. Sitting in my camp chair, watching the local audience of several hundred in their chairs (or sprawled on blankets),  I could see all ages chatting, relaxing, and enjoying the music. A group of three little girls danced in circles while a toddler jumped up and down to the beat. Two young boys played tag around the blankets. Between bands we chatted companionably with the couple next to us. The air was just comfortably warm as we watched the sun set behind the harbor. No public drunkenness, no angst, no apparent conflict. It was all so peaceful … and just happy. These unique moments are what make RV life so special.

The weather here was (most of the time) lovely, with cool nights and warm days. We made new RV friends and caught up with a couple we originally met in Orlando. We’ve enjoyed this beautiful RV park – I’m spoiled now!

But now it’s time to move on to the upper peninsula and our next adventure!


Mackinac Island Adventure: Part 3

After touring the Grand Hotel, we headed back to the main part of town, along the waterfront. By this time we were feeling peckish, so ducked into the Yankee Rebel Tavern for a bite and a beverage. It was good enough, a bit overpriced, but that’s to be expected in a touristy spot.

After our late lunch, we wandered the streets and shops. It is so odd to see nothing but horse drawn carriages and bicycles! There were taxi carriages, “drive your own” carriage rentals, carriage tours of the entire island, and you could just rent a horse to ride. All of those horses leads to a lot of horse poo, but fortunately the island employees full time pooper scoopers! Trust me, they can’t really keep up with the load, if you know what I mean.


043The slight but pervasive manure fragrance was almost overshadowed by the slight but pervasive fragrance of fudge making. Mackinac Island may not have invented fudge, but it seems to be the epicenter of fudge cuisine with dozens of fudge shops in a few short blocks. I was informed that approximately 10,000 pounds leave the island daily with tourists, leading the islanders to dub us “fudgies”. The shops create their fudge offerings in full view — boiling up the sugary mixture in copper kettles, pouring it out onto large marble-topped tables, then working the fudge into loaf shapes. Every shop we visited had two or three men working nonstop making the confection, creating endlessly fascinating culinary theater. We found if you worked your way through the shops tasting samples, you don’t actually need to purchase any!

After poking into various shops and experiencing a sugar rush from all of those fudge samples, it was time to head toward the ferry. We loaded up our bikes and boarded the ferry for home. Later, in honor of our visit, we re-watched the movie “Somewhere In Time”.

It seemed fitting.




Mackinac Island Adventure: Part 2


036Our Mackinac Island adventure continues!  After cycling round the island, we headed to what was (for me, at least) the main attraction — the Grand Hotel!

Everything inland is UP, so the bike ride to the Grand Hotel parking area was a bit of a huffer-puffer. The exterior of the Hotel was just as I pictured – expansive, and, well … grand! Due to its popularity, though, the hotel charges $10 per person just to come in and look around. That seems rather presumptuous, but we paid it along with hundreds of others. I guess that pays for someone to continuously vacuum the carpets …..

We explored the hotel from stem to stern. From the first floor shops, up to the main lobby area, through historical exhibits, and up to the cupola bar at the very top of the structure. The view from there was fantastic! The hotel’s 660 foot front porch is the longest in the world – a photo can’t really do justice to the scale. On the porch we discovered Wonder Women, Captain Marvel, and Belle performing fan service. Cool!

The extensive grounds feature gardens, a large swimming complex, even a labyrinth (which we walked). The huge lawn offered games to play — croquet anyone? Bocci ball?  We explored almost every nook and cranny, then headed on.


Jeff thought the exterior was grand as was the famed front porch, but the inside was nothing special. Nothing like, say, Yellowstone Lodge with its magnificently soaring log- framed atrium. Inside, the Grand Hotel looked pretty much like any other reasonably nice hotel facility. Was it worth the $10? It was for me, to see it once. I don’t think I’d need to see it again.

007Heading on up the hill, we entered a neighborhood of massive and gorgeous Victorian homes. Summer cottages for the rich and famous, I’m sure.  We explored this for a while, then headed back down to town.

Mackinac Island does boast a year round population of several hundred hardy folks. As the ferry service cannot run in the winter, the only transportation off the island is by airplane. UNLESS, the lake completely freezes up (which happens some years), and then the islanders can travel to St. Ignace by snowmobile across this “ice bridge”. They save their Christmas trees and stick them in the ice to mark the safest route! Otherwise, they have only the amenities on the island. They do have a medical facility, post office, grocery store (with reasonable prices) and a school. Two restaurants stay open for the winter, and residents travel by horse and sled or by snowmobile. The islanders that live there seem to like having the place to themselves, at least, for a while.


On to town, continued in Part 3!



Throwback Thursday Post: Vibrant Vancouver

Looking back to last year’s time in the Pacific Northwest, visiting Vancouver was one of the highlights! Enjoy this Throwback Thursday post!

IMG_4483Staying just minutes from the Canadian border has provided the opportunity to make a couple of day trips to the vibrant city of Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouver has been on my bucket list of cities to visit for quite some time. I am an avid science fiction fan and many Sci-Fi TV series has filmed here, including my all-time favorite “Stargate SG-1”. Vancouver is even known as Hollywood North, due to the very active film and TV production community. I looked forward to visiting the city and seeing if I could spot some of the shooting locations!

Our first visit was to the Capilano Suspension Bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. It is part of Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, a private attraction that includes a boardwalk through the temperate rainforest, a “walk in the treetops” and a cliff walk anchored from a cliff face. Not for the acrophobic, the various walks and bridge take you face-to-face with high cliffs and long drops! It was very well-engineered and perfectly safe, of course. One tip though – go early! We arrived shortly after the park opened, and by the time we left a couple of hours later, the park was becoming extremely busy. Not surprising for a lovely sunny summer day.

Our next stop was the Anthropology Museum, located on the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver campus. It housed a fascinating collection of artifacts from cultures throughout the world, with a special emphasis on the region’s First Nations. One room was full of totem poles, used as house poles (supporting structures), and to mark significant locations. The rooms were not only crammed full of display cases, they often also had multiple drawers under the displays that housed yet more collections. You could literally be there all day just browsing through it all. My only criticism was that the displays weren’t organized in any way that I could discern (like, by geography or timeline). There were placards describing what the artifacts were, but didn’t provide a lot of context. I found it confusing.

IMG_4449We dropped by Granville Island, once home to factories and sawmills but now a market and shopping district. We browsed the shops and indulged in a late lunch / early dinner before heading back.

Another day we schlepped our bicycles up and embarked on a tour of the city by bicycle. Vancouver is extremely bike friendly, with wonderfully-designed trails that have separate lanes for pedestrians and two-way bicycle traffic. Keeping bicycles separate from both cars and pedestrians just makes SO much sense, and is way safer – and  more enjoyable!

We cycled all around the seawall perimeter of Stanley Park, enjoying views of ships and ocean and the Vancouver skyline. We stopped at a sandy beach to watch several dogs enthusiastically chasing (and retrieving) balls tossed into the sea. We passed beautifully-landscaped parks and residential areas, museums and restaurants, as we cycled along the shoreline. We saw flocks of Canadian geese browsing the green lawns. (How did we know they were Canadian Geese? …. Because we were in Canada!  <rim shot>) Circling back, we cut across the city to find a nice pub for lunch, then cycled by the cruise ship port and on back to our parking spot at Stanley Park. It was a great way to experience the city up close and personal on a cool and cloudy day. Oh, and did I recognize some of the Stargate SG-1 shooting locations?  Yep, I noted a couple – which was super awesome!

My impression of Vancouver is that it is a fantastic city – clean, safe, friendly and scenic. There are cultural attractions, theaters, a university, and a thriving downtown. The outdoor activity options are almost endless, with ocean and mountains in close proximity. I did NOT see the homeless problem so evident in some of the other US cities we’ve visited recently, and I don’t know what Canada does differently to deal with that. The only negative I saw was the traffic, it pretty much sucks. Like many port cities, bridges are bottlenecks that back up almost all of the time. I’m also not sure how I would like the gray, cold and wet winters … but the summer weather is just ideal!


Mackinac Island Adventure: Part 1

Mackinac Island has been on my bucket list for a very long time. Even before the movie “Somewhere In Time” made the Grand Hotel famous, the idea of taking a ferry to an island where no cars were allowed sounded simply idyllic. So, we packed up our bicycles and headed out to the ferry!

There are two main ferry lines servicing the island from both Mackinaw City and St. Ignace (across the Mackinac bridge). I chose the Star Line because the parking logistics were easier – for a fee, we could park right at the dock. The other ferry required shuttling from parking to the dock. At this time of year, departures are frequent, almost one every half hour or so. We saved a couple of dollars booking online, and our bicycles were an extra fee which covered the ferry transport and an island bicycle permit.

003Several departure times allow time to swing under the Mackinac Bridge and around (schedule and weather permitting), so we chose one of those! The long bridge looks low to the water until you get under it, and realize that there is over 130 feet of clearance! It was fantastic to see the underside up close and personal.

About 20 minutes later, we were unloading at the Mackinac Island dock. We first stopped at a tourist information center to get a map and the scoop, then saddled up for a ride around the island. The circumnavigation distance is 8.2 miles of never ending blue water views. As a child, I didn’t fully appreciate just how pretty the Great Lakes are with blue water that is Caribbean-esqe in its clarity. On this beautiful July day, it was shown off to its best advantage.

I did not realize that most of the Island is actually park land – Mackinac State Park. It was originally the second National Park, established in 1875. That is only 3 years after the first National Park (Yellowstone) was established! Alas, its status as a National Park lasted only 20 years, when it was turned over to the State of Michigan with the proviso that it forever remain a Park. So, much of what we pedaled around was unspoiled and undeveloped land. Beautiful!

Geologically, the island is composed primarily of limestone, which can be carved into interesting features by the forces of wind, wave and ice. One of the most well-known features is Arch Rock. From the road, you only need to climb 207 steps to the top of the bluff to view it! You can also see it from the road, but the perspective isn’t nearly as pretty. I believe there is also a road up to the observation area, but what is the fun in that?

Riding around the 8.2 mile loop is a popular thing to do as evidenced by the number of bicycles on the road. You can rent bikes on the island but it is quite expensive for the nicer (multi-gear) bicycles – something similar to mine would have run over $60 for the day! It’s much cheaper to bring your own, and more comfortable too. It was quite an experience to ride along and only have to keep an eye out for other bicyclists and horse drawn carriages. Along the way, we spied a group of Amish young people enjoying the island on their bicycles. They must have felt right at home!

About halfway around the loop is a Nature center, and restrooms, making for a convenient stop. Frequent informative signs around the entire loop explained island history, flora and fauna. The loop itself is fairly flat, a hill or too (not bad), so it’s a do-able ride for most people.

Before we knew it we were back at the main town ….

To be continued on Part 2!


Kilwins Chocolate Factory

006The chocolate shop chain Kilwins just so happens to be headquartered in Petoskey! And they offer free tours!

The main shop is just off the bicycle path and we tried to tour during our 4th of July bike ride, but alas, the tours were cancelled that day. We attempted to go that weekend but alas, no tours on the weekend. (Obviously we weren’t attentive to their tour sign OR the website.). The third time being the proverbial charm, we finally made it on a proper day and time to take advantage of this feature.

Kilwins has 113 locations in 23 States, so I had seen it around before, but had never been inside a shop to the best of my recollection. Each Kilwins location makes certain things in-house: fudge, caramel apples, caramel corn, brittles and such. But other items such as marshmallow candies, tuttles (their version of turtles), enrobed and molded chocolates – are only made in their Petoskey shop and shipped to their franchisees.

The “factory” area is surprisingly modest, considering how many stores they supply.  We grouped at the appointed hour and listened to a brief overview of the franchise history and products. We then donned very attractive disposable hair covers (Jeff got a bonus beard cover) and shoe covers before heading through the magic doors.

This is a high-end, small batch, manually-produced product line. That’s why it’s pricey! But it was fascinating to see brownish gel get cooked up and then whipped up onto snowy white marshmallow gooiness. Poured into a large tabletop mold and allowed to cool, it is then coated with powdered sugar and manually cut/packed. Farther along, we watched two long chocolate enrobing machines (one each for dark and milk chocolate) coating various centers with chocolaty goodness.

Upstream of the enrobing machines is where the magic happens — fair trade high quality cacao nibs are massaged, married with sugar and cream, and processed into liquid chocolate in a continuous flow process. Pumps and pipes carry it overhead to the enrobing machines. Two taps allowed our guide to extract samples of each type of chocolate (milk and dark) and skillfully dipped out spoonfuls for each of us. There’s something about the silky-smoothness of just-right-temperature melted chocolate that’s just over-the-top good. Mmmmmmmm. I felt a bit like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory and wanted to dive into a pool of the stuff! Oh. My. Goodness.

Side note:  One of the guests asked our tour guide how long it took before he didn’t eat the chocolate anymore. He said one month …. and hasn’t had chocolate for over a year! Working around it so much, he’s not even tempted a bit to sample any. I guess even a good thing can be over dosed.

At the conclusion of our tour, we were given a tuttle sample and a coupon for 20% off, which of course we promptly used. The candy IS pricey, but nice for a splurge – once in a while.

Soo Locks, Saulte Ste. Marie, MI

075The Soo Locks is one of a series of inland Locks that enable freighter traffic to travel through the Great Lakes and ultimately out to sea. Originally built in the late 1800’s, the Soo Locks raise (or lower) ships the 21 feet difference between Lakes Superior and Huron. Since that sounded too cool for words, we hopped on the motorcycle and made the (almost) 2 hour drive to Saulte Ste. Marie from our Petoskey campground to check it out!

Before we left, however, we called the Soo Locks Visitor Center boat hotline, to ensure there would be something to see that day! Assured that ships were indeed due to pass through the locks within a few hours, we made a beeline up there. And we were not disappointed! As we arrived, we could see a large bulk freighter (a “Laker’) easing slowly into the narrow lock slip. The Visitor center includes a large green park area next to the locks as well as a 3 level observation deck. We passed through the (modest) security and dashed up to the top level viewing area.

We watched, fascinated, as the enormous ship slid delicately along the channel that seemed hardly wide enough to fit it. In fact, we could hear some slight grating as the ship made contact along the wood-clad side. Crewmen walked alongside, carrying and adjusting lines. Once in position, the ship halted and was tied up to the dock. This ship was headed inland (up stream) and needed to be raised 21 feet. A few minutes, and we could see the water level gradually rising. It is all accomplished by gravity alone, the water fed through channels in the bottom. As the boat rose, crew members constantly adjusted the mooring lines to keep the huge ship in position. 10 or so minutes later, the ship was 21 feet higher. We could see now that the ship was riding high in the water, obviously empty of cargo. A few more minutes, a horn tooted, and the forward gate opened. The ship chugged and goosed its engine a few times, slowly gained momentum and soon was churning out of the lock, headed to an unknown port to pick up a load of coal, iron ore, limestone, salt, or grain.

That ship was no sooner on its way, than another large (empty) Lake Freighter was maneuvering into position. We watched as the lock gates closed and slowly drained as it prepared for the next upstream-bound ship. This ship captain seemed to be a bit more experienced, as he hit the Lock channel dead center (no scraping this time!) and expertly put her into the right spot. We watched as the process repeated, and the captain smoothly pulled straight out toward the Great Lake. That guy was GOOD! I’d say he’s done it a time or two!

We wandered back to the small visitor center. It offers exhibits on the history and operation of the Lock system in general and the Soo Locks in particular. The trend is toward ever larger (and more efficient) ships – the Lake now hosts freighters that are 1000 feet long! Since only one of the Soo Locks can accommodate large freighters, another large Lock is planned for construction next year which will increase shipping throughput. (The shipping season shuts down January through March due to ice.) I was surprised that there is no fee for Lock transit, as it is owned and operated by the Army Corp of Engineers. The visitor center and viewing area is also free to the public. (Nearby street parking is metered)

After watching all of that work, we were hungry, so visited the aptly named Lock View Restaurant across the street. The eatery offered local white fish in several formats. Jeff ordered the whitefish sandwich while I opted for the whitefish wrap – both delicious. After dining, we headed south, back across the Mackinac Bridge, toward home.



Throwback Thursday Post: Whales!

A year ago we were in the Pacific Northwest enjoying sunshine and cool weather. One of the highlights of the area (for me, anyway) was the whale watching cruise out of Bellingham Washington. We saw several pods of whales and it was fantastic! Enjoy this Throwback Thursday Post!

One of the activities I had most been looking forward to during our time in the Pacific Northwest was going on a whale watching cruise. Our San Juan Cruises whale watching tour did not disappoint!

Our deluxe whale watching tour left from the sleepy port of Bellingham, about 20 minutes drive from our RV park. We could watch a playful seal cavorting during our wait to board. Our boat was maybe half booked, leaving plenty of room to sit and move around on board as we set out through the San Juan Islands.

As a boater, one thing that was interesting were the strong and squirrely currents running in and around all of the islands. We saw a channel buoy listing at 45 degrees from the strong current as well as areas where the currents intersect and swirl around like a whirlpool. You would certainly need to understand the tidal flows and local current patterns to go boating here!

Our first stop was Port Friday, on San Juan Island. We disembarked for an hour or so to wander the scenic port town, full of shops and restaurants. I had been looking for a lined windbreaker type jacket, and found one at a great sale price. A small farmer’s market was being held that day, displaying island wares and local seafood and produce. We had time for a quick beer at the local pub, then it was back on board the boat for the whale watching part of our tour.

The cruise company advertises that you are guaranteed to see whales or get half off your next cruse. They are in touch with local spotters, so can get a bead on where the resident orcas are hanging out that day. While heading out in the direction of the ocean, we were served a delicious buffet of local salmon, BBQ chicken, cole slaw, biscuits with honey butter, grapes and chocolate brownies. Yum! Just about the time we finished up, the first whale was sighted!

Orca whales swim in a pattern of three or four surface appearances, then a deeper dive of several minutes. Once you spot them, you’ve got a few chances to get your photos before they disappear again!  Regulations require the boat to stay back at certain distance, so we couldn’t get TOO close up, but we were close enough to have a great view. We spotted and idled along several different groupings (pods) of whales. One pod was quite active, doing a lot of tail slapping and even breaching a couple of times. Such a cool sight – but I couldn’t get my camera in position quick enough to catch that!

We hung around the whales for a little over an hour, then it was time for the long trek back to the dock. The weather was perfect, the whales were incredible – what a great day!