The Most Important Trip of the Year: A Visit with Mom in Michigan

Photo ©Jean Janssen. This is what utter bliss looks like. My arrival at the Grand Rapids airport for my first visit with mom in a year and a half

This is the most important trip I will make all year. I haven’t see my mom in a year and half as COVID-19 raged and I isolated in Texas and she in Michigan. In the past year and a half, I have had to cancel more trips to Michigan than I care to count. The last cancellation was in April when I planned to visit with her on her birthday, but we had to move out of our home instead because of extensive damage caused by Texas Freeze Uri.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Found Cottage in Hudsonville, Michigan

Well I made it anyway. And what a day to travel. TSA screened over 2 million people at airport security checkpoints. It was the first time topping 2 million since the start of the pandemic. The same day a disgruntled Delta Employee threatened to take down a plane en route from Los Angeles to Atlanta before being subdued by an off-duty pilot and fellow passengers. Fortunately I was on a different route, traveling Houston to Chicago and Chicago to Grand Rapids on United. The direct flights are still unavailable, although the demand is clearly there. Lots of my fellow passengers and even one of the on-duty flight attendants was making the trip from Houston to GR.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Mom started her day with hot chocolate at The Cherie Inn.

At my mom’s age, a year and a half can make a major difference. With visits from all three of her children within the last month, her spirits have definitely picked up. After my arrival, mom and I didn’t wait long before getting started with errands she needed help with. We were out the door the next morning to shop for heavy items that are hard for her to lift. We also went to a favorite Polish Meat Market, Lewandoski’s, on the city’s west side. They have cleared the shelves of their stock of staples, but added a bitcoin machine.

The placement of the machine shocked me. I asked the young man who helped me at this family-run business about the machine and he said that the company approached them. The supplier’s research showed that this was an area of town where potential investment was likely. The meat market gets a percentage. When I asked him if it had been successful, his answer was “surprisingly, yes”. He said there was a lot of traffic with the machine and that several members of the staff had also invested. Mom and I chose to invest in bacon, pork chops, and hamburger instead.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Mom with our purchases at Lewandoski’s Market in Grand Rapids, Michigan

We also went to The Bridge Street Market, an upscale version of the Meijer’s grocery stores that dominate the city. (It is a lot like the Central Markets are to the HEB grocery chain at home in Houston.) This market caters to young, and often single, shoppers. There are lots of unique meals for one person, plenty of vegan options, and items like my beloved Topo Chico (highly carbonated bottled water from Mexico). I even spotted another reminder from home-selections from The Texas Tamale Company.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Spotted at the Bridge Street Market in Grand Rapids, Michigan

The Bridge Street Market has no staffed checkout lanes. You have to go the automated route. What I really need is a picture of mom and I trying to navigate the unfamiliar machine. Near the end, we were rescued by the employee manning the coffee bar. It was probably painful for him to watch us try to check out. Mom has come several times. The store was on a free bus route that was eliminated with the onset of the pandemic. I should have known when she said she wanted to bag the items that I was being set up. Mom has a way of getting people to help her and probably has always found a helpful soul to assist her through the process.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Cherie Inn in Grand Rapids Michigan’s Fairmont Square. Note the original tin ceilings

Of course, we had to be fortified for all this shopping, so we had started the day at The Cherie Inn for breakfast. Having opened its doors in 1924, the establishment claims to be the longest-running restaurant in the city. “It is housed in a 100 year old building featuring the original tin ceilings, vintage art and Stickley furniture of Grand Rapids dating back to the 1940’s. [sic]” The variety of egg Benedict options got my attention-I went with the crab cake Benedict-but mom chose the lumberperson breakfast. You know, like ordering the kitchen sink. She started with a hot chocolate. Mom hasn’t gotten out yet much and wanted to take advantage of going out for a meal.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Mom went for the full lumberperson’s breakfast at The Cherie Inn.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. My more modest Crab Cake Benedict at The Cherie Inn.

The Cherie Inn sits in a charming area of the East side where Cherry Street and Diamond Ave cross, just up the street from my mom’s childhood home where she currently lives. The brick buildings house cute restaurants, shops, and bars. Just across the street is the Pickwick Tavern which famously only accepts cash; this dark, neighborhood bar and its staff have been described as having an “ornery charm”. Unfortunately a lot of the buildings have gone empty, most likely from the fallout from COVID. I am hoping for a revitalization of the area. It was helpful, but surprisingly disappointing, that we easily found a parking place. I was encouraged that the Cherie Inn is currently investing in facade of their building.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Looking out at the brick facades of the buildings in Fairmont Square from the Cherie Inn, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Another morning called for a visit to Van’s Pastry Shop on Fulton on the city’s north side just down the street from the Fulton Farmer’s Market (always crowded and worth a visit). I was disappointed to hear that the bakery had been sold after being in the same Dutch family for generations. Fortunately, it was sold to some of the long-time employees who have the recipes and the fabulous cookie jar collection that lines the wall. Everyone in our family has their favorites. My uncle loves the lunch sticks, mom the cherry muffins; Emma, Rocky, and I like the cherry turnovers; and I also have a soft spot for the fat balls with raisins. The employees know my sister and I, especially Emma. She was in a few weeks ago and they knew she was headed back to Texas when she ordered and stocked up on cherry turnovers.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Van’s Pastry Shop on Fulton in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Today was the clothing and accessories shopping day. We are going to drive to a couple of my favorite stores in the the area. En route we stopped for a lunch of fried lake perch (much preferred to ocean perch). This is a favorite in the area, but not as easy to find on the menu as it once was. We loved the perch at Tillman’s Bar on Monroe, but sadly the bar has closed its doors. We ended up stopping at The Grand Rapids Fishery, which ironically is in Wyoming, Michigan not Grand Rapids. Appropriately, the sign above the door only says “The Fishery”.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Fresh seafood at The (Grand Rapids) Fishery. The offerings were different from what I find at home along the Gulf Coast.

What we didn’t know was that is was $2 Tuesday and all lunch baskets were $2 off. The place was packed. Inside it is really just a fish market-no tables-but the place was filled with a steady steam of customers. The smart ones knew the drill and had called ahead. When you order, they just pull your fish out of the case and it goes in the line to be fried. There were a few tables outside, so mom and I enjoyed our fish there. (Perhaps the tables were inside pre-COVID?) It was obviously very fresh, but unfortunately a little overcooked. This was the only place we have been that still had a sign requiring patrons to wear a mask. There was no enforcement of the rule though and a few customers were without one.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Found Cottage, Hudsonville, Michigan

Our first post lunch stop was The Found Cottage. Emma “found the cottage” a few years ago when it was new and we have watched it change over the years. For one thing, the checkout is in its third location. I mostly buy home decor items here. Emma has always added a few clothing items and gifts. The current format is in transition. The space has expanded and they have added several stalls where outside vendors can show their things. The concept must be working; new stalls are currently under construction. Normally I find more items I am interested in. The Found Cottage is on Chicago Drive in Hudsonville, Michigan.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Found Cottage in Hudsonville, Michigan

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Found Cottage in Hudsonville, Michigan

From there it was on to Holland, Michigan to Jean Marie’s; the chain is celebrating their 6th year in business. Mom actually read about the store shortly after they opened their new branch in Grand Haven Michigan, a charming beach town along the lake not far from Grand Rapids. One year when I was a child our families rented a lodge in Grand Haven for a family reunion. I remember the stay fondly, but my brother says no more renting lodging that bills itself as having “rustic charm of a by-gone era”. We still make day trips to Grand Haven on most of our extended stays in GR.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Grand Haven State Park, Grand Haven, Michigan, May 2019

The Grand Haven Jean Marie’s is still my favorite, maybe because I went there first, but most likely because the street it sits on and the store itself is so charming. I noticed that this #2 location was not listed on the website so I don’t know its status. It is smaller than the original on Chicago Drive in Holland.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Jean Marie’s, Chicago Ave., Holland, Michigan. The last time we were there was just before Halloween in October 2019.

Today I wanted to go to a close location with a larger selection. I did very well there, enjoying the “fill your tote bag at a discount” anniversary promotion. Mom gravitates to the jewelry. They even told us about an additional location that had opened in November in Wyoming, Michigan and mom and I drove by there on the way back to Grand Rapids. Obviously when you live in Houston driving to these various stops didn’t feel that far to me. Jean Marie’s is promoting their app with daily live shows, so I guess I will need to check that out too. All their stores offer a wide range of sizes, XS-3XL. I am not the only one who likes Jean Marie’s. The store has been voted the favorite Women’s clothing store in Holland 5 years running and the store is only 6 years old.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Mom and Emma on a previous shopping trip to Grand Haven, Michigan. As evidenced by the striped bags, there was a stop at Jean Marie’s. The matching “Love” Brighton bags were a gift from Natasha. May 2018

More Michigan adventures to come…

–Natasha

About travelbynatasha

I am a retired attorney who loves to travel. Several years ago I began working on a Century Club membership achieved by traveling to 100 "foreign" countries. Today, at 49 years of age the count is at 82. Many were visited on land based trips. Some were cruise ports. Some were dive sites. Most have been fascinating.
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