Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I guess you could call this one of those things on my "bucket list" of things to do, in this town anyway. Voigt House is a Victorian mansion that was built in 1895-96, and turned into a museum when the last living owner passed away in 1971. For years, I had intended to visit this house, part of the Grand Rapids Public Museum, but somehow never made it.

Today, sadly, was the last day of tours for this stately mansion. Citing declining visitors over the past 3 years, the Museum board decided to close it for good, mainly due to budget constraints, a sign of the times. So I put it on my calendar and made a point to go, one last chance.

(picture from their website, showing the still unpaved driveway, probably back in the 1950s).

The Voigt House is in our Heritage Hill section of the City, originally built way up the hill from the river, obviously to avoid any flooding, but more likely because it was like the outskirts of town back then and that's where the wealthy built their homes. Carl Voigt came to this country from Germany and eventually found his way to Grand Rapids, where he was a business partner with another area notable from that era as well as owning a sawmill. He had several children from 2 different marriages (first wife died), and the Voigt passed away in 1971.

I must have picked a good time to go, right after the lunch crowd, because I was able to enter without waiting. By the time I left, there was a line all the way out to the street waiting to get in. They had you put on shoe covers to keep things clean and avoid damage to the carpet and flooring.

The first room off the entry way was a library.

Across the entry hallway was the parlor, where visitors were received. All the furniture, carpeting, and draperies are authentic, dating back to when the house was built in 1895.

From the parlor you entered another small room that looked like a game room, card room, or some sort of play area. Next was a downstairs bedroom, which in itself was unusual, where the Voigt's slept while the children were upstairs, but for practical purposes, as the owners became elderly and unable to use the steps, the upstairs was closed off and the downstairs bedroom was used. Again, authentic furniture, and the mattress was stuffed with pine needles. I wonder if those needles poked through as they became brittle with age??

Off the downstairs bedroom was a small bathroom. Note the original small tub and the beautiful marble countertop for the sink. Because the plumbing was updated in the 1960s (no city water or sewer until the '50s), there was a newer toilet and full sized clawfoot tub as well.

Then it was on to the kitchen. There was a call box in the kitchen connected to buttons in each of the upstairs and master bedroom and parlor room of the house. It would be lit with a color coded system indicating which person or room needed attention when the corresponding button was pushed. A precursor to the intercom system. Also note the stove, the sink and the sideboard. It was was explained how water was collected on the roof when it rained and then was used for whatever purpose it was needed, but even back then they drank bottled water, so no new concept there. Probably got it from the iceman.

There was also a butler's pantry with an "icebox" built into the wall. If you can see the wood, it was either all mahogany or golden oak that was used for flooring, baseboards, and window and door trims. Again, all authentic, and shows the durability of good wood.

Next was a small serving nook, where servants kept coffee and other items for meals in the dining room next door. (missed that picture because it was a small room and too many people in it at one time)

The dining room was done in golden oak, a tapestry wall covering, and a stenciled border. Note the dining table that could seat 20 people, and the stained glass window at one end of the room. Under that was a gas fireplace, built, we were told, on the same pattern of one of Thomas Jefferson's. (Hard to see fireplace from this pic. Note the guide in period dress.)

Also note the buffet and china cabinet. Signature furniture by the Berkey and Gay Furniture Company, which put Grand Rapids on the map as "furniture capital of the world" back then. Not so sure that title holds any more. There were also wall radiators with plate warming shelves on the top. Quite clever. Shows the human ingenuity and developing technology during those years.

From there, we were led upstairs. Note the wood staircase and the stained glass window at the top.

The upstairs was actually quite spacious, especially when I compare it to other houses built around the same time period. But, of course, these people were wealthy, and this was a mansion, so it shouldn't be surprising. One thing of note was the number of closets in the bedrooms and other rooms in the house. Back then, in Grand Rapids anyway, houses were taxed not by the value of the house but by how many rooms they had in their houses, and each closet was considered a room and taxed accordingly. Thus, only the wealthy had lots of closets. Probably why big dressers were the thing back then too.

Various bedrooms of the children of the house, a sewing room, another bathroom. I noticed no toilet in this one but the "water closet" was explained: it was actually in a closet! Lots of privacy there, but I'm not so sure I'd want to have to get up in the night with no lighting! And then me with the fussy nose had to wonder about "the smell" what with no ventilation. Ew. You just can't beat modern plumbing and electricity!

In the back of the upstairs was a section that could be closed off with smaller bedrooms that were sparsely furnished, which was the servants quarters. They had their own back staircase to the kitchen, and their bathroom was in the basement (which we didn't get to see).

And another stained glass window in the upstairs hallway.

This is the entry way to the side porch, leading to the back yard and carriage house.

I just love these old houses and the history surrounding them, and its really too bad today will be the last day for tours. Hopefully the house will be kept as some sort of historical landmark, and at some point in the future it will reopen for another generation to enjoy. Thanks for taking a walk back in time with me!

Monday, June 29, 2009

That's my life right now it seems. Training hard every day. I suddenly realized yesterday that I hadn't had a day off since coming back from vacation, that would be 13 days straight, trying to "catch up" from vacation time off on the bike and swim. That would be 197 miles of biking, 4 miles of swimming, 26 miles of running, and 2 strength training circuit workouts in 13 days.
And that was obviously the reason why my bike ride yesterday sucked (other than the 25-30 mph winds) and my legs were totally dead on the run. Saturday's bike ride wasn't that great either, but I was taking it somewhat easy, trying to save my legs for hopefully a decent run, which for the most part it was. I was surprised at how well my legs have been working after biking. Not that I'm fast, and not that my legs don't feel like stumps initially, but at least I'm keeping going longer without needing to stop. Saturday was no different. That is until I turned to go back and then after hitting the 1 hour mark things started to unravel some. It was just too HOT! And I should know better by now to not do an out and back on the bike path because once you go a certain distance, there is no cutting it short for any reason. Despite walking a lot more than I would have liked on the return portion, I still only took 3 minutes longer to get back to the car.
During the bike, my daughter had called and wanted to go to the beach. I was afraid storms were blowing in and didn't want to go to Lake Michigan then, since most storms come off the lake, and where the bike path is, I was basically only 20 minutes from the beach. If they were coming, I would have to sit there and wait for them to meet me. And I desperately wanted to take a shower and eat first. Instead, I called Don to see if he wanted to go too and he suggested the state park we found last summer. Its still about a 35 mile drive, but it has a good swimming area and a nice beach.
He brought his kayak so was able to paddle along while I swam. And the great part? No weeds or motorized boats! After last week's swim practice in the weedy lake we live by, I haven't been able to bring myself to get back in there in the dim morning light. This lake was relatively unbusy at that time of the day, since the fishermen usually like mornings or early evenings, and there weren't too many people on the beach or the water either. I had a good swim and we sat out in the sun while he paddled with a friend who had shown up coincidentally.
Sunday it was back out there for another 50+ mile ride. Only that didn't happen. I was tired from the start and the wind managed to suck what life I had in me out of me, so after we got to 16 miles, I wanted to turn back. I had good intentions: I figured that way I could run another 4 miles. After the 5 I ran Friday and the 8 on Saturday, in addition to the 40 minute run earlier in the week, that would have put me at an all time high mileage week for the year. Only that didn't happen. It was so windy when I started my run it got to me right away. And my legs were dead. While most of my bike/run bricks have gone well this year, this one reminded me of last summer's attempts after long rides. Run a few minutes, walk a couple, run another couple, walk, etc. After I got past the 1/2 mile mark, I just decided I'd had enough, but then made myself run the entire way back, no stopping!
Don was coming out to meet me just as I got to the 1/4 mile mark. I think he was surprised but also happy he didn't have to go any farther!
While I am more confident this year going into my half IM in 2 weeks, I also have fears about how I never think I have enough training and get mad at myself for any days I don't train the way I should (by changing things around). I'm good at sticking with a schedule, but once I go off it, I find myself overtraining (like now).
I will need to find a better balance in these next two weeks leading up to race day, that's for sure! Today is only strength training; tomorrow 45 minute spin, 45 minute swim; Wed. 45 minute run; Thursday is up in the air depending on whether we bike after work, but it will be a bike day; Friday 10 mile long run; Saturday another bike day, but not sure how long yet, and Sunday will be a last long swim. So I'm not slacking here but just cutting back some. Now if I could just get a decent night's sleep, life would be golden!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Part 3

Final installment! I know this has been long and I've been busy trying to get caught up after a 2 week vacation.

Saturday, June 13, was our third and final day at Yellowstone. While you could easily spend a week there and probably still not see everything, we did see most of the high points of the park. The park itself is 2,219,789 acres or 3,468 square miles so you can see how much there is to cover. If you look at the map, we divided it up as follows: we came in on the east entrance in Wyoming, did the Canyon section and Norris the first day; the second day, we did the Old Faithful and West Thumb area; day 3 was the Mammoth and Tower Falls sections.

Our plan was to leave through the North entrance and spend the night in Livingston or Bozeman, depending on how much time we had.

The Mammoth section has some steep and winding roads, canyons, waterfalls, and of course the town of Mammoth, which is where Fort Yellowstone is located. The buildings still stand.

The main attraction at Mammoth Hot Springs is the terraces. Heat, water, limestone, and rock fracture combine to create the terraces. Travertine is deposited as white rock, however the microorganisms and living bacteria create beautiful shades of oranges, pinks, yellows, greens, and browns. The Mammoth Hot springs are constantly changing. As formations grow, water is forced to flow in different directions. The constant changes in water and mineral deposits create a living sculpture. Mammoth Hot Springs is divided into two sections, the lower terraces, and the Upper terrace Loop. (taken from the YNP website--my pictures though)

Here, you climb up the terraces on a walkway and steps, and of course of all days for it to finally be somewhat warm, it was that day, so by the time we finished climbing what seemed like 200 steps in the thin mountain air, we were all out of breath and sweating. There was no air movement either, although I would guess the temperature to be no more than 65 degrees.

As we were descending the steps/walkway, I got a phone call, with a ring I couldn't identify to any of my kids or family so answered it figuring it was a wrong number. It was a cousin I hadn't heard from in at least 2 years asking a dumb legal question! Oh, by the way, I'm at YNP right now so really can't talk. And as a reminder, I'M NOT AN ATTORNEY! I CANNOT GIVE YOU LEGAL ADVICE! IF YOU NEED LEGAL ADVICE, YOU NEED TO CONTACT AN ATTORNEY!

After we left the terraced Mammoth area, we decided on a picnic lunch at a grassy spot next to a church, overlooking the area below. It appeared from others also lunching nearby that there was going to be a wedding that day at that church. How cool is that?? (not my picture because mine didn't turn out this well)

While we were eating, you could actually see a storm coming over the mountains, so we quickly ate and no sooner got done than a rumble of thunder could be heard echoing through the canyon. We hurried to pack the car before the downpour started and headed northeast to Tower Falls. Signs along the road warned of elk in the area, and we saw dozens just grazing on the hills.

Soon the rain started again, as most days, and we continued our winding and upward drive to the Tower Falls area. Shortly after the rain started, we spotted cars stopped and knew there was some kind of wildlife sighting. This appeared to be a moose, just waiting out the storm.

Farther on, another batch of stopped cars along with a ranger. Here we found out was a bear just grazing on the side of the road. The ranger was not allowing anyone out of their cars, just stop long enough for a picture and move on. I'm sure this is because knowing how stupid people can be someone would get too close to the animal and then get mauled or something.

Its about 21 miles from Mammoth to the actual falls, a winding, curving upward road but some of the most beautiful scenery yet. As far as you can see are mountains, some green with trees, other sections all rock or some kind of stone, and canyon after canyon after canyon. You can see for miles and miles and we could see heavy rain coming at us long before we drove into it.

Once we got to the Falls section, here again was another canyon area with more falls, not as dramatic as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone falls but always worth seeing nevertheless. One of the walkways to descend to the lower areas was closed due to damage from storms, etc., but none of us were in much of a mood to do any more climbing, especially in the cold, blowing rain. This was one of the more crowded areas, but only because parking was at a minimum.

Heading back down to Mammoth, we stopped at some of the turnout areas to take closer pictures. We were rewarded with spotting some mountain goats and babies climbing up and down the rocky canyon. Too far away for any decent pics but could be seen easily through binoculars.

From here to Mammoth we spotted another moose and and more elk the closer we got to there, and again it rained and rained and rained. As we passed the old church, we could see the groom or groomsmen standing outside waiting for the wedding to start.

We headed to the North entrance, Gardiner, and it was just dreary weather. At the North entrance is the Roosevelt Arch, which for some odd reason there is no turnout for picture taking so we had to go through and park and then walk back.

Gardiner is just a small town on the edge of YNP in Montana. We figured we would drive to Livingston to spend the night or Bozeman if we had time. Livingston is considered the gateway to Bozeman, also not that big of a town, but right off the highway, and with the continual heavy rain, we decided to stop there for the night. I had stayed there before and the hotels weren't that great and were fairly expensive, but somehow I had found a place on the internet with no website just good reviews so we found that place and were pleasantly surprised. For $64.99 a night, we had a room big enough to fit 8 people easily so you couldn't beat that. Naturally, the weather cleared shortly after checking in, but that was that. We were all tired and would have a long 2 days of driving ahead of us after this.

Spent the night in Livingston but wished we had gone on ahead to Billings (east) to get a head start on the next day of driving. I love the Montana countryside, the Little Horn Mountains, the Big Horn Mountains, so peaceful and serene. At least until the storms hit, and once again, we got blasted just outside of Billings. We had hoped to stop at the Little Big Horn Battlefield/Monument/Park, but it was raining so hard again, we just kept driving. At times it was almost impossible to see the road let alone thinking of getting out of the car and touring.

We were taking a north easterly route home this time, avoiding the mountain road of Highway 16. Interstate 90 east is straight through Billings, then into Sheridan, Wyoming, on to Buffalo again, then on to Gillette, before heading into South Dakota. I have read a lot of history about this particular area, from Bozeman on through South Dakota, so I was looking at things with a new eye. The town of Deadwood, SD is quite notorious, and then of course you have Mt. Rushmore which is about 30 miles north of the highway.

Shortly after this, a huge hail storm hit, with baseball sized hail, denting up cars, cracking windshields, making another mess of the road. Just another day in paradise here in SD it seemed!

We finally got a hotel late that night in Chamberlain, SD, which is where Lewis and Clark started their westward journey on the Missouri River.

The next day we headed out, to reach home hopefully by late night, only again to spend the next several hours in heavy rain. Trucks would pass and get in front of you and you couldn't see them, like a ghost, but you knew they were there. It was tense driving, and of course we had to slow down, taking longer yet!

By the time we reached Minnesota, the rain finally let up. By the time we entered Wisconsin, it was late afternoon and we were getting caught up in construction traffic, and needing gas, we stopped in the Wisconsin Dells area to eat, pretty much knowing it would be the last leisurely stop we would have. Our hope was to get home by 11 pm.

Fortunately, we had no more rain the rest of the way home but the usual Chicago area traffic (and we take 39 until we get to 80 and then cut over to 94 to avoid direct Chicago traffic) was heavy and with nightfall, the drive was starting to get to me. I hate all the big trucks, cutting in and out like you're not there, but being on the interstate you can't avoid it. Still better than a 2-3 hour backup in Chicago like I've had before.

We finally arrived home around 12:30 am after a few more somewhat tense hours and driving in the dark through construction areas in Michigan. Much as I love to travel, sometimes the journey there and back can be so tiring!

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Part 2

First, I have to back up some and mention that the first day in the park, we also went to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The last time I was there, we saw it from the North Rim. This time, we were at the South Rim. The same canyon and water falls, but a different view. The view from the South Rim is basically in two parts; the view from the North Rim is one big picture. So the pics had to be done in two parts. Better view from the north side, but somehow we missed the turnoff and luckily found the south side.

Friday was the day we went to Old Faithful. Heading out from West Yellowstone you travel through the same road as we took the day before, but there is always something different to see, guaranteed. This day, there was a crowd gathered at the nest of the bald eagle, with the baby eaglet in the nest being fed. It was too high up to get a camera shot, but I did see it with the binoculars. What a regal bird!

Further along, we came upon a herd of buffalo grazing, giving the kids a better shot of a bunch of them than we had seen the day before. This is what I was waiting for!

When we turned off to head to Old Faithful, you go through the Lower, Midway,, and Upper Geyser Basin area. The Upper Geyser Basin is famous for hosting Old Faithful Geyser. But there is much more in the area than just this famous geyser. The Upper Geyser Basin also boasts the largest concentration of geysers in the world, including many of the worlds largest geysers. Five of the largest geysers are predicted by the Park Rangers. All of these geysers, Castle, Daisy, Grand, Old Faithful and Riverside, are worth seeing but if you can only see one, try to see Grand. (taken from the YNP info).

The day had started cold but sunny, so the kids wore shorts, believing the Internet weather saying it would get up to 75 degrees. Right! By the time we arrived in the Upper Geyser Basin area, it was getting overcast and cold again, and then the predictable rain started. But you just put a coat on and endured it. You can see the heavy clouds with just a peak of blue skies. It was on and off again, but getting colder the farther up in the mountains we went.

The problem with the rain then was while it stopped by the time we got to Old Faithful, it was clouding up more and more, and it was almost impossible to distinguish the clouds from the other geysers in the area. By the time Old Faithful spewed (Old Faithful was named by the first official expedition to Yellowstone, the Washburn Expedition of 1870. They were impressed by its size and frequency. Old Faithful erupts every 35 to 120 minutes for 1 1/2 to 5 minutes. Its maximum height ranges from 90 to 184 feet.) (again, taken from the YNP website) the clouds were so thick it was difficult in the camera lens to separate clouds from geyser. The funniest part here was there is a web cam at Old Faithful and a guy standing near us was talking on a cell phone to someone back home telling them to look for "the kid in the bright green jacket." He was standing next to Kyle and because of this, his relative saw him clearly! After that, Kyle acted as a lighthouse for other tourists trying to get their friends or families to find them on the web cam! We should have started charging for that!

No sooner had Old Faithful erupted than it started to pour rain again, along with some thunder in the distance. We had thought of waiting for the next eruption, but knew it could be up to an hour and a half later, and with the cold and rain, there wasn't much to do except sit and waste time, so we headed back to the other geyser basins.

You can see the ridiculous outfit I had on based on my belief it would be in the 70s that day. Fortunately I had some stuff in the car.

One thing I missed last time was the Fairy Falls and Firehole Mountain Canyon. We almost missed it again, and was happy when we saw the turnoff. We weren't disappointed! The Firehole Canyon road is one way because it is a narrow, single lane road that actually used to be the main road through that area! Hard to believe there couldn't have been a collision in there.

Picture of the Fairy Falls.

Friday evening then was spent at the One Horse Motel, the mom and pop place that was very nice, if not the most expensive of the trip. But after the bad experience with the previous motel, I didn't care too much about price.

We spent the afternoon and evening then exploring the town of West Yellowstone, also visiting the Yellowstone Museum, which previously was the train depot that brought travelers and visitors to the area and later they took wagons or stage coach rides into the park. Hard to imagine unpaved roads when you see the intricate system of roads, winding up into the mountains, and back down again and then the added bonus of riding in a bumpy wagon or stage coach! We're spoiled! Yet that didn't stop the people from coming to witness all that Yellowstone has to offer.

The next morning we headed to Mammoth and the northern part of the park. This trip, I planned to leave from the north entrance and avoid Highway 16 on the trip back!

The morning was cold but I was up early so managed to get in a short run again. It was getting easier but still found I had to walk some. Just couldn't get used to that altitude thing! After that, it was time to do some wash and get packed up to head north.