The Birthday Club Goes Ludington

When we planned our trip to Ludington State Park for Susan’s birthday outing (months ago), I had visions of bright blue skies and balmy weather, but the weather—like all of life—is totally unpredictable, isn’t it?!

Instead of sunshine, there was a misty rain. Instead of being 80° (which it had been one day last week), it was 52° with a stiff wind.

We debated whether or not we should even try the four-mile hike to the lighthouse because, despite bundling, we knew we’d be uncomfortably cold by the time we climbed to the top of the Big Sable Lighthouse.

However, it seemed like the right thing to do, so we persevered.

It was indeed windy and bone-chillingly cold at the top!

But then, as if by magic, when we descended and started our trek back to the car, a streak of blue appeared along the horizon!

In less than an hour, the dark storm clouds blew away, and soon we were immersed in a world of bright blue skies and—well, maybe not balmy, but certainly lovely—springtime weather!

We recovered with a very late and very yummy lunch at the House of Flavors, where we celebrated Susan’s birthday with gifts and happy conversation. Our Birthday Club isn’t just dedicated to honoring the birthday girl, it’s a time to celebrate the blessings of God and the encouragement of friendship, so there is often a theme and some thoughtful sharing of comforting verses as well as communal prayer on the way home.

This year, Cindi had found a 100+year-old book of poetry from an antique shop (Souvenir Rhymes by James Hamilton) and read some to us. My favorite concerned the preciousness of faithful friends who administer mercy and grace to one another, which I’ll include at the end.

There is something very nurturing about true friends who inspire one another to persevere, not only through gloomy weather but also through gloomy circumstances. I thank God for every treasured friend of mine, and for every person who is willing to be a friend to someone else.

Are you feeling discouraged and sad? We all need companions to journey with us, not only through the bright and balmy times of life, but when the wind is in our faces and we’re not prepared for the unexpected and sometimes very miserable changes in our situations. We need one another to help us push on until the rain passes by and the sun starts shining again!

Have you got a friend? Be a friend! Reach out. We need each other! “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrew 10:23-25, ESV).

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17, ESV).

Pussy Willows Stalking Spring

Soft as kitten paws,
Silent as a crouching cat,
Pussy willow stalks.

We live close to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, which is fast becoming a world-class venue for botanical garden lovers. Every week or two, we take a stroll through the gardens, and although there were no flowers blooming as yet on our last visit, we found a bank of pussy willows glowing in the late afternoon sunshine. Don’t you love the signs of new life emerging after the long, dark winter?

Truth shall spring out of the earth;
and righteousness shall look down from heaven” (Psalm 85:11).

Over the Rainbow Pan-Fried Trout

We used to live in Marquette, Michigan, on forty acres in the woods, where you could pull a rainbow or brown trout out of our pond for dinner (if you knew what you were doing, which we didn’t, but our friend, George Sokoly, did).  Michigan has 12,000 miles of trout stream along approximately 1,400 trout streams, and 190 of them are open year around, so trout season never ends here! The Au Sable, Manistee, Pere Marquette, and Muskegon Rivers—all fabled for great trout fishing— are within a few hours of our home even here in Grand Rapids, although we also live on a little spring-fed lake that theoretically has trout. (For the record, we’ve never caught one here either! 😦 ) However, even though we’re terrible fishermen (“God made fishies to live!” was Alan’s wail as a small boy observing fishing near his Upper Peninsula home),  we do love to eat fish, and trout is one of the sweetest-tasting, most delicate and delicious fish you’ll ever eat, so when it’s offered on a menu, we often order it.  Alan said his rainbow trout from the mountain streams of Nepal last fall was his favorite dinner from that entire trip. On our recent cruise of the North Sea, we had some excellent trout dishes, including rainbow trout in Reykjavik, Iceland that was so fresh it must have been in school earlier that morning! So, I decided to write about trout today, even though for those of you who are old hands at fishing, I know you’ll say, “I already knew that!”

Simply the Best Rainbow Trout

Are you ready for this? The fact of the matter is that the best fish are the freshest fish, flash-fried in hot butter on a griddle or in cast-iron skillet (or over a fire!).Wash the fillets, brush a light coating of flour on both sides, and fry them skin-side up for 3 minutes in hot butter (browned but not burned). Flip them over (carefully, so they don’t break apart), and cook them for three more minutes, sprinkling them with salt, butter, and seasoning salt to taste. (I use Lawry’s Seasoning Salt, but whatever you like works). If you’ve not overcooked your trout, it will be tender, flaky, and moist. Serve it up immediately with some fruits and veggies. If you like tartar sauce and lemon, that’s fine, but if your fish is really fresh, it can stand alone on its own fins!

P.S.—Have you noticed that in life (like cooking), many things are complicated, but sometimes the best way is to apply the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid)? In most of the scriptures, “simple” is equated with “ignorant” and given a negative connotation, but there is one verse that tells us to be “simple,” and in this case, it’s a good thing: “For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil” (Romans 16:19). When it comes to exploring evil, God actually wants us to avoid learning about it. Do friends tease you because you’re so “naive” or inexperienced? I used to get teased a lot. One girl friend alleged that on my honeymoon I’d probably make chocolate fudge because I wouldn’t know what else to do. Keep life pure..and “simple.”

Even More Reasons to Love Meijer Gardens…All Around the Year!

Last Tuesday I mentioned six reasons why I love Frederik Meijer Gardens, but I was really just getting a good start when it occurred to me that 27 of my favorite photos and so many more words was enough for one day. So, to continue—

#7. Meijer Garden is a great place for bonding with loved ones!   As one example, it’s the perfect place to teach your kids how to use a camera because there’s beauty everywhere! #8. Speaking of bonding, the cafe is sunshiny and the  food delicious. Where else can you sit with a garden of Chihuly glass flowers above you,  a wall of green (and one of your sons) beside you, and a table adorned by real, live orchids in front of you? #9. Meijer’s Michigan Farm Garden is a treasure. It’s a real, live working farm where they grow lots of produce.They also have lots of real, not live (but still adorable) farm animal (sculptures).  #10. There are nature trails and abundant wildlife throughout. You can find turtles on sunny rocks, swans hiding behind brush, sunning themselves with their little ones, birds sitting in trees, frogs croaking in the bog,  geese and goslings to observe on the lawns,& friendly caterpillars who just happen to be at the right place at the right timeso even little ones can find them!  🙂  #11. There’s an excellent, family-friendly art gallery that has rotating exhibitions throughout the year.  One of the things I love most about Frederik Meijer Gardens is that I always feel like I can take my children and grand children there without worrying about what they’re going to see!  #12. There are special seasonal events. Not only are there beautiful bonsai exhibits all summer outside, There are numerous exhibitions and contests year around. If you’re not into competitions, you can still get ideas and buy supplies. They have really interesting arts and craft shows too, where you can buy fascinating items from various artists.  Of course, my favorite seasonal event is Christmas, when the garden turns into a fairyland of lights and color,complete with Christmas trains that chug around tracks and an elaborate, handmade village.

Well, it’s time to end again, and I haven’t begun to tell you about the  concert program at their amphitheater, their gift shop, or their great volunteer program, so I’ll just stop for now by saying that there is so much beauty and variety at Meijer Garden that I have trouble telling you “all about it!” Of course, that makes me think of Jesus, of whom the Apostle John wrote, And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25). Jesus is incomprehensibly more beautiful and infinitely more complex than a simple botanical garden here on earth! He’s worth exploring not only all around the year but every day forever. Have you gotten to know Him? You can learn about him through reading the Bible. The Book of John is a great place to start.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent
” (John 17:3).

Who Needs to Travel the World? Six Reasons Why I Love Meijer Gardens

When our family or friends come to Michigan, there are a few places I always recommend, but in Grand Rapids my favorite place to visit is—without a doubt— Meijer Garden. So, for those of you who may be looking for something very special to do in Michigan this summer, consider visiting Meijer Garden. Why? #1. The flowers are always spectacular! No need to travel to Holland to see tulips, or to Giverny near Paris to find a wistful arbor of wisteria. #2. The Japanese Gardens are stunning.Meticulously designed and artful in every detail. Restful and serene.  Filled with quiet spots to chat or sit and be creative! And, if you want a little taste of cherry blossoms in the spring,
there’s no need to visit Washington D.C. or Asia anymore!  #3. Lena Meijer’s Tropical Conservatory is like a breath of warm air.  Even when it’s snowy outside, there’s a world of warmth and beauty within. #4. Butterflies bloom during the barrenness of late winter
through early spring,
so you don’t have to go to Central America for a taste of the tropics!  #5. The Sculpture Park has become an international destination! With more than 200 sculptures in their permanent collection, you no longer have to go to Europe to see the work of famous sculptors! #6. The Lena Meijer Children’s Garden is a total delight!  Kids can get soaked…but you don’t have to! Or, they can have tea parties  while you rest in the shade and enjoy catching  up with each other. You don’t have to go to the Caribbean to take your kids sailing,  and if the boat capsizes, it’s no big deal!Also, no need to go to Africa to let your kids feel like big time explorers!

I was going to list ten reasons, but this post is already too long, so I’ll try to finish the others later this week. Meanwhile, happy planning as you think about your summer. Of course, while I’m promoting Michigan, three of my sons are vacationing in Italy together…but what can I say?  The other three and my daughter’s family are visiting us here in Michigan, so it’s all good!  As Robert Louis Stevenson would say, “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness,
and shall sing of thy righteousness
”  (Psalm 145:7).

Birthday Pains…and Pleasures!

June is always bustin’ out all over with birthdays. Earlier this month, my daughter-in-law had to miss out completely on our birthday party for her because both her kids were so sick, but today I want to relate an especially happy tale about one of our Birthday Club adventures that succeeded.Susan, Cindi, and I had a perfectly wonderful day celebrating Susan’s birthday, so I want to encourage young parents with the thought that by the time your kids are grown, your birthdays might become remarkably fun…

   and possibly even relaxing! We started with an initial fortification of fruit, coffee, tea, and some amazing donuts from the new Donut Conspiracy shop on E. Beltline that (is overpriced but) has really delicious and decadent donuts with clever names like “Rehab.”We continued our rehab with a fantastically soothing hike on the Ledges Trail, a remote area of the Grand River in Fitzgerald Park (near Grand Ledge, MI). Ledges Trail meanders along the Grand River for about 3/4 mile  down to Island Park (built on “Second Island”).  Island Park is sunny, breezy, non-buggy and handicap accessible. The trail is a little rougher, we’re all still good hikers, so we thoroughly enjoyed  our walk along the beautifully patterned “grand ledges” of sedimentary rock. It’s so lush and green it reminded us of Ireland, and we did use insect repellent, but none of us gotten bitten by mosquitoes. (Note: there was a lot of poison ivy beside the path, so if you hike it,
be careful
and consider wearing shoes and socks…or really watch your step!) The ledges are covered with powdery light green lichens
that make them look almost like they’ve been white-washed! They’re also adorned with delicate mosses, ferns, and liverworts,  some of which aren’t found anywhere else in Michigan’s lower peninsula. In fact, I felt very much like I was hiking along one
of the Upper Peninsula’s verdant wilderness trails! In 1888 a railroad trestle was built across the Grand River near the south boundary of Fitzgerald Park. Something echoed deep in our hearts as we heard the wail of a whistle
and watched a long train rumble past… …a tug that made us feel tied to 130 years of history and a time when
fugitive slaves were harbored in the caves en-route to Canada and freedom. Susan has a penchant for spiritual nurturing and motifs, so Cindi suggested a river theme for our outing. Perfect! Besides sharing all about our lives, we sang songs together. We also considered the significance of various verses and stories about rivers that flow through the scriptureand reflected on God’s goodness to us during this season of our lives.There is so much to be thankful for at every stage of life, and if you’re in the midst of child-rearing, I hope you’re able to enjoy the bustle. But, if you’re older (like we are), I hope you enjoy the peace and quiet too.It Is Well
(—Horatio Gates Spafford, 1873)

1 When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Refrain (may be sung after final stanza only):
It is well with my soul;
it is well, it is well with my soul.

2 Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control:
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and has shed his own blood for my soul. Refrain

3 My sin oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
my sin, not in part, but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more;
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! Refrain

4 O Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend;
even so, it is well with my soul. Refrain

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” Psalm 1:1-3

(P.S.—Lest I make this sound too idyllic, I have to say that Susan is in the throes of helping plan a daughter’s wedding, so it’s not like she’s sitting poolside painting her toenails. I don’t think life is ever without challenges, but I do think there are times when life isn’t quite so demanding!)

Mackinac Island’s 70th Annual Lilac Festival Starts Today!

  Alan and I have been going to Mackinac Island together for over 50 years now, and I try to take him up every year for his birthday. This year the timing worked out to go last weekend, and the lilacs were just beginning to blossom out, so I’m sure it will be spectacular for this year’s       Lilac Festival, which begins today and lasts through Sunday, June 17th.Every day there are over a dozen events planned, and the whole festival culminates in a Grand Parade down Main Street on June 17th…
which also happens to be Father’s Day this year. The weather is predicted to be in the upper 60°s and sunnyish every day,        so if you can afford the time and money and live within driving distance,    it might make a marvelous place to visit this week or to celebrate Father’s Day!  M-185, the 8.2-mile highway circling Mackinac Island, Is (I think?) the only highway in America that doesn’t allow cars, although the quiet road is punctuated with the clippity-clop
of horse hooves now and then. Most years Alan and I walk around the island and bike around too, although over the years we’ve had to make a few compensations to offset the effects of aging. When we were young, we couldn’t afford to stay on the island
(not to mention we weren’t even married the first few years),so we’d just head over for a day, walking in the morning
and riding in the afternoon after a yummy picnic lunch. By our fifties, we could afford to stay overnight and eat at restaurants,
which gave us ample opportunities to rest up between excursions. This year (68th birthday), we noticed that after our 10+ miles of hiking         around the island, enjoying lunch,  walking around town, shopping, and meandering through the gardens at the Grand Hotel, we were too bushed to take a bike ride on the same day!Even worse, there is only one restroom, which is halfway around the island, so if you’ve got an aging bladder, don’t drink a lot of coffee or tea before heading out!Give your body a little time to digest and equilibrate  before your hike,
or you might find concentrating on conversation a little more challenging
at times as you journey to the site of the British Landing!  🙂Over the years, we’ve stayed at a number of different hotels. Many people have a favorite and always go back to the same place, but we love trying new places so often try some particularly good “special.” This year we stayed at the Harbour View Inn. The landscaping, room, and ambience were lovely! The continental breakfast was…adequate. However, unless we’re staying at the Grand, we do have a favorite lunch spot. We almost always have fish at the Village Inn, and the food is always excellent! Have I piqued your interest? It’s never too late to embark on a new adventure!

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

(All photos were taken on Mackinac Island last Saturday, June 2, 2018.)