Category Archives: Grand Rapids

Rail Trails of Grand Rapids, Michigan

On November 1, we relocated back to Grand Rapids, Michigan to be near Diana’s mom.  We are evaluating the situation and trying to make the best decision regarding where to spend the winter.

Our first week back, we have been fortunate to have had some great fall weather.  For three consecutive days, we had temperatures in the low 70’s, and we took advantage of the sunshine and checked out the local rail trails.  The Grand Rapids metro area is home to an extensive collection of recreational trails, and each year brings more miles of paths onto the region’s map.

  
The above image shows the trails marked in red.  As you can see, it is quite possible to ride a very long distance!  🙂

On Monday, November 2, we drove to the southern terminus of Kent Trails in Byron Center. This asphalt pathway was paved in 1992, and is the oldest rail trail in the region.  It runs on the rail bed of the defunct Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad, which first ran on this portion of land in 1870.  At its peak, the railroad ran from Cincinnati, Ohio to Mackinaw City, Michigan, and was the route that Ernest Hemmingway took on his excursions to Northern Michigan from Chicago.

  
Coming north out of Byron Center, the trail runs between the two halves of Railside Golf Course.  There are two of these graceful golf cart bridges over the path.

  
A few miles north, the trail goes under M-6, otherwise known as the South Beltline or the Paul Henry Freeway.  We purposely are not political on this blog, but Mr. Henry’s legacy bears mentioning.  Paul Henry was a Republican U.S. Congressman who oversaw the same district that Gerald Ford held when he was a congressman.  From that office, Ford moved into the vice-presidency and then the presidency.  Mr. Henry was known to vote with his conscience, even if it meant that he went against the rest of his party and President Reagan, which was quite remarkable in such a heavily Republican district.  We had the pleasure of meeting him as he passed us at an outdoor cafe in Grand Rapids, and he was a true gentleman who was well respected on both sides of the aisle.  He ended up getting a brain tumor and passing at age 51.  During his tenure, this much needed highway was in the planning stages.

  
When we got to the five mile mark, we discovered that the trail passed by the new Cabela’s store in Grandville.  We stopped for a little bit, then headed back the five miles to our truck.

On Tuesday, we rode on the northern portion of the Paul Henry Thornapple Trail.  This particular trail is still under development, and runs along a former railroad between Grand Rapids and Vermontville to the southeast.  When complete, it will be 42 miles long.

  
We started on the outskirts of town and rode north into Kentwood, a southern suburb of Grand Rapids.

  
The trail was very nice.  We did have to cross a five lane portion of 52nd Street, but it was at a traffic light.  There was a nice city park with restrooms near that intersection.

  
We came to an intersection with the East-West Trail and continued north on the Paul Henry Trail.  The neighborhood started to get a little too urban for our taste, so we backtracked to the East-West Trail and checked it out.

  
This is a fairly new route that runs along a series of high tension power lines through a Consumers Energy corridor.  It’s definitely a suburban route, and is a great use of the land.  This particular raised wooden path over a swamp was first rate!

  
Kudos to Consumers Energy for partnering with the community on this trail!

On Wednesday, we decided to check out one of the premiere trails in Michigan: The Fred Meijer White Pine Linear State Park.  This trail runs along the same Grand Rapids and Indiana corridor that Kent Trails runs on, only the White Pine is from Grand Rapids north to Cadillac…a distance of 92 miles.  

  
The southern 22 miles is asphalt, with the rest being a hopscotch of asphalt and crushed limestone.  We started out in the town of Belmont and headed north.

  

In the parking lot, we had met this fellow TerraTrike owner who constructed this sidecar for her doggie. That was one happy puppy!
  
The trail ran near the Rogue River, and there were several deep ravines.  This particular portion of the railroad grade dates back to 1867.

  
Just prior to passing under 10 Mile Road, the route crosses an old bridge over the river.

  
It then runs through the quaint town of Rockford.  Longtime readers may recall our post from this town last December called ‘A Small Town Christmas’.  On this beautiful November day, the town was packed with people enjoying the sunshine.

  
We had a trailside lunch at Ramona’s Table, which was delicious!

From there, we continued north for a bit.

  
Pretty soon, Diana pointed skyward…

  

….and the leaves appeared to be raining out of the clear blue sky!
  
We ended up pedaling to 12 Mile Road, which was six miles from our starting point.  We headed back and called it a day.

These pathways are just a small sampling of what the area has to offer.  We look forward to exploring more of West Michigan’s trails in the future.
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Laughing our way into Spring!

“Spring is when you feel like whistling, even with a shoe full of slush.”

Doug Larson

No better way to welcome Spring than with a whistle and a laugh!

As stated in a previous post, we are volunteering this week at Gilda’s LaughFest in Grand Rapids.  Last Saturday night was our first show.  We are part of the ‘Front of House’ team, which entails either ticket taking or ushering.  For Saturday’s show, we ushered on the main floor of Fountain Street Church.



This photo shows the venue at a previous LaughFest event.  The main act for our show was Billy Gardell, of Mike and Molly fame.  As ushers, we did get to listen to some of the show.  That was fun!

I’m sure some folks are asking “Blue collar comedy in a church?”  Well, Fountain Street Church (FSC) is quite unique.  Founded in mid 1800’s as a liberal Baptist church in a very conservitave town, FSC has always pushed the envelope to the left.  The congregation has become non-denominational, centering itself with spirituality over any affiliation with a set religion.  Over the years, they have hosted speakers such as Clarence Darrow, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert Frost and Malcolm X.  They have had performers such as Duke Ellington, Frank Zappa, The Grateful Dead and U2 take to the sanctuary.  So to host LaughFest shows for a good cause is not a stretch at all for FSC.  



And the gigantic neo-Romanesque building is a spectacular setting.  If you ever have the opportunity to tour Fountain Street Churchdo so.  The stained glass is outstanding, and quite unique.



The opening act was Dale Jones. We were still fairly busy seating latecomers during his show, so we weren’t able to concentrate much on his act.   From what we did see, he was extremely funny and was quite physical in his comedy.  We definitely would like to see him again sometime.  Near the end of his performance we were told to fan out, as that is when the cameras would come out for Billy Gardell. Per his wishes, no photography was allowed.



Billy hit the stage and the first word out of his mouth was the ultimate expletive.  He then looked up into the rafters, grinned and said “Just checking”. The irony of doing his act in a church wasn’t lost on him.  🙂  We had about 15 minutes of people trying to take photos before they settled in and enjoyed the show.  While still doing our jobs, we did get to catch most of Billy’s act and he was hilarious!

On Sunday, the weather decided that it would get in sync with the time change. We had our first temperatures in the 40’s since January!  The sun was out, the sky was blue, and we headed out to Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids for a stroll.



The birds were singing like crazy.  Check out this Downy Woodpecker working away on a branch.



Mr. Squirrel was having a blast hopping from tree to tree.



And the buckets were hanging from the taps on the maple trees, gathering sap in preparation for the spring maple syrup production that Blandford hosts.  A sure sign of Spring!

Our temperatures are forecast to be in the 40’s and 50’s for the next 10 days, so that should take care of most of our snow.  That ice we have been showing you on Lake Michigan will take a long time to melt, so our temps inland will be better than those at the lakeshore.  Our propane usage has gone way down…thank goodness…and it won’t be too long before we shed the trailer skirting and the plastic on our windows.  Michigan has a way of surprising us with late season snow, so we will hold off on those projects for a bit.  In the meantime, we will be whistling away, totally oblivious to our soggy sneakers!

LaughFest

“Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”

Gilda Radner

Very few of us over the age of 40 are unaware of Gilda Radner, that hilarious spark plug of a woman who tore up the airwaves each week on Saturday Night Live.

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With her characters such as Roseanne Roseannadanna, Emily Litella, and Baba Wawa, she found a way to our collective funny bone on SNL with every performance. Little did we know at the time, she was to only to be with us for a short time. Ovarian cancer took her from us at an early age, as that awful disease so often does in the families it touches.

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Gilda was married to Gene Wilder at the time of her death. Upon her passing, Gene wanted to leave a lasting legacy to her. One of the things Gilda was quoted as saying was ” Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I’d rather not belong to”. So with that in mind, Wilder teamed with Joanna Bull and Joel Siegel to form Gilda’s Club in New York. The purpose of the ‘club’ was to provide a place where people touched by cancer could go for information, guidance, to talk, cry or (most importantly) laugh. Before long, Gilda’s Clubs opened all over the country.

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©2015 Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids

GIlda’s Club opened a chapter in Grand Rapids in 2001.

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It is located in a restored farmhouse in a peaceful setting at the outskirts of downtown Grand Rapids. Gilda’s Club of Grand Rapids offers cancer, grief and emotional health support for children, adults, family and friends. People with cancer and their families can come and go as they please, to seek out comfort and compassion as they work their way through their journey with the disease. They also offer community outreach and in-school programs. People are encouraged to give themselves permission to smile again…something Gilda referred to as ‘finding her funny again’. We were invited to GCGR by Sister Sue Tracy to hear her speak. Being surrounded by other cancer survivors let us know that we were not alone.

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We were first introduced to Sr. Sue when she, in the role of chaplain at Spectrum Health, sang Christmas carols with my extremely ill mother. She will go to any length to get patients to laugh, and is a joy to be around. She is in her 5th battle with cancer…yes, I said FIFTH. I have had the pleasure of walking laps with her at the downtown YMCA on occasion. She once told me that she was invited to speak on Mackinac Island and was given a beautiful room with a king sized bed. But the real bonus was that there was two mints on the pillow and she got to eat them both. She then told me “Jim, there ARE benefits to being celibate!” What a great lady. If anyone deserves sainthood, it is undoubtedly Sr. Sue.

With Gilda’s Club being free of charge for the people it serves, they rely on donations to keep them going. In 2011, they launched LaughFest, a 10-day comedy festival in March. Quite honestly, Grand Rapids usually needs a reason to laugh by March! This is but one way they seek to fund their programs.

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©2015 Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids

That first year saw 642 artists on 49 stages around town, and included names like Betty White, Bill Cosby, Margaret Cho, Kevin Hart and Gabriel Iglesias. It was a huge success. Each year has brought more talent to town, and the festival has spread throughout the entire metro region. This year, the headliners are Wanda Sykes, George Lopez, Billy Gardell and Colin & Brad from ‘Who’s Line Is It Anyway?”. LaughFest will have somewhere in the vicinity of 900 artists. Obviously, a festival of this size requires an army of volunteers.

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Count us in! With us being retired, we decided to give back to the community for all the support we received though our journey with my cancer.

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We attended a meeting last night for new volunteers. By the time the meeting started, this room was packed. Next week, we will meet with the specific group we will be working with, namely ‘Front of House’. We will sign up to work events over the course of the 10 days of LaughFest, and will do things like taking tickets, ushering, greeting patrons and so on.

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It promises to be a very fun experience, that is for sure. We will keep you posted on the festivities, as they occur. There will be a lot going on in a short time frame. Or, as Gilda would say… “It’s always something!”

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!

Frederik Meijer Gardens

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
― Mother Teresa

West Michigan is blessed with more than its share of philanthropists who give back to their community. None was more loved than Frederik Meijer. Fred, as everyone in town referred to him, was the son of Henderik Meijer, a barber turned grocer from Greenville, Michigan. Fred started out working at his dad’s store at age 14, bagging groceries. Eventually, he took a liking to one of the cashiers, Lena Rader, and they were married. Fred took over the company from his dad, and he pioneered the one-stop shopping big box concept in 1962…long before Walmart used the model. He grew Meijer into a huge regional player, with over 200 supercenters in 5 states. Along the way, he became the 60th richest man in America. But the chain itself was not the true measure of this man. It was his deep commitment to his employees and his community. He considered his workers to be his family, and he was truly concerned about their well-being. It was not unusual for a worker to head into the break room to find Fred there in a flannel shirt and jeans, asking how they were doing. This would happen day and night, as Meijer is open 24 hours. He would pop into hospital rooms to visit, or call and follow up if he couldn’t personally be there. He would show up at funerals, sharing hugs and tears. His focus was always on what he could do to improve the employee’s lives, not what the employee could do to improve the bottom line.

One of Mr. Meijer’s greatest gifts to his community was the Frederik Meijer Botanical Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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This world class facility has become the top tourist attraction in West Michigan. There are many facets to this amazing place, and it continues to grow each year.

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A visit to Meijer Gardens begins with the greenhouse. There are several temperate zones represented, with the largest zone dedicated to the tropics. This is a great place to go on a cold winter day.

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If a visitor is wearing a winter coat, it usually comes off, as it is that hot and humid.

The real magic begins when you step out the back door. That is where the outdoor portion of Meijer Gardens begins. The current footprint of the park is 132 acres, and promises to grow as additional land is purchased.

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One of the first things encountered is the Amphitheater. This venue hosts a summer concert series…members to Meijer Gardens get first dibs at tickets.

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With this type of lineup, it is a nice perk. It is a great way to spend a summer evening. We have seen Harry Connick, Jr., Mary Chapin Carpenter, Steve Martin and Lyle Lovett there. People bring wine, cheese and all sorts of gourmet delights.

Another membership perk worth mentioning is the reciprocal agreement with over 200 other museums and gardens throughout the country. Our membership gets us into all of them.

Following along the path behind the amphitheater, The American Horse appears.

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This is a 24 foot tall colossus sculpture based on Leonardo DaVinci’s lost work. Efforts to recreate his masterpiece in the making began in the latter half of the 20th century, and were finally funded by Frederik Meijer. Two identical castings were made; one for Milan, Italy and one for Grand Rapids.

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The sheer size of it is remarkable. The grace it exhibits as it stands on two of its four hooves is a thing of beauty.

Beyond the horse, paths wind through several different types of zones; woodlands, prairies, wetlands and such. Throughout each zone, sculptures are interspersed into the flora.

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Lena Meijer has always admired formal gardens. Fred and Lena also had a love of Japanese gardens, and Fred wanted to give Lena one for their park. He enlisted the help of Helen and Richard DeVos (of Amway fame), and a new addition to the sculpture park is being built.

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This is no small undertaking. The garden spans 8 acres, encompassing a 2.5 acre pond. The workers were brought in from Japan, so this feature to Meijer Gardens promises to be the real deal. It is slated to open in June, 2015.

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Beyond the Japanese garden is a Michigan farm. The house is a 3/4 scale reproduction of Lena’s childhood home.

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Barnyard animals are actually bronze sculptures, and the garden behind the farmhouse is tended to as any other garden would be.

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It is here that you will find the final resting place of Frederik Meijer. Lena will join him here someday. A humble stone for a humble man.

Fred Meijer truly loved everything about his life. His success was rooted in his love of his fellow man, and his legacy stands firm in West Michigan.

Back in Michigan

After our time in Florida, we made our way up I-75 to Michigan. The purpose of our trip was to deliver a truckload of inherited tools to Diana’s brother. We weren’t able to take the 5th wheel, due to the weight of the cargo. We had left our Golden Retriever, Jenny with Jim’s sister and brother-in-law.

Before we left, Jenny had been “not feeling well” (we’ll spare the graphic details), but only on occasion. She took a turn for the worse while we were gone. We did get her to the vet this morning to try to get to the bottom of the issue, and decided to go ahead with surgery on Monday to take a look around. X-Rays had not revealed anything, but her actions of late are stating otherwise. We’ll keep you updated.

One of the pleasant surprises upon our return was one of the best fall color shows that Michigan has seen in awhile.

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Our campground was awash with different hues.

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When the sun was out…a rarity in West Michigan this time of year…the trees popped with all their blazing glory.

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Before we left, we found out the campground was adding a bank of winter sites along the back fence. We inquired about moving, and we were told we could do so upon our return. We moved today to our new site.

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There is a row of pines over the back of our RV, but the trees on the other side of the fence will lose their leaves, thereby allowing the winter sun to come into our large rear window. Anything to help with the heat bill!

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That’s about it for this post. We did want to update on our ArtPrize post. The large backlit cube named Intersections not only took home the $200,000 grand prize for the public vote, but it also shared the grand prize for the juried vote, netting the artist an additional $100,000. Beautiful thing about that is that it quieted the critics who stated that the ArtPrize voting public didn’t really know a thing about art. I guess we really do.

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Artprize

Since 2009, Grand Rapids, Michigan has held an international art competition named ArtPrize. The entire downtown, along with venues outside the core city, becomes a ‘canvas’ for thousands of artists from around the globe. There are several prizes awarded by different methods, but the main prize of $200,000 is decided by the public. Votes are cast on cell phones as the viewers tour the city. It doesn’t matter if it is the county courthouse, a coffee shop, the local bar, the chamber of commerce, even the Grand River itself; art is present in some shape or form. The entire city is filled with people, which is a huge plus for the local businesses.

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The photo above was taken outside the Gerald Ford Museum. Jerry’s statue, a permanent fixture, is being stared at by a piece named “Gravity”.

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This is a horse made of industrial metal scrap. Very interesting.

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Our next door neighbor in the campground created this one. It is called Seewall Child, and it is quite detailed. Her and her husband were very passionate about her work, and they install an interactive version of these at children’s hospitals. This was installed at a local pizzeria for the competition. We had a pizza while we were there, and at least 50 people streamed through the building, just to see the art. Some grabbed a slice from the counter.

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This is a piece called Intersections, and it was at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. What is seen on the walls is a projection of a single light bulb through the metal cube in the center of the room. Outstanding.

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Our reflection on the wall. People were having a lot of fun with this.

Our favorite was called Connected. Thirty three artists were paired with thirty three storytellers and they were given a word to work with, such as love, courage, passion, etc. The result was one of the most emotional experiences we have had in quite awhile. While we were reading a piece written by a woman who was dying of cancer, her daughter came up and spoke with us. She had just arrived from Miami to view this exhibit, which also included a panel by her and one written by her dad. We spoke of how losing a parent always seems like such a natural part of life, until it happens to you.

The great thing about ArtPrize is that it engages the community. For 2-1/2 weeks each fall, the town is as alive as Times Square. Deborah Norville from Inside Edition happened to be in town for a separate speaking engagement and had no idea what she walked into. She was blown away.

If you ever are in the Midwest in late September and early October, get to Grand Rapids to experience ArtPrize. You will be so very glad you did.