Of Christmas Past

A few years ago, I read about a historical park just outside of Hastings, Michigan. The article described a small park with buildings replicating life in the late 1800’s. I had never heard of this park before, so on an warm August day my wife and I decided to take a look for ourselves. That day, we spent a few hours at this park going in and out of the buildings. It was as if we were witnessing the life and times that my Great Grandmother had always talked about; a life that seemed simple and carefree. After the initial visit I noticed on their website that they were having an event that showcased Christmas back in he late 1800’s called “Of Christmas Past”, and I knew this was something worth going to.

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My wife and I took a tour around the historical village for this event. We walked into the Upjohn House/Administrative Office building and encountered Santa Claus sitting on a rocking chair awaiting for kids to come and visit. Nearby a man was cutting apple slices with an old apple slicer from the 1800’s and they were giving away cinnamon apple slices. We continued on making our way around the park. All the buildings were open, and you could wander through the buildings viewing what life was like in the 1800’s. Along the way we came across a few people dressed up in appropriate attire for the 1800’s giving out roasted chestnuts. We continued to the school building where someone was dressed up as an old school teacher and showing the kids various craft activities.

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The general store area was open and we noticed a long line out the door. To our surprise they were giving out free bags of popcorn. It was nice to step inside this building because throughout the year this building can be locked up and the only way to view it is from the outside. The general store had replica items and goods that were often used and consumed in the late 1800’s. They also had authentic items that you would normally see in a historical museum, thus the reason why I believe they lock this building up often. We had to stand in line for the popcorn for a while, but it was worth the wait as we got an up close and personal view of some of these historical artifacts. Our last stop was the church. The church is what you would expect from the late 1800’s. This small church had two isles of wooden pews. Inside the church a brass band was performing Christmas songs. We sat inside the church for a while and enjoyed a small Christmas concert. The church was refurbished back in 2010, so it came as no surprise that the acoustics inside were better than I thought. It was really nice to sit back and relax to some Christmas music after walking around the park for a while.

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Charlton Park is normally free to visit during most times of the year. However, during special events there is an admission charge. The “Of Christmas Past” event at Charlton Park costs $6.00 dollars for adults, and $3.00 dollars for children. When we went there, we spent a little over three hours there. The first time visiting you might find yourself there a little longer simply because there is a lot to see on top of the Christmas activities. When we went we had a great time. Christmas is always one of those times where you like to be swept back in time a little bit to enjoy the simpleness of life. Charlton Park’s “Of Christmas Past” not only takes you back in time, but provides a nice way to relax and enjoy the holiday season.

Christmas Traditions Around the World

I was riding home from an event the other night, and was amazed at some of the Christmas lights and decorations on the houses and bushiness that I passed. I love this time of year as the Christmas lights and decorations make everything a little bit more brighter and cheerful. If you like Christmas trees and decorations like I do, a stop at Fredrick Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids is a must see. Every year Fredrick Meijer Gardens showcases the “Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World”. Inside you will walk through the main building of the gardens and can view Christmas trees lit up and decorated representing various countries. It is not only a great way to enjoy the holidays, but you will also walk away learning something new.

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My wife and I were greeted by Christmas decorations and lights the minute we walked into the entryway from the outside. The staff if very friendly and helpful when it comes to pointing you in the right direction. From there we were able to see quite a few Christmas trees decorated with ornaments that represented the country of the tree. There is a informational sign in front of each tree giving a description of a particular countries holiday traditions. There was a lot of information that I did not know and it was great to get a better understanding of how different people celebrate Christmas and the holidays. For instance, Australia celebrates Christmas during the summer. Traditionally, they would gather up wildflowers and decorate the tree with the flowers. It was a fact that I never knew before and had never really thought about how Christmas was celebrated in Australia. The countries that really don’t celebrate Christmas are represented with items in a glass casing showcasing the culture of that nation.

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The Christmas trees are not the only attraction while visiting the gardens this time. The greenhouse areas are attached to the main building. Inside the greenhouse area you will encounter the Railway Garden. This garden brings together miniature displays of buildings throughout Grand Rapids or near the metro area such as Holland and Lowell. These buildings are made up of natural materials and has many varieties of plants and flowers. My personal favorite aspect about this garden is that a model train runs through the whole garden near the buildings and past small waterfalls and garden areas. It is definitely worth taking a detour from the main part of the building to see this attraction. You can also venture inside the tropical greenhouse and see palm trees lit up with Christmas trees.

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Outside the main building are several trees lit up with Christmas lights. Trees are decorated with large ornaments and the area along the Children’s Garden is perfect for a winter stroll to see multi colored Christmas lights. The gardens also offers a holiday carriage ride through the park to create more of a festive environment. Grand Rapids has many things to see and do during the holiday season. Meijer Gardens is one of my favorite places visit during the holiday season. It creates a festive and cheerful environment and embodies everything that you would expect from the holiday season.

http://www.meijergardens.org/calendar/christmas-and-holiday-traditions-around-the-world/

Seasons Collide

I love the fall color season in Michigan. I only wish that it lasted a little longer. There is nothing like taking a walk in the woods smelling fall in the air and hearing the rustling of leaves below your feet. The colors in Michigan are amazing. The colors can vary from year to year based on weather conditions prior to the fall season, however the fall color season in Michigan usually does not disappoint. This year we experienced a late color season as we had unusual warm temperatures throughout October. In those years it is not uncommon to transition into winter really quickly. This year we have seen some snowfall throughout the state when there were still a few leaves hanging on the trees yet. This transition of seasons can make for some interesting photo opportunities.

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Before Halloween my wife and I got to farm markets and buy small pumpkins and gourds. They are the perfect fall decoration around the house. If left uncut these pumpkins and gourds can last for a couple months. That is perfect for me because I love to have the house decorated in fall decor right up to Thanksgiving. There are many ways to preserve your small pumpkins to transform them into Christmas decorations found on places like Pinterest, but I try to get rid of mine after Thanksgiving. This time of year is that key transitional season. We have had snow before Thanksgiving in years past. If you still have small pumpkins and gourds around while the snow falls, they can be used as interesting seasonal photos.

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A couple years ago we had an early winter. The snow started falling in mid November. Many places throughout the state had record snowfall in November. In many places within the state saw no accumulating snowfall. It was a green Christmas that year, but I was thankful the snow came when it did. We had just transitioned out of the fall color season. There were still a few leaves clinging to the trees, but most of them had fallen on the ground. I still had my small pumpkins in the house for Thanksgiving decor. I gathered all of them up and took them to a local park. I was able to place various pumpkins in the snow showcasing two seasons in one. It is not often that the seasons will collide like they did that year. It is also a blessing when snowfall hits and there are still colors on the leaves. Those are rare opportunities to take advantage of. I have also had a blast taking photos during these times. The same can be said of spring and winter as flowers start blooming and a late spring snowfall occurs.

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Small Town Christmas

There are many small towns in the state of Michigan. Many of them have holiday festivals and events that draw in many members of the community. One that I enjoy going to year after year is in the small town of Ada, just outside of Grand Rapids. The Tinsel, Treats and Trolley event is held on the first Friday of December and provides opportunities for small businesses to reach out to all the visitors. It is a fun family oriented activity that gets you in the mood for the Christmas season.

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The event starts with the annual bridge lighting ceremony. The Ada covered bridge is one of the few covered bridges in Michigan that gets decorated with lights during the holiday season. This bridge is impressive during any season, but is magical during the holidays. Once the bridge is lit up, several stores open up extended hours for shopping. Each store offers up cookies, fudge, candy, hot chocolate and many other Christmas snacks. Many of the stores are decorated up for Christmas. I love walking through these shops. There have been times where I have found something I wanted to take home with me. It is a lot of fun just strolling through these shops. The only drawback is with so many people, it does get crowded in some shops. As much as I don’t like the immense crowds, I have found the atmosphere is simply worth it all. The historical society and Ada Christian Reformed Church are open as well. Inside the church they have had snacks and many musical performances by the church band playing Christmas music. It is a nice place to stop in and relax just to catch a nice concert. The Historical Society building also offers treats, but is the place that you will run into Ms. Claus.

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Trolleys provide transportation to various locations within the village. I would recommend riding the trolley just once for the sheer fun of it. If you cannot get on the trolley, don’t worry too much. The village is small enough that all points of interest are within walking distance from each other. Some of the sidewalk areas along the main streets are lined up with luminaries, so even the walk is rather pleasant. My wife and I have opted to make the walk from point to point over the last couple years just to experience the event a different way. While walking around from shop to shop it is not uncommon to see Santa Claus stop in the shops to say hello to the visitors.  No matter what mode of transportation you use, I know that it will be a good time. I have always had fun at this event; my family has had fun at this event, and I have never heard any complaints about the organization of those putting this event on. Below is a link to the event. It will be on Friday December 2 which is coming up quickly. Take a walk. Take a ride on the Trolley. Enjoy some snacks and shopping. Most importantly, have a lot of fun and kick off the Christmas season

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http://adabusinessassociation.com/tinsel-treats-trolleys/

When Time Stands Still

The latest trend right now is the mannequin challenge. The process behind this is that a group of people stand as still as possible in various poses as if they were frozen in time. Several people are posting their mannequin challenge video on social media and some are going viral. In some cases, many pull it off really well and have very creative frozen in time moments. On the other hand, there have been a few that could not live up to the challenge and one or more people in the group of people started laughing, or moving around to break the challenge. It has been really entertaining to see all of these challenges. The frozen in time concept got me thinking. I have not participated in a mannequin challenge, but have had my own frozen in time moment in life dealing with recovering from knee surgery. Life has continued and I have felt that I have been caught in this moment of time where I have been forced to remain off the grid of my normal daily schedule. However, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.

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Photo credit: You Tube, Cleveland Cavaliers

As a landscape photographer you live for the changing seasons. The season that excites me the most if the fall color season here in Michigan. It is one of the busiest seasons that we have as there are only a few weeks until the leaves have fallen off the trees. I have found myself in past years driving all over the state trying to make as much of the three weeks that I have to get valuable fall color photographs. This year, due to the injury I had to sit this one out. It killed me and there were days where I looked outside the window seeing a perfect fall day knowing I had to be inside off my feet. I am not the first photographer that has sustained injuries, and I won’t be the last. If they are like me, it was a tough to be inside when you knew other photographers were out there capturing the beauty of the season. Time for me stood still, but life was continuing all around me.

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I found this to be a blessing in disguise. It is so easy to become complacent out on the field. The photography industry is constantly evolving and all to often we do not evolve with those changes. I have found myself taking the same type of photograph year after year. I may have hit gold in a previous year that I took the shot, but if I attempt to repeat it, I am not giving the viewer anything new. It is an easy trap to fall into. I began thinking about where I would go if I was totally healthy and came to the conclusion that I probably would have gone to the same spots that I had gone to in previous years. That made me think about what I have been missing in previous years and what I don’t want to miss in the years to come. There are a lot of places that I have not been to in the State of Michigan during the fall season. I started listing some of those places realizing that I may not come away with a popular photograph of a particular place that is recognizable, but I may come away with a new photograph that captures the essence of the fall color season.

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Time has stood still for me in the last couple months. I have been forced to research different photography techniques. I believe you never stop learning even if you are on the top of your game. There is always someone out in the field that puts out a photograph that you can learn from. I believe the minute we stop attempting to learn our craft because we believe we are bigger than it, we lose our edge. This is true in every career field and not just photography. In the last couple months I have been forced to re think how I want to photograph various subjects within the State of Michigan. In the last couple months I have had to look at the things that worked for me as a photographer and what I need to do to change direction. Time has stood still in my life for the past couple months, and that has not been a bad thing. In many ways, I needed time to stand still. I needed to refocus and come to a realization of what I wanted out of my own photography. In the season of Thanksgiving, I can be plenty thankful that I missed out on the fall color season and that time stood still.

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Discovering the Undiscovered

Sitting around a table with some acquaintances of mine we were generating conversation about places we wanted to go see in our home state of Michigan. The usual places that most people want to visit such as Mackinac Island and the bridge, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and summer resort cities like Grand Haven, Petoskey and Ludington were high on everyone’s list. In spite of knowing about these places, it amazed me how little people really knew about some of Michigan’s most frequently visited locations. It astounded me that several people did not know that cities like Marshall, Coldwater, Monroe, Bad Axe, Clare, Midland, Ironwood, Hancock and Copper Harbor even existed in the State of Michigan.

Mackinac Bridge, Mackinaw City
Mackinac Bridge, Mackinaw City

 

To be honest, while I have heard of these cities; there are a few things that I never knew existed within these cities. Earlier this summer I stopped at the Underground Railroad Monument in Battle Creek. Did you know that the monument is operated by the U.S. National Park Service? I would have never thought it was, but it makes sense in hindsight. They have a park ranger right at the monument to answer any all all questions about the fascinating history of the Underground Railroad and how it impacted Michigan. There are so many events and places that I have yet to discover in our great state. Don’t get me wrong, I love the lighthouse tours and the pristine waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula, but there is more to learn and more to discover.

The Underground Railroad Monument, Battle Creek
The Underground Railroad Monument, Battle Creek

This past year in photography has been a little bit of a transition for me. I have wanted to discover the unknown. I have wanted to get the experience of what is now known as our state’s famous tagline “Pure Michigan”. I have been blessed to see the Mackinac Bridge and many of the state’s famous landmarks. I yearn to see more and gain an understanding of what this state has to offer. To experience Michigan is to also converse with the people behind the scenes of some our cities annual events, or those running the museums, cider mills, and farm markets.

Skyline towers, Grand Rapids
Skyline towers, Grand Rapids

I have learned a great deal throughout this past year and I plan to pass some of this information along. Some of my posts will contain some facts and statistics about certain places as it is important to have some of the detailed information. However, a majority of the posts are going to be experienced based. I will not write as if I am an expert on various places within Michigan. Instead I will provide content about the journey to discovering new and exciting places. Those who are looking to find out what Michigan has to offer come with me on this journey. Let’s discover the mitten state together!

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