Friday, July 27, 2007

Cardboard Envy

I very much agree with children the world over – cardboard boxes make the best toys. We order a few things online here (as one does when one lives in America, and lives in a climate that can be inhospitable), so we regularly receive cardboard boxes. When a large box arrives, the boys become quite excited: Nic at the prospect of something to climb in / out of and to hide in, Luc with the prospect of creating some new form of habitation. 

From the larger boxes we have made a fort, castle and houses… These have a limited life span and once they start to disintegrate, we await the arrival of the next big box and potential plaything to take its place. 
Demise of a cardboard house. The house - that Luc decided should be red - in its final moments. 
Luc has an obsession with rocket ships at the moment. Wanting to be an astronaut when he grows up is part and parcel of that obsession. One morning we were lamenting the demise of our latest ‘house’ box, and Luc mentioned the prospect of building a space rocket. We had no suitable boxes available. When we walked out on the street to visit our local park, voila, sitting on the pavement was a very large, very lonesome looking box. Luc took one look at it and exclaimed “A space rocket!” we knocked on our neighbours door and asked if we might have the box if they had no need for it. That was no problem, so we claimed it and put it inside our buildings foyer. 
Nic examines our cardboard box find
The whole morning, while we were out and about, Luc wanted to go home to build the rocket. After his nap that afternoon, he was upset to find the box hadn’t transformed itself into a rocket. After another days disappointment, I was compelled to build a rocket. I ran out of cardboard for the ‘fins’ and knew this would be the first thing Luc would notice, and sure enough, after the initial excitement of seeing his very own space rocket the next morning, he exclaimed “I wanted a rocket ship with fins!” Another box, and the fins were attached. 
The rocket ship (with fins) showing some sign of wear and tear. Luc decided the rocket should be blue. 
The need to have astronaut attire was (partly) satisfied with the discovery of a small cardboard box that Luc promptly put on his head and pronounced a helmet. Luc wore this to the park. I must say, I had a number of quizzical stares from strangers, whilst pushing around a stroller with a cardboard clad child. I said “He’s an astronaut” to a bemused couple as we walked past. They called back “Perfect!” We arrived at the park. Gabrielle was amused, 3yo James impressed and 1yo William non-plussed. 

The next day we planned to meet Polly, Callan and Finn at the Green City Markets (a weekly expedition for us). Luc again wore his cardboard helmet. Upon seeing Luc, Polly exclaimed, “For goodness sake, buy your child a sun hat!” Callan was very impressed and wanted a turn wearing the box. Luc, not about to hand over his prized helmet, promptly refused. Quite a bit of tussling ensued and we had two 3 year olds in (sometimes physical) competition for a very simple, plain, unadorned, brown cardboard box. Polly and I couldn’t believe it. We had to institute a 2-minute-rule (Callan could wear the box for 2 minutes, then Luc for 2 minutes – alternating between the boys). Thank goodness that 2 minutes is still an arbitrary concept and can last for as long or as little as required or is necessary. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


We returned from our journey to Northern Michigan a week ago. We had a magnificent time and thankfully all came back intact and (mostly) unscathed. 

It took us some time to get moving on Sunday June 24th: Paul had to wait some time for the hire car, we had to pack the car, then were caught in a traffic snarl. We missed our turn (due to recent roadworks and Google directions not complying), hit another snarl due to roadworks.. then finally made some headway. 

I do really like the simple directions that can be printed off from Google or Mapquest for road trips – but these really come unstuck when there are detours / roadworks, a turn is missed, alternative names are provided on signage or simple merging directions seem to carry as much importance as critical turns. As someone who is pretty map-savvy, I find these both helpful and frustrating. There is nothing like a good map! 

We arrived in Ann Arbor in time for dinner. We met our friends David and Bernadette, children Aidan and Mikayla and David’s niece Rachel and boyfriend Mark downtown. After a quick tour, we visited the wonderful delicatessen Zingermans, collecting some provisions for dinner. We ate our dinner, while watching a bustling Arts festival. I love daylight savings! Ann Arbor is a university city, providing the site for the well-regarded University of Michigan. As it was summer break, the city was not as busy as it is normally (a third of the population is comprised of university students). The next morning, we did some grocery shopping, gas-filling, car packing before having brunch with Rachel at CafĂ© Zola. We were then bound for Mackinaw City

The name ‘city’ has completely different connotations to an Australian. No thriving metropolis, Mackinaw City was a modest-tourism based town. We arrived at the Mill Creek camping site and set up camp. This is an immaculate and well-planned camp ground with a mix of tent sites, on-site cabins and RV parking spots. A general store, swimming pool and toilets and hot showers available 24 hours a day, made for a comfortable camping existence. As for the pillows however, dispense with any notion of using blow-up pillows. Paul and I didn’t sleep at all and made a special trip the next day to K-mart to buy ourselves some sleep. Despite this, we did see a beautiful sunrise! 

Our first tourist destination was Fort Michilimackinac. This historic village outpost and former fort, was an interesting introduction to the significance and importance of Mackinac’s gateway to Lakes Michigan and Huron: a vital transport route and ground for the very important fur trade to Europe. A number of volunteer guides, in period dress from the 1770s, completed tasks and gave an insight into life as it once was. In the afternoon, we visited the Old Mill – a saw-milling operation using a water wheel for power. Again, guides in period dress gave demonstrations. Many of the guides share their time between visitor destinations – I think the majority are university students. This would be a fascinating way to spend the summer months. 

Wednesday, we caught a ferry to Mackinac Island. This island is entirely tourist-orientated – with only 600 year-round residents. One of its most redeeming features being that it has absolutely no cars. Horses, carts and drays and bicycles of all types (we witnessed people riding penny-farthings!), were the only means of transportation. I even saw a UPS delivery person on a bike with trailer. One other notable feature of Mackinac Island is the fudge. We had been warned of this, but weren’t quite prepared for the preponderance of fudge shops. Of course, we had to sample all that we could, and soon sussed out the ‘chain’ fudge stores from the ones that sold the more exotic and interesting flavours. A trip up to the fort (relocated from Michillimackinac), made apparent the more defensible (and desirable) location. 

Mackinac Island is approximately 8 miles in circumference. We witnessed this on a leisurely bikeride around the island. Some beautiful homes face the lake, nestled amongst the woods. We all agreed that this would be a great place to return to and spend some time in a B&B over the idyllic summer. Paul started dreaming about working remotely from the Island. With a limited number of snow or frost-free days (the island is covered in snow for a large portion of the year), I’m not sure if I would survive the resultant cabin-fever. 

We thought we might have dinner in the very aptly named Grand Hotel. As we approached, we read the dress code policy – “coat and tie for gentlemen, and dresses or pantsuits for ladies”. Other than this, there was an admittance fee for non-guests of $12 per adult and $6 per child! We decided our sweaty and weary selves would eat in the much lower-key Gate House instead. Thankfully we did as Nic had a rather nasty and embarrassing intestinal accident. Our brilliant waitress Marsha helped us to deal with this in a very discreet and proficient manner – she got a big tip! 

After our visit to Mackinaw, we made our way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (UP): destination, Sault Ste Marie (USA, not to be confused with the Canadian Sault Ste Marie across the water).

Michigan, like a few of the states in the USA, has a very unusual shape: a combination of natural boundary and the arbitrary straight lines of frontier state making. The northern, or upper peninsula (UP) that looks, to all intents like it should be part of Wisconsin, has its own special character – not unlike an island off a mainland. 

We arrived at Sherman Park camp ground, definitely located on the wrong side of town -  and were a little shocked to hear that there were no available showers, only pit toilets after hours, recent break-ins, vandalism and theft, with a very cold and strong lake breeze. Luc was rapt though as the park included space-rocket play equipment, complete with flight deck and long slide. We did a little reconnaissance of the other camp grounds in town (i.e. parking lots for RVs) and realised that this was by far, the most scenic campground. Promised locked gates at night, security surveillance and police presence helped to allay any concerns with security. 

It turned out that we could get hot showers (phew): a glitch in the capacity requirements for campgrounds, means that Sherman Park can only be operated as a ‘primitive campground’. But, say, however… if we happened to be a beach visitor, get our feet a little sandy, and be in need of a shower, then we were entitled to use the shower facilities?!! Thank goodness, as it was really cold at night and I needed a hot shower before bed. 

The next day, Friday, was Engineer’s Day. This is the one day each year in which visitors are allowed across the Soo Locks separating Lakes Superior and Huron. The locks allow boats to cross a height difference of some 21 feet. This height difference had been taken up by St Mary’s falls. The boats that use the locks include many very large freight transporters – much larger than ocean freighters (as conditions in the lakes are not as rough as the open ocean). As you might imagine, these locks are huuuuuge! 

After visiting the locks and marvelling at the size of the boats, we had some lunch at local favourite Lock View Restaurant, before walking to the Valley Camp museum (located on a large ship) and taking a boat cruise from Lake Huron, through the locks to Lake Superior, then returning via the Canadian lock. A very long day outdoors, followed by a way-past-bedtime dinner for the kids and the prospect of packing up camp very early the next morning were deciders for cancelling a proposed bridge walk (across to Canada) the next morning. While disappointing, we were all very relieved! 

We said goodbye to fellow campers and headed towards Wisconsin. We stopped off to see Cut River Bridge and had lunch at a roadside diner. We made it to Green Bay, and spent the night. After breakfast, we tired the boys out in the hotel swimming pool before our next long car journey. We made a brief stop at the beach near Harrington Beach State Park, then drove through some local towns, including Port Washington (that I would like to explore more) before heading directly to Chicago. 

The boys were fantastic travellers. I was very impressed at their ability to cope with so much driving. Perhaps car travel is still a real novelty for them.

I had my reservations about Nicolas in an environment in which he could not be contained, that included camp fires and open water. Nic loves to run away – and seems to move the fastest when supervising eyes are diverted. David tried some ‘puppy training’ on Nic to prevent him from running away. Not surprisingly, this was the least effective when I tried it… but it has definitely curbed his enthusiasm for running away when cautioned “Stop!” Nicolas was definitely in his element camping. He loved roaming about and exploring all the smells, textures and tastes (!) of the great outdoors. I was getting a little nervous at how many changes of clothes we had (or hadn’t) brought!

Luc, possibly taking a lead from Aidan, started asking some very considered questions. Staring into the campfire one night, he asked “Aidan, how does fire burn things?” Aidan looked a little exasperated (as elder children often do at younger children’s persistence), but provided Luc with a very good explanation. Luc listened carefully and responded with an “Oh”.  When we were viewing the museum ship Valley Camp, Luc asked “How do boats move in the water?” We (simply) explained how this particular ship had an engine to drive a propeller - pushing it through the water. I think Luc was far more interested in posing an interesting question than listening to the answer… but time will tell in what he might regurgitate in the future. 

A great big thank you to David, Bernadette, Aidan and Mikayla for a wonderful week and all your planning and preparation. We all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and were so pleased to see some more of this big country. 

See the Snap Happy page for a few holiday snaps.