Tag Archives: farm markets

Travel: The (Almost) Impossible Dream

Milepost: 5-11-16                       — Just moved into a small apartment

For many years it seemed like this day would never come — the day that we would be free to wander around the country in an RV and a pickup truck and choose our next destination with a random finger stab at the map lying in our laps.  But the day did come, not by accident but by sheer determination and hard work.  There were hard choices.

Six years ago we were living on a retired 30-acre Christmas tree farm with too much mowing to do… and a mortgage we could no longer afford.  Our kids had all grown up and left our spacious rural estate and our large house, and our nearest grandchild now lived 80 miles away.

We had become weary of the upkeep on so much property and wanted to see the world — and our grandkids.  But we couldn’t afford it.  I had been running a full crew with my log home construction company when the housing bust arrived in Michigan — two years before the recession.  It was 2006 and nobody else wanted a log home.  Even the log home dealers were closing one by one — the people who had been referring their buyers to us to build their homes.  I had to lay off the crew.

 Our financial plan for retirement crashed and burned.

We had arrived at retirement age still owing a mortgage.  Reality was brutal:  We could afford to own and maintain this property OR we could afford to travel.  But not both.  We had to choose one or the other.

It looked as though our businesses had run their courses and we wouldn’t be needing so much space and so many resources — tools, machinery, etc.  and the kids weren’t coming home to visit but once or twice a year.  We were ready to downsize.

And so we did.

We spent the next few years cleaning out sheds and closets and selling stuff or giving it away.  We put the property up for sale.  But we were in the middle of the recession and nothing happened.  Finally, a neighbor showed up at our door asking if we would sell him 10 acres.  We did, and then used the money to buy a used RV.  We put the rest of our stuff in storage, put renters in the big house, and we hit the road.

And the next year, while we were wandering around Alaska with our rig, the rest of our property sold.  Our once impossible dream was becoming our new reality.

We finally realized our dream of driving the Alaska Highway.
We finally realized our dream of driving the Alaska Highway.

Over the last couple of years, we have explored three corners of our country, from Florida to California to Alaska and a thousand points in between, and have moved offshore for a couple of winters living in the tropics in vacation rentals.

 New England (the fourth corner of our country) will have to wait for us, because we have decided to take a vacation from traveling (that sounds odd, maybe?)  and move into a small apartment for a while.

And we can finally afford to do BOTH.  We can have a Michigan home base again AND continue to travel.  Our new apartment is only 13 miles from our kids and grandkids, and the rent is less than half of what our old mortgage was!

Somebody else mows the lawns, shovels the walks, and repairs the leaks… while I head down the rail trail with my bike or visit the local farm market or ice cream shop (One of the bike paths here ends at the local Dairy Queen).

If I have one regret, it is that we didn’t start downsizing sooner.  Fortunately, Kaye and I are still physically fit and able to pursue our travel goals, and we really do appreciate and take advantage of our good fortune.  Lots of folks run out of good health before they ever get to realize their dreams.

Anyway, I was doing a bit of reminiscing today and  thinking about how far we have come in the face of a lot of challenges, and decided to write about it here.  I am so happy that our  present circumstance is so far different than where we were just a few years ago.

If you, my reader, find yourself in a similar almost impossible scenario, take heart; there is much that can happen to improve your outlook and bring your dreams within reach.

I suspect that your journey will begin with some difficult decisions and will be followed by a lot of hard work.  That’s okay, isn’t it?

The struggle makes the reward all the more satisfying.

On the other hand, if you are in upsizing mode right now, it might be smart for you to stop and think about what you really want in 10 years or 20 years from now.  Maybe you should quit bringing more stuff into your garage and basement and attic.  It might turn into a ball and chain later and keep you planted at a time when you want to be free.

Just a thought.  Do what sounds right to you.

And have fun!

A Farewell to the Beach

Milepost 3-11-16      –at a vacation rental in the Dominican Republic

Our tropical winter hiatus is about to end, so we rented a quad yesterday to visit our favorite remote beach for one more time before heading north for the spring and summer. Playa Rincon is an unspoiled and mostly undiscovered haven for all but the most ambitious adventurers because it takes a lot of effort to get there.  It is thirty miles from the nearest gas pump, and the last few miles of the trail are a disaster waiting to happen for rental vehicles with anything but high clearance and four wheel drive.

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Before leaving the village, we fueled up at the nearest “gas station”. The fuel is delivered from a beer bottle or a bleach bottle, take your pick.

We first discovered this beach 26 years ago when we were in the Dominican Republic while teaching at an international school.  I was looking for a quiet place to get away from the noise of the city and a friend told us about this secluded spot that was as far away as a person can get in this country and still be on land.  With our three daughters, we camped in a coconut grove next to the beach.  Nobody came near us the whole time.

Arriving on the four-wheeler, we found the beach peaceful and serene.
Arriving on the four-wheeler, we found the beach peaceful and beautiful as expected.

This time there was a bit of nostalgia mixed with the crashing waves, the hot sun and the swaying palm trees.  We weren’t sure when we would be returning to this tropical paradise, maybe never.

I had been hoping to get some photos and video of the four-wheeler running through the edge of the waves, but the surf was up today and I chose not to chance it, not wanting to risk sending a rented quad out to sea.

What an amazing place to spend a day... or a winter.
What an amazing place to spend a day… or a winter.

We spent our time walking the beach and soaking up sun until we judged we were about to get burned, then headed down the trail to the beach bar for a cold coke and some native cuisine.

After a couple more runs up and down the beach road with the quad, Kaye invited me back on and we waved a reluctant farewell to the beach and took to the rough road back home.

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It’s possible to open up the throttle on a beach that is 2 miles long when there is nobody in the way as far a the eye can see.

On the way back, we stopped at one of our favorite roadside fruit markets to stock up on produce

Kaye hands her shopping basket to the cashier, as it were, at the local fruit stand.
Kaye hands her shopping basket to the cashier, as it were, at the local fruit stand.
As this fruit market they make their own chocolate syrup directly from the fresh cocoa beans grown out in back.
As this fruit market they make their own chocolate syrup directly from the fresh cocoa beans grown out in back.

So the winter is over and we are leaving soon, heading back to the messy purgatory that is Michigan in the spring.

That will be another beach and another story.  The water in Lake Michigan will reach 80 degrees by about…  the twelfth of never.

Venturing Outside the Walls

Milepost 2-6-16                      -We are at a vacation rental in the tropics.

Here’s a tip about travel that first-timers may not discover on their own:  The real adventure is often where the real people are.  I am talking about the backstory that is on the backstreets of your travel destination.  I am talking about the true cultural realities that exist outside the walls of the gated resort where you are staying.

Many travelers see a carefully scripted performance when they go on vacation at the all-inclusive resort.  Even the cruise lines that claim to visit exotic islands, as it turns out, may have bought the island and designed an elaborate facade that is only a fake reproduction of the real culture that they are trying to depict.  But it’s not real.

If you like it that way, fine.  If you want to stay within the enclave, you should be comfortable and safe.  Hopefully, you will be able to relax and have a good time, maybe even make some new friends.  For you, it may be exactly the right thing.  But you might be able to ratchet your adventure factor to the next level with a venture outside the walls.

Culturally, the real fun begins when you leave the reservation.  When you leave Front Street and venture to Second or Third Street… or even farther to where the street turns into a pathway.

When the waiter comes to your table at the resort, do you ever ask yourself, “Who is this person?  Where does he live?  Does she have a family?  What’s her name?”  Better yet, don’t just ask yourself…  ask the waiter.

When I was in the Maldive Islands, my scuba diving buddies asked these questions of our guide, a young man named Ibrahim.  After 2 weeks of friendly interaction with him, we were surprised when he invited us to come to his home and meet his wife — they were expecting their first child.  This sort of encounter is unheard of in the Maldives where the government requires strict oversight of tourists; it just never happens.  But for us, it happened.  The day before Ibrahim escorted us to the airport, he started crying, and threw himself at us with hugs and weeping as we parted company.  I couldn’t believe it.  This was unreal.  No.  This was real.

This sort of rich adventure can be really hard to find when you are on a 10-day cruise where your movements are scheduled and your encounters carefully scripted.   It is hard to escape the confines and get to the raw realities of the real culture.

One of the blessings of the traveling life that Kaye and I are now enjoying is the extravagance of being able to stay as long as we want wherever we want.  We love to find out where the natives live, and we have been invited into their homes lots of times.  Nobody tells us where to be or at what time.  We decide for ourselves.

This winter, we are staying 10 weeks in a little town on the beach in the Dominican Republic.  We have learned enough Spanish to be able to venture onto the side roads and back alleys to see how these people really live.

In fact, by planning ahead, we were able to visit an indigenous family in the interior of the country just yesterday.  We have been sponsoring a kid through an international humanitarian organization that provides underprivileged children with a quality education and health care.  Yorgelis is now 15 years old and we got to meet him.  We hired a car and driver who was able to find his way through the maze of backroads and the small towns (on the cell phone with the host several times for directions) to find these guys in an obscure neighborhood far (4 hours one way)  from the tourist resorts.

We were able to visit our sponsored child's family in their home.
We were able to visit our sponsored child’s family in their home.

What an amazing experience!  Their family is actually part of a community of artists and have a pottery factory in their backyard.  Did you ever wonder who makes the vases and bowls and cups that you find in the gift shops at the resorts where you stay?  We found them.

We got to tour the school where our kid has been educated for the last 9 years, and then his family put on a demonstration for us in the pottery shop.  We could not have asked for a more beautiful experience with an authentic indigenous family.  Precious.

Here I am with Yorgelis and his dad and granddads.
Here I am with Yorgelis and his dad and granddads.

We now have some pottery to add to our international collection at home.  And here’s the thing:  We know the people who made it.

That is the stuff of real adventure.

Here are a few more photos from our visit to the interior yesterday:

This guy threw a beautiful vase in about 5 minutes.
This guy threw a beautiful vase on the potter’s wheel in about 5 minutes.
Yorgelis' dad carved flowers onto the vase in a minute.
Yorgelis’ dad carved flowers onto the vase in a minute.
Yorgelis' family gave us gifts of pottery.  At the rear is his teacher, and on the right is our host and guide from the organization.
Yorgelis’ family gave us gifts of pottery. At the rear is his teacher, and on the right is our host and guide from the organization.
One of the workers was stoking the fire under the kiln
One of the workers was stoking the fire under the kiln

Pottery

We found a nice fruit market on the way home, and our driver provided some tips on selecting avocados.
We found a nice fruit market on the way home, and our driver provided some tips on selecting fresh avocados.

I hope you are able to get outside the walls on your next adventure!

Have fun!

When Giving Back – Gives Back

Milepost 2-2-16              –living in a rented apartment near the beach.

My dad used to say that the real joy of having anything – is sharing it, and I proved him right again today.  The joy of artistic expression through photography has been multiplied by the joy of giving as I have been visiting my Dominican neighbors with copies of photos that I took of them 3 years ago.

I have made a project of printing the photos, mounting them on 5×7 rigid foam backings, and then handing them to the folks who are in the photos.  Part of the fun for me is experiencing the reactions of people who don’t often get noticed by passersby, let alone being given a memorable gift that will almost certainly become a family treasure.

We visited friends at the local colmado (mini-market) who said they knew everybody in the photos.
We visited friends at the local colmado (mini-market) who said they knew everybody in the photos.  Some of them were in the photo from 3 years ago displayed at the top of this page.

A lot can change in 3 years, and it has been both surprising  and gratifying for me to locate so many of the folks that I photographed last time we were here, although in one case, the horse was the same and the people were different.

I shot these guys washing their horses in the ocean 3 years ago...
I shot these guys washing their horses in the ocean 3 years ago…
... and found the same horse this time being ridden by his brother.
… and found the same horse this time being ridden by the man’s brother.

The quest to locate these people has created a secondary adventure that is even more fun than the original photo expedition.  When I found one young guy at a fruit stand, the place had changed a lot and  I didn’t recognize him.  When I stopped and showed him the photo asking him, “Where can I find this guy?” he looked at the photo and pointed at it and then himself, exclaiming, “It’s me!”

This guy was running a fruit market and gift shop 3 years ago...
This young guy was running a fruit market and gift shop 3 years ago…
... and I found him at the same market, though I didn't recognize it from the photo.
… and I found him at the same market, though I didn’t recognize it from the photo.

One of the funnest reunions was when we finally located a little old grandma  — after several stops to ask where she was, each stop getting us a little closer to her.  She was on the porch of a house with her granddaughters mixing a big bowl of cake batter.  When we handed her the photo her eyes got big and she threw back her head and started laughing.  They passed the photo around with excitement and then she told us the old house had fallen down, and she pointed to an empty slab next door.  Yes, there had been some changes in 3 years.

3 years ago I stopped to shoot a 10-foot high poinsettia plant and found these beautiful old folks in the doorway of their shack.
3 years ago I stopped to photograph a 10-foot high poinsettia plant and found these beautiful old folks in the doorway of their shack.
We found her living with her grandkids next door to where her house had been.
This time we found her living with her grandkids next door to where her house had been.
Coco was the maintenance man at the condos where we stayed 3 years ago. I had fired his son to wash my rental car. Coco has since been in a motorcycle wreck that destroyed his knee. He has had it reconstructed and doesn't even limp now.
Coco was the maintenance man at the condos where we stayed 3 years ago. I had hired his son to wash my rental car. Coco has since been in a motorcycle wreck that destroyed his knee. He has had it reconstructed and doesn’t even limp now.
The night watchman, Sergio, has nearly died of cancer since we were there. Now they say he will likely survive.
The night watchman, Sergio, has nearly died of cancer since we were there. Now they say he will likely survive.

Photography is a wonderful traveling companion.  Feeding my artistic appetites has brought me a lot of satisfaction over the  years.   And in giving it back to my subjects and enriching their lives in this small way, I have found a way to feed my soul as well.

The real joy of having a photograph is sharing it — not just with the cyber  world, but with the people who shared their beautiful faces to make it what it is,  a work of art.

I love the people of the Dominican Republic.  They are gorgeous, inside and out.

Rincon Grandma portait

Read Kaye’s beautiful account of this adventure on her blog here.

Michigan Renaissance Festival – A Step Back in Time

Milepost 8-30-15                                     The ultimate summer festival

The RenFest at Holly, Michigan, runs on weekends from late August to Early October each year.  I visited on a Saturday and found it uncrowded and in tip-top form.  The re-enactors and vendors and visitors all seemed to be in a good mood and ready for some fun.  This being my first visit – and photographs being my top priority – I chose not to go in costume.  Of course, there were plenty of costume shops open, so I could have rented or purchased a tunic and a sword.  Maybe next time.

Here’s a photo line-up of this colorful historical attraction.  (Click on any photo to view it in full screen mode.)

Renaissance Festival trio edit

Renaissance Festival portrait

Renaissance Festival portrait ort

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Renaissance Festival vendor edit

Renaissance Festival stage edit

Renaissance Festival edit

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Renaissance Festival pathway edit

Renaissance Festival Knight edit

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Whenever I return to the Michigan Renaissance Festival, I have decided that a sword is a nice thing to have, but I am going to avoid a kilt.  That’s just me.  Do what you want.  It’s all good.  And it’s all a lot of fun.

And don’t miss the traditional turkey drumstick for lunch.  It’s actually slow-smoked and tasty.

And then there is the ubiquitous dill pickle right out of the barrel.

Hmm… so much to savor and so few summer days left.

Here is the link to the RenFest website.  Have fun!

Summer is for Festivals

Milepost 8-8-15  Ortonville, Michigan.

I love the activities of summer and the pleasant weather that makes them so enjoyable.  Summer is definitely my favorite season of the year.  Life is easy.  The sweaters are in storage and t-shirts and flip flops are the standard uniform.

Kaye and I are parked in a small town campground for the summer and we have a virtual smorgasbord of events to choose from in the mitten of lower Michigan.

Every town is having its annual summer festival and the air is filled with the aroma of cotton candy and corndogs.  Carnivals are buzzing and whirring everywhere as the Tilt-a-Whirl makes its frenzied spin.  Food trucks offer gastrointestinal delight (or disaster) at every midway.  What fun!

Here are some photos of summer festivals that we have enjoyed in lower Michigan over the last couple of years.

Dog Daze at Marlette, Michigan.

My friend, Doug Kramer, drives his horses and carriage at several town festivals in the summer.
My friend, Doug Kramer, drives his horses and carriage at several town festivals in the summer.

The Thumb Octagon Barn Festival,  Gagetown, Michigan.

Civil War era soldiers camp every summer at the Octagon Barn Festival.
Civil War era soldiers camp every summer at the Octagon Barn Festival.
The historical school house has re-enactments as well.
The historical school house has re-enactments as well.

The River of Time, Bay City, Michigan.

This annual encampment re-enacts a complete timeline of American military history from the native Americans to World War II and Vietnam.

River of Time includes re-enactments from several different eras of American history.
River of Time includes re-enactments from several different eras of American history.

ROT Rostollans edit

ROT Cannon edit

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Gun battles extend to the water of the Saginaw River where the boats wage war with each other.
Gun battles extend to the waters of the Saginaw River where the boats wage war with each other.

Blues on the Mall, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Musicians play on the sidewalks and on the big stages in the center of the city.
Musicians play on the sidewalks and on the big stages in the center of the city.
Of course, every festival has its classic car show.
Of course, every festival has its classic car show.

Creekside Days, Ortonville, Michigan.

Local musicians perform in the old restored Mill, now a wonderfully curated museum.
Local musicians perform in the old restored mill, now a wonderfully curated museum.

Farm Markets everywhere!

I am loving the growing popularity of the local farm markets.  They are springing up in every little town and city and offer locally produced health and organic foods in bulk.

Not only that, but some permanent bulk food stores are popping up here and there.  In our old neighborhood in Michigan’s thumb (the lower peninsula being shaped like a mitten), Country View Bulk Food store is owned and operated by a Mennonite family and offers a plethora of farm products in bulk.  It is growing so fast that the owners are adding space to the building every summer!

Have you ever seen 5-pound blocks of Muenster cheese at your local big box store?
Have you ever seen 5-pound blocks of Muenster cheese at your local big box store?
How about link sausages in 5 and 10-pound packages?  Now that's what I call bulk food!
How about link sausages in 10-pound boxes? Now that’s what I call bulk food!

There are only a few weeks of summer left and then fall arrives and the weather changes.  And our opportunities to take advantage of the summer farm markets and festivals will end for another season.  Better get out there right now and make hay while the sun shines, as it were.  Soon enough the snow will fly and the outdoor markets will be gone.

Maybe this photo will provide the virtual kick in the pants that you may need to get out to the local festivals and farm markets pronto!

Dang it!  I miss those fresh veggies I got from the farm market last summer!
Dang it!  I miss those fresh veggies I got from the farm market last summer!

Short Sleeves and Hairpin Turns: The New Normal

Milepost 1-22-14  Fillmore, CA

Part of the adventure of the traveling life is the new things we discover when we round the bend into a new town.  Settling in at Fillmore, California, for the next few months, we are adjusting to some amazing differences from where we came in Michigan.

Of course, the weather is the biggest change for us.  Our friends back home are dealing with sub-zero wind chills while we are perusing the local farm markets in short sleeves and flip flops.  That’s part of the reason we chose this corner of the country.

Kaye checks out the dragon fruit at a local open-air farm market.  Hard to find that one in Michigan.
Kaye checks out the dragon fruit and other oddities at a local open-air farm market.
Fillmore farm markets offer an abundance of varieties, but oranges are everywhere here.
Fillmore farm markets offer an abundance of varieties, but oranges are everywhere here.

I mentioned in an earlier post that a quick run to Walmart from here meant a rather frightening trip over the mountain ridge on switchbacks and hairpin turns.  Today I retraced part of that route to grab a couple of photos.  In Michigan our path was straight and flat.

A quick trip to Walmart requires both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times.
A quick trip to Walmart requires both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times.
Vehicles negotiate the switchbacks on county road 23 between Fillmore and Simi Valley.
Vehicles negotiate the switchbacks on county road 23 between Fillmore and Simi Valley.

On a side trip today, we headed north into Los Padres National Forest, but we didn’t get very far.  The one-lane trail was a scary climb around sharp turns and blind corners above sheer cliffs.  It sucked the courage right out of us, so we turned around – at an almost wide enough pull-off – so we could come back down.  Kaye got out of the pickup and stood off at a safe distance while I made the u-turn with the front bumper almost hanging over the edge.

My biggest question about the national forest was, "Where's the forest?"  No trees were evident.
My big question about the national forest was, “Where’s the forest?”  Few trees were evident.

We also did a bit of exploring in town today, enjoying a very delightful chat with the volunteer at the local historical museum, who informed us about the history of the town, including stories about the old swimming hole that she used to visit with friends back in the day.

Martha Gentry talks of old trains and avocados - and everything in between.
Martha Gentry talks of old trains and avocados – and everything in between.

Martha Gentry is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about Fillmore and the surrounding area and the one who told us where to find the most respectable farm markets.  She and here husband are avocado growers.

This caboose is one of a score of railroad cars and engines at the Fillmore railroad museum.
This caboose is one of a score of railroad cars and engines at the Fillmore railroad museum.

Another of the significant changes in our experience here is the presence of so much Spanish.  It seems that every vendor and clerk is bilingual, and they mix it up sometimes swapping Spanish and English a number of times in the same sentence.  We don’t hear that much in Michigan.

Every cashier is fluent in both English and Spanish.
Every cashier is fluent in both English and Spanish.

So far, we are adjusting very well to our new location.   Most of it is really not very hard to get used to.

Surfers wander home after a day on the waves near Santa Barbara.
Surfers wander home after a day on the waves near Santa Barbara.

See my 19-second video of the traffic on the mountain road here.