Saturday, January 12, 2019

More Midland Misadventures

"Welcome aboard Delta flight 2027, with service from Greensboro to Atlanta. We are excited you have chosen to travel with us today."

The flight attendant spoke in such a low monotone over the PA system that I was pretty certain she wasn't excited at all. In fact, I don't even think she liked us. But at 7:00 a.m. this past Tuesday, Kimberly and I took off on another trip to Midland, MI, to visit her parents, Del & Fern. Since we hadn't been able to see them at Christmastime, they arranged for us to come up for a slightly late Christmas in January. The first leg of our flight took us to Atlanta, where we landed at 8:30 a.m. The Starbucks coffee on the plane, proclaimed GREAT by Delta, really wasn't, but it did keep me going until I could get a slightly better cup on the next leg. Our flight into Flint, MI, arrived about 11:00 a.m., and there we met Del and Fern.

Midland is about an hour's drive north of Flint (and the town's water supply is just great). When we have a morning flight, it is Fern's custom to have on hand for us a lunch of sausage/cabbage/vegetable soup and her special, patented sandwich spread. And so she did. It is also custom to make a trip to Meijerbasically the anti-Walmart—for vital supplies and assorted goodies (read wine).

And hey, look here! There's a bunch of geocaches in the area that have been put out since we were last in Midland. Del & Fern were kind enough to allow me the use of their vehicle to go caching in the neighborhood. Most of these newer hides are traditional and not too difficult, although one of them provided an unusual challenge: it was a magnetic container stuck to a metal crossbeam on an old billboard, about 15 feet above the ground. The recommended "tool of the trade" to retrieve it would no doubt be a ladder. However, in the absence of said tool, I improvised something a little different, which allowed me to acquire, sign, and replace the cache exactly as I found it. However, on this outing I apparently discovered a mighty mudhole with the family vehicle, and I was unaware of the severity of its decorative qualities until Del pointed it out upon my return.

Oh, the shame of it! I did make appropriate amends, and Del & Fern had no qualms about allowing me to use the vehicle on subsequent caching outings. There were some decent ones.
Yeah, I found the cache, but that sucker was
hard-frozen in place

On Wednesday, Del, Fern, & Kimberly had a mind to visit Houghton Lake, a small community on a good-sized lake a little over an hour north of Midland. Their specific target was an arts-and-crafts outfit called Arnie's. My specific target was a bunch of caches. In Midland, there was a wee falling of snow, but as we drove north, the snowfall became a bit more enthusiastic. Houghton Lake, we found, was blanketed by a relatively deep fall of snow. But this is Michigan, and getting around in such conditions is no big deal—unlike here in Greensboro, where a couple of inches of snow results in a wholesale clearing out of all the bread and milk in town, as well as an accident on every other street corner. I managed to find a handful of nice caches, two in a snow-covered cemetery, which made for all kinds of fun. As in, "This sucker is frozen in place!" That kind of fun.

For lunch, following the recommendation of a kind soul at Arnie's, we chose a little diner called MJ's Eatery, which turned out to be more or less fantastic. Chicken & dumpling soup, fried fresh cod, and onion rings bigger than your head. Fine food and a good time all around.
A little graveyard caching in the snow at Houghton Lake, MI
And a virtual cache at a neat array of sculptures at a rest area near Clare, MI
One really ought not eat things bigger than one's head, but sometimes you just gotta.
That evening, Ms. B. and I ventured over to Whine, a nice bistro quite close to the Bruggers' place. There we spent a pleasant couple of hours with her old friend and classmate Darren, whom I've met on a few previous occasions. Wine, food, and good company all made for an enjoyable evening out. And hey—I found a few more geocaches. Shocked, you are.
Darren (a.k.a. D.J.), Ms. B., Old Rodan, whining away the time at Whine
Thursday, Kimberly and I had to run errands, including picking up all the necessary ingredients for the Christmas dinner I'd be preparing on Friday—lemon shrimp linguine, a dish to which I had done something akin to justice a few weeks ago. We fit in a spot of geocaching. For lunch, Fern fixed up what was very possibly the best bowl of chili I've ever consumed. And for our evening outing, Kimberly and I paid a visit to Bar Oxygen, a semi-posh little lounge in downtown Midland, which we had discovered on our previous visit. We downed a couple of fantastic little sliders as appetizers, and I discovered a hot, spicy drink—a jalapeno-cucumber-gin rickey—that was something akin to a liquid salad that burns. Delicious, I must say. Then we wandered a couple of doors down to Gratzi, another appealingly posh establishment. Now, here, Kimberly had a wonderful Polpete pizza, but my Fettuccine Pomodoro, with wild mushrooms, tomato, and basil—three of my favorite ingredients in the world—was not only nothing to write home about, the mushrooms and basil tasted like nothing, and the tomatoes were rather bitter. I did, however, discover a most wonderful cocktail with rye, amaretto, and hickory smoke, which was piped into the flask as the drink was mixed.

To Gratzi's absolute credit, because I was not satisfied with the fettuccine dish, they not only comped it, they offered us a meat and cheese plate to take home that was some kind of delicious. The manager and staff were beyond courteous, and I would not hesitate to return to sample other, hopefully more appealing dishes on their menu. I very much hope we can go back on a future trip to Midland. Hopefully, the not-too-distant future.

Geocaching, yes.
Young lady and Old Rodan at Bar Oxygen in downtown Midland. That's one SPICY drink in front of me.
One might think from reading this little chronicle that Ms. B. and I ate and drank perhaps a little too well over the course of our stay. You would be right, I fear. However, we were not yet finished....

Friday morning was our almost-month-delayed Christmas celebration. Kim, Del, Fern, and I exchanged some very nice gifts. Then I set about preparing our midday feast—the lemon shrimp linguine dish to which I previously alluded. Now this stuff did turn out all kinds of good. Would that the dinner at Gratzi been so all kinds of good. It's a simple recipe I discovered online, doctored up the way I customarily doctor up things.
One of Midland's multitudes of very black,
very fat squirrels

And then, to work off a couple of those delicious shrimp, I spent the rest of the afternoon out and about geocaching. Most of it was spent exploring the relatively expansive Barstow Woods a couple of miles or so from the Brugger homestead. I found half-dozen nice caches on this expedition. Now, there were several over the course of the trip that I hunted long and hard but never did find. At least a couple appeared to be missing; the others... who knows. They could be gone, or it may be that the old geocacher just wasn't able to turn up some well-concealed hides.

Last evening, Kimberly and I stayed home but were joined by her longtime friend whom we shall call Gordier, since her name is... Gordier. There's more to it than that, but I'm not sure Kimberly remembers what it is. A spirited and most enjoyable visit it was.

And today... it was up at 3:30 a.m. to get down to Flint for our 6:00 a.m. departure. I am now home.

Throughout the trip, I did manage to find considerable periods of time to make forward progress on my next novel in the Ameri-scares series, Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior (excerpt here). While the novel is set in the Upper Peninsula—and we unfortunately could not visit the UP this go-round—just being in Michigan, in a mellow, enjoyable setting, made for a very positive writing experience, much as it did when I was working on West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman on our last visit, back in September. That novel is due for release in just a couple of weeks (see my blog entry from January 10).

I may be due for just a bit of sleep. Sleep well.
"Christmas" dinner: lemon shrimp linguine a la Damned Rodan
The rigors of arriving back home...

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