Category Archives: Michigan

And the Color is…

Leelanau County – July 26, 2019Written by Jim

As we were finishing up the barn last year, we started picking out colors for this year’s cabin project. We had always intended to tie the two buildings together by accenting them both with the Wicker shakes in the gable ends and the wide white PVC trim, but we wanted each to have an independent field color. We had settled on a horizontal taupe, and even painted the shed doors to match.

Well, the pandemic-affected supply chain had other ideas…

It turns out that taupe pigment was not available to make our siding, so we had to come up with a Plan B. Time to get creative! Our supplier actually suggested the Certainteed brand of siding for availability, which Menards just happened to also carry at a much cheaper price. Lop another 11% off of that with their summer-long rebate sale and they practically gave us the siding! So what color did we choose?

Pacific Blue!

We are happy with the way it looks with the barn. One side done, three to go!

This past week has been a mix of working on the siding and other projects that have to be buttoned up before the insulation and drywall crews arrive. Two of the four insulation crews have come and gone, along with the electrician. The electrical inspector approved the rough electrical and the building inspector approved the rough framing. We are good to go!

Down in the crawl space, I was able to put the top 9” of foam board up along with the silver seam tape. Once the HVAC, plumbing and electric finish work is completed in this area, we will put a reinforced white liner on the floor. The foam board, liner and rim joist insulation are what make up a ‘conditioned’ crawl space, which is required by Michigan building code.

As much pre-planning as we did, some things came up that required some quick thinking. Placing backing to mount the vanity lights and mirrors were one thing we hadn’t considered. A rainy day trip to Menards to pick out the mirror and lights gave us the measurements we needed to mount the backing board.

While we were there, we decided on our porch ceiling, as that needs to be done before we can put the siding up on that wall. I’m on the upper level of the wood storage rack getting ready to hand down 32 pieces of wood to Diana in this photo. We chose 1 x 6 pine carsiding that we will finish with a clear spar urethane. Stay tuned to see how that comes out.

We also realized that building a shower niche requires knowing the measurements of the tile that will surround it. After picking out our tile, we decided on the size and placement of the niches in our bathrooms.

Here is the one in our main bathroom. I have to wait until the outside wall is insulated before I can put up the rest of the cement board in this room.

Our master shower cement board is nearly complete, as these are all inside walls. I will trim out the niches in both baths when the drywall behind them is installed.

This past weekend, we bid a Leelanau farewell to our friends Rod and Mary, as they sold their cottage here and will be living full time in their Florida home.

Patti and Lane arranged an evening at The Ridge at Verterra Winery and then dinner at Nittolo’s in Lake Leelanau. From right to left: Mary & Rod, Paul & JoAnn, Lane & Patti and the two of us. We all met at Wild Cherry Resort back in 2015. We sure are going to miss having Rod and Mary here, as well as their dog Gracie. Fortunately, we will catch up with them in Florida!

Our friends Terry and Diane also stopped by with their grandson on their way north to the Upper Peninsula to go fishing. It was good to see them again!

Stay tuned for our next post where we will hopefully have insulation and drywall installed, as well as more siding. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Seeing What is Not Normally Seen

Leelanau County, MI – July 16, 2021 – Written by Jim

When building a structure such as our cabin, there is a unique opportunity to go through and inventory what is within the walls. There is a short period of time between when all of the plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems are installed and when the insulation and drywall go up to take photos of what is between the studs. We’ve never done that with past houses, and were left wondering if there was a wire or pipe where we wanted to put a screw in the wall. For us, that inventory takes place this coming weekend.

There is a lot going on in these walls! We are happy to report that we have our rough plumbing and mechanical inspections complete and the rough electrical and framing inspections happen on Monday.

Here is our crawl space during the plumbing and mechanical work. Once all of the contractors are done with their final connections, we will install the floor liner.

While all that was going on, we were able to get the fireplace framed.

In this photo, I am holding two small maple logs from our property that will act as supports for our mantle. The two small squares in the framing is where those will go. The small square boards in the back of those spaces are pieces from a board that Diana’s dad had a vice mounted to. When I mounted that vice to my bench, I kept the board. I cut the squares so that each contained a hole that Bud drilled to mount the vice. I will put a screw through them to help hold the logs. So in essence, his work lives on in our cabin. We know that he would’ve loved to have helped with this project.

Above the fireplace is where the TV will be. Until we are able to get HGTV on the screen, you will have to settle for my mug. 😊

Our other project over the past week was to get started on the siding. We want to get the one end of the building completed so the mechanical team can install the outside air conditioning unit. Since that side involved a very tall gable, the scaffolding was called into action.

After doing the first section, I realized how many times I would have to set up and tear down the scaffold to complete the project. I had to come up with a plan. When the roof trusses were delivered, they had a 40 foot long I-joist underneath one side to help secure the load. When the trusses were rolled off, the I-joist came off with them, ending up on the bottom of the pile. Since it was essentially scrap, I just tossed it aside on the edge of our driveway to cut up at a later date. Well I am glad I saved it.

I cut it in half and made a set of skis for my scaffold! Good thing I did this, as I had to move the structure many times in both directions.

It slid along nicely using the tractor and a tow strap.

Working at these heights, I secured the scaffolding to the wall with those large deck screws I showed you in our last post.

After a week (including two rain days), I installed the last piece yesterday! With all of the climbing up and down, I will be very happy when the other gable is completed. I’ll do the lower sectional this side this weekend in a different color. That will be revealed in our next post.

On the social side of things, we were treated to the music of Mulebone, a group we spoke of in past years. This blues/roots duo hails from New York City and is a pleasure to listen to. We also had a get together with our friends John and Julie. John was a suite mate of mine in college and they also own a home in Leelanau County. On top of that, we got together with several couples at George and Grace’s new place farther north on the Leelanau peninsula.

Stay tuned for our next post to see how much further we get on our project! Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Zig-zagging with the Subs

July 5, 2021 – Leelanau County – Written by Jim

One thing we’ve found on the cabin build this year is the fact that things don’t always move in a straight line. Just about the time that we will think we have our day planned, one of the subcontractors will have a need that requires our immediate attention. It’s all good, as problems and solutions are forward progress! With that being said, excuse us if this post zigs and zags a bit, as it is representative as to how the past few weeks have played out.

Since we last posted, our build has been dominated by the HVAC (heating/vent/air conditioning) team and the plumber. Wanting to stay out of their way, I went to work installing the deck posts and bracing on the large deck. As I was framing, “hey Jim…can you come here for a minute?” would ring out from inside. So far, every issue has had an adaptation`. 🙂

The twelve posts around the deck perimeter are installed, as is most of the blocking in between the floor joists. The unusual blocking at the outside of the deck is needed for the triple picture framing method we are planning for this particular deck. More on that in a future blog post when we install the deck boards. In order to secure the deck posts, we had two products available for us to use. Both were made by a company by the name of Simpson Strong-tie. As the inspector was looking over our place during the deck footing inspection, he had noticed some splitting in a few roof trusses, caused by the screws we used to tie them to the walls. He said “Simpson makes a screw that doesn’t do that”, so we decided right then and there that we would use Simpson products from then on.

The brown screws with the big heads on them are what we chose as our fastening method. The chart we used to determine the length called for 5” and 8” screws, but since our deck has double beams extending out from the cabin, we needed to use 10” screws to go through those.

That is one formidable fastener! No pre-drilling required and, true to what the inspector said, they did not split the wood. At a dollar each, we would hope that they wouldn’t!

Meanwhile, the plumber and HVAC guys were busy drilling holes in the walls and floor.

This photo is taken with my back to our wall of windows on the one end. All of our rooms have vaulted ceilings and each of our closets are capped at 8 feet high. That allowed us to open up the area above the closets to give the hallway a more open feel. The closet on the right (you are seeing the back of it) is where the first issue arose. The washer, dryer and utility sink live in there. As you can imagine, the water, sewer, electric and dryer vent all have to go through the back wall. The problem arose when it was discovered that a I-truss floor joist was directly below that wall. That meant all of those utilities would have to jog around the I-joist. The closet isn’t deep enough to scoot the washer and dryer further from wall, so our only solution was to build a platform for them. That allowed the piping to jog around the truss under the platform and go back into the wall.

Now we won’t have to bend over as far to get into the front-load machines!

Next up was the bathtub. While the framers made sure the drain didn’t land on an I-joist, they forgot to take into account that the tub had an overflow drain that hung below floor level. You guessed it….it ran right through the top of an I-joist. Our only choices were to either raise the tub and put molding on the front edge where it meets the floor, or notch the joist. Not wanting a molding on the front of our tub, we chose the latter. That involved an engineered repair from the I-joist company.

After several emails back and forth with Menards corporate, we had an engineer stamped document in our possession that detailed the fix. I immediately went to work on that. A little side note: when hammering boards into place between floor joists, be sure to wear hearing protection. The first whack of the hammer cranked up my tinnitus threefold, and it took a few days for it to return to baseline!

By the time I finished that, we met with the electrician to discuss switch and lighting placement. That was an exciting process to discuss where our lighting would go! One situation cropped up in the main bath had me tearing apart a doorway and moving it over 4 inches to make room for switches. By this time, I decided the deck would have to wait and that I needed to concentrate on the interior walls. That’s when Kris from HVAC requested blocking on the exterior of the house to allow the piping to exit.

In order to do that, we needed to first install our skirt board, the white decorative band that separates our siding from our foundation. That required a phone call with our inspector, as we are not supposed to side the building before the rough framing is approved. That comes after the rough plumbing, HVAC and electrical. Thankfully, we have a great relationship with our building inspector, as he knows we like to do things right. Once I had permission, I zig-zagged to that installation. The plumber jumped in and requested blocking for the outside faucets, so I took care of those at the same time.

About the time I finished that, Kris informed me that he could set the outside air conditioning condenser if I finished the siding on that end of the house. Another call to the inspector confirmed that we indeed could side the ends before the rough framing inspection, just not the front and back. I quickly called the siding supplier to get the shakes for the gables (same as what’s on the barn), only to find out that they were out of stock. Surprisingly, this was one of the few Covid-related stock issues we’ve had, as the supply chains are still out of whack on siding. Not to worry, as their Grand Rapids location had plenty for us to pick up. So we made the six-hour round trip to GR on my birthday to get material! It was a gorgeous day for a drive. 🙂

Before I could take the scaffold down from the inside of the cabin, I needed to finish installing the jambs on the trapezoid windows.

I can almost see Traverse City from up there! I finished that and all of the interior blocking for towel rods, cabinets and grab bars…as we aren’t getting any younger. I am going to frame the fireplace today and move on to exterior siding from there.

Jumping back to the space above the closets, our master and guest closets are back to back and sit directly below the peak of the cabin. Not wanting to lose that space, we came up with a plan:

We built a solid floor directly above both closets which is open to the master bedroom side. Our closets have two-panel mission style doors, with one panel being larger than the other. We made the opening the size of the larger panel, and we will cut a set of bifold doors to fill that space. They will line up directly above the ones below. We’ll access that area with a step ladder and put long term items in tubs up there. Our attic access hole is also up there.

On the social side of things, we celebrated the return of Music in the Park in Northport! This weekly event was cancelled last year, due to the pandemic.

Patti, Lane, Rob, Diana and I chilled to the reggae group Soul Patch on the shore of Grand Traverse Bay. It was wonderful to be able to enjoy live music again! We also enjoyed a great afternoon on Independence Day with Diana’s cousin Jerry.

Stay tuned for our next post, when we should hopefully have our rough permits approved. Once that happens, we can get the insulation and drywall started. Our plan is to finish the siding and decks while all that is happening. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Launches Galore

February 2021 – Melbourne Beach, Florida

Written by Jim

If you’ve assumed that we have rocketed off of the face of the Earth, you can rest assured that we have not. We have been hanging out in our winter hideout on the Space Coast of Florida in what can only be described as the oddest winter yet. Several of our neighbors decided to remain home this year, due to the continuing pandemic. The park has a different feel, as a result. We sure do miss seeing our friends! And even though Florida is pretty much ‘open for business’, many of the activities we would normally do (Bingo, weekly lunches, meat shoot at the Moose Lodge, etc.) aren’t happening. We choose not to go into restaurants or indoor venues right now, and our grocery trips are stealth…early and fast.

With that being said, this season has been anything but a bust. SpaceX and ULA (United Launch Alliance) have been busy providing us plenty of free entertainment, and we’ve taken a few drives to see what’s happening in the area. One of those drives was to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, just north of Kennedy Space Center. As is usually the case for us, the wildlife provided us a few new gems.

This gator was showing off his two-step shuffle for us.

This Great Egret found a nice shady spot to hang out.

These Roseate Spoonbills were tempting fate hanging out with this large gator. There were quite a few spoonbills, alligators, herons ducks, and a Bald Eagle to be seen that day. We even saw an armadillo, but couldn’t get a photo of it. Always worth the hour drive up there.

As we mentioned, Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station have been busy! Most of the activity has been centered around SpaceX. They have two launch pads at their disposal, and they keep them hopping.

We’ve seen eleven SpaceX missions launched since we’ve arrived on November 1. One of them had four astronauts on board, which adds a whole different dynamic to watching it. We feel the night launches are the prettiest, although the one shown above was pretty cool. It was a polar launch that flew almost directly over our heads! One of the launches landed its booster back at the Cape (which we could see) and it produced two loud sonic booms as it came back in.

In addition to the SpaceX launches, we saw two ULA missions. One was a Delta IV Heavy, which is three boosters strapped together.

Copyright 2021 Rocket.com

That one was not only bright, but very loud.

This particular ULA launch occurred at sunset. It used a single liquid-fueled booster with several solid rocket boosters attached to it that leave a long contrail. The setting sun (out of the picture to the left) really added to the colors of this one.

One day, while running errands, we spotted a SpaceX booster in Port Canaveral when crossing the Cocoa Causeway. We detoured up to the port to check it out.

To the right, the sooty cylinder with the legs on the bottom is Falcon 9 booster #1060.5. The “.5” means it has flown 5 missions. In the foreground is the SpaceX drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, which is basically a large barge that the booster lands on in the Atlantic Ocean. “Large” is a relative term, considering the fact that SpaceX parks it off of the coast of North Carolina, launches the rocket 120 miles into space and lands the first stage booster on it. Kind of like looking for a grain of sand in a roomful of thick carpet. Most times the landings are successful, saving the company millions of dollars. Some of the launches don’t require as much fuel to be used, so they are able to reverse the direction on those boosters and land them back at the Cape. Simply amazing.

As most of you know, we are planning on building a cabin on our property in Michigan this summer. That project has been the main focus for us this winter.

It won’t be long before a structure appears on the bare spot of land in the above photo. Having built the barn last summer, we know the drill, as far as permitting and securing our subcontractors goes. As of this point, everything is on schedule. The biggest hurdle has been the tremendous increase in lumber prices. The housing market is booming. As a result, those lumber prices aren’t going down anytime soon…so we bite the bullet and keep moving.

We’ve also been getting ideas watching home improvement shows on HGTV. One of our favorites is Home Town, which is set in Laurel, Mississippi.

Copyright 2021 – HGTV

Ben and Erin Napier take on a different run-down house in their hometown of Laurel and restore it for the new homeowners during each episode. Their ability as craftspeople to create something from nothing is really fun to watch. We have picked up a few ideas from them to incorporate into our place, also with some new ways to refer to things we already had planned. We already were going to use vinyl plank flooring, but learned that the correct term is LVT…or as they say in Mississippi, “Luxury VAHHHnl TAAAAHhll”. 🙂 Watching these two is much more entertaining than most of the other programming choices these days! Check them out, if you haven’t already done so.

So until next time, here’s to staying healthy and well. Stay tuned for updates on our cabin and, as always…safe and happy travels to all!

Autumn Maples in All of Their Splendor

September-October 2020 – Leelanau County, Michigan.

Written by Jim

Knowing we had a lot of things to do to wrap up our summer in Leelanau, we set a mid-October departure date. Not only would that allow us the time to finish up our projects, but it would provide us the treat of seeing our trees in all of their autumn splendor. Hopefully we wouldn’t push it too far to where we had to descend our steep driveway in the snow!

One of our projects was to take down four dead trees that could have posed a problem over the winter. The last thing we wanted was to arrive in the spring to a tree across the driveway.

We will have plenty of campfire wood next year!

Diana built a compost bin and has been filling it for the last month or so.

We should end up with some good mulch from this!

We also found time for friends and family. Lane & Patti and Rod & Mary joined us for happy hour, and Diana’s cousin Debbie came up for a weekend. Diana’s cousin Jerry has visited three times over the summer and cousin Reed visited twice. Our friend Tim also visited while he was in the area on vacation from California. We failed to get photos every time!

Also, our friends Terry and Diane came up from Grand Rapids and were our inaugural RV guests for a night! We had a great visit with them.

One of the interesting discoveries on our property was an old split rail and barbed wire fence that runs ten feet inside the west property line. We did some research and found out who owned the property in 1870…the earliest we could find. That family continued to keep the property into the 1970’s, making it a centennial farm. There were two other owners between them and us.

The fence is much older than 1970, and we have made contact with the family who originally owned it. More on that in another post. We are most interested with who may have put up the fence and also who planted the apple trees. A few of those are still producing fruit, despite their advanced age.

Most of the fence had fallen down, so we are installing metal posts on the hidden side to keep it off the ground so it won’t rot as fast. It’s not intended to act as a barrier; it’s more for asthetics and history.

It wasn’t long and Leelanau’s leaves started changing color.

We were hearing from the locals that it was the prettiest fall they had seen in a long time.

The trees were ablaze with autumn hues

Scenes like this, no matter which direction we looked!

Even the sky got in on the action. 🙂

A caramel apple, cinnamon donut and some hot apple cider would complete this scene.

Here is the view looking down our road towards Grand Traverse Bay. The bay can be seen in the distance, along with the bay’s eastern shore near the tip of Torch Lake. A mere 15 miles as the crow flies; it takes an hour to drive the 46 miles around the bottom of the bay to get there.

And with that, we bid adieu to Leelanau for the winter! Our cottage is staked out, plans are drawn and we hope to start our build in the spring. We are currently in Alabama, and we are headed to warmer latitudes to sink our toes into the sand…and to check out some cool rocket launches to share with you. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Goals Set and Goals Achieved

September 1, 2020 – Leelanau County, Michigan

When we left Florida this spring, we had a set of goals in place to install our utilities and build our barn on our property in Michigan. With the onset of COVID-19, we figured that we might have to scale those goals back a bit. Well, here we are at the beginning of September with all of our plans completed and more. It has been a great summer for us, despite the pandemic!

We last left you with siding on west side and back of the barn. Since then, we’ve finished the east side, then moved the scaffolding around the front.

The peak was a real trick to reach. Good thing we had the extension levelers for the bottom!

Here I am with the last piece of shake siding.

It was tippy-toes to get that up there!

Before long, we had all of the siding complete! Coach lights and gutters put the finishing touches on the exterior…

…while lights finished off the interior. That officially wrapped up our goals for the summer! We didn’t stop there though. I added a workbench inside the barn and then focused on finishing our shed that I rushed to build last summer.

I tacked on the batten strips, painted it and then roofed it to match the barn.

Another project we had was to cut up all the logs from the trees we had cut down along the driveway. We gave the wood to Lane and Patti, as they had helped us out earlier by supplying us with water the first month we were here.

Lane and I had a couple days of cutting.

We ended up with three loads like this. Diana and I saved two nice logs and took them to the sawmill near us to make into some pieces for the cottage. More on that in a future post.

While Lane and I were doing that, Diana had noticed that a bush she had trimmed earlier had sprouted a bunch of new shoots. Looking it up, she discovered that it was Autumn Olive, a highly invasive plant that takes over the forest edges. Turns out that it was a suggested planting for erosion control in the mid 20th century…until it started taking over everything. Diana went on a mission to rid our property of it.

Here she is, loppers in hand! Per the NW Michigan Invasive Species Network and her own research, she is cutting them and chemically treating the cut stems.

We pile them up and chain them to the bucket of the tractor…

…and stack them on our burn pile.

We will wait until there are no leaves on the trees to torch this…preferably on a rainy day. We still have a lot more to add to this pile.

We are also trying to grow grass in several places. That means spreading topsoil, seeding and putting straw on top.

It’s nice having a car hauler for a trailer, as I can drive right up the ramps and scoop off the dirt with the tractor.

Here I am spreading it out before seeding it. While I am doing that, Diana has been planting Daylilies that Mary gave us and Iris that Lane and Patti gave us.

Here are the Daylilies…

…and here she is planting the Iris.

So as you can see, we’ve accomplished a lot this summer! It hasn’t been all work though. We’ve had several physically distanced get-togethers with several friends and family, along with a day of kayaking at Sleeping Bear Dunes. We even got to meet our great nephew for the first time!

Miles is wearing a little outfit we got him at RonJon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach. Becky and Dan couldn’t be happier, and Charlie even approves. 🙂

As we reflect on the summer, we look back to a photo Lane and Patti sent us the week before we arrived on May 2nd:

Our place was nothing but our little shed and a building site in need of leveling. Compare that to this photo I took today from the same place, a mere four months later:

We are thrilled with where we ended up. Hopefully our cottage build next summer goes as smoothly as this year’s barn build did. 🙂

Be sure to stay tuned for our next post, as we wrap up our summer here in Leelanau. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

She Sells Sea Shells by the…Cherry Orchard?

July 22, 2020 – Leelanau County, Michigan

Written by Jim

One of the more interesting discoveries on our property in Leelanau County has been what lies just below the surface. Our land sits perched on a hill about a mile west of Grand Traverse Bay and four miles east of Lake Michigan. We are 150 feet above those bodies of water. Our soil is well drained, with a mix of topsoil, sand and lots of gravel. That gravel…and our hill…is courtesy of the Laurentide Ice Sheet that plowed its way southward from Canada 10,000 years ago. As it moved, it pushed whatever soil and stone it could dislodge in front of it. Much of that rock was sedimentary, having been laid down at the bottom of an ancient sea that once covered the central portion of North America. In our case, that sea was well to our north. Some of the gravel and stone is pink granite, which is found along the Canadian Shield on the north shore of Lake Superior…again, well to our north. In any case, sticking a shovel in the ground around here will bring up a multitude of surprises!

Mid June brought a project that required a bit of digging. We needed to run an electric line from our barn to our new RV sites, a distance of 100 feet. Rather than fight the rocky soil, we rented this beauty:

Four hours with this trencher goes for about $250, so we also cut a trench to the future cabin and put 2″ conduit in. That saved having to rent this again next year.

The trench to the RV sites was fairly easy, as the top portion was fill that the excavator brought in.

Not so on the other trench. This was all glacial till. Note how it is not a straight line, as the Ditch Witch was bouncing off of every boulder it encountered! Let’s just say that we were glad it finished the project in one piece. This particular slice required quite a bit of hand digging, as the machine couldn’t go deep enough because of the rock.

So what did we find?

This is an example of a Charlevoix stone, a cousin to the Petoskey stone. Both are some 350 million years old and are forms of coral from that ancient seabed I spoke of earlier.

Here is a Petoskey stone, which can be distinguished by its geometric shaped coral.

On occasion, I would toss a seemingly mundane gray rock onto the pile, only to have it split in two.

This one split and left not only the imprint of a shell on the right half, but the actual shell on the left half. Once again, that shell is millions of years old.

And check out this one. There is a lot going on in this beauty! This is not anything that would’ve lived on the bottom of freshwater Lake Michigan, but rather the shallow saltwater sea that was to our north and west. This was dredged up by the glaciers and transported here during the last ice age…high up on our hill.

Finding treasures like those makes doing work like this a lot more fun!

The rest of our project is coming along right on schedule.

We’ve been busy putting up fascia and soffit…

…and siding! We are just a few days from being done with that project. The back of the barn is built into the hill; that’s why the red portion looks so short. We should be able to get our final inspections within the next couple of weeks. Look for photos of the finished product in our next post.

The other excitement around here was when we discovered that a few of our large maples were hollow inside and were in danger of falling on our barn and future cabin. Had we noticed them before we built the barn, we could’ve cut them down ourselves. We chose to have a tree service come in and take them down for us.

That was a job better left to the professionals!

That’s about it from northern Michigan and our little slice of paradise. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Scanning the Skies for Rainbows

March 21, 2020 – Melbourne Beach, Florida

Written by Jim

In September of 1980, my phone rang in my college dorm room at Western Michigan University. It was my mom calling from Ohio to let me know about something that had happened to her and my sister. My grandpa had died a few days before in Indiana. He had been the only male resident of the Catherine Kasper Home for aging Catholic sisters at my Aunt Marge’s order’s motherhouse in Donaldson, Indiana. He had broken his hip while visiting and was granted permission to stay. I would visit him there, as it was a short drive from Kalamazoo. When I asked him how he liked it, he replied “Too many queens and not enough kings.” Truth be told, the only queen that mattered to him was his dear Minnie who had passed six years prior. This iron-willed homebuilder from Detroit sobbed that fact to me on more than one occasion.

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Back to that phone call. My parents were returning from a trip and stopped for the service the sisters had for him. I was going to meet the family for the main funeral in Detroit a few days later. My sister went to Indiana and drove Mom back to Ohio, as my dad had some loose business dealings to take care of before the funeral. As Mom and Judy were heading east, a rainbow appeared before them. The phone call had to do with that, as a rainbow is what my Aunt Marge requested when my grandpa asked her what sign she wanted when he got to Heaven. As I talked to Mom, I was looking out my dorm room window at a dazzling rainbow. While it was sad that Grandpa K had died, it brought a quizzical wonder at the coincidence of those color filled arches across the sky. Oddly enough, my aunt…the most spiritual one among us… never saw her rainbow. I’ll expound on why I think that is later in this post.

Over the years since, Diana and I have been treated to rainbows soon after a family member passes, almost without fail. Each time a gentle reminder that there is a God and a Heaven. This past Sunday, the requestor of that original rainbow passed away. My Aunt Marge, known to the sisters as Sister Mary Conrad Kirchhoff, was 95 years old.

As a child, she looked up to her older sister, my mom. Blackie and Blondie were their nicknames. She also looked up to her brothers Fritz and John and was protective of her little brother Ed.

After high school, she held a couple of secretarial jobs in Detroit before she heard the call from God to become a nun. She chose the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, an order that originated in Germany and had an American group of sisters in Donaldson, Indiana.

As a novice, her ‘little’ brother Ed came to see her. He would soon be off to war in the U.S. Navy, along with his older brothers who were serving in the Army.

Once she took her vows, she hit the floor running. She earned a Bachelors Degree from Loyola in Chicago and masters degree from St Francis College in Ft Wayne. She was a teacher and principal in Chicago, Director of Novices in Donaldson, the head of the order in the U.S. from 1973-1979, and then returned to teaching.

From 1983-1989, she was the first non-German sister on the worldwide board in Germany. Over the years, she travelled the world to places from Germany to India and Italy.

She even was able to meet Pope Paul VI. She was even fortunate to witness the day that same pope became a saint; the same day the foundress of her order did (Sr. Mary Catherine Kasper). She spoke with Diana and I about how she thought my mom would have been able to see more of the world than her. Never in her wildest dreams did she think she would be so blessed to have experienced so much. She finished her career as the Vice President of Mission Effectiveness at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Fort Wayne. Throughout her life, she opened doors to opportunities for her sisters to follow. When she didn’t know the path to take, she trusted God to show her the way.

And that is my belief on why she never saw that rainbow. Of all of our family members, she was the only one that didn’t need to. She had faith that her dad made it to Heaven…no rainbow required. God bless you, Aunt Marge. You were our moral compass. The world is better for you having been a part of it.

Below is a link to a YouTube video where she speaks of her years in Detroit and how she was called to become a sister. It’s a nice way to spend 5 minutes, if you have the time.

Sr Conrad’s calling (YouTube)

A Snowball in Florida?

February 1, 2020 – Melbourne Beach, Florida

Written by Jim

The metaphor of a tiny snowball rolling down a hill and gaining size was a thought that kept going through my head in early January. With the fact that we were on the coast in Florida…at an elevation of 10 feet above sea level and with us in shorts…it was just that; a metaphor. That thought was rooted in my attempted recovery from the most recent bout of whatever crud was going around. It turns out that it had snowballed into a full-blown case of bronchitis. I ended up coughing so hard that I pulled muscles in my back and aggravated my sciatic issues on my left side. I could barely walk, once I mustered the energy to get out of my chair. I was a mess, to put it mildly. On more than one occasion, I thanked God that I had decided against working for UPS this year.

First order of business was to get over the bronchitis. A trip to Surfside Urgent Care netted me several prescriptions, including an inhaler to stop the out-of-control coughing. If you owned stock in Walgreens over that period of time, you are welcome for the upswing in your portfolio. 🙂 The concoction of drugs, coupled with some great nursing from my lovely caregiver Diana, did the trick. By mid month, the snowball had stopped rolling.

The next thing on the agenda was to address the sciatic issue. My leg pain had subsided, but it was replaced with numbness. I contacted my nephew Dr. Dan, who is a physical therapist in Michigan, asking advice on what direction to go in seeking health care. My primary care doctor is in Michigan, and I really wanted to get a jump on this. Dan provided me with a ton of information (Thank you!) and a recommendation to seek out a good physical therapist down here. Florida has a law that allows a person to get 30 days of PT without a physicians referral, so I connected with one that was highly rated and accepted by our insurance. I’m happy to say that after a week and a half, I am making great progress! The snowball is indeed melting.

In Space Coast news, we’ve had three launches so far this year. January 6 saw the launch of Starlink 2, the second operational flight of SpaceX’s constellation of internet-providing satellites. With it being an evening launch that was flying northeast, we knew our best views would be further north of our winter home. We headed up to Patrick Air Force Base, which sits just south of Cape Canaveral.

What a show! What you are seeing in this photo (left to right) is the trail from the main engines, followed by MECO (main engine cut off). The next dot is the second-stage engine start (SES), followed by that portion of the rocket fading off into orbit. At that point, the rocket is outside of the atmosphere, so the flame disappears. Farther to the right, the first re-entry burn from the first stage can be seen, as it slows down to land on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, located several hundred miles out to sea. The final burn wasn’t visible, as it was over the horizon. I guess Earth isn’t flat, after all. :). For a full list of SpaceX acronyms…some of them hilarious… click HERE. BFR is one of my favorites, as is FTBA. 🙂

The next launch was the much anticipated IFA test. IFA stands for In-Flight Abort. NASA will be launching astronauts on SpaceX rockets, and this test was performed to see if the capsule could escape from an exploding rocket. We decided that Patrick AFB was the best spot to view it from, so away we went!

The weather had other plans, as the rocket disappeared into the clouds. We did hear a tremendous BOOM though (that’s not an acronym), as the rocket experienced RSD (rapid scheduled disassembly). Here’s what it looked like on Doppler radar:

The smaller green dot to the right of the explosion is the capsule flying away from the exploding rocket. The flight was a success and we should expect to see astronauts headed to the space station this spring.

The last launch for January was another SpaceX Starlink launch. Having a PT commitment later that morning, we chose to view it from our park:

It never gets old. 🙂

The other entertainment around here is Bingo and the weekly meat shoot at the local Moose lodge. This version involves a deck of cards instead of guns, but the prizes are still sizable cuts of meat. I won some delicious pork chops and Diana scored the 50/50 a few weeks back. It’s always a good time, as a large group of us from the park shows up. The caller refers to us as the Big Table.

We also had lunch with our friends Rod and Mary, we went to Merritt Island with our friend Paul and his Aunt Joan, and we did a Costco run with our full-time RV friend Kathy. This is the fifth state we’ve connected with her in.

And we’ve gained some ground on our garage project. We have all of our subcontractors lined up now and we’ve secured our land use permit. Once we have the building permit in hand, we can begin!

Actually, there is a fair amount of white stuff up on our hill, so we will wait until it melts before we head up there. We don’t want my snowball metaphor to become a reality. 🙂

Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Following the Autumn Leaves

October 6 – November 1, 2019 – Michigan to Florida

Written by Jim

In our last post, I mentioned relearning how to drive in the U.S. after spending a month in the U.K. and Ireland. Our delayed flight got us back after dark, so we had to navigate the aggressive freeways of Chicago in an unfamiliar rental car. Talk about wanting to get back on the plane! Once past Gary and into Michigan, the traffic eased and we were able to relax. Jet lag caught up to us soon after, so we grabbed a comfy room at the Hampton Inn in South Haven. After a delicious breakfast at the Phoenix Street Cafe the next morning, we headed back to Grand Rapids to get our vehicles. A huge thank you to Terry and Diane for allowing us to store them at their home!

We moved to our base for the next week, Woodchip Campground. Our spot was just a few sites east of where we spent the winter of 2014-15. This go around, we spent the week taking care of annual physicals, dentist appointments, haircuts and such. We even bopped over to Detroit for one appointment at Henry Ford Hospital. That gave us the opportunity to drop in on Diana’s cousin Debbie on our way home. It was great to see her again. We finished up the week with our annual trip to Kalamazoo for WMU homecoming.

It’s always good to to be with our crew! After watching the Broncos beat Miami of Ohio, we headed back to our old dorm, French Hall, to check it out.

Here’s Diana knocking on the door of her old room. No one was there, unfortunately.

From Kalamazoo, we headed back up to our property in Leelanau County. We wanted to get some measurements and talk to the county building personnel while we were there. Knowing our land is loaded with maples, we were hoping our trees were colorful.

Needless to say, we were not disappointed!

It was very exciting to be able to experience our first autumn on our little slice of heaven! A note of interest: one month after this photo was taken, three feet of snow fell here. The scene is far different, indeed. With the temperatures plummeting, we made the decision to head south.

After stopping to see Diana’s sister and family in New Baltimore, Michigan, we headed towards Wapakoneta, Ohio. This tiny town is home to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon.

It is also home to the Armstrong Air and Space Museum, which is situated just a few yards from Interstate 75. We’ve driven by this unusually-shaped building many times since it opened in 1972 but have never stopped in. Fifty years and three months to the day of Neil taking that otherworldly step, we finally walked through these doors.

We were amazed at the amount of artifacts in this small museum, which included this space-flown shuttle tire that you could touch. It was far thicker than any tire I had ever handled. The exhibits also detailed the 25 astronauts that are native to Ohio. Some of the most famous are John Glenn (first American to orbit Earth) and Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13.

Ohio is also the birthplace of Judith Resnik, a member of the crew of the ill-fated shuttle, Challenger. The small U.S. and Ohio flags to the right were in her personal bag that was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean floor. She was America’s second woman in space, having flown on the space shuttle Discovery in 1984. Not only was she an astronaut, she had a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, was a biomedical engineer, and an accomplished concert pianist.

And does anyone remember these? I drank many a glass of milk out of one of these as a kid. Libby Glass and Marathon Oil, both Ohio companies, manufactured and distributed these glasses during the Apollo missions. They have them for sale at the museum.

As we made our way through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, we were surprised that we hadn’t gotten ahead of the autumn leaves changing color. The drive south was much prettier than we anticipated. Our goal was to stop and see Diana’s brother who recently moved to Franklin, NC.

After setting up camp, we took a drive to see Dry Falls. This beautiful set of falls is located along US-62, one of the most twisty and narrow U.S. highways we had ever been on.

They were named for the fact that a person can remain relatively dry when walking behind them.

The next day, we spent the day with Dan, driving into Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Our destination that day was Clingman’s Dome, one of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River.

Dan had been here in the past, having hiked this portion of the Appalachian Trail with a friend of his.

The colors from the top were outstanding. These mountains were where we drove out of the autumn display, as green leaves and palm trees soon took over as we headed further south.

Before too long, we made our way to Melbourne Beach and our little slice of Florida paradise.

We look forward to a winter filled with friends and rocket launches, so stay tuned for that. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!