Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so you shouldn’t skimp on it and O.D. on crappy gas station coffee and packaged mini muffins. That’s why when Caitlyn and I go on vacation, we make an effort to get something tasty and filling every morning. Here are some of our favorites from our travels:
Montreal: Taverne Gaspar (inside the Auberge du Vieux-Port). Try – The crepes or pain au chocolat. Cool vibe and good eats in an historic part of town.
Toronto: The Cereal Bar in the underground shopping network. Try – any of the cereals. It’s like a Subway for cereal lovers.
The Cereal Bar lets you pick one of about a half dozen cereals and add up to three toppings. Here: Organic granola with strawberries, bananas and chocolate chips.
Austin, Texas: The Saturday’s Farmer’s Market at Guadalupe Park. Try – breakfast burritos. They’re tiny, cheap and addictive.
Indianapolis: Market Table. Try – Everything – it’s a buffet, but about 10x nicer than a Golden Corral (blood orange juice, gelato bar and more give this buffet high-class touches).
Mackinaw City, Mich.: Pancake Chef. Try – Any of the pancakes, including pumpkin spice. There’s also a surprisingly affordable buffet.
Frankfort, Mich.: Crescent Bakery. Try – The buttery pretzels, nutty crescent doughnuts or oatmeal.
The chipped, off-white tile flooring. The tarped-off former Little Caesar’s Café. The complete lack of customer service. It’s always a trip down memory lane every time I step into a K-Mart store and I had the opportunity, nay, PRIVILEGE to step into two of them this weekend.
First, let me be clear: I gave up on K-Mart a long time ago. Once Little Caesar’s left, with no miniature Crazy Bread at slightly-above room temperature, there was nothing left for me at my hometown retailer. The only way I would step foot in a K-Mart recently was out of sheer desperation or to score half-price Halloween candy on Nov. 1 every year.
This past weekend was a mix of both reasons. The first trip to K-Mart was to get some much-needed ink for the printer. As with most things at K-Mart, there is only one of everything. Fortunately, I was the only person in Indianapolis needing this ink … today. But unfortunately for me, the ink was locked on the rod and required an employee to unlock it.
Being in electronics – an area with many locked goods – I figured an employee would be near by, but after going down every aisle in electronics, and then toys, office supplies, home goods, sporting goods and every other department in the store, Caitlyn and I were convinced we were in some sort of creepy abandoned K-Mart. No employees anywhere. Toss a few tumbleweeds through the store and you get the idea. In the end, she went to the cash registers at the front and was able to convince somebody to page an employee to the rest of the store and all was well.
Little did we know that was just a primer for Day 2 of our K-Mart krapfest. Up this time was the K-Mart closest to our home, which also happens to be going out of business along with one of the other three remaining locations in Indy. It’s worth noting I have promised Caitlyn several times before that I would never step foot in this K-Mart again, but, as they say, history repeats itself and who can resist 10 percent off going-out-of-business brownies?
We shopped for a little bit with the intention of buying loads of Christmas presents for those who still needed presents: A half-price beer kit! A 40-percent off iPhone speaker system! A 60-percent off Game of Thrones book collection! Yeah, discount gifts!
Reality: We got into the checkout lane with 20-30 percent off super glue, wiper blades, Halloween candy, a bicycle flat repair kit and a book on canning, all of which was for us, no less. The deals weren’t quite where we hoped they’d be. It was more like being in a poor man’s Bed, Bath & Beyond with one of those ubiquitous and never-expiring blue 20-percent off coupons.
Now the checkout lane is normally where we get tripped up at K-Mart, when the clerks take about five times longer than necessary to check everyone out, but given almost all the checkout lanes were open today, we figured we finally hit some good luck. Boy, were we wrong.
The older tattooed woman in front of us, looking lovely in a snug pink and black top that probably was a better idea 25 years ago, very methodically pulled her haul from the cart to the conveyer belt, treating every object like it was a Faberge egg, when, in fact, most items were closer in quality to a Cadbury egg. Once the clerk scanned all the items and told the women her total would be $77, the woman stared back in disbelief.
“$77? That can’t be right. It was all on sale.”
“Yes,” one of the store managers replied. “But everything was only 20 percent off, which isn’t all that much.”
Forlorn and thoroughly befuddled, the shopper decided she would need to re-inventory everything she bought, so she started having the clerk unpack her bags and placing every single item on the conveyer belt while she racked her brain to see how she could make it work. Chances are, she was probably paying with food stamps so she had to make some pretty serious decisions – most the clientele is lower-income – but why not do that at Customer Service, rather than holding up several other shoppers?
By now, it had been a good 15 minutes in line, when, thankfully another line opened up next to us, but before we could get there, a small, elderly Asian woman beat us (hey, luging around wiper blades tires a man out). Of course, the first item she wanted scanned, a pair of hedgers, had no barcode, which stumped the clerk and required a manager consultation. After that setback, the shopper seemed to also be having troubles, primarily with figuring out how to pay with a credit card. After another 10 minutes waiting in line, we finally made it to the front and succeeded with getting our merch. Total time spent in lines? Thirty minutes. Naturally, I once again promised Caitlyn to never go back to that K-Mart ever again.
There was a time when I liked K-Mart. I remember going there as a child when the selection was good, the customer service was nice and the stores were a dime a dozen, making them a convenient option. I remember grabbing meals with my family in the cafes there, which later on became Little Caesar cafes, and it being one of the few places close enough to walk to from my family’s new house after we moved when I was in middle school.
But after both experiences this past weekend, it’s no wonder why the chain is going bankrupt. It’s unfortunate to see that 160 Hoosiers will soon loose their jobs from these two closings, but so long as it requires jumping through hoops to get an ink cartridge, or the inventory is small and dated – one location still had blank VHS tapes for sale! Really? – K-Mart will soon be going the way of Crowley’s, Montgomery Ward and all those other bygone retailers.
One of the best parts of Fall is going to the cider mill.
Growing up in Michigan, we were never at a loss for a good cider mill. Some cider mills had animals like goats with creepy sideways pupils, while other kept it simple and opted for a water wheel or quiet creek.
The one thing that all cider mills had was freshly made, greasy donuts. It’s kind of a rule in Michigan that you get donuts with your cider. If you don’t, people look at you like you belong to Al Qaeda or something.
In Indiana, donuts are not a staple of the cider mill circuit. In fact, most places don’t refer to themselves as “cider mills” down here, rather, they opt for “orchards.” Nothing wrong with that, until I’m offered nothing but elephant ears and deep-fried biscuits.
What is this, the Indiana State Fair Part Two?
Still, Caitlyn and I did our best to help our local “orchard,” heading off to Anderson Orchard in Mooresville for its annual Apple Festival & Craft Fair. We were excited to pick some apples since Bailey has decimated three apple trees we’ve tried planting in our own yard. Unfortunately, summer decided to arrive in Indiana the last weekend of September, blasting us with sunshine and temps in the 80s — NOT ideal for apple picking.
The good news is we did get some cider — it was quite good — and some apples. We even got to look at some goats and Caitlyn inquired about how to get backyard goats for our abode. Between that and her trying to find a pair of overalls lately, I feel like I’m about jump into an episode of Green Acres.
The festival also plays host to a craft fair, but it’s mostly stuff your grandparents would make or like, plus some local confectioners in-training. At least it was under a tent.
I suppose the one silver lining is that we next visit Michigan in November. You can best believe I’ll be making a beeline for the nearest “cider mill.”
The fall TV season is gearing up, so what better way to celebrate than to rattle off a few of the actual sets you can visit in person? Granted, some of these aren’t for fall shows, but how many posts can I do on this topic really?
We recently took a bit of a forced vacation when our house was on the American Institute of Architects’ Indy Home Tour. With hundreds of people funneling through our house and on our property for two days, we thought it best to take the dogs with us, hit the road and all enjoy the gorgeous almost-Fall weather in the Circle City.
We didn’t have to go far the first day, when Caitlyn sold her jewelry at Art Squared, an annual event down the street from us that features live music, local artists painting on the spot and vendors lining the main drags of Fountain Square. This was the fourth year for the show and it keeps growing, with a larger vendor base more musicians performing on the street then ever. The “Art Parade” caps off the event each year, where you’re likely to see anything from burlesque dancers to people dressed up as 70s funk musicians. Art Squared typically always happens the third Saturday of September and it’s worth a visit if you can make the time.
Precious and Bailey were cool customers the entire day at Caitlyn’s booth, with the former lounging around and the latter staying at attention the entire day (she likes to think she’s our guard dog … Precious could care less).
Realizing we’d only destroy the nice, clean kitchen by making a meal at home, we capped the day off by eating outside at Bosphorus Istanbul Café, also located on the south side. We recommend the appetizer combo platter, which comes with hummus, stuffed grape leaves, tabouli, babaganush, borek and eggplant salsa. It’s not cheap — about $14-15 — but it’s a ton of food and worth every penny. You’ll be in a Turkish coma for days. I got the vegetarian stuffed eggplant, which was also good, but I didn’t have too much room in my stomach after snitching some of Caitlyn’s appetizer platter and ordering a starter of falafel.
The second day was much cooler and merited a long walk at Garfield Park and its Sunken Gardens. The 136-acre park boasts three acres of European classical formal gardens and fountains, with the rest of the park featuring an extensive network of trails and open spaces. Bailey had ants in her pants (and we had ants on our blanket), so we eventually all packed up and headed off to Mrs. Curl in Greenwood, which is one of Indianapolis Monthly’s Top 12 Hometown Ice Cream Parlors in the state.
With cheap prices and generous sizes, it’s not hard to see why south siders dig Mrs. Curl. I’m boring and opted for a “Razzle” (the Mrs. Curl equivalent of a DQ Blizzard), while Caitlyn got a hot fudge milkshake. You read that right. It was like drinking a bottle of chocolate syrup or hot fudge — a small amount goes a long way. Be forewarned: The line was quite long when we got there. No idea if it is always like this, but only one of the two windows was open.
And just like that, our “staycation” on the south side was over and we had access back to her house, much to Precious’, Bailey’s and even Jackson’s (he was left inside the laundry room all day) delight. The best part? Two passed out pooches that will probably take a couple days to recover from all their adventures.
Oh, to be a dog …
With all this cool, crisp air of Fall upon us, all I want to do is hang out outside. It got me thinking of some of my favorite “outside” places from our travels. Some are better for summer outside time than fall, but you get the idea …
Arch Rock, Mackinac Island, Mich.: It’s a bit kitschy — even the horse-and-buggy tours stop there — but it’s still required viewing for any Mackinac rookie. The rock overlooks Lake Huron and requires going up 100+ stairs from the main road (unless you take a tour, which will drop you off right at the rock). View it now before further erosion destroys this Mackinac landmark.
Millennium and Grant Parks, Chicago: Between these two parks, there might be a concert one day, Taste of Chicago another day and even the Gold Coast Art Fair on yet a third day. Take a stroll through the gardens to get some picturesque shots of the skyline — and to escape from the hustle-and-bustle of the Windy City. Of course, “The Bean” is required viewing for any newbies.
Mount Royal, Montreal: Put on your walking (or hiking) shoes, because it’s a trek to the top, which sits 764 feet above downtown Montreal. But, boy, is it worth it. Beautiful images of downtown, a huge biking and hiking network and a climate that changes the further up you go (it was temperate down low but there was still ice and snow as we ascended!).
Spicer Orchards, Hartland, Mich.: The only business on our list, this cider mill in rural Livingston County, about an hour northwest of Detroit, has goats, a corn maze and pumpkin patch, a huge cider mill operation and, best of all, donuts that are deep-fried on site. The owners once told me they sell enough donuts to fill several Olympic-sized pools each year! Plus, it’s not Fall without cider and donuts.
Virgin Islands National Park, St. John: Hiking, kayaking, snorkeling – this park, which takes up two thirds of St. John, has it all. Though, a word of warning for the hikers: Trails aren’t always marked the best and a wrong turn could leave you wandering for hours in the mosquito-plagues forest. Bring lots of water … and bug repellant.
Do you hate crowds when you travel? Then you probably want to avoid places on the list below, which the Travel Leaders group cobbled together based on surveying travel agents throughout the nation. In addition to nearly 90 percent of agents anticipating the same or more bookings as last year, these places are tops based on current booking data. For a full list, check out the survey online.
- Orlando, Fla.
- Las Vegas, NV
- Maui, HI
- Cancun, Mexico
- London, England
European River Cruises:
Everyone needs a vacation now and then, including dogs at animal shelters. After all, it gets crowded, stinky and stressful having tons of humans and other dogs funneling in and out all day long.
In an effort to help some of these dogs, Caitlyn and I recently decided we wanted to become foster parents for dogs, so we reached out to the Southside Animal Shelter to see if it needed help fostering any dogs until they got back up to full health and were adoptable.
After one false start, the shelter got back with us and introduced us to Precious, a pudgy Carin Terrier who is as cool as a cucumber, even when Bailey isn’t always quite so mellow. Coming in at a rotund 23 pounds, the five-year-old is sweet and a little slow to keep up the pace with Bailey when in the yard or on walks, but she still enjoys getting some fresh air and hopping after her itsy-bitsy squeaky tennis ball.
Of course, Jackson, our cat, isn’t too keen on the addition of another dog, now tipping the feline-to-canine and male-to-female ratios in the household, so the partition between the kitchen and living room has become his new favorite ledge above the fray. We hope Jackson will warm up to Precious soon enough.
The fostering process is interesting: There’s no concrete timetable as to how long we’ll have Precious. She has kidney stones, so we’re nursing her back to health and plan on taking her to the vet for a follow-up x-ray in a few weeks. If everything looks good, she could be up for adoption and I’m certain she’ll go fast given her demeanor and interest in lying around on squishy couch pillows.
The shelter sent us home with some special veterinarian food, a crate and a leash and, beyond that, it’s up to us to get her back up to 100 percent.
Hopefully, Precious likes her “vacation” and will give us a good recommendation at the shelter!
With mommy and daddy away traveling most the summer, or in the few instances where they also came with us, Bailey and Jackson had a fun summer as well. Now that summer is unofficially over, here’s a recap of what the furballs were up to this summer:
For an island that prides itself on being mostly motor vehicle-free, it’ll take a big motor to get you over from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island.
There are three big players in town that offer ferry service from Mackinaw City to the island: Arnold, Star Line and Shepler’s. During our recent trip to Mackinac, we chose the latter for its convenience both in buying tickets online and dock location.
A standard adult ferry ticket these days goes for $18 round-trip for Arnold and $23 for Star Line and Shepler’s. You can’t buy tickets online from Arnold and Shepler’s offers a special deal where you can buy a three-pack of adult tickets for $62 (savings of $2 per ticket off the standard price). Expect the ride to last about 25-30 minutes and all three docks funnel traffic into the heart of Main Street.
Here’s what tripped us up: When you buy a three-pack, like we did (we actually bought three three-packs), you get one voucher representing all three tickets. That voucher is redeemed at the “Online Ticket” window at the dock for three real, individual tickets.
You can leave any or all of these tickets there at will call if your guests are arriving separately, but, to be able to park in the free lot (which is a four-block walk away – surprise!), you still need to get in the line with the schleps who are buying their tickets at the dock. In other words, you get to stand in two lines. You can already feel the magic of Mackinac.
The good news is that there is temporary parking at the dock or, if you want to pay for it, you can pay in advance online to park at the dock. Caitlyn and I would rather use that money on fudge, so we hoofed it the four short blocks through Mackinaw City, resisting the urge to laugh outside the hot dog joint “Weinerlicious” or stop into one of the ubiquitous fudge shops in the city as well.
Biking the island
Bike kiosks are EVERYWHERE on the island. Lots of them are in cahoots with one another, so it doesn’t matter too much where you rent your bike from, unless you’re looking for something specific, because the rates are all pretty similar. Our hotel did offer a coupon for its bike rental kiosk, but we never wound up using it due to its restrictions.
At eight mostly flat miles around, Mackinac is well suited to biking. Just beware that it gets very busy with cyclists as the day goes on and that venturing off the coastal highway into the heart of the island will boost your heart rate, as the terrain gets hilly.
Make sure you stop at Arch Rock, along the east end of the island, even though it is a tourist hot spot, because it won’t be around for too much longer! The arch was formed from waves crashing into a rock over the years, which eroded its innards. The arch is now so eroded that crews have installed concrete blocks at the base to keep it up. It’s expected in the next 20-30 years that further erosion will wipe out the landmark.
If time’s no issue, pack a blanket and picnic and stop at one of the many open areas along the coast, taking in the lake or Mackinac Bridge.
Caitlyn and I first went biking with her family on separate beach cruiser bikes and then again together on a tandem. For those who haven’t been on a tandem before – it takes some getting used to. While I almost made us crash eight times in the first 100 feet, I eventually got my “tandem legs” under me, but keep in mind these bikes aren’t made for inclines, as we found out the hard way when we meandering into the heart of the island. Make sure whoever is in front has good balance.
Not gonna’ lie: We scored an incredible deal on Expedia last fall for this summer’s trip. Room rates at the Island House Hotel were half off and included a hot breakfast buffet each morning.
Located a little east of downtown, the Island House overlooks the straits and offers evening s’mores by the outdoor fireplaces, an indoor pool and adjacent restaurant, huge veranda for reading or hanging out and a fancy restaurant for breakfast and dinner that overlooks the water, too.
The Victorian hotel is a bit of a maze to newcomers, with stairs in several spots and some floors having rooms numbered starting with a “3” to the right and “4” to the left, but you’ll get the hang of it after a while.
The rooms themselves aren’t overly spacious, but adequate. Each room has an A/C unit, but you can also open the windows if you prefer a natural breeze. The décor is a little dated, but still has that country charm you would expect of Mackinac (frilly, flower-patterned quilts, old-timey wood bed frame and TV stand, and so on).
Breakfast, on the whole, was good and featured French toast one day and pancakes another. An assortment of fruits and beverages, plus biscuits, bacon and other goodies ensured diners left with full bellies.
The hotel works with the local ferry lines to get you bags to/from Mackinaw City, so remember that when checking luggage at the dock in town and at the hotel’s front desk. Just make sure to drop off your luggage a good 90 or so minutes before your scheduled ferry departure, or you might make it back in town before your luggage.
And if you accidentally leave your ferry tickets in your luggage like we did (oops!), just give the ferry crew your IDs and then exchange your tickets for the IDs once you retrieve them from your bag back in Mackinaw City.