Monday, August 21, 2017

Dear Children

A letter to my children as they begin a new school year...

Dear Children,
     It seems like you just signed yearbooks and said goodbye to your friends for the summer, but the new school year is upon you.  Like every mother, I have hopes and dreams for all of you, and wish to see you all accomplish everything you desire.  And probably also like every mother, I have little pieces of advice for each of you.

     To my oldest son, Owen, as you enter eighth grade, I encourage you to meet new people.  Starting now, the classes you attend and the activities you participate in will begin to form your social circle for years to come.  Say hello to the new kid, slide over on the bus when someone needs a seat, share your notes with the girl who was sick last week and missed class, grab a new tray for someone who drops their lunch.  Make friends with your classmates and get to know them-lean on them-because there will come a time when you need a friend to lean on in return.  You have a wonderful and smart sense of humor-let it shine!  In this, your last year before joining the high school crowd, be a leader.  Your peers, younger students, and your siblings will look to you as an example.  Make good choices and go the extra mile, I promise you that your efforts will not go unnoticed.

     To my daughter, Emerson, as you enter middle school as a seventh grader, embrace the change this year offers.  With six teachers and six classrooms of students, it's a whole new ballgame.  These next two years will be challenging ones.  New friendships will be made and others will fade away.  You will have to make hard decisions on what things you want to be priorities in your life.  You are smart and you are beautiful and I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and let your true self-all of it-shine through.  Enjoy these middle school years and remember it's okay to be a kid-there will be plenty of time for all of that mature, grown-up stuff in your future.

     To my middle son, Greyson, as you enter fourth grade, be a role model.  Instead of dreading this new school year, you are openly excited, and I think that's a wonderful thing.  This is your last year in elementary school and it's your time to shine.  Show your teachers, your classmates and your family what you are capable of.  You are smart and creative and hard-working and I hope you share your talents with those who know you.  Let them see that getting your hands dirty and lending a helping hand are important life skills.  You see the world a little differently than most people, but when faced with challenges, you always come up with solutions.  Don't be afraid to voice your opinions and show people there is often more than one right answer.

     To my little Alayna, as you enter third grade, hold on to your sense of wonder.  I consider third grade a golden year, where kids are old enough to know what's going on, and still young enough to still have some innocence about them. You are kind-hearted, polite and full of life, and your laughter is contagious.  I encourage you to continue chasing your dreams and feeding your imagination.  Stand up for what you think is right, and do not be afraid to defend someone when they need help.  The world needs more love and more laughter, and you have so much of both to offer.

     To Nash, my baby, as you start school this year as a pre-kindergartener, be brave.  You've got your backpack and lunch box and brand new shoes and you are so excited to head off on this adventure. They say sending your children off to school is harder on the parents than on the children, and I think that's very true.  I've had you with me nearly always for the past four and a half years, and now I have to set you free.  You will have to make choices for yourself-lots of them-and I won't be there to offer you guidance.  I believe that I have done my best to raise you to be a kind, caring boy and that you will flourish this year at school.  Make friends, try new things, soak it in.  And even though I've had to let you go a little, you will always be my baby.  

     In closing, my children, be outgoing, embrace the change, be role models, dream big, and be brave.  Be the friend you'd like to have, take every opportunity to try new things, believe in yourselves.  And don't ever forget, that at the end of the day-every day-I am here, waiting for you to come back to me, to share your happy moments and your scary moments and your painful moments.  I am here to support you and to love you, no matter what the days may bring.


Thursday, August 3, 2017


Maybe you know of my love for this place by what you've read through my blog posts and seen through my photos. Maybe you've stopped for a visit here and felt the magic that beckons you to stay a little longer. Maybe you've been a part of the demolition and rebuilding and remodeling here and have seen how emotional I can get over an old, rusty hinge on a piece of wood or some wrinkled newspaper with a date older than me or a moldy, glass medicine bottle that looks like nothing more than trash.  I think what I love most about this place is that we are contributing to its history. Every day, in our daily life, we are becoming a part of its past.

When we purchased this farm from the Gates family, we got more than a house and a barn and some land. In addition to being fortunate enough to get to know the Gates family and some of their history here, we learned that they had the original title to this land, and all of the documentation as it has been passed on and split and sold and built upon throughout the years.

I wonder if, when David Piffard acquired 160 acres from the United States on July 6, 1836, he had ever dreamed what the future would hold.  He was one of the first to settle here in Richfield Township, and after marrying Ann Matilda and raising a family, they sold half of their land to Joseph and Friedericke Curts from Germany, on February 25, 1863 for $600.  They had brought their young daughter, Caroline, with them to Richfield after the death of two sons.  And after his first wife passed away in 1862, Joseph married Mary, who also had a daughter named Mary.  At the age of 66, Joseph passed away, leaving his wife $100 per year from his estate, plus a cow of her choosing.  He left his daughter, Mary Blocker, 20 acres of the farm, plus the horse barn.  He left the balance of his estate to his daughter, Caroline Amidon.  To his grandsons, he left the following: Frank Amidon, his horse.  Willie Amidon, his watch.  Dyer Amidon, his buggy and single harness.  For his granddaughter, Carrie Blocker, he left his organ.

Caroline had married a farmer from Pennsylvania named Giles and they lived together, here on this 40 acre plot of land.  They raised three sons here, and, although there is no written record, I assume that these were the people who built this house.  How exciting it must have been to build this home with its country kitchen, and a dining room with a large stove, and three bedrooms upstairs-one for each of their boys.  I can imagine the farm life and can almost smell the hay outside and the bread baking in the oven and the mischief those boys must have gotten into.  When Caroline passed away in 1907 from diabetes, and Giles passed away in 1914, I wonder if they knew what they were leaving behind.

Dyer and Sarah Amidon took over this farm in 1914, raising two daughters here, Mabelle and Maud.  After both daughters married and moved on, and Dyer and Sarah were in their 70's, they sold the farm to Henry and Ida Munger, in 1933.  I wonder if the Amidons knew their story would be remembered.

When Ida's husband died not long after they bought the farm, she was forced to sell, in 1937.  The new owners were Cassius and Myrta Giddings, who once owned the Goodrich Mill Pond.  After just two short years though, The Giddings packed up and moved to California.  War can cause many changes of heart, can't it?

On November 27, 1939, Guy and Grace Hoffman became the new owners here.  Guy farmed this land and raised dairy cows until July 21, 1959.  He lost his first wife, Grace, in 1958, with whom had had a daughter, Veretta, and a son, George, and had married Helen shortly afterward.  The Hoffmans sold the farm in July 1959 to Orus and Doris Kerr of Davison, with the agreement that the Hoffmans would still get to harvest their current wheat crop by September.  I wonder if they knew the mark in history that their family had made.

Originally when the Gates family bought this farm in 1961, they lived in the home next door and rented this place out. I've heard stories of the family with eighteen children who lived here. They were a family with a lot of love, but not a lot of money. When the welfare of the children came to be questioned, their parents were forced to give many of them up. Friends and neighbors on farms nearby offered to "foster" a child or two each to prevent them from being sent who knows where. In reality, the children stayed together, here, but when questioned would tell you they lived with The Stantons or The Millers or The Baxters, as to not be taken away again.

Eventually, the Gates family sold the place next door and moved in here full time. There were cows and horses and chickens. Richard and Betty Gates raised their seven children here, and their 15 grandchildren, and their 13 great-grandchildren, too.  Until the late 1970's this house was without a bathtub or a fireplace. The backyard was filled with multiple outbuildings and there stood the barn-the same barn that was willed to Mary Blocker by her father way back in 1888. I wonder if Joseph Curts could have fathomed that his beloved horse barn would still be standing in 2015.

circa 1973

When they were no longer able to farm the land, Richard and Betty leased it to Hunt Farms, a local business that farms thousands of acres throughout the area.  Richard Gates passed away in 2007, at the age of 81, and Betty passed away in 2014, at the age of 87.   I wonder if Betty knew those farmers would be talking about her delicious brownies she always had waiting for them, even after she was gone.

2015 is where the story leads to us-The Martins.  After a summer of anticipation, this farm became ours in the fall of 2015.  We have taken things away, added new things, brought things back to life, and said goodbye to things forever here, in just two short years.

We have found remnants of old foundations, and discovered that our house didn't even have one.  We found the original siding under another layer of siding last year and were given a glimpse of what the house had originally looked like.  We have found marbles that have rolled into holes in the old wood floors, lost by children who played here.  We have gotten dirty from long days of playing outdoors.

We are teaching our children the same things the families before us have taught their children.  We've watched the circle of life, from precious beginnings, to growth, and have said some sorrowful goodbyes.

When we took the old barn down last year, it broke my heart.  It just didn't seem right to be removing the original piece of history from this land, even though it had to be done.

But just like the families before us, we are putting our own stamp on this place.  We are trying to make it what it once was-a simple, comfortable place to raise our family.  I wonder if someday, long after we are gone, someone will write of our life here, as well.

A few days ago, just as I was getting ready to leave, there was a knock at the door. There stood a man, in his late 60's, holding a framed photograph. He said, "I know this is going to sound very strange, but in this photo is my grandfather, Guy Hoffman, my father, George, and me at age 4 and we are standing right over there."  And he turned to point to the old electrical pole that still stands in our yard. "Is there any way I could walk around your yard?"

Are you kidding me?  In addition to immediately starting to cry, I invited him inside.  I would love to go back and visit the homes I lived in when I was younger and watching him take it all in was almost as enjoyable.  He told me that there used to be a huge wood burning stove in the kitchen and that he used to sleep in the living room, against the wall, before he was big enough to sleep upstairs alone.  He told me that once, when he was trying to fall asleep, the house had been struck by lightning and he watched the electricity blow up the refrigerator.  He told me that he'd sit on that old porch and watch the cows out in the pasture.  He told me that he was here from Massachusetts, and that he was hoping to take a present-day picture of himself standing in front of the barn.  He had looked up the house on Google Earth, and by their records the barn is still standing.

How sad I was to have to tell him that we had to take it down last year.  He walked around the property for some time, taking photos and videos and reminiscing.  When he came back up to the house, I had a few pictures to show him that I had taken of the old barn, and he noticed that the old electrical pole still standing in our yard was the very same one from his picture, 65 years ago.  I wonder if The Hoffmans knew the pole would outlast the barn.

When it was time for him to go, I told him he was welcome anytime, as are all the families who have ever lived and loved here.  What an impact this place must have had on his life for him to come back here after all these years to experience it again.  It was truly a gift to have Mr. Hoffman here in this home.  I've been known to just sit in my backyard for hours, staring out across the fields.  In these moments, I know I share a bond with those before me.

They watched these sunsets...

They watched these storms roll in...

They took time to slow down and enjoy this land...

They watched their children grow up and become farmers themselves...

It is a privilege and an honor to not only be making our own life here, but also to be walking in the footsteps of generations before us.  We carry little pieces of all of them: Piffard, Curts, Amidon, Munger, Giddings, Hoffman, Kerr, Gates.  Many things have come and gone here, from milkhouses to barns, to silos, to animals.  Each family made their own mark on this house, adding things and taking things away.  Even the landscape has varied greatly over the years, from pastures and multiple driveways, to freshly mowed lawns and apple trees.  But one thing hasn't changed.  This place has been home to all of us.  We have put our blood, sweat and tears into the work all of us have done here.  This forty acre plot of land has served all of us well.  There is beauty in simplicity, and we are fortunate to be living in such a beautiful place with a past worth writing about.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Race Recap: The Grand Island Trail 50k Edition

So, I decided that this race recap couldn't just be about the race.  For most races, I either drive to the race very early in the morning, or get there the night before and have a hotel booked for an overnight stay.  This time, I decided I wanted a full-on adventure.  We hadn't been on the motorcycle since we drove to New York via Canada to a friend's wedding in 2014, and we were itching for a trip, so I suggested Jason give the bike a little tune-up and we'd take that.  We'd be traveling from Gaylord to Munising, which is only about 200 miles each way, so I wasn't worried about any aches and pains from the ride on race day.  When we tried to find a hotel in the area, our options were very pricey, as I had only signed up for this race a week in advance and most of the cheaper places were booked.  So, I suggested we stay at the local campground.  In a tent.  Neither of us had camped since college, and I figured it was high time we gave it another go.  The only tricky part would be packing not only for a 50k trail race, but also camping, and getting it all to fit on the motorcycle.  Somehow, we managed to fit two pairs of running shoes, my hydration vest, bug spray, sunscreen, race fuel, four pairs of socks, four pairs of undies, four pairs of shorts, four shirts, two phone chargers, travel sized toiletries, an extention cord, two sleeping bags, a tent, a tarp, and two pillows all in the two saddle backs and one big travel pack on the back.  And yes, I am a magician.

We headed out after breakfast on Friday morning, leaving the kids with Nana and Grandpa at the cabin.  Our first order of business was crossing the Mackinaw Bridge, which connects Michigan's Lower and Upper Peninsulas.  Generally, the bridge doesn't bother me at all, but construction forced all of the traffic to travel on the inside lanes, which aren't pavement, but metal grating.  Riding on this grating on a motorcycle causes the bike to be pushed randomly sideways, which is not a good feeling when you're 155 feet above the water, and I poked Jason more than once which he knows means SLOW DOWN OR ELSE!

After we got across the bridge and paid our toll, we had to make a little pit stop.  Last year, we stopped in Trout Lake for lunch on the way home from this race, and much to Jason's dismay, we were a white minivan in a sea of motorcycles and ATVs.

This year, we might have been the only vehicle in the parking lot, but we were on two wheels only, and Jason got his redemption.

We popped inside for a little snack and then we were off again.

With about an hour or so until our next scheduled stop, I broke out the watermelon gum.  It's not a Harley road trip without watermelon gum and we always have it in stock.

Then we headed to Grand Marais. This town is located right on Lake Superior and is the eastern gateway to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  We had lunch at a little brewery there and watched the kayakers and sailboats enter and leave the shore.

And then it was time to head to Munising.  The road from Grand Marais to Munising was gorgeous- full of twists and turns and the air was still cool enough to be comfortable in my jacket.

We stopped along the way, on the recommendation of some fellow bikers we met at lunch, at a place called Logslide Overlook.  The story is that it takes one minute to get down the sand to the lake and up to three hours to climb back up to the top.  We decided to enjoy the view from the top only, before getting back on the bike!

Once in Munising, we headed straight for packet pickup.  While I got my race bib and shirt, Jason met with the race director to get details on volunteering on race day.  On the way out, I bumped into some Bay City runners I had met up with a couple times over the winter.  There would be some familiar faces on the course this year!

We hopped back on the bike and headed to the campground.  Every single campsite had been rented for this weekend, and it was bustling.  We found our little tent site and started to unload.  It didn't take long to put up our tent, lay out our sleeping bags and get situated.

The next order of business was food.  We headed back into town and decided we weren't very hungry-yet.  So we had a beer and chatted with some fellow bikers while we waited for our pizza to-go-I'd just heat it up later over the fire when I got hungry!  Then we stopped at a convenience store and grabbed some more beer, water, and of course, marshmallows.  And then we headed back to camp, on a motorcycle, with me holding down my very precious cargo-PIZZA.

There was firewood available for purchase at the campground, but we decided we could get more for our money if we rode a few miles down the road.  We pulled off on the way and I found a great marshmallow stick and carried it with me.  Then we found a great place to buy the wood.  Just one problem: too much wood and not enough room on the bike!  Even with the saddle bags filled, along with all I could carry, we still had to make two trips.

When we got back to camp and got the fire going, we took a little walk down to the shore, and there it was: Grand Island.  The site of my race was looming in the distance and I could envision the trails I'd be on the next day.

Back at the campsite, several of the Bay City runners stopped in and we talked for a long time about running and racing and strategies and life. In my opinion, this is the best part of traveling to races-meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I was excited to run with them on what would be a first ultramarathon for several of them.  After that, we ate fire-roasted pizza and it was fabulous.

I topped that off with a few perfectly roasted marshmallows-yummy!

And then, Jason had the crazy idea that he wanted to swim in Lake Superior.  So we headed back down to the beach where he quickly decided that it was way too cold at that time of night for a swim, so we enjoyed the sunset for a few minutes before heading back to get ready for bed.

With just six hours before we'd have to wake up to make it to the island before the race, we plugged in our phones to charge and tried to get some sleep.  (This is where I make a little side note about things I would bring the next time I go tent camping in a packed campground: AIR MATTRESSES AND EARPLUGS!)

Soon enough, my alarm went off and it was time to get going.  Because camp checkout was earlier than we could be back from the race and Saturday night was booked solid, we had to pack up everything we had brought with us. At 4am.  In the dark.  Trying to be quiet while everyone else slept.  Except not trying to be TOO quiet because the people in the tent next to us had chosen to loudly brush their teeth for several minutes at midnight, just inches from our tent.  And also not too quietly because can you really be THAT quiet on a Harley at any time of day?!

We bolted into town for coffee, wearing race clothes and our jackets, and with me holding a large garbage bag I filled to the brim with things that had somehow fit on the motorcycle when I had packed it the day prior in the daylight and not in a rush.  We parked at the high school, and stuffed our jackets and the garbage bag under the back tire, and hoped things would be as we had left them when we returned later that day.  It's kind of an unspoken rule with runners that you respect peoples' belongings.  We've all seen each others' hiding places for keys and wallets and all sorts of things and I wasn't too worried about leaving our things unattended.  We hopped on a bus filled with racers and volunteers and headed out to the ferry.

The ferry ride is listed as "a short 8 minute ride over to the island" but the whole thing lasted no more than four minutes-hardly enough time to get cold or to get splashed by the waves that were crashing up the sides of the boat.  And then we were there-on the island!  Most of us gathered in the little lodge near the start line, mainly because the mosquitoes were unbelievable outside.  I had completely doused myself with insect repellant, hoping it would last at least a few miles before I completely sweated it off, and those pesky little bugs seemed to be keeping their distance from me.  As our group began trickling in, again we talked of races and running and discussed race fuel and hydration packs and admired each others' gear.

With just a few minutes before the official start, we all headed outside and got together for a group picture.  Next up: 31 miles or BUST!  What would the day hold?

And then it was time to go.  We started out together as a pack, but soon enough we settled into our desired paces, and as Brian and I were at a similar pace, we decided to run together for as long as we could both keep up with each other.  This was his first ultra, and I had trained with him earlier in the year in Bay City and also happened to run both the Rock N Roll Nashville Marathon (his first) and Bayshore Marathon with him.  He had said that this would be his first and last ultra, but I had bets on him changing his mind.  The first seven miles came and went fairly easily and I was feeling pretty good and happy to be back on these trails for another year.

After Mile 7, we headed out onto the shore for a mile.  This is a gorgeous beachfront and the water is so calm and pristine and there are amazing views in every direction.

I have heard that in previous years the beach has been wide and runnable.  Last year, I was barely able to keep both feet on the hard, wet sand without getting wet, and this year, after about 25 yards, we all gave up and resorted to splashing through the water for the remainder of this section.

At Mile 8 the beach portion was over and the trail took us back into the forest.  It was only around 7:30am and the forest was still calm and still and mostly asleep.  After a few more miles, we came to a great spot to view the Pictured Rocks and catch the sunrise.  Somewhere, out across that water, lies Canada!

As we ticked off the miles, we got slightly slower but not too much.  By about Mile 15 we were walking most of the uphills and wondering where, exactly, the downhills were!  At Mile 16, we made out first stop to refill our packs and promptly received multiple mosquito bites.  I guess that insect repellant was long gone!  The volunteers had the right idea, dressed head to toe in complete beekeeper outfits, with no bare skin showing.  At Mile 19, we took a short break to take some photos at one of the highest points on the island.  The views were amazing and I wished I wasn't running a race so I could stay a little longer.  At Mile 21, I remember telling Brian that I had NO idea how I had run a 50 mile race just a month prior.  These last ten miles were going to be challenging, and I knew there was a big climb just ahead...

We came into the Mile 22/27 aid station where Jason was volunteering, refilled our packs, re-covered ourselves with bug spray and headed into the out-and-back section that everyone was dreading.

At Mile 23, there was a small, rocky stream crossing, but the water was cool and refreshing and we happily crossed it and headed up the hill.

This section was almost exclusively walking and it was precisely at this time that the black flies came out in FULL FORCE.  So much of my energy was spent trying to swat away these flies that were at least twice as large as any normal black fly I'd ever seen.  About 1/2 mile from the turnaround at the top of the hill, I came around a corner and spotted Sharon, from our group, coming down the hill at me.  She said, "Did Brian not make the turn up the hill?" and I joyfully informed her that he was right behind me!  Brian had injured his hip a few weeks prior and wasn't sure he'd be able to go the distance.  He had told us that if he wasn't feeling it, he would just skip this five mile stretch and head for the finish, but he did it!  Just after the turnaround at Mile 24.5, Brian caught back up with me and we headed back down the hill.  This was short-lived, however, as I was once again swarmed by black flies and had to literally sprint down the hill, making Mile 26 my fastest mile of the entire race!  I took a quick picture of Echo Lake as I crossed the stream once again and headed into the Mile22/27 aid station.

As he did last year, Jason decided to run in to the finish ahead of me at this point, so he would be there for the finish.  Brian found his own groove and also took off on ahead of me in the last four miles.  We had agreed that if either of us wanted to go on ahead, they should and I was proud to watch him finish his first (and hopefully not last) ultra strong.  Those last four miles were quite brutal for me as the black flies continued to torment me and the temperature was steadily climbing.  I had a small moment of superhuman strength where I decided to lift this tree out of the way, and it somehow was captured by photograph!

But then, much to my dismay, I discovered that the tree had left my hands covered in sticky sap.  Perfect.  Luckily, I had stuck a random hand wipe packet in my pack that morning and managed to get most of the stickiness off.  The miles seemed to be passing sooooo slowly, but then I saw that Mile 30 marker and I knew the finish line was just a few minutes away.  As I turned the last corner and headed in, I was focused in on the finish line.

That's when I heard it-I'm not sure which of the Bay City runners it was, but one of them yelled out, "YOU DIDN'T EVEN GET A GOOD POOP STORY OUT OF THIS RACE!"  I crossed that finish line laughing, and happily accepted my medal.

The medals for this race are a little different-a wood medallion, imprinted with the race details and island, with a neck loop which is hand knit from Alpaca wool by the race director's wife.  It's not the biggest or fanciest medal out there, but I think it's completely fitting for a trail run on an island that is pack-in, pack-out, and very in tune with nature and preserving our surroundings.

I finished this race 18 minutes slower than last year, but I have no complaints.  I felt I ran a solid race and looking back at my race as a whole, I am content with my performance.  With over 1800 feet of elevation gain throughout the course, it definitely provided challenges.

But that's not where this story ends.  After catching the ferry back to the mainland, and taking the bus back to our motorcycle, we found that yes, in fact, all of our belongings were right as we had left them.  I crawled onto the bike, a sweaty, wet, stinking mess, and headed back to the campground where the manager had thankfully agreed to let us shower before hitting the road.  While I sloooooowly peeled off my disgusting clothes, showered and re-packed the bag more efficiently, Jason headed out to Lake Superior to give that lake swimming thing another try.  He came back refreshed and ready to go, with his mission accomplished.

The only thing left to do now was park my butt on my SMILE pillow on the back of the bike...

...and hit the road.

I wasn't really sore, aside from my feet, but I found that letting my legs dangle instead of putting them on the footrests provided a lot of relief.

After an enormous amount of Mexican food in St. Ignace, we once again crossed the Mackinaw Bridge.

The sky had been threatening to rain almost the entire trip home, but somehow it stayed dry for us the whole way back to Gaylord.  In fact, by the time we arrived, the sky began to clear a little and I was pretty happy to relax on my favorite beach, watching my kids play in the lake as the sun began to set.

30 hours, 400 miles on motorcycle, 31 miles on foot, a million memories.