19 July 2017

Visiting a WWII Ship in Michigan - USS LST 393

While in Michigan, we planned to visit our cousin Shannon--who used to live in Malaysia and has gone on a number of adventures throughout SE Asia with us, like when we got to visit the coolest deserted island ever. She's in college now and we planned a day to visit her and explore a bit of the city she lives in. We wanted to do some sightseeing and she recommended the USS LST-393.

We didn't know much at all about what the LST 393 was before going, all I knew was that it was a ship and I never say no to a ship, but if anything, this piece of American history highly exceeded our expectations. I strongly recommend taking a few hours to visit this ship  and learn more about its role during the War.

The LST 393 in Muskegon, MI, is fascinating part of our nation's history.

We arrived at the ship and were welcomed in by a veteran who was staffing the front desk. The first thing he said when we all walked in was, "You all must be students, right?" and 3 of the girls were, but Angel and I insisted repeatedly that we weren't students. When he said, "Are you sure, you don't go to school at all?" I answered, "Actually, we're the opposite of students--we're teachers." And then he still insisted on giving us the student price because he said he knows teachers don't get paid what they ought. He was so sweet, and after giving us all discounted admission, he explained to us what type of ship the LST 393 was, how many boats were built in this model, what their roles were in the war, and how many still exist in the present time.

More than 1,000 LSTs or Landing Ship Tanks were built to be used during WWII. Their flat-bottomed design allowed them to sail right up to shore and deliver armored vehicles or troops that could roll or walk right off the ship onto the beach.

The LST 393 was only restored and opened for public touring a few years ago, and now the main chamber in the center of the ship contains a great deal of wartime artifacts and informational exhibits about various aspects of the War.

Then you could take ladders up and down to explore all the various parts of the ship. This was really our favorite part--it made the ship touring experience particularly amazing as we were allowed to go inside the engine room, and to visit the galley, and the quarters for everyone from the captain to officers to those who slept in rows of cots slung one above the other.

I got really excited when I found out we could go and "steer" the ship. The ship is so large that Anna, Lizzy, and I lost Angel and Shannon for about a half hour since they decided to go explore the engine room while we were exploring the top deck.

We stayed on the ship right up until closing time at 5 o'clock--don't underestimate the amount of time you might want to spend here! We arrived at 3 and thought 2 hours would be plenty, but we could have easily stayed longer if we wanted to read more of the information.

There's something very thought provoking about walking the decks of a ship that served in a war that so shaped the history of our world--to think about the men who lived and worked on that ship and where they went and how their lives were different after the war. I highly recommend touring this ship to anyone who's in the area, it's well-worth the ticket price, even if you're not a student. Granted, I am the sort of person who's simply prone to really love any sort of educational experience or historical location, but this is exactly the sort of place you ought to visit and take your kids.

You may notice from the pictures that we all seem to be excessively well-dressed for an outing that involves climbing ladders and touring greasy engine rooms. The fact is, we were going swing dancing together later that evening, and had dressed with that event in mind. My dress wasn't really the best choice for greasy engine rooms...what we did notice was that the ship was actually hosting a swing dance on its upper deck on June 2nd, and we all wished we could have attended, only there was someone getting married on June 3rd so were a little too busy to drive across the state for a dance, even if that dance were on the deck of this amazing ship...

Do you enjoy learning about history? What is the coolest historical site you've ever visited?
04 July 2017

Fun with Family in the USA

I've been writing about various destinations we visited during our trip to the USA, but I feel it's time to underscore the fact that on this particular trip, destinations weren't really the point. They were a great part of the trip, to be sure, and lots of fun, but the point of the trip was


And, when you're lucky like we are, family who are also your best friends.

So, other than visiting cool destinations, our visit included:

Pulling a prank during a wedding rehearsal.

Posing exuberantly near lighthouses while Angel looks on skeptically.

Sister selfies at Chinese restaurants while Angel tries to photobomb.

Getting my photo taken "with" Red Green since I got so excited when he suddenly showed up on TV!

Grilling 15 lbs. of carne asada for tacos.


Lots of arm wrestling.

Cousins who really love each other.

Excessive amounts of arm wrestling.

Swing dancing, whenever we could fit it in.

Decorating my sister's car for the honeymoon. We put about 5 giant bags of wrapped candy all over the car, we figured they'd need honeymoon snacks to keep their energy up for the long drive to Arizona. Decorating wedding cars is a long-standing tradition in my family, but this was the first car that my generation, a whole contingent of cousins, got to decorate. 

Seeing my grandparents--these are the grandparents I lived with when I was in college--they were actually the first of the family to meet this friend named Angel who sometimes randomly came to visit during freshman year. Surprisingly, my friend named Angel who came over was not a girl. We visited my other grandparents too, but I didn't get a picture with both of them, unfortunately. It's surprisingly hard to get ALL the pictures you want!

As a family, laughing at Angel for ordering a hamburger at a restaurant famous for CHICKEN.

This video is a mixture of moments with our family...all of which seem
There are so many more precious moments with family that went unpictured:

-Angel and his brothers sitting around telling stories for an evening of all the fights they got into as kids and attempting stabbings and the like. (stabbings?!)

- Playing with my nephew, and we discovered that if he learned anything about his Aunt Rachel, it's that she says "Gentle" a lot. :P I'm from a family of girls, haha, there wasn't much rough-housing when I was growing up!

-Shopping trips at Kohl's with Mom and the sisters where we celebrated finding super-good deals on ultra-clearance prices.

-Early Sunday morning, after the wedding, about 20 family members from 3 generations sprawled all over the living room, half still in jammies, giggling over all sorts of stories of past pranks and shenanigans.

-Meeting Angel's former coworkers, one of whom told me, "We really, really miss him. You know, when some coworkers leave, you kind of...close the door behind them. But when others leave, there's something special missing that can never be replaced."

What fun have you had with your family lately?
02 July 2017

Bois Blanc Island

While in Michigan, Angel and I had the chance to visit my all-time favorite island: Bois Blanc, which is the lesser-known neighbor of Mackinac Island in Lake Huron.

If you want to visit this gorgeous island, usually the best way is to find a cabin that offers short-term rentals for a week or weekend in the summer. We have family with a cabin on the island who offered theirs to us for a few days, which definitely helped lure us to stay.

The typical way to get to the island is by riding the Kristen D., the ferry run by Plaunt Transportation. In the past, Angel and I have gone over with just bikes, since we were staying with relatives who already had brought a car to the island for getting around, but since we were going by ourselves this time, we brought a car over--it is a small island, but not small enough for navigation by foot and bicycle alone.

Now here's the real question: What is there to DO on Bois Blanc?

Well, to be honest, not much. The general outdoorsy activities--hike, fish, kayak, hunt for cool rocks, sit around a bonfire at night. There's a few places of interest for sightseeing--places that seem like they haven't changed a bit in the nearly 20 years since I first visited BBI: a one-room schoolhouse, the airport, the cemetery, the cross near the North Shore.

In a notebook I found in the cabin I read a description which nearly perfectly describes the allure of BBI for me:

That's it. A place where "life takes unto itself a deeper, sweeter, larger meaning than ever before." I know that sounds like exaggeration, but in my experience, it's the simple truth. It's a place for real rest and healing. Bois Blanc Island was the only place I wanted to be last fall after the miscarriage of our first baby--instead, we got to spend a few days of the week that she would have been due on the island, and for that I'm so grateful.

We had three nights and two full days. The first afternoon/evening we were there was sunny and we explored the cabin and the shoreline just a few steps from the back door. I took a "fashion blogger" photo showing off my borrowed cool-weather clothes. The Docs are not borrowed, they are back on their rightful owner's feet, although they currently live in Michigan since they aren't exactly the kind of shoes you want to wear in the tropics.

Our first morning, the water of the big lake was as still as glass, so we got out two kayaks and went out paddling. It was perfection. I got tired/lazy at one point so Angel tied my kayak to his out in the water and then paddled us both out to a large interesting rock that was sticking out of the lake some distance away. We whiled away a peaceful hour this way and eventually returned to shore. Angel had the job of stepping into the icy water to pull our kayaks in. This girl and these Doc Martens had no intentions of getting wet!

By the time we brought in our kayaks, it had started to rain, so we stayed indoors for a bit and read before deciding to go out exploring. I drove--I haven't gotten a lot of driving experience while living overseas, but where better to put in some miles than on an island with few inhabitants, dirt roads, and a 25 mph speed limit? Now that's my kind of driving!

We headed to Snake Island, which is more of a peninsula than an actual island, to do a little exploring and rock hunting. Angel had decided he wanted to find a Petoskey stone, which I'm pretty sure don't exist on Bois Blanc Island, but that didn't stop him from looking! Afterwards we headed to visit the cross at the North Shore and look for more rocks, but it was getting colder and windier by then so we didn't stay long.

We drove back to the cabin and enjoyed a peaceful evening eating warm soup, reading, and watching Netflix. After the first half of our trip to the US, this peaceful break was much needed! The next morning was sunny but chilly and we decided to go for a bike ride to Lake Mary, a small inland lake not too far from the cabin. It was so cold when we started riding that I wore socks on my hands to keep them a bit warmer (remember, we weren't very prepared for the weather of late spring in northern Michigan).

The bike excursion was followed by more rock hunting, a lunch outing to share a burger at Hawk's Landing, the small restaurant/store on the island ("share a burger" means I eat the french fries and he eats the burger, ha!).

The day passed in a perfection of being cuddled up in blankets reading books and wandering out to the lakeshore to enjoy the view in the evening. Once it got dark we were able to spot the light flashing from Lighthouse Point.

The next morning we swept the house and made sure everything was back in its proper place and reluctantly drove to the ferry dock--saying goodbye to the Sasquatch along the way...

BBI is the perfect place to stop and rest--to simply enjoy the beautiful world God made. It was good to spend just a few days there after 5 years without a visit, but I'm already longing to go back.

Where's your favorite place on earth?
28 June 2017

Fun Things to Do in and around Fort Worth, Texas

Just to let you know, I'm going to have a rather loose definition of Fort Worth in this particular blog post. This is a collection of the fun and awesome places we went and things we saw and ate while we were staying in Fort Worth area. Once upon a time, I lived just outside the city for several months, and then I ended up marrying a guy whose family lives near the city as well, so somehow, this part of Texas is always going to play a role in my life!

Fun Things to Do in Fort Worth, TX

Here's some of the best to see and do and eat:

U. S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Fort Worth

This comes first because it's just that amazing. First of all, touring the factory is free. You can't take any phones or cameras inside with you, so be prepared to leave your stuff at home or in your car. My dad was a factory manager when I was little and I've toured many factories in my life and have a special fondness for factories, so that added a lot to the coolness factor for me, but I think anyone could appreciate how awesome this place is

Once inside, you get to tour a glassed-in catwalk around the ceiling of the factory floor, and listen to phones that tell you all about the different machines and the process of printing U.S. currency. This is an active factory, and the workers on the floor were quite friendly and engaging, holding up sheets with 100 dollar bills printed on them and giving us the thumbs up, or pointing out a pallet full of bills ready to be cut and holding up a sign that said, "This is $16 million!" They all seemed to be proud of their work and unusually engaged with visitors who were separated from them by a glassed-in walkway around the ceiling. 

After the tour, we enjoyed wandering through the little museum about the history of currency and the gift shop, where you can pay money to buy defective uncut sheets of money or shredded bills. Seems strange to me...

A small "village" of buildings from days long past preserved in order to give us a taste of what life was like in the past. Most of the homes and buildings are from Texas, and inside several of the homes were historic interpreters who were able to tell you the story of the families who used to live in the homes. 

The staff at the village were absolutely fantastic, answering all of our curious questions and taking lots of time to chat with us, no one seemed rushed at all. One of the cabins was the former home of the uncle of Cynthia Ann Parker. That was especially fascinating to me because I remember reading about her during my school days. We got to dip candles the old-fashioned way and explored the herb garden and mill house. This village isn't large--about 8-10 buildings to tour, but it was well worth the visit!

Fort Worth Botanical Gardens

These are the type of gardens that are so expansive you'll run out of stamina to continue walking in the Texas heat long before you run out of garden to see. Some areas, like the Japanese Garden, are paid entrance only, but there is plenty to see if you just want to wander the rest of the grounds for free. One particular garden was my favorite because while standing above it I felt like a queen surveying the perfectly manicured grounds in front of her palace.

Fort Worth Stockyards and Historical District

Of course, isn't this what most out-of-towners think of when they think of visiting Fort Worth? It really is fun--I've come here every time I've been to Texas and I've even attended a rodeo or two here. This time we wandered the train station area and drove by during a reenactment--plenty of excitement!

Joe T. Garcia's

This one's for when you get hungry. There's always been a line when we've come to eat here--you have two choices, enchiladas or fajitas. We love eating outdoors in the garden area, and the meal never disappoints.

Sundance Square

Nice place to hang out and enjoy a summer evening while watching the lights and the fountain. In the daytime I believe kids are allowed to walk in the fountain. 

Fort Worth Zoo

No pictures since we didn't make it there on this trip, but I have been there before and it is a very impressive zoo! Probably try not to go during the heat of the summer just to make it a little more comfortable for yourself, because it's big and there's plenty of walking if you want to see everything!


This one is a new concept for me--a driving range/bowling hybrid. It's a golf driving range, but you accrue differing amounts of points by hitting your golf ball into different targets scattered all over the range. It's really fun even for people like me, who don't have a powerful enough swing to get the ball to get to the end of the range--at least I can aim for the nearer targets. On some games, my score was higher than Angels even though he can hit further! It's all about getting your ball into a target. It was so fun we went twice. You don't need to have your own clubs, you can borrow clubs there, and they do have lefthanded clubs but you have to specially request them (I appreciate their recognition that left-handers exist!). It can be a bit pricey, but you can sign up for emails to get coupons and deals, and combine those with a morning-priced session, and bring your maximum six people to the game, and the per-person cost can be quite low. 


We're so glad we got to spend lots of time in Texas during our trip and adventure locally with family!

Have you ever been to Fort Worth or to the Dallas area? There's plenty to see and do--this part of the state gets my hearty endorsement! What are you waiting for?