Sunday, July 5, 2015

Summer Opportunities in a Small Town

By Gail Kittleson

Summer brings all sorts of opportunities in a small town:

Good old lemonade stands and a kind neighbor,

 Viewing baby goats at the county fair,

Making friends with Charolais calves--such velvety noses!

Exploring intriguing 4-H projects, like this renovated car-turned chicken coop,

Having one's face painted at a street fair,

And splitting thirty-six fat-fried mini-donuts covered with cinnamon sugar. That's between TWO children…it's all about making memories. Oh, now that I think about it, Grandpa sneaked one, too. 

I've been thinking about how we often don't know what we actually did until after we do it. That's the way it often is with me. Reflection brings half the ecstasy of an experience - or the agony.

And I suppose that's the way it is with these everyday summertime experiences. Who knows what the grandkids will remember in twenty years? Looking back at my childhood, the most insignificant events arise. For example, the time my brother and I buried a dead baby chick in a Hershey's cocoa can.

Why would I recall that? Or the times around the dinner table when we'd get to laughing and not be able to stop, even though we saw dad starting to fume because he wanted to hear the market reports on the radio.

Memory has a fickleness about it sometimes. We don't have a clue, really. A couple of weeks ago, at my memoir-writing workshop for the Cedar Falls Writers' Workshop, participants seemed to agree . . . at times, we simply have to take what surfaces and go with it.

So it is with midsummer--lemonade stands, county fairs, and sweet grandchildren. Let's sink down into each experience and take it for all it's worth!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Finally on the Water!

It took a while for summer to finally arrive, but it's here! The sun, the warmth, the windows open twenty-four hours a day! And, when you live in northern Michigan, it also means the water.

For years I drove by the water without fully enjoying it. I wanted to enjoy it, but I'm not much of a beach goer. I can only sit on the sand for so long before I get antsy. I don't mind swimming, but it can take a while for Lake Michigan to warm up (and by "warm," I mean above 60 degrees). In the last few years, however, I've discovered boats.

I've know for years that I like being on the water. I spent five seasons working on the S.S. Badger in Ludington, traveling across Lake Michigan at least 250 times. I loved that job, and one of the big reasons was because I got to work on a ship. When I wasn't working, I loved canoeing with friends down the Pere Marquette river. After graduating college, however, I had "grow up," so I took a job, moved away, and stared at the water as I drove by.

A few years ago, my dad decided he wanted to try kayaking. We'd never done it before, but something about my mountain-man husband inspired my dad, so we rented the kayaks and took off. With the exception of losing feeling in my butt about 3/4 of the way through the ride, I fell in love. It took a few years, but the hubs and I finally got out own kayaks last summer.

As if that wasn't enough fun, some friends of ours also bought a sea-going vessel last year. They purchased a nice sized speed boat - large enough for day trips and over night visits while still being small enough for a couple of newbie sailors to manage.

After our last trip on the water last year (on a sunny October morning), I've been counting down the days until I could get back on the water. The hubs and I agreed to wait until June - the water was still too cold in May, and we didn't want to risk tipping (a woman and her son took kayaks out for the first time this May and ended up in the hospital with hypothermia - it's a very real danger around here). So we waited and waited and waited ....

And then it was June! And it was warm, and boats launched all across the northern lower peninsula and we knew we could do it! And we did. And it was wonderful. And we can't wait to get back out there again!

(See how I made you wait to look at pictures this time? That how I felt waiting to get back in my kayak...)
First time in the speed boat!
The hubs enjoying the water.

It doesn't compare to how beautiful it really is...

Our little friends waiting for daddy to really get moving.

Me and the hubs. This trip was actually after the kayak adventure (thus the long hair), but sometimes Blogger is picky about uploading photos.

First trip of 2015!

Warm enough to kayak, but too cold to take off the sweatshirt.

Beautiful Elk Lake.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Do You Know The Way. . .

No, not to San Jose. My husband is mapping out a road trip that will take us from Ohio through Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and then Nebraska, and Iowa on our way back home.

Yes, we are aiming to see several national parks out west: Yellowstone and Glacier and a few national monuments including Custer's and Mount Rushmore. There's also a nike site out there I have been informed that we are taking an extra day to see.

We are still looking for things to see along the way. I did convince him to take a little time to see the Mall of America. Except for a couple of layovers in airports, we've not explored Wisconsin and Minnesota and all I've ever seen of Nebraska and Iowa are pictures.

So, I thought I would take an opportunity to pick the minds of you who are Midwesterners and live in these areas to tell me what we should take some time to see. We'll be sticking close to highways for the drive. While we retirees are supposed to have all the time in the world there are limits to our patience in spending too much time on the road.

Our travel time will be September mostly so if you know of any good events happening those would be great to hear about as well. And of course the trip will all be documented on my blog and with a few posts here as well. After all I'm going to get to see a good part of the Midwest we all
call home.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Wall Drug or Bust!

by Connie Cortright

Have you ever driven west on Interstate 90 toward Rapid City, South Dakota? If you have, you know what I'm talking about. For hundreds of miles east and west of Wall, South Dakota you'll see billboards talking about Wall Drug, urging people to stop for a free glass of ice water. Today it's a tourist spot with 20,000 visitors daily that includes a mall where you can buy anything Western that you can imagine, eat lunch, have the kids play in the water park and even visit a T-Rex if you'd like - and of course, have a free glass of ice water.

When we were driving to Spokane to see our son last summr, we stopped at Wall Drug to check it out. After driving west for hours, we needed to get out and stretch our legs and other necessary activities. My usual curious mind about things historical wondered how this tourist attraction got started.

Back in 1931 a man bought the local drug store in Wall, a tiny town - only 328 people - isolated on the western part of South Dakota. I'm wondering why anyone would think that was a good idea in the first place. Can't be too many people that would need a pharmacist in that neck of the woods - er, prairie.

Ted Hustead and his wife Dorothy worked at his new business for several years, not making much headway. Of course, the Depression didn't help anything, except to expose them to the extra traffic traveling past their store because of all the people moving west to find a better life. But it did no good if people just drove on past.

One hot July day in 1936 Dorothy came up with a solution to their problem-how to get travelers to stop in their town and visit Wall Drug Store. She decided the one thing that would get those travelers to visit them would be a glass of free ice water. Since they had lots of ice and free water it wouldn't cost them anything either.

Her husband made up several road signs, painting a few words on each sign: "Get a soda... Get root beer... Turn next corner... Just as near... To highway 16 & 14... Free Ice Water...Wall Drug". Before he even returned to the store after posting the signs, his wife was already busy handing out the free glasses of ice water. Of course, some people purchased ice cream cones or other things since they were stopped anyway. Business has never stopped since then.

Very soon their drug store expanded to a cafe and then to a shopping center and tourist stop. On our visit there I purchased a nice pair of leather sandals so their merchandise isn't all gimmicky. When you're driving on Interstate 90, it's worth taking a break and checking it out. Have fun!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Move to the Music

I was raised in a culture that labeled dancing as the first leap down the road to perdition. Roller skating parties were OK. Square dancing was tolerated. Traditional ballet might escape censure. Most other body movement in time to music was frowned upon.
It is laudable to discourage lewd behavior and avoid situations that might encourage immorality. Like every other good thing, dance can be—and is—misused by fallen humanity.
But oh, how I love the beauty of motion married to music! In our zeal shun unvirtuous behavior, some of us may have thrown the ebullient, frolicking baby out with the stained bathwater.

These days, I know that dance is a gift, to be embraced, respected and guarded like all other good gifts. When friends or relatives invite me to dance recitals, I jump at the chance to see children move with delight to music. And I take photos. Lots of photos.
The stage manager. Every recital needs one.
Daddies get involved in hair and makeup
Some final practice
flowers for ballerinas
Flying Irish dance feet
Silhouette in grace 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Parade of Homes

By Robin Steinweg

It’s one of our favorite anniversary dates, my husband and I. We’ve gone to Madison, Wisconsin’s Parade of Homes almost every year since we married. Often we go out to eat afterward. This date can last two weeks, since there are often 3-6 sites. Thirty bucks is pretty good for a two-week stay-cation!

Have you ever drawn floor plans for fun? We used to do that, dreaming of owning our own home. Tom’s were precise, neat, drawing-board renderings of practical ranch-styles. Always with a straight shot into the basement, no difficult twists or turns trying to get a piano down the stairs. Mine were more fanciful. They’d have several wings and roughly 10,000 square feet to accommodate my imagination: a log cabin area, a Tudor-style wing, Cape Cod portion, Prairie-style wing, A-frame with loft, a tower room, and a stable for the horses. Lots of  horses, Arabians. Probably a tunnel leading to the stable. Always a hidden passage and secret doors. A tower library along the lines of a book I read as a pre-teen girl, The Velvet Room by Zelpha Snyder.

As fun as our dream-home floor plans were, the Parade of Homes puts the finishing touch on them. So we traipse through dozens of houses, approving some, wrinkling noses at others.

Curved staircase--a must

Secret doorway, long, low walkspace to secret spot 

Bucky Badger Ice Rail--keep your iced tea icy!
UW's Bucky Badger

Sunroom--let there be LOTS of light!

A sweater dryer--drawers of screens!!! Love it.

Happy Anniversary #38
 It’s grown-up pretend time at the Parade of Homes!

Thursday, June 25, 2015


I'm not much for video games. I tried Call of Duty and ended up dying in the first two seconds. Apparently it's a bad idea to put a gun in my hand, even if it is an animated one. Even way back when dinosaurs roamed the face of the earth, PacMan seemed way too high-tech for me. But lo and behold, que the angelic harp music, I've found an interactive game that's super fun to play even if I don't grasp all the angles of it . . . and I haven't gotten killed yet.

INGRESS is a location-based game, meaning you can play it pretty much anywhere around the world. Okay, so maybe out in the middle of nowhere it wouldn't be as fun, I'll grant you that. It was originally devised as an Android phone game, but it's expanded to be able to be used on Apples as well. Basically, you're on a mission to seek and destroy portals, but don't worry, there's no blood involved.

At first I thought my husband was crazy for wasting his time on this, but then slowly, I got sucked into it. He likes it for the technical wizardry, but I like it for something completely different . . . the portals are all located at points of historic or artistic value. That means we can play the same game and enjoy it for completely different reasons. Brilliant!

The other benefit of the game is that you need to be physically near the portals in order to interact, which requires some kind of movement on your part. Sure, you could be a slacker and drive around from place to place, but we took out our bikes and pedal ourselves here and there. Great exercise!

The game started in 2012, and by 2015, there are over 7 million players involved. Looking for an activity to do with your teens? This is the game for you!


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