Monday, January 31, 2011

A Wasted Camping Experience

Sometimes you come home from a weekend getaway, just a simple camping trip, and ask yourself, "why did I do that?" It's not that you had an exceptionally bad time, you even had a few laughs, but in retrospect you just wonder what you did wrong.

Such was a weekend of camping at Starette Lake state forest campground with my sister Judy and my two kids in July 2000. As we pulled into camp, we dutifully read the signs saying something like, "find any open site and set up camp; your camp host will be around to register you." Sounded simple enough. So we found our site, set up camp, and, like usual, I was able to back the pop-up camper into the angled spot only with the help of my son Nick. It was wooded and seemed peaceful enough. It had been overcast earlier, but the forecast promised no rain.

Our neighbors across the road were pulling up camp about that time. They had to head home early for some reason, and confessed to us that they had never paid the camping fee. The camp host had never been around. Surely the camp host would become more of a presence with the weekend now upon us. That wasn't the case.

The next morning, after only a few hours of sleep thanks to partying neighbors to the west and a whip-poor-will at four am, we took a short ride around to other campgrounds within the state forest around Minocqua. We thought maybe we would find a camp host at one of these who could register us. Nope, no luck with that.

But of course when we got back to camp, there was a note telling us to check in at Razorback campground. When we went there, again, no camp host. About that time we decided that we wouldn’t worry about being law abiding citizens. If we camped for free for the weekend, no one could say that we hadn’t tried.

As we were pulling out, though, a state forest truck was pulling in and we were able to flag the guy down. Finally we were registered and legal. Or so we thought.

As we were heading home on Sunday, with a sticker in our windshield, we thought we would drive through one more state forest campground to check it out as another prospect for a different camping trip. We got busted there by an angry state forest guy (who even had flashing lights on his truck) because the sticker the guy from the day before gave us had only been good for that one day and not the whole weekend. Sorry, I am not going back to any of those places.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Be the palomino

One time, when I was a kid, a friend of mine took me to a rodeo. All afternoon we watched the horses and their riders compete in barrel races, roping, steer wrestling and the like. One particular horse, a golden palomino, seemed to be winning the majority of the events.

At the end of the afternoon, the names of the winning cowboys and their horses were announced. Each winning pair would walk to the podium to accept their ribbon. All of the horses were still prancing and full of fire when their riders would lead them to the winners’ circles. All of the horses that is except for the palomino.

Whenever they announced the name of the cowboy riding the palomino, the young man would amble to the stand, his hat in one hand, the reins of his horse in the other. His whole demeanor said, “Aw, shucks, another ribbon?” The horse would just trail behind him, swinging his lowered head from side to side, lifting his hooves just barely enough to clear the ground.

Was this really the same horse who had run so many heats? Who jumped out the fastest when asked to? Who could chase down any steer before it even got started? Had he burned himself up and was now just tired? I don’t think that was it.

For this blond horse with the pure white mane and tail it wasn’t about the prize. The glory came from the competition, from the job he was called to do. It wasn’t about being recognized. He was in it for the fun of it.

When we have a task to do, we should do the very best we can. But not so that we will be recognized in the end. The pleasure should come as we do the job we were asked to do and in knowing we gave it our all.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:22-24 (New International Version, ©2011)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Another Big Waterfall

The illness that I left home with on July 2, 2000, continued its hold on me into the fifth day of our family vacation to the Eastern UP. My coughing would not stop, but I dutifully crawled into the car each day and directed Himey as to where to drive to next.

That morning after Independence Day, we drove along Lake Superior, visiting the Iroquois Lighthouse and the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. I have already written about the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (see

Another place I know I already wrote about is Tahquamenon Falls. Still very cool, but too big for me. Give me some little trickle of a waterfall that I can walk right up to, stick my feet in the water, and that makes me much happier. I also rather have a waterfall all to myself.

By the time we checked into our hotel that night, I just crawled into bed and let Himey and the kids go out to eat without me. We made it home by four the next afternoon. And naturally I immediately started feeling better. Figures. I got healthy just in time to go back to work.

Monday, January 24, 2011

How I almost died almost in Canada

Because we are so weird, on our family vacation in 2000, we went to Canada on the fourth of July. It just ended up that way. We really didn’t have any plan or any idea of what to do in Canada, but since we were right there, we thought we should cross the border to say we were there. Everything pretty much looked the same, so after driving a few miles, we turned around and went back to the American Sault Ste Marie.

We visited the Locks, because that is the obligatory thing to do. Actually we all thought they were pretty interesting. These huge iron ore freighters being raised so many feet by the water beneath was amazing.

Somewhere along the line we found out that the city’s Fourth of July parade would be traipsing right past our hotel, so we returned to our night’s lodging in plenty of time. The hotel was on quite a steep sloop above the street. Himey and I wanted to watch from outside our room, and the kids seemed to be ok with that. Then every time a float or other vehicle passed by from which candy was being flung, we coaxed Val and Nick into getting some and bringing it back up to us. I think Nick only fell for it once. Val, however, threw her little body down that hill and dragged herself back up countless times.

Bedtime came and everyone was ready for it, even though the kids were candied up.

From the upper respiratory infection I was suffering, I was still coughing like a maniac, and sometime in the night I reached for a cough drop in an attempt to abate the misery. Bad idea.

I was coughing so hard that I aspirated that cough drop into my throat and choked on it. I couldn’t cough, I couldn’t breathe. In the dark hotel room, I started seeing spots in front of my eyes. I didn’t panic, but I was worried about what my husband would do when he found my limp body in the bed next to him. I have always been in love with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but I sure never planned on dying there.

Just before I was about to pass out, the cough drop had dissolved enough that air started to move into my lungs. I watched HImey’s even breathing for a few minutes. Oh, what we take for granted. I laid down and slept til sunrise.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What is so great about Mackinac Island?

Perhaps it was just my state of health that July of 2000, perhaps my frame of mind, but after visiting Mackinac Island, I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. Why do people continue to flock to this island where everything is so expensive, the scenery is not any better than other places on the Great Lakes and the old buildings are just as old elsewhere?

We took the early morning ferry and didn’t have much more of a plan than that. We wandered aimlessly for a while, checking out the touristy shops, before we decided to take the horse-drawn wagon tour of the island. It was a good way to get around, but the driver was kind of a jerk. We finally got off at the Fort where we watched guys dressed in period costumes practicing their drills. Then we found some ice cream, which we ate in the shade on the hillside of a park. That was probably my best memory.

Of course, it is a plus that there is no motorized transportation on the island. The horses seemed to be ok, but perhaps there should be a limit on the number of bicycles that are allowed.

It just all was so touristy and so crowded. Maybe at a different time of year, or when it wasn’t so hot out, or when I didn’t have untreated walking pneumonia. I probably should go back sometime and take it all in from a different perspective. Give the Island another chance. Eat some fudge.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Touring Michigan's Past

In June of 2000, I took a new position working in Family Practice at the clinic in Tomahawk. Finally, back in town, less than ten minute drive to work each day. The other bonus, Friday afternoons off. I didn’t even ask for it; they just said this is the deal. Twist my arm to say yes to that.

The only down side was that for the first time in many years, I was dealing daily with coughing kids with runny noses, their parents with sinus infections, the elderly with bronchitis. I thought I had a fairly good immune system. And I think that now I do, but that first month working with all these sick people, it took its toll.

July 2, as we were packing the car to leave on our family vacation to the eastern part of Michigan’s UP, I was sicker than I ever remember being. I just wanted a tapper in the side of the head to relieve the pressure, a little feed bag like they put on horses, only tie it under my nose to catch the drainage. I won’t share the details of the fact that it was also “that time of the month”. I was not happy, but I was determined to make the best of it. After all I had made all those reservations, all those plans. I would not be thwarted.

Our first stop was the Iron Mine in Norway, Michigan. The tour, into the cool, damp mine, wearing a yellow slicker which had already been worn by countless tourists, was just what I needed to heal my illness. I am also claustrophobic, so the tiny spaces and darkness of the mine also helped immensely. What really matters, though, is that the kids, ages 14 and 10 at the time, thought it was great.

Another two hours down the road and we arrived at Fayette State Park, just past Garden on Big Bay De Noc.

In the late 1800’s, Fayette was one of the Upper Peninsula's most productive iron-smelting operations. The town consisted of two blast furnaces, a large dock and several charcoal kilns and grew to a population of nearly 500 residents, many immigrants from Canada, the British Isles and northern Europe. During its 24 years of operation, Fayette's blast furnaces produced a total of 229,288 tons of iron ore. By 1891, the iron market began to decline and the Jackson Iron Company was forced to close its Fayette site.

Soon, all that was left was a ghost town. Until the state of Michigan stepped in, started restoring it and turned it into a state park. It is a very cool. I had naturally been there before, but my husband, daughter and son had not. They were not at all disappointed.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Where can you hide?

Ha, ha, ha! Finally I am on the computer. Those fiendish people who think they own me. Ha, I will show them. Every evening they let me and those other two ignorant cats in the house for a few hours and then they throw us back out into the cold when they go to bed. And that puny kitten they got this summer. Alice. They let her stay in all the time. When they brought me home many years ago, they told me that I was the house cat. Then following a few indiscretions, they said “out with you, you are now an outside cat.” What injustice. But I showed them. I hid last night so well that they couldn’t find me when it was time to go out. So, now I can type on the woman’s computer and tell the world how they treat me. Then I must hide again, always hide, they must never find me –
“Fred! You darn cat! What are you doing? You can’t play on my computer! You are going outside!”

Wow, aren’t we like Fred sometimes? We think we can just hide. We do something wrong and rationalize that if we just hide the evidence, it will go away. We hurt someone and tell ourselves that if we ignore them they will just forget about it. We commit all sorts of sins and think they will just go away all by themselves, that no one will ever know.

We can hide a lot of things from a lot of people, but we can’t hide anything from God. He knows every stupid thing we do, and He loves us in spite of all our mistakes.

Instead of hiding from God, we need to go to Him directly in prayer and ask for forgiveness. He will never hide from us.

"Am I not a God near at hand, and not a God far off?
Can anyone hide out in a corner where I can't see him?
Am I not present everywhere, whether seen or unseen?"
Jeremiah 23:23-25 (The Message Bible)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Camping Food

What do you eat when you go camping? Got any ideas for me? It’s not that I don’t enjoy the food we eat when we are out in the middle of nowhere, with ice melting in the cooler and feeling like I just will not get these burgers cooked before they acquire a strain of botulism.

Here is our menu for an entire weekend.

Friday night supper – A macaroni salad we brought from home, maybe something made of actual meat. Must eat these quickly as the Miracle Whip and any raw meat will not last in the cooler over night, per my mother.

Saturday breakfast – Pancakes, known when we are camping as Pannekuchen (our sorry German translation).

Saturday lunch – A can of Spaghettios if we are at camp. Sandwiches, carrot sticks, applesauce or fruit in a cup if we are off bumming somewhere. A while back we discovered these tuna snack pack things. There is a packet of tuna, packet of mayonnaise, packet of relish, six crackers, a mint, a spoon, a napkin, even a handi-wipe, all in a clever tray to mix it all together in. This is our usual on the road lunch these days.

Saturday supper – Macaroni and cheese, hot dogs (I believe hot dogs can survive several weeks without refrigeration due to the amount of chemicals they are injected with), a can of vegetables.

Saturday around the campfire if we managed to get one going – S’mores. Duh, that’s a no brainer.

Sunday breakfast – cold cereal, maybe pop tarts. By now the milk is getting warm, and I have to finish it off or dump it.

Sunday lunch – We are often heading home by now, so will usually nibble graham crackers or what’s left of the pop tarts as we go.

Honestly, as boring as this sounds (because it is the same every time), I love this food. It takes me back to a little dome tent pitched along Lake Superior. It brings back all kinds of warm memories, memories of cold wet mornings, memories of loons calling to each other in the night, memories of laughter and love and goofiness.

But that food sure nauseates me at home.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Gene I Lack

As I was driving home from work tonight contemplating this blog, I had a sudden revelation. I was recalling how I just cannot back up our pop-up trailer and how I overcame that deficit the first time my sister Judy and I went camping in it.

It was June of 2000 and we had chosen Luna-White Deer campground in the Nicolet National Forest as our destination. A beautiful place, I know I have mentioned it before. Peaceful little campground between two crystal clear lakes.

I brought my then fourteen year old son along just to back the camper into the site I had chosen. Then I drove him back to his grandparents’ in Crandon for the weekend.

I always knew that something was wrong with me. How can my kid who doesn’t even have a driver’s license back up a trailer. Obviously he has the “Back Up The Trailer” gene. Obviously, I don’t, along with a lot of other women I have talked to.

Now, if you turn that gene’s description into an acronym it will make perfect sense to you, just as it suddenly made sense to me this afternoon. Most men have this gene; quite a few women do not. I’m not trying to start something; I’m just sharing my observations.

Monday, January 10, 2011

First Camping Trip

In the spring of 2000, I finally talked Himey into going camping for the weekend in our old pop-up camper. I chose Wells State Park near Cedar River, Michigan, even though I had never been there before.

It wasn’t a bad state park, just a little crowded. I had also forgotten that May is the start of the black fly season in the northern Great Lakes, so there were flies everywhere. And to top everything off the weather was cool and dreary.

We towed the ancient trailer to Michigan with our equally abused Mazda extended cab pickup. It was a great truck, really, but it had seen better days. That particular spring it was in need of a muffler. The bonus there was that our canned vegetables were sitting right over the hole in the exhaust. After we had set up camp and finally started cooking supper, I was pleasantly surprised that when I opened the can of green beans, they were boiling hot. Hmm? Way to multitask, Mazda.

We spent the weekend taking lots of walks in the woods and along Lake Michigan, playing catch next to our camp, playing cards and napping.

Sunday morning we headed home, stopping at Goodman County Park. In my ever continuing quest to see every waterfalls in the upper Midwest, I insisted on seeing Strong Falls. I also wanted to see Eight Foot Falls, Twelve Foot Falls and Eighteen Foot Falls and not just because it sounded like something from a Dr. Suess book. Himey convinced me however that they were more like rapids than waterfalls.

Someday, though, I will check them out.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Who will carry our burdens?

In the languages of the Native Americans, there are different translations for the word “friend”. One such translation would be “one who carries my sorrows on his back.” What a wonderful thought! We all need a friend who will carry all of our sadness, all of our burdens, who will be there no matter happens, no matter what we do. We need someone who will be there to bail us out of any trouble we get in, who will defend us and buoy us up when we are down. That friend will give us the shirt off his back, will give us his bed to sleep in, will give us his last meal when we are hungry but he is hungrier.

Hopefully you have that sort of friend, ideally a couple of them. I am blessed to have a husband who fits that bill on every account. I have a friend in Minnesota who would do anything for me; the distance is occasionally the only setback. There are a few others I could turn to and when the chips are really low, believe it or not, I lay my burdens on my dog. Yes, Dino the Wonder Dog. It would seem he couldn’t do anything to change my situation, but just the perked ears and tilt of his head, is often all I need to put a smile on my face.

It is sometimes easy to forget, though, who we can always look to in any time of trial. Our heavenly Father is always there for us, He hears our every prayer, He knows our every need. We can place our every sorrow on Him and He will carry the load.

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death. Psalm 68:19-20 (NIV)

(Also, I just want to let you know that I spend half the time working on this blog just trying to find the perfect picture. As alot of them are, this one is from my daughter's trip to Kenya last year. She has so many fabulous pictures, I wish I could just show them all to you.)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Mystery Light

The light appeared slowly at first, just on the horizon in the far distance. It started as a small twinkling light which grew in size and intensity over the next few minutes. Then, just as it had emerged, it faded away and was gone.

I’d been there before, but it was still always fun to go back. Oh, when my husband and I went, we didn’t really go to the see the Light. We went to watch the people and listen to them, see what they think the Paulding Light is. One time we met a woman who told us she had been there over fifty times. She had pictures she wanted to show us, pictures of the Light coming right down over her car. I think she also had pictures of Elvis at the 1994 Rose Bowl.

I don’t, however, believe in ghosts or spooks.

I do believe in the oddity of human nature. People had been coming to see the phenomenon in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan since the late 1960’s. Referred to usually as the Paulding Light, it appeared most nights near Dog Meadow, between Watersmeet and Paulding, off of Robbins Pond Road.

Some theories claimed it was the ghost of a railroad worker who had met some tragic end and was continually signals others of trains which no longer ran on the nearby railroad bed. Others would tell the story of a mail carrier who had delivered the mail via dog sled in the winter. One night he and his dogs had been found dead in the area, their throats all slashed. The light could be coming from car headlights on Highway 45 or from the electric lines overhead or from swamp gas.

In August 1999, my dear sister Judy had made plans for us to stay, with only our husbands, at another resort in the Northwoods, and that Saturday evening we had driven up to the UP to see the famous mystery light. It was interesting, as usual; I don’t think it has ever been a wasted trip.

The rest of the weekend Judy and I were in the kayaks or splashing in Seven Mile Lake or just laying in the sun. We took a hike around the lake with Himey and Claude. We even stopped at a casino on the way back to the resort from the Light. A nice peaceful weekend. Quiet. Slow.

I need more weekends like that.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Return to the Renaissance

Wow, I see that I have already taken you on two trips to the Renaissance Festival near Jordan, Minnesota, and I haven’t told you a single thing about it. Have I ever even peaked your curiosity?

The Minnesota Renaissance Festival is one of the largest and oldest such festivals in the country, having just finished its 40th year as I write this. I tried to glean the necessary information off of their website or from brochures we have picked up over the years, but neither proved as helpful as I had hoped. I can say the grounds are on somewhere between 15 and 30 acres, depending on whether or not you count the big hay field of a parking lot. Many of the buildings are permanent to the grounds, but a fire several years ago (which I could again find no information on) burned many of them. I believe they have all been rebuilt and just these medieval facades are worth seeing.

But perhaps I should back up. Do you know what a Renaissance Festival is? It is a gathering of people who share an interest in anything medieval, from jousting to falconering to wearing kilts or tights or long flowing dresses. There is sword fighting and swashbuckling and belly dancing. There are wenches and peasants and kings and queens. There is food like you wouldn’t believe – turkey drumsticks and ciabatta turkey sandwiches and corn on the cob and lemonade and beer. Oh, and lots of big crispy pickles.

Throughout the grounds are various stages where you can watch comedians and magicians and pirates and jugglers. All over the place are vendors selling handmade crafts, from paper to dresses to paper dresses, from paintings to swords to paintings of sword. Many of the vendors offer demonstrations as they create their crafts.

Wow and then there are the animals. The horses they use in the jousting are massive Percherons and Belgians, which is a good thing because they are wearing armor themselves as well as carrying armored knights with ten foot long lances. The falcons, hawks and eagles are equally impressive, displaying their magnificent hunting skills. Then there were camel rides and elephant rides, along with a petting zoo of cute furry creatures and a non-petting zoo of wonderful creatures like pythons and crocodiles.

I don’t even think that scratched the surface. An entire area is dedicated just to younger kids to play in a huge fairy tale land all their own. One year there was this gnome walk, or something like that, where this trail through the woods and through a swamp would take you past the homes of imaginary creatures like hobbits and dwarves.

It has really been too many years since I have been there. Getting back on track with the journal of my travels, August 1999 was the first time that my husband Himey had come along with the kids and me. He had an amazingly good time. I was impressed with him. He especially liked the turkey drumstick and the fact that he didn’t get sunburned.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What I did New Year's Eve

I’ve been debating whether or not I wanted to write this blog about the New Year. Is there anything I could write which has not already been said? Last evening, I was reading one of the books I got for Christmas about Christian writers. The article I read was about where to find inspiration and one of the items mentioned was to write about something that has happened in the last week.

Hmm? I thought. Dare I share how I spent my New Year’s Eve? The sorry details? Or is there, just like so many things that God hands us in life, true inspiration in these events?

How did I spend my New Year’s Eve? In the bathroom with both vomiting and diarrhea. Not very pleasant. And I had not had a single drink, I swear. (Anyone who knows me is going to know that I am not lying.)

I don’t know if it was something I ate or if it was the stomach flu. Whatever the case, there was something in my intestinal tract that my body did not like one bit. And so my system worked hard through the night to get the intruder out. It was maybe not at all pleasant for me, but I had to let my body do its work. Instead of feeling despair all night, I should have felt relief that my digestive organs were so effectively defending themselves. They were fighting a battle, which they would win, when my entire system was emptied of the enemy.

I was maybe left drained by morning, but my health would return soon enough.

Unfortunately, other intruders invade our bodies and we are not so quick or brutal to eradicate them. We let jealousy into our hearts, we allow our minds to dwell on past grievances, we don’t ask for forgiveness and we don’t offer forgiveness when we should. We keep all kinds of festering sores locked up in our hearts and minds. They eat away at our very souls and we let them.

We need to rally our bodies for a fight to purge ourselves of these intruders. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to come into us and cleanse us of the many thoughts and emotions that are eating away at us. We need to let out all these sins of the spirit and just flush them down the toilet.

The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness,
But who can bear a broken spirit? Proverbs 18:14 (New King James Version)