Thursday, December 26, 2013

Snowy December and a very White Christmas

Winter kicked in early and rather passionately this year, with snow accumulating earlier than Thanksgiving.  December's snowfall is climbing up the records ladder to 8th snowiest in recorded history with almost an entire week left in the month to add to the accumulated 30.8 inches. Compared with the average snowfall as of this date, 17.9 inches, we're in the thick of it. Remember, this time last year there was no snow.

We haven't been pounded by it or snowed in with blizzards, rather it's snowed nearly every day this month, making for a number of treacherous commutes and car accidents as most of the side roads are snow (or ice) covered. It's also been colder than usual, which has made living even less comfortable, as 533,000 homes and businesses lost power after last week's historic - and deadly - ice storm. Many West Michigan families had to make alternate plans for Christmas, temporarily bunking with family and friends, and hurriedly draining their pipes before celebrating the holiday.

Despite the nearly constant snowfall, Grand Rapids snow plows have done a good job of clearing roads and driveways in a timely fashion, and, for the most part, neighbors have done well at keeping their sidewalks shoveled.  Remember, the City requires that your sidewalk be shoveled; if the snow builds up, they will send out city workers to clear your sidewalk and assess you a hefty fee for doing it. It's much cheaper to just go out there and push a shovel around, particularly when snows are light as they've been.

It looks like January may also be cold and snowy, although that, of course, remains to be seen.  I'd bet on getting a lot more use out of your skis, skates, and sleds this year. Winter sports are a great thing to do with squirrel-y house-bound, sugared up kids.  If you're not sure where to go sledding, here's another list of fun sledding hills in Grand Rapids.  Check out one or two of them before the holidays are over and then come inside for some hot chocolate.

Happy Holidays, everyone!  Here's to a health, wealth, sustenance, and love in 2014!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

10 Ideas For A Holiday Date Night Without The Kids

Sometimes during all the Holiday bustle, the adults need a night away for themselves.  Make sure this season you take the time to share in at least one festive evening with your partner.  Here are ten great ideas for a night away from the kids.
  1. Pick your favorite restaurant and head out for a special date night with your partner.  After dinner, Cirque de Noel is a wonderful way to bring in the season.  A show full of energy and amazing stunts; it is the perfect date night destination.  The show opens December 17 at DeVos Performance Hall.   
  2. Taken in one of the many Griffins games this season at the Van Andel Arena.  Tickets are fairly inexpensive and this is a fun activity for a snowy winter night.  Some evenings just call for a good game and a few beers! 
  3. Sign up for the annual GRBC Santa Crawl on December 21!  The Grand Rapids Pub Crawl provides transportation, various stops for fun festivity around Grand Rapids, and numerous drink specials all day long.  Get away from the kids, spend some time with a few good friends, and check out the tasty breweries Grand Rapids has to offer.
  4. Give your car a good winter once over and then take a long scenic drive with your loved one to check out the various light displays all over Grand Rapids.  There are multiple stops that shouldn’t be missed!  
  5. Music lovers, check out the Edelweiss Choir Christmas Concert at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church ("Our Lady of the Highway").  This is a free concert that features traditional holiday music from German-speaking regions of Europe.  The beauty of the Gothic church, built by German immigrants to Grand Rapids, accompanied by the festive tunes from the choir, will transport you.
  6. The Grand Rapids Choir of Men and Boys presents "Christmas Lessons and Carols."  On various evenings throughout December, join in the merriment of these beautiful holiday tunes. 
  7. Surprise your partner with a horse drawn carriage ride through downtown Grand Rapids.  Nothing says holiday romance this season more than a cozy carriage ride on a snowy evening.  The ride takes you by all the hot spots in downtown Grand Rapids.
  8. In the mood for something fun and lighthearted?  Head down to Stella’s for "The Drunken Retort," an open-mic night that features various acts that will have you rolling with laughter.  You can even hop on stage if you feel inclined to share your own humor.
  9. Spend an evening taking in the beauty of large-scale sculptures by sculptor Bernar Venet  at Frederik Meijer Gardens.  Five of his iconic pieces will be on display on the front lawn through the season.  It is a creative way to spend a date night. 
  10. Sometimes simply spending a cozy evening at home by the fire is the best way to reconnect this season.  See if a friend or sibling can take the kids for an evening and surprise your honey with a home-cooked meal and some holiday coziness.  I guarantee it will be as much of a treat as going out! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

10 Great Holiday Activities To Do With Kids in Grand Rapids

Looking for some fun Holiday activities to do with your youngsters this season?  There is plenty to do in Grand Rapids!  Here are ten fun activities that will get your family into the holiday spirit.  Hopefully you can fit them all in.

  1. Ride the Santa Train and get escorted by elves to your individual seat!  Every seat is decorated and festive; there is even a princess who reads the The Polar Express while you wait for Santa; its author, Chris Van Allsburg, is a Grand Rapids native.  Santa gives a present to each child who comes to visit. 
  2. Spend some time with an American classic.  Master Arts Theatre performs It’s a Wonderful Life on stage.  This is an amazing story filled with love and important life lessons to watch with your kids. If you can't catch it live, try to see Jimmy Stewart's old familiar face on TV, at least.  Kids should know that there was life before iTunes or even television.
  3. Keep your kids educated about the various traditions of the holiday by bringing them to "Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World" at Frederik Meijer Gardens.  The Gardens are transformed into a winter wonderland with wandering carolers, over 40 international displays and trees, and horse-drawn carriage rides.  It is the perfect activity to create a magical memory.
  4. Take the family to a Grand Rapids Ballet performance of "The Nutcracker."   This is a seasonal classic that should be seen by everyone around the holidays at least once.  The ballet is accompanied by the Grand Rapids Symphony to add to the splendor. 
  5. Pack up the car with some cookies and holiday tunes and travel around West Michigan to view the Christmas lights.  Whether in Rockford, Ada, Alto, or Grand Rapids, this area has some truly amazing displays.  Make sure to drive through some of the luxury homes neighborhoods that go all out with their festive holiday scenes.
  6. If you prefer to get your lights all in one place, the Fifth Third Ball Park's magnificent holiday display. has millions of them - Michigan's largest Christmas light display.
  7. Nothing is more essential during the holiday season than some old-fashioned sledding.  Sledding is so much fun with kids and brings back timeless memories for adults as well.  One of these days take the time to get all bundled up and sail down one of Grand Rapids's many snowy hills.  You won’t regret it! 
  8. Enjoy another holiday classic at Rosa Parks Circle downtown Grand Rapids.  The ice-skating rink opens December 6.  Skates rentals are even free with ID.  Ice-skating is the perfect activity for kids who are getting a little antsy being cooped up in the house.  With a little snowfall, nothing is more festive.
  9. No holiday is complete without at least one visit to Santa.  Kids love visiting Santa and his elves; it is definitely the best way to make sure he knows what they want!  Visit one of the many sites in Grand Rapids that he will be stopping this holiday season.
  10. And don't forget the tree!  Check out the local tree nurseries that Grand Rapids has to offer.  Some even offer a day full of festive fun with horse-drawn wagon rides and visits from Santa.  Choosing and cutting down a tree is the ultimate in family fun! 
There are many other festive holiday things to do and see with your kids in West Michigan.  Besides the above, which are your favorites?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Saving the Trees, One Ash at a Time

Usually non-natives are welcomed with open arms to Grand Rapids, but in previous years our city has had to deal with one specific unwelcome guest: the emerald ash borer. These invasive insects were found in southeast Michigan in 2002 and have since infested millions of ash trees in our fair city.

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Since 2009, emerald ash borer (EAB) infestation has occurred in numerous spots all over Grand Rapids. The insects lay their eggs on all species of ash trees and when the eggs hatch the larvae feed just underneath the bark of the tree, which cuts off essential water and nutrients for the ash. In the past several years, you may have noticed ash trees lining the streets that were marked for removal. These were dead ash trees affected by EAB. Last December, 31 Fuller Avenue ash trees were removed due to infestation; just one example of the city’s removal of dead trees.  Fuller does not look the same.  Parks all over the city have received similar haircuts.  It's been hard on tree lovers to see so many beautiful and useful trees gone.

In the early years of infestation, there was little evidence to draw on concerning any type of successful treatment plan for the city’s nearly 5,300 ash trees. Also, treatment prices were quite high for each tree. The city’s initial plan in 2007 called for massive removal of infected ash trees over a period of ten years. Approximately 1,600 trees were removed between 2007 and 2010. In 2008, citizens responded to such drastic removals and an alternative treatment plan was tested. The following year, the Urban Forestry Committee collaborated with the city of Grand Rapids and launched a new plan to treat our ash trees with a compound called TREE-Age, which has become more affordable over time. This solution prevents EAB infestation for up to two years.

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By 2011, close to 1,000 ash trees were treated with the preventative medicine. The future looks far more promising for Grand Rapids' ash trees. The city plans to treat 1,400 trees each year and assess 5% of the previously treated trees annually. Only dead ash trees will be removed, with the goal being to save as many as possible from EAB infestation before the EAB population declines or treatment decreases it even more. Ash trees that are dead need to be removed; if they are on private property it is the responsibility of the homeowner to eliminate the tree before it becomes a hazard.

Grand Rapids hopes to sustain the lives of our ash trees with joint efforts from the city staff, volunteers, Parks and Recreation Department, Urban Forestry Committee, and the EAB Task Force. Our trees add to the splendor of Grand Rapids and we are lucky to have people that are working hard for their preservation.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Building a Greener Grand Rapids, Literally

Sustainability is one of the most important issues today.  We are continuously looking and discovering new ways to live greener lives and ensure the preservation of our environment for future generations.  Grand Rapids is at the forefront of the sustainability effort.  Most residents may not realize the efforts Grand Rapids takes and has taken to push for greener living.  In 2008, Grand Rapids was named “America’s Greenest City” by Fast Company magazine.

Our fair city leads the nation in LEED-certified buildings per capita; a fact that in 2005, Mayor George Heartwell did not take lightly.  That same year he pledged that 20% of the city’s power would come from renewable resources by 2008 and hit this target a year early.  He then pledged that by 2020, the target would be 100% of the city’s power from renewable energy.  This is a large goal, but the steps Grand Rapids has made may walk us right to this target by 2020.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  LEED-certification is third-party verification and recognition that a building was designed and built using high performance standards in human and environmental health.  There are numerous prerequisites that buildings must meet to be certified, and credits they can receive to gain extra points in their certification.  LEED provides a basic framework for buildings, neighborhoods, and communities to implement green building design, construction, and operation.  

Grand Rapids boasts numerous firsts in the sustainable buildings effort.  We have the first LEED-certified YMCA (downtown), Gold art museum (Grand Rapids Art Museum), transit station (Rapid Central Bus Station), Habitat for Humanity Home, church (Keystone Community Church), and healthcare project (Lacks Cancer Center), to name a few.  In 2012, we were voted 1 in 5 model cities for sustainability by Earth Day Network. voted Grand Rapids 1 of 12 cities leading in sustainability in 2013.  

Sustainability and conservation in Grand Rapids is coordinated by the Office of Energy and Sustainability.  The Sustainability Plan sets more than 200 goals for our city to reach every year, such as increasing household participation in recycling to 45,000 by 2013.   Sustainability is not only the building itself, but extends to interior design and furniture.  There are extensive LEED-certification prerequisites and credits for building sustainable furniture and interior design.  Furniture companies such as Custer, a Steelcase dealer in West Michigan, has contributed and participated in more LEED-certified building projects than any other dealer.  The list of sites they have contributed to is extensive.

Grand Rapids has no plans to slow down their sustainability efforts in the years to come.  Our efforts have far exceeded so many cities in the United States and we should feel proud.  You never know when you are stepping into one of our numerous LEED-certified buildings or sitting in an office chair that was built using sustainable resources.  These efforts are not always clearly recognized or realized, but they are helping preserve our city and environment.