Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas outings in the Midwest - 2013 Edition

Wintry weather notwithstanding, my visit to Michigan over Christmas was lovely.

My sister and I made time to attend a yoga class, which was the first time we'd done that together. Naturally, she and I also baked cookies. After all - what is Christmas without cookies? We will never manage to live up to the Christmas cookie standards of our late aunt, who was famous for preparing at least a dozen different kind. But I baked three separate batches, my sister whipped up one, and mom brought two -- I think six is a respectable number.

As a family we went on a couple of great outings (in addition to the unexpected 'staycation' at the hotel.) For a city its size, Grand Rapids has many wonderful activities to keep everyone entertained - even on the coldest days.

My favorite spot in GR is the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, which is well worth a visit any time of year. Depending on the season, you will see and enjoy different sights. The gardens and park encompass 132 acres, most of it outdoors. Some of the sculptures on display are by well-known artists, including Auguste Rodin, Keith Haring, Dale Chihuly, Alexander Calder, and Joan Miro.

"Seven Saints and Sinners" by Marshall Fredericks
There are also several indoor greenhouses, along with a visitors' center; that is where we spent our time during this visit. (The 20 degree weather was not particularly conducive to a stroll through the gardens.) If visiting during evening hours, a walk outside allows one to enjoy colorful Christmas lights. For an extra fee, one can even take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the grounds.

Naturally, my nephew most loved the toy trains in the greenhouse, although those were moving very slowly. The gardens were among many others in the area without power, and the greenhouse was running on emergency generators. In addition to many bright red poinsettias and a few other holiday flowers, the greenhouse holiday display features area buildings and landmarks - everything from the Holland MI lighthouse to the baseball park made from natural materials. Every year a new one is added.

The hallways of the visitors' center feature Christmas trees and displays with decorations from various countries and regions. Although there is no Latvian tree, the Lithuanian tree with its natural straw decorations is similar to a very traditional Latvian one.

Christmas tree with Lithuanian decorations
I did also take a moment to admire the glass sculptures currently on display, although I was chided by a security guard for leaning too far over a railing to get a closer photograph.

On another day, we ventured into downtown Grand Rapids to visit the public museum. Here I loved the Streets of Old Grand Rapids, and my nephew and I enjoyed searching for 15 different Santas around the museum (hints were provided by in pamphlet, which was helpful, as a couple of them were overhead and not so easy to spot!). The museum also has a wonderful old carousel housed in a special pavilion right on the river.

Enjoying the carousel. When one is four years old, sitting still for a photo is not an option!

Santa waiting for the train in the Union Depot railroad station, at the entrance of Streets of Old Grand Rapids
Finding a Latvian connection anywhere and everywhere is, of course, one of my specialties. From a previous visit I knew that the exhibit "Newcomers: People of this Place" mentioned Latvians, but back then I didn't have a blog audience with whom to share that information! Many Latvian immigrants made Michigan their home in the 1950s and later; they settled in the Detroit area, as well as in Saginaw, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. Latvian immigrants are mentioned in the exhibit.

Also featured in the exhibit about immigrants is a replica of bar from a Polish community center; it reminded me quite a bit of various Milwaukee community centers, halls and bars I've been to.

Additionally, the museum has a small exhibit of musical instruments, of which one is a Latvian kokle. Interestingly, the kokle was made by my grandfather! My grandmother kept records of all the kokles he made and sold, and luckily my mother kept that list. Thus, my mother was able to confirm that the woman who donated the instrument to the musuem, Tereza Valdmane, was the seventh person to purchase a kokle made by my grandfather!

Kokle on the bottom. Sorry for poor quality of photo! The instruments are behind plastic.

After the museum visit, we ventured to one of Grand Rapids' newest attractions, the Downtown Market. Here we greatly enjoyed incredibly delicious ice cream from Love's Ice Cream, picked up fresh salmon for Christmas Eve dinner from the Fish Lads, and I purchased a bag of coffee from Simpatico (a low-acid coffee which I've been loving and will probably order online!).


  1. Although we have relatives in GR, I've not yet visited the sculpture gardens or the museum. On our one extended visit we did some kayaking on the Little Muskegon (well north of the city), so I hope a return trip will take us to the places you've described above. Laimīgu jauno gadu!

  2. Another great kids' outing in GR is the Children's Museum.Perfect for the 6 and younger crowd! I've only been when Ansis was a toddler, but he loved it even then.


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