Category Archives: Vacation Stories

Radiator Springs Is The Best Thing Maybe Ever

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My daughter and I went to California over spring break.  It was just the two of us and we had a great time.  The first part of the week we stayed in Venice Beach, then we moved out to Anaheim and went to Disneyland and California Adventure.  It was our first time at C. A. so we were very excited.  It was great, it was fine, it’s not as good as Disneyland, but it’s fun. It became amazing at dusk when we found ourselves in Radiator Springs.

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Lydia insisted that we get over there by dusk because she said they did “a thing.” She knew what was about to happen and she wanted to surprise me.  By this time, I was hot and tired and had blisters the size of grapes in three different spots on my feet, so honestly, I was done; and then it happened.

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Remember at the beginning of one of the Cars movies when dusk hit Radiator Springs and the lights came on?  They started at the head of the main drag, and one by one, the kitschy neon lights came on until the entire street was lit up?  Well, the “thing” they did, was play Sh-boom over the sound system, and re-enact the light up of the businesses on the main street.  I almost died.  Like seriously, almost keeled over and died. It was the single most 1950’s thing I have ever witnessed in a life that missed the 1950’s by quite a few years.

After this happened, I got a serious second wind, was able to ignore the excruciating pain in my feet, and carry on with the rest of the night.

When my son was five years old, he contracted a very serious case of double pneumonia with pleurisy. He missed a solid month of kindergarten, had to take four different, very seriously strong antibiotics and after it was over, his doctor told me I was lucky he got sick in this day and age, or he might not have made it.  While he lay on the couch day after day, week after week, he watched Cars over and over and over. It was the only thing that made him happy. My goal in life is now to go back to California Adventure with him just so he can see Radiator Springs. It will mean the world to him.

If you have a kid who loves Cars, I highly recommend a trip to Radiator Springs.  It’s done with typical Disney Magic and attention to detail. Plus? Their end of the day water show spectacular thingy is genuinely spectacular.

Have a great weekend.  Remember, Memorial Day is not about grilling out and the beach. It’s a time to remember all the brave men and women who’ve sacrificed their lives for our freedom and so our kids can sleep safely in their beds each night.

Be kind to someone, our world needs it now more than ever. 🙂

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NORTH to Alaska!!

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I’m not a big fan of the term bucket list, because it reminds me about kicking the bucket.  I DO however like the term wish list.  There are many things on my wish list, and I just got to experience one of them, the Aurora Borealis.  I have the best husband in the world, and for our recent landmark anniversary, he used up all of his hard-earned airline and hotel points, along with a couple hundred dollars and took me to Alaska to see the Northern Lights for our anniversary.  I’m going to break the trip up into several posts because I don’t like to make them too long. I am including pictures, but I’m not an expert at taking Aurora photos, so they aren’t up to my usual quality.  I’m leaving them smaller because they look better small.

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The Northern Lights are of course linked to a number of legends for the people native to the areas where they appear.  In Alaska, they’ve been viewed as everything from what is basically a celestial River Styx to an omen of war to animal spirits. I’ve even been told that in some areas the Eskimos sing to the lights.  The scientific explanation is that charged particles from the sun strike atoms and molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, excite those atoms, and cause them to light up. The best time to go is March due to a better likelihood of clear skies, slightly higher temperatures and still long nights, that didn’t coincide with our anniversary though, so January it was.

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We rented a small off grid cabin to use as shelter while viewing the lights.  The temperature while we were there ranged from -11 to -27 fahrenheit. It was very cold and it was possible to stay outside comfortably for very short periods of time, so we needed a place to warm up. We’d read that the lights came out mostly between midnight and three in the morning, but once we got there and talked to real people, we found that they come out when it’s dark.  In Alaska in the winter that could be four in the afternoon or nine in the morning.

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About 8:30 p.m., I noticed a glow on the horizon. Based on my day-to-day life experience, I assumed it was the glow from a town so I went back inside; then I remembered we were in the middle of nowhere Alaska and there WAS no town in that direction so I ran back out and there they were! Just above the horizon now, was a streak of soft green light. It was in the shape of a low rainbow and my husband thought it was a cloud bank, then it started to move. It drooped down and looked like it was melting, then it swirled and twisted, and flowed. It would fade then charge back up again. It looked like it was coming out of a single spot, like smoke from a cigarette, then it blew up all over the sky. It rolled and turned over on itself. It stayed with us for FOUR HOURS. Finally, we thought it had gone away, then suddenly, there it was again, directly over the cabin in all it’s twisty, turn-y glory, then it snapped off like someone turned off the switch.

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I’ve been processing what I saw and trying to find a way to talk about it and I’m afraid that anything I say will be insufficient. Practically, it looked like glowing fog. The moon was very bright, so it wasn’t as brightly colored as it sometimes is, but that didn’t matter. It was otherworldly. Alien. Heavenly. It left us speechless. It filled us UP with words. It excited us and relaxed us. It changed something in the way we think. It changed something about the way we feel. It was basically a religious experience. It was profound. I understand why the Eskimos sing to it. I will go back someday and I will have a song prepared.

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The Solo Conundrum

 

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View from The Cliff, in my favorite California beach community, Laguna Beach. Would it be weird to go there alone?

My husband has to go to L.A. for a week in April to something called a Controls Summit. Controls buy our food and heat our house, but zzzzzzz… I don’t even know what that is, other than its math-y and full of controls guys talking about controls things. Anyway, I’m not invited, so who cares, I AM invited to go along and keep him company when he’s not in meetings that could’ve been emails etc. By keeping him company, I mean being there when he gets back at night because he’ll be busy all day long. That means I’ll be on my own, all day, every day for five days.

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These Mission Bells remind me of the Eagles…

Couple things for you to understand.

  1. I love LA. I’m the only person in my family to do so, but my mother looked at Los Angeles like it was the promised land and that got pretty deeply instilled in me at an early age.
  2. My oldest child is 19 years old. I haven’t been alone in almost 20 years.
  3. I haven’t been alone in 20 years. Especially in a city the size of Los Angeles. Can I go to Disneyland by myself? Would I cry from loneliness? Would the Haunted Mansion and The Pirates of the Carribean be the same without my kids? Would wandering through the shops in Laguna Beach be fun without my husband? Because when I say I’ll be alone, I’ll be ALONE. I DO have a friend in California, but she lives near San Franscico and she works, so…
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Last time we were there, she was not a legal adult, and he was not big and almost an adult.

Will my adult daughter and giant, almost adult, son survive here at home alone? That’s stupid because my son is like buh-bye, have fun, leave me pizza money. I know my friend down the street will drive the boy back and forth to school, so I’m good on that front.

I’m nervous about it, but I think I need to do it. I regularly complain about the lack of adventure in my life, and this would surely be an adventure.

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This photo actually makes me start singing Hotel California in my head.

I’ll keep you posted.

Have a great day everybody. 😊

 

Faces of the Audubon Zoo : Part Two

I originally intended to put all my faces in one post, but once I got started, I realized I had more than I thought and I don’t like to make photo posts too long.  Hope you enjoy my non-mammals. 🙂

Lovely flamingo.  They were very vocal.
Lovely flamingo. They were very vocal.
Some kind of duck.
Some kind of duck.
I love peacocks so much.  I've always wanted one but they are so loud, I'll have to be satisfied with peacock art.
I love peacocks so much. I’ve always wanted one but they are so loud, I’ll have to be satisfied with peacock art.
Turtles are cool.
Turtles are cool.
Weird zombie chicken duck bird. Fitting for New Orleans.
Weird zombie chicken duck bird. Fitting for New Orleans.
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Some sort of pelican.
I love these birds and I think their eyes are fascinating.
I love these birds and I think their eyes are fascinating.

I like to take pictures of faces because they are so expressive.  I believe that animals have very similar inner lives to humans and I enjoy trying to capture a little of that.

Have a beautiful day and be kind to someone. 🙂

Faces of the Audubon Zoo : Part One

New Orleans is the home of my soul.  Seriously, I think I lived there in another life.  On my latest trip, I finally made it to the zoo.  I have very mixed emotions about zoos.  I love the conservation work they do, but caged animals, even when they are in lovely habitats make me sad.  Nevertheless, I went, I enjoyed, I saw some beautiful animals.

Bored bear
Bored bear.
The leopard was asleep until he heard my camera noise.
This leopard was asleep until he heard my camera noise.
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Fantastic face 🙂
So handsome
So handsome.
I told him he was handsome, and he smiled at me.
I told him he was handsome, and he smiled at me.
Orangutan hanging in a hammock.
Orangutan hanging in a hammock.
Rhino
Rhino
Ahhhh, that feels good...
Ahhhh, that feels good…
I love giraffes.
I love giraffes.

I hope you enjoyed my mammal faces edition.  Birds and reptiles will be next.

Have a wonderful day and be kind. 🙂

Cades Cove, TN

We live about five hours from Gatlinburg, TN. If you’ve never been there, it’s a town just outside the entrance to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Gatlinburg has gone over the years, from being a sleepy little mountain town to a tourist mecca. It has a decidedly German flavor to many of the buildings and in the summer, there are beautiful flowers everywhere. I know lots of people don’t like tourist towns, and I often don’t like them either, but I like this one. It is a great gateway to the beautiful park, and inside that beautiful park is Cades Cove.

Cades Cove was a community way back in the mountains. Today, it is basically a museum of past Appalachian living. There are a few houses, some churches, a nice visitor center and a campground. We decided to take a bike ride on the loop road, and quickly discovered that it’s a lot hillier than we ever thought it was from the car. We had to bale, but in the meantime, I got some awesome photos.

A morning view from the Loop Road.
A morning view from the Loop Road.

We got there early, it was shady and cool. Suddenly, the sun rose all the way and the humidity began to creep up.

The boy beginning to realize that a black shirt was a bad choice...
The boy beginning to realize that a black shirt was a bad choice…
The Loop Road.
The Loop Road.

We realized that we were going to all die and dry up like empty corn husks if we kept going, so the sight of this cross-over road was a welcome sight.

Posts along the cut over road to chop that trip in less than half.
Posts along the cut over road to chop that trip in less than half.

The boy was in the worst shape because he had on a black shirt. My husband is the kind of person who trades us for crappy meals in restaurants, and will give you the shirt off his back. His shirt was NOT black and large enough to allow for air circulation when it was put on my son, so they traded shirts. I’m not sure if it shows well enough for you to tell, but that black shirt was TIGHT on the hubs. It was really funny, and a little embarrassing…

The hubs goofing off because the boy's shirt was too small for him, the boy dying.
The hubs goofing off because the boy’s shirt was too small for him, the boy dying.

Lesson learned from this? Just because you can handle an eight mile loop road bike ride on a perfectly flat island in Michigan when the temp is in the low 60’s, does NOT mean you can handle a loop road bike ride on a hilly, 80 degree, humid Tennessee morning. Just say no. The Cades Cove Loop Road is for cars. Use one.

Have a great day full of level walking/riding paths, cool temps and low humidity. Be nice 🙂

The Road Less Travelled – We Tend to Find It

My family and I recently took a four-day trip to Chicago over spring break.  We stayed in a very nice hotel a block from Michigan Avenue.  We went to Bloomingdale’s, and the Sears Tower, which is now called the John Hancock Center or something along those lines, we ate Chicago pizza at Giordano’s and got creeped out by the scary waves one day on the lake.  But the REAL fun came when we veered off the beaten path and marched to the beat of our own marching band, like we tend to enjoy doing.

Before we left home, my husband went on Roadside America.com and looked for unusual things to do in Chicago.  GOLDMINE!!  We had breakfast at The Time Warp Cafe, a little place that made me feel, well, timewarped to the 80’s.  They had a Back to the Future DeLorean and a flux capacitor for heaven’s sake!  I also had the prettiest vanilla latte I have ever had in my life.  In a china cup, not a paper one with a stingily given cardboard sleeve to prevent third degree burns to my delicate digits.

We went to see The Shit Fountain.  Seriously.  Apparently, this crotchety old man got tired of the neighbors letting their dogs crap in his tiny little postage stamp front yard, so he paved over it with concrete to make his area less appealing, then he had The Shit Fountain erected.  It is a lovely affair with a nice large pile of fake doggy doo coiled coyly up on top.  The title of said fountain is carved in block print around the base that holds the poo.  It was totally awesome.  While my husband and daughter were taking each other’s picture in front of it, my more easily embarrassed son and myself (also easy to embarrass) stayed in the car nervously giggling as some neighbors came home and almost knocked my hubs and daughter over as they brushed past them into their home.  My son and I almost died and most assuredly would have, had we been out of the car.

The Shit Fountain

Then, we went to Graceland cemetery to see the Grim Reaper.  Now, you gotta love a cemetery with creepy monsters in it.  As I’m sure you know, most of them consist of lovely memorials, weeping angels and the occasional crypt.  This one has a ten foot tall spooky dude who doesn’t have a scythe or anything, so I’m not sure he’s the GR, but he is kinda scary.  I vote for a cemetery where all the monuments are scary.  Finally, a boneyard that you actually CAN be afraid of.  Sounds cool.

Grim Reaper at Graceland Cemetery

After lunch at Potbelly’s, a sandwich shop I’ve never been to before, we went to the Woolly Mammoth.  It is an antiques and oddities store similar to Obscura, the one in New York that is the star of the show on the Science Channel.  It was cool.  They had jars of teeth, taxidermied critters, a zombie Elvis lamp (THAT was cool), and the awesomest guy ever running it.  When we told him we had spent the morning frolicking in the cemetery and that although it might sound kind of weird, we had a blast, he said, and I quote, “That’s not weird at all.  I go frolicking in the cemetery all the time.  In fact, there is another one not far from here called Rosehill that has a lot of good ghost stories associated with it.  You should go check it out.”  I swear to You Know Who, that I think I am just going to stop trying to live the pretense of normality and start seeking out my people.  Those considered “weird” by everyone else.  They are usually super nice, and they don’t think I am excentric at all.  In fact, most of them think I’m a little too “normal.”

The moral of this story is basically to let your freak flag fly and to take the road less travelled.  Quit worrying so much about whether you are “normal” or “weird.”  Face it we are ALL weird in our own special ways.  Embrace it.  Do the stuff you like and don’t worry about what other people think.  Go see the regular stuff just so you can talk about it if you need to, but take the road less travelled.  You’ll see cool stuff and meet nice people.  Even if the stuff and the folks are a little “weird.”  Life will become an adventure instead of a drag.

Have fun and be kind to one another 🙂

New Orleeeeens

Cool NOLA balcony

I have travelled a lot in the United States.  I’ve been to big huge glistening cities and lazy beaches.  I’ve lived in the high desert of southern New Mexico and spent hours exploring the adjacent mountains.  Of all the places I’ve been my favorite is New Orleans.

I always wanted to go to N’awlins as the locals call it, but it wasn’t until my daughter was about 18 months old that we finally went.  We stayed in a hotel that had previously been an apartment building on Rampart St. which is the north edge of the French Quarter.  Everyday, we’d put the baby in her stroller and we’d walk.  We had discovered that parking in the Quarter was both precarious and costly, so we just walked.  We’d walk down to Cafe du Monde and have beignets and cafe lattes every morning.  Then we’d wander the French Market or just walk up and down the streets and look at everything.  We got our picture taken with a guy painted gold who freaked me out just a little and I took a picture of a little boy who was tap dancing with a bike wheel spinning on top of his head.  We saw fortune tellers and artists set up around Jackson Square.  We saw bums and runaways.  For a couple of years after the trip, every time my daughter saw pictures, she would point and say “ORLEEEENS!! I wanna go back to Orleeeens!!”  It was amazing.

For the last two years, we’ve gone to NOLA for spring break, and she has not disappointed.  We’ve seen people walking around in Mardi Gras costumes, we’ve gone to The Presbytere, a free museum near Jackson Square that will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about Mardi Gras.  We found a state park office on Decatur St. that is in possession of the cleanest, safest bathrooms in the Quarter.  We tend to walk waaaay out of our way to get there too, believe me.  We ate popcorn alligator at The Gazebo Cafe right at the edge of Latrobe Park.  We ate on a restaurant balcony overlooking the Joan of Arc statue near the French Market.  There was a storm moving in, and the clouds were spectacular, but I had a hard time fully appreciating it because I was so afraid that the balcony was going to collapse.  It didn’t collapse and the food was great and I want to go back again.

We also went out to Bayou Coquille to see what a real swamp looks like.  It was full of amazing wildlife, like alligators that like to lay right next to the wooden boardwalk, which is a really quick way to cut your walk short I might add.  We saw huge turtles, ok, just one and it was in the mouth of an enormous gator, but I digress.  We also saw snakes and frogs and weird bugs.  We heard an owl hoot in the middle of the day.  We saw cyprus trees and their weird little knees.  It was amazing.

I also ate the first oyster of my life in New Orleans.  My husband had been there on business and took us to a restaurant called Drago’s.  They had oysters on the half shell that were encrusted with parm cheese, breadcrumbs, butter and various spices, then broiled on a platter together.  We, kids included, ate so many and kept ordering more, that we couldn’t eat any more.  Oysters are generally like slimy little phlegm balls, but not these.  It’s the only place I think I’ll ever be able to have them.  We also ate at a place called Tommy’s that had me eating another thing I hate.  Bananas.  We had some kind of caramelly, wonderful, flaming banana dessert there and I couldn’t stop eating them.  The food in New Orleans is unbelievable.

I could go on and on and on, but blog entries that get too long tend to lose people, so I’ll stop, but next time you are looking for a cool, weird, live and let live kind of place to go on vacation, give The Big Easy a try.  It’s awesome and kids love it too.

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!

The Ghost Cat Has a Friend

I’m not obsessed with ghosts or anything, they just seem to be occupying a lot of my time lately.  So, light a fire, throw an afghan over your legs and cozy up for another horrifying ghost story.

Once upon a time, two families of friends went on a vacation together to South Dakota.  This intrepid crew stopped at a ghost town that had been used in movies to sight-see and have lunch in an old train car.  There were cats in the area and while my memory is a little iffy for the details, I’ll recount the tale as best I can.  There was a noise, or a meow or something and not a single one of those varmints was visible.  The Dad of one of the families said somthing like, “You have to jump up and down and spin around three times so the ghost cat can’t follow you home.”  The Mom of the other family laughed and said, “I’ll take my chances.”  THAT brave reader was a mistake.

Fast forward a few years to June 27, 2011.  That foolish Mom was making dinner for her family.  It was a lovely dinner of roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans and crescent rolls.  This Mom uses real butter in her cooking, so she opened the last new box of butter that she had, took one stick out to use in the potatoes and on the rolls and made a mental note that the three sticks that were left were more than enough to make the frosting for her son’s birthday cake the next day and for any general uses the family would have until she could get to the grocery store.

The next day, the family went fishing.  It was a last minute decision, and an important cake needed to be made, but the Mom decided to go ahead and go with her family and make the cake when she got home.  The family had a wonderful time and the little boy caught 13 tiny blue gills.  When they got home, the Mom got in the refrigerator to get out a stick of butter to soften for the frosting while she made the cake.  She looked high and low, in the fridge drawers and in the dairy thingy on the door.  She couldn’t find the butter!  She called her husband and said, “While I put the cake together, could you please look for the butter?  There are three sticks in the box.  I’ve looked and I can’t find it and I really need to get this cake made.”  So he looked.  He looked high and low, in the drawers and in the dairy thingy on the door.  He couldn’t find it either!!  He asked the Mom if she was sure about the butter.  She said absolutely, and went through the entire story again.  “Well, if you remember it that well, you can’t be mistaken.”

This always thinking Dad started looking in the garbage can.  The empty butter box was in the garbage!  It was laying on TOP of some papers that the Mom had thrown away that morning before the fishing trip!  He looked for the papers that would’ve been wrapped around the butter sticks.  They were not there.  He questioned the children.  They knew nothing.  The Mom and Dad snuck around the house looking for abandoned butter stick papers in the kid’s rooms, behind couches, in office trash cans.  NOTHING!!  The Mom in her very smart way pointed out that whoever had taken the butter and thrown away the box had done so AFTER the family went fishing.  The mystery gets even deeper here.  No one else has keys to the family’s house, so the only logical explanation is that a GHOST had taken the butter and eaten it or used it to get back through the portal to the other realm because the butter was completely and totally absent and gone from the house.

SO, the Ghost Cat who obviously followed this poor family home, brought a friend and waited stealthily like cats are know to do, until the family sort of forgot about him and when they least expected it, he whipped out his friend, THE BUTTER GHOST to terrorize these innocent people.

Moral of the story?  Next time someone tells you that you have to do a fancy and public dance to ward off a ghost, you’d better do it, because they bring friends.    MWUHAHAHAHHhaaaaa……

I realize how terrorizing this tale is, and I would like to tell you that it is not true, unfortunately, it is 100% true.  Ghost Cat dance and disappearing butter and all.  I’m sorry if you now have to sleep with your lights on…

We Might Have Seen a Ghost

In early June, my family and I fulfilled a long-term dream.  We went to Mackinac Island in Michigan and spent the night out on the Island.  Before I go any further, I need to tell you a few things.  First, it is pronounced MackinAW, not MackinAC.  The locals will get on your case if you pronounce it wrong.  I know, I know, it makes no sense, but that’s just the way it is.

Second, we stayed at a pretty nice place called Mission Point Resort.  It was kinda hot when we got there, and when we got into our room and tried to turn on the air conditioning, we discovered that the air conditioning was a ceiling fan and an open window.  Thankfully, my husband is an environmental controls specialist and he used his magical skills to reverse said ceiling fan so that instead of blowing the hot ceiling air DOWN on us, it sucked UP the slightly cooler floor air and thus sorta cooled the room.  Also thankfully, within a few hours of our arrival, the weather became much more Michigan-like and our room got almost chilly.

Third, never, never, ever, ride your bike or walk through a puddle on Mackinac Island.  There are no cars, only feet, bikes and horses.  The horses are the reason for avoiding puddles.  They may not be composed of water if you get my drift.

Fourth, the downtown part of the island smells worse on a warm day than the French Quarter in July.  For the reason, see third above.

Fifth, the locals call tourists Fudgies.  I don’t think I like that.

Sixth, the place is lousy with spirits and I don’t mean booze.

The first night we got there, we were riding our bikes out along the path that runs all the way around the Island.  We were out in what we called the “country” although an argument could be made that the whole place is the country.  All of a sudden, coming toward us was a guy on an old fashioned bike.  It was one of the ones with the HUGE front wheel and the little tiny back wheel.  He was dressed in old fashioned golf clothes and he had one of those little wool caps with the bill on it, pulled way down low over his eyes.  He was hauling you know what and we were in awe, because our backsides were screaming from hours of bike riding and we could barely move.  We looked right at him, and he completely ignored us.  Didn’t look in our direction, just kept going on that cool old bike.

So the second and last night (only two nights, because as I read yesterday in a magazine, budget travelers should stay on the mainland) we were there, we took a ghost tour.  That girl walked our bike injured butts all over the place, and finally, at the second to last stop at the bottom of a hill in one of the neighborhoods, she told us about a fatal bike crash from the early 1900’s in which a guy on a big wheeled bike  died on that hill and has since been seen riding his big wheeled bike in his ghostly form on the trail that goes around the perimeter of the Island.  Needless to say, the four of us literally almost fell over.  The ghost guide proceeded to tell us that we were the first people to see him this summer.

The last stop of the night was at OUR RESORT.  It told the story of a bunch of poor little waif kids who had been neglected and died in an old building that is now used to house summer employees.  We were going to go down to the lovely lawn that is next to the lake and sit for a bit in the Adirondack chairs there, but alas, the sighting of the Big Wheeled Bike Ghost right up the path from the lawn, proved to be too much for a certain short member of our family to process and we went on back to the room.

Did we see a ghost?  I can’t say for sure, but we had NOT heard the story of the ghost until after we saw it/him, and when we told the ghost guide about what we had seen, we asked if anyone on the Island had a collection of those bikes and she said no.  Although it is comfortable to deny the existence of things that are not easily seen  that doesn’t mean that those difficult to see things aren’t there.  Just as there is no proof that ghosts exist, there is also no proof that they don’t.  I WOULD recommend however that if you get the chance to go to Mackinac Island, you should take it.  There is a lot to do, it is like stepping back in time, and you just might see a ghost 🙂

Pretty close to the spot where the Big Wheel Ghost was seen.