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Rave: Hoffmaster State Park

We finished our 2014 camping season with a trip to Hoffmaster State Park on Lake Michigan between Grand Haven and Muskegon.

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We had beautiful weather for our fall camp. It was warm and sunny. We also enjoyed a serious element of solitude and privacy. We camped in one of the loops that offered electricity. Camping in late-September, early-October can be unpredictable in terms of temperatures. We figured if we had extreme lows, we would best have power for our other comforts. Actually, the overnight lows only dropped to the mid-fifties or so. While it was pretty brisk in the mornings, sleeping was very comfortable. Further, there were only two other campsites in use on our loop. A loop of about 40 campsites. And our “neighbors” were parked pretty far away. We chose to camp on a couple weekdays, which definitely allowed for choice spot availability, clean bathrooms, and some serious peace and quiet.

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Hoffmaster was a great choice for hiking. They offered three separate trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Since they all passed near the beach and dunes, there was a climb and descent on each trail. And some sand. And some woods. The park was divided by a creek, so there was opportunity for drop-fishing too. Dune climbing took some work and, more than once, my legs felt pretty rubbery. But, we were able to catch some beautiful sunsets over the Lake and Duck enjoyed some time on the beach.

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The sites were pretty rustic. Our campsite was in the midst of an oak stand. It was great because it provided the perfect balance of shade and warmth. However, fall does just that; “fall.” We were a couple weeks ahead of the leaves but, Oh. My. Acorns. We had to spend a lot of time under our awning because the falling acorns were bombing us. I swear, the squirrels were trying to chase us out by pelting us with acorns. Seriously. I got a welt from one that hit me in the back of the neck. Both the Den and our truck suffered from the noisy bombardment. We made Duck wear her winter hat so she would have some protection. Fortunately, it was her “Let It Go” hat…

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And, Queen Elsa serenaded the campground quite thoroughly.

We all enjoyed the trip and it was a great way to close out our camping season. It is important to note, however, that Hoffmaster is usually under alcohol restrictions during the high season. After Labor Day, the restrictions are lifted. Thus, it would not be an option for us during the peak times. Camping sans beer? Haha. That’s like camping without baked beans. Never. Now, to winterize the Den for next year. It’s bumming me out. Winter is coming…

Hoffmaster State Park, Muskegon, MI- 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Here are some additional recent campground reviews:

**I would like to note that we try to support the State Park system (regardless of their intolerance toward a wee tippling) because: 1. It is generally less expensive. With a $14 annual Park Passport, you can enter the parks for free. And, depending on the amenities, campsites usually range from around $14 per night to about $28 per night. In the high season, you can usually save between $10 to $20 per night by avoiding the franchised or private campgrounds. 2. Also, it has been our experience, the campgrounds are often situated in a more secluded locale. Less traffic = more privacy, more wildlife, more serenity. 3. Pure Michigan, duh.**

Newaygo State Park, Newaygo, MI- 4 out of 5 stars.
Very rustic and woodsy. Nice, private sites. Clean pit pots (vault toilets) and hand pump wells. Disc golf course. Access to Hardy Dam Pond (which is pretty big water, surprisingly). Small sandy, gradual beach area. Personal note: When we went, we stayed in a tent over a Memorial weekend. It was freezing. Seriously. Coldest camp ever. Newaygo itself is, um, “quaint.” We took a backwoods route to the park and passed a neighborhood that could kindly be referred to as “Little Meth Town.” Ok. Probably not. But, there were paradoxically many trailers and many BMWs. Something fishy, methinks… We really enjoyed the wooded sites and the lack of amenities. There is something to be said for properly “roughing it.” No alcohol restrictions!

Van Buren State Park, South Haven, MI- 3 out of 5 stars.
Meh. A nice beach area on Lake Michigan that’s an easy walk from the campground. But, during our stay, there was some concern about nuclear run-off in the water. No biggie… NOT. The campsites were pretty open and pretty small, lacking in privacy. The bathroom facilities offered showers but needed updating. That said, South Haven is absolutely lovely and totally makes the stay worthwhile. No alcohol restrictions!

Allendale KOA, Allendale, MI- 3.5 out of 5 stars. See my previous review, here. No alcohol restrictions!

Hungry Horse, Dorr, MI- 3 out of 5 stars. Pool, laundry, game room, bouncy thing, playgrounds, nice camp store. Some meadow areas, some wooded areas. Electric and water. The decor was a wee outdated, but kitschy. They offered nightly movies in the Gazebo. Beer Bear really liked this campground, but I thought it was sort of a “concrete campground.” They did have a few nice trails around the property but I mostly felt that it was an outdoor motel more than anything. Definitely a family-friendly choice and very near Grand Rapids while remaining off-the-beaten-path. Not much to Dorr though. No alcohol restrictions!

Huh… “No alcohol restrictions!” features prominently as a characteristic of our choices. Weird. Chug-a-lug.

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Rave: Geocaching

Geocaching. Essentially, it can be summed up by this: We use multi-million dollar satellite technology to find Tupperware in the woods. And, it’s awesome.

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I had first looked into it last year during one of our camping trips, but we neglected it in favor of drinking and eating at the campsite. (Shocker). In any case, Duck was pretty young and mayhaps wouldn’t have enjoyed traipsing through the woods with us.

Fast forward to this summer: Duck and I were trying to make the most of our time outside. Lots of nature walks, lots of playgrounds, lots of parks. On a whim, I decided to download a geocaching app onto my smartphone to add an extra element onto our outdoor exploration. I told Ducky that we were going on a treasure hunt. We had a nearby cache to go check out. The beginner-friendly app made it really easy to locate. Having some idea of what to expect, I had brought along some cache trinkets to exchange at the site. Once I found the “treasure,” I let Duck choose one of the cache gifts and I signed the log book. We deposited our cache gift and replaced the stash as we had found it. Easy Peasy.

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Our first deposit. Yes, that’s a tiny plastic Chippendale. Best future cache find ever?

After our first find, we began checking the app for nearby caches more consistently. They are everywhere! It’s been a lot of fun trying to locate them, whatever they may be: ammo cases, peanut butter jars, mason jars, camo cans. Generally, since we are still amateurs, we try to find caches that are relatively large, relatively easy, and relatively easy terrain. We have not found any nano caches yet. These are usually hidden in “fake” screws, rocks, etc. and they are teeny-tiny! We tried one cache at a local park with a difficult terrain but both Beer Bear and I just ended up scraped and bruised, sore and tired, and dirty, dirty, dirty. Most likely, we will avoid difficult terrain for awhile. Another difficulty in searching is the avoidance of “muggles,” regular folk who can catch you exchanging at a stash. You don’t want the cache to be inadvertently discovered and, consequently, disabled, dismantled, or destroyed.

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While I know someone will enjoy our tiny, plastic Chippendale as a true cache treasure, there has never been a more fitting find than the duck for the Duck.

Thankfully, Beer Bear has a knack for finding the caches. Usually the app will reliably put us within 15-20 feet of the cache, but we have often had to use hints and the online entry-log for valuable info. For instance, we have often searched and searched the “big tree at the fork” or whatever, only to find that someone before us moved the cache to a better hide at the “little tree below the fork.” It’s useful to be flexible and take your time.

It’s been exciting learning more about the activity and getting involved with the community of fellow-cachers. Here, in West Michigan, there is quite a presence and we discover new caches regularly. We even found our first pathtag recently on a trail. A pathtag is a tradeable and trackable coin that geocachers can personalize to leave behind. Finding our first one was pretty exciting for me. Because I am a dork. Whatever.

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See? It’s my awesome pathtag. We are practically pros now.

Mostly, it’s been fun getting out and doing something different with Duck. She gets excited whenever we announce that we are going “treasure-hunting.” We always let her choose the “prize” from the stash. She even gets to keep them in her “collection,” a little door cubby in my car. Except for the pathtag. That is mine, obviously.

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Duck picks the prize. She’s super selective. Once, she overlooked a set of walkie-talkies for a marble… Um, whatever.

If you have the opportunity and the desire, try to find a geocache near you. You can download the free app to get started. We have enjoyed adding another activity to our life outdoors and we are planning to hide a few caches of our own. If you ever find a bearpack trinket, you know where it came from…. Go outside and play!

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Rave: Whitecaps Baseball

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME!

The Detroit Tigers are in the post-season! I love baseball. On almost any given day, from April to October, you can catch a Tigers’ game on the radio. Baseball is the easiest game to follow without actually watching, thus making the activity far more portable. Weekends on the lake, weekends camping, nothing is complete without some Tiger Baseball in the background.

And, we love some Tiger Baseball! Growing up, it was an integral part of summer. My bachelorette party was held at a game. When we lived in Royal Oak, before our move to GR, we were mere minutes from Comerica park. Our first date as parents was to a spring game. Duck’s first months coincided with baseball season, I have fond memories of listening to games whilst snuggling with my new babe. Beer Bear’s very own doppelgänger is a former Tiger, Magglio Ordoñez. (For real, the resemblance is so uncanny, it inspired a radio-show contest).

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It has been a sad fact that, since moving to West Michigan, we haven’t been to a single game. That said, we have had the opportunity to support our local team, the West Michigan Whitecaps. It has been great. They are a minor-league team for the Tigers, so we maintain franchise affiliation. Further, the tickets are cheaper, the venue is smaller, and the entire event is a family-oriented affair.

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Last year, we took Ducky to her first baseball game ever. It was relatively inexpensive at $10 for two adult lawn seats. The ballpark was easily navigated, even with a wobbly toddler, and there were no restrictions in what you could bring in. (Ok, no outside alcohol, but we’ve been to stadiums that limit the size of your purse. Hard to haul all you need in a diaper bag then). Throughout the inning breaks, there was constant activity for the kids. Races, games, mascot fun. Afterward, we enjoyed a great fireworks display.

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This season, we attended a couple of themed-games. First, Running Bear joined Duck and I for Star Wars Night. In addition to the regular fun, we met with several intergalactic fellows. Duckers also got her very own light saber. And, she fell in love with the mascots. And, of course, another fireworks finale.

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#hansolohomerun #inagalaxyfarfarawaygame #usetheforceout #theempirestrikesout

Some weeks later, I took Duck to a special mom-daughter date: Princess night. Oh. My. God. It was awesome. The ballpark was positively filled with princesses! Little girls came in their royal finery, several Disney princesses roamed the concessions, we received tiaras and wands at the door. They offered “fantasy” photos complete with dress-up clothes and exotic backdrops. A cosmetics and hairdressing team was performing makeovers. And, fireworks.

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#takemeouttotheballroomgame #partofyourworldseries #letitgowhitecaps #iwalkedwithyouonceuponadream

I am so thankful to have a great local option for some family fun, franks, and fireworks. We are looking forward to getting to know our other minor league teams, the Grand Rapids Griffins and NBA-Development team, the Drive.

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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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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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Rave: Standale Memorial Day Parade

Memorial Day! The unofficial beginning of summer! And, there’s nothing like a Michigan summer. Michiganders approach summer with incomparable zeal; after our winter(s), it’s a justified course of action.

Michigan loves water. Double the peninsula, double the fun. In fact, in my family, if you aren’t in the water on/by Memorial Day, it’s grounds for familial abandonment. It doesn’t matter if the water is cold. Get. In. It. Many Michiganders flocked to the Great Lakes’ shores to celebrate. We opted to avoid the inevitable mayhem and traffic and stuck around Grand Rapids.

Beer Bear and I hauled the Duck to the local beach at Millennium Park for some sun, sand, and swimming fun. Millennium Park is one of the Kent County parks and offers a small beach area with concessions, boat rentals, and a splash pad. The park is peppered with trails and boardwalks that interconnect with our local trail network. I recently discovered a union of trails that link throughout our area. I’m definitely looking forward to exploring them! One of the trailheads is right near our home! Check out the trail map here.

Last year, our Duck could not handle the sand. She hated it. Haaaaaaaated it. She seems to have gotten past that aversion…

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We had a great time and I highly recommend Millennium Park as a great, local day for the family. We have been there many times and it has never been very busy. A definite bonus when trying to wrangle an energetic toddler!

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We continued our summer celebrations with backyard games, barbecuing, bonfiring, and beer.

It was great.

While we enjoy the long-weekend as a commencement of the summer festivities, we cannot forget the reason we observe the holiday.

To that end, we went to our Standale/Walker Memorial Day Parade. And, it was fabulous! First, it was within easy walking-distance of our home. Second, it began at a completely-reasonable noon, meaning we could sleep in and enjoy a leisurely morning. We had missed it in previous years, as we had gone camping for the weekend. I’m so glad we were able to attend.

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The parade began with a flyover. I’m constantly awestruck by the talent and bravery of pilots. Their technical abilities aside, they flaunt their bravery not only in the face of an enemy but also in opposition to the preeminent force of gravity. In general, I think soldiering is a special calling. Additionally, I think piloting takes instinct and abandon. Many, many thanks to our gals and guys in the skies!

The floats rode by shortly after the flyover. Veterans from several wars were represented. Active duty personnel were on hand. Junior Marines and Junior ROTC members walked. Walker is home to an army reserve base; so family members and the community at large really turned up en masse. It was a spectacular show of appreciation and overwhelming patriotic pride.

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As a parent, Memorial Day is an incredibly important lesson in gratitude. As every veteran’s float passed, we reinforced the idea that we needed to thank them. I’m not sure how much comprehension she is really capable of, but we did get Duckers to quack some “thank-yous” as soldiers rolled by.

My only complaint, and it can be applied universally to these parades, is the politics. Ugh. I hate the inappropriate piggy-backing of an election year. Candidates posing for photo ops with men and women in uniform. It just seems so disingenuous.

It is with great appreciation that we thank the brave men and women who have and do keep our land free.

We thank the men and women who have given their lives in order to gain and uphold the freedoms of this great nation. These fallen heroes deserve enormous and sincerest thanks for their sacrifices for our protections.

We thank the men and women who continue to serve in order to maintain our liberty. An enviable courage exists in every man and every woman who dons the uniform of red, white, and blue.

We thank the mother, fathers, husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, friends who await homecomings with pride and worry. Those who live difficult and unconventional lives in order to support our freedoms vicariously.

We thank the many loved ones who have been left in grief to return home with only folded-flags.

God bless you all. ‘Merica.
With immeasurable love and gratitude, The Bear Pack

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Rave: Grand Rapids Public Museum

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I get it. Another long while. Oops. Soooooo sowwwwwwwy.

One of my favorite destinations here in Grand Rapids is the Public Museum. It is absolutely fabulous and has so much to offer for all ages. It may be my favorite spot for a fun family adventure.

The museum features three floors of remarkable exhibits. (They even offer treasure hunts at the front desk as a special challenge to seasoned visitors). The collection is very wide and very varied and somewhat arranged alphabetically. “A is for Automobiles. F is for Fossil. Q is for Quilt.” And so on. While the pure plethora of artifacts and articles and animals and all else is actually somewhat daunting, this arrangement does help to quell any overwhelming sensory undertaking.

Especially appealing to me, is an underlying focus on local and regional history and information. The entrance leads to the first exhibit: “A for Automobiles.” First, there is a small car for kids to climb on. This immediately introduces the family-friendly atmosphere that suffuses the entire museum. The walls are absolutely papered with interesting factoids, pictures, etc. There is an early car model on display. The automotive showcase really centers on Detroit’s (and Michigan’s) unique positions in the origin and evolution of the car. Again, this Michi-centro focus is peppered throughout the exhibits.

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That’s a Duck driving. Meltdown #1: Wrassling her out of the car. And I do mean “wrassling.”

Further long the first floor, there are more alphabetized collections including electricity, fossils, and hats, to name a few. Each display is carefully collected and thoughtfully positioned. Informative bubbles are throughout. One can also find (in addition to articles, artifacts, and blurbs) hands-on experiments and audio-visual experiences. They definitely heighten the interactive element… which is great for keeping little hands and little minds entertained.

The first floor also has a replicated “Old Town Grand Rapids” complete with shops, a railroad station, and a working printing press. This walk-thru represents a genuine street segment of late-19th century Grand Rapids. Another highlight for the kiddos: feed a quarter into the slot and enjoy a concert from the restored pianola. Meltdown #2: Escaping the allure of vintage lights, sounds, and a high-wheeler bicycle.

The ground floor also includes a beautifully-restored carousel overlooking the river. Join the family for a ride and appreciate the one-of-a-kind views of our fine cityscape. Meltdown #3: Leaving the carousel. BLARGH.

Up to the second floor, where the alphabetized collection continues. “M is for Musical Instruments.” Just FYI. Meltdown #4: Only being able to play with designated devices.

This floor also contains the entrance to the Roger Chaffee Planetarium. (Recently renovated and reopened)! Explore the stars at one of the daily shows. Even if you miss a designated show time, you will have fun checking out the related homage to space and astronaut exploration.

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Another unique exhibit on this floor is the furniture showcase. Grand Rapids was built on the furniture industry. A working steam engine and lathe illustrate our technological history. It’s another nice highlight of local tradition. There is also a special exhibit of Civil War memorabilia with a special focus on Michigan’s role in the war. Meltdown #5: Anything with real historical value. This might have been Beer Bear’s meltdown…

Currently, the second floor also features an amazing Lego exhibit. Landmark skyscrapers and other architectural wonders are replicated with use of these common building blocks. Yet another necessary stop for little ones as they too can delve into creative building with an assortment of available Lego fun. Meltdown #6: Legos.

The third and final floor. (For all intents and purposes anyway. There is a fourth but it is mostly administrative). This floor is the temporary home to the large-scale traveling exhibits. Last year, they showed a Titanic exhibit. On our last visit(s), we explored Dinosaurs Unearthed; complete with life size animatronics. (And, it was awesome. Totally. Friggin’. Awesome). We are waiting with bated breath for the next special show: Pirates! Arrrrr!

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Meltdown #7: Dinosaurs.

“Z is for Zoology” here. Wander through a taxidermy showcase, several replica habitats, life-size dioramas, and even a treehouse and puppet theater for the kidlets. Meltdowns #8, 9, and 10: The treehouse is too tall. The puppet theater is being used. And, drawers of bugs. In that order. Local flora and fauna are on display as you explore native wildlife sights, sounds, and textures. This animal-centered area blends seamlessly with Anishinabek: an exhibit highlighting the local Native American history.

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Bears. Duh.

There is soooooo much here to see. I’ve barely scratched the surface. Each visit, I find something new. It’s really appealing as a family visit site. Duckers has plenty to see and do- mitigating the likelihood of a complete nuclear meltdown. Even Beer Bear enjoys a trip there… and he is not a “museum” kind-of-guy. Not. At. All. See Meltdown #5.

Have a look-see at the museum’s website and DEFINITELY plan a visit when you are in the area!

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