Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Planning Your Cozy Cottage Rental Weekend

South Haven, Mich. coastline early on a weekday morning
Summer days along the coast of Michigan simply don't leave much to be desired.

The west side of the state is dotted with charming, seaside retreats like this one - South Haven, Mich. - which cater to weekend visitors, but really relish the quiet weekday vibes that come naturally to small town, America.

Here, there are long days spent on the beach, a picnic lunch pulled out of a frosty cooler, lazy bike rides along the coast and through the downtown district, and, perhaps most idyllic of all, melty scoops of ice cream piled high at Kilwin's (one of the local's favorites).

We spent our nights sleeping at the nicely appointed and cottage-feeling Old Harbour Inn, but the cottage dweller in me would urge you to opt for a rental through Airbnb or VRBO.

Here are a few tips to help you plan a lazy, summer weekend on the lake. But remember, the key to soaking up cottage life is to never over-plan.

Aim for afternoons filled with lots of nothing, evening entertainment that relies on spooky storytelling and no venue that requires mascara. Seriously.

Booking Your Stay
  • Consider a cottage rental through sites like Airbnb or VRBO, as mentioned above. Having a warm kitchen to cook breakfast in and a porch swing to sip wine from is key to cottage life. 
  • Look for a rental that's either just on the edge of town and is walkable to places like the ice cream shop or a deli, or is directly (or nearly directly) on the water.
  • Ask your renter if bath towels and beach towels are included; if not, load up on plenty of both.
Packing Your Bags
  • I dig lazy breakfasts at home, so I'd head to the grocery as soon as we arrived (or pack up and lug along) eggs, hash brown patties, fresh fruit and mimosa materials. 
  • A hefty cooler on rollers is also life saving when it comes to long days spent waterside. Fill 'er up with ice, water, adult beverages, pre-made sandwiches (I like to broil the insides of sub buns before filling them up with deli meats, soft cheese and guacamole), chips - and sunscreens. 
  • For the sand... beach towels, umbrella, lounge chairs, inflatable balls or buckets for the kiddos, frisbee or volley ball for the bigger kids.
  • Sweatshirts (for bonfires, naturally) and plenty of bug spray, too.
Planning (er, Not Planning) Your Days
  • I just adore small-town museums. You'll almost always find one in tiny resort communities, filled with shipwreck stories, big storm news clippings, historic dignitaries and so much more. Check the local Convention & Visitor's Bureau for details. 
  • Seek out beachside grills and bars for laid-back noshing and flip-flop friendly attitudes; find a place that can be your spot when you're sunburnt and in need of a quick fix.
  • Scope out movie theaters and bowling alleys for rainy day options, or bring along a few decks of cards (or Boggle!).
  • Weigh the pros and cons of lugging your outdoor equipment - bikes, kayaks, canoes - versus rentals. If they're inexpensive and convenient, make your life easy and take the rental route. Keep in mind that during busy season, many rental companies are booked in advance. 
And then, big sigh... relax and enjoy the nothingness that is a pure, lazy summer day. 'Cause, after all, THAT is what it's all about. 

The physical, actual key that the hotel keeper hands you at Old Harbour Inn {gasp!}

From the window of my hotel room, late afternoon sun on the marina
Nothing like fragrant, fresh flowers just outside the door

The lighthouse, a short stroll from Grand Haven's downtown district

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Capsule Wardrobe + A Few Other Things

Lunch, poised between a PC and a laptop. Sigh.
Cracked open one of my favorite bottles from a recent trip to Point Pelee, Ontario
She's either asking to go or requesting that I stay. Which is it?
Fresh peony blooms from the boyfriend and my new favorite book, Bread & Wine
Hopcat bar and restaurant in Detroit boasts the most taps in the state

Summer's arrived! And along with it, all of the social engagements that hijack your calendar in the most beautifully chaotic way.

We've been bouncing around from outdoor events on the riverfront to graduation barbecues and everywhere in between, soaking up the sunnier days and curling up on the rainier ones (Jurassic World, anyone?). And, while I never take these types of seasonal festivities for granted, I've also learned the importance of carving out time for myself. Part of that plan involved the juice cleanse that I wrote about earlier this week, and another part of it included some lazy hours spent behind the binding of one of my new favorite reads, Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist, and also, Serena, a novel by Ron Rash that a friend passed along to me.

We're gearing up for an extended bit o' rest and relaxation next week, when we head southeast to Bermuda. While my fingers are loosely crossed for sunny skies, I also anticipate being perfectly fine with enough thunder storms to justify several Dark & Stormy cocktails. When in Rome, right? ;)

Here, a few online articles that have piqued my interest over the past weeks: 

How to Travel and Relocate with a Capsule Wardrobe (Project 333)
The versatile pieces that make packing for your next venture easy

The 10 Best Ways to Workout for Free (Lauren Conrad)
From nearby hiking trails to YouTube yoga, travel-friendly and affordable fitness

Summer Beach Reads (Hollywood Housewife)
Five fictional picks for poolside enjoyment

A Visual Foodie Essay via Berlin (Decor8)
A stunning post full of mouth-watering - and lovely! - photos of Berlin's bites

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hitting Reset with a Three-Day Juice Cleanse

Jus by Julie's Classic Three-Day Cleanse, above, includes six bottles per day

First, let me admit that I'm a juicer at heart. For the past year or so, I've become pretty serious about upping my fruit and veggie intake, and each morning, I can typically be found at the kitchen counter gently jamming celery hearts, spinach and apples into a juicing machine. And while that's good and all, lately, I've been feeling that I'm slacking in the nutrition department. Maybe it's the onset of summer or maybe it's that I'll be jetting off to Bermuda next week and the thoughts of bikini-clad afternoons have me biting my nails. Regardless, it felt like it was the right time to up the ante.

My colleague (a dude) was the one to suggest a joint juice cleanse. Friends of his had just wrapped up a three-day cleanse themselves and had only good things to say about the program they purchased, which was called Jus by Julie. We poked and prodded a bit online, comparing Jus by Julie to Blueprint Cleanse and others, and decided that it looked like the best option for us. So, we chose the week that we could seriously slack on our social lives (no happy hour dates or dinners out) and ordered two Classic three-day cleanses - one for each of us - to be delivered the following morning.

{Side note: Our calendars didn't end up fitting perfectly, so I opted for a Friday through Sunday program, while he chose Monday - Wednesday. Since the juices are flash frozen for delivery, you can simply pop them in the freezer when they arrive and thaw them according to when you'd like to start.}

I spent the day beforehand trying desperately to mentally and emotionally pump myself up for the commitment. Hell, I've never done a juice cleanse before, and it felt pretty likely that I was going to start gnawing on my arm before I made it 72 hours without solid foods.

I'm happy to report to you all, both arms are still in tact.

Each day of the Jus by Julie three-day cleanse comes with six bottles, labeled in the order that you should consume them, with roughly two to three hours in between each. Each day follows a similar pattern: a green juice breakfast, followed by a spicy (cayenne pepper) lemonade, another sweet green juice, a chia or acai berry blend, a sweet smoothie and lastly, one final green juice.

{Side note: I should also point out that while I'm calling these juices, they're really more like smoothies. Rather than being prepared in a juicer, they're blended, which means that all the filling fiber is included in the drinks.}

The verdict?
I actually enjoyed all of the juices. No, really. (Let me be clear that I have no affiliation with the company.) The green juices - with the exception of the sixth drink of each day - were far sweeter than what I concoct at home, and almost felt like a treat. The spicy lemonades were a nice change in the agenda, even though the thought of cayenne pepper makes me want to gag. And the sweet evening smoothies - like Island Coconut, a blend of coconut meat and water, dates and cinnamon, which tastes like a Rumchatta milkshake; and also "Not So Chunky" peanut butter and banana and "ChocoNana" with chocolate, strawberries and banana - were delish.

Turns out that the drinks were so filling, I didn't make it to the final green juice on day one or day two! I did share the spares with my boyfriend, however. We drank them for breakfast the day after the cleanse ended.

Now, let's talk about physical effects. On the morning of day two, I felt less bloated that I had in a long time, and that feeling only heightened on day three. By the final evening, my tummy felt flatter and my digestive system more normal than it had in quite some time. I wasn't hungry, nor was I craving sugary treats. The goal, of course, wasn't to drop pounds, but to reset some of those cravings and give my twisted-up digestive system a breather. And a few days out, I can confirm that it did that.

As for the emotional effects, the only womp-womp moment that I had was when we all gathered around the table on Father's Day to eat the enchiladas I had baked... and I took out my fourth juice. There is something to be said for the act of passing dishes, clanking serving spoons and breaking bread. But, it was my last day, and I felt far more committed to finishing on a high note than caving for Mexican food.

And, I'm sure you're wondering if there were any weird side effects. Nope. Only loud stomach rumbles and gurgles on days one and two.

Having done the three-day cleanse, I'm eager to work the five-day cleanse into my schedule later this year. What seemed impossible a few days ago seems entirely realistic now.

Now, about that bikini in Bermuda.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Gift Guide: Travel-Hungry Graduates

Gifts for the traveling graduate (copyright:
Gifts for the traveling graduate (links and prices in post below)

It's that time of year... caps are being tossed and dreams are being woven as high-school graduates embark on the next chapter of their lives. Isn't it exciting?! My niece graduated just a few days ago and it's as if she nearly sizzles with possibility. All smiles and optimism and big, lofty dreams.

I love that buzz. The high of what's to come. The moment, maybe, when life feels less finite than ever. It's not unlike the weeks leading up to a bucket-list adventure; ripe with abandon. 

So, in that vein, it's only natural that you'd celebrate the most adventurous grads with gifts that speak to that same desire... inspired options that aren't only a bit of fun, but make upcoming adventures - no matter where they might lead - a little bit easier.

With that said, here are my favorite picks for this year's travel-hungry grads:

  • "Ready for Departure" Passport Holder (Kate Spade) $78
    There'll be no misplacing a passport when it's wrapped in something as soft and lovely as this. Also comes in black and turquoise colors.

  • World's Best Travel Experiences (Amazon) $27
    Sometimes, there's nothing more inspiring than being reminded of just how big this world really is. I love this book, which sums up 400 of the most amazing places to see.

  • Scratch Map World Deluxe (Uncommon Goods) $36
    Track all the far-flung places you've adventured with this scratch-off map that measures nearly three feet long.

  • Airbnb Gift Card (Airbnb) Any Amount
    Just a few days ago, Airbnb launched gift cards that allow recipients to use them across their website, booking one room in an urban apartment - or an entire villa in Santorini.

  • Travel the World Wall Calendar (Rifle Paper Co.) $26
    My favorite paper company hits the mark with this gorgeous, 17-inch tall wall calendar. Perfect to hang over a desk and mark exam dates on... and much more reliable than a cell phone calendar at that.

  • Four-in-One iPhone Lens (olloclip) $80
    Well, this might take the cake for do-it-all gadget. With one slip of the wrist, even a lean-traveling backpacker can turn a smartphone into a fancy schmancy camera with this pocket-size add on.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Road Trip to Point Pelee National Park

Leamington Ontario VRBO rental (copyright:
The view from our VRBO patio in Leamington, Ontario
Birdie's Perch, Leamington (copyright:
Fresh perch tacos and an order of handcut fries at Birdie's Perch

Leamington (copyright:
This handsome dude, the runner :)
Birdie's Perch, Leamington (copyright:
Again, the fries... I can't help myself (double decker "bustraunt" in back)
Birdies Perch Ontario (copyright:
Point Pelee National Park (copyright:
Hamming it up at the "point" - which is under the tide - at Point Pelee
Point Pelee National Park (copyright:
Cold beers on the beach...

Leamington Ontario (copyright:
Grilling kabobs and asparagus at sunset

Leamington Ontario (copyright:
Oh, the sand in your feet!

Detroit River Skyline (copyright:
Returning to the D and this stellar view, from across the river

Returning home from our weekend in Point Pelee, Ontario, was a little bit like finishing an indulgent novel. Savoring those last few pages... maybe even backtracking to read a paragraph or two under the premise that you must fully understand exactly what the character is communicating, when in reality, you're just slowly drawing out the inevitable last chapter. 

Somehow, the weekend arrived in the perfect moment, stealing us away from reality just long enough to lessen the sting of its undeniable return. Only an hour and a half away from "home," the destination isn't nearly as glamorous as most of our travels, but there's a beauty to the mishmash of cattails, stony sand beaches and lapping water that's nearly healing.

Rather than plan a day trip, which is entirely doable, we decided to book a small cottage through VRBO so that we could achieve maximum laziness, of course. (There aren't many hotels to choose from, so renting was the easiest option.) Our tiny rental was a humble thing, but it sat right on the Lake Erie coast and offered amazing views from it's sunroom and back patio, where we grilled and guzzled Pelee Island wines.

On Saturday, we began our day late, after a sleepy morning that included lounging on the back porch and reading magazines while I slowly caffeinated - and my boyfriend went running. (Isn't that always the story?) It was such a long morning, in fact, that by the time we left, we figured it'd be easiest to grab lunch at our favorite Leamington spot, Birdie's Perch, a double-decker bus turned fresh fish taco restaurant, where the line is long, the fries are aplenty and the wait is completely worthwhile.

From there, we headed into Point Pelee National Park, a beautiful little reserve that stretches far enough into Lake Erie that it comes to a pin-prick point amid swirling lake waters - the southernmost part of Canada. From an airplane, which is how my boyfriend discovered it, the land mass looks almost man made.

There are bicycle and canoe rentals, so we paddled out into the marshes before hiking a bit and then settling into the sand with a beach blanket, a few beers and frozen grapes. The sun was blazing and shockingly, we were so warm that we were able to pull out our incredibly optimistically packed swimsuits and fry like onions on the bay. Not the smartest duo, having forgotten our sunscreen, but certainly zealous in our quest to seize the day.

This went on for a while, hence the sunburn, before we packed up to grill dinner and watch the sunset from the cottage. For some reason, we also dug out a DVD of the movie Twister (he'd never seen it!) and spent the dark part of our evening entirely enthralled in Helen Hunt's performance.

Sunday morning saw us slowly packing up, squeezing in just a few more minutes on the patio, and then heading out - reluctantly - for a quick breakfast on the patio of Lakeside Bakery and Deli, a cozy and convenient option on the way out of town. Proper A.M. fuel was necessary because our plan was to hit a few wineries on the easy trek home. There are several along the Lake Erie coastline, which I really had no clue existed, and am happy to report are wonderful and quaint and delicious.

We started at the Kingsville Pelee Island winery base, where we tasted a few varietals and then promptly filled our arms with bottles of Cabernet Franc Rose, Organic Cabernet Franc and Secco sparkling wine. From there, we made pit stops at Viewpointe Winery for it's dramatic cliff patio (and sangria special), and Sprucewood Shores Estate for its live music and beach. The locals also mentioned Cooper's Hawk and Oxley Estate as nice options.

So, with wine tasting complete and a half-nap on a blanket by the Sprucewood Shores beach under our belt, we finished the trip home slightly slower than our trip out, content with two full stomachs and the pleasant sting of sunburns.

ALSO: See photos from our last trip to Point Pelee here.
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