Monday, September 15, 2014

Family Togetherness

Kayla's selfie of our little crowd of six
With grandkids in college with jobs and significant others, it's harder and harder to spend time together, but yesterday we were able to get Carlton and Kayla over for dinner, as well as Ariel, Kayla's boyfriend, and Robert, Carlton's co-worker, who lives with him family in El Paso, and was glad to have a home-cooked meal and spend time with a family away from home. This week we're hoping to get together with Sarah, John and kids, after weeks of not seeing them.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

10th Anniversary Get-Away

We spent last Sunday/Monday on Mackinac Island, perfect weather, wonderful half-price lodging (after Labor Day) and big disappointment that I forgot to transfer my camera into the backpack before we got on the ferry with our bikes. So, I purchased a throw-away camera and am hoping to get the developed pictures back next week. On our return drive to Grand Rapids, we visited Hardwick Pines State Park, where old-growth white pines (200-300 years old) tower over our heads. It was our first visit, and we will return. The rustic chapel adds to the park's ambiance.

On Tuesday, John and I performed a major engineering project at the Gardens. We bickered about how to do it and finally combined our best concepts, and it worked. Here is pictured the old potting shed that had sunk into the dirt and rotted. How to jack it up and put a better foundation under it was the issue. We purchased a 4x8 piece of treated plywood and then used some of our 4x4 posts, strung a chain around the shed, hooked it up to our Element, and inched away. It worked--though not without a few complications. John will now do the necessary repairs and wait for it to sink back into the dirt in another 10 years.

Friday, August 29, 2014


Yesterday we celebrated our anniversary as we typically do---working all day, then going to Russo's specialty market and buying all kinds of wonderful deli items to have for our picnic dinner just north of downtown at a park along the river. The day gave us a gorgeous dawn on the river and we accomplished a lot at the business, people meandering in and out for some late summer purchases, including a plywood coffin. We had been warned about that a couple of months ago, and then 2 days ago, the woman from Florida called telling us that she was visiting her folks here in West Michigan and wanted to get that matter out of the way. Her father, who is a mere 95 and has no reason to die soon, wants to be prepared for when the day comes. So we removed the items that were displayed and pulled out the shelves, dusted it off and loaded it on to their pickup. Now John will have to build another one for himself.

The previous day my long-time dream came true. Dr. Blough, who has his vet clinic next door  at the shop, called me over to tell me he plans to retire and sell his beautiful 1+ acre lot mostly lawn, small house turned into clinic and small parking lot, at a price we could afford. John said the decision was up to me. I thought for an hour or so, very mixed emotions, and decided not to pursue it. We may regret it, should some terrible neighbors move in. My reasoning was certainly not financial. It would be the best decision in that regard that we could make. The 2 lots together are far more valuable than 2 separately and when we sell we would easily double our investment. But the timing of his offer was significant, coming on the eve of our 10 years of marriage. Without being overly dramatic, this decade has been damn near perfect. If we could decide our next decade it would be more of the same, both of us loving what we do, expecting to slow down as years and maybe decades unfold. I know from experience and every instinct I have that it would be impossible to purchase the property next door without it drastically changing our lives. There is no scenario I can imagine that would simply allow us to write a check and settle the matter, and I don't want to upset this incredible marriage applecart. So, I will tell him that I'm going to pass on his giving me opportunity of first refusal, which I requested of him several years ago.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Good Week

It's been a good week, lots of people stopping by the shop, but both of us managing to get a lot of work done amid sales and people just wanting to talk. I'm making good progress on my next book and should have no difficulty making the December 31 deadline.  Last Sunday we packed the bikes in our vehicle and drove to Roselle Park near Ada, a dozen miles or so from our house. It has nice paths through a wetland and along the Grand River. Here I am taking a bit of a rest before snapping the beautiful goldenrod, bringing back memories of farm life in Wisconsin.We also had a nice evening this week with John's childhood friend Murray and his wife Lois, who came to our house for dinner, Lois bearing a beautiful bouquet she picked from her garden.

This last picture is one I took on our way to the Gardens the other day. A truck driver was taking the Beltline exit off 196 too fast. If I were a truck driver that would be me---always in too much of a hurry. Fortunately, this hurried guy wasn't hurt.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

August Gardens

Entering our house from the road
Another snap of roadside deck

John facing the road checking out our lowland garden
Our house from the river side
August on the river

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mini-vacation Up North

Sunday and Monday  provided another get-away to our favorite spot north of Petoskey at Bayview, where we stayed again at the Terrace Inn. Here are pics of the entry to the inn and one of the homes in the settlement. Also stone houses with multi-sloped roofs in a very upscale section of Charlevoix. While at Bayview we mostly biked some 30 miles all around and into Harbor Springs, where we found a beautiful Catholic Church that was open and where John played some of his favorite old hymns.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Our Kids from North Carolina

Here are Laura and Bob hiking Profile Trail in the Blue Ridge, enjoying one last vacation before school starts, Laura as always both excited and dreading her new class of fifth graders, Bob getting back into the rhythm as professor of voice in the music Department of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Deep-Sea Fisher-Lady

Here's a wonderful summer snap-shot of Melissa, Kayla's Mom, and always my dear daughter-in-law, though the marriage ended long ago.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Eye-Catching Bike Decor

Most of what we have displayed near busy Breton Road at the shop is yard art that's for sale, but we decided last week to display bikes just for fun. They are old and we were told that we could double our money, getting upwards of $30 each on Ebay for the big ones, but instead we're just having a good time with them. I recently added some new pictures to our Carlton Gardens site.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Perfect Summer Day on the West Coast

Our wonderful west coast (east coast of Lake Michigan) boasts some of the world's most beautiful sand dunes and shore lines and is less than a 40-minute drive away. We left this morning at 9:30 and walked the beach in a remote area south of Muskegon, not seeing another person for nearly an hour. A doe and her spotted twins crossed right in front of us early on and then we hiked into a wooded dune park that we'd never explored before. We drove to Grand Haven to eat our lunch, hiking with our camp chairs along a linear park next to the channel, thus avoiding the crowds on the State Park Beach. There were lots of boats in the channel and a few bikers now and then passing behind us on the trail, but otherwise we were alone eating and reading the Sunday paper. From there we went a few miles south to Rosy Mound County Parked. Here we are, having hiked the boardwalk through the dunes. We're near the bottom of the long stairway and then dozens and dozens of more steps and dune climbs before arriving at the parking lot. This evening we biked 12 miles round-trip along the river into Grand Rapids. We're getting all of our strenuous activity out of the way before the predicted high temps and humidity tomorrow.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Kayaking with River Otters

This evening we took our kayaks on the river, which is still fairly high with a strong current. We paddled upstream to the wetland and there spotted a couple of river otters that wanted to play. What fun it was. We were following them and when they surfaced they seemed to almost taunt us to get close so they could smack their tails and create a real splash. I would have enjoyed getting near enough to feel the splash, but was never closer than several yards away from them. We didn't have a camera and even if we had would not have been able to get a good pic. This one I found on the Internet.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Celebrating John's Birthday

Ironton Ferry in rates in 1884
Ironton Ferry today
Sunday was John's birthday, and the weather cooperated for a near perfect 2-day get-away. We had blue skies and temperatures in the 70s for our stay at the Terrace Inn in Bay View, 2 miles north of Petoskey.  On the way up we spotted a sign to Deadman's Hill, where we had a very interesting deep dark woodland hike. Then, as we were on the road from Boyne City to Charlevoix, we were surprised to see a sign: END of ROAD. We hadn't realized that the only way to get where we wanted to go (besides back-tracking a long way) was to take the ferry. What fun. After a 25 minute wait, we joined 3 other cars and some walkers to cross the channel on the 4-car ferry. After more meandering we made it to Bay View, a beautiful one-time Methodist campground with some 200 Victorian homes squeezed into the hills overlooking the Bay. Yesterday we biked round-trip 20+ miles up along the Bay and though some small towns. All-in-all, one of those too-good-to-be-true mini-vacations. Now we're back home to very cold mid July temps.
John in front of the Terrace Inn
One of dozes of large Victorian homes in Bay View

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Shakespeare on the River

Last week John finished this 500+ page biography of Shakespeare that came to a close too soon. Ackroyd is such a great writer and we really got a feel for the town and countryside of Stratford and London, and the acting and theatre industry, but we were disappointed to be reminded that so little is known of Shakespeare himself. The book does an incredibly commendable job of portraying him quite clearly despite the sparse material that is available, but we were hoping to the very end that some long lost diary or pack of letters would be revealed. No such luck. This book was our morning reading---a biography of H.L. Mencken, our night reading. We still have a long way to go in that book, now both morning and night.

After spending a lot of time doing some deep cleaning at the house today, we headed north toward Newaygo and the nearby Hess Lake where we met Ivan and Judy, Myra's brother and sister-in-law, for a late afternoon supper at Smuggler's Cove. We learned that Mom Kraker (John's 96-year-old mother-in-law, Ivan's mother) had fallen twice this week. We brought dinner over and ate with her Wednesday night, and this all happened after that. So, it's probably going to be a matter of moving into assisted living for her. It's tough to get old!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dr. Ike Picking A Fight

So I'm cat-sitting for Alex while she is off to Virginia Beach last week for her son's wedding. She is not only our part-time business partner but also our full-time renter, her cottage down river a dozen houses from ours. Dr. Ike is kind of skittish at first but seems to warm up to me as the week progresses. I go in 2 or 3 times a day to give him fresh food, water, catnip, and treats. So my last evening with him, he comes up alongside me and I reach down gently (so as not to scare him) to pet him. In less than a nano-second, he's got my arm, just above my wrist, in his teeth. Fortunately, he let go, and I was able to get out of the house without blood dripping on things and then walk home. After washing the wound and putting anti-biotic cream on it, I check out the Mayo Clinic Website. Right there and then I should have called my doctor. I didn't. I waited until the following evening, after the infection had spread a third of the way up to the elbow. He said if I'd called right away he would have ordered a prescription of high-dose Augmentin. But now he was insisting I go to the med center to get it. There I got the 10-day course and a tetanus shot. The infection has obviously lessened, but the wound hurts, and the anti-biotic gives me stomach aches and fatigue. Lesson learned. NEVER pet a cat you can't fully trust. He looks so innocent in this pic.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

A Year After Flood Cleanup

 This morning we left the house at 8:35, temperature barely over sixty, and biked on the White Pine trail through Rockford and on up to 14 Mile Road, just over 25 miles round-trip. We got back home and read the Sunday paper and then Carlton, Kayla, and Ariel came over for dinner out by the river on the picnic table. After we ate, Kayla and Ariel kayaked, while Carlton, John and I hiked up river along the trail to watch them out in the water.  When we got home I took pics of the kayakers, our front deck with all the bright red geraniums, and the wonderful wild flower garden bordering our property. A year ago we were in flood clean-up mode, not taking much time for fun or making our yard look good. What a difference a year makes, and not just for us but for the whole neighborhood.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

A Graduate and Proud Grandparents

Here's our handsome grandson, Mitch Bylsma, who graduated this week from Calvin Christian High School. He is an honors graduate who received a scholarship to Grand Valley State University and athletic awards as well. Sister Ashley managed to photo bomb this snap, but it shows how proud she is, as well. It was a fun night, sitting in the audience with his folks, siblings, another grandmother, and a great-grandmother. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Phlox and Frogs at the Gardens

Today was a good sales day at our shop. One couple came back twice, purchasing more than a thousand dollars worth of yard art alone. But sales is only one aspect of what we do. Dawn, another first-timer guest, took pictures of our wonderful loud croaking frogs in the pond, and earlier I had taken pics of our beautiful pink phlox. People love to come here and just read a book or pray in the chapel or simply walk the trails to the shops and sculpture garden---as well as the gnome village. We are not under pressure to make a living at this business. It's actually more of a hobby.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Kayla's Big Graduation Week

This was Kayla's big week. Wednesday night we had a party for her at our house on the river. Perfect weather for 3 sets of grandparents and a bunch of friends. John and Carlton manned the grills, and the proud parents pose for a picture with her favorite ice-cream cake. Her graduation ceremony from East Kentwood High School was Thursday night. It was a long night on metal bleachers---over 500 graduates, but lots of fun. As the photo shows, Carlton is a proud Dad, also some slightly proud grandparents.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Discussions on Death

John and I very naturally speak of our upcoming deaths---hopefully not too soon. It occurred to me the other day that upon my death, Grand Rapids would be a long way for my siblings to travel on short notice, should I predecease them. We are spread out from Boston to Seattle. So I told John that (were I to predecease him) I would like a small private graveside service here in Grand Rapids, where my plot is located (next to his, and those of his two dearly departed wives, Ruth and Myra), and then have a family memorial in Wisconsin for any of my siblings or nieces and nephews who would like to come. He would arrange it in nice weather and it would double as a little family reunion. I would want anyone present to toss wild flowers (or wildflower wreathes) into the river at our favorite family bridge. There would, of course, be opportunity for anyone to leave a message on a funeral service memory website. I would have the same kind of memorial for John at the river for any of my relatives who would like to meet me there rather than coming to Grand Rapids at the time of his death. Who knows maybe my sibs will get wind of this idea and all make similar plans. It’s time to think about such things now that we’re ranging in age from 74 down to almost 60.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Two Senior Proms

We have two senior grandkids enjoying proms this spring: Mitch, with sunglasses, and his first-date-friend Haley, and Kayla in the coral gown with her serious boyfriend, Ariel.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Momentary Sunrise

I had no more than snapped this picture this morning when the sky clouded over threatening more rain. We're always watching the local forecast fearing another flood and feeling sad about others especially in the South this week where there have been many tornado fatalities and now flooding. We work in the yard at home and at the Gardens between the rains realizing there is nothing we can do about this very late spring. Yesterday we closed shop a half hour early due to the high winds and threatening sky.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dynamic Women of the Bible

Today the first copy of this, my 21st book, came in the mail. It's always exciting to have a book in hand for the first time and to see up close and personal what a fine job Baker Publishing did on the cover and interior design. It was great fun writing the book---testing the limits with how much I could toy with the sparse biographies of these biblical figures. Lot's wife and daughters are examples. Mom turned into a pillar of salt for her sin of looking back---over-kill I suggest, and the daughters, believe it or not, were spared. Amazing. They seduced (and become pregnant by) their drunken father. The Bible is a most interesting volume to say the least. The book is meant for a Bible study or book group, with questions at the end of each chapter, some more than slightly risqué.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hooked on Biographies

We just finished Robert Massie's Catherine the Great, some 600 pages of fascinating history and personal stories. What an incredible woman she was, despite all her faults and failures. She was a friend of Voltaire and many other notable figures of her age---was liberal minded in many ways, though was never willing to go so far as to liberate the serfs from their absolutely miserable lives. The entire book has shed light on what is going on today with Putin threatening to annex the Ukraine as he recently did Crimea. John read every morning and evening and it still took us several weeks to plow through. We're now reading a biography of Henry Ward Beecher, 19th-century American preacher and abolitionist, who is known for the biggest sex scandals of the era.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Warm Easter Sunday

We went to church this morning, sat near the back and were soon joined by Kayla and her boyfriend Ariel. Then before the service began Carlton and his buddy Robert showed up. We all came back to the house for a picnic dinner and then out for a hike. It was a perfect day, sunny and warm, though Robert was missing his wife and kids in El Paso. He was stranded this weekend in Michigan and will be flying out East before returning home next Sunday. John's sporting a new shirt---didn't even bother to take the tag in the armpit off!