Wednesday, June 12, 2013

It's Summer, Time to Open up that Pool

While it may seem counterintuitive, some Michigan homes do have pools. This year spring has been both tardy and cool, and if you have a pool maybe you've forgotten that this is the time to open it. This is fully understandable. However, if you both have a pool and intend to open it for summer, here are some tips that will make it easier and less problematic.  

Last weekend we opened our pool.  Wait, in actuality, we started cleaning up our pool because we never really closed it last fall.  I can almost hear your gasps.  I too was frustrated as Labor Day weekend came and went and my husband put off closing the pool.  Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and pretty soon there was a layer of ice covering our above ground pool.  

We have a love/hate relationship with our pool.  I’m sure most of you can relate.  You love using it in the summer; you hate paying the increase in your electricity bill, and in some cases the increase in your water bill.  We live out in the country and have a well so we are lucky on the latter.  You love having people over to swim; you hate having to do all of the work opening, closing, and cleaning the darn thing. Nobody seems to be lined up when it is time to do the hard work!

So, let me get back to cleaning up the pool last weekend.  My husband asked me if I could go get two bags of sand for our filter.  When I got to the pool store, the employee told me to make sure to fill the filter half full with water first, and then pour the sand in.  Doing this would help to avoid breaking, cracking, or damaging internal parts.  This was something we had never done before.  I think it is a tip worth passing along.  

Properly removing and storing your pool cover can save you time and energy in the fall.  Make sure to remove debris from the cover and then wash it with soap.  I have found that having my daughter get in on the fun and turning the cover into a slip and slide can make this step more enjoyable.  Although the cover can be pretty disgusting, it sure is fun to watch a toddler slide around in the soapy bubbles while trying to clean the cover.  The next step is connecting all of the equipment, which I always leave to my husband.  It’s a tough, heavy job!
I definitely recommend lubricating all O rings.  This will help make sure you achieve a proper seal.  Also, if you used antifreeze for the winter, make sure this is properly disposed of and not discarded onto the ground. After this is complete, you must fill your pool, and then you are on your way to the tough job of cleaning.

Here are the recommended steps to use when cleaning your pool:
  1. Skim the Surface
  2. Clean the tile or vinyl sides
  3. Brush the pool
  4. Check the skimmer and pump strainer baskets
  5. Vacuum the pool
  6. Service the filter
  7. Rinse the deck

Add shock, add stabilizer, add sanitizer, and add algicide.  Those are the four chemicals you will need in addition to chlorine.  The pool store can help you and give you recommendations based on any issues you are seeing with your pool.  There is one final thing you need to do: have fun swimming!

--Megan Cooperider lives in Grand Rapids, MI and occasionally blogs for Homes by Falcon.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Do You Really Want to Ask Me What I Think About Festival?

If you live in Grand Rapids, you probably went to Festival of the Arts this weekend—if you didn't, you at least know of the event. Colloquially known as Festival, the occasion is meant to generate support for the arts and has been attempting to do so for more than four decades. According to organizers, the event brings hundreds of thousands of people downtown each year so that the artists of West Michigan can be showcased. But in recent years, it seems that the celebration originally intended to honor the installation of Alexander Calder's La Grand Vitesse (you know it: that big, red piece of metalwork in the government district) has devolved into rampant gluttony, cheap entertainment, and overly priced artwork.

A very close friend said that I should start this piece off with the following sentence: "Approaching the Festival of the Arts, you are immediately greeted by a pungent odor that can only be created by flash-cooking cheap sausage, the startling howl of overly passionate cover bands, and the heedless caterwaul of incompetent children as they wander the streets like lost drunkards." Her poetic diatribe is remarkably accurate, so accurate in fact that my critique—oh yes, this most certainly is a critique—is basically an extension of the words she shared with me.

Food, Food, and More Food (But Was It Any Good?)

As I first turned onto Ottawa Avenue, I was bombarded by a section of grills filled to the brim with meat: not a rare sight at Festival. The accompanying smoke sent the scent of seared flesh and grease into the air. To some this may sound enticing, even to me on occasion, but if you find this disgusting, you should have options. With more than two dozen food booths, one would think that there would be sustenance for everyone, particularly for those that call themselves what I call myself: a vegetarian. But one would be mistaken: Only two of the 26 booths were listed as vegetarian-friendly and even then, the pickings were slim. Trust me, being a vegetarian does not mean that one does not love food: I live for food and have been known to inhale anything delicious (yes, kids, vegetables can be delicious). Being a vegetarian does mean feeling—and going—hungry at times like this, especially if you don't feel like eating egg rolls, deep-fried cream cheese, or something sweetened to the point that your teeth begin to conspire against you.

Instead of gorging ourselves at Festival like so many others, my friends and I chose to avoid the booths, probably because there are a number of truly great establishments providing nourishment to the residents of Grand Rapids. Despite this fact, not one of the booths was ran by a group directly associating itself with any sort of cookery. As has been in the past, the food was prepared by a random concoction of individuals, volunteers from whatever organization that ran each booth. Of course, not all of these groups know what they're doing when it comes to food, they're just trying to raise money for their various causes, and because of this, things can get a little less than kosher. For instance, a clearly non-Hispanic church serving Mexican food last year had its entire crew dressed in sombreros and ponchos, debatably tinging the festivities (and their food) with a dash of racism. But few festival-goers have the sense to be bothered by such things, instead busy with the many prevalent distractions.

When Did a Free Art Festival Get So Expensive?

Those distractions included places for children and adults to glue and paint, a pop-up printmaking studio, a sidewalk to cover in chalk, and six stages for bands and dance academies to show their stuff. While a quote from Festival's website said that “all performances and activities [were] free” (and the aforementioned items were just that), I had every chance to empty my wallet into the hands of others. The food vendors were bad, but the art vendors were even worse, asking for excessive amounts of money for products I had seen (and purchased) on the Internet for a third of the price.

With all the hustle and bustle, I had no idea that the UICA hosted a regional arts exhibition while the GRAM highlighted young creatives. This was where artists were most likely to be showcased, this was where Festival was hopefully living up to its name and history. But I was robbed of seeing either of these with my own eyes, victimized by the chaotic diversions that now sadly overshadow the original intentions of Festival. Instead, I was surrounded by incessancy, largely in the form of parents dragging children from station to station while sampling food along the way, keeping the kids entertained with glue and balloon animals.

Give Me Art or Give Me Death

Honestly, the whole event felt tired and obnoxiously familiar: seems that if you've been to one Festival over the past few years, you've been to them all. It's safe to say that little has changed from year to year, some food vendors even being located in the exact same location as previous iterations. It's sad to see the potential of Festival turn to stale waste—I wish I knew how to fix it, but like so many other naysayers, I don't have a cogent answer. Maybe we can blame ArtPrize for the straying of Festival's spotlight from art (we blame it for enough, especially when it's happening). Or maybe we can just chalk it up to another situation where I just didn't have enough discretion to sort the gems hiding within the cacophony from the rest of the mess. But for all I know, the art exhibitions may not have been gems at all. It's too late to find out now.

--Matt Knaack lives in Grand Rapids and occasionally blogs for AMN.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Biking Grand Rapids

I don’t claim to have any control over the weather, and I certainly don’t want to jinx it, but I think Michigan has finally settled into Spring and is moving into Summer.  That being said, it is great weather to get out in and go for a bike ride. Did you know that the League of American Bicyclists named Grand Rapids a top "Bicycle-Friendly Community" in 2009 and Outside magazine gave us the honor of being the "Best Town for Mountain Biking" in 2010? Another cool and little known fact is that the city buses in Grand Rapids are bike-friendly - each and every one is equipped with a bike rack.  There are a few spots you should plan on hitting this year if you love, or even mildly enjoy bicycling and want to bicycle around West Michigan.

The first and maybe less obvious spot for biking is through downtown Grand Rapids.  There are so many awesome buildings and little shops to see that riding your bike downtown is a great way to take it all in.  The City of Grand Rapids plans to add 100 miles of bike lanes to area streets by 2017.  But if city biking isn’t your thing, check out the trails.

Michigan has the largest Rails to Trails - old railroad lines converted to recreational use - system in the U.S. There are hundreds of miles of these trails in the Greater Grand Rapids area. The Fred Meijer M-6 Trail is a smaller trail running for nine miles parallel to Michigan Highway 6.  It is located just south of Grand Rapids.  Kent Trails are interesting and great for sightseeing.  They begin just outside John Ball Zoo and thread throughout the city. Bicyling Kent Trails, you will pass everything from industrial sites to rural farmland, with the trail winding along and across the Grand River. And there's Millennium Park. This is one of the nation's largest urban greenspaces. Millennium Park has nearly 20 miles of all-purpose trail for cycling, walking, running, and in-line skating. This trail also connects to Kent Trails.  Another option for biking is the Musketawa Trail. This trail is 25 miles and runs from just northwest of downtown Grand Rapids all along the lakeshore.  One of the most famous places to bike is the White Pine Trail State Park. At 93.5 miles, this is Michigan's longest rail-trail. If you are looking for a good place to start, enter the trailhead just north of downtown Grand Rapids and ride through swamps, forests, open farmland, towns, and cities.  If that sounds like a bit much for you, then try Reeds Lake Trail. This 4.2-mile trail follows around a beautiful lake just feet away from the quaint shops and dining district of East Grand Rapids.

With the weather improving daily, why not try one of these trails today and get your daily recommended allowance of Vitamin D, exercise, and fresh air in beautiful West Michigan?

--Megan Cooperider lives in Grand Rapids, MI and occasionally blogs for Central District Cyclery.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Grand Rapids Parks Millage Proposal Controversy

It's perhaps a bit premature to call this a "controversy," but anything involving money, government, and kids does tend to raise emotions and provoke opinions.

Yesterday in "Tax ask for Grand Rapids parks: 0.98 mill for 7 years" on Mlive, Matt Vande Bunte reported that the Grand Rapids City Commission plans on voting formally whether to put this millage proposal on November's ballot.  NP3, or Neighbors for Parks, Pools, and Playgrounds, has specific plans for how this $4 million in new income would improve local parks.  You can click on the link for the details, but basically it boils down to:

  1. fix up the stuff the city has neglected 
  2. pay for current expenses the city has no money for 
  3. build a few new things.
I love Grand Rapids, and I use the parks.  Last year when the Creston Neighborhood Association planted fruit and nut trees at Aberdeen, I paid for one of the trees because I want these parks to be beautiful and practical well into the future.  I regularly walk through or by the Aberdeen, Briggs, and Riverside parks, and while Aberdeen and Briggs have new playscapes funded by grants, the older infrastructure has been neglected and shows wear.  I do not feel confident, however, that any millage monies collected will actually be used for the parks and not be funneled off to pensions, staff benefits, the public schools, or other union demands.  Several years ago we were asked to pass a millage that was supposed to guarantee that the pools would remain open for the public to use, and the city only opens 3 of the 6 public pools and those seem to be on the budget chopping block every year, barely escaping funding cuts.  Where did that money go?

Lincoln Park has the newest pool, last open in 2008.  The old Lincoln Park pool was demolished, the new one built, then closed.  2008 was a momentous year, but it does seem like expensive city assets have been allowed to languish after being, perhaps unwisely, built with taxpayer money.  Is there a trustworthy steward behind the parks millage?  That is what I, as a Grand Rapids taxpayer, would like to know before I wade through the facts on the conditions of the parks and proposals about what is to be done.

NP3 and other parks boosters in the area want better parks.  They compare the parks we have to those of other comparable size cities in the country and find ours wanting, but Michigan has been in a seriously depressed or recessed state for over a decade.  I asked for a comment from Max Friar, former Libertarian Party candidate for the 76th District House Representative, and he said, "It's true that parks are a common asset and everyone, and I certainly include myself, appreciates good, safe parks and the social and neighborhood capital they create.  But while the economic recovery in Michigan continues to grind along and unemployment is over 8%, all discussions of tax increases should be tabled."

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

If You Think the Mosquitoes Are Bad This Year...

It's not just you.

What is the deal with mosquitoes in Michigan this year?  I wouldn’t let my two-year-old play outside the other night for fear she would be carried away by the tiny monsters.  For the first time ever, we had a company come over and spray our yard to get rid of the bloodsuckers.  Everyone is commenting on social media outlets about this year’s epidemic.  There is an obvious cause this year - the Great Flood of 2013.  With all of the water pooling up and around West Michigan, it has provided an extra large area that is perfect for mosquitoes to lay their eggs.  Because I have spent so much time researching food compost and commercial compost, I began to wonder if compost attracted mosquitoes.  The answer may surprise you.  

Food compost is decomposed organic material made of plant waste, food waste, and animal waste. The process of decomposition is called composting, and in order to have efficiency in composting, you need high temperatures and humidity within the core, or center, of the compost pile.  This is the same for commercial compost.  
So what happens if you do not have an efficient compost pile?  Pests invade looking for food.  Mosquitoes are one of those pests.  Additionally, you might find midges and gnats; these are two of the most common type of pests mistaken for mosquitoes. The largest difference between mosquitoes and pests that are related to them is that mosquitoes do not swarm, but gnats and midges do.
A compost pile can go very, very wrong if certain elements are not in place.  Heat and humidity are two vital factors in the composting process. Unfortunately, they can also produce favorable conditions for mosquito eggs to hatch. The temperature at the center of the compost pile must be within 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. It is important to avoid moisture buildup because this attracts mold, pests, and insects that lay eggs in the compost. Mosquito eggs thrive in these conditions.  

There is a time frame needed for compost piles to cycle through the process of composition, which can take as little as 60 days - the optimal range is between 90 and 120 days - after the process first starts. During this time you must turn the pile daily. This will help keep the environment clean of mosquito eggs. The eggs will not have enough constant heat and moisture to hatch. To control the moisture level, use a ratio of three parts dry material to one part wet material. Also, to make sure you are controlling the heat in your pile, you have to turn it every day.  Don’t get lazy!  Make sure you are maintaining an optimal environment for your compost so that you can avoid contributing to the mosquito population this summer!

--Megan Cooperider lives in Grand Rapids, MI and occasionally blogs for New Soil.