Beat the winter doldrums by joining Empire, Mich.-based Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate for a fun and educational tour to Ecuador. In March 2013 Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate founder Mimi Wheeler and experienced trip leader Jody Treter will lead a group of chocolate lovers to Ecuador for an 11-day tour focused on chocolate growing, fermenting, processing and exporting as well as indigenous entrepreneurship.

Glen Lake summer resident Beverly Boos and her granddaughter Dani (Danielle) Boos were intrigued with a newspaper story they read in the Iowa State Daily about Rachel O’Neill of Brownstown, Mich., whose nonprofit “Little Dresses for Africa” was sending clothing and hope to children in the African nation of Malawi.

Ayaka Ogawa has no idea why she went to her grandmother’s house that day. Her mother was there, maybe that’s why. Usually after school she went home to the house where she lived with her parents, her older sister, and her other grandparents. This was in the small town of Hakozaki-cho, a village of 300 with bus service only three times a day. It is near Kamaiishi City, in the Iwate Prefecture, in the state of Tohoku, Japan.

I’m sad to be leaving Amsterdam. Not just because I love my niece and her family and they live here, but because Amsterdam is one of the best places in the world. People are happy here. You only need to walk down the street to feel it. On an overcast winter day with intermittent rain, the buskers in the center of town are playing great music while all around them people are laughing and talking and strolling with their families. You’d think the sun was out.

Growing up in Northern Michigan, piles of snow, icy roads, and short-term power outages were the closest I ever came to experiencing the wrath of nature. Blizzards like the one that hit Michigan in March this year — which shut off power at my parents’ house for a full week after the region received 70 centimeters (27 inches) of snow in about 18 hours — can indeed be dangerous. But, as a kid, they just meant schools were closed for “snow days” filled with sledding and fort building.

Who would have thought that Istanbul would remind me so much of where I grew up above Sleeping Bear Bay? Everywhere you turn there’s a vista of turquoise water; and a pinkish tinge to the light, that I’ve never seen anywhere except on the Leelanau. If I don’t stop and think for a minute, the Bosporus and the Golden Horn, could almost be the Manitou Passage and Pyramid Point.

Traverse City filmmaker Aaron Dennis (his dad, Jerry, writes wonderful books about the Great Lakes) and I are thrilled that the State Theatre in Traverse City will host the world premier of our documentary, The People and the Olive, on Monday, Sept. 10 at 6:30 p.m.

Meeting Taro Yamasaki for the first time, one would never guess that this soft-spoken, bespectacled man with a bit of gray in his beard wasn’t a typical Up North transplant with his slice of heaven amongst Leelanau’s trees, beaches and lake scenes. Then he begins to talk about his life’s work as a photojournalist, whose strong, often beautiful pictures paradoxically convey searing images that indict those who not only perpetrate violence upon their fellow beings, but also those of us who stand by, silent or indifferent or ignorant.

You can help Buckets of Rain continue to feed the poor in Detroit, in Latin America and in Africa. There is a fundraiser at Boonedocks in Glen Arbor on Sunday, Sept. 9 from 3-6 p.m. that will include extreme gardening demonstrations, music and lots of photos.

England isn’t very big. It’s the size of Michigan. And, like Michigan, you’re never more than 60 miles from a view of the water. Six thousand years ago England was a European peninsula. Then glaciers melted, the sea rose, there was a tsunami and Britain became an island.