Rave: ARTPRIZE

It’s that time again here in Grand Rapids! Art Prize!

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One of my early 2014 favorites found at the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art, Bio Interloper by Crystal Wagner

Ok. There are literally hordes of visitors. Expect to find the buses, hotels, stores, streets running amok with people. Weekend trips downtown can be positively overwhelming.

But… The art. The experience. It’s absolutely unique. The city is littered with installations, paintings, sculptures, performances, and more. I don’t consider myself highbrow, cultured, or any other form of pompous windbaggery. I just enjoy a good wander. And so, with innumerable sights and destinations, Art Prize is the highlight of the Grand Rapids calendar.

I cannot recommend this weeks-long event enough.

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Some favorites from previous years.

So, here’s the deal:
Essentially, hundreds of artists make agreements with local venues to display art installations during a three-week period. These installations can be anything from traditional sculpture and painting to contemporary performance and interactive pieces. The venues can be anywhere: restaurants, stores, hotels, parks, museums, the river. Anywhere. When the event begins, visitors become voters. Registering is easily done with the Art Prize smartphone app. Simply download and activate once you’re in the “grid” downtown GR. Each work of art is numbered with a five-digit code. Vote throughout the event for your favorite pieces. At the end, the winning artist is awarded a $200,000 prize. There are also prizes awarded to semi-finalists and special prizes awarded by the “jury” of proper critics. But, the coolest part for me is that we participate in the decision of “what makes great art.”

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Another 2014 favorite, The Chimes They Are A Changin by Jenny Heissenhuber, on Oakes Street

In my experience, a couple things might make your experience a little easier:
1. The weekends are very, very busy. Some of the venues are practically sardine-cans. I suggest avoiding the popular venues on the weekends. The BOB, the museums, the Meijer Gardens to name a few. If you can, plan your visit during the week when you can have more time and space to yourself.
2. Moms and Dads of young kids: the above suggestion applies to you even more so. The first time we went, I felt my stroller being pulled in a different direction, simply as a matter of the crowd. It was terrifying for me. If you must attend during one of the overcrowded times, consider baby-wearing or using a leash. I know, I know. A leash? But, think of it as a third hand on your kiddo. Not a creepy restraint.
3. Another feature they offer that tends to make things easier: our local bus service, the Rapid, offers free rides to anyone who purchases the Art Prize armbands. For $5, you get 2 armbands so you and a guest can ride the buses fare-free during the event. With our award-winning bus system, you can park outside the hubbub and get a free ride in or out.
4. When possible, use the mobile app to register and vote. It’s much easier than going online or waiting in line at one of the registration sites. The only downside is that you would have to pay $2 to get the official map and guide, but I haven’t found it incredibly helpful yet anyway.
5. Divide your time and space. There is simply no way to see it all. But, you can get more out of your time if you divide the venues geographically. If you want to see the “must-see” venues, you will need to go to the GRAM, the KCAD, the UICA, the BOB, the GRPM,and the Gerald Ford. All those abbreviations aside, we have found our favorites in previous years in other locales. You can create an experience of your own. My family prefers the outdoor pieces, so we spend more of our time exploring the streets and parks. In fact, I’ve never seen the winning pieces before they were announced because we haven’t bothered to go in many of the major venues.
6. Bring refreshments. Water, snacks, etc. It’s a lot of walking. And, these early weeks of fall can be deceptively warm. Especially on the city streets. It’s not as though refreshments aren’t available on every street corner, but save some money for a proper meal and bring snacks and drinks for your meandering.
7. Speaking of proper meals, plan to eat during your tour. Grand Rapids is home to great restaurants and breweries that double as venues during the event. Stop in to Stella’s Lounge for a burger, San Chez Bistro for Tapas, Founder’s Brewery for a beer. Eat, drink, be merry.

Check out the Art Prize website for a more thorough look at the event.

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An entry of my own. Duck in the Wild. Obvi.

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Summer Summary, Part 2

So… After a (very) brief respite at home, Duck and I traveled back out to the east-side.

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Ducks. Duh.

The first day, we went to the Fowlerville Fair. It’s a pretty typical county fair with a carnival, midway, etc. It’s always a great choice for us because they have a giant 4-H area devoted to livestock. And, you may know, we can’t pass on “aminals.” It was pretty fun chasing Duckers through tents of horses, cows, pigs, rabbits, fowl, and more. We must have heard her croon “Old MacDonald” about a thousand times. She sure loves her “aminals.” We arrived to the Fair prior to the games and rides opening, but, fortunately, the face-painter was available.

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A face tattoo. I’m so proud. #miketyson

That weekend, we also celebrated Running Bear’s 30th birthday. She had a pretty fabulous party with a Pure Michigan theme. (Whoever threw that party must be pretty amazing). The venue (just some guy’s house) had a trampoline. Of course, Ducky could be found there at any given time throughout the party. She was a jumping machine… not that this led to a reasonable bedtime or anything. (I swear, she’s secretly mainlining caffeine when we aren’t looking or something). I really hope Running Bear had a great time and felt the celebration and love. Only kidding. I know she did. She told me. Over. And over. And over. Before she passed out on the stoop. Chug-a-lug, Running Bear. Chug-a-lug.

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Pure Michigan is all about consumerism.

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Da Bears. (Some of us, ahem, in our Pure Michigan-themed costumes. See if you can find Aretha Franklin, Madonna, and Ted Nugent. Anyone else was a spoilsport.

After a little more boating and fishing and lake time, we hauled back to GR with my ex-pat sister, Hermana Bear, and my brother-in-law, Bear Más Exotico. We packed up the camper and trekked to another nearby campground, Hungry Horse in Dorr, MI. It was a beautiful couple days for camping. The campground was pretty similar to the KOA I mentioned earlier, here. Pool, games, camp store, etc. It was more woodsy at Hungry Horse. Pros: felt more like traditional camping, allowed for more privacy, better scenery, better hiking. Cons: bugs, bugs, bugs. (I will update with a complete review of the campground soon).

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Those are designated camping jammies. They are pretty incredible.

A couple days camping and then a 5-hour drive to Harrisville on northern Lake Huron for our annual family reunion (and birthplace of the bear pack!) Again, we enjoyed great weather, great company, and great food as we played waterside over the weekend.

Return to Grand Rapids for a couple busy days of preparations: shopping, packing, etc. for the following weekend: our very first GAGME. Yes, we bears decided to begin our own traveling, family reunion. GAG being “Garbers’ Annual Gathering.” We will change the meaning to ME correspondingly with our destination. This trip, ME referred to a “Monumental Event” as we invaded Washington DC. It. Was. Awesome. I promise to write an entry dedicated to our experience. I loved DC. I loved our “gathering.” I had a great time and hope we will keep the new tradition alive next year with a new destination and a new ME.

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Note the fabulous matching t-shirts? Boom.

Oh, yeah, we drove. Ugh. So, after a 10-hour trip back to Michigan, we swung through Lansing to pick up Beer Bear’s sister. She flew into town to spend a week with us from her home in Florida. It was a pretty great week. She love Duckers and definitely took the lead with her, a nice reprieve from almost constant parenting. Beer Bear and I even went on a date downtown! (I hope to offer some personal dining and exploring reviews of our great downtown in a future post).

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Date night = rationalizing name for event where parents can drink sans judgement.

We also went to Boulder Ridge Animal Safari in Alto during Sunny Bear’s stay with us. It is, by far, the best thing I have done since we moved out to West Michigan. I will “RAVE” about it soon because it was fabulous. It is incredibly interactive and is a great environment to engage with exotic and domestic animals. Or, “aminals.” Whatever.

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What did you do today? Oh, that’s nice. Me? I pet a kangaroo.

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I just liked this photo. Time to get a DSLR! (Only kidding).

Finally, after Sunny Bear’s departure, Beer Bear, Duckers, and I hauled out to Grand Haven for a proper beach day. The weather was cool and cloudy, but that was to our advantage because the crowds were slim. We had a nice day in the sand and a nice lunch in town.

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Sand? Sand. Sand! SAND! SAAAAAAAAAAAAAND!!! (It’s everywhere).

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Now, we are home again. And, I am worn out. Completely. Of course, Ducky is just staring at me with a suggestive gleam: “What are we going to do next, mom?!?”

Die. Probably die.

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Summer Summary, Part 1

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I. Am. Exhausted.

My sister and brother-in-law arrived just over a month ago from Spain. They flew into Chicago and rode the mega-bus into Grand Rapids. It was relatively cheap transportation and afforded the option for an initial arrival in Chicago, which tends to be a less-expensive option than Detroit in international flights. We spent a couple of “relaxed” days in Grand Rapids. The only notable event was a minor brewery exploration downtown as we introduced them to Founders’ Taproom and Hopcat Brewery: a pair of proper, Beer City institutions that shouldn’t be missed.

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Having a drink and a reunion at Founders’.

The weekend following their arrival, we headed to Dundee, home to the “other” Cabelas. We enjoyed a great groupon deal for a hotel-stay and passes to a waterpark. It was fun, but Duckers was pretty intimidated by the constant spraying and dump buckets. She did figure out the lazy river pretty quickly. (Fortunate; since I discovered that I hate water slides). We also wandered to downtown Dundee which was pretty cute and offered a fabulous Mexican meal. (Also, fortunate; good food and one-dollar margaritas? Yes, please).

We then trekked to my parents’ home, north of Ann Arbor. They live on a lake and it gets plenty of use throughout the summer months. This weekend, of course, centered on family and we visited and played with the bearpack. We paid a visit to my nonna, who lives in an home for the elderly in a memory-care unit. My nonna suffers from dementia. She is in pretty amazing physical health for her age, but it has been years since she recognized me as her granddaughter. This visit, in particular, stood out as another stage in her mental decline as she readily switched between English, Italian, and gibberish. Our previous visit to see her was in the spring and, while her faculties were not intact by any means, she seemed considerably better at the time. Even so, she always seems happy to see us and the duck is always a nice treat for the residents. She is no longer the Nonnie I grew up with, but she is my only surviving grandparent. She is one of Ducky’s only two great-grandparents. (Her great-grandfather is 97(!) and still living in the Phillipines). The legacy alone is important to me but I also cherish the simple moments of proximity. Some people seem to have a healing touch, even if they don’t (or can’t) know it.

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A view from the original den.

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Four generations of hands. Or bear paws. Whatever.

We also swung by the Plymouth Art Festival. It was a pretty great turnout of vendors and had far better prices than the neighboring Ann Arbor Art Festival. We scooped up another Tony from MrSogs: a stuffed monster and one of my favorites in Ducky’s immense toy menagerie. This Tony Rex joins perennial favorites, Tony Tony and Tony Mac. I also found some cool pottery and a lawn tchotchke. Add my unique finds to some good food and good company and it made for a pretty swell day.

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Tony Mac, Tony Rex, Tony Tony, and Penguin. Check out MrSogs on etsy.

Onto a couple of days back in GR and readying myself for our impending girls’ trip. I wanted to spend some special time with my little girly, so we spent some time at the library and the park and the mall… and, maybe, at the ice cream shoppe. We also discovered geocaching (which I will discuss more in a later post). It’s been a pretty great activity and has added a little more adventure to our walks and hikes.

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Special time before I abandoned her to her dad. (Bwahaha).

On Friday, I got on a plane (in itself, a minor miracle) with my mom and sisters. We had a FABULOUS weekend in NYC. I had never been before and I found the city simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming. No celebrity sightings. No green space. Times Square was smaller than I imagined. Sooooo many people. Surprisingly little diversity in said-people. Of course, our stay was super short and limited us to Manhattan (with a brief jaunt to Staten Island and Brooklyn). We did the major sites. (My favorite was the Statue). We did some shopping. We corpsed. (It’s a thing). I hope to write a full post about the trip soon. Altogether, I had a wonderful time and a ridiculous amount of fun. Even though New York wasn’t my cup o’ tea, my company was fantastic! The bearpack definitely took a bite out of the Big Apple. Of course, I missed Beer Bear and my duck. A (thankfully) brief flight to Detroit and a quick (likely, illegally-so) drive to GR and I was home. If only temporarily…

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Gotham bears.

(Hey, I said it was exhausting. More soon. Stay tuned).

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Happy Campering: The Interior

I have finished all of the major updates to our new camper. I posted about the exterior already, here. Custom paint job = amaze-balls. Since then, I have finished painting the brown areas (the step and the hitch). They are a burgundy/maroon color. To match my (new) car and our truck. Because those match. Yup. My husband and I are matchies. Blech. With the coordinating accent color, the den really fits in with the rest of our fleet. I would still like to add another smaller constellation to the back. I was thinking, Ursa Minor. Otherwise, I’m very satisfied.

The interior took some time. Particularly because I have absolutely no talent at sewing, crafting, reupholstering, etc. It’s amazing what you can do with a little pin-spiration and a hot glue gun. The major renovation to the interior was painting and recovering the existing pads. I also tore out the curtain rods and replaced them. I sewed new curtains. I recovered the accent panels. And, I crafted, crafted, crafted. Seriously. I have callouses on my fingers from needles, burns on my hands from hot glue, etc.

Unfortunately, I lost the pictures I had taken of the original interior. But, a couple remain…
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As you can see, the interior is finished with faux-wood laminate cabinetry. I actually really liked this aspect of the design and we have maintained it. I did not, however, like the existing wallpaper- a dated, floral design. The curtains were nice but didn’t speak to my aesthetic. They had to go too. I would have really liked the pattern on the padding if it were slightly more vintage-looking. As it was, it reminded me too much of a couch we had in the nineties. Finally, I wanted to create some permanent camper fixtures. Pictures, crafts, etc. but also things that would match my chief design and still vibe with the camping-den theme. I also had to employ my little camper here. She’s a much better crafter than me. And so, the results…

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I covered the pads with painter’s canvas from the hardware store. It was a cheap and effective way to reupholster them. I still plan on spraying the canvas with a waterproofing agent to prevent stains. I also sewed coordinating pillow covers and curtains. I love the look of a bunting and used some scrap fabric and ribbon to create a neat window trim. I had received a coupon for a free 16 x 20 photo print, so I used that to create the bear poster with some custom photo-editing. I had Duckers color some empty frames from IKEA for the wall. I modge-podged a map to foam board to keep a record of the campgrounds we visit. I even tried my hand at cross-stitching.

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Strictly speaking, the green “Eat, Sleep, Camp” sign and the patriotic doll in the picture above were gifts. I did not make them. But, they are part of the permanent decor. Also, the blue “Camper Sweet Camper” sign and the hearts were gifted with the camper from my aunt. Again, we are eternally grateful! I did paint the hearts to match my scheme. I will take pictures of the complete set-up on our next adventure. I couldn’t be happier with our progress so far. I am a very happy camper.

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Recent Readery

Last post, I had read 15 of my 40-book goal. I have added another 10 to that total. I have started another few books, but put them down for one reason or another. I will return to them soon. A brief sample of my most-recent reads:

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. 3.5 out of 5 stars. I enjoyed this story. I enjoyed the style of writing. I enjoyed the premise. I enjoyed the setting. I enjoyed the characters. I enjoyed the ending. But, I didn’t “loooooove” it. All of the aspects I “enjoyed” could also be simplified more for my tastes. I liked the characters but they were awfully complex and numerous. I liked the ending: it was a well-earned tragic climax. But the resolution failed for me. And so on with the other aspects of the book.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. 3 out of 5 stars. I love Lahiri. She is a brilliant author. Her writing is incredibly thoughtful and well-set. But, I prefer her short stories. She excels when she is succinct. Her long narratives are excessive in setting, character, emotion. While her short stories successfully and surprisingly contain volumes, her novels lead too many lives, too many places, and cannot maintain my attention.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. 4 out of 5 stars. First, this novel has an incredibly unique narration. The protagonist is flawed but likable. As apocalyptic-literature goes, this may be one of my favorites. In addition to an inventive narrative style, the plot is interesting. The setting and imagery are realistic. I often feel that the same “end times” story has been told. This one is new, brilliantly told, and, (dare I say?) optimistic.

What Comes Next by John Katzenbach. 2 out of 5 stars. I liked the protagonist. I liked the idea. I wanted to relax with a “fluff” read. But, this was ultimately a disappointment for me. The plot had some brief unexpected kinks but was predictable nonetheless. Meh.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. 3 out of 5 stars. I have been reading quite a bit of children’s and young adult literature lately. This story was well-told and offered some new fantastical qualities. Evidently, the narrative was drawn based on a selection of old photos that Riggs had found. I find this a fascinating aspect of his story-telling. I appreciate an inspired imagination and I look forward to reading further with Riggs and his peculiars.

Dear Life by Alice Munro. 4 out of 5 stars. I love a short story. In particular, Munro’s “Gravel” and “Amundsen” were favorites. Her stories are somehow stories without much plot. It’s what is left out that makes her stories fascinating. She is casting a reel, not trawling. Much more adeptly too. Furthermore, it’s Canada. Tootally agreeable, eh?

Oh, yeah…
Allegiant by Veronica Roth. 0 out of 5 stars. Dumb, dumb, dumb. That is all.

I am pretty satisfied with where I stand in my Readery Challenges:

I am over halfway through my goal in total hopeful reading at 25 of 40.

However, I have still not touched any of the books in my original stack of hopeful-reads, as seen here. Oops.

I have added another couple “daubs” to my book bingo.

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The Inquisitr list only has a couple remaining entries:
1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
2. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
3. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
4. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
7. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
8. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay by Michael Chabon
9. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
10. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
11. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
12. A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin
13. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
14. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
15. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Finally, Never Let Me Go counts as one of my five “classics.” Four more to go…

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Happy Campering and (Surprise) Rave: Allendale KOA

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Where have I been? Well, unlike many folks, summer is my busy season. While other parents relish in the relative calm that ensues post-school-sports-dance-etc., I have a toddler. In Michigan. A state coming off its worst winter in my lifetime. Thus, we are outside. All. The. Time.

Playground. Hiking. Beach. Splash pad. Backyard. Front yard. And repeat. It’s exhausting. I actually look forward to rainy days so I can laze on the couch guilt-free. My dad once told me that fresh air was a guaranteed method to wipe-out kids. Lies. My child feeds off the outdoors. Seriously. Her energy level is practically exponential lately: in that it feeds off itself. Literally, she seems to gain battery-power as a result of expending battery-power. She can run circles around me. It’s a very vicious cycle. So, we are outside. More space = more chase, but I’m dwelling on the memory of this past winter and the equally exhausting but still completely different fuel for frustration. Hey, I’ve lost ten pounds in the Duck-marathon, so there’s that.

We not only enjoy daily adventures outside, we are happy campers. Give me a tent, some firewood, some ‘mallows, a percolator, and excessive amounts of beer. We will have fun. I have always preferred a pretty primitive approach to camping: tent and inevitable argument whilst erecting said-tent. (“That’s not where that goes.” “I KNOW WHERE IT GOES!”) Pit-pots/ vault toilets. There’s nothing like the smell of disinfectant and the fear that a black widow spider is going to bite you on the keester. Hand-pumped well water. The coldest, freshest water ever. And, the resulting bicep-tricep muscle soreness. And, finding the elusive balance between pumping up-and-down and being able to release and hold the bucket under the spigot to catch the quickly-waning spray before having to resort to pumping again. Finally, a very flexible approach to bathing, hygiene, and washing of any kind. A quick whore’s bath in the lake or river? Yes, please. Ah, the joys of rustic camping.

Well, until now. Remember when I attested to the fact that I am not spoiled? I lied. My aunt (the bestest, most awesomest, wonderfullest, absolutely fabulousest person ever), gave us her camper. She and my uncle were looking to upgrade and upsize. They found a new camper but rather than selling or trading their old one, generously decided to share it with us, thinking that we might enjoy it; a value more than the monetary one they could reap from the sale. Because we are cool campers. And spoiled rotten. And incredibly grateful.

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Check out that awesome camper, yeah!!!

Turns out: I hate sleeping on the ground in a cold and damp tent with a toddler’s feet in my face. I would much rather be in a bed in an insulated camper with a toddler’s feet in my face. (Even at home, the feet-in-face is non-negotiable). I also like electricity. I am ashamed to admit this. I always “poo-poohed” people and their “luxuries” while camping. How is it camping??? But, it’s nice to have a fan. And lights. And a fridge. And a charger. And properly running water??? A toilet. And a sink. And clean dishes. And hand-washing. And even a hot shower. I draw the line at cable hook-ups and wi-fi, but you get the picture: Bring on the amenities!!

So, we are outside this summer. And, we are enjoying our wonderful gift from my aunt, Baby Grizzly Bear and my uncle, Larr-Bear. (They are some damn great bears). Part of our adventure has been putting our stamp on the new-to-us camper. It is an older model Sunline Travel Trailer. Fortunately, my aunt and uncle have maintained the crap out of it, so it’s in excellent shape. Not requiring any kind of investment in the trailer itself, freed up a bit of a budget to make some personal modifications then. Here are some After pictures of the exterior of the camper, appropriately dubbed: The Den… Get it???

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We spent a couple weeks on our updates before taking The Den on an inaugural camp for Fourth of July weekend. Beer Bear had to work during the day, so we just ended up camping at a KOA site about 20 minutes from Grand Rapids in Allendale. My previous opinion of KOA campgrounds was disagreeable: canned-sardine sites, no tree cover, no quiet, too many features. While some of that remains true, I am not so superior as to overlook the conveniences a campground like this can offer: an on-site camp store, electricity and water taps, a game room, putt-putt golf, showers, a pool, fishing, horseshoes, tetherball, a baseball diamond, ladderball, playgrounds, a dog run, hayrides, even a dunk tank. Many, many activities to busy a toddler. I remain loyal to rustic-camping (in a camper now, of course), but we did use some of the available amenities during our KOA stay. And, I would recommend the Allendale campground, just a short jaunt from downtown GR.

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I look forward to completing some more projects that I have in mind for the den. Ugh, my Pinterest page is inundated. (Once completed, I will update Before and After photos of the interior). We also have another couple nearby camps planned for this summer.

My sister from Spain is also due to arrive in Michigan for the summer soon. We have a waterpark weekend planned. I also have a girls’ trip to NYC planned in a couple weeks. We also have a family vacation planned for DC a little after that. We also have our annual reunion Up North. We also have daily excursions to the local parks, farms, beaches, markets, playgrounds, libraries, etc.

I’m so tired. No wonder bears hibernate through winter. Sheesh.

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A Story for Ducky: Chapter Two (or: How the Blog Got Its Name)

Yes, the title is for a second chapter. Yes, there is a first. But, this was the difficult one so I had to get it down before I chickened out…

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess bear and her handsome bear prince. But, the princess bear was sad. You see: They lived in a far away land. Far and away from all of their loved ones. This land was warm and sunny and surrounded by water, but they were alone. The kingdom was enormous and, to see family bears, it was two-days travel north with a good horse and plenty of rations. They didn’t have enough horsepower or enough rations to make the journey very often. Consequently, the princess bear saw her family only once or twice each year. A family she loved dearly. And so, she was sad.
The handsome bear prince was frustrated. Not at the princess, no. He was upset that he couldn’t make his princess happy by himself. He tried everything he could to make her happy on his own. And, while she loved him dearly for all his efforts, they failed. One by one. The princess remained sad and alone.
Until one day. The bear prince understood that his princess suffered from loneliness. He had done his best to satisfy her need for company, but his duties called him away for much of the time. After thoughtful and serious contemplation, they decided to call on the stork and ask for a bear cub. They had wanted a family of their own for awhile and it seemed as good a time as any to begin one.
They called the stork. But he didn’t answer. And didn’t answer. And didn’t answer some more. The princess bear’s spirits had been lifted at the thoughts of a cub joining her. Every time they called the stork and he ignored their call; the princess felt her temporary happiness crumbling slowly away. Like a sandcastle left to dry. In that warm, sunny, far away land.
The bear prince knew he had to do something. He decided that as much as he loved his warm, sunny paradise, it debilitated his wife with sadness. With great personal sacrifice, he decided to move them back to the part of the kingdom where her family reigned. It was cold and snowy and sometimes miserable there, but he knew that he could never be truly happy if he could not share that happiness with his love.
In the spring, they made their journey north. As they packed up their belongings and said good-bye to the few friends they had made, the stork finally returned their call. The princess bear couldn’t believe her luck. Yes, it had taken frustrating years of disappointment and loneliness, but she was returning to her family… and bringing with her an incredible surprise.
All through summer, the bears celebrated. They celebrated their homecoming. They celebrated the summer season. Most of all, they celebrated the impending arrival of their bear cub. The princess’ father, the good King Walrus, christened the cub: Bop. The entire bearpack anxiously awaited Bop’s arrival as he was due in the coming winter.
But, during the fall, things began to change. Things always change in the fall. The princess bear always loved autumn and it’s colorful, bountiful majesty. But, the princess, too, began to change. She felt strangely and did not understand why.
On a beautiful day in the fall, the stork called the bear princess and told her he had made a mistake. Her round stomach plummeted, thinking that the stork was going to tell her that she was no longer getting her cub. But, Bop was coming, the stork explained. He had gotten the timing wrong though. It was a mistake. A huge, regrettable, but imminent mistake. The princess did not understand right away and she held onto her hope. She thought that if she could just hold on long enough, Bop would come at the right time and she would love him forever. She was right about that: she would love him forever.
The bearpack surrounded the prince and princess and showered them with love and hope. The bear prince and his princess had never experienced real loss. They were incredibly innocent to real pain. They were able to stay incredibly hopeful until the end.
Because Bop came. It was still fall, not winter. It was too early. The prince and the princess and her mother, the bear queen, joined together to say goodbye. They said goodbye to their tiny, baby bear cub. A boy. They said goodbye to the wonderfully-imagined lives that they had planned for their family. They said goodbye to their unfettered experience. They were no longer free from pain. They grieved immeasurably and exhaustingly and eternally.
The princess bear bedded down for winter early. Her heart broken, she just wanted to sleep. She wanted to hibernate away her pain. She just wanted to roar. She wanted to scream away her pain. She had a lifetime of plans for her Bop. She was suddenly a mother bear without her cub. Their meeting was so brief. She did not get enough time.
And so the bearpack surrounded them once again. They showered them with more love and hope and even their own feelings of regret and sadness. They held the bears and fed the bears and comforted the grieving prince and princess.
After some time, the prince and princess bear began to feel better. The other bears had given them so much love and compassion and laughter, it was hard not to feel better. Slowly, very, very slowly, the bear prince and his princess began to laugh with them too. And slowly, very, very, slowly the hurt began to hurt less and less.
Because the princess bear discovered she was never really alone. Even when she was far away to the south, she always had her bears. Her bear prince. Her sister bears. Her brother bears. Her mother bear and King Walrus. Her aunt bears and uncle bears and cousin bears and friend bears. Her whole bear family. Because there is a kind of love that never fades, never tires, ignores distance and time. This kind of love can pull souls from shadows and ignite sparks of joy and laughter. And, the bear princess knew this. True that she was loved like this, but also she was loving like this. Her love transcended time and space and found its way over land and water and through the clouds all the way to heaven. For time eternal. To her Bop.

And that is what I mean when I say grinandbearpack. It is an expression of incredible gratitude to my family. When I faced the toughest of times, it was the bearpack that brought me back to life.

This story is for Ducky, so that she might one day understand just how much she means to me. This story is for Bop, so that he might know that he is always and forever remembered and loved. This story is for Beer Bear, so that he might see: he is the only person in the world with whom I could have done it, survived. This story is for my bearpack, so that they might know just how grateful I am. Ducky. Bop. Beer Bear. The bearpack. Laughter. Words. They are the loves of my life.

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Beer Bear, Bop, and I

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