Category Archives: Holidays

July 4 and always, DNR stresses safe boating with Operation Dry Water

Michigan Department of Natural Resources


As the July Fourth holiday approaches, Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers will focus on keeping boaters safe through heightened awareness and enforcement of boating under the influence laws.


The initiative is part of the national Operation Dry Water campaign, which runs June 30 to July 2.


The annual campaign is launched just prior to the July Fourth weekend, when more boaters take to the water and alcohol use increases. It is in coordination with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, the U.S. Coast Guard and other partners. Through this stepped-up enforcement, the DNR is raising awareness of the hazards associated with boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and is working to decrease the number of accidents attributed to impaired boating and other unsafe boating practices.


“Alcohol and boating don’t mix,” said the DNR’s Lt. Tom Wanless, Michigan’s boating law administrator. “Using alcohol impairs reaction time and judgment, just as if you were driving a car. In fact, the effects of alcohol and certain medications are increased on the water due to added stress factors such as the sun, heat, wind, wave motion and engine noise. So be smart and stay sober when boating, and don’t put yourself and others at risk.”


In Michigan, operating a motorboat while under the influence of alcohol — which means the person has a blood alcohol content of 0.08 grams or more – or under the influence of a controlled substance is a misdemeanor punishable by fines up to $500, community service and up to 93 days in jail. It also can result in the loss of boating privileges for at least one year.


If a person is killed or injured due to a driver operating a boat while under the influence, the driver could be charged with a felony, punishable by fines up to $10,000 and up to 15 years in prison.


Boaters can do their part to stay safe on the water by: Boating sober — alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths. Wearing a life jacket — 85 percent of drowning victims in the U.S. were not wearing life jackets. Taking a boating safety course — the DNR recommends a safety course for anyone who plans to use a boat or personal watercraft.


For more information about boating regulations and safety courses in Michigan at


WKTV to broadcast ‘USS Silversides’ Memorial Day weekend event

The USS Silversides will be the site of the Lost Boat Ceremony on May 28.

By WKTV Staff


While there will be many Memorial Day events this holiday weekend, events honoring those who died while serving in the various branches of the U.S. military, one of West Michgan’s proudest traditions is the U.S.S. Silversides’ Lost Boat Ceremony.


Also a Memorial Day Weekend tradition, WKTV’s coverage crew will be at the event and will rebroadcast the ceremony multiple times.


This year’s Lost Boat Ceremony, hosted by Muskegon’s U.S.S. Silversides Submarine Museum, is set for Sunday, May 28, from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the museum, located at 1346 Bluff St., Muskegon.


WKTV will broadcast the ceremony on Cable Channel 25 on Monday, May 29, at 10:15 a.m. and again at 9 p.m. It will also be broadcast Saturday, June 3, at 11 a.m.


The ceremony starts with a fly-by featuring “warbirds” — planes from World War II. There is also a special guest speaker, this year U.S. Navy Capt. Fred Bertsch (Ret.). The service will conclude with a 21-gun salute and the starting up of the engine of the U.S.S. Silversides.


For more on WKTV programming, visit


Play smart: Summer is here, and so is tick-carried Lyme disease

Michigan’s deer ticks can be as small as a poppy seed, and if attached care must be taken to remove. (State of Michigan)

By K.D. Norris


For West Michiganders, at least those sticking around the Grand Rapids area and not heading up north, a Memorial Day weekend visit to the Lake Michigan shoreline is a great option if not a must.


(State of Michigan)

But with the un-official start of the summer outdoor season also a Memorial Day weekend, outdoor adventures also bring the un-official start of Michigan’s deer tick season — and with black legged (deer) ticks comes the risk of Lyme disease.


Most humans are infected with Lyme disease through the bites of immature ticks, called nymphs, that feed during the spring and summer months. But these nymphs are approximately the size of a poppy seed, so they are hard to see.


“Prompt removal of ticks is the best method to decrease the chance of Lyme disease,” Dr. Paul Heidel, Ottawa County Department of Public Health medical director, said in supplied material. “Seek medical attention if you develop a fever, a rash, severe fatigue, facial paralysis, or joint pain within 30 days of being bitten by a tick.”


Routinely, ticks must be attached for 36 to 48 hours for the Lyme disease bacterium to be transmitted.


The State of Michigan and local health officials have suggestions to avoid Lyme-carrying ticks:


When outdoors, walk in the center of trails, and avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass.


Around home, create tick-safe zones in your yard by keeping patios and play areas away from vegetation, regularly remove leaves, clear tall grasses and brush around home, place wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas, and use a chemical control agent.


Use an insect repellent containing DEET (20-30 percent) or Picaridin on exposed skin, and treat clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks and tents) with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin — do not use permethrin directly on skin. (Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.)


Bathe or shower after being outside in tick-infested areas (preferably within two hours). And conduct a full-body tick check (under arms, in and around ears, inside belly button, behind knees, between legs, around waist and especially in hair), especially inspect children.


Finally, if you find a tick attached, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin. Clean the area with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water.


Party hearty New Year’s Eve at ‘The Ballroom Bashes in Downtown GR’

Image courtesy AHC+Hospitality
Celebrate the past and look to the future!

Be a part of the most epic New Year’s Eve experience the area offers at The Ballroom Bashes in Downtown Grand Rapids! Spanning from the Amway Grand Plaza to the JW Marriott Grand Rapids to the Downtown Courtyard by Marriott (all connected via skywalk) you can party in four glamorous hotel ballrooms, each with a distinct theme and energy, along with a dozen restaurants and bars. Find the bash that suits you best and party all night long — or hop from one to the next to keep your night moving.


The purchase of one ticket includes entrance to the following Ballroom Bashes:


GLOW Party
Ambassador Ballroom at the Amway Grand Plaza
Glow sticks and cups pop in this black-lit environment where a band and DJ take turns playing pop hits


Bourbon and Bubbles
Pantlind Ballroom at the Amway Grand Plaza
Bourbon and champagne bars, dueling pianos and a lounge singer for a classic glamour vibe beneath the gold leaf ceiling


Caribbean Jam
Imperial Ballroom at the Amway Grand Plaza
Pina Coladas, a steel drum band and décor to transport you to the islands


Throwback Bash
International Ballroom at the JW Marriott Grand Rapids
Music and dancing from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s played by both a band and DJ with sections decorated to celebrate each decade gone by


NYE at The Bistro
The Bistro at the Courtyard by Marriott
Sample small plates, crafted cocktails and more in the intimate Bistro setting with a DJ! Complimentary tapas offered with the purchase of a drink. 


Sat., Dec. 31, 2016, 8 pm-Sun., Jan 1, 2017, 1:30 am EST


Downtown Grand Rapids Hotels

187 Monroe Ave NW

Grand Rapids, MI 49503


To purchase tickets, visit:


Redeem your ticket for a wristband at the Amway Grand Plaza Center Concourse on Dec. 31. Must have photo ID showing you are at least 21 years of age.

Keep your kids safe in holiday crowds — here’s how

By Victoria Mullen



Kids can go missing in an instant. One minute, your child is right beside you. You pause to admire some bling in a shop window and when you turn back — your child is gone.


The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) reports that more than 460,000 children go missing in the U.S. every year. Kids are especially at risk during the holidays when they’re out of school and with their families at crowded shopping malls or well-attended holiday events.


“The holiday season is a busy time, but in the midst of this busyness it is important to take steps to ensure the safety of our children,” said Lt. Timothy Pols, Wyoming Dept. of Public Safety.


Here are some tips on how to keep your kids safe in public this holiday season.

  • Write your cell phone number on the child’s wrist, then cover it with liquid band aid. If you get separated, you can be contacted immediately. Do NOT include your child’s name.
  • On your way out of the house, take a photo of the child on your cell phone. That way you can show people exactly how he or she looks that day.

The Family Education website offers even more ideas:

  • Talk to your kids before a family outing. Make it a rule that you must always be able to see them and they must always be able to see you. It may sound simple, but keep reminding them periodically, especially if you think they’re getting restless.
  • Use the “two giant steps” rule — your kids can never be more than two giant steps away from you. It’s a fun and easy way for young children to remember not to wander away.
  • Teach your kids that if they ever become separated from you, they should look for a “safe stranger” for help. Some examples include a mom with kids or a cash register person. With older children, agree on a “meeting place” ahead of time, in case you become separated.
  • Tell your child never to leave the mall or store to go looking for you, no matter what anyone tells them. Remind your child that you would never leave until you are reunited.
  • In busy places like airports or shopping malls, consider using a cute harness for toddlers who are prone to running off. There are lots of fun ones out there. Your child’s safety is most important, so don’t worry about what others think.
  • Establish the “check first” rule with older children. They must always check first with you before going anywhere in a public place, including another store, play area or even the restroom.
  • Don’t treat public facilities as a “convenient babysitter.” Do not leave your children alone at video arcades, movie theaters, play areas or other public places. Predators look for unsupervised kids.
  • Always bring young children into the restroom with you. Look for well-lit restrooms in high traffic areas whenever possible.
  • Statistically, the men’s room isn’t the safest place for a child to use alone. If you feel comfortable letting your older child (at least 9 years old) use the men’s room alone, stand outside the door and call in as your child enters, “I’m right out here if you need me.” It’s a clear signal to anyone who may be hanging around in there that there’s a parent close by. Your child is less of a target if a potential predator thinks there’s a chance he could be caught. If you think your child’s taking too long, open the door and call in, “Is everything okay?” If you don’t get an answer or are unsure, enter the restroom immediately to be sure your child is safe. (Informing your child that you’ll be doing this will encourage him to answer you quickly and not linger.)
  • Discuss age-appropriate safety issues with your child in a calm, non-fearful manner. Replace the word “strangers” with “tricky people.” Let your child know that it isn’t what people look like that makes them unsafe; it’s what they ask a child to do that makes someone “thumbs down.” Kids have been known to leave with a stranger because “he seemed nice” or “she didn’t look like a stranger.”
  • Make sure that your child knows your cell phone number.

Don’t have kids but know someone who does? Be sure to share these tips!


‘Nutcracker’ includes sibling youth dancers from Kentwood

The Grand Rapids Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” returns to DeVos Performance Hall for two weekends — Dec. 9-11 and Dec. 16-18. (Supplied)

By K.D. Norris


When the annual run of the Grand Rapids Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” hits the stage Friday, Dec. 9, it will include staring rolls by the company’s professional dancers and, as always, often a stage full of youth dancers.


Again this year, Kentwood sisters Grace and Micah Jones will be among those lending their talents to the production a part of the ballet’s youth dance program — one sister because she sees dance as a possible future career and the other because it is just “so much fun.”


The classic family holiday tradition returns to DeVos Performance Hall for two weekends — Dec. 9-11 and Dec. 16-18 —  with four evening shows and four matinees. Live orchestra music is provided by Grand Rapids Symphony, conducted by symphony Associate Conductor John Varineau.


Grace, a 16-year-old junior at Grand River Preparatory High School, has been dancing at Grand Rapids Ballet for 11 years and has been a member of the Junior Company since its inception. This year will be her 8th Nutcracker appearance.


Grace Jones

“I started dancing when I was 2, my parents saw that I loved movement and loved dancing,” Grace said last week, prior to a rehearsal. “My parents saw I needed something to get my energy out so they said ‘Let’s put her into dance.’ I really didn’t get into ballet right away. I was into jazz and tap and hip hop, but at about 5, I went into ballet because I loved the movement.”


She also loved The Nutcracker, thanks to her father, Ronald.


“I remember going to The Nutcracker every year, when I was younger,” she said. “My dad would take me every year, starting at 4 and then every year until I was 8, when I got to be in it for the first time.”


Seven productions later, she is still excited about the annual holiday production.


“I have always loved being in front of the audience,” Grace said. “I love sharing, I love exposing the audience to something new. For me, when I first watched it, it was so beautiful, to watch those beautiful dancers, the beautiful colors and costumes and shapes they make on the stage. I said ‘Wow. I want to do that.’ … Now I want to give some other girl that feeling, the feeling I felt when I was younger.”


According to her mother, Sandra, Grace hopes to dance in college while pursuing professional opportunities. But she sees dance as a means to other career paths as well.


“I love teaching, maybe teaching dance, “ Grace said. “I would love to show others the joy I found in dance.”


One of the people she has shown the love of dance to is her sister.


Micah, age 13 and a 7th grader at Cross Creek Charter Academy, says music is her first love — she has been playing the piano for 8 years, and her mother says she has talked about assisting with her college expenses by playing piano for ballet companies.


Micah Jones

But Micah has been with working with the Grand Rapids Ballet youth program for four years and will be in the Nutcracker for the third year.


“I saw saw my sister, and other people, in dance and it looked so fun,” Micah said, explaining why she wanted to dance. “It is so free, you get to move how you want to move.”


She also said she receives plenty of advice and encouragement from her older sister.


“Since she is such a good dancer, she really helps me when I need help, with technique or how I am supposed to move,” Micah said.


And as far as her first time in front of the usually large crowds watching the Nutcracker, any advice from her older sister?


“She told me not to think of the crowd, just remember your choreography, remember what you are there to do.”


While the two sisters will be dancing different rolls this season, the thing they have in common is an affinity for the famous battle scene. “It is a giant battle scene,” Grace points out, while Micah simply says the scene is “so much fun.”


Anybody who has seen the production knows what they are talking about; those how haven’t have two weekends worth of opportunity.


For more information, call 616-454-4771 or visit


Our picks for the top techie gifts for the season

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By Deidre Burkholder

‘Tis the season of running around to buy things for family and friends. The Christmas shopping season is officially in full swing. So in order to help with your shopping I’ve put forth my top five tech buys for the 2016 holiday season.
1. Portable Device Charger: With our lifestyle being so much on the go go go. Small and light this would make a great gift for anyone living the fast paced mobile life. Small and light weight and under $25* it may just be worth to pick a couple up to give as gifts and keep one for yourself.
2. Wireless kitchen scale: I’ve spoke before about how I think a wireless scale is must for the kitchen and this one tickled all my digital fanciness. For a $99* price tag it does jump up into my luxury item but this may be worth it, especially with all the holiday baking. While you’re baking, a scale like this maybe a great tool to get the kids involved in the kitchen too. What kid doesn’t want to help make cookies?
3. Hydra Water Bottle : The water bottle to end all water bottles? This one would be it. Bluetooth with speakerphone, charges my phone, built in light and it will hold water. I think I just would have to make sure this is in my camping gear from now on.
4. Wireless Headphones : Last year the wireless portable speakers was on my list. This year wireless headphones make my top 5. With more than 5,000 customer review these are a must see item. Looking to a brand name your familiar with, I offer you these from Sony.
5. Spire Mindfulness and Activity Tracker: In today’s world it seems like we are constantly on the go go go. From the moment we wake up it seems we barely get a chance to breath. Sprie says it allows you to discover calm. Breathe better, Live better.
Hopefully one of these items help cross someone off your Christmas shopping list or maybe even give you an idea for a gift for yourself. Remember no matter what you give or receive that best present is the time you spend with family and friends. Happy Holidays everyone.
*Pricing at the time when article was written. All pricing is subject to change. Author does not receive compensation and the opinions express are solely that of the author’s. 

Experience the Harry Potter Magical Holiday Ball Dec. 9

harry-potter-book-cover-jw-32715Dancing. Music. Harry Potter-themed activities & a special giveaway. These are a few of the various things you’ll find at the Harry Potter Magical Holiday Ball.

Barnes & Noble Grand Rapids cordially invites customers of all ages to experience its first-ever Harry Potter Magical Holiday Ball on Friday, Dec. 9, starting at 7 pm at Woodland Mall, 3195 28th St. SE. Barnes & Noble’s Harry Potter Magical Holiday Ball will feature dancing, music, Harry Potter-themed activities and a special giveaway. Customers are encouraged to wear their most festive Harry Potter costumes and holiday attire to the special event as they dance the night away and celebrate all things Harry Potter with Barnes & Noble Grand Rapids.


Magical Harry Potter-Themed Activities & Giveaways 

The Harry Potter Magical Holiday Ball will be complemented by special activities, featuring a designated Harry Potter-themed Craft Making Station, where customers can create their own ornaments and owl fans, while supplies last. There will also be Wizard Charades, Trivia, a Word Search, and more, plus a coloring station for customers to enjoy, and a special photo-op station where they will be able to forever capture the magic of the Harry Potter-inspired celebration. Barnes & Noble Grand Rapids will also feature delicious treats from the Barnes & Noble Café, including free samples of a festive sugar cookie and a caramel apple spice drink, available while supplies last. 

Plus, Barnes & Noble Grand Rapids will offer a free giveaway of a special Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The Illustrated Edition poster, available while supplies last.


Additional activities that will take place at Barnes & Noble Grand Rapids include special guest DJ AB (Adrian Butler), kid friendly crafts, Quidditch games and a costume contest runway.


The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Barnes & Noble

Fans of Harry Potter can continue to relive the magic at Barnes & Noble this holiday season with a dedicated Harry Potter experience inside Barnes & Noble Grand Rapids. Customers can shop a unique assortment of books and gifts from J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world, including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I and II, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay, as well as Harry Potter wands, chess sets, music and DVDs, hats, scarves and so much more. For additional details, customers can visit Barnes & Noble Grand Rapids today. 


For more information on how customers can relive the magic of Harry Potter at Barnes & Noble Grand Rapids this holiday season with Barnes & Noble’s Harry Potter Magical Holiday Ball, they should visit For more information on Barnes & Noble’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter with a unique assortment of books, toys & games and gifts, perfect for the whole family, customers should visit 

Lights On: Meijer Gardens opens holiday traditions display

A nativity scene from Italy is part of the Meijer Gardens holiday display. (supplied)
A nativity scene from Italy is part of the Meijer Gardens holiday display. (supplied)

By K.D. Norris


The holidays officially kick off not with Black Friday, or even with Thanksgiving eve, but when Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park unveils its annual Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World exhibition Tuesday, Nov. 22.


A model of the Chomeiji Temple in Omihachiman Shiga Prefecture of Japan.
A model of the Chomeiji Temple in Omihachiman Shiga Prefecture of Japan.

The display, open through Jan. 8, presents more than 40 international trees and displays, as well as the railway garden and several special events and activities.


“This year we’re celebrating not only the various holiday traditions observed around the world, but also the folklore that makes these celebrations so unique,” Steve LaWarre, Meijer Gardens director of horticulture, said in supplied material. “Many of these traditions are rooted in horticulture and natural elements. … (including how) legendary folklore such as mistletoe, spider webs, olive trees and rosemary are important parts of holiday customs around the world.”


The exhibition will include narratives and special displays from Iceland, Ghana, Germany and other counties and cultures. The railway garden meanders through four indoor garden spaces, including the newly renovated Grace Jarecki Seasonal Display Greenhouse.


Another highlight will the return of the beautiful Eid ul-Fitr display, which celebrates the end of the Muslim holy period of Ramadan.


Meijer Gardens is open daily but is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. There will be extended holiday hours not just on Tuesdays as usual but also Dec. 19-23 and 26-30. There will also be special events such as The Original Dickens Carolers, Santa visits, Rooftop Reindeer, the Christmas Cabaret Gala, and winter-time walks and classes on select days and times.


For more information call 616-957-1580 or visit


Tips on how to store, cook & prepare sweet potatoes

Just in the nick of time for the holidays

sweet-potatoes-mThe sweet potato — a perennial holiday meal favorite — is one of only a few cultivated vegetable crops with origins in the Americas. Traced back to 8000 B.C. Peru, it’s neither a potato nor a yam but a rooted tuber and member of the morning glory family.

To prepare sweet potatoes, simply scrub the skin clean using a vegetable brush and running water to remove any dirt and grime. Then cut away any damaged areas.

Store sweet potatoes in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place for up to several weeks. Do not store in plastic or refrigerate. Temperatures below 50 degrees will cause off-flavors, and excess moisture will encourage sweet potatoes to rot or sprout prematurely. Resist the urge: Do not scrub clean or wash until just before preparation.

Sweet potatoes taste great baked, boiled, steamed, grilled or mashed.

Interested in trying new sweet potato recipes?
Highlighted this week: roasted pumpkin and sweet potato pilau, crispy sweet potato wedges, curried sweet potato apple soup and honey-roasted sweet potatoes with honey-cinnamon dip. Below is the recipe for Extra-crispy Sweet Potato Wedges. Get the other recipes.

Extra Crispy Sweet Potato Wedges


  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled (or unpeeled, if you like skin) and cut into wedges
  • 2-½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with tinfoil (shiny side up); place baking rack onto prepared baking sheet; set aside. Peel the sweet potatoes (if preferred) and cut off the pointy ends. Slice the sweet potatoes in half (lengthwise), then cut each piece into wedges. Place the sweet potato wedges in a large bowl, then add in the olive oil, salt, sugar, seasoning, and black pepper.

Mix well, making sure each wedge is coated with oil and spices. Arrange the sweet potato wedges in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, then turn on the broiler and bake for another 3-5 minutes, or until they’re well browned and crispy. Keep an eye here – it’s easy to burn when the broiler is on! Cool wedges on pan for 5 minutes, then serve at once.

cropped-wmggadm_logorgb1Recipe courtesy of Baker by Nature

‘Día de los Muertos: Build an Altar’ deadline is Oct. 19


Want to honor a deceased loved one — a person or a pet? Consider building an altar at the Grand Rapids Main Public Library for Día de los Muertos.


Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is celebrated in Mexico between October 31st and November 2nd to remember deceased loved ones and honor them. Contrary to U.S. funerals, which are mainly somber affairs, Day of the Dead is a festive occasion and colorful holiday—a celebration of lives who have passed on.


Building an altar is an integral part of celebrating the holiday. Traditionally, families will build altars in their homes during the weeks leading up to November 1st. These are often quite beautiful creations, constructed with love and care.


There are no hard and fast rules about how the altar should be made; just create it from your heart. Make something that looks attractive and is meaningful to you. Altars are also meant to welcome returning spirits, so they include both personalized and traditional elements—including several dating to the Aztecs—that will guide an honoree on his journey from the land of the dead.


day-of-the-dead-altars-300x265Whether simple or sophisticated, Day of the Dead altars and ofrenda all contain certain basic elements in common. Here are the ofrendas that you will typically see on a Día de los Muertos altar:

  • Candles – Candles are lit to welcome the spirits back to their altars.
  • Marigolds – These yellow-orange flowers, also called cempasúchitl, symbolize death. Their strong fragrance also help lead the dead back to their altars. Marigold petals may also be sprinkled on the floor in front of the altar, or even sprinkled along a path from the altar to the front door, so that the spirit may find her way inside.
  • Incense – Most commonly, copal incense, which is the dried aromatic resin from a tree native to Mexico. The scent is also said to guide the spirits back to their altars.
  • Salt – represents the continuance of life.
  • Photo of the deceased – A framed photo of the dead person to whom the altar is dedicated, usually positioned in a prime spot on the altar.
  • Pan de muerto – Also known as “bread of the dead”, pan de muerto is a symbol of the departed.
  • Sugar skulls – As symbols of death and the afterlife, sugar skulls are not only given as gifts to the living during Day of the Dead, they are also placed as offerings on the altar.
  • Fresh fruit – whatever is in season—oranges, bananas, etc.

dayofthedeadaltar-1-283x300If you’re interested, please download an application today (aplicación en español). Altars can be built on October 26 and will be on display from October 27 to November 1 at the Grand Rapids Public Library Main Branch, 111 Library St. NE, Grand Rapids, MI.


Deadline for reserving space is Wednesday, October 19 at 6:00pm.


Ho, ho, ho. Santa’s arrival is only two months away

kids at santa paradeIt’s October and believe it or not, the 9th Annual Santa Parade is less than two months away.


This year’s parade is set for 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, and will head down S. Division Avenue from 33rd Street southbound to Murray Street. After the event, residents are invited to stop by Brann’s Sizzlin’ Steaks & Sports Grille, 4132 S. Division, for pictures with Santa immediately after the parade.


And there is still a lot to do in Wyoming and Kentwood in preparation for the arrival of the Big Guy. The Wyoming Kentwood Chamber of Commerce is looking for chamber members interested in helping with this year’s parade. The Chamber is looking for people who want to help in making this year’s event even bigger and better. If you are interested, contact the Chamber office at 616-531-5990.


santaIt is never too early to book your spot in the parade. It is $25 for corporate/business participants for a float or fleet car and marchers in the parade. Company information must be included for the WKTV broadcast of the parade. It is $10 for any non-profit for a float or fleet car and marchers. It is also $10 for public participants.


For questions or more information including sign up forms for parade or Chamber membership, contact the Chamber office at 616-531-5990. The Santa Parade is sponsored by the Wyoming Kentwood Chamber of Commerce.

Roaming Rome, Italy

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By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

Welcome to another chapter in the ongoing series by our world traveler, Lynn Strough. This week, Lynn roams Rome.

Rome, the Eternal City — it was known that way even among the ancient Romans, because the Roman people thought no matter what happened to the world, the brightness of Rome would burn forever.


One of my Travel Angels, Beth, made it burn even brighter, when she booked us into the Waldorf Astoria with her travel points, high up on a hill, a true room with a view. It’s a great city to share with a friend.


31There’s so much to see and do in Rome, it’s hard to know where to start. The Trevi Fountain is undergoing restoration, hence it’s dry, but it’s still worth a look. They say if you throw a coin into the fountain, you’ll return to Rome. I threw one in 20 years ago, and here I am, but what does it mean that the fountain isn’t flowing?


Beth was smart and got tickets on line to the Colosseum, so we got in quickly, despite long August lines, and spent an hour or two with an audio tour learning that they don’t really know that Christians were thrown to the lions there, although gladiators did duke it out to the death, and lions and bears and other beasts participated, including 50 bears that came out of a fake whale once. Apparently the Colosseum was a site of many a spectacle, and the elite as well as the lower classes were allowed in, albeit in very different seating positions. Seeing the Colosseum in the rain was a treat, quite atmospheric, like a trip back in time. And then the sun appeared and I got some blue sky shots as well.


From there, we visited the Forum, a busy place in peak season and afterwards, treated ourselves to gelato — you really can’t eat enough gelato in Italy, in my opinion.


On the recommendation of a friend, we toured the Basilica of San Clemente, which is a layer cake of churches (our friend Sue calls it the lasagne church). It’s a church on top of a church on top of a church. Intriguing, although kind of spooky on the bottom layer. Sorry, no photos allowed inside.


20We wandered past lines of people waiting to get into the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel — I’d already been there years ago, and Beth decided it wasn’t a priority for her. But if you do go to Rome and want to see them, I highly recommend that you buy tickets ahead on line, especially if you’re there in the summer.


After a peek at the exterior of the buildings we headed for a stroll through Trastevere, a lovely neighborhood full of old buildings glowing in the afternoon sun and we stopped at one of the small trattorias for lunch.


One of my favorite things to do in Rome is to simply walk. Put away your map and wander, up this narrow street, down that alleyway. You’ll see lots of beautiful architectural details and some of the local non-human inhabitants. You’ll spy interesting graffiti and who knows what all else.


25Heading back towards our shuttle stop, we passed the Pantheon, so we stopped inside. It’s a place not to miss. The signs all say “silence please,” and a recording announces it in six languages, while hundreds of tourists keep talking. But despite the commotion and crowds, you still get a sense of the grandeur and spirituality of the place.


I’ve only scratched the surface of things to do in Rome — there are countless museums to peruse, gardens to wander, piazzas to linger in, bridges to cross and of course, bargain shopping for the kitsch, as well as high-end haute couture for the rich).


We only had a few days, but spend more time if you can, and enjoy the people, the food, the beauty and the history that is Rome.


37About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.


“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”


travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission


Cinque Terre, Italy’s string of gems



By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales


Cinque Terre (translated The Five Lands), a Unesco World Heritage Site, is a necklace of five seaside villages strung along the Italian Riviera. It’s some of the most beautiful and dramatic coastal scenery anywhere in the world (my opinion, but also that of countless others).

The colorful villages are linked by hiking trails that wind along the coast, up high through olive groves and vineyards, and down low along the water. The whole trail is known as Sentiero Azzurro, or the Azure Trail, and the part of the trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola is called the Via dell’Amore or the Road of Love. A fence overlooking the sea is embedded with hundreds of padlocks, souvenirs from visitors sealing their love for each other. A train also links the towns, mostly through tunnels, for those who grow footsore or weary, and boats cruise the coastline as well. No cars are allowed.

When I was there the first time, in 2008, you could walk from the first village to the last in a day, albeit a long day. But in October 2011, a flash flood washed out some of the trails, buried streets and homes in mud, and killed nine people. They have recovered relatively quickly, although not all of the trails are open yet. Still, the ones that are give you astonishing views of the villages and sea, and there are plenty of other things to do in this popular tourist destination. (This time I was there in August, but my recommendation is to go in either June or September to avoid the massive crowds.

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Stay in one of the villages, if you can, in order to be able to fully enjoy your time in Cinque Terre, especially the peaceful evenings when people head out and stroll through the towns and watch the sun set. Both visits I stayed at Cinqueterre Residence, high up on a hill in Riomaggiore, a small, family-run establishment where they treat you like you’re one of the family. We had great views from our balcony, and they serve a tasty breakfast, including cappuccino with a smile.

Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso are all worth a visit, full of gorgeous architecture, a profusion of flowers, shops galore, and many, many dining establishments, from tiny trattorias to fancier ristorantes, or just pick up snacks along the streets. They’re known for their local limoncello, basil, garlic and pinenut-filled pesto, and anchovies (if you ever thought you didn’t like anchovies, you haven’t tried these!), as well as focaccia in many different variations — rosemary, olive, tomato, cheese. And of course, there’s plenty of gelato.


The main thing to do in Cinque Terre is hike, between the villages, but also in the hills above, where you can get away from some of the tourist crowds. Check your guidebooks, as some of the hikes are relatively easy, but others are quite strenuous, especially in the summer sun. Bring plenty of water, but if you’re lucky, you just might find someone selling fresh-squeezed juice along the way.

You can also hang out at the beach. The longest and busiest beach is in Monterosso, with chairs and umbrellas for rent, and sand that’s soft on your feet. You’ll find other beaches as well, in other villages which are less crowded but tend to be rocky.

Shopping is a pastime for some, and you can certainly pick up lots of souvenirs, but my souvenirs, with my shoestring budget and small backpack, mostly consist of photos, and there are plenty of photo opportunities here.

 If you’re in the area for a while, and you want a day trip away from the Cinque Terre, check out Portofino, a short train ride up the coast. It’s full of high-end shops and the yachting crowd. Colorful buildings line the harbor, and you can rub elbows with the rich and famous, although be prepared for prices to match.

Cinque Terre, like many beautiful places, has become perhaps a little too popular, but it’s so beautiful, it’s definitely worth braving the crowds to see.

23About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”


travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

Take an ‘awesomely autumn’ class at the Downtown Market this October

downtown market logo


Fall is just around the corner, and you know what that means: Time to celebrate the season with classes at the Downtown Market!


For the complete fall schedule, go here. To download a pdf of classes and events, go here. (There are classes for everyone — family, kids and adults.) Meanwhile, here are just a few highlights:


autumn nights in mediterranianAUTUMN NIGHTS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN
Fri, October 14, 6p-8:30p • $65

The Mediterranean always offers bright flavors and healthy meals. You’ll master an olive tapenade, herb-fresh tabouli, chicken souvlaki, and a citrus semolina cake. Learn how to select authentic ingredients and how the right olive oil can add the finishing touches to your meal. Register here.

stews and brewsSTEWS & BREWS
Tue, October 18, 6p-8:30p • $65 (21+)

Pair some great beers while snacking on Beer Nuts and make a classic gumbo, a hearty meat and bean chili, sweet cornbread and chocolate stout brownies. Register here.

pumpkin patch cookingPUMPKIN PATCH COOKING

Fri, October 21, 6p-8:30p  • $55

Celebrate pumpkins in the most delicious ways! You will enjoy some fresh-roasted pumpkin hummus while creating pumpkin sage soup, roasted herb chicken with pumpkin polenta and festive pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. Register here.


Tue, October 25, 6p-8:30p • $55

In this class, you will learn how to make cocktails along with an appetizer and dessert to host the spookiest Halloween cocktail party. Learn how to make Pumpkin Cauldron Rhum Punch, Apple Cider and Bourbon Spritzers, mini pumpkin cream soup, and a fall tiramisu. Register here.

So much to see and do on National Night Out, August 2

nno picnicNational Night Out celebrates local heroes and the community


By Victoria Mullen



Each year on the first Tuesday of August — this year, August 2nd — homeowners across America are encouraged to lock their doors, flip on their outside lights and spend the evening outdoors celebrating with neighbors.


National Association of Town Watch’s (NATW) annual National Night Out program focuses on building relationships between police and community members by offering free family activities, including block parties, cookouts, safety demonstrations and live entertainment. More than 38 million people nationwide are expected to take part this year.

A bit o’ history

Neighborhood Watch is one of the oldest and most effective crime prevention programs in the country, bringing citizens together with law enforcement to deter crime and make communities safer.


Sponsored by the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), Neighborhood Watch can trace its roots back to the days of colonial settlements, when night watchmen patrolled the streets. The modern version of Neighborhood Watch was developed in response to requests from sheriffs and police chiefs who were looking for a crime prevention program that would involve citizens and address an increasing number of burglaries.


Launched in 1972, Neighborhood Watch counts on citizens to organize themselves and work with law enforcement to keep a trained eye and ear on their communities, while demonstrating their presence at all times of day and night. (The program took off quickly: in just 10 years, NSA data showed that 12 percent of the population was involved in a Neighborhood Watch.) Neighborhood Watch works because it reduces opportunities for crime to occur; it doesn’t rely on altering or changing the criminal’s behavior or motivation.


National Night Out has been extraordinarily successful in promoting involvement in crime and drug prevention activities, strengthening police-community relations and encouraging neighborhood camaraderie as part of the fight for safer streets. Since 1984, National Night Out — America’s Night Out Against Crime has grown to involve over 30 million people from more than 9,000 communities.


Each year local Police Departments actively participate in the neighborhood Night Out celebrations. Contact Wyoming Staff Sergeant at 616.257.9711 and Kentwood Staff Sergeant at 616.656.6564 for more information.

So, what’s happening?

black hawk for south kent natl night outThe day starts out early — 7 am — at the Consumers’ Energy building (4000 Clay Ave. SW in Wyoming), where mayors and dignitaries from Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Wyoming, Grandville and other local municipalities will gather to recite the NNO credo. Here’s a great opportunity to meet your local leaders!


From 10:30 am-2:30 pm, come on out to Woodland Mall near Celebration Cinema and Red Robin for a day of fun, prizes, games, and popcorn! The Kentwood Police Department will have law enforcement vehicles on display so you can get an upfront, close and personal look at the equipment officers use to answer your calls.


South Kent’s 7th National Night Out will feature a Black Hawk fly-in at 2 pm and takeoff at 7:45 pm. The fly-in and landing will be to the west of Peppinos (located at 1515 Eastport Dr. SE), so keep an eye on the sky!


From 5:30-8 pm, join local police, fire and other neighborhood partners as GR Kroc Center (2500 South Division Ave. SW in Grand Rapids) celebrates community safety and togetherness. A giant slip & slide will be open, plus you can test your family’s skills in the Kroc Summer Games. Concessions will be available to purchase and enjoy FREE ice cream from Country Fresh! Sponsored by Molina Healthcare and National Heritage Academies.


The Wyoming Community Enrichment Commission will celebrate from 7-9 pm with demonstrations and appearances by Wyoming PD, K-9 units, a SWAT vehicle and fire ladder truck along with lots of giveaways throughout the night — from kids’ toys up to $50 gift cards. Join in the celebration of local heroes with great local food and entertainment! Don’t miss the last Concert in the Park event of the year — it will be a blast with catchy Conjunto and Tehano music by Grupo Viento de Los Hermanos Valdez. It all happens at Lamar Park, 2561 Porter St. SW in Wyoming. Go here for more info.


kentwood fd

Christ Community Church (2400 Forest Hill Ave. SE in Grand Rapids) will celebrate NNO with highlights like face painting, bouncy houses (for the kids, folks), 100-ft-long slip and slides, live music, refreshments, a raffle, lawn games and a dunk tank, with visits from the Kentwood Fire Department, McGruff the Crime Fighting Dog, Kentwood City Police and more. For more info, go here.


There’s so much to see and do, and only a couple short hours to enjoy it! So get involved, join in this evening of easy-breezy fun and create some great memories.

Get Fifi and Fido involved, too!

Have a dog? Consider getting involved with Dog Walker Watch! There are dozens, if not hundreds, of dog walkers throughout the community at all times of the day, all days of the week, in all weather conditions, who are often preoccupied with texting, chatting, emailing and listening to music during their neighborhood walks. Dog Walker Watch trains these individuals how to effectively observe and report suspicious activity. Go here for more info.



More info

Strong police and community partnership is a critical component of community-oriented policing and problem-solving model. Over the past few years, Neighborhood Watch groups have surfaced as highly effective tools in the detection, reporting and prevention of crime and criminal activity.


There are many active Neighborhood Watch groups operating throughout our local municipalities. Group participants hold regular meetings that allow you to meet your neighbors and discuss problems which may be occurring in your district and develop strategies and methods for dealing with them. By becoming familiar with your neighborhood, you are better prepared to detect and report suspicious activity or potential problem individuals or vehicles in your area.


The Wyoming Police department provides personal assistance to Wyoming residents interested in establishing new Watch Groups and with the facilitation of existing programs. If you or your neighbors are interested in establishing a Neighborhood Crime Watch Program in your Wyoming neighborhood, please contact Staff Sergeant at 616.257.9711. In Kentwood, contact Staff Sergeant at 616.656.6564.


Have we missed anything? Let us know — email Victoria at


Day Tripping — Montenegro and Lokrum

By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales



Welcome to this week’s chapter in the ongoing series by our world traveler, Lynn Strough. Let’s do some day tripping!

Not far from Dubrovnik, Croatia, is the country of Montenegro, and it’s easy and inexpensive to go day tripping there. Montenegro is known for its beaches and the old city of Kotor, and they’re both worth a look, although on the day I was there, so were three cruise ships and thousands of other tourists, so not the ideal circumstances for my visit.



In Kotor, you will find inside the city walls, plenty of places to shop and to dine –- it’s quite touristy. But you will also see some interesting architecture, and the inevitable beautiful doors and flapping laundry. An old fortress gives you some lovely views and more places to relax.


Many people go there to climb to the top of the mountain above Kotor, although we were told by our tour guide that we didn’t have time. Our guide also informed us on numerous occasions that Montenegro has become a playground for rich Russians. I don’t know if this is true, but there is certainly wealth displayed, in the marina in the form of large yachts, as well as on the nearby tiny island of Sveti Stefan where the 5-star Aman Sveti Stefan hotel beckons to those with deep pockets.



  • Not far from Dubrovnik, Croatia, is the country of Montenegro, so it’s easy and inexpensive to go day tripping there.
  • Montenegro is known for its beaches and the old city of Kotor, and they’re both worth a look.
  • In Kotor, you will find inside the city walls, plenty of places to shop and to dine –- it’s quite touristy.
  • But you will also see some interesting architecture...
  • …and the inevitable beautiful doors...
  • ...and flapping laundry.
  • An old fortress gives you some lovely views…
  • …and more places to relax.
  • Ah, now things are looking up…a little local wine and cheese!
  • Wealth is displayed in the form of large yachts.
  • It’s always fun to discover the local color of a new country, including markets and graffiti…
  • …and taking a day trip to Montenegro is certainly worth a visit, although it’s not on my top list of places to go.
  • More my style for Dubrovnik day tripping, it’s just a little leap to the island of Lokrum, a nature reserve where it’s possible to get away from the crowds of the old town.
  • You depart from the harbor in Dubrovnik, and it’s only a 15-minute scenic ride by taxi-boat.
  • 6.30 euro includes your ride and entrance into the island park reserve.
  • Bring your bathing suit, as you can swim off of one of the many ladders that sink into the sea…
  • …or then again, you may not need one!
  • Wear good hiking shoes, as the trails are dirt and rocks and slippery pine needles.
  • The only inhabitants of the island are feathered and full of eyes.
  • Peacocks were brought over from the Canary Islands a century and a half ago, and wander the auto-less island freely.
  • There are a couple of restaurants on the island, but my recommendation is to pack a picnic and pick one of the many perfect rocky shores to dine with a view.



It’s always fun to discover the local color of a new country, including markets and graffiti, and taking a day trip to Montenegro is certainly worth a visit, although it’s not on my top list of places to go. I’ve met people who love Montenegro and people who don’t, and to be fair, going on a tour — even a small group tour — isn’t the best way to get the full picture, although I hope you’ve enjoyed a few of mine.


Day trips to Mostar, Bosnia, are also available, although I was told it’s five hours on a bus round trip, with only an hour and 1/2 off the bus to see the famous Stari Most bridge, which is not the original but a reconstruction started in 2001. I skipped this.



More my style for Dubrovnik day tripping, it’s just a little leap to the island of Lokrum, a nature reserve where it’s possible to get away from the crowds of the old town. You depart from the harbor in Dubrovnik, and it’s only a 15-minute scenic ride by taxi-boat. 6.30 euro includes your ride and entrance into the island park reserve. Bring your bathing suit, as you can swim off of one of the many ladders that sink into the sea, or then again, you may not need one.


On the island, you can also go hiking, past the Benedictine monastery and up to the top to the old fort, for some interesting history and amazing views. Wear good hiking shoes, as the trails are dirt and rocks and slippery pine needles. It smells like sea and balsam, and I heard a young man with a guitar, sitting on top of the fort strumming and singing.



The only inhabitants of the island are feathered and full of eyes. Peacocks were brought over from the Canary Islands a century and a half ago, and wander the auto-less island freely. This guy strutted up to me, spread his fan tail, then turned his back on me. I wasn’t sure if he was flirting with me or mooning me.


There are a couple of restaurants on the island, but my recommendation is to pack a picnic and pick one of the many perfect rocky shores to dine with a view.


Day tripping from Dubrovnik is easy and affordable, so why not stay a few more days before heading off to the rest of the islands, any of over 1000 of them.


About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50-something-year-old woman whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current 31circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.


“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”




travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

Time to Split, Croatia

By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales



Welcome to this week’s chapter in the ongoing series by our world traveler, Lynn Strough. Here, Lynn takes us to Split, Croatia.

Split is a vibrant town on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, which is known for Diocletian’s Palace, a fortress-like structure erected by the Roman emperor in the 4th century. Now it’s full of restaurants, shops, cathedrals, hotels, and tourists.


Note that the cruise ships dump huge crowds here, but if you see the tour guides holding up a flag followed by the masses, just head the other direction. They usually go for the area with the most souvenir shops.


If you’re in the old town at the right time, you might bump into some men in metal or possibly even Santa Claus or Dumbledore.


You’ll notice many interesting architectural details both on the ground and up in the air if you climb the bell tower, which I have to say is a really high one! Inside the walls, you’ll find the beautiful Croatian National Theatre and just outside the walls, a colorful market.



  • Split is a vibrant town on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, known for Diocletian’s Palace, a fortress-like structure erected by the Roman emperor in the 4th century.
  • Now it’s full of restaurants, shops, cathedrals, hotels, and tourists.
  • Cruise ships dump huge crowds here, so if you see the tour guides holding up a flag followed by the masses, just head the other direction.
  • If you’re in the old town at the right time, you might bump into some men in metal…
  • …or possibly even Santa Claus or Dumbledore.
  • You’ll notice many interesting architectural details…
  • …both on the ground...
  • as well as up in the air if you climb the bell tower, which I have to say is a really high one!
  • Inside the walls, you’ll find the beautiful Croatian National Theatre…
  • …and just outside the walls, a colorful market.
  • There is a fair amount of graffiti, but most of it is artistic and interesting…
  • ...even the cat thinks so.
  • Oftentimes in Split, you’ll stumble on a flea market, and you never know what you might find…
  • And after the sun goes down, the colorful lights come on, if you’re into late nights with food festivals and free concerts…
  • …free unless you care to donate some spare Kuna.
  • If you tire of old town Split, there are many day trip opportunities…
  • …like taking a ferry to the island of Brac (pronounced “Brach”), which is known for it’s very famous beach, Zlatni Rat (Golden Cape).
  • That spit you see off in the distance is quite the beach close up.
  • Sure, you can do the usual swimming and sunbathing, or just stare into its clear blue green depths…
  • …but you can also scuba dive...
  • ...sail, windsurf...
  • ...or go play on one of the biggest, craziest water slide playgrounds I’ve ever seen!
  • If water and beaches aren’t your thing, there’s Trogir, another walled village a short bus ride away from Split.



Speaking of walls, there is a fair amount of graffiti, but most of it is artistic and interesting. Oftentimes in Split, you’ll stumble on to a flea market, and you never know what you might find. And after the sun goes down, the colorful lights come on, if you’re into late nights with food festivals and free concerts… free, unless you care to donate some spare Kuna.



If you tire of old town Split, there are many day trip opportunities, like taking a ferry to the island of Brac (pronounced “Brach”), which is known for its very famous beach, Zlatni Rat (Golden Cape). This beach is a protected nature park and it changes shape under the influence of tides and waves.


If water and beaches aren’t your thing, there’s Trogir, another walled village a short bus ride away from Split. It has the usual fortress you can climb for a view, plus canals, shops, restaurants, churches and the like for you to explore. Or you can set up office with a pizza and free wifi, if you need to get a little travel blogging done.



Now, after a month in Croatia, it’s time for me to split Split and head to Slovenia. But looking back, what’s not to love about Croatia? I’d go back in a heartbeat, and highly recommend it for a beautiful, affordable, fun and sun-filled holiday for you.


About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50-something-year-old woman whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.



“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”




travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

Heavenly Hvar, Croatia

By Lynn Strough




Welcome to this week’s chapter in the ongoing series by our world traveler, Lynn Strough. More Croatia is in store…

Hvar is glitzy and high-rolling, and it’s where the yachting crowd comes to see and be seen. On Hvar, you might go for a morning stroll and be so mesmerized by the scenery, that you’re still in the same spot at sunset. The Hula Hula Bar offers comfy lounge chairs for a pittance, with a view to die for.


I stopped for a breakfast orange juice, stayed for a salad for lunch, and found myself sipping a glass of wine watching the sun sink into the sea several hours later, and I wasn’t the only one. I met lots of people from all over the world who were also tethered to their chairs for the day, other than to periodically take a dip in the crystal clear, freezing cold water.



If you prefer to be on the water, rather than in it, there are plenty of opportunities, from ferries to water taxis, power boats to boats powered by wind. Sailing is my preference, so my new friend Roma (from California) and I headed out for a half-day sail. They take up to 10 passengers on this 35′ racing boat modified as a cruiser, but we got lucky as it wasn’t peak season, and had the boat and Captain Bronco all to ourselves.


The gods provided great wind, and at 15 knots we were sailing. It was blowing 30 knots farther out, but Captain B decided to keep it a little less exciting and more comfortable, as it turns out Roma had never sailed before.


We sailed to a nearby tiny island, to Palmizana on San Clemente, for lunch. It’s a gorgeous spot, with a beautiful harbor to protect the yachts, and a few small restaurants. It’s a real life Garden of Eden, where if you look carefully, you might even spot Adam and Eve.


15Back on Hvar, we got ambitious and climbed the hill to the fortress for some spectacular views of the harbor and rooftops below. Hvar is a medieval city, with walls started in 1278. There’s a strong Venetian influence in the architecture, as the Venetians ruled here on more than one occasion.


Besides the walled old town and famous harbor, Hvar is also known for its vineyards and wines, olive groves, and especially its lavender fields, and it’s one of the sunniest islands. With a population of over 11,000, it’s the fourth most populated of the islands of Croatia.



  • Hvar is glitzy, high-rolling, and where the yachting crowd comes to see and be seen
  • The Hula Hula Bar offers comfy lounge chairs for a pittance, with a view to die for.
  • If you prefer to be on the water, rather than in it, there are plenty of opportunities.
  • Sailing is my preference, so my new friend Roma (from California) and I headed out for a half-day sail.
  • They take up to 10 passengers on this 35′ racing boat modified as a cruiser.
  • We got lucky as it wasn’t peak season, and had the boat and Captain Bronco all to ourselves.
  • The Gods provided great wind, and at 15 knots we were sailing!
  • We sailed to a nearby tiny island, to Palmizana on San Clemente, for lunch.
  • It’s a real-life Garden of Eden.
  • Back on Hvar, we got ambitious and climbed the hill to the fortress for some spectacular views of the harbor and rooftops below.
  • Hvar is a medieval city, with walls started in 1278.
  • There’s a strong Venetian influence in the architecture, as the Venetians ruled here on more than one occasion.
  • The water is crystal-clear and the most breathtaking shades of blues and greens.
  • The town is filled with great little restaurants and shops, full of enticing things.
  • Other than food, my one souvenir was a couple of little sachets of fragrant dried lavender to tuck into my well-worn hiking boots.
  • There are plenty of night clubs and bars if you want a vibrant night-life.



As with all of the water I’ve seen in Croatia — inland lakes, rivers and waterfalls, as well as the sea — it’s crystal clear and the most breathtaking shades of blues and greens.


You can spend a small fortune staying at one of the fancy hotels, or a very affordable $50 per night for a good-sized room that sleeps three, if you’re willing to stay out of town and walk a bit. I stayed at an “apartman,” a room in a guest house, about a 15-minute walk from the center of town, but I didn’t mind as the walk was along the sea with scenic views the whole way.



And this location put me about half-way between the old town in one direction, and another fabulous beach in the other direction, also with a scenic walk to get there.


The town itself is filled with great little restaurants and shops, full of enticing things. Other than food, my one souvenir was a couple of little sachets of fragrant dried lavender to tuck into my well-worn hiking boots, a big improvement in their scent.


There are plenty of night clubs and bars if you want a vibrant night-life. And on Hvar, as in all of Croatia, I felt very safe, even walking around alone after dark, with the moon and stars and lamplight to guide me back to my temporary home.


31About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50-something-year-old woman whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.


“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”




travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

West Michigan offers endless things to do with Dad on Father’s Day

shanty creek resorts
Shanty Creek Resorts

Father’s Day is June 19ththis Sunday! — and the West Michigan Tourist Association has some excellent suggestions for making it the perfect day for any father in your life. Enjoy great meals, fun events, and give gifts DADicated to that special man. Show your appreciation for your dad 365 days a year, but make sure to celebrate in style on June 19th with Father’s Day in West Michigan.


Here’s just one idea: Take dad for a round of golf at one of the four championship courses at Shanty Creek Resorts. The tight fairways, formidable doglegs, and elevation changes will challenge any golfer. Or if you’re looking for a new unique way to experience golf, why not try FootGolf at Shanty Creek’s Summit Golf Course. This hybrid between soccer and golf has you trying to kick a soccer ball into a 21-inch diameter cup.


The Heatherwoods Course at the Charlevoix Country Club is another ideal place for golfing with dad. Their Father’s Day special includes $29 for 18 holes and $15 for 8 holes. Their Golf & Dine special is perfect for making this an all inclusive day of golf. The dining package is valid at both Sports Grill and the Triple C Clubhouse Dining Room. Book your tee times online at their website.


coldwater country locomotives
Coldwater Country Locomotive

Family Fun

Enjoy a trip through the countryside on the historic Little River Railroad steam locomotives in Coldwater Country. Dads ride free with purchase of a regular ticket. The round trip train ride lasts an hour and forty five minutes and takes you from Coldwater to Quincy where you’re given the opportunity to see the locomotive switch around for your return trip. For times and reservations, visit their website.


South Haven’s Harborfest falls on Father’s Day weekend. Bring the whole family to enjoy live music by the river, dragon boat races, a classic boat show, and more. If you want to give the gift of relaxation, the beaches of South Haven offer a great “no agenda” day to enjoy with dad.



The Port City Princess in Muskegon will have a special Father’s Day cruise to celebrate dads all over the world. Enjoy a champagne brunch with local microbrew beers and a live bluegrass band. You’ll also be able to watch the powerboat races that are going on all weekend.


St. Ignace is perfect for planning a trip for Father’s Day. Take a day trip to Mackinac Island and enjoy the summer weather. Then spend the day in St. Ignace, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. Plan a golf or fishing trip during your stay.


GaylordLockheed_C-130_Hercules-1024x731 offers family fun year-round, and Father’s Day is no exception. Head to Gaylord to experience the Air Show with jaw-dropping aerobatic aerial performances, jets and vintage war birds performing and on display.


The 38th Annual White Lake Area Father’s Day Arts & Crafts Festival will be June 18th and 19th at Goodrich Park in Whitehall. The family favorite festival features 75 talented artists, crafters, food vendors, live entertainment, and children’s activities.


great-turtle-kayak-tours-Hit the waters of Mackinac Island with dad at Great Turtle Kayak Tours. Choose between kayaking or standup paddle boarding and explore the waters together. This is a fun and outdoor family activity that everybody can participate in. For more information and reservation options, visit their website.


The Historic Charlton Park hosts their 35th Annual Father’s Day Car Show on Sunday, June 19th. Admire vintage cars and the craftsmanship of yesteryear throughout the park’s 310 acres. You know you’re getting the best of the best when every car is from 1990 or earlier and must be able to drive itself to the park.


hackley and humeThe Muskegon CVB also wants you to celebrate Father’s Day with them. On June 19th, dads enjoy a free tour of the Hackley & Hume Historic Site. Explore the grounds and see the beauty that went into this historic location. If powerboats are more your speed, then check out the Chase Charity Powerboat Event from June 17th to the 19th at the Muskegon Yacht Club. You can either race or watch the boats while enjoying refreshments at the club.


Charlevoix is ready to help you create special moments with dad for Father’s Day. Take a hiking trip through their great trail system or golf on one of their five area courses. Kayak or boat on the lakes and rivers where you can go fishing. There is also skydiving, trail biking, and more adventures to be discovered and had.


This photo was taken during a calm summer day from Lake Michigan Beach. For such a plain looking lighthouse, it is surprisingly very photogenic, thanks to the sleek profile of the south pier and beautiful background sunsets.
Charlevoix Lighthouse

Lemon Creek Winery’s 32nd Annual Father’s Day Festival features live music, a classic Corvette car show, kids’ games, hayrides and more. Of course, food and wine will play a big part in the celebration. The entry fee is $12 for adults 21 and older and includes free parking, admission to the event, a souvenir wine glass, and three free wine tastings. Those under 21 get in free when accompanied by a family member over 21.


Beer, Dine, & Wine

Head out to the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula this Father’s Day to try some award-winning wines from nine distinct wineries along the peninsula. Each of the nine wineries has their own distinct tasting rooms, patios, and beautiful decks. Stop by all of them and find which one you like the best.


Journeyman Distillery will be hosting a Father’s Day brunch and Three Oaks Single Malt release on June 19th from 10am to 10pm. There will be both a special steak sandwich that has shaved prime rib and a full brunch menu to choose your meal. The whiskey won’t last long on the shelves, so make sure to check out this special release while you’re at it. For more information on the event and the Three Oaks Single Malt, visit their website.


lemon creek winery

Food is on the mind of the Marshall Area Economic Development Alliance for Father’s Day weekend. Their farmers market will be open June 18th and is great to get some fresh produce for cooking your Father’s Day feast. If dining out is more your style, Schuler’s Restaurant will have their Father’s Day Brunch on June 19th from 9:30am to 2pm. The dinner menu begins at 1pm if you would rather have an evening meal together.


Arcadia Brewing Company in Kalamazoo celebrates Father’s Day the best way they know how: delicious beer and meat-centric food dishes. All Father’s Day long, dads can enjoy $5 off growler fills of any draft beer. At 5pm, live entertainment will be provided by Roma Ransom who traveled all the way from Colorado to perform.



Give dad a membership to Club Mich for Father’s Day. A membership to the Michigan Breweries T-Shirt Club is a perfect gift for dads who love craft beer. As a member, he’ll receive a shirt every month featuring a different Michigan brewery. You can buy it as a monthly plan or purchase the plan in various increments.


club michThe Art Gallery of Algoma will be having a Father’s Day Gallery Shop Sale from June 14th to June 18th. Get dad the perfect gift or get him an AGA Membership which helps support the gallery and its efforts. Or you could visit the gallery and take a tour with your loved ones. Check out the Art Gallery of Algoma when you are out shopping and planning for Father’s Day.


A Little Bit of Everything

Treat dad to the perfect day at Crystal Mountain. If he loves golf, send him to the Callaway Club Fitting from 10am to 3pm on June 18th for a 15-minute fitting. Then, on June 19th, buckets of driving range balls are buy one, get one free! Plus you can golf at Mountain Ridge for $45 and Betsie Valley for $35. If golf isn’t his thing, on Father’s Day, dads get free entrance into the pool, a free Alpine Slide Pass, or free bike rental with purchase of a child pass or rental.



Pierce Cedar Creek has a great Father’s Day dinner, program, and artist’s reception on June 19th. Enjoy dinner at 5pm expertly prepared by Chef Paul. After dinner, artist Laura Christensen will present her photography titled “The Wildlife and Waters of Barry County.” Enjoy a reception and an optional hike out to Cedar Creek afterward for an evening view of the Institute’s wetlands. There is a fee for dinner, but the program, reception, and hike are free and do not require attendance at dinner to be enjoyed.


No matter what you end up doing, you’re sure to have tons of fun!

Tết, the Lunar Calendar, and the Year of the Monkey

Tet 1By: Adrian Đặng Bảo Oánh


Most of Asia observes the lunar calendar, which is based on the cycles of the moon as compared to the Western solar calendar. The celebration of the lunar New Year is perhaps the single most important and prominent event over much of Asia. Western folks sometimes mistakenly call it the “Chinese New Year” for lack of knowledge. The Vietnamese folks call it “Tết”.


Each year carries the sign of one of the animals in the “Asian Zodiac”. These twelve animals, in proper sequence, are: the rat, the ox, the tiger, the cat (also called the rabbit in some countries), the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat (or ram), the monkey, the rooster, the dog, and the pig. Year 2016 carries the sign of the MONKEY!


Since the lunar calendar staggers a bit when compared to the solar calendar, the lunar New Year usually falls into the late January or early February timeframe of our Western Calendar. In much of Asia, this would mark the beginning of spring time and, quite appropriately, the beginning of a new year, a new beginning.


In the modern days, people who observe the lunar New Year would limit their celebration to three days due to their busy schedules. There are still some quaint villages in Asia where people would celebrate New Year for as long as three months, in extreme cases. However, the first day is always the most important.


There are many aspects of the lunar New Year celebration. The Asian people politely usher the ending year “out”; then they respectfully and joyously welcome the new year “in”.

Tet 2


Starting a week before New Year’s eve, each household performs the ritual of sending off the kitchen gods back to heaven to report the year’s worth of happenings to the Jade Emperor (the divine God).


During New Year, we can really feel the seasonal change in the climate; it truly feels like a new beginning. The buds and new leaves are sprouting on trees and plants. The birds start laying eggs and animals give birth to young ones. People also join in and celebrate with the rest of nature.


Spiritually, it is time to look back and commemorate the family ancestors. Each person also reflects upon himself/herself to recognize the negative things and mistakes during the departed year to improve upon or get rid of, and he/she solemnly makes resolutions for the entire upcoming year. It is also time to revisit religious beliefs in each individual.


During Tết’s time, lower ranking family members traditionally go to all of the older or higher ranking members and present them with good wishes for the new year. In return, older folks will hand out “lucky money” in beautiful little red envelopes and also wish the younger members well. This tradition is also extended outside of the family to show respect, fondness and thoughtfulness to friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.


The first person who enters any home after the turn of the year is believed to bring his/her good or bad luck into that home. Residents of each home are very careful about who shall be the first person to set foot into their home. People really avoid sad or unlucky subjects during this special time of the year.


For celebration, there are usually plenty of food and beverages of the best varieties. People set off firecrackers to ward off evil spirits. The dragon dances also serve to bring luck and chase off any evil spirit from the last year. There are games that are reserved mostly for New Years time. There are also cultural shows in the performing arts discipline that are presented almost only during Tết’s time.


Happy Year of the Monkey. May you have tranquility in all aspects of your lives, and may all your wishes come true!

For those in need of a plan, here’s your Valentine’s Day cheat sheet

800px-ValentinesdaytreeWith Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it’s time to prepare a weekend with your significant other because, and let’s be honest here, we know you haven’t planned anything yet.


If you’re one of those rare breeds who plans out Valentine’s Day months in advance, then you can use this for ideas for how to put a cherry on top of your picture perfect day. For the rest of us who just realized it’s already February 10, there’s still time, and here’s a cheat sheet.


For the sake of this list, we’ll skip dinner and go right to the good stuff. There are a lot of unique restaurants in Wyoming, Kentwood, Grand Rapids, and the surrounding areas to sit down and have a nice dinner. If your partner doesn’t have a favorite spot, try something new! There are a lot of great options not too far away.


Here are some couple’s events sure to make for a delightful Valentine’s weekend.


The DeVos Performance Hall will be hosting two concert events this weekend. The Bad Boy Reunion Tour features Faith Evans, Mase, Carl Thomas, and Case on February 13 at 7:30 p.m. The following evening, Tommy Emmanuel will perform his upcoming album It’s Never Too Late.


Searching for a date idea that’s a little more “hands on”? Well, the Downtown Market has three events for you and your valentine. The Couples: Valentine’s Day cooking class is offered February 11, 12 and 13 and is a great way to relax with your partner and enjoy small plate demonstrations, an effervescent cocktail, and a little bit of hands-on cooking. Before the meal, enjoy a drink at the Ice Bar Lounge and their heated outdoor happy hour featuring specialty cocktails, craft beer, and select wine.


Robinette’s is hosting their Love, Wine & Chocolate event on February 13 from 1pm to 5pm. The cost is $12 per couple and includes wine tasting, a souvenir wine glass, and a chocolate snack bar. On top of the items to tickle your taste buds, you can also customize a pair of five-minute earrings with Sara Neal. Sara provides supplies for earrings and you pick out what you want. The earrings are then made right there in front of you. No reservation required.

Be a kid again at the Grand Rapids Children's Museum
Be a kid again at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum


Want a unique date to bring out you and your valentine’s inner child? Look no further than the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum’s 2nd annual Grown Up Play Date on Friday night. Play laser tag, participate in a building wide scavenger hunt, enjoy local craft beers, wines, and ciders, and “grown up” pizza offerings from local restaurants. The best part? It all benefits the Children’s Museum’s programs and exhibits. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and tickets are just $30 per person.


Looking for a unique beer experience centered around Valentine’s Day? Make sure to stop in at Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery and Supply out in Ada. Gravel Bottom has two Valentine’s Day beers that can either compliment a desert or be enjoyed on their own. The first is a robust porter called the Lion Heart which can be paired with chocolates and raspberries. Also on tap is the Susie Q, a cream ale packing a bouquet of flavor with hibiscus and rose hips. Cheers to love!


When it comes to valentines, ice can be nice. Grand Rapids is hosting their 3rd annual Valent-ICE festival this weekend. The festival is to celebrate love and winter in Downtown Grand Rapids and features over 50 sculptures and more than 15 tons of ice! Much like ArtPrize, residents can walk around the city and enjoy the sculptures over the weekend. On Saturday, February 13, the largest sculpture will be revealed and Randy Finch and Derek Maxfield of Food Network’s “Ice Brigade” will carve the public sculpture from 6,000 pounds of ice. The final piece will stand 12 feet tall.

Valent-ICE is very nice
Valent-ICE is very nice


Single? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Lincoln Country Club on Lake Michigan Drive is hosting the Rivertown Singles ‘Lady in Red’ Party on Sunday from 6:30 – 7:00 p.m. Both girls and guys are invited to wear red, a little, a lot, or another color entirely if you prefer – whichever makes you feel most comfortable. For $8 you’re privy to a cash bar, a dance floor, drawings, and a lot of singles looking to mingle.


Who says only couples get to go out and have fun on Valentine’s Day?

New Year’s Resolutions? Oh, woe. And, oh no! Not I.

2013-new-years-resolutionsBy Victoria Mullen


I have a huge–HUGE–pathological aversion to words like “resolution” and “resolve.” This may not seem like a big deal to many, but I’m an attorney, so it somewhat limits my field of practice. I have other shortcomings, too, but they are far too plentiful to list here. Suffice it to say that I defer from resolving to do anything specific in any given, coming year.


Now, if I put away my laptop and left things here, this would be a very short story, indeed, but that seemingly simple and non-malicious act would have far-reaching ramifications. If law school taught me anything, it’s that one must consider every single last consequence an action could possibly produce. (Well, that’s what I got out of it, and my GPA reflects this.)


For example, my boss would not be happy with a mere paragraph of an article. I would get fired, and I wouldn’t have any income so I wouldn’t be able to afford rent and to feed my cats. Months later (because let’s face it, I’m a hermit), a neighbor–or maybe not a neighbor because who knows to where I may have wandered off–would discover my tattered, not a fat guy but a cool photolifeless body (face down), shredded to bits by those two back-stabbing felines, because we ran out of food and the ingrates were too lazy to go out and catch their own. The fate of my boys would likely remain a mystery, but my guess is that they would be initiated into a feral cat colony where they would live out their nine lives in the company of similarly ungrateful felines.


In the interest of conserving space, I have skipped a few steps in this scenario. When you think about it, we are all but a step away from a horrific disaster, but that has nothing to do with the subject of this story.


The evolution of resolutions
I now divert your attention to the tale of Sam, Christy and Nigel, each of whom New Year’s Resolutions have affected in a very big way. There is at least one lesson to be learned here. As an incentive, I leave it to you to figure that out.


Every year, Sam gains at least 20 pounds porking out at Thanksgiving and Christmas parties because he lacks self control and simply enjoys eating. (Shhh. If you listen really, really hard, you can almost hear him smacking his gelatinous lips. Wait! Is that a grunt I hear?) Sam has many, many friends, thus many, many visits, which results in eating many, many meals. But Sam has absolutely no personality, so I am baffled as to how he manages to get invited to so many places year after year.



Then, there’s Christy. Each year on January 1, this spry gal pours the pennies out of her 10-gallon penny jar, drives to her favorite tattoo parlor, and gets a fabulous new tat. She’s only 30, but Christy loves BIG tattoos, so she’s running low on real estate. Plus, her mom is really mad at her and has threatened to evict her from the basement for months now.


Nigel? Well, Nigel just can’t stop chirping.


One of these individuals feels guilty, but not for any obvious reason. One is pretty darn pleased with herself. And one is a cricket and should have nothing to do with this story, but he is here to prove a point.

Of the three, Sam is the most likely to make some somen's suitrt of resolution. In his defense (or by way of explanation–take your pick) he no longer fits into his designer suits, which he bought before the Great Recession, and he can’t afford to buy a whole new wardrobe. He’s stuck, so to speak.


Christy will save up more pennies and after saving and contemplating and designing another tattoo, she will blissfully go out and get inked again.


Nigel will get eaten by a wolf spider.


The resolutions: January 1
Sam vows to eat less. He’s a Type A personality, so he doesn’t stop there. He makes another resolution: He vows to lose weight. As with food, he just caCricket_Insectn’t control himself because–poof!–now there’s a third resolution: He vows to lose 20 pounds. Wait. He isn’t Type A at all. The truth is that he feels obliged to make three resolutions because that’s the tradition in his family and Sam is a follower. He can’t bring himself to break tradition, and he is too oblivious to realize that he could resolve to break tradition and thus change the course of his life’s trajectory in a very big way. Alas.


Christy doesn’t think she needs to make any resolution at all. She’s pretty happy with how things stand: Free place to stay, cool ink. But everybody else is making resolutions, and so she succumbs to peer pressure. She resolves to save money to get another tat. Perfectly legitimate. But Christy is currently unemployed. So, she has to make another resolution: Get a job. Now, a third resolution is needed: She resolves to be nicer to her mom so that Christy doesn’t get evicted until at least after winter’s end. You see how these things can snowball out of control very quickly.


Nigel is but a dried-out husk, so he is incapable of making decisions, including resolutions. In legal terms, Nigel is incompetent. Nigel is also a decedent. Well, he’s not a person, so “decedent” isn’t entirely accurate, but you get the drift.


The wolf spider who has drained the life–and juices–out of that gallant little cricket realizes that something must be done, so he makes a wolf spiderresolution: To find another cricket. As with the above individuals, the wolf spider doesn’t stop there and finds it necessary to add a second Resolution: To drain the life and juices out of that cricket. Because, let’s face it, what’s the use of finding a cricket if you don’t drain the life and juices out of it?


What’s the point of making a resolution if it doesn’t have a consequence?



Last Second Holiday Gift Guide

giftsLooking for some great, last minute, local ideas to share with the people on your “Nice” list this year? If you like waiting until the last second to do your shopping, we can help! We’ve rounded up some of our favorite West Michigan gift ideas below, broken down by category to help make your last second holiday shopping this year a breeze.

Gifts for Foodies

Gift Idea: Spice Merchants offers a Taste of Asia gift box ($29.95), which includes Asian spice blends: Chinese Five Spice, Thai Coconut, Korean BBQ and Teriyaki Ginger. Many other themed sets to choose from are available, including flavored sugars, curry spices, and sea salts. Another great option is a Himalayan Salt Slab (beginning from $29.95), ideal for cooking vegetables, meats, and seafood, or chill to serve sushi, sashimi, fruits cheeses or desserts. Himalayan Salt Slabs enhance the flavor of your food while delivering the benefits of 100% raw salt, and they are a unique and fun way to cook and serve your food.

Get it Here: Downtown Market, Grand Rapids

The Green WellGift Idea: Give the gift of Essence this holiday season, with gift cards to Bistro Bella Vita,The Green Well, and Grove: the perfect stocking stuffer for any foodie. For a limited time, you’ll receive a complimentary Essence Cocktail Book when you purchase a gift card in store only. Prefer to shop online? You can also purchase gift cards through their new and improved, user friendly online system! They’ll even deliver it to your special someone on the date you choose. Complimentary cocktail book is only available with in-store purchase.

Get it Here: Bistro Bella Vita, The Green Well, or Grove, Grand Rapids

Gifts for Beer Enthusiasts

Gift Idea: Buy a stainless steel ($35) or glass ($5) growler from Slows Bar-B-Q and fill it up with your gift recipient’s favorite beer. Pairs well with some Slows-branded pint glasses ($8) or a gift card!

Get it Here: Downtown Market, Grand Rapids

Michigan Brewers GuildGift Idea: Shop online at for a variety of logoed items from the Michigan Brewers Guild. You’ll find everything from apparel, backpacks, tote bags, drinkware, eyewear, flags, license plates, beach balls, bottle openers, patches, pins, stickers, tin tackers, umbrellas and more. Michigan Brewers Guild Enthusiast Memberships also make great gifts, providing a year of benefits like pre-sale dates for the four official festivals and one hour early admission to each, dollar-off pint options at participating breweries, special brewery tours and an official Enthusiast t-shirt — all for just $55.

Get it Here: Michigan Brewers Guild

Gifts for Family Outings and History Enthusiasts

Grand Rapids Public MuseumGift Idea: Members of the Grand Rapids Public Museum who purchase or renew their membership now through December 31 will be entered to win one of 4 Family 4-pack tickets to the special opening event for our newest exhibit, The Robot Zoo in March! Tickets will be on sale in February for the event and members will have discounted admission to the event. Members also get into the new exhibit for free, with all our other great perks!

Gift Idea: Visit the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s Curiosity Shop for your holiday shopping! The shop offers a variety of unique, toys, trinkets and gifts for both children and adults. Find the perfect gift, that is from Grand Rapids or the Michigan made.

Get it Here: Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Rapids

Gifts for a Night Out

Opera Grand RapidsGift Idea: Treat your gift recipient to a night out at Opera Grand Rapids! Now through December 21st, take advantage of these two special offers: Buy two premium orchestra tickets to Orpheus & Eurydiceor Romeo & Juliet. and get 25% off additional tickets, or a free ticket to Beethoven’s String Quartet #1, Op. 1. Second offer: Buy a $100 gift card and get one half-price ticket to Beethoven’s String Quartet #1, Op. 18. Subscriptions make great gifts too!

Get it Here: Opera Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids

Gift Idea: Give the gift of Live Entertainment!  Tickets make the perfect Holiday Gift! Cameron Mackintosh’s spectacular new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s phenomenal musical success, The Phantom of the Opera, will come to DeVos Performance Hall as part of a brand-new North American Tour. Hailed by critics as “bigger and better than ever before,” this production boasts many exciting special effects including the show’s legendary chandelier, new scenic and lighting designs, new staging and choreography. The beloved story and thrilling score – with songs like Music of the Night, All I Ask Of You and Masquerade  – will be performed by a cast and orchestra of 52, making this Phantom one of the largest productions now on tour.  Don’t miss this two week engagement when it premiers in Grand Rapids May 18-29.

Get it Here: Broadway Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids

Secretary of State Offices will be Closed for Christmas and New Year’s Holidays

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson
By Secretary of State Ruth Johnson
(with a little help from Victoria Mullen)

Hey, State workers are people, too, and they deserve holidays off just like the rest of us. So here’s a heads up to take care of any Secretary of State business (i.e., renewing driver’s licenses, ID cards, license plates, etc.) before the holidays. The closures are:

  • Thursday, Dec. 24, Friday, Dec. 25, and SUPER!Centers will be closed on Saturday, Dec. 26 for Christmas.
  • Thursday, Dec. 31, Friday, Jan. 1, and SUPER!Centers will be closed on Saturday, Jan. 2 for New Year’s.

(See what we did there? Festive, no?)

You know the drill: The Department of State mails notices to motorists 45 days before their driver’s license or license plates expire to give them ample time to renew. Licenses and plates that expire on a day when state offices are closed, such as a holiday or weekend, can be renewed the following day without penalty.

Most people renewing license plates, driver’s licenses and ID cards can do business online at or by mail. Easy-to-follow instructions can be found with the renewal notice. Additional services can be done online, too.

License plate tabs can be renewed at Self-Service Stations, many of which are available around the clock. Visit the Branch Office michigan license platesLocator at to find a Self-Service Station near you.

With the exception of holidays, offices are open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Smaller offices may close for the lunch hour. On Wednesdays most offices are open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with those in city centers open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PLUS offices and SUPER!Centers are open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays. SUPER!Centers also provide Saturday hours from 9 a.m. to noon.

To find Secretary of State office locations and services, visit Sign up for the official Secretary of State Twitter feed at and Facebook updates at Online services are available at

Customers may call the Department of State Information Center to speak to a customer-service representative at 888-SOS-MICH (767-6424).

Santa Comes to You at the Drive-Thru

Santa waiting to spread Christmas cheer to all the Children ready to hear!
Santa waiting to spread Christmas cheer to all the Children ready to hear!

Cars full of kids made their way to the Kentwood Activities Center this past Friday night. It was chilly, but the weather was clear of any wet particles falling from the sky, and everyone was bundled up as needed for a brand new event held by the Kentwood Parks and Recreation Department. Instead of the children and their families hustling out of the vehicles and darting towards the activity center, they stayed in the car as the event was brought to them.

How often does Santa take the time to meet with you from the warmth of your own car on a cool December evening? Since we know all about his vehicle of choice (a sleigh) and the horse…er… deer power that pulls it from chimney to chimney, Santa decided to take an interest in the cars of the citizens of Kentwood. The big man greeted all those willing to see him with a HO HO HO!

However, Santa wasn’t the only one eager to meet new people, everyone’s favorite snowman Olaf was there as well. Yes, I would like to build a snowman!

In the end, over 100 kids experienced a new way to interact with Santa. It was one more time for the children to share their Christmas wishes with Santa and also make mention of their yearlong good behavior. No coal for anybody this Christmas!

  • Seeing Santa was twice as nice
  • The Kentwood Parks and Rec Crew put on a Drive-Thru to bring Santa to you
  • A dog driving a car doesn't seem so strange to a man used to being pulled around by Reindeer!
  • Cars lined up for a chance to meet with Jolly Ol' Saint Nic
  • Olaf took some time off his busy schedule to visit the City of Kentwood
  • He's a favorite of the little ones...
  • ...and the big kids like him too!

Furbulous Gift Ideas for Fluffy, Fido, Frisky and Finn (Frances too)

Deer in Headlights

By: Victoria Mullen

Cat eye glassesThere are tons of stories floating out there in the holiday ether proposing all manner of gift ideas for people. Tons. And we (oh, who am I kidding–I) almost wrote yet another such article. Key word: Almost. Because at the very last minute, we (er, I) remembered something important: Landfills are filled with crap. People have way too much crap. Yep, and if people want even more crap, people can get online or hit the malls to shop for more.stocking hat for cat petsmart People have THUMBS, dammit!

But there is a vast portion of our population that is often overlooked, yet far more deserving. What about Fluffy and Fido? Frisky or Finn? What about their holiday wishes? Who will speak up for them?

Who, indeed?

Furry family members are at our mercy. They can’t drive (with the exception of Toonces, and we all know how that turned out). They can’t use the computer (and if they could, you’d be rich and they’d be famous). That’s why, more than ever this season, it’s important for us to be good people and surprise our fluffy, fuzzy, feathered and finny little loved ones with something that will make them happy and lift their little spirits.

Here are only a few furbulous ideas. But first…

Full disclosure: My two boys, Bobby and Frankie helped me compile this list, but they can vouch for only one of these products. (If you can call not ‘stinking outside the box’ a form of vouching.)

World’s Best® Cat Litter
So what if this is the pet equivalent of giving your spouse a vacuum cleaner for Christmas? This stuff is awesome. My boys LOVE this product and so do I. It’s made from corn, soWorlds best cat litter petsmart first off, you don’t get that nasty clay dust whisping up your nostrils when you pour it into the box. Plus, it’s lightweight, clumps even better than clay, and virtually eliminates that special aroma emitted by the treasures your cat(s) insist(s) on leaving for your sifting pleasure. I always make a beeline for the red bag because it’s for multi-cat households. $17.49 to $29.99

Whisker City® Cat Bowl
Warning: If your cat is horrendously spoiled, this gift is a very bad idea. The first line of this product’s description is a tip-off: “Spoil your princess of a pet a little more with this designer, ceramic bowl.” Only $7.99, this bowl has “Princess” printed on the inside and sports a princess crown and rhinestone. Which is overkill, in my opinion, but some people are just that nutty about their cats. This bowl is intended only for cats, so don’t go gifting your 160-pound Rottweiler with this. You’ve been warned.Laurel Burch Carlotta Cat Bowl Pet smart

Laurel Burch Carlotta Cat Bowl
My mom has a cool collection of Laurel Burch cat prints and wooden cat figures, but she doesn’t have a cat. I have two cats, but they are manly and certainly would not be impressed by this bowl. But girl kitties will love this because it’s adorned with vibrant colors and an exclusive Laurel Burch design. I’m not going to say that your precious kitty deserves a bowl fit for a queen because I will not be a party to upping the ante on your cat’s snottiness. $8.99


Whisker City® Pet Holiday Christmas Tree Cat Hatxmas tree cat hat
I enjoy annoying my boys every chance I get, so when I saw this online, I decided that I have to get it. It’s festive and they say it’s lightweight and comfortable for a cat to wear. I don’t believe that for one minute because no matter how comfy and cozy this thing is touted to be, no self-respecting cat will ever be comfortable wearing this hat. I mean, look at it. It screams, “I look like an idiot!” and your cat will hate you for getting this. But will that stop me? No sirree. Caution: This item is intended to be used for a short duration, under close supervision. Fit should allow room for two fingers to fit between the item and the cat. Do not use as a restraint. $5.59 (Other styles available.)

All Living Things® Ferret Hammock
Isn’t this thing adorable? Ferrets and other little guys really love hammocks, and this one sure looks comfortable. At $7.99, it’s worth it, but a cautionary tale, if I may. I had three ferrets once, all of whom were sweet-tempered; all of whom were fun. One even smelled like a chicken enchilada. Poodha was my first, so she has a special place in my heart. But darn if that little stinker didn’t have a quirk: She liked to chew on fabric–especially my ex-husband’s underwear. Clean or not, Poodha was an equal-opportunity underweferret hammockar-eater.

I mention this because you really have to keep an eagle eye on your beloved mustelid–in fact, never let him or her out of your sight. Because although I was well aware that Poodha had a hankering for cotton underwear, I did not realize how dangerous this could be. I thought it was funny. Oh, it was funny all right. Right up until the day she went limp and lethargic, and I rushed her to the vet. He took a radiograph of Poodha’s tiny belly and found a blockage. This is dangerous in any animal or human, but in a creature as tiny as a ferret, things can go south in a hurry.

I am happy to say that Poodha survived the ordeal, and I was much more observant after that. My other two ferrets never did anything like that, and maybe yours won’t either, but just a heads up. Having said all that, it turns out that the distributor of this product has a similar warning. Instructions: Observe your pet’s behavior with this product for suitability. Some items may be inappropriate for your pet. Remove and replace the item if it becomes damaged. Caution: Ingestion of this product can result in serious injury. Hey, they’re not kidding. Maybe it’s because they want to keep calling their company ‘All LIVING Things.’

All Living Things® Pet Holiday Ugly Sweater (Small Animal)ugly sweater small animal petsmart
OMG! OMG! OMG! An ugly sweater for GUINEA PIGS!!!!! Be still, my heart. At $7.19, it’s an absolute must-get. This 100% polyester gift will lift the spirits of little Sparky for sure. Take photos and post on Facebook. Please. I would get a guinea pig specifically for this sweater, but that would be a very irresponsible thing to do. Caution: This item is intended to be used for a short duration, under close supervision. Do not use for more than a few hours at a time. Sizing should allow room for 2 fingers to fit between the item and the pet. Do not use as a restraint.

[Editor’s note: Although the writer was highly unprofessional in reporting this finding, we nonetheless published it as written because this thing is SO FREAKIN’ CUTE!]


crazy cat lady action figureCrazy Cat Lady Action Figure
Ummmmm. OK, so maybe this isn’t meant as a gift for your pet, but it’s related to cats, so I think it’s appropriate to include here (plus I’m the one writing this article, so there you have it). Chances are, you know a real-life cat lady, an enchanting, endearing, eccentric soul who makes the neighborhood lively and vibrant. If you don’t know a cat lady in person, here’s the next best thing. This gift is a great way of saying, “Here, take this, you crazy old bat!” Comes with six cute kitties. $17.49 It’s worth noting that the product description is a hoot, so be sure to check it out.

The perfect pampering pram for your senior cat or dog up to 35 lbs. Strut your little pride and joy out in the fresh air–durable, breathable mesh provides visibility and airflow. Shock absorbers offer a smooth ride on any terrain (well, I’m sure there are exceptions) and locking brakes keep Fido or Fluffy safe from unintended rollbacks. $195, but your precious baby is worth it. Right?

Bird toyAll Living Things Knots & Blocks Bird Toy
Birds are smart. Really smart. They’re emotionally sensitive too. If their minds aren’t kept stimulated, they will go bat-shit crazy. I am not making this up. There is a PBS documentary called Parrot Confidential about birds in captivity who have been surrendered by their humans. It’s heartbreaking. These intelligent beings can live more than 70 years and may very well outlive their caretakers. Responsible bird caretakers know this about their feathered wards and do what they can to keep their minds active. This toy will help. $16.99

My Cat VideoCat Video Clapperboard
I’m in film, and my boys are always bugging me to make them Internet stars, going so far as to video-bomb my auditions. Sadly, casting directors have to date not been amused, and I’ve missed out on several high-profile opportunities. There are plenty of felines out there who aspire to be famous, too, so there is a real market for this item. It has the added attraction of offering the ability to write your cat’s name in chalk (although you’ll have to purchase the chalk elsewhere). My guess is that this item will soon sell out, so don’t wait. $4.99 And, no, I’m not getting my boys one of these. Heck, no, not after they’ve ruined my very promising–albeit budding–career.

Cat Mate Pet Fountain
My Frankie doesn’t drink nearly enough water, and I’m concerned about his kidneys so I’m getting him this for Christmas. What the heck, Bobby can use it, too. The makers of this fountain say that it’s exceptionally quiet “and maximizes the appeal of drinking by providing multi-height drinking levels with plenty of water movement to ensure naturally oxygenated, cool water throughout the day.” Whatever. If my cats will drink from it, I’ll call it good. Yes, for $49.99, I can–heck, will–feel better about my pets’ health, so much so that I may very well give myself a pat on the back for being a responsible pet caretaker. This is an important distinction, by the way: Pet people are not “owners”. One does not “own” a pet. (In case you haven’t noticed, property laws are evolving.) People merely have the privilege of caring for creatures who are far more deserving of love and kindness than we humans are.

princess bowlWhisker City® Paris Cat Bowl
The product description says that this bowl “allows your cat to feel like she’s dining at an exquisite diner in the middle of the most beautiful city – Paris! Your cat will purr, ‘oh la-la’ after eating out of such a delightful bowl.” First, I believe “rrrrrrrooh-la-la” is the correct interpurrtation. Now, I can tell you without hesitation that my guys don’t give a rat’s ass where they eat as long as there is food, and I’m fairly certain they wouldn’t be thinking of Paris if they were to eat out of this pleasingly pink bowl. More likely they’d be thinking–accompanied by an evil glare, mind you–“We’ll get you for this.” Which is why the copywriter was astute enough to use the word “she” in the product description. $6.99

Snorkel SantaTop Fin® Snorkel Santa Holiday Ornament
The product description says that this thing traveled all the way from the North Pole, but I don’t believe that for a second, nor should you. You could probably get Phineas F. Finn to believe it, but don’t be surprised if all you get are some bubbles in reply. $3.19 Be sure to rinse this thing in warm water before surprising Master Finn.

Egg-Cellent Dinosaur Erasers
For that special human on your list. These are cool. I wish someone would get me one of these, but my boys don’t have thumbs, so I’m s.o.l. on this one. But that doesn’t mean someone you know and love should be deprived of the joy of receiving this little stocking stuffer. It’s seriously clever and I wish I had thought of inventing it because I would be rich instead of living hand to mouth. Well, as long as the boys are fed, life is good. $2.99

Oh Deer! Hot Water Bottle
Another festive gift suitable for a human, this product’s description states, “It’s just fawning at the opportunity to get you nice and toasty warm!” Brilliant copywriting, if I do say so myself. I can see quite a few uses for this thing: To get your bed warm and ready for you as you turoh dear hot water bottle covern the thermostat down to 55 degrees to lower your electrical bill. Or to apply to a stiff, sore neck. Great for soothing menstrual cramps, too. (Just being honest here.) $12.99

Understand What Your Dog is Thinking Breath Spray
Clearly, I’m in the wrong business. Here’s how this one works: Spritz in your mouth (not Fido’s) and you’ll instantly find out what your dog really thinks of you. Think twice before using this: Not for the fainthearted or tragically sensitive. $6.99

Dog Hoodie
Bruno secretly covets one of these, and if you know what’s good for you, you will get him this hoodie. Made from soft cotton for a comfy, cozy fit because you sure as hell don’t want to set your dog off by making him wear something that annoys him. $19

squirrel underpants

Squirrel Underpants
It takes an awful lot to offend me, but I’ve had it up to here with naked squirrels. I’m frankly tired of seeing all those nuts. If I have to wear pants, then so should they. Each pair of these adorable little briefs measures 3″ around the waist and is crafted of 100% cotton. Hamsters, gerbils–you name it–if an exhibitionist rodent refuses to wear pants, you know what to get him or her. Do it for them. Do it for yourself. Just do it. $5.99

‘Deer in Headlights’ artwork by Victoria Mullen


Annual Music Festival at the Gerald R. Ford Airport Brings Santa Along

santaThe Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GFIA) is getting into the holiday spirit with a music festival, Irish dancers, and a visit from Santa Claus.

Santa will be passing out candy and listening to all the children’s Christmas wishes in the Airport’s Grand Hall from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, December 11. Photos with Santa are free, but the airport is requesting that guest bring in at least two non-perishable food items–or make a monetary donation–to Mel Trotter Ministries. Help spread the Christmas spirit throughout the area!

“The holiday season is an important time for the Mel Trotter Ministries Food Pantry,” said Abbey Sladick, Director of Community Relations at Mel Trotter Ministries. “The food donated will help sustain us throughout the year, and we are blessed to be able to partner with the airport to ensure many families in Grand Rapids will not go hungry.”

In addition to Santa’s appearance, and those helped through Mel Trotter, GFIA’s traditional Holiday Music Festival is running the week of December 7-11th. The 21st Annual Holiday Music Festival brings in elementary, middle, and high school choirs from around West Michigan to sing a variety of Christmas carols. Daily performances run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A total of 11 local choirs representing public, charter and private schools are set to sing 20 minute song sets throughout the day, putting passengers and guests at airport in the holiday spirit.

Mel Trotter“Our airport is extremely busy around the holidays, but it is important for us to reflect upon what this season is all about,” said GFIA Executive Director Brian Ryks.  “We are hoping we can put some smiles on children’s faces as they sit on Santa’s lap and listen to carols, and at the same time we are asking West Michigan to give back to the community by donating non-perishable food items to those in need.”

In addition to the music festival & Santa’s visit, piano players and Irish dancers will also be making an appearance at the airport during the holiday season. The Ardan Academy of Irish Dance will be performing on Sunday, December 20th at the airport from 2-4 p.m.

All events are free and open to the public.

Wyoming’s Great Candy Cane Hunt

Candy Cane HuntThis Saturday, December 12, a multitude of children will find themselves waiting patiently at Pinery Park in hopes that Santa will arrive. However, instead of appearing on his sleigh pulled by reindeer, Santa will be coming in hot thanks to the Wyoming Fire Department!

After the spirited arrival, the real fun can begin with Santa leading the children on a Great Candy Cane Hunt throughout the park. Immediately following the hunt, the adventure continues as the group scampers across the street to the Wyoming Senior Center to play board games, color, eat lunch, and sit down with Santa to share their holiday wish list.

Candy CaneThis year, the Wyoming Senior Center will have some new “life-size” games for the everyone to enjoy. Enlarged Jenga pieces and giant Connect Four boards are sure to bring some extra magic to an event already beaming with it.

The Great Candy Cane Hunt is a timeless Wyoming tradition and a kick-off to the ensuing Christmas and Holiday seasons.

“I plan a lot of events, but this event is special,” exclaimed City of Wyoming Recreation Programmer Kenny Westrate. Westrate has planned the Great Candy Cane Hunt for the past eleven years. “You get to see the smiling faces of the kids during the hunt and when they see Santa. You get to see families playing board games and enjoying each other. You don’t always see that with other events, but it’s guaranteed every December.”

Come on out to Pinery Park this Saturday for a fun-filled day of laughs, smiles, family, and Santa!

Pre-registration is required. You can download a registration form here or you can register online.

Event details are below:

Date: Saturday, December 12
Time: 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Location: Pinery Park for the hunt followed by lunch at the Wyoming Senior Center
Age: All ages
Cost: Ages 3-14 – $4 Resident, $6 Non-Resident (All others – $2)

Remember, the Great Candy Cane Hunt is outdoors, so dress accordingly!

Seize the Day During Ugly Sweater Season!

Ugly SweaterBy: Mike DeWitt

December is finally here and soon we will be swept into a swirling snow globe of love, laughter, family, and magic. This is the month where all of those traits culminate in the greatest get-together that planet Earth offers us: ugly sweater parties. ’Tis the season indeed!

Ugly sweaters are a paradox: the uglier they are, the more beautiful they become. There is really no such thing as an “ugly” sweater this time of year. The more neutral and seemingly normal your sweater is, the less attention you will receive. Not receiving attention at an ugly sweater party is just un-American.

If you want to be the beautiful swan at the party, make sure you’re willing to go all in. Fortune favors the bold.

If you’re worried about where your sweater currently resides in relation to what else the world has to offer, let me introduce you to the Ugly Sweater Spectrum (USS). The USS is on an easy-to-follow 10-point scale ranging from -5 to 5. A score that approaches the fringe on either end of the spectrum is more desired. Remember, with an ugly sweater party you need something that stands out and says “look at me!” That can be acquired through something truly awful or ingeniously crafted. On both ends of the spectrum, it’s a perfectly crafted cocktail of both.

Let’s take a dive into the collage and barrage of color and Christmas:

5-USSUSS Scale: 5

Who needs a sweater when you can have a suit?

This is cool. You are cool, and don’t you dare let anyone else tell you otherwise. When it comes to ugly sweaters, you’re all in. A trip to Goodwill wasn’t enough. No, you needed a full suit and a matching tie to boot.

Yes, the suit is ugly, but yet it emanates cool from its very core. Like that guy in college who you KNOW spent hours perfectly crafting his messy hair. Is it perfect, or is it a mess? It’s perfectly messed up, and it’s the style of greatness all of us mortals wish we could achieve.

This suit makes you the focus of every person at the party. Instagram was made specifically for you in this suit. Enjoy the moment, it’s all downhill from here.

4-USSUSS Scale: 4

Remember, an ugly sweater party isn’t solely about being ugly, it’s about standing out. This sweater is inherently unique in its take on Christmas. First off, cats aren’t the first thing that comes to your mind when you think “Santa” and “North Pole”, yet here we have a cat as the main character on a gorgeous light blue backdrop we call a sweater.

Not only is it a cat, but it’s an evil cat SHOOTING LASER BEAMS OUT OF ITS EYES AND DESTROYING THE NORTH POLE! The elf running away in horror is just icing on the cake as the North Pole goes up in flames behind him. This isn’t ugly. This is genius. This is a sweater you’d wear at least a handful of times during the Christmas season. The colors  are simple and work together seamlessly to make it easy on the eyes. It’s a work of art, and showing up to a party wearing this sweater instantly makes you a hit no matter the audience.


2-USSUSS Scale: 3

Will Smith is one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars and has been around for what seems like an eternity. While Will Smith in his current state is a credible and immensely successful actor, nothing quite touches on cool like young Will Smith.

The ’90s Will Smith was royalty. The man was a Prince for goodness sake! Bel-Air became a monarchy simply because he decided to show up. Throw in retro phones and cassettes littering the background, and this sweater is a winner no matter what the time of year. The only thing making this a Christmas-themed sweater and not everyday attire is the Santa hat.

3-USSUSS Scale: 2

A 2 on the scale is right at that threshold of standing out and falling back into the abyss. Five years ago this sweater wouldn’t even be in the conversation. Five years from now it might fall back to the wayside because that’s the way pop culture goes. But right now, this sweater has power because Game of Thrones has a stronger touch than Midas.

Is the sweater ugly? No. Is it particularly cool? No, but Game of Thrones goes a long way. Trust me.

There is irony in wearing this sweater as winter is already here. Because of that, those who don’t know Game of Thrones might get a slight chuckle. However, those who are in the loop will be filled with instant envy that they didn’t find the sweater first. You will be asked no fewer than 15 times where you bought said sweater. Honestly, just purchase a handful of them and bring them to the party with you. They’ll sell and you’ll walk home with some extra cash.

2-USSUSS Scale: 1

College apparel can never be ugly. A college campus is the one place you can dress as crazy as you like, and as long as it’s school colors it will be deemed “school spirit.” Both of these sweaters could be worn to football games. Now that I think about it, I’ve seen both of these worn at football games!

The sweaters are unique enough because they are more of a novelty than anything. They sway towards the cool side because school spirit is always cool on game day. However, don’t expect to turn any heads or make many waves at your ugly sweater party wearing one of these. The best you can hope for is a “Go Blue” or “Go Green, Go White”, and that’s not a bad consolation prize.

1-USSUSS Scale: 0

This is not an ugly sweater, nor is it particularly cool or interesting. This sweater screams, “I bought this for one reason, and it was solely to have a sweater to wear to this party.” You thought, maybe this sweater is ugly enough, but you toed too close to the line of normality to make any true statement with your attire.

This sweater can be worn once a year, yet it is not memorable. You and your attempt to be ugly and cute will be easily forgotten. Better luck next year.

2-USSUSS Scale: -1

Diving into the negative numbers, especially towards the end of the spectrum, signals a dive for the worst. These sweaters don’t fit the typical definition of cool or hip. These sweaters are going to make you the Belle of the Ball the crazier they become, but if you swing for the fences and miss, prepare for a long evening. Creativity is appreciated.

Scoring a 1 or a -1 is weak. It shows a lack of risk and confidence in yourself. Standing out isn’t important, you’d rather slink into the shadows. This sweater is ugly because there is too much going on, it’s really that simple. What makes this choice even worse is it’s a sweater that was probably purchased for $40 simply to wear to an ugly sweater party. Buying an ugly sweater because it’s aware that its ugly is bad form. Don’t show up giving 50 percent.

-2-USSUSS Scale: -2

This is why ugly sweater parties were created! This right here is a work of art. It is a sweater with no attempt at being ugly. In fact, it was probably purchased as a nice, thoughtful gift. It’s not as crazy as some of the sweaters coming up next, but it’s an original. It’s like watching grainy videos of the first Super Bowl. Was the product as good as it is now? Of course not, but without it there is no foundation to build on. Sweaters like this set the stage for our annual ugly sweater parties. It’s a classic.

-3-USSUSS Scale: -3

We have finally reached the section where truly being ugly can only be captured with imagination and creativity. You can’t buy this kind of awful in a store, it can only be created with hard work and desire.

One second you notice the tinsel and ornaments hanging off a forest green sweater, and then the sweater magically transforms into a Christmas tree with a star on top! Sheer genius! A sweater like this, while beautiful in its own right, cannot be placed on the positive end of the spectrum because it can only be used once. A perfectly good forest green sweater was sacrificed in order to create this tinsel tree of holiday perfection.

Bonus points for creating an ugly piece of clothing while staying within the spectrum of cute. That is flawless execution. Bravo!

-4-USSUSS Scale: -4

Welcome to the deep end. Make sure to dive in headfirst.

This young lady decided a sweater wasn’t enough to satisfy her style. No, a full dress was needed to truly incorporate all of the awful she could get her hands on.

Where do you even start? The long sleeves throw off the feel of a dress that is already riding above the knee. That sweater-dress is odd enough without the add-ons that it could probably win some awards as a standalone. Throw in Psy from Gangnam Style sporting a Santa outfit and the design takes a turn for the worst. The Santa and snowflakes are so distracting that it takes a minute to register that there is no hint of pattern used to spell “Gangnam Style.” Four colors were chosen (red, white, blue, and green) and placed onto the sweater-dress with no rhyme or reason. For all the work put into this, it comes across as a serious oversight.

This sweater-dress is mission accomplished at an ugly sweater party. You will never be forgotten.

-5-USSUSS Scale: -5

We have reached the opposite end of the spectrum to find the greatest holiday sweater of all time. This is USS Hall-of-Fame worthy. You may look at this and think, “He didn’t have a good idea so he just cut a sweater and things fell into place”, but you would be dead wrong. More planning went into the making of this piece of art than went into the Sistine Chapel.

The face of Rudolph had to be perfectly groomed so it was on scale with the nose, eyes, and antlers. But before the grooming could begin, the entire plan had to be mapped out around the nose. Something like that doesn’t fall into place. Extensive man hours were needed to pull off that feat.

While your eyes are naturally drawn to the beautiful red-nosed Rudolph–don’t be ashamed, beautiful works of art are meant to be enjoyed–the perfect cut in the sweater is equally impressive. The sweater has been modified to reveal enough skin to show off Rudolph while also keeping every unnecessary inch of the body kept under wraps. Take a quick glance at the arm sleeve on the right arm. Like men lost at sea eating every part of the fish they catch, this man has wasted no part of the sweater that didn’t need to be.

You, sir, are an American hero and will never be forgotten. Merry Christmas to you!

You Won’t Believe Your Eyes (or Ears): The Singing Christmas Tree is Back for its 31st Year


By Victoria Mullen

Imagine, if you will, a singing Christmas tree. That’s right, a 67-foot-tall Christmas tree festooned with 240 young singers stacked from tip to toe. (The remaining 35 singers perform from under the tree.) It’s a strange sight and an unforgettable experience, so you won’t want to miss the Mona Shores Singing Christmas Tree at the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts, 425 W. Western Ave., #200, Muskegon, MI 49440, December 3-5.

I have questions, and maybe you do, too, such as: How do the singers stay in place? Do they get vertigo? What happens if one should faint? Are there singers in the back of the tree and, if so, do they mind that no one sees them? And how do the singers get up there anyway? These questions–and more–will not be answered here because Christmas is magic and so are this tree and this choir.

As a consolation prize, here are some quick, fun facts:

  • The person at the top of the Tree is known as “The Tree Angel” and is always a high school senior, selected by the director. This hard-working choir student exemplifies the spirit of the Mona Shores Choir.
  • Over 1,500 linear feet of electrical wiring runs throughout the tree to more than 25,000 colored lights, and
    over 5,000 linear feet of special greenery imported from Germany is “fluffed” and put on the tree prior to the
  • More than 200 volunteers started working on this year’s production in early October. Many worked around the clock from Sunday morning through Monday evening to prepare for technical rehearsals and get the tree presentable for its annual performance. Now that’s dedication!
  • The first Singing Christmas Tree ever created happened 50 years ago in Southern California. It was 16 feet
    high and held 25 singers. Many communities across the world have Singing Christmas Trees, but none are as
    tall as this one.

This is the thirty-first anniversary of the Mona Shores Singing Christmas Tree. There are only three days of performances, so get with the program quickly: Thursday, Dec. 3 at 7 pm; Friday, Dec. 4 at 7 pm; and Saturday, Dec. 5 at 3 pm & 7 pm.

Tickets are $15.00 and $10.00 on sale through Star Tickets and the Frauenthal Box Office.



Chin Up! It’s the Holidays: A Depressive’s Guide to Surviving the Ho-Ho-Ho

12-federico-castellon-remorse-1940By Victoria Mullen


Does the holiday season weigh heavily upon your tender psyche? Depression get you down? Cold comfort in knowing that there are millions of people like you out there, right? No safety in numbers with this thing.


Many familiar with depression will agree: Sunny days are the worst. Yeah, sure, birds are chirping, kids are playing, and in the summer, you can hear the drone of lawnmowers in the distance. But with sunny days come obligations. You’re expected to be productive and enjoy the day. Let’s be real: Birds poop on your car, kids are loud and annoying, and freshly cut grass unleashes your hay fever. Yes, sunny days put a lot of pressure on a person.


Conversely, cold, rainy or snowy days are the best because you have a good excuse to stay in bed and cuddle up under the covers with cats sleeping by your feet. But someone has to feed them, and guess what? That someone is you. Only under threat of feline mutiny or family banishment will you venture out to the store to get cat food and holiday gifts, and that’s pure torture because the holiday season brings those awful chipper, happy people out in droves. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to bitch-slap the next beaming face.



It could be that you have a perfectly fine, supportive family. I know I do. They’re great folks. But in the throes of depression, it’s hard to see or appreciate that. And if you don’t have family or friends close by, the loneliness can be unbearable.


Depression is a many-faceted beast, and this article isn’t meant to be a cure-all. What we can offer here are some tips to help get you through the endless drudge of holiday parties, workplace gatherings and caroling, depression be damned. Twenty-five tips, one per day–think of it as a sort of depression advent calendar. If I had the energy, I’d paint a lovely picture for each day. Instead, Federico Castellon has captured the feelings of depression admirably. Learn more about the artist here.


  1. Keep it real. Don’t compare your holidays to those portrayed in overly cheerful greeting cards; that’s just not reality. Greeting card companies have to make money somehow, and their business model requires selling never-ending tidings of joy. But you’re smart, and you know better. Life is not a bowl of cherries. And that’s OK.
  2. Do something different. Don’t settle for being a sheep in the herd. Break out from the bahs. Who says you have to make an eight-course dinner for 15 family members? That’s the greeting card industry brainwashing you. Have Thanksgiving at a restaurant instead–yes, let someone else do the cooking. Spend Christmas day at the moviesFederico_Castellon,_Self_Portrait_with_H,_1942. Skip the traditional gift-giving and donate the money to a charity. Screw those greeting cards. What a bunch of hooey!
  3. Reach out to friends and family. People who care about you want to know when you’re having a tough time. Your instinct may be to isolate yourself, but resist the urge to do so. At least keep in touch by phone. A friendly, empathic voice can work wonders. (Admittedly, I have a tough time with this one, but it is highly recommended anyway.)
  4. Life isn’t perfect, and that’s OK. It’s easy to let your imagination run wild, but don’t automatically anticipate disaster. Take the holidays as they come. The greeting card industry has bestowed special powers upon some perfectly ordinary days to make a few fast bucks. It means nothing! Surely you can see through all that. (I’m not being paranoid. Am I? Wait.)
  5. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Now, here’s a cliche for you! But, guess what–it’s good advice. Don’t feel obligated to compete with that idiot down the street. You know the one: Decorations up the wazoo, holiday music blasting at all hours of the day and night. The one whose house sticks out like a sore thumb with all those stinking–er, blinking–lights. Sure, he’s crazy, but don’t let him get to you. (That’s exactly what he wants.) Instead, think of how high his electric bill will be. On another note, so what if you don’t crack open that box of St. Nicholas figurines your grandma left you in her will. Yes, you promised her you’d display them proudly each year. But, guess what? They’re nice and cozy tucked in their box down in thcastellon.maskofthereddeathe basement (or up in the attic), and they won’t mind waiting another year. Seriously.
  6. Help someone less fortunate than you. Maybe your life seems crappy, but just remember that someone always has it worse than you. That is not to discount what you’re feeling, but making a difference in someone else’s life can make you feel better about yourself. It takes your mind off its focus on you.
  7. Don’t stress over seeing Uncle Bob (or other annoying family member). Don’t want to see him (or her)? Then don’t. Just don’t go there. Why put up with the stress of seeing someone you don’t like? Life’s too short. Go to the movies instead.
  8. Ask for help. But be specific. Need help cooking or shopping? Ask a friend or family member. Tell them what sort of help you need. People aren’t mind readers, you know. We’re not that highly evolved yet.
  9. Some things are beyond your control. Do Dad and Uncle Frank always fight over who gets to carve the turkey? Remember, it’s them, not you. First things first: If you can safely take away the sharp fork and carving knife, then do so. Next, go to another room, sit down and breathe deeply. Don’t worry. They’ll work it out. They always do, right? It’s impossible to control every situation or person (nor would you want to). Your own reaction–now that’s something you can control.
  10. Create new family traditions. Maybe finding the pickle in the Christmas tree has reached its expiration date. It’s not fun anymore, is it? If you don’t enjoy the ritual, why keep doing it? ‘Tis the season to create a new one. As an example, my ex-husband and I used to celebrate LEON (NOEL, spelled backwards–we’re clever folk). Worked for us. Tfc-12-the-dark-angelshe kids, not so much. After years of therapy, they’re fine–proof positive that kids can bounce back from just about anything. (Your healthcare insurance may provide coverage for just such an emergency. Read the fine print.)
  11. Celebrate the memory of loved ones. Holidays can be tough when you’re reminded of someone who isn’t around anymore, but think of it as an opportunity to celebrate them in spirit. Toast grandma. Bring her photo with you when you go out to dinner at her favorite restaurant. Prop her photo up against the salt shaker, facing you. She’ll be smiling down upon you, that’s for sure. (Well, at least from across the table.)
  12. Be picky. Don’t get overwhelmed by weeks and weeks of holiday festivities. Think about which parties you really want to attend. You don’t have to go to them all. Postscript: If you haven’t been invited to any parties, throw one for yourself and Puff. Living well is the best revenge. (Besides, who needs those people anyway?)
  13. Leave when you want. If that means stopping in for just a few minutes to say hello, then so be it. Giving yourself permission to leave at any time helps curb the anxiety.Castellon
  14. Safety in numbers. Arrange to arrive and leave with a friend, and that office party won’t seem so utterly awful. Having an ally and an escape plan can make all the difference.
  15. The ‘perfect gift’ is a myth. Don’t stress over finding the best gift ever. If you don’t know what to get someone, get a gift certificate. That’s what those things are for. The greeting card industry got one thing right.
  16. Shop online. One of my all-time favorite sports, shopping online is a godsend for people with depression. You don’t have to fight the crowds or waste time finding a parking spot. Best of all, you don’t have to put up with rude people and loud, smelly toddlers.
  17. Follow thy budget. Know how much you have to spend before starting to shop. And stick to it. Nothing is more depressing than overspending.
  18. Your normal routine is your best friend. Now is not the time to stay out late at parties or pull an all-nighter cooking or wrapping presents. The psyche can be a fragile thing. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Somehow that analogy fits here. I just know it.castellon_hilda_thefloweredhat
  19. Exercise. If you’re like me, then you hate even the thought of exercising. Unfortunately, exercise is often the best way to banish anxiety or depression, at least for a while. Walk instead of driving. Take a few extra laps around the mall (assuming anxiety doesn’t prevent you from getting there). Chase the cats around your apartment. Be creative!
  20. Eat sensibly. Ha! Easier said than done, but it’s worth striving for anyway. All those holiday treats may be tempting, but overloading on sugar won’t help your mood, and you’ll only hate yourself more if you pack on the pounds. Having said that, don’t beat yourself up if you’ve just raided and emptied the cookie jar. Just get back on track tomorrow. Or wait until Lent (assuming you’re Catholic). That’s what Lent is for.
  21. Holiday substances won’t lift your spirits. People over-imbibe during the holidays, but that doesn’t mean you should. Alcohol is itself a depressant and drinking too much will make you feel worse. And it may not be safe if you’re taking antidepressant meds. Just don’t go there. (If you do, certainly don’t drive.)
  22. Sun lamps are golden. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) plagues millions of people during the shorter winter days. Consider getting a sun lamp. It could improve your mood.1
  23. Don’t miss your meds. Do not miss your meds. Do NOT miss your meds. If you’re like me and take antidepressant or bipolar meds–or both–don’t miss doses. Sure, it’s tempting, but that’s just another place you shouldn’t go. (Trust me on this one.) While you’re at it, make sure your refills are up to date, too. Now is not the time to run out.
  24. Have extra sessions with your therapist (if you see one). The holiday season is tough on people. (Now, there’s a “duh” statement, if I ever saw one. But I wrote it, and I stand by it.)
  25. Be kind to yourself. ‘Tis the season we dwell on our imperfections, mistakes, things we’re not proud of. Guess what? You’re human. Cut yourself some slack. Kindness and forgiveness goes a long way. Don’t forget to save some for yourself.

When all else fails, here’s the Suicide Hotline number: 1.800.SUICIDE (1.800.784.2433). I’ve called it myself. That’s what it’s there for.

Images copyright Federico Castellón (1914-1971).

Kentwood Tree Lighting Ceremony is Fun, Festive and Free!

Kentwood Christmas Tree Lighting

By Victoria Mullen

A lot of hard work goes into planning and executing a tree lighting ceremony.

We won’t go into specifics now (we will share some fun historical facts later), but do not miss the Tree Lighting Ceremony at the Kentwood Public Library, 4950 Breton Rd. SE, on Wednesday, December 2 from 6-8 pm.

Please take note… this is a new location from years past.

Kentwood imageFree for the whole family, the fun begins at 6 pm with a Candy Cane Hunt. Also beginning at 6 pm are Carriage Rides and Hay Rides, new this year. Enjoy light refreshments from 6-6:45, and then be sure to stick around for the main event at 6:45, the Tree Lighting Ceremony. It will put you in a festive mood, assuming you’re not already there mentally. And if you are, be prepared to get even more amped up, thanks to the music performed by the EKHS Jazz Band.

If you want photos with Santa–he’s a good sport, so be kind–bring your own camera. Even more fun awaits: From 4-8 pm, kids and adults are welcome to buy presents at the Elves Express Gift Shop Santawhere all gifts—suitable for all ages—are just $2 each.

Tree lighting ceremonies often go unappreciated, and that’s a shame. The custom harks back to 18th-century Germany when candles were used to decorate family Christmas trees in upper-class homes. I’ve often wondered how they got the candles to stay put without burning down the house. And then I found out: Those old-timey, creative geniuses glued the candles to a tree branch with melted wax or used pins to attach the candles. Still a hazardous proposition, in my opinion. It wasn’t until around 1890 that candle holders came into use and later, between 1902 and 1914, cute little lanterns and glass balls held the candles in place.

Christmas lights, holiday lights, twinkle lights, midget bulbs, Italian lights, mini lights (and in the UK, fairy lights)–a light by any other name still illuminates. Early electric Christmas lights came on the scene in the 1880s, no doubt preventing countless holiday fires caused by candles.

Kentwood Tree Lighting GraphicThere is a dark side to holiday lights, alas, and it has to do with recycling. Amazingly, more than 20 million pounds of discarded holiday lights are shipped to the Christmas light recycling capital of the world, aka Shijiao, China. This unfortunate custom began around 1990 because of–you guessed it–cheap labor and dismal environmental standards. Details here.

We certainly don’t intend this as a downer, but it’s important to not take our holiday light consumption, er, lightly. Suffice it to say that safer techniques are now used to separate out the elements, and everything is recycled: Glass, copper, plastic and brass. Plus, each year, new-fangled, energy-efficient and even longer-lasting lights come on the scene. Perhaps there will come a day when very few need to be recycled.

It’s a pleasant thought, right?


Enjoy the Art of Giving at UICA’s 27th Annual Holiday Artists’ Market

"UICA Holiday Market"
By Victoria Mullen

If you had the choice of receiving a handcrafted, one-of-a-kind gift or something that was mass-produced, which would you want? I know what I’d choose–something made from the heart, providing it is artfully made, of course. There is artful, and then there is “artful.” A family member once made me an “artful” sweatshirt. I still can’t talk about it.

Normally I make paintings specific to each gift recipient; it beats buying a soulless item from a big box store, although such gifts have their place. Back in the ’60s, my dad built a color TV from a kit–remember Heathkit?–but not everyone has the patience and expertise to do something like that. Plus, Heathkit is no more. And it wasn’t all that much fun for the rest of the family because Dad was overly picky and constantly adjusting the contrast and color on the TV even while we were watching it. This was especially devastating when Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom came on, and he wouldn’t quit until it was perfect. Which it never was.

Thinking back, I have a hunch he built his oscilloscope and tube tester from Heathkit kits as well. I was in love with that tube tester, but only rarely would he let me test any tubes, and only if I caught him testing some. He was so darn secretive about it.

"UICA Holiday Market"

Anyway, I digress. I usually make paintings for my special recipients, but this year I’m not; my paints and other art supplies are packed away because I’m moving soon. No problem, thanks to UICA’s fabulous Holiday Artists’ Market.

Here are only some of the cool things you’ll find this year: Beautifully crafted gifts and goods from dozens of regional artists—from jewelry, home goods, and fine art to holiday cards, accessories, and toys. Live music by The Kent County String Band Friday 6-8 pm for your enjoyment, and local food and beverage vendors both days while you shop… plus craft stations for kids and grown-ups, and a photo booth. You can even create your own gift wrap."UICA Holiday Market"

This year the UICA Holiday Artists’ Market is at the Steelcase Town Hall, 901 44th St. SE, Grand Rapids so you can browse, meet the artists and have more room to stroll. Admission and parking are both FREE at this two-day event.

It’s a win-win-win: Not only will your gift recipient be pleased and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you made someone feel very special, but you’ll be supporting local artists, too. Here are even more cool things you’ll find… and this by no means an exhaustive list:

– Woodcuts

– One-of-a-kind assemblages

"UICA Holiday Market"– Handcrafted leather work

– Sculpture

– Earthenware

– Bonsai plant balls

– Pewter works

– Fine-art photography

– Paintings


– Decorative ceramic art

– Fiber arts

– Illustrated paper goods

– Functional ceramic art

– Ecological art

– Organic jewelry

Two days only. If you miss it, you’ll have to wait another whole year.

Friday, December 4th:
UICA Member Preview: 5:30-6 pm
Public Welcome: 6-9 pm

Saturday, December 5th:
Public Welcome: 10 am-7 pm

"UICA Holiday Market"


Thanksgiving, we are thankful for you. No, seriously! Stop laughing…

turkeySmushed in-between Halloween and Christmas, Thanksgiving sometimes feels like a lost holiday. The constant Christmas creep paired with shopping extravaganzas can give Thanksgiving the feeling of “meh.” Coupled with a forced inclusion of family and conversation topics that are sure to touch on sure-fire small talk such as religion and politics, Thanksgiving can seem like a hassle.

Seriously, Thanksgiving has been pushed so far down the list of holidays that it has become a placeholder, a pre-game if you will, for football, America’s favorite holiday no matter which day it’s on!

That’s why I’m here, to fight for Thanksgiving and its rightful place at the table next to Christmas instead of banished to the children’s table and forgotten about.

Thanksgiving, you are a beautiful and under appreciated holiday, and I am thankful for you! Here are some things to think about next time your mind flutters towards Christmas with Thanksgiving still on the horizon. Seriously, Christmas music BEFORE Thanksgiving!? Have you no shame…


ThanksgivingLet’s address the elephant in the room right away. I don’t have the true numbers right in front of me, but I took a completely unscientific poll this morning on my walk into work and came away with the indisputable proof that food is the best part of Thanksgiving for 98.8 percent of people. The other 1.2 percent laughed at me and walked away. That’s basically an answer for food, moving the results to 100 percent. Don’t even try to prove me wrong, you cannot win.

So, about the food! Thanksgiving is the one day a year where it is completely acceptable to eat as much as you want, and if anyone even thinks about judging you, tell them to stuff it – with stuffing of course. Stuffing is amazing and should be enjoyed by all. They were just judging you because they wanted your stuffing anyway.

But what about the guilt? Oh, yes, the guilt. I have met some people in my day who feel guilty that they’re eating so much. They’re on a diet and trying to lose weight, maybe they’re in the presence of a new significant other and her family and don’t want to look like a pig, or possibly the wife keeps nagging her poor husband about the tire around his stomach that continues to expand.

I have one phrase for everyone even feeling slightly guilty or judged… “Cheat Day.”

A cheat day is the greatest phrase in the world. You see, the world’s best athletes and body builders have them in their schedule, so you can too, right? The concept of a cheat day is simple, you stick to a strict diet for a week and you get one cheat day to eat whatever the heck you want. One day doesn’t kill you, whereas eating poorly over a long period of time will.

Thanksgiving is the ultimate cheat day! Start your diet tomorrow or just tell people you started a week ago. Whatever, it doesn’t really matter. All you have to say is “cheat day” and everyone will immediately dismount from your back. This is your day. Enjoy it. If it’s good enough for the most in-shape people on planet earth, it’s good enough for you.


thanksgiving rehearsal dinnerThis one can be a big holdup for a lot of people. Your family can be great and awful for the same reason: There is absolutely no filter. Aunt Sally is going to talk politics no matter what and she doesn’t care which side of the aisle you’re on. Someone is definitely bringing up religion, positively or negatively. On top of those big two, you’re going to be asked about your lack of a significant other, if you’d be interested in so-in-so’s friend, why you don’t have a better job, when you’re moving closer to home, and on and on it goes.

Instead of stressing about the impending questions of doom, switch gears in that dome of yours and revel in the fact that you have the opportunity to show off the best of your creative skills! These aren’t necessarily lies, they’re a part of being a thespian on Thanksgiving. How outrageous can an answer be while also keeping it believable?

“What happened to Taylor? I thought you two were so great together!”

“You see Grandma, within the past year I learned to fly. That’s not a metaphor either, I can actually, literally, fly. The fact that she couldn’t fly held me back. Why should I be with someone who can’t fly? I used to be at the bottom with the other lobsters, now I’m in the sky like birds and helicopters.”

Creative? Maybe. Use of song lyrics to confuse Grandma? Check. Believable? Depends on how much wine she’s enjoyed. Did it end the immediate conversation and any future questions pertaining to the situation? Absolutely. Mission accomplished? MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!


black fridayThanksgiving always lands on a Thursday, and since most jobs give Thanksgiving off, it makes for a long weekend. Not having to work is always a net positive. Also, since it’s a National Holiday, if you do have to work you’re (hopefully) being paid time and a half. That’s never a bad thing!

However, if you have to work on Black Friday or at a location that runs one of those “Black Friday” sales that actually start in the evening on Thanksgiving, then bless your soul. I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m also thankful I don’t have to work and attempt to corral the madness.

Everyone avoiding working on Black Friday, extend your thankfulness to someone in need, and then shove them over on your way to that new big screen marked over 50-percent off!


This is a lost cause for all us Lions fans. There is no hope. There is never hope. It’s impossible to be thankful for the pit of doom and despair that is the Detroit Lions.

If you aren’t a Lions fan, be thankful… be very thankful.


With the new phenomenon called “Friends-giving” you have all the actual joys of Thanksgiving but with the added benefit of being around people you actually want to see. An old soul once gave me great words of wisdom, “Choose your wife wisely, she’s the only member of your family you have that luxury with.”

A friends-giving is an excuse to celebrate the holiday with those that you choose to be around! No excessive travel, no stressful questions, and no real commitment if something comes up. Be thankful for Thanksgiving because it brought us the notion of a friends-giving.

From the Citizen Journalism Team here at WKTV, everyone have a Happy Thanksgiving!