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So this is Grand Rapids: Welcome to winter

Join me as I explore the people and places of Grand Rapids in the wintertime
Ice skating at Rosa Parks Circle

Ice skating at Rosa Parks Circle /Katie Caralis

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You know it’s winter in Michigan when you struggle to remember the last time you saw the sun. Maybe it’s just the memories of digging my car out of waist-deep snow last year in Boston, but the mild start to this winter leaves me with a feeling of impending doom. And well, it can be hard to stay positive with that cloud in the sky.

However, when I think of the wonderful response to my first “So this is Grand Rapids” article, I have to smile. It definitely took me by surprise. I figured my mom would read the piece and, if I was lucky, a few others. But not only did you read it, you passed it on to your friends and posted it on your Facebook walls! There were so many great suggestions of GR places for me to go, activities to do, and people to meet that I wasn’t sure where to begin. So I did what any ambitious writer would do. I meticulously read through the suggestions, listed out the numerous ideas, brainstormed article topics, and then hid in my bed hoping genius would strike while under my covers.

When I crawled back out and took a deep breath, I reread your suggestions. What struck me wasn’t just the plethora of ideas—it was the attitude. Your positive energy had been overwhelming at first. I’d asked simple questions, and you’d opened up to tell me about all your favorite places, you’d welcomed me and offered support, you’d given me lengthy lists complete with hyperlinks and directions.

I had sensed there was something a little special about you, but I didn’t expect to hear, “Katie, pack a picnic and watch the planes land,” or “Katie, go to the public library without an agenda.”

Of course, it’s unlikely that you would post suggestions like “struggle to pay the bills” or “work longer hours,” but somehow I know you’re doing that too. I love that you’re also taking the time to enjoy a good meal or watch the fish ladder or wander the beach in the off season.

It dawned on me that getting to know Grand Rapids meant getting to know you, Grand Rapidians. And when I think about it, I realize that I’ve already begun to know you this winter.

I’ve been to Brewery Vivant and Founders. I watched you laugh with friends, and I drank beer that tasted good because someone who made it knew the importance of a good-tasting beer shared with laughing friends.

I shopped at the grocery store where you asked if I had “big plans for the evening” in such an excited way that I decided I should always be worthy of exciting plans on a Tuesday evening.

I visited the Wealthy Street Bakery and drank hot chocolate while I looked at your art hung on the wall. I enjoyed the smell of fresh baked bread from a brick oven while you had good conversation over half a sandwich and warm soup.

I must have had such a look of confusion last week that you asked if I was lost and I thought about telling you that I’d felt that way for some years now. Instead, I asked for your name and you pointed me in the direction of the lot where I’d left my car.

I thanked you when you gave me change for a dollar to pay my parking meter. I wondered at my own surprise over your graciousness until I remembered that you are Grand Rapids, and I wouldn’t find you just anywhere.

I watched you ice skate at Rosa Parks Circle, agenda-less. I’m sorry, but I laughed so hard when you fell down and when you held your son up by his coat hood, him spinning back and forth while you tried to steady his little skates.

I have to admit I was skeptical of this small rink in the middle of downtown, carved up with wobbly rental skates. But I loved watching the kids on ice for the first time, and the couples who awkwardly held hands when they needed to be holding the railing, and the solo skaters who weaved skillfully in and out, around the others—all in the pursuit of fun. And what a great way to enjoy winter since it only cost $1, skate rental is free with an I.D., and the rink is open seven days a week until March 4th (hours vary).

I sat down to write what it is to be new to this city and realized you weren’t waiting for me to impress you. You were simply inviting me into your home and hoping I enjoy it as much as you do. I didn’t need a grand new perspective, I just needed to stop and look around me at all of you and say, “So this is Grand Rapids.”

I'd like to believe that spring is just around the corner, but I know better. Yet, if I can't have spring, I can at least start planning for it. So what should I be exploring when the ground finally thaws and the birds come back chirping? I can't wait to hear your thoughts.


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