Laughing our way into Spring!

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

Doug Larson

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

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



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

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



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



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



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

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



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



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



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

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

Winter Wonderland

“You can’t get too much winter in the winter”

Robert Frost

 

On Sunday, March rolled into West Michigan just as February had departed…clear and frosty cold.  It was a perfect day to head back to Lake Michigan and one of the unique attractions we have here; the Muskegon luge track!

The Muskegon Winter Sports Complex is located in Muskegon State Park.  It is a partnership between the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Muskegon Sports Council, the Muskegon Luge Club and the West Michigan Speed Skating Association.

The first thing you encounter at the complex is a large skating rink.

Next to the concession and warming building is a fire ring with benches surrounding it.  It was bone-chilling cold on Sunday, so the fire rings were well used!

There were several folks in the concession building, and everyone seemed to be having a great time.

Off the back side of the building is the start of the skating trail through the woods.  This is a lighted trail that is very well maintained and smooth.  The trail to the right is the ski, snowshoe and hiking trail.  It is also the path to the luge track.

At the bottom of the track is another large fire ring, and the meeting place for the lugers.  The Muskegon luge course was designed by Olympian Frank Masley and is where the most decorated American luger, Mark Grimmette, got his start.  He grew up just up the road from here.  This course is not as massive as the courses in Lake Placid and Salt Lake, but it is challenging nonetheless.

And it is open to the public!

Public sliders start about 3/4 of the way up the hill.

 

The run goes quite a ways up!

The top of the hill bears the champion’s name.

Here is the next group getting ready to head up the hill.

Hmmmmm…..should I give it a shot?  Not this trip!

While we were there, several snowshoers trekked by.

This woman and a boy who appeared to be her grandson were out Nordic skiing.

Once we finished checking out the sports complex, we crossed the road and checked out the campground.  Muskegon State Park has several campsites plowed and ready for campers.  No one was taking them up on it, but it certainly would be a beautiful place to stay in the winter.

There are also a few camping cabins available.

At the center of the campground is the trail to Lake Michigan.

Wow!  Perched up on the dune, you can see a long way! About 80 miles across that ice is where Peter and Peg from Life Unscripted used to live in Milwaukee.

Like we saw in Saugatuck, the ice piles were huge.  West Michigan just endured the coldest February ever recorded, and that is a major contributor to these formations.  Grand Rapids averaged 13.3 degrees!

There were several ice caves a ways out.

There even was some open water in the distance.  Could spring be far away?

Or perhaps the dog days of summer?

Our forecast is calling for temperatures in the 40’s next week.  It is going to feel like a heat wave, for sure.  This winter has been tough, but we have really enjoyed it.  During our working years, we never had a chance to really experience winter like we were able to this year.  It sure has been a lot of fun!

 

With that said…bring on Spring!  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Cracked Shower, a Cute Doggie, and a Prized Pig!

“You will enrich your life immeasurably if you approach it with a sense of wonder and discovery, and always challenge yourself to try new things.”

Nate Berkus

UPDATE: February 20, 2018

We are happy to report that, after pulling the lower access panel and inspecting the underside of the shower floor, everything appears to be the same as when we performed this repair in 2015.  That’s 3 years of daily use.  Needless to say, we are pleased at how well this has held up!

UPDATE:  July 20, 2018

Today we discovered that the restaurant featured in this post, The Prized Pig, has gone out of business.  As my father used to say, “That’s a revoltin’ development, Jimmer.”  😦

February 28, 2015

Last week, we noticed that our shower floor was cracked.  Back when we first bought the trailer (used), we noticed the shower floor was ‘soft’.  I had made an attempt to beef it up as best I could through the access panel in the front, but it was really a temporary fix at best.

The photo above shows the OSB supports I slid in.  There was still quite a large area unsupported.

As shown above, the floor cracked in two places.  This left us with little option other than to replace the shower floor. After a short period of self pity, I sized up the situation. I briefly considered installing a residential shower, but felt that it would require too much customization, and I was concerned about the lack of access to the plumbing.  When I pulled off the access panel from the shower base, I noticed the manufacturer label on the back that indicated the unit was made by Duo-Form.  I did a little web search and found that they were located in Edwardsburg, Michigan, just north of South Bend, Indiana.  I called them and found out that they still manufactured these showers.  Road trip!  This is where the cute doggie comes in….

We are watching my sister’s schnauzer Sophia for a few weeks.  It has been really fun to have a puppy around for a little bit, and Sophia is just about as adorable as they come.

And she likes to ride in the truck!  She wasn’t happy about the big snow piles in Edwardsburg, as it is hard to find a place to pee!

Duo-Form was easy to find, and the people there were very nice. We were in and out in a flash.  Seeing it was around noon, we decided to find a place for lunch.  My gluten allergy always makes it a challenge to find places to eat, and we usually check out the app ‘Find Me Gluten Free’.  We prefer local over chains. Bingo!  There was a bar-b-que joint listed about 8 miles from us.

On the outskirts of Niles, we found The Prized Pig.

This was a pleasant restaurant with a full parking lot…always a good sign!

All of their meats are gluten free, as are their cole slaw and beans (and possibly other sides…I didn’t check).

Diana and I both had chicken and beans, she had potato salad and I had slaw.  She got both hers and my cornbread.  🙂  The meal was amazing, to say the least!  After looking at the map, we determined that The Prized Pig is ‘on the way’ to my Aunt Marge’s place in Indiana, and we will be coming back to try the ribs!  They are located at 33331 US 12 just southeast of Niles.  Hours are 11 until they run out, Wednesday through Sunday.

Of special note to history buffs:  Niles, Vandalia, Cassopolis and the surrounding area are all Underground Railroad historical sites.  We definitely want to come back and check out the remaining ‘stations’ and learn about this part of American history.

Back home, time to dig into this project!  Following is a sequential journey through this five hour long project.

The first step was to remove the glass door and frame, which came out as an assembly.  It was held in by three screws on each side.

Next, I removed the three screws on each of the side glass panels, thus allowing their removal.

After that, I removed the three screws holding each of the C channels that the side panels were anchored to.

I had also debated whether or not to remove the aluminum channel from the base at this time, but decided to wait until I was ready to reassemble the new base, so as to not damage the corners on the channel.  There isn’t a lot of room to set things in an RV in the winter.

Hmmm…how is this shower head bracket attached?  There are no visible screws.  There is a tiny notch near the wall, though.

Putting a screwdriver in there revealed that the cover slides off.

And there are the screws!  It was mounted with three…I got ahead of myself before shooting this image.  🙂

Once the shower head bracket was removed, I started working the plastic wall away from the back wall.  The manufacturer had used a low-grade two-sided tape for this, and half of it wasn’t even stuck.  That actually worked to my advantage.

Once I knew the wall had come off without damage, I shut off the water and  disconnected the plumbing.  I then set the surround out of the way.

Wow…look at that access hole.  It does serve it’s intended purpose, though.

I removed the drain connection and the four screws that attached the flange to the wall.  The arrows point to the cracks.

It is easy to see the indentations in the foam from the platform.  That entire front area was unsupported.

The platform itself was only made of 1/2″ thick MDF board.

Looking at the old platform, it is easy to see why it wouldn’t support much weight. Off to the trash it goes.  🙂

This is the area I had left to work with.  The floor insulation can be seen below the subfloor.  I trimmed off the loose linoleum to provide a flat surface.

Here is my new and improved platform..  I used 3/4″ thick OSB and 2×4’s.  It is solid as a rock.  It did add a little weight to the rig, but that it perfectly OK.

Once in place, I secured it to the floor with screws toenailed in from the sides.  Note that, instead of the U-shaped cutout that was in the old platform, I simply cut a hole for the drain.  By doing so, I left the structural integrity of the platform intact.  There was still plenty of access below the platform to reattach the drain line.

On the bottom of the new shower base, Duo-Form had the same area unsupported.  Knowing that this would pose the same issue down the road, I filled it in with foam pieces from the old platform.

I then secured it with duct tape.  It isn’t going anywhere, especially since it will be sandwiched between the base and the platform.  Duo-Form, please take note of this, as this is a simple solution to a pretty big issue.

I reinstalled the new base by screwing the flange to the wall.  I then reattached the drain.

Using 3M two-sided tape from Home Depot, I placed strips on the back of the surround walls next to where the old foam tape was.  This allowed better adhesion.  I had removed as much of the old tape as I could with a scraper.

The walls went right back into place!  Note that Duo-Form no longer makes the marbled color base.  We felt the tone of the parchment colored base matched the old walls and were just fine.

I then attached the aluminum flange on the shower base, followed by the wall flanges and the shower head mount and plumbing.

Next, I reattached the side glass panels.

After that, I reinstalled the door assembly.  Of all the work on this project, this piece of the puzzle was probably the trickiest.  It required a bit of finagling and patience, but it finally went in.  I then reinstalled the access panel and recaulked and was finished.

This project was a challenge to say the least, especially given the lack of space to do it in..and it being below freezing outside.  Nate was right… it feels really good to have tackled this project and have it completed, and the repair should last as long as the rig.

Acadia National Park – Throwback Thursday

“Did you ever see a place that looks like it was built just to enjoy? Well, this whole state of Maine looks that way to me.”
Will Rogers

Every three years, from 1986 through 2010, we would make our pilgrimage from Michigan to Maine. (We missed 2013, as we needed to stay closer to Diana’s mom.). Just driving across the border into Maine from either New Hampshire or Quebec, we felt as if we were ‘home’. Our ultimate destination was Acadia National Park. From the first time we set foot in Acadia, there was something about the place that spoke to us.

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It is at this geographical point that the Appalachian Mountains meet the sea. Acadia is located mostly on Mount Desert Island (pronounced ‘dessert’, as the French explorers noted that the tops of the mountains were deserted…or devoid of trees). In national park terms, Acadia is rather small. It is also known to be one of the most heavily used parks in the system.

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With that being said, we have never failed to find solitude here when we have sought it. Acadia is also unique in that they allow dogs on the hiking trails. Our favorite hike has always been the summit of South Bubble Mountain, which overlooks Jordan Pond and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

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Here we are with Jenny in 2010 at the summit. This is a hike that can be done with all ages and a good set of athletic shoes. Our friend’s four year old, Billy, did it with no trouble at all.

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Jenny absolutely loved it up there, as did our two previous Golden Retrievers, Katie and Dakota. (Katie’s full AKC name was Belisle’s Acadian Sunset, a testament to the love we have for this place). Maine is chock full of wild blueberries in early August, and Katie was an expert at picking them off the bushes on South Bubble. Dakota, on the other hand, would try to devour the entire bush and would end up spitting the whole thing out. :). Our advice for this hike: get there early, and you won’t see another soul for hours.

Another story I am compelled to share occurred in July, 2004. We had just lost both Katie and Dakota to cancer in May and June. Before we got Jenny, we made the trip to Acadia dogless. As we were coming out of Trenton on Route 3, there above the island was a beautiful double rainbow. Yes, indeed…this place speaks to us.

Acadia boasts of having the highest point on the eastern seaboard; Cadillac Mountain. While it is only 1530 feet high, that is from sea level…and the sea is within view.

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The summit of Cadillac is the first place in the continental US that sees the sunrise each day. Every morning, weather permitting, people make the trek to the top for the spectacle. With Acadia being on the extreme eastern edge of the Eastern time zone, it requires getting up really early! We did it one time with Kate and Dakota. Our preference has always been the sunsets from up there.

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A great spot to watch the sunset is the Blue Hill Overlook. It is there that we learned (from a Kodak representative who was set up there) the trick to stick around for a half hour after the sun actually sets, as the clouds erupt with color and provide a spectacular show. It only works if there are some high clouds. Next time you watch a sunset with a crowd, watch everyone leave when Old Sol disappears. Stay put with the few who know this secret. You won’t be disappointed.

MDI is dotted with several lakes and ponds.

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This photo is of Bubble Pond. While it looks small, it is deceptively long, and it is crystal clear. While there are usually quite a few people present on the northern shore of this pond, it is rare to find anyone with their kayaks on it. We took the time to get our boats off the truck and paddle it one time, and we were not disappointed. Our favorite paddle is Jordan Pond. Even though this body of water is surrounded by a well used trail, there is a certain sense of solitude once you pull away from the shore. It is on Jordan Pond that our kayaks got their names, Ketchup and Mustard. (Ask us around a campfire about that). Just a note to anyone wanting to paddle the ponds on MDI: these waters are public water supplies, and body contact is against the law. There are local water officers that are authorized to write tickets. We wear wetsuit boots to get in and out of our boats, and we have been personally thanked by the officers for doing so.

In the previous photo of the top of Cadillac Mountain, you can see a four-masted schooner with red sails. That is the Margaret Todd. The first trip we took to Maine, we took an evening sail with Captain Steve Pagels on his two-masted schooner Janet May. Each trip back, we made this a tradition. After a few trips, Captain Pagels had sold Janet May and renovated a fishing schooner to become the three-masted schooner, Natalie Todd. A few more trips down the road, and he stepped it up to build a four-masted schooner, Margaret Todd.

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As you can see, his cruises have become quite popular.

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He employs a young crew who spend their summers in the area, and he enlists the help of passengers to help raise the sails. These trips are always a great way to spend an afternoon or evening.

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A favorite destination is Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. While it is not open for visitors, it is a great spot for photographs.

Most of the visitors to Acadia limit themselves to the Park Loop Road….but Acadia is so much more than that. The park has hundreds of nooks and crannies to be explored, some of which you will find complete solitude. Most of the trails are easy hikes, even up the mountains. Some are strenuous, and some are even technical. A visitor can go from complete serenity to the nightlife of Bar Harbor within minutes. It is possible to go from seeing a lobster boat in a fishing harbor to seeing the Queen Mary II in Frenchman Bay. A cyclist can navigate their mountain bike on the fifty miles of carriage paths left by John D. Rockefeller (no cars), and sunbathers can spend the day at Sand Beach. A visitor can climb on the rocks with the crowds at Thunder Hole, or explore the quiet side of the island with no one else around. For our 25th wedding anniversary, we chose to celebrate by hiking to the top of Penobscot Mountain.

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I couldn’t think of a place I would rather be than up there with my sweetheart. 🙂

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As you can see, Maine and Acadia have become second homes to us. We could write volumes about our experiences there. Even with our numerous two week trips to that slice of heaven, we have only scratched the surface of the many things to do there. We have caravanned with our friends Karen and Bill and their children Nina, Christine and Billy twice, and with Mike and Cindy and their boys Brian and Eric once. They loved every minute of it. Diana and I chuckle when we meet people who tell us that they spent the day there and ‘saw everything there was to see’. We have yet to become bored with Acadia, and we discover another layer each time we go. We have to agree with Will Rogers, as Maine has been, and will continue to be, pure enjoyment for us.

Wild Weekend Weather

“Iceberg right ahead!”
Frederick Fleet, Titanic Lookout

While those words were uttered in the North Atlantic, seeing these icebergs reminded us of that night in 1912, and the sheer power the Great Lakes hold within them.

Last weekend, we posted photos of the ice at Grand Haven. Since then, Lake Michigan had a strong storm roll through with winds coming down it’s length out of the north/northwest. Yesterday, after the storm passed, we went to Oval Beach in Saugatuck to take a look. This is the same beach that taught us to respect Lake Michigan when we took a day trip from Holland on a friend’s 16 foot Prindle Cat. We were tossed into pilings by a squall that kicked up and snapped our mast rigging. (Ask us about that at a campfire sometime).

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As far as the eye could see, the ice that lined the lakeshore the week before was broken apart and lodged into the lake bottom at odd angles.

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Wind gusts in excess of 60 MPH broke the ice into large bergs. Did these chunks originate in Michigan or Wisconsin?

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This gentleman ventured out for a closer look.

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Last week, most of the lake was open water at Grand Haven. This week had broken chunks out as far as we could see. It should be stated that Saugatuck is 30 miles south of Grand Haven. It is 100 miles north of the southern end of the lake. When the wind comes down out of the north, the southern end of the lake fills with ice.

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The sand and snow on the beach were swirled together into a parfait.

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Even though the winds were fierce, the temperatures broke record lows and the wind chills were well below zero, the sun was out through most of it. It was absolutely beautiful.

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Once again, Lake Michigan did not disappoint in either its beauty or its power. We never know what we are going to find when we arrive at the shore. We are very fortunate to live so close to this natural wonder. And just so you know, it is really beautiful in the summer too! 🙂

Doing Laundry in Style!

“We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.”


E.B. White

‘Joy’ and ‘laundry’ don’t usually get mentioned in the same sentence. Well, take a look at this smile!

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Since we started full-time RVing, we have struggled to find a decent laundromat. While perusing the Sunday edition of the Grand Rapids Press, Diana read a feature on Sheldon Cleaners’ new state of the art Laundry Room and Louis Cafe in Kentwood, Michigan.

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Sheldon Cleaners has added this facility to their headquarters. For us, it is a dream come true. Everything is brand new and very clean!

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They have flat screen TV’s throughout the building. We really didn’t find time to watch them, as the machines were so fast.

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There are plenty of south-facing windows to let in the warm February sunshine.

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They also have very comfortable furniture!

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There are several sizes of washers and dryers, the largest being MY size!

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The folding tables are the classiest we have ever seen.

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The coolest part of the facility is Cafe Louis. They serve fresh crepes and coffee!

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There is even a cool little seating area, complete with fireplace. These ladies weren’t there doing laundry; they were out for coffee.

A topic frequently discussed on the full-time RV forums is whether or not to have an on-board washer and dryer in our RV’s. Our current rig doesn’t have room for either, although we have always entertained having them in a future RV. If we find more places like this in our travels, we may not need them! Truth be told, we probably won’t find many this nice….so we are appreciating what we have while we have it. So, if you happen to find yourself in the Grand Rapids area with a load of dirty laundry, Google Cafe Louis. It will definitely bring you joy!

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Grand Haven – A Winter Delight

“Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.”
Victor Hugo

Nothing delivers the promise of spring like a sunny winter day.

On Saturday, the sun came out and the temperatures rose into the upper 30’s. We had completed our second LaughFest volunteer training by 1 PM, so we decided to go for a drive to Grand Haven to see the Lake Michigan shore. Along the way, we stopped at Engelsma’s Orchard’s farm stand and purchased apples, cider and honey. We then took the scenic Leonard Road, which winds along the Grand River for 25 miles through the quaint towns of LaMont and Eastmanville. We stopped at Greenvale Farm and sampled cheese, which resulted in another purchase. We spoke with several of the dairy workers, who were a delight to converse with. In Spring Lake, we stopped at Vander Mill Cidery. They have a wide variety of very tasty hard ciders, and they now have a nice little restaurant at the front of their establishment. They have quite a few gluten free offerings. Of all the local ciders, Vander Mill is tops on my list.

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When we arrived at Grand Haven State Park, we were pleasantly surprised to see a multitude of people out on the ice piles having fun!

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Old and young, on foot and on bicycles…everyone was out having a good time.

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The largest of the piles extended out a few hundred yards from the actual lakeshore, and there were plenty of brave souls who ventured out to the highest peaks.

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This gentleman drove two hours from the east side of Michigan to capture some images for himself.

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The pier was packed with people from end to end, despite being coated in ice.

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We decided to venture out a little ways. It started getting a little too slick for our tastes, so we stopped partway and enjoyed the view. We met a couple visiting from Shanghai, China who were taking it all in.

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The channel side of the pier was open water. This is where the Grand River meets Lake Michigan.

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Railings and light posts were coated with ice from previous storms, turning them into wintery sculptures.

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It is probably safe to assume that no flag on the pole means it is too cold to swim!

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It was interesting to see the snow and sand mixed together. We had to be careful, as we would step on what we thought was a solid sand pile, only to sink ankle deep into a sand covered snow drift.

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The ice piles also had plenty of cracks and fissures. It was quite evident that, even though they seemed solid, the mountains of ice were actually moving. We definitely were watching where we were walking!

All the way back to Grand Rapids, we kept repeating how much fun we had. This sunny winter day had delivered a promise to us, and spring will surely be on its’ way soon!

Kalamazoo Air Zoo

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive to where we started
And know the place for the first time

T.S. Eliot

As far back as I can remember, I wanted to get my feet off the ground and fly. As a young boy, long before E.T., I envisioned putting wings on my bike and zipping down my suburban Detroit sidewalk, lifting above the rows of houses and off into the countryside. Part of it was the mechanical tinkerer within me, given my upbringing in the shadow of Henry Ford’s Rouge complex. But part of it was much deeper…..

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My real desire to soar came from my father. Dad was a pilot in WWII, and he trained in Stearman biplanes. To watch his face when he spoke of his time in the cockpit was a treat; his eyes actually sparkled. Even into his eighties, he would say “Jimmer, it is like riding a bike. I could climb in there and fly one today”. His explanation of aircraft systems…ailerons, rudder, throttle, elevator…left me without a doubt that I could step in for an incapacitated pilot and land a plane in one piece.

With that being said, aviation museums have always caught my interest. In southwest Michigan, we are fortunate to have a very good living history aviation collection in Kalamazoo named the Air Zoo. Diana and I made the pilgrimage their this last weekend. This was a favorite place for her to bring school groups in her days as an educator.

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This unique place was founded by Pete and Sue Parish in 1977. Sue was a WWII WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot). She also was a spitfire of a character, and was well known in Kalamazoo.

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Her pink P-40 Warhawk hangs in the lobby of the Air Zoo. As a student at Western Michigan University (just up the road), I was privileged to see her zip overhead in the early 1980’s. The sound of that Allison V-12 engine alone was enough for me to stop dead in my tracks and peer skyward. At the time, I did not know her history as a WASP. What an honor to now know that I saw a legend in action.

The assortment of planes in the main room of the Air Zoo is impressive.

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There is a replica of the Wright flyer, complete with Wilbur at the controls.

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For all the Top Gun fans, there is an F-14 Tomcat.

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This seaplane brings visions of Fantasy Island.

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All sorts of aviation are represented; here is a German Buzz Bomb, so famous for raining terror on London.

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The Air Zoo has the only remaining SR-71B in existence. This plane was one of two trainers used to train pilots to fly the other thirty SR-71A’s. These planes were the fastest air-breathing planes ever to fly.

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One of my favorites is this beautiful B-25J Mitchell bomber. Dad ended up as a tail gunner in these fine aircraft in the Philippines. When I was at Western, I talked a pilot into letting me climb into the cockpit of the Yankee Air Force’s Yankee Warrior. Everything Dad talked about was right there for me to see. Recently, through the magic of YouTube, I was able to sit in a B-25 tail gunner position in flight. That experience really brought home what those guys went through back then. A link to the video appears at the end of the post.

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©2015 Flickr

The design of the plane was such that the gunner could see over the entire fuselage of the plane, even though only being able to shoot rearward.

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©2015 electraforge.com

As you can see, it is not an easy place to get to. The thought of allowing one’s self to assume a position in the tail and have enemy aircraft shooting at you commands the utmost respect in my book.

At any given time throughout the museum, various veterans can be found. These gentlemen are willing to share their stories of their time in service to our country. There is also a small library with stories written by veterans, in regards to their experiences.

Another feature of the Air Zoo are flight simulators. These are always popular with school groups. There are also aviation-themed amusement rides for younger children.

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To the rear of the main room of the Air Zoo, there are two smaller hangers. One has a collection of Navy planes, along with other assorted aircraft. This is an early trainer used by the Blue Angels.

One of the more interesting planes in the Navy collection is a Douglas SBD-3 Dautless. The Air Zoo’s plane flew many combat missions, and eventually found it’s way to a training carrier deck moored off of Chicago. During one landing, the pilot missed the trip wire and ended up in the lake.

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After 50 years in the murky depths, the plane was recovered and brought to the Air Zoo in 1993. After a decade of painstaking restoration….

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…this is the result. To say the staff members at the museum are good at their craft is a total understatement. The Dauntless is not the only aircraft pulled from Lake Michigan’s waters by the Air Zoo, and the results of their efforts are just as amazing.

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The other hanger houses space exploration artifacts. Here I am in a mockup of a Mercury capsule. While the space exhibits are mostly mockups and recreations, there are a few interesting pieces.

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Kalamazoo has it’s very own moon rock. This is a nice little cross section, and you are able to see the porosity of the rock.

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There is also a J-2 rocket engine. The J-2 is the engine NASA used on the second and third stages of the Saturn V moon rockets. This particular engine was used for testing, and actually ran at full power for a total of just under an hour. It was one of these engines on each Apollo mission that was responsible for kicking the spacecraft out of Earth orbit and on towards the moon. That ability makes this particular engine a significant piece of history.

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In a smaller room off of the main room of the Air Zoo, there is a tribute to the WASPs. These women flew supply and training missions for the Army, thereby freeing up male pilots for combat. They had to pay their own way to Texas for training, and also their way home after the program was disbanded. The 38 pilots who died in service were also dependent on their families to get their remains home, and their caskets were not afforded the honor of having an American flag draped over them. Almost every type of aircraft that was produced during WWII was flown by WASPs at some point. The only thing they did not fly were combat missions. That’s not to say they weren’t shot at, as they towed anti-aircraft gunnery targets. These women didn’t do it for the glory. They did it because they loved to fly. Over 25,000 women applied to become WASPs, and just over 1000 were accepted for the program. Eventually, they were recognized as veterans. It wasn’t until 2009 that the women of this organization were finally honored with the Congressional Gold Medal for their service.

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Here I am in front of a Stearman trainer, just like Dad flew. As stated earlier, my dad went from being a pilot to becoming a tail gunner. In discussions with him about that, he stated to me that his instructor and him did not see eye to eye. My father, being an only child, was quite independent. I’m sure there is a lot I did not grasp, but my understanding is that the final straw came when he was flying solo towards the field and his engine quit.

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Protruding from the upper wing is a clear tube. That is a fuel gauge. Dad said he saw dirt swirling in the gauge, and that bad fuel is what was later found to have clogged the fuel line. Well, the field was right in front of him, so he feathered the prop and dead-sticked the plane in for a landing. The instructor on the ground reprimanded him for not bailing out. Dad retorted “Why would I jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” While that was ‘perfectly good’ common sense, it was not what the instructor wanted to hear. They sent Dad to gunnery school soon after. While he did copilot a B-25 overseas on one occasion, after the copilot of the plane he was on was injured, he never really piloted a plane again. But the desire to do so never left him. And even though I have never taken the controls of a plane myself, the spirit and knowledge he instilled in me has always left me feeling as if I could jump in and take off, if need be.

After all, it is just like riding a bike.

B-25 tail gunner video

LaughFest

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

Gilda Radner

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

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©2015 NBC

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

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©2015 Gilda’s Club

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

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©2015 Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids

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

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©2015 Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids

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

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©2015 Mlive

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

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

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©2015 Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids

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

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

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

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

Dunedin to St. Pete – Throwback Thursday

“Our memories of the ocean will linger on, long after our footprints in the sand are gone.”
Anonymous

Back in our working days, we would grab a week (or two or three) and head to some very fun places. We are going to feature those in a Throwback Thursday post every now and then. Today, we head to Florida for spring break!

One of our favorite spots to head was Dunedin, which is located south of Tarpon Springs and north of Clearwater. We had discovered the Dunedin RV Resort, and stayed there a few times with our Sunline travel trailer.

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They had a great pool (no hot tub) that they shared with the Blue Moon Inn that was out by the road. Both facilities were owned by the same family, and have since been purchased by Carefree Resorts.

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After using the inn one year for Diana’s family, we decided trying to haul the trailer from Michigan to Florida for 10 days was too much. The ice and snow we ran into on our way back the last trip confirmed that decision. We started flying to Tampa after that and staying at the inn.

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The deluxe rooms were a treat, as they had these jetted tubs…

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…and walk in showers. They also had a nice breakfast every morning, especially when the family owned it.

The resort was very close to the Fred Marquis Pinellas Bike Trail, and also Honeymoon Island State Park. The causeway to the island was a great place for a stroll, and the island itself offered decent access to the Gulf.

A favorite restaurant of ours in Dunedin was Kelly’s For Just About Anything.

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Copyright 2015 Kelly’s

The atmosphere can best be described as ‘eclectic’, and the food is outstanding. We have eaten there more times than we can count, and we have yet to be disappointed. We recommend eating on the back patio. It is a great experience. They are open from breakfast through dinner (and beyond). They have a full bar.

Another spot that was recommended to us was La Trattoria da Gaetano.

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Copyright 2015 Examiner.com

This place is in a non-descript strip mall in Dunedin. When we ate there, we were the only ones for the entire evening. When we came in, the owner greeted Diana by saying “Señora, where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you!” He then brought out a cart of raw meat…

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Copyright 2015 Yelp.com

…and proceeded to tell us what he could make for us. No menu, so we were unsure what it would cost. It was outstanding. I had Veal Marsala, and I could hear him in the kitchen, pounding away at the veal to tenderize it. If you go, look for the peephole in the painting on the wall. It goes through to the kitchen, so he can see who is coming in the door, or when you are ready for your next course. We got out of there, with wine and a healthy tip, for around $100. That was a good 10 years ago.

Our favorite beach spot in that area is Caddy’s On The Beach.

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This little gem is located in Treasure Island/Sunset Beach, immediately north of St Pete Beach. It is a 25 mile drive from Dunedin, but well worth it. Parking is $5, and you get a $5 coupon for food or drink. The chair attendants work for tips only. Quite often, we would get there at 10 AM and stay until 6 PM. You are allowed to bring buckets of beer from the bar to your chairs. As long as you kept your towels on your chairs, you could leave them unattended and not worry about losing them.

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We could walk quite a ways south…

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…or quite a ways north.

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The food was always decent for a beach bar, and there was usually a musician playing island tunes. Definitely a great place to lose yourself for an afternoon.

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And it was tough to beat the view!

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