Last Thursday I had the privilege of listening to my son David present his thesis for a Master's Degree in Physics. David graduated with a degree in physics from Monmouth College and then attended Northern Illinois University for the Master's program. The last two years have been spent working part time while doing the research necessary for his thesis (he might have had this all done sooner if he had not been compelled by circumstances to pay his bills simultaneously). I did not understand one word of the research he presented in the conference room at NIU before an assembly of PHDs, but I could tell that the composure I had prayed for was present as he spoke confidently about his work.
When his presentation was done, the observers were given an opportunity to ask questions and then we were all ushered out of the room so that the committee of professors could ask David questions related to his research, make comments about his observations, and pass final judgment on his paper. While this took place, my family and I joined a visiting physics professor and researcher from Sweden in an adjoining room. This gentleman, originally from Germany, had already visited a national lab out west, was at NIU for a few days, and finishing his U.S. visit at the Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee. I am not sure what the nature of his visit was because we talked chiefly about his various travels and work experiences in Europe. He was, as most Europeans are, very interesting due to their exposure to different countries bordering their own. This man, Klaus, had traveled extensively aside from his having worked in Switzerland and now Sweden, and he spoke five languages. He had not however been to Ireland, so he until makes that trip he won't know what fun really is.
After I shared my pitiful little travel experiences overseas, I asked him how he liked Sweden. He began to describe Swedish culture by sharing that the women in Sweden are emancipated because they all work. I began biting my tongue. He went on to explain that the government of Sweden provides day care, preschool, and public schools free of charge. He did admit however that the 50% tax burden on every worker made it impossible for a woman to do anything other than work since no one can survive on one salary. This is where I released my tongue and gently explained that from my perspective being forced into the workplace by excessive taxes was not my idea of emancipation. I told Klaus that I had stayed home to care for my children and my two daughters were staying home to raise their children. And then I dropped the bomb. I explained that I had homeschooled that grad student in the other room and that he had not attended school until he was 16. This very interesting and kind gentleman was stunned and then asked, "You can do that here?" I said we could. Klaus then asked if there was some test we had to take to prove that we were capable, to which I replied, "No. Not in the state of Illinois." He was still in disbelief, but very polite. Perfectly, at this point, one of the committee members, who had been questioning David, came into the room to announce that they were done. He turned to John and I and said that they were very impressed with David, that they thought he was very intelligent and believe he should be in their PHD program. The good Dr. thought David could pull off a PHD in one more year. So much for state schools and tests determining parental capabilities.
We really liked talking with Klaus. I could not stop thinking about his astonished reaction to the concept of homeschooling. I really hadn't expected it, but the moment was very instructive for me as well as Klaus. Europeans have long ago given up their rights as parents. They truly believe that children belong to the state and parents are merely the nighttime babysitters. Klaus was surprised by my disclosure because he cannot fathom this kind of control and influence by parents over the state's children. That is how far Europe has come from the Biblical model of the family.
One of the annual treks we have taken with the kids has been kayaking down the Platte River near Empire, Michigan. We broke the tradition today by signing up for a 2 hour sail from Traverse City on the Tall Ship Manitou. A good time was had by all. The crew was very engaging and enlisted volunteers to hoist the sail. This gave John and Bill the opportunity to hoist and ham. At the first shout-out by the crew to "haul away", Bill and John couldn't resist following orders and adding a song. They jumped right into a rendition of Haul Away Joe. I am sure the other passengers thought that they were paid entertainment.
The cruise was a little more docile than we expected due to the fact that we stayed within the confines of Grand Traverse Bay, but it was well worth the time and money. Especially since Bill and John got to play "crewmember" whenever there was a call for volunteers.
This is where Bill and John, with the help of the rest of our family, sang The Gypsy Rover to our crew girl from Poland.
The crew receives more help from Bill and John who apparently wanted to be pirates when they were growing up.
NOTE: The date setting on my camera was off by one day.
By the time we were sick of lollygagging in the kitchen and on the deck, it didn't look like the cloud cover was going to burn off so we decided it was a day for shopping in Sutton's Bay. Even when it's cloudy or raining at Cathead Bay, it could be hot and sunny in Sutton's. And it was. It's a good thing we took that into consideration and wore cooler clothing.
I absolutely HATE to shop in chain stores at a mall. I absolutely LOVE to shop in small stores owned by independent proprietors featuring locally crafted goods. I could get lost forever on the main street in Sutton's Bay. We have our favorite stores. There's the Front Porch, offering kitchen gadgets, tablecloths, napkins, runners, etc. There are seasonal decorations, candles, and interesting odds and ends that I never see elsewhere. I controled myself, but am ruminating about a few things I might pick up later this week. Another favorite is Bay Wear offering T-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats with clever sentiments printed on the front all touting the superiority of a Michigan vacation. The BEST, BEST, BEST, store in the whole world is located here and it is called Enerdyne. It offers high quality educational toys and activities for kids and some of us who just can't resist the newest Klutz invention. There are great puzzles and books, many of these featuring the natural discoveries of Michigan. Also available is locally crafted jewelry made from the abundance of Petoskey stones harvested on the shoreline. Fifty bucks later I had two children's song books with accompanying CD's and a pair of earrings for myself.
We made a couple of new discoveries before we even started the shopping. Korner Kottage is a relatively new Bed and Breakfast on the main strip, coming into the town. It caught our eye because of the lovely garden in the backyard and the meticulous window boxes all around the house. In an effort to obtain some information on the business, we met and were escorted through the lovely, lovely house by the owner. Just maybe we'll make use of this reasonably priced B&B if we ever come up this far, apart from the week we usually pick for vacation. I keep saying I'd like to hang out up here in autumn.
The second new discovery was North Country Grill and Pub. The menu is limited and therefore well prepared. It is here that I experienced the best thing since garlic. Michigan Buckwheat Honey. It was poured over an appetizer of Wisconsin blue cheese slices. Oh my! I asked where I could buy some, but apparently it's not available to the general public. You have to order it in barrels or something from some farmer. I'll take a barrel. No problem. It was heavenly and I can taste it already on morning oatmeal or homemade yogurt.
Today began like all our days do in Michigan. Some wake earlier than others, but by 10:00 everyone has trickled into the kitchen for coffee and breakfast. I am usually one of the earlier risers, although I have been known to sleep late on occasion. No one is in a hurry to do anything. Conversations are constant and as is the familial trait of the Danahers, either Bill or John will break out in song if someone says something that triggers a tune in their heads. Before long the deck of cards are out and a game is underway. I usually have to replenish the coffee in the carafe for a second round. During the very loud card game, some of us may slip away to take refuge on the deck for morning devotions. There are always a couple of Bibles and devotional guides lying around in the great room.
Theresa and I made the trip to Northport for the week's groceries and a stop at the newly renovated coffee shop at the old mill. It used to be an ice cream shop with an old peanut grinder that produced the best peanut butter ever. After a couple years of being dormant, the ice cream parlor has been resurrected as a coffee shop with a small banquet hall attached. It would be a fun place to have a wedding.
Back to the cabin and a few hours on the beach. I don't really like lying in the sun, but the cool Lake Michigan breezes and occasional light cloud cover make it endurable. Back to the cabin and a 7:30 dinner of Fajitas and a salad. The guys cleanup and the girls take our regular 3 mile walk along the peninsula. As the sun was setting on the lake we heard the pack of coyotes yipping and howling in the woods on the dunes. It wasn't so intimidating tonight because of their more distant proximity to human habitation. Actually it's a nice reminder of just how removed we are from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The silence is truly golden. After a seven hour trip, one hour longer than usual due to a traffic jam right out of the gate on 294, we caught up with the Ohio Danahers and friends in Sutton's Bay, northwest of Traverse City. We had dinner and continued the pilgrimage to the Cathead Bay peninsula for our annual vacation courtesy of the Hass family whose cabin is our destination. Tonight for the first time in thirteen or so years, we were serenaded by a pack of coyotes at bedtime. They have finally quieted down. It wasn't quite as creepy as the pack I once heard a few blocks from my suburban home. The north woods are a more natural habitat for a pack of coyotes and the three bobcats just spotted by one of our house guests.
Northern Michigan offers my family and me the honest to goodness break from the daily grind that is truly a time of rest and relaxation. I don't like to do much on vacation. I appreciate the opportunity to do absolutely nothing. The stillness of the north woods has a healing effect that I could not have at Disney World or even a beach in Mexico. We are secluded here. No phones, no computer access, no congestion. Just woods and dunes and a sky full of stars. The only thing missing tonight as I prepare for bed is the sound of Lake Michigan waves lapping the shore. It is very still.
I love this place and fantasize about being snowed in here during the winter. When I say that, John objects that the snow could get so deep, we might not be able to get in or out for a spell. My point exactly. Of course now that I have grandchildren I don't really want to be separated from them for any extended period of time. I miss them so much already. But, I hate the city these days. The traffic, the noise, and the crazy pace of life are fatiguing to me. I will have to be content with one week to heal and slow my heart rate…unless I run into the three bobcats that just emerged from the woods at the end of the road.