This past weekend, I experienced something wonderful! I finally got to meet the lovely Susan Branch, my favorite author, at a book signing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Susan is currently on a cross-country book tour, travelling through various states, promoting her latest book, A Fine Romance - Falling in Love with the English Countryside.
"Susan Branch is a favorite author of mine. Her books are treasured keepsakes in my library and this latest book, A Fine Romance, is no exception. Candidly written in diary-fashion, this book is a must-read; weather you've visited England before or are planning to visit again. If you aren't planning to visit, Susan may just change your mind! Take a vicarious journey across the Atlantic (on the Queen Mary 2), to the romantic English countryside and follow Susan along the way to the loveliest and dreamiest of places. This book is ever so charming and full to the brim with love and inspiration! I found myself reading it slowly, savoring every page so I could make it last. A gem of a book!" my review on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.
I have been a fan of Susan and her books since I first laid eyes on Sweets to the Sweet. It was the very first Susan Branch book I found here in Canada; at a book sale, fifteen years ago. It was then that I learned of her website: www.susanbranch.com and visited it regularly. When she opened a twitter account back in 2009, I opened an account too, just so I could follow her! Shortly thereafter, Susan started following me too, and we've been twitter girlfriends ever since! I have to add that many other kindred friendships have developed with fellow Susan Branch girlfriends online and offline, too!
When I heard that Susan would be making several stops across the United States to promote her latest book, I knew I had to make it out to one of them. I went through the list of tour dates and found that the book signing event on Saturday, September 7th, in Grand Rapids, Michigan would be the closest stop to my home - a six hour drive through Ontario, across the border and into the state of Michigan.
My darling husband agreed to make the drive there so that I could finally meet Susan in person. He is such a doll! After all, it would be fun to visit a new state and squeeze in one more family road trip before the official end of summer.
Come! I'll tell you all about it!
Friday, September 6th
All packed and ready to hit the road with my favorite polka-dot luggage, shoes, purse, A Fine Romance book, and our personalized name tags!
We left home at about ten-thirty in the morning and stopped over for a quick bite and a stretch at lunch hour. We got back on the road and arrived at the Canada/USA border in Sarnia, Ontario by three in the afternoon.
Here we are driving across the Blue Water Bridge from Sarnia, Ontario into the state of Michigan.
It was a perfect day for a road trip - sunshine and blue skies all the way there! We had a gorgeous view of the St. Clair river to either side of us. If only there was somewhere to stop for a picture!
We arrived at our hotel, The Country Inn & Suites, in Grand Rapids, Michigan by 6:30 that evening. The entrance was so charming. There was a cozy seating area by the fireplace near the reception. We checked in with the friendly staff (the woman who checked us in had actually visited our city of Barrie a few years ago). What a small world! We dropped off our luggage in our room and went to find some dinner. The girls wanted to go to Cracker Barrel (we don't have Cracker Barrel here in Canada), so we drove twenty minutes to the nearest location. After our tummies were full, we returned to the hotel to get some rest and a good night's sleep. I counted down, "Only one more sleep till I meet Susan!".
Saturday, September 7th
We got up early and went downstairs for coffee and hot breakfast (which was included) in the breakfast room. I cannot say enough about the friendly service this hotel provided. The hotel was clean, comfortable, spacious, and affordable. Free parking, free wi-fi and free breakfast! No wonder it was rated by Trip Advisor as one of the best places to stay in Grand Rapids!
The book signing was at 11 am. We had some free time before then, so we checked out of our hotel and hit downtown Grand Rapids to squeeze in a little sight-seeing. Here are some of the wonderful things we saw there...
View of the Grand River and the pedestrian Blue Bridge; newly renovated and freshly painted this past summer.
This is another view of Grand River and one of its many bridges. I am not certain, but I believe this one is the Pearl Street Bridge.
This bronze sculpture of Rosa Louise Parks standing in front of a bus seat (sculptor, Ed Dwight, unveiled in 2010) was an unexpected surprise for me! I was overjoyed when I came across it accidentally while walking around the downtown streets. As most of you know, Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus back in 1955. Because of her heroic action, she was the ultimate cause for a national movement to end legal segregation!
And yet another surprise! A Kilwin's ice cream shop just a few steps away. Do you remember I discovered my first Kilwin's on our visit to St. Augustine, Florida this past June? And here I found another one! This was just too much excitement for one day! The shop was still closed and it was too early for ice cream, but we knew we had to come back; we just had to!
I was so taken by this beautiful city and its dedication to the historic preservation of the buildings.
This is the Flat Iron Building, Grand Rapids' oldest commercial building. It recently underwent extensive exterior and interior renovations to restore and preserve it.
This is the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, refurbished and reopened in 1981. The original hotel, The Pantlind, opened in 1913. This is just another example of the gorgeous buildings you will find in the downtown area.
This is St. Mark's Episcopal Church in downtown Grand Rapids (completed in 1849).
It was built with limestone taken from the Grand River! The two towers were added in 1851. Isn't it gorgeous?
Unfortunately, I didn't get the name of this adorable vintage/antique shop. I had fun window shopping, though. It was still closed, as were most stores and businesses at that time. If it had been open, I would have loved to take a peek inside!
Oh, look at the time! It's just after ten. Maybe we should head over to Schuler Books now. We don't want to be late!
My goodness! I was expecting to find a tiny, little bookstore. You can imagine my surprise when I saw this huge building!
Here I am standing in front of the display of Susan's books, waiting patiently for 11:00 am and Susan's arrival!
It's 11:00 and here comes Susan and her sweetie, Joe!
You can hear girlfriends cheering and applauding as Susan enters the room. She brought along with her a Union Jack bunting to drape across the table, a vase of fresh flowers (do I see some rosemary in there?), her personalized Emma Bridgewater Susan and Joe mug (filled with pens and bookmarks), and last but certainly not least, Petey, the little sailor doll!
There was some book talk and a question and answer period. At one point, Susan saw me standing there and said "Hello Rosinda!". I waved and said hello. She told the others, "She's a twitter girlfriend". I smiled shyly, at the attention brought on to me. After everyone's questions and comments were addressed, the book signing began. Girlfriends lined up in numerical order, according to their ticket number, to greet Susan, one by one. You could hear chatting, cameras clicking, laughter, hugs,and stories being told. I stood by and watched Susan for a while. Time seemed to stand still. I was just so happy. I was here. I could hardly believe it! I was about to meet Susan, this woman who's been an inspiration for me for so many years; one of the most influential women in my life, aside from my mother, of course.
My girls and I stood in line. Our ticket numbers were 28, 29, and 30. I was almost there; feeling more and more excited and more and more nervous, the closer I got to the front.
And then, it was my turn!
We met with a great, big hug! Notice Anita's expression as she sees us. She knows how much this encounter means to me.
We chatted for a little bit.
She signed my book...and the girls' books too. She gave Anita, my oldest daughter, some wonderful advice. She said "Stay twelve forever. It's the best age to be!". Nuno came up to greet Susan, as well.
We posed for pictures
and then we had to say so long. There were many more girlfriends waiting in line to see Susan.
We went over to where Joe was standing and I asked him if he could sign my book, too. He did! AND he signed the girls' books too! He was just so sweet and darling. It was a dream come true to have met Susan, and meeting Joe, too, was the icing on the cake! What a lovely, darling couple. And how fitting to have met Joe, too! After all, he's the other half of A Fine Romance!
We left the book store and walked out into the parking lot hoping to find the Fine Romance van and guess who showed up? It was Joe! He had his camera with him and asked if he could take a photo of us.
Of course! And here it is...
Joe then brought around the Fine Romance van closer to the entrance of the book store, so all the girlfriends could see it.
Joe is right inside, behind the wheel, finding a "proper" spot to park it.
And here I am, standing right next to it!
It was time to go. We went to have lunch at a nearby restaurant. Nuno and I ordered a glass of wine with our meal to celebrate this most joyful, unforgettable day. After lunch, we headed back to Kilwin's for dessert. I had the toasted coconut ice cream on a sugar cone...my favorite! It was delicious!
Just after three in the afternoon, we headed back toward home. Annabel read the first thirty pages of Susan's book on the way home! We crossed the border back into Canada and arrived home sweet home just before ten. Perfect!
What a wonderful, magical day we had! Meeting Susan was a dream come true for me. I am so glad that my girls got to meet her, too. I am especially thankful for my darling husband, Nuno. Without him, this trip would not have been possible. He is always there for me, willing to do whatever it takes to make my dreams come true.
"If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it." - William Arthur Ward