Category Archives: Michigan

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!

Making headway!

“Every increased possession loads us with new weariness”
John Ruskin

Can we interest you in a pile of VCR tapes, John? True to Mr. Ruskin’s thoughts, we realized that fact the past few years, as our jobs consumed our time and our ability to enjoy the things we had accumulated over the decades. As so many people in our position have stated, purging the majority of our stuff to live our lives on the road in an RV ended up being a liberating experience. Letting go of the items we thought were so dear to us turned out to be quite a weight off of our shoulders.

With that being said, it was always our intention to keep one storage room. Not knowing how long we would be full timing, we decided to hold onto things we really did like. Also, we have envisioned that we may someday settle down south in the winter months, and have our RV kept in the northern tier of states for use in the summer. We would need to furnish our southern base, hence the need to store some things. Well, in the mad rush of moving, our one storage room filled up. We had a second small storage room that we had stored items while we fixed up the house for market. That ended up with quite a few boxes in it. At the last minute, we grabbed a THIRD storage room…a climate controlled space where we could actually sort out the stuff we had to pile in at the last moment. Well, by the time we were settled in at the campground and ready for winter, November hit with a vengeance. Our plans to get those boxes out of the small storage room had to be put on hold until the snow melted. Our fear was that we were going to be stuck until spring.

Last weekend saw heavy rain, which took care of the snow. We were fortunate enough this weekend to have decent weather, so we went after the small room.

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The two of us made multiple trips for the better part of the afternoon.

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Before the sun set, we had the small room empty and all of the boxes in a warm, accessible space. We can now tackle the job we had hoped to do in September before closing on the house. We are planning on being down to one room by April.

On another note, we have some numbers to update for November. We ended up using eight 30 lb cylinders of propane, and 1156 kilowatt hours of electricity. Pretty much the same expenditure, money wise, as our house last year. We are pretty happy with that, especially since 26 inches of snow fell on us this month, and the temperatures were often well below freezing. If we were in a different climate, those numbers would be much more favorable, but life doesn’t always allow for that. When the snow falls, make a snowman. 🙂

So, rounding out November, we have a lot to be thankful for. We were able to take Jenny to see Jim’s aunt and uncle, which was a truly wonderful day. We lost our puppy to cancer the very next week, but she had given us 10-1/2 years of pure love. The weekend before Thanksgiving, our friends Mike and Cindy stopped in for a visit with their son, Eric.

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Mike and Cindy are dear friends of ours from WMU.

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Eric is wearing his Batman shirt, as the three of them had just come from Grand Rapids Comic Con.

Following that, we were able to spend Thanksgiving with Jim’s sister and brother-in-law, along with a friend of theirs.

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The meal and the company were outstanding.

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Judy and Dale go all out on holiday decorating; even the duck decoys have scarves. 🙂 Their home is comfy and cozy.

It has indeed been a month to remember. And Mr. Ruskin would be proud of us, as we didn’t buy a single thing on Black Friday!

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.

It’s Homecoming…We’re Home!

Tradition. Defined as follows: the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.

Most every year at this time, we make our annual trip back to Kalamazoo, Michigan to our alma mater, Western Michigan University for Homecoming. WMU is a long standing tradition with us, as Jim’s dad graduated from Western in 1948.

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We are part of a group of five families that have kept close since graduating from WMU in the early 1980’s, and some of our friends’ children have followed in our footsteps. Two of the families reside in Kalamazoo, and we proceed to take over one or both of their houses.

Saturday morning finds us in a parking lot on campus with a good portion of our Bronco Nation.

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We park a few cars ahead of time, and lay out a nice spread of food and drinks.

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The crowd, while spirited, always seems to keep the festivities within reason.

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Part of our next generation of family and friends: left to right; Tara, Kevin, Al and Natalie.

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Natalie, a degreed art major, was called upon to paint the superfans for the game.

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Billy, seen here with Diana, is the latest addition to our legacy. He is in his first semester at Western. His parents, Karen and Bill, couldn’t be any prouder.

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It was a ‘chamber of commerce’ day in Kalamazoo.

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There was a good sized crowd on hand to see the Broncos take on Ohio University.

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Mike has a tradition of announcing “another BRONCO – FIRST DOWN!!!” He did that a lot on this fine Saturday, resulting in hearing loss for those around him.

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The Broncos were frequently found in the end zone, making for a perfect day.

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Buster Bronco had a full day of push-ups, as Western beat Ohio 42-21. It was a great day to be a Bronco!

Each year, life has a way of pulling our families in different directions. But tradition, the glue that binds us all, works it’s magic and brings us back together.

It is Homecoming, and we truly are home.

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.

A New Chapter Begins…

Today, after 30 years of home ownership, we closed on the sale of our home and have moved forward into a new chapter of our lives.  We are now officially full time RVers!  This past week has been a flurry of packing, sorting, storing and cleaning. For a while, it seemed as if our stuff was appearing out of nowhere in our home, and progress was increasingly harder to come by.  One dear friend likened it to sweeping the dust in a circle and not quite being able to get it into the dust pan.  But Thursday evening came, and we knew we were headed to the finish line.

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Mom Belisle used to paint landscapes, and we knew she was panting the Thursday evening sky from Heaven to assure us all was well.  We were able to get everything done, shy of sweeping the garage floor.  That was done this morning, and the circle of dust was in the pan.

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We hooked up the rig, loaded Jenny in the truck and headed on our way!

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The clock on the truck showed 9:26 AM on 9-26-14.  We then headed to Woodchip campground and set up in our spot.

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This is the spot we will be setting up for this winter, so you all have an idea what it looks like without snow.

Following our setting up, we headed to closing.  All was said and done by noon, and we were free to enjoy the rest of this beautiful autumn day!

Safe travels to all!