Category Archives: Activities in the Greater Grand Rapids Area

St. Joseph’s: A Beautiful Surprise!

There are small two towns just off I-96 between our home and Chicago, and we’ve driven by the exit sign probably more than a hundred times over the past 25 years. One is St. Joseph, and the other is Benton Harbor.  They are known as “The Twin Cities” and are only separated by the St. Joseph River, so in my mind, I always thought of them as basically the same town. In fact, because of their proximity, I confused their reputations.  Sadly, Benton Harbor has the lowest per capita income of any town in the state, with over 40% of the population being below the poverty level. The town also has a reputation for being crime-ridden and a place to avoid…rather like the south side of Chicago: Don’t venture in unless you’re prepared for the possibility of being mugged or shot.  However, not long ago, Joel showed us a photo of a beach in St. Joseph that looked so appealing Alan and I decided to do something we’ve never done before: We stopped by to check out St. Joseph on our way home from Warren Dunes.

We were amazed…and delighted! St. Joseph is a beautiful little resort town.  Last Saturday, they were having an auto show with a parade of old cars.  How fun!  They also had a great farmers’ market  loaded with everything  that makes an open-air market mouth-watering  and delicious.  They have a downtown area lined with restaurants and shops  as cute as that in Holland, Michigan.  They have their own neighborhood of classic old homes  that looks like Heritage Hill here in Grand Rapids.  They have a free splash pad at their ” Whirlpool Centennial Park,”   and a gorgeous waterfront at Silver Beach Park  that rivals that of our all-time favorite getaway, Grand Haven.  In fact, the parking lot at the beach was full,  and we had to park some blocks away down a quiet side street.  However, that worked out just fine, because it gave us a good chance  to have our own walking tour of the downtown area and waterfront,  and Alan’s nose tracked down a delightful roof-top cafe  for some fresh perch fish’n’chips.

  All told, we had an A+ experience and marveled that in all these years we’d totally overlooked this little gem of a beachfront resort because of their “twin” city’s reputation. Now the harder question is: Why is one city thriving while the other is failing?, and I don’t know the answer to that. They’re both too far from home for me to try to get involved in solving that problem. (And, we have plenty of poverty and crime right here in GR.)  But, the easier question is this: What or who else am I avoiding because of an undeserved bad reputation? Am I missing out on getting to know someone just because they are related to someone with a bad reputation?  May I (we) learn to be more discerning, evaluating each potential friend according to their own character, not the character of their “family.”  The Bible sets the right example: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezekiel 18:20).  Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:8-9).

Warren Dunes: A Mountain or a Mole Hill?

Warren Dunes State Park on the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan is one of Michigan’s most popular, and the campground is routinely rated among the top five.
With nearly a million visitors every year,  the campground is generally completely full in July and August  (with many cars bearing Illinois plates…just 90 miles from Chicago),  so if you enjoy camping, get your reservation in exactly six months to the day  before you hope to arrive, or you may be out of luck!  The beach is wonderful—a wide, sugar sand stretch just perfect for swimming, wind surfing, kiting, walking or sunbathing.  There are clean bathhouses
and a couple of lunch spots for hot dogs and ice cream.  When our kids were little,  they used to love playing in the stream that runs out to the lake.  Upstream about a mile you can find clay for face and body painting, but that’s being discouraged now due to health and environmental issues.  Besides all this, there are six miles of hiking trails and several large dunes  with names like Mt. Fuller, Pike’s Peak and Mt. Edwards.
(The dunes are becoming quite popular for sand boarding!)

However, if you remember that Michigan is pretty much a sandbar, you’ll understand that this is sort of a joke, because the highest and most prominent sand dune, Tower Hill, is only 240 feet above sea level.  🙂 We went last Friday night after Alan was done with work, so we arrived during the golden glow of evening. (Rabbit Trail: We were too tired to climb the dune and do any stargazing, but if you happen to go, it’s a wonderful place to see the stars, and right now [mid-August] there are an unusually high number of shooting stars. This is true worldwide as Earth passes through the debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. The peak viewing was last weekend—after midnight and before sunrise—with multiple dozens of Perseid meteorite “fireballs,” but the show runs July 13-August 26, so if you get a chance, look up tonight! http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/08/perseid-meteor-shower-august-shooting-stars-skywatching-science/  )

Well, Saturday morning we decided to climb! When our kids were little, it didn’t seem very far or hard to climb to the top, but this time we took some breaks on our way up, and by the time we reached the top, I literally had to stop and catch my breath! (Alan waited patiently for me!)I was somewhat reassured to notice that climbing the hill  was a bit of a challenge for most of the families. (Of course, they’d been sledding and might have gone up and down before!)  We’re admonished not to make mountains out of mole hills, but sometimes even mole hills do seem a bit like mountains, particularly for the young and old! I hope we can all be sensitive to what seems like a mountain to those we love—whether or not it seems like “a big deal” to us personally. Life is better shared, but we can’t share unless we learn compassion and try to understand the mountains in one another’s lives. Let’s keep climbing together!

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Romans 15:1-2, ESV; This is written as “We then that are strong” but I now find myself more often in the “failings of the weak” category!)

Gold’n Blueberry Coffee Cake

It’s blueberry season in Michigan (and most of Northeastern America),  and for years we’ve had a cherished tradition of picking berries at Blueberry Hill. We wait with baited breath for U-pick strawberries in June, cherries in July,
and blueberries in August. For much of the summer, we enjoy abundant fruit! Most of the time we just serve blueberries fresh as part of the meal,  but also use them as a garnish with salads,  and when they’re really abundant, we start using them to bake pies and cakes.

Before the season ends, we usually try to squirrel a little away in jams. This year we also made a jar to send with Jonathan to Germany, because it’s his favorite jam and not common in Europe.

Sometime soon, I hope to write about making jam, but today I want to share an easy way to make a delicious blueberry coffee cake, which makes a fragrant start to a summer weekend morning, whether you’re hoping to curl up with a cup of coffee and the morning news on Saturday or heading out the door for church on Sunday. Here it is:

Golden Blueberry Coffee Cake

1 yellow cake mix (which normally calls for eggs, water, and oil) Follow the recipe, but only add 1/4 cup water (no more; the blueberries are very wet).

Sprinkle 3 cups of washed blueberries evenly over the top. (They sink in baking, so you don’t see much of them, but believe me, you’ll taste them!)

Make a “crumble” out of:
1 stick butter or margarine
1 cup flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
1.5 teaspoons cinnamon

Drop/sprinkle the crumble mix evenly over the top.

Bake at 350°F. until the top is golden brown, which will likely take 45-50 minutes. Let it rest for about 5-10 minutes, but then serve it immediately. This coffee cake is so moist that it will get soggy if it sits around, so it’s best eaten fresh and hot! It doesn’t need any garnish, but if there’s any left over and you want to serve it as a dessert later on, I sometimes reheat it and serve whipped cream or ice cream on top.

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24). May our words be as sweet as our meals!  🙂

 

Rain, Rumble, Rockin’ the Coast, and Rockin’ the Boat

Usually when Alan and I get up early and read our Bibles together, we can hear birds serenading the rising sun, but a couple of weeks ago, our background melody was the rumble of thunder and the drum of heavy rains. I didn’t think much of it—other than to enjoy it— but when it stopped, I could hear a singular bird caroling again.

Similarly, last weekend Alan and I spent Friday night at Grand Haven State Park, and the next morning as we were strolling along the boardwalk,  we were mesmerized by the deep, throaty roar of engines.   Three fleets of power boats, each led by a flag ship  (red, yellow, and the last green),  came out the channel of the Grand River like an armada off to war.   It touched something deep inside me, and I felt like crying.  It made me think of war, and I remembered Dunkirk.   We had no clue what was going on, but it was obviously a regatta of some kind, because when they got to the end of the Grand River channel,  they opened up their engines and went flying down the coast of Lake Michigan.  Have you seen Dunkirk yet? It’s gotten an 8.6 rating on IMDb,
and I think it must be be a stellar movie.  At least, when we visited the Normandy Coast of France last year,  I was totally overwhelmed by the heroism of the everyday Englishmen
who saved so many of the troops!   At any rate, I took videos of the three fleets as they roared off,  and what I noticed afterward
was the sound of a little cricket chirping in the grass beside me… something I’d been oblivious to while my attention was absorbed by the regatta.  Not long after the boaters were off,
we heard the wail of Coast Guard sirens and saw a helicopter.  One of the couples in the race was badly injured when they hit a big wave
on their way to Holland for what I learned was the “Rock the Coast” race.  I haven’t heard the end of the story,
but I know the wife was airlifted to Spectrum Hospital’s intensive care unit.  Probably very few of us ever enjoy the thrill of racing a power boat, but all of us experience  the race of life and hit heavy seas at times that rock our boats. Although we often fail to hear those quiet sounds until after the rumble of thunder, the roar of our engines, and we’ve gotten knocked around and injured, there is a voice that can be heard if we’re listening… the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit, wooing us to Himself…offering to help us figure out our lives.  Are you listening? Are you willing?

And he said, ‘Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?‘”  (1 Kings 19:11-13, ESV)

(Photo credits: I took the photos of the Rock the Coast Race last weekend in Grand Haven [except for the one of me, which my husband took], but I took the three of the Normandy Coast in the spring of 2016. The B&W photo of Dunkirk is from the Australian War Memorial [Wiki], and the other is a poster for the 2017 movie, Dunkirk, which is showing in theaters right now.)

What Can You Do When Your Grandkids Visit?

Before Amélie and Sophie came to visit for the month of July, a lady from their church asked what they liked best about visiting their grandmother. Amélie said her favorite thing to do was go for a boat ride with Nana, and Sophie said her favorite thing was eating Nana’s fudge!

Of course, I made sure we did both once I knew, but it also got me to thinking about all the things that seem to make vacations special for little ones, and a lot of the activities are very simple! In no particular order, here is my list:

Picnics in the backyardToasting marshmallows and eating smoresColoring, drawing, and writing love letters Hanging out and talking together Playing in the grass  Picking wildflowers and hunting for frogs Finding tiny grasshoppers by day and chasing tiny fire flies by nightPlaying at the local parks Renewing friendships with the cousins… and meeting new members of the family! Having tea parties Listening to story books  Picking wild berriesHelping Nana cook and set the table Eating lots of yummy food, and helping shop for more when the supplies run low. Having friends over to playPlaying games together and feeling the love! All of those things are part of the richest fabric of life and pretty much free, although there are also some special things available in our area,
such as digging in the sand and swimming in Lake Michigan.If you’re lucky enough to have an Aunt Brianna, that might include cookies!Snuggling with Grandma is free,
and it’s a very special way to get warmed up after a big swim! Snuggling with Grandpa is another winning activity, especially on a windy day!Watching the local fireworks shows is usually free around July 4th. Picking cherries, blueberries, or whatever is ripe at the local orchard is a big hit. And if you have access to a little lake, catching fish is the cat’s meow! Our kids and grand kids all love swimming, so I’m especially thankful that we live on a little lake! Another thing we all love is going to our local zoo, where there’re always something new and exciting happening! Finally, when Nana is all worn out, a special dinner out can be a huge treat! So, these are a few favorite things you can do without feeling pick-pocketed! If you’ve got other bright ideas, please share them, will you?

But whatever we do with our little ones, I think the most important thing is to make sure they feel loved, and for me, that includes making sure they know that God loves them too… more than any of us can ever even imagine!

The grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth” (Isaiah 38:17-19).

Fireflies

Our woods and meadow are filled with fireflies right now, much to the delight of our grandchildren (…and children, and myself!). They look a little like “bright, shiny diamonds” as one of our children’s records used to say. Just as twilight makes taking photos difficult, tiny glowing lamps twinkle and beckon us to follow them. Because we have poison ivy around the edges of the wooded areas, we can’t really chase them with abandon, but I’ve been able to detain a few to light up the lives of our little ones, if only for a few seconds. Thankfully, Amélie is extremely gentle, so she doesn’t hurt them, and little Sophie is too timid to hold them, because they tend to crawl up our hands and fly off in the most scary way!  I’ve tried so hard to capture the magic, but my camera can’t translate such low light and tiny twinkles into the fairy dust feeling we experience. So much of life is like that! Tiny moments of joy and light in the twilight…but don’t blink, or you’ll miss the light, and don’t try too hard, or you’ll ruin the gift. Just allow that breathless wonder to create a magical memory in your soul.  It’s like the love of God. We can talk about it, and we can try to explain it to people, but there’s nothing quite like experiencing it for yourself!

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)

The Love of God
—Frederick M. Lehman, one hundred years ago, back in 1917!

  1. The love of God is greater far
    Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
    It goes beyond the highest star,
    And reaches to the lowest hell;
    The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
    God gave His Son to win;
    His erring child He reconciled,
    And pardoned from his sin.

    • Refrain:
      Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
      How measureless and strong!
      It shall forevermore endure—
      The saints’ and angels’ song.
  2. When hoary time shall pass away,
    And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
    When men who here refuse to pray,
    On rocks and hills and mountains call,
    God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
    All measureless and strong;
    Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
    The saints’ and angels’ song.
  3. Could we with ink the ocean fill,
    And were the skies of parchment made,
    Were every stalk on earth a quill,
    And every man a scribe by trade;
    To write the love of God above
    Would drain the ocean dry;
    Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
    Though stretched from sky to sky.

 

 

Anybody for a Watermelon Cake? How About a Wedge Salad?

My grandson Reid asked his mother for a watermelon cake for his birthday. Apparently they’d seen a picture on Pinterest. Carlie says it tastes like a cold wedge of fruit salad, and everybody who tried it liked it, although there was some dissension over whether or not it really qualified as a “cake.” So, I think this might make the perfect “wedge salad” to serve for the Fourth of July. If you bill it that way, don’t you think the kids will love it? Think how (relatively) healthy it is as a dessert, too…just watermelon frosted with sweetened whipped cream. I’m definitely going to try it on my grand kids. If you try it, let me know what you think, and I’ll  do the same!BTW, here’s an earlier fruit extravaganza that Carlie made some years ago to help feed our youth group! Talk about talent and good taste!  🙂  Thanks for being such a stellar daughter-in-law, Carlie! You’re a doll. (Actually, I have to say, I’ve got five of the best son and daughter-in-laws in the world!!! No prejudice!!!)