I often feel conflicted about my opposing dreams. Sometimes I want to lead a full, adventurous, exciting life, and other times I want a simple, earthy, wholesome existence. For example: world traveler versus pumpkin farmer. Or bestselling author versus chocolate-and-cheese shop owner. I wouldn’t say that these dreams are mutually exclusive, but I do feel them tugging me in different directions. I suppose it’s another version of trying to find some balance in my life, of trying to design a life that’s got enough work to feel worthwhile and enough play to feel fun.
During the twelve years that I’ve been wandering from school to school, most of my immediate family has lived in the Detroit area. For twelve years, Detroit has been where I spend my Christmases. It’s where I go to recharge and reconnect, to relax and reconsider. Since the birth of my niece Lydia five years ago, it’s also become my September escape. Especially now that I live in Texas, where September does not resemble the prelude to autumn that is September in the Midwest, Lydia’s birthday has provided a good excuse to fly north and remember what Michigan looks like right before it bursts into the flame-colored leaves of October.
Michigan is a stunningly beautiful state. You don’t hear much these days about how pretty it is, except for those “Pure Michigan” ads, which sometimes make me teary-eyed. But it really is a nice place to visit, with its tall trees, fluffy clouds, melancholy rainstorms, and crisp, clean air. Of course I’m biased because I grew up there, and it feels like home in a way that no place ever will. Despite all that, however, when I go home in September, I’m almost astonished at how gorgeous Michigan is, with its end-of-summer green-and-gold palette and the way the air feels almost magical with fall’s impending arrival. I really love it up there.
Inside and outside, Michigan will charm you with its natural beauty.
Now that we have two little ones in the family, I feel a special obligation to make my presence felt in Michigan. I may be ambivalent about having children of my own, but I am crazy about my niece and nephew. I love them deeply and fiercely, and I want them to grow up knowing me not as some aunt who lives far away, but as an auntie who visited them regularly to play games, read stories, take walks, and spend time together.
The simple part is what we do together. The complicated part is how I get to Michigan: one van ride, two plane rides, one car ride, and eleven hours of transit. I’d prefer to make it one car ride, 30 minutes or less. But for now, I’m in Texas, they’re in Michigan, and transportation remains complicated. Thank goodness I have a PhD.
But it’s worth it—all the planes and cars and hours, the whole damn trip is totally worth it.
We made chocolate-covered strawberries with Lydia for her birthday party. My sister-in-law Amanda commented that the berries she bought weren’t the tiny, flavorful strawberries you find in Midwestern farmers’ markets in the spring, but still, a homemade chocolate-dipped strawberry will amaze you, rich and sweet and a little bit tart, all in one juicy bite. The chocolate-covered strawberries were part of a wonderful birthday dinner, the theme of which was breakfast for dinner, or brinner! Our feast included waffles (with a choice of strawberry or maple syrup—or both for us greedy folks!), a creamy hash brown casserole, frittata, sausage, fruit, and coffee cake. Much contented chewing could be heard inside and out. To wash it all down, we had hot apple cider mulled with the spicy flavors of fall. The cider is an enduring tradition for Lydia’s birthday, and I have to admit, it’s my favorite part.
The week was sprinkled with small adventures too: a trip to a fantastic thrift store, where I found three shirts and relied heavily on my sister’s spot-on fashion advice. A visit to Whole Foods for birthday dinner provisions and a trip to their “cafe” for lunch. Whole Foods is one of those places that I miss so much whenever I shop there. If I’m home in College Station, I can live without Whole Foods, but when I’m in Whole Foods, I think, I need you! I am looking forward to one day living in a town with a Whole Foods because Whole Foods, I need you!
There was also an impromptu hike with my brother and Lydia. It was a gorgeous Sunday, and Lydia was surprisingly enthusiastic about going for a hike, so we made a quick drive over to a little nature preserve-like area and crunched through the leaves and gravel on an old farmstead. There are lovely parks and nature preserves throughout the metro Detroit area, which is one of the city’s charms that I absolutely adore.
There was a rainy day, and a girls’ day out with my mom, and a grilled dinner eaten on the deck the night before I left. There were slow mornings with coffee and sleepyheads. There was the little jailbird (who is not even a year old yet but is ready to conquer the world, or at least sneak into all the places he’s not allowed) who would stand at the baby gate, hands on the bars, looking at us with the saddest face. He broke my heart! You can see how excited he was when we had the back door open while I tried to take a photo or two of the rain.
Devin, the little jailbird, was distracted by the shoes and later by my purple slipper. For Christmas, I think he’s getting his very own shoe. That way he doesn’t have to share his toys with Daddy when Daddy needs to wear his shoes to work.
Yes, I had a wonderful time in Michigan. It was so good, in fact, that one day I’d like to go back and stay. Stay where my family is, where so many of my friends are. I’m ready to return, I think, though I’ll remain in Texas for now because I have work to do here. But one day I am going to put down some new roots in Michigan, right alongside the roots that have been there all along. I’m not ready to do it yet, for all kinds of reasons, but one day I will be.
Until then, there’s Christmas to think about. Stay beautiful, Michigan. I miss you more than you know.