Baby, it’s cold outside!

“There’s just something beautiful about walking on snow that nobody else has walked on. It makes you believe you’re special.”
Carol Rifka Brunt

Today was a special day in so many ways. Sure, it had it’s challenges (as so many days do), but it was one that will stand out and sustain us through the remainder of the winter.

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Take a look at that sky and that snow! That is the kind of powder that crunches under your feet. Outside temperature at noon was a balmy 7 degrees, and the wind chill was well below that. Of all days to have our satellite TV installed! So the first task at hand this morning was to shovel out the parking area and clean off Diana’s Escape, so she could get over to her mom’s place to take care of her needs. I also wanted to make sure there was room for the installer to pull in. I am a tad O/C when it comes to shoveling, as I like to make sure there aren’t any straggler piles left behind. My Fitbit Flex let me know that fact when it announced to me that I had achieved 10,000 steps without my normal 4 mile walk at the YMCA.

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With that sunshine, it was not too tough of a chore.

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I did make sure to shovel a path to the fence row, as I knew the installer was going to have to find a clear shot at the satellite. Most of the row is covered with trees, but he did manage to find one spot.

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By late afternoon, we were good to go! The pole is a temporary setup, as we will have to get a tripod to make our dish truly portable. It is good to have a nice, clear HD picture again. Thank you to Gilbert for a great installation experience.

With the temperatures getting into the single digits, we were finally putting our winter preparations to the test. Our first surprise came the other night when Diana turned on the faucet to find that we didn’t have any water. This was truly a surprise, as the campground had installed new heated faucets in the fall, and we had invested in a heated hose that was rated to 40 below.

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The culprit ended up being the cheap pressure regulator that we had been using. Once I removed it, we were back in business. Our campground’s water pressure is reasonable, so we feel comfortable running without the regulator for now.

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As you can see, the hose melts the snow around it and has performed as advertised. Richard’s investment in the heated faucets has also provided our row with trouble-free service. Again, our gratitude for his efforts and the service he provides in keeping Woodchip open in the winter.

Our temperature under the rig at noon was 41 degrees. We are running the electric heater under there, resulting in a slightly higher electric bill. We feel that expenditure to be cheap insurance against frozen waste tanks.

Our interior humidity issues have improved dramatically. In the fall, we had purchased an EvaDry Petite humidifier and a larger EvaDry dehumidifier. The bigger unit’s transformer became extremely warm, and we ended up not using it. Dissatisfied, we sent it back to Amazon and purchased a second Petite. Once that was in place, our humidity levels dropped immediately. We also have keep the bathroom window and vent cracked open, as was recommended to us by Glyn Carson at the RV-Dreams rally. We can’t explain why it works, as it seems to defy all logic…but it does.

So, with our TV up and running and our daily tasks behind us, we decided to celebrate! One of our favorite spots to go for a special night out has always been the Carrabba’s in Grandville, MIchigan. Granted, Carrabba’s is part of a chain, but they are consistantly good…no matter what town we find ourselves in. They also do a great job of taking my gluten allergy into account, and they have one of the better gluten free menus available.

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The Grandville Carrabba’s has something that no other one has: Bob; seen here with Diana. We always call ahead to see if he is working and request him to be our server. He is head and shoulders above any waiter we have ever had serve us, and we have been to a lot of restaurants during our working years. Bob is a recommendation we feel rock solid in making, short of the fact we feel we are letting our little secret out.

So, what could have been a mundane Wednesday, ended up being a pretty nice day. We were able to spend a great afternoon and evening together, and we managed to complete our entertainment system in our rig. It ended up being a little sweeter, given the fact it all took place on the coldest day of the winter so far!

Outdoor Discovery Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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They also have a pair of Bald Eagles.

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

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

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

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

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

Stay healthy for the holidays!

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

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

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

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Yes, that is the sun!

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

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

A Small Town Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting others first

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

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

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

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

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

Road Trip!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

It’s Not The (Lack Of) Heat…It’s The Humidity!

“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”
Thomas Edison

In that case, Mr. Edison would probably find our RV to be pretty smart!

We are well on our way through our first snow event. While we have not experienced what Buffalo, NY has had to deal with, we did manage to pick up a foot of snow as of this morning. The single day record snowfall for November 18 in Grand Rapids was 2.9 inches. We shattered that record. Mid-day yesterday, our trusty Stanley revealed the following:

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Grand Rapids picked up more snow in a 24 hour period than it did at any point during last season’s record setting winter. We are up to 23.4 inches of snow for November, which is the fourth highest snowfall total on record. The last 7 day’s temperatures have been 15 degrees below average. And thanks to Lake Michigan, we have only had 7% of possible sunshine.

As stated before, we have been concerned about moisture buildup inside the rig. Propane heat naturally gives off water as a byproduct, as does breathing, showering, cooking and excess snow coming in from outside on our boots after shoveling. The result becomes apparent in two places: the corners of the RV and the aluminum window frames.

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We have found that drying the window frames off with paper towels in the morning and evening helps a lot. The day/night shades trap a lot of moisture during the night, and a quick wipe with a piece of Bounty eliminates that. Once the shades are open in the morning, the air movement from our ceiling fan keeps them fairly dry, though not 100% moisture free. The daily maintenance prevents mildew and water running down the walls. The corners of the RV have also been places that dampness builds up, especially inside cabinets. This doesn’t seem to be as bad as the windows, but it still does require daily attention. We are keeping those cabinet doors open and doing our best to point fans at the problem areas. The Eva Dry 500 dehumidifiers we put in the cabinets seem to be helping with that. We also just purchased an Eva Dry 2200 dehumidifier for the bedroom area to compliment the Eva Dry 1100 we have in the living room, so we will see how that helps the overall picture. One other thing that is working well is the fact we are taking our showers at the YMCA every day. That not only cuts down on the humidity, but also eliminates the need to run the power vent, thereby keeping the heat inside. Working out at the Y also keeps us in shape, both physically and mentally. In addition, we are able to run two electric space heaters on ‘low’, which not only provides dry heat, but it cuts down on the propane bill. We are filling a 30 pound propane tank every 3 to 4 days at $25 a refill, and our electric bill looks like it will be around $160 for November. Keep in mind that we also kicked on the heater inside the skirted area below the rig. We have it set at 45 degrees, and our floors are staying comfortable as a result. Our estimate is that heating that area is costing us $40 a month. The skirting itself would definitely keep that area above freezing, but the floors would be cold, especially in our slide outs. We feel our comfort is worth the extra money.

Following are several photos of our campsite to this point. Not a lot of snow, but it is only mid November!

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This was taken out of our window in the middle of a lake effect snow band. At that point, the snow was coming down pretty hard.

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The campground has a good sized Kubota to keep the streets plowed. Keeping our campsite itself cleaned is our responsibility.

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The area we are keeping open is plenty wide, as we know that the snow banks will creep inward as the winter wears on. Knock on wood, the campsites on either side of us are not occupied. Hopefully they remain that way.

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We put partially inflated beach balls under the slide toppers. This keeps them up and will keep the excess snow and ice from pooling in them.

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Our Awning Airwedge is also helping, although not as much as the beach balls.

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We are getting a fair amount of icicles, meaning that the heat from inside the trailer is melting the snow on the roof. We think that we might need to brush off some of the excess snow today, in hopes of minimizing the runoff. We will attempt that with our 8 foot step ladder and a snow brush, as walking on an icy roof is not a good idea,

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Our bedroom slide sarcophagus seems to be holding up well, although it wouldn’t hurt to have the snow removed from the top of it also.

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Campfire anyone? 🙂

All in all, this has been a positive experience for us. While the windows…even though they are double pane…have been a daily maintenance issue, we are extremely thankful our rig has so many of them. Being able to look outside prevents winter claustrophobia. The view out of our windows is beautiful. Ok, so it isn’t the Tetons or the beach at Grand Haven, but it is pretty neat nonetheless. Our winter preparations seem to have paid off, even though we were going on other’s recommendations and our own trial and error.

Which brings us to another one of Mr. Edison’s quotes:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

Fortunately for us, most of our efforts are working!

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We will miss you, sweet Jenny

On Wednesday morning, we said goodbye to our dear Jenny girl. Her cancer advanced much quicker than anyone thought it would, and we had to make the decision that no one wants to make. She sure will be missed.

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She touched a lot of lives, and we were fortunate to have her with us for 10-1/2 years.

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We love you, Jenny girl!

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.

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