Thursday, June 01, 2006

Highland cows and tuba museums

One bonus of homeschooling is being able to simply pick up and go whenever the mood strikes us. For Memorial Day weekend we decided to head off to Alma, Michigan to the Alma Highland Festival and Games, and we all had a great time.

Apart from my time in the womb, none of us had really been to Michigan before. It's not one of those states that you accidentally happen upon on the way to someplace else. You have to mean to go there. You have to drive through miles and miles of flat farmland to get there, where you see more miles and miles of flat farmland. And lakes. No shortage of water in Michigan.

I grew up in Southern Arizona, so the idea of having a lake in my backyard is purely preposterous. Water just didn't happen, unless it was chlorinated. People in rural Michigan know how to waterski and ice skate. They know all about swinging off ropes and canoeing and all that. People like me, desert folk, have to actively pursue experiencing these things. I still can't ice skate, but it's on my list.

So we went, we saw, and we danced to the sound of bagpipes en mass. And I think we learned a few things, too:

1. Always ask a local where to eat.

If you're ever in Okemos, Michigan don't forget to check out the Traveler's Club International Restaurant and Tuba Museum. Fine food and more tubas than you can shake a stick at.

2. Never, ever settle for the restaurant attached to the hotel.

We have a pretty strict diet, but we try not to be food snobs and eat out like normal folks from time to time. After an exhausting day in the sun and humidity with a satchel of peanut butter sandwiches, we dared to take a chance on dinner at TGI Fridays. If you need your innards greased, regardless of the fare, this would be the place to eat. For us, it was an exercise in futility. But we live and learn and keep smiling. We always travel with our handy dandy reference guide to healthy eating, Healthy Highways, a book brimming with health food stores and vegetarian eateries across the U.S. It's one of the better travel investments we have made.

3. Juice boxes, regardless of their contents, are never a good idea in the car. Period.

4. Michigan looks like a mitten, and somehow that's funny to my kids. (I always thought Texas looked like Fred Flinstone's head, but that trip to cartoonland is lost upon my poor, media-deprived children.)

5. You get great hotel deals by booking online via Hotwire.

We stayed our first two nights at the only motel near Alma with an available room. It was dilapidated and grungy, and we were afraid to let Kitty Bill touch anything. For the next two nights we hotwired a 3-star hotel for a few bucks more. What a difference! We spent some time in the indoor pool and the service desk actually called to see if we needed anything. We woke in the morning to a hand-written thank you note under our door and a complimentary newspaper. Who does that kind of thing anymore? Apparently, the Holiday Inn.

6. If you want anyone to come out of their house, you don't need to knock... just stand in their yard and play the bagpipes.
We met lots of nice folks in Howell and Brighton, Michigan where my parents grew up. Einstein played a bagpipe tribute to my Grandpa Jim, who was born near Edinburgh, Scotland but died in a farmhouse in Michigan when I was Sunburst's age. We drove out to the farm where he died, stood together under the great pine trees, and Einstein cracked off a few respectful dirges while the kids searched in vain for my mom's wedding band that was lost there in the snow over 30 years ago.

7. Highland cows are massive creatures of immense beauty.

We met two Highland cows at the Alma Festival. The bull stood about five feet tall with long, shaggy hair and protracted, curling horns. He was gorgeous and docile, with a nose as big as Kitty Bill's face. If you were hungry and had a lot of freezer space, I'm guessing a family could eat off one of these creatures for two years. We don't eat meat, but boy! For the first time ever I felt the calling to own a cow. I'm as bad as the kids: "Please, can't we just get one? I promise to feed it and turn its poop into manure for the garden."

Highland cow photo taken by Hajor, 21.Feb.2004. Released under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike License

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