Category Archives: Michigan Beauty and Fun

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!)

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.

 

 

Where to Eat and Where to Stay on Mackinac Island

Over the fifty years of our visiting Mackinac Island,  Alan and I have tried most of the restaurants and many different hotels. When the kids were little, we often camped in St. Ignace or Mackinaw City
and just took the boat over for the day, packing picnic lunches and mega snacks.  In fact, for years I would make my own fudge,
and sometimes Alan would haul over all our bikes too.  There’s no way of making a trip to the island “cheap,”  but these options definitely keep the costs down a little.  In the last ten years, since the kids have grown up, Alan and I have been exploring more, and I want to share a few of our favorite finds,  although to be honest, we keep trying new places, because the variety is fun,  and there seem to be so many great options.  Concerning food, our all-time favorite lunch spot is the Village Inn.  The food is always delicious.  It’s not quite as casual as a hotdog out on the boardwalk (also very fun),  or as gourmet as a dinner at the Grand Hotel (which is superb),  but every meal is consistently excellent,  and we almost always end up eating there at least once while we’re on the island.

When we still had several kids at home, we stayed at “La Chance” Cottage  (lovely; pictured above) and ate at “Brian’s BBQ” (great food and good prices). They’re under new ownership now, so I’m not sure how that’s affected prices.Since those “good, old days,” we’ve been “found” via social media, and I tend to look for special package deals and online offers.

Among our favorite “package deals” so far are the Island House,  which is one of the (many) beautiful, old historic hotels built back in the 1800’s, and Mission Point Resort,  which is another great place to stay.  They have excellent dining and a vast lawn for relaxing! Of course, the Grand Hotel is the quintessential lodging experience. My parents used to stay every year either early or late in the season, when they typically run special deals, although Alan and I have only stayed there once… during a medical meeting, with reduced, corporate rates. One of the perks for staying there is getting a carriage ride up to the hotel, but everything is top flight. It would make a great honeymoon spot!  For “every day special,” the main street is full of hotels. Here is my list of “Let’s try these someday.”
(If you’ve tried any of them, please let me know what you think, will you?) Cloghaun Bed and Breakfast Metivier Inn Lake View Hotel (on Main Street) Lilac Tree Hotel  The Inn on Mackinac If you’ve stayed somewhere and loved it, will you let the rest of us know? Thanks!

Every time we visit Mackinac Island, Alan says it feels like a little piece of heaven on earth, because it’s so remote, peaceful, and beautiful.      Like heaven, you can’t really get there on your own! (Some probably try.)Jesus is like the boat that ferries us to this place of beauty and joy: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6). Like Mackinac Island, there will be wonderful food in heaven, but unlike Mackinac Island, you won’t have to be rich to afford it!  “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1)Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness” (Isaiah 55:2).Like Mackinac Island (and even better!), there will be many beautiful places to stay: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). However, like Mackinac Island, heaven is a “private residence,” and we can’t stay there without permission! Thankfully, Jesus has invited us all to come: Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). To go to Mackinac Island, you have to have time and money, but to get to heaven, all you have to do is have desire and faith: “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you” (Isaiah 55:3). What is the covenant? Salvation by believing in Jesus and and surrendering your life to him. As Jesus taught, Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29).You may never get to Mackinac Island, but you can always get to heaven if you want, because Jesus promised: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).* (*This last beautiful photo is another gift used by permission of Robert Hardee.)

 

Sixteen Wonderful Ways to Enjoy Mackinac Island

Most of the time when Alan and I travel, we go places we’ve never been before, because we love how much we learn from new experiences.  However, there are a few treasured places that we return to again and again, and Mackinac Island is one of them.  Our first trip together was back in 1966, and this spring marked our 50th anniversary of enjoying the island together, so I’m no longer a novice and feel some confidence in sharing our list of all-time favorite things to do:  #1. Take a boat to the island. This is mandatory, since you can’t swim there, but the ride is super fun, so be sure to savor it…which will happen if you’re prepared.It’s usually chilly and windy, so you might want a fleece or hoodie, which you can store in locker on the island if carrying it in your backpack is a problem.         (Of course, if it’s really too cold or rainy, you can ride inside the cabin.) Also, the weather is unpredictable, so you might want an emergency raincoat. Last summer we took Michael’s family on a day when the weather prediction was “sunny and warm,” but our bike ride turned out to be “rainy and cold!”  If  you time it right, the Star Line will take you under the Mackinac Bridge in transit. This is definitely worth considering, although being on the island as long as possible is worth more than checking under the bridge for trolls.

 #2. Bike around the island.  It’s just eight miles and can be done in an hour  (plus stops, but do stop!).               The views are stunning  and the adventure totally memorable!    Besides all that, it’s the only highway in America  where no cars are allowed!          #3. If you don’t want to bike, walk around the island. (We usually do both.)              It might take you more like 2-3 hours, but it’s worth every minute.         #4. Climb up to the top of Arch Rock for the best views on the island!     (If you don’t have a heart attack, you’ll never regret it nor forget the view.) #5. Chase some seagulls… (and watch your food!)  #6. Skip some stones. (It’s usually too cold to swim, but wading works,
and a few people have been known to swim in July or August if it’s really hot.)  #6. Build a cairn; it’s trendy the world around. If you’re in the mood, you could even associate it with some special prayer that you’ve been asking God about. However, lots of people just build them strictly for the fun of it!  🙂  #7. Buy some fudge. It’s overpriced but wonderful,  and the shop keepers don’t call the tourists “Fudgies” for nothing!  #8. Explore the town, taking time to enjoy all the beautiful buildings,  people, sights, sounds, and scents! #9. Tour the Grand Hotel, which has the world’s longest wooden porch. They do charge you to walk on it, however! If you can’t spare the cash,
you can still walk around and enjoy the beautiful views and gardens.  #10. Tour historic Fort Mackinac. They have costumed soldiers and shoot off cannons (with tin foil balls) into the harbor. It’s educational and fun.  #11. Enjoy lunch at one of their great restaurants, or pack a picnic and eat on the governor’s lawn. (Did I say that?? I think we actually did that 50 years ago because the governor wasn’t there, but today we wouldn’t be so cavalier.)  #12. Take a horse-drawn carriage tour of the island. You’ll learn a lot of interesting facts about the island and its history. (Next week I’ll share more.) #13. If it’s a sunny day and you’ve got the time, stop at the Butterfly House.  #14. If you’re a shopper (or even if you’re not, like me…)
there are dozens of lovely shops worth exploring. #15. If you’re spending the night on the island,
walk down the boardwalk and watch the sun set. #16. Otherwise, get in line early so you don’t miss the last boat off the island! I’ve thought a lot about the fact that even when we’ve been somewhere
a zillion times, we can never perfectly predict what will happen.  There are times when we’re expecting sunshine but get caught in the rain! We’re praying for a friend who’s developed an infection at the port site
for his chemo, causing a delay in treatment, and for another friend
who badly injured her leg while visiting Japan a few weeks ago.  Life is full of storms and challenges. I am thankful that through both the sunshine and shadows of life,
we can know that God is ahead. He will lead us and guide us
safely through all the storms as we trust in Him.   (As I watched the sunset, I saw this cloud formation, which looked like an angel with a lamp in his hand, flying down to earth to light the way. Can you see it?)

“In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed:
deliver me in thy righteousness”
(Psalm 31:1).

 

Mackinac Island’s 2017 Lilac Festival: When is the Best Time to Visit?

The 2017 Lilac Festival on Mackinac Island is in full swing, and if you have any time (and money) between now and June 18 (and live anywhere within striking distance), I think you’d find great pleasure in visiting.      Alan and I couldn’t go this week, so we went over Memorial Day Weekend. This year has been so warm that I thought perhaps the lilacs would have started blooming, but they were still just tight buds at the end of May.                      Now I’m sure they’re probably as gorgeous as ever,                lining the streets and filling the air with their sweet perfume.                     Still, I think Mackinac Island is beautiful any time of  year,              and although the lilac festival is my all-time favorite time to visit,  my second favorite time is when the tulips and early spring flowers are abloom.  Over Memorial Day, the weather was an almost cloudless 68°…just perfect for strolling and biking!  It also just happened to be the same weekend our two youngest and their good buddy, Steve C., went north too,  so we had several happy opportunities to run into them and enjoy the ambience! Looking back over our years of visiting the island, I don’t recall ever having a “bad” trip! I think it’s a little like coming to Christ…it’s always a good time! Even though life is heartbreaking at times, it’s always better when we’re walking hand in hand with Jesus. A great mate is a wonderful blessing, but the greatest blessing of all is living in season and out of season with God. Have you accepted His love proposal yet? Now is the time! “For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2, ESV). “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth? 10 I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. 12 I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. 13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-13) (All photos from my trips to Mackinac Island but the last two, which are used by permission of Robert Hardee. Thank you, Bob!)