Outdoor Discovery Center

Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.” – Thomas Berry

The day after Christmas, we took a trip to the Outdoor Discovery Center. This local gem, located amongst the blueberry farms south of Holland, Michigan, was developed a number of years ago for the purpose of educating youth about nature. The center is open to everyone for free, although donations are gladly accepted. It is about 2 miles due south of my former workplace, and there were many of my lunch hours spent resetting my priorities on their trails. Diana introduced me to it a few years back after she had come here with one of her graduate classes.

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The first thing you encounter when you arrive at ODC are the elk. This bull was quite interested in Diana’s presence.

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The elk herd are visitor favorites, and are usually the first place that kids run to upon getting off their school busses.

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There is a good sized habitat set up for them at ODC.

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Adjacent to the elk habitat is a wind turbine. ODC uses this to provide power to their classrooms and visitor center.

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The center is an assortment of habitats, combining ponds, marshes, woodlands and prairies.

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The trail system is extremely well marked, with maps dispersed throughout the facility.

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Most of the trails are ADA compliant, with an extensive amount of boardwalks used through the marshes.

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Farther back on the trails is the Birds of Prey exhibit. This facility has been set aside to educate visitors about the raptors native to the area, using injured birds that are no longer able to remain in the wild. This was a favorite destination of mine, especially after a stressful morning.

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This Golden Eagle has always been my favorite. What a powerful and majestic bird!

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They have an assortment of hawks, owls, falcons and merlins.

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They also have a pair of Bald Eagles.

Many of these birds were brought here after run-ins with man-made objects. A special shout out to the owners of the chiropractic clinic I go to; Drs. Brian and Karla Parkhurst. They were instrumental in bringing this exhibit to ODC and are long time supporters.

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Another feature of the center is the Native American village. Students are taught how local tribes lived and constructed their shelters.

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A couple of years ago, ODC added this beautiful shelter and picnic area. This is a great meeting area for school groups.

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Just off the parking lot, a new visitor center and classroom facility is under construction. As a testament to West Michigan philanthropy, this building was made possible by several sizable donations from the community. We spoke with the gentleman who originally owned the land the center is located on, and he indicated that the donors went above and beyond what was asked. As a result, ODC is going to be able to construct a much needed parking area at the front of the facility.

It was nice to be able to get out on the trails again on what was a beautiful late December afternoon. ODC is located in a notorious lake-effect snow belt, and they were the recipient of over 150″ of snow last season. To have 50 degree temperatures and clear trails the day after Christmas was a real treat.

Stay healthy for the holidays!

I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake…shake it off, shake it off!
Taylor Swift – Shake It Off

Taylor, how I wish I could! It is flu season, and I speak from first-hand experience. On Saturday, I went to do my morning 4 mile walk on the track at the YMCA. For the record, I am over 6 feet tall, and a very swift walker. To my surprise that morning, people I normally pass were lapping me repeatedly. My joints ached, but that’s not out of the ordinary for my 56 year old body. By late afternoon, the flu hit me like an NFL tackle, even though I did get my flu shot earlier this fall. My first concern was to not get Diana sick, as she needs to be healthy for her mom. She remembered Tamiflu…the wonderful antiviral drug…and told me to call the on-call doctor. Long story short, I called, Diana picked it up (last available dose in the area), and it was in my system before 7 PM. I am here to tell you: this stuff works. While I am still laying low, Tamiflu took the edge off of the virus and I avoided most of the ugly side of the flu. I highly recommend it. Also, if you haven’t done so yet, get your flu shot. It supposedly lessens the effects of this mutant strain of the virus. Better yet, be sure to wash your hands often, and keep your fingers away from your face. That’s my Dr. Jim heath alert for this winter.

On a brighter note: When was the last time you saw a December 23rd like this in West Michigan?

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Yes, that is the sun!

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The temperature managed to work its way up to 50 degrees, which was a real treat! Granted, I wasn’t able to stay out long and enjoy it, but the few minutes I did were cherished. Those of you who have seen our fifth wheel know we have a lot of windows. We were fortunate to get a site this winter that points most of our windows to the south, thereby taking full advantage of the little bit of sun that West Michigan offers up this time of year. As Diana says: “Another no-shovel day!” We will take every one we can get this year. We do have our snowshoes handy, though…as winter will certainly bring us a nice layer of fluffy snow. We will be sure to post our experiences.

So, as we pause to enjoy the holiday season, remember to keep good health in mind. Diana and I wish our best to each and every one of you!

A Small Town Christmas

At Christmas, all roads lead home.”
~ Marjorie Holmes, American writer.

The Christmas season is usually the time most full time RVers really notice that they are away from the area that they had been rooted in most of their lives. This first year as full timers, even though we sold our ‘sticks and bricks’ house, we are fortunate to still be in the same general region we had been planted in during our careers. Not that we wouldn’t mind seeing decorated palm trees in Florida…

Just north of Grand Rapids is the small town of Rockford, Michigan. We drove up there this week to wrap ourselves in a little holiday spirit. Rockford is a city that is being enveloped into the outer reaches of the Grand Rapids metropolitan area, yet its’ downtown retains the small town charm of years long past. Coming into town, a banner over the road proclaims “Welcome Home For The Holidays”, and Rockford really lives up to that statement.

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The town was originally named Laphamville in the 1840’s after Smith Lapham, who helped construct the first sawmill dam on the Rogue River at that spot. When the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad came through in the 1850’s, they proposed a shorter name. A former resident of Rockford, Illinois spoke up and proposed they name the town after his former home, citing the ‘rocky ford’ below the dam. And just like that, Rockford, Michigan came to be.

Rockford is known as being the headquarters for Wolverine Worldwide, better known for its’ primary brand, Hush Puppies. While the manufacturing facilities have left town, the corporate offices are still here.

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One of the local favorite hangouts is the Corner Bar. This little gem was built in 1873. When Prohibition was repealed, a requirement to obtaining a liquor license was that the establishment serve food. First item on the menu was a chili dog. Over time, folks would see how many dogs they could eat in one sitting, and the Hot Dog Hall of Fame was established. A four hour time limit was set, and the rest is history. In 1982, Sharon Scholten downed 42-1/2 dogs in the time allotted. That record stood until 2005 when Belinda Gould made three attempts on three consecutive Fridays, the last being a success. It hurts just thinking about it…

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The streets are lined with unique shops. One place we had never visited was Old World Olive Company. We knew that one of our fellow RV-Dreamers had owned a similar shop in California, so we stopped in to check it out.

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While the olive oils were good, it was the balsamic vinegars that knocked our socks off. We purchased a Vermont Maple vinegar and a Mandarin Orange vinegar. That was a nice little gift to ourselves to use in our RV.

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One of the other stores in town had a rack full of red flannel underwear. The next town north of Rockford is Cedar Springs, better known for its history of making these crimson garments. The Red Flannel Festival is held there every year. They really do paint the town red!

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As mentioned earlier, the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad once ran through Rockford. At its height, the railroad ran from Cincinnati, Ohio to Mackinaw City, Michigan. While most of that railroad ceased to exist, a good portion of the rail bed has been turned into various bike trails. The longest of these, the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail Linear State Park, runs 90 miles from Grand Rapids north to Cadillac, Michigan. It runs directly through the heart of Rockford. Many of the folks who live in Rockford and work in Grand Rapids use the trail in the summer to commute to and from their jobs. Most of the trail is asphalt, with some of the northern sections being crushed gravel.

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For dinner, instead of hot dogs, we opted for Grill One Eleven. This has been a favorite of ours for a few years now. Diana opted for the walleye. She has had their Reuben in the past, which she loves.

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I chose the gluten-free version of the Rogue River Rockafeller, which was basically a steak with scalloped potatoes and vegetables. But, as you can see, that description did not do it justice. It was outstanding.

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By the time we left the restaurant, the sun had set. On our way back to our vehicle, we were treated to a dazzling display of Christmas lights in the trees. It was a nice ending to an enjoyable afternoon, and a good break from caregiving for Diana.

So, wherever this season may find you…be it in familiar surroundings or in faraway places, remember that ‘home’ is in your heart. Diana and I have this plaque next to our door that sums it up for us:

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Happy Holidays to all, if we don’t post before then!

Putting others first

A mother is a person who, seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.
Tenneva Jordan

While Diana’s mom wouldn’t pass up a piece of pie or cake, rest assured it would be the smallest slice. This is a woman who has spent her life putting her needs after everyone else’s. Mom has never been one to grab the limelight. And though there have been tremendous challenges thrown her way over the years, she has always tackled them with a ‘no big deal’ attitude. As we watch her in the twilight of her life, with dementia and a weakening heart pulling at her physical strength, glimpses of her iron will continues to shine through.

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Mom is the youngest of eight children. She is under 5 feet tall and petite, but don’t let that fool you. If she has something to say, it is guaranteed that it will be said. Honesty has always been the cornerstone upon which she has built her life. In the early 1990’s, she faced cancer head on. She lost her right leg to the disease, which also metastasized to her lungs. Given an extremely small chance at survival by Mayo Clinic, she never considered dying to be an option. Twenty-some-odd years later, she is still here. Except for the time she was recovering, she continued to cook fabulous meals for her family, all the while maneuvering through the kitchen with one leg and her walker. She can be tough as nails when need be. I remember the surprise to this son-in-law once when she firmly ‘tapped’ the back of my noggin and said “You’re nuts in the head, boy!” Whatever it was that I did, I definitely deserved it. But there is also a gentle side to this woman. A sweet pat on the hand, a reassuring calm in her voice, and a levelness in her demeanor lets everyone know that things are just the way they are supposed to be, and we should not be surprised that they are.

So to watch her navigate her way through this chapter of her life with the same grace and character she has always had, even as dementia and heart issues chip away at her, I am honored to be witness to it. She is firmly in control of the situation. Yes, if there was a pie in the oven and a room full of caregivers, she would surely take the smallest slice and then ask if they didn’t have other patients to tend to.

Yup…that’s my mother-in-law. I am truly blessed to have her in my life.

Road Trip!

One kind word can warm three winter months. ~Japanese Proverb

Living in West Michigan in the winter, we tend to treat a sunny day like a kind word. Wednesday was indeed one of those days. Jim’s sister texted us on Sunday and mentioned that she and her husband were going to run over to Manistee on Wednesday to go to the casino, and asked if we wanted to meet them there. We hadn’t been to a casino in a year or two, so we thought it would be fun to run up there and meet them for the day. Pardon the pun, but the weather along the lakeshore can be a gamble this time of year…but Wednesday was Senior Day, and we are considered seniors now at 56 years old, at least in the casino’s eyes. So off we went!

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From Grand Rapids, there are two routes you can take: the inland route via US 131, or the lakeshore route, via US 31. We chose the lakeshore route, as the sun was out. Those familiar with lake-effect know that ‘sunny in Grand Rapids’ doesn’t always translate to sunny at the lakeshore. Sometimes there can be a raging blizzard out there. Well, we lucked out on Wednesday, as the above photo shows. That was taken along US-31 near Pentwater. It was an absolutely beautiful drive.

A couple of things that are encountered along US 31 south of Ludington are the Lake Winds Energy Farm and also the Ludington Pumped Storage Facility. The former consists of 56 giant wind turbines dotted around the local rural landscape. There is no missing them. The latter is a giant reservoir built in the 1970’s. It sits high above Lake Michigan. The way it works is this: At night, when energy usage is low, water is pumped into the 27 billion gallon reservoir. In the daytime, when energy usage is high, the pumps become turbines and generate electricity as the water flows back into Lake Michigan. We will blog more about these places in the future, when we can get some photos to go along with the story.

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We arrived at Little River Casino before lunch. This facility is owned by the Little River band of the Ottawa Indians. It boasts of a casino, a large hotel, an auditorium, a few restaurants and an adjoining RV park. It is one of the nicer casinos in Michigan, and they have a wide array of promotions and giveaways to keep you coming. For those of you not familiar with Michigan; casinos are the only places in the state that are exempt from the public places smoking ban. Whether you smoke or don’t smoke, let it be noted.

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Little River boasts one of the nicer casino RV parks in Michigan. Plenty of full hookup sites are available. Campers are given free reign of the hotel pool and hot tub, which are located indoors. The RV park is open April through October.

After making our donation to the tribe, we had a very nice lunch at one of the restaurants at Little River. The staff went out of their way to make Jim a gluten free burger, even though they didn’t have a GF menu. He didn’t get sick, so they succeeded! After that, we headed back home. On the way, we stopped in the town of Manistee. This charming little town is where James Earl Jones got his start at the Ramsdell Theater. We drove west off of US 31 through the delightful main street of shops and went to the park along the lakeshore.

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Douglas Park is a first rate park, with plenty of picnic tables, grills and playground equipment. The beach at this park is actually within the confines of the breakwater, so the water itself is technically from the Manistee River.

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As is documented in the above photo, Lake Michigan was kicking up some waves on Wednesday. It is a rare winter day that a person gets to see this sort of wave action without being accompanied by a lake-effect snow squall.

Manistee also has Orchard Beach State Park to the north, with camping near Lake Michigan.

All in all, we had a memorable day. It was definitely the type of day we will draw from when the snow starts piling up around us!