Category Archives: Activities in the Greater Grand Rapids Area

West Michigan Writers’ Conferences: Past, Present, and Future

Last Friday night I attended the JOT Writers Conference. If you enjoy writing and need a little inspiration, this is one A+ way to grow! JOT is the brainchild of the Weaklings, a group of five men who are successfully pursuing writing careers and live in the Grand Rapids area. About twice a year, they sponsor conferences to encourage and educate writers. I especially appreciate just about every aspect of their conferences:

*They are totally free (and you don’t even need to RSVP)! *They are just one evening long. *They are able to attract some highly successful writers (who also speak for free)! *The organizers are excellent human beings with altruistic egoisms. *The two I have attended meet at Baker Book House, which is a great venue.

*After several brief, TED-style talks with Q&A’s afterward, you’re welcome to leave (making your time commitment only about 2 hours), or you’re free to  mingle and enjoy some snacks, or you can curl up in a corner and write until 11:00 pm if you want!  Does it get any more accommodating than that? I don’t think so!! They haven’t scheduled their next conference yet, but you can connect with them here if you’re interested:   https://jotwritersconference.com/

Also, if you’re got some serious time and money to invest, there are several other writers’ conferences in our area. I’ve attended the first two in the past, although I won’t be able to make them this year. Here is a little information with links:

September 28-30, 2017. Maranatha Christian Writers Conference, celebrating their 40th year. Their website is:  http://www.maranathachristianwriters.com/

October 6-7, 2017. Breathe Christian Writers Conference, which will be held here in Grand Rapids. Their website is: http://breatheconference.com/home/

April 12-14, 2018. Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, Grand Rapids.
Their website is: http://festival.calvin.edu/

Grand Valley State University used to sponsor writers conferences, although they do not currently. Instead, they offer a “Writers Series” with a half a dozen guest speakers throughout the year. You can access information on their 2017-2018 series here: https://www.gvsu.edu/writing/grand-valley-writers-series-12.htm

For those of you who live in other areas, if you’re interested, google “writers conferences” and see what comes up! If you can afford to travel, Billy Graham’s Training Center, The Cove, is hosting The Asheville Christian Writers Conference-Writers Bootcamp on February 16-18, 2018 in North Carolina: http://www.ashevillechristianwritersconference.com/

Happy writing. Happy hunting!

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:3).

 

Reflections on the Eclipse: To Celebrate, To Share, and To Remember

Did you get to see the eclipse yesterday?  Three of my friends joined me for lunch  and a wonderful afternoon of attempting to take photos of the eclipse.  We tried a bunch of different options,  and I used three different cameras,  but I was very disappointed with what I got!  😦   Between the clouds and the power of the sun,  which overpowered my camera’s ability to shut out the light properly (and I hadn’t thought ahead enough to buy a good filter),  I had no really clear closeup of the event.

Thankfully, two of my friends made the long trek to Central City, Kentucky and came back with some incredible photos (which they’ve kindly allowed me to post).                      Their story makes me grin, so I want to share it quickly!  Justin calculated the “perfect” location, which had a slightly shorter totality for viewing but also made it possible for them to leave the area sooner and beat the tsunami of traffic heading back north, so they were home by 6:30 pm! Brilliant plan, all the way around, don’t you think? And, aren’t their photos fabulous!

This makes me so happy, because I have etched into my brain a memory of Justin as a seven-year-old, looking rather forlorn as he sat shivering on the steps of our home by the frozen pond where a motley group of hockey enthusiasts (ages 37 to 7, from our church family) were playing hockey. Justin’s lips were a bit blue, so I asked him if he’d like to come in and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate.

“No!” he answered resolutely! “I just want the puck!!” Tall order for the youngest kid on the ice!  Yesterday (and doubtless oodles of times in the past 30+ years), Justin got the puck! Way to go, Leah and Justin!!

Well, back to my reflections on the eclipse. I’ve been thinking a lot about what motivates us to create images. I think for most of us it’s about “makin’ memories” to celebrate the special times in our lives…to memorialize the events, share them with others, and keep the memories alive. Although some religious groups (both among Muslims and Christians) believe that people should not make any replication of anything lest it be idol worship (which is why ISIL is busy destroying statues), I personally believe God was forbidding only the creation of images for the purpose of worshiping them. Delighting in what is pure and good, and commemorating special occasions with photos, seems like an ideal way to make, share, and remember happy events!

And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:1-6).

(Photo credits: A very special thank you to Leah and Justin Hamilton for letting me use their 4 outstanding photos of the eclipse, which they took in Central City, KY yesterday. You guys are awesome! The rest are from my home here in Michigan, where I shared a very happy afternoon with Brenda, Jane, and Bonnie. You guys are awesome too!)

Some Tips for Watching the Eclipse Today

Are you prepared to enjoy the total solar eclipse today?  There hasn’t been a total solar eclipse visible all across the contiguous states of America for ninety-nine years, so this is a rare and historic opportunity! My son Aaron posted on his timeline a great resource put out by Time for people in the U.S. If you’re interested in knowing exactly when the eclipse will occur and what it will look like in your area, just type in your zip code and it will give you a mock up of the orbit and exact times:  http://amp.timeinc.net/time/4882923/total-solar-eclipse-map-places-view/?source=dam    I’m sure you know this already, but the first safety rule of the day is: “Don’t look straight at the sun!” PBS has put out clear instructions for how to enjoy the eclipse without eye injury by making a simple pinhole projector. (See above.) If you have an i-phone, I’ve heard it’s safe to watch looking over your shoulder through your i-phone in the selfie mode. If you live on or near a lake where the water is still, I’ve also read you can safely watch the eclipse on the surface of the water. (However, I just tested this on our lake, and it almost seems like the water magnifies the glare, so I’m not going to look “straight” at the eclipse even on our lake.) Theoretically, you can watch images fluttering through the shadows that tree leaves make on the ground (which might make for interesting photo ops, but I’m not sure how satisfying this would be for serious viewing). Three of my girlfriends are coming over so we can watch together, and one of them is bringing a tripod and binoculars. It is totally unsafe to watch through binoculars, but I’ve heard you can set up the binoculars so they cast the image onto a piece of white paper on the ground, allowing several people to watch at once.  As I’m no expert, please double check whatever method you choose with some more scientifically reliable source than I am. I’d feel terrible if anybody damaged their eyes from listening to my second-hand information!  Speaking of second-hand information, I was reading in Proverbs 14 today and noticed a lot of admonitions for “witnesses” to be truthful. It occurred to me that even seeing televised reports of what’s happening around the world (such as at Charlottesville) is not the same as being there. What I saw was second-hand testimony, and each television editor had to take responsibility for what they included and what they did not, as was true for each news reporter.  When it comes to knowing and understanding the truth about anything, we are limited. Even if we’re at an event, we don’t see, hear, or understand everything. If we are not present at an event, then we have to rely on the testimony of other witnesses. On whom can we rely? Well, of course we turn to the people we trust the most, but ultimately, no one is omniscient and omnipresent except One, and that is God! He alone knows the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. As we seek the truth, whether it’s about how to watch the eclipse or what to believe about our world, I personally believe the best “fact checker” in the world is the Scripture. If something contradicts the Scripture, then please doubt the witness, not the Word!

“Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever” (Psalm 119:160).

“The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:9).

 

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.)