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!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Snowy Tax Day

For most people April 15 is just another day. For me, with the complications of a business and a too-busy tax lady (who knows our general situation inside and out), it means sleepless nights and then filing extensions for state and federal governments with checks for both 2013 and 2014 for estimated tax payments. I just wrote the 4 checks and John is off getting the coupons and getting them mailed. We woke up this morning to more than two inches of snow and the temperature all day to hover in the 30s. I remember so well this week 18 years ago, having just bought the property for the business and trying to get major excavation work done with inspectors poking around, and at the same time getting ready for family to fly in from Rhode Island to Seattle for Carlton's April 20 wedding. My life was a mess, but it was a very early beautiful spring and the trees were all leafed out. Now I judge every spring by the size of the leaves on that date. This year we don't even have buds. Above is the river back-lit by the sunset. Below is today's snowfall at the Gardens. 











Monday, March 31, 2014

March Going out on Top---at 63 degrees

It's been a long cold month, today being the warmest day, I think, since last October. The back-water of the river continues to lap at the road near flood stage, which is sort of the norm this time of year, though the Sunday paper reminded us that last year at this time (2 weeks before the 100-year flood) we were several feet below what we are now. I've been nursing a bad cold which hasn't helped my spirits much, but every day that I write another 1000 words or thereabouts, I'm that much closer to finishing the 1st draft of my next book. John has been writing as well, or more accurately, arranging. Recently an acquaintance asked if he would arrange some music for a small brass ensemble, using arrangements he had previously done for a much larger ensemble. He was excited to do it, got it all done, and then lost his work. What a bummer! Yesterday after he went to church (while I was home with my cough), he drove to the Gardens, hoping he might have left the music there. Nothing. So on his way home, he stopped by the recycling complex to do some dumpster diving, since he'd dropped stuff off late in the week. Turns out they were locked up on Sunday. So he slithered under an iron gate, no more than 12 inches from the pavement----ended up finding nothing. We looked some more around the house when he returned, and then I suggested he go into deep, deep meditation---way deep---to try to come up with the last moment he had his hands on his music. He did, and that led him to his file drawer and a folder for our taxes. Good news. So, it's not been such a bad month after all.

Friday, March 21, 2014

NOAA's Flood Graph's Good News

This morning's graph shows the difference a day can make, and there is a big sigh of relief that the danger of an ice flood is behind us. Long range prediction is for cold weather but surely not cold enough to cover the river with a thick layer of ice.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ice Jam Broken

Our little flood has come and gone---for the time being. The ice jam broke this early this afternoon and the water is down 2 feet from where it was at it's high late last night. We were preparing to leave the shop early and get home to pack up some things while we could still get our car in. Then I talked with Alex at the cottage and she said she was looking out in her yard and the water was starting to recede. Good news, but we're still on edge. The rains of spring haven't even started.

Ice Jam Flood?

This morning we woke up to an open river, no ice as far as we could see. That seemed very strange since it was iced-over with big chunks sticking up when we'd gone to bed. Within an hour after we were up, though, we started seeing huge ice sheets, logs, limbs, trees and a tire going by at what seemed like about 3 miles an hour. We knew immediately that such things don't simply make their way out to Lake Michigan and that an ice jam was probably inevitable. I'm at the business right now; John just called from home saying the road is still dry. But the NOAA website certainly gives the impression that we're right in the middle of an ice flood with the river rising rapidly. According to the prediction, we'll have almost a foot and a half of water over the road by the time we get home this afternoon. We've got our waders in the car, and I've warned Alex to be ready to get out of the cottage in a hurry with Dr. Ike (her cat).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ice Jams and the Fear of Flooding

Once again we're on flood alert, this time with a flash flood warning due to ice jams. Here is what we see out in front of our house this evening. It's beautiful but we are fully aware of the terrible power of the river.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Natchez Trace Parkway and Barren River Lodge

After last night in a cheap hotel, we are treating ourselves to a room at the Barren River State Park Lodge in southern Kentucky, about 100 miles NE of Nashville, $80/night. We enjoyed driving nearly 300 miles today on the Natchez Trace and stopped several times for short hikes, then came here to the lodge on a whim, never imagining that there would be a room available on a Saturday night. Tomorrow morning we will make a stop to pick up 20 or so home-made bird houses for Carlton Gardens from one of our Kentucky suppliers. Here are some photos: John amid rock formations along the Trace, John facing the steep incline on the river side of our lodge, and a sunset view outside the screen door of our room balcony.








Friday, March 14, 2014

Good Bye Mississippi

We're in Jackson, Mississippi this evening after spending a wonderful 4 days in Biloxi in a nice motel across the road from the beech. Here's John doing a crossword on a sunny morning, the blue waters of the Gulf in the background. This morning we left early for New Orleans and spent some time in the French Quarter and then on to the City Park where we enjoyed hiking some trails and strolling through the sculpture garden. My selfie is actually a cube of mirror. I thought I looked pretty good alongside the sculptured lady.


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

If Churches Paid Taxes. . . . .


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Peaceable Kingdom

We went to church this morning and then to Applebee's for lunch with Sarah, John and the kids to celebrate Ashley's birthday. Then back home where I hunkered down to write. As I was looking up some information on Margaret Fell Fox, "Mother of the Quakers," I came across a book with a copy of a wonderful painting on the cover. Turns out it was painted by an American, Edward Hicks in 1833. Here is what I discovered about this Quaker preacher:

Trained as a sign, coach, and ornamental painter, Hicks painted over a hundred versions of his now-famous Peaceable Kingdom between 1820 and his death. His artistic endeavors provided modest support for his activities as a Quaker preacher in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The theme of this painting, drawn from chapter 11 of Isaiah, was undoubtedly attractive to Hicks and fellow Quakers not only for its appealing imagery but also for its message of peace: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them." 

In my quest for Hick's work, I happened on some other delightful paintings. Discovering such artwork is a wonderful way to waste time on the computer.
Jon Rappleye, "Nightwood Bloom"
Leo Rawlings, "The Peaceable Kingdom"

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Happy Birthday, George!

Since listening to 1776 on audiobooks, we have taken a greater interest in the Father of our country, and this morning while reading our daily fix of "The Writer's Almanac" were reminded again of Washington's love for Sally Fairfax, the beautiful young wife of a Virginia plantation owner. After he became engaged to Martha, he wrote to Sally: "Misconstrue not my meaning, 'tis obvious; doubt it not, nor expose it. The world has no business to know the object of my love, declared in this manner to you when I want to conceal it."  It is probably incorrect to assume, however, that Sally would be crowned Miss Virginia if Martha had been in the competition. I found this very interesting perspective online:


Our image of the mother of our country, vague and insubstantial as it is, is drawn from portraits painted after her death showing a frumpy, dumpy, plump old lady, a fussy jumble of needlework in her lap, wearing what could pass for a shower cap with pink sponge rollers underneath.  But today, 250 years after Martha and George tied the knot, a handful of historians are seeking to revamp the former first lady’s fusty image, using the few surviving records of things she wrote, asking forensic anthropologists to do a computerized age-regression portrait of her in her mid-20s and, perhaps most importantly, displaying for the first time in decades the avant-garde deep purple silk high heels studded with silver sequins that she wore on her wedding day.