Enjoying: Last of Michigan

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The suitcases are packed, and we’re about ready to say goodbye to Michigan. We’ll slowly make our way home, stopping for a few more adventures with friends and family along the way, but we will be good and ready to reenter our routines when we’re home. It’s been a summer without hustle, the most valuable feeling I’m protecting and taking home with me.

I haven’t done a lot of writing here–pausing the exhale for more inhale. But I’ve read books, taken walks, floated on my back in the lake at high noon, kayaked as the sun sets, sipped my morning coffee from the hammock, held my kid’s hand as she braved her first jump off the dock and driven on long winding roads framed by nothing but cornfields and forests for hours–and  I’d like to think that all equals something, as Extreme would say, More Than Words.

The last of our Michigan adventures enjoyed:

Hartwick Pines State Park
…a majestic sanctuary of trees, many that are fallen providing a natural playground for the kids. We hiked a path that led to a tiny chapel in the woods, and though it was all I could do not to call in a rescue (two of four kids were crying and asking to be held), we found the chapel, arriving at the most magical light and yes, it was worth it.

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Thank God I thought to bring the Boba.

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“I Goin’ to the Yake.”
He likes me to follow several paces behind him to prove he can make his way there all by himself.

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This red barn and field of Queen Anne’s Lace that sang its siren call on our drive the other day.

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Petoskey, Michigan.
…hugs Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay and offers the charm of its historic Gaslight District with shops and restaurants. The kids love the playground at the bay where, if you look closely, you can watch people jumping off the breakwall in the distance, which is apparently a rite of passage for vacationers.

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The Park Dinosaur
May I introduce this T-Rex that was running around the park in Petoskey the other day. No kids’ party. No reason. Just a random guy who got bored Sunday afternoon and decided to turn off Netflix, grab his dino costume and head down to the park to chase kids. Part creepy but mostly hilarious because I don’t think he realized the big kids would chase him with the intention of, what appeared to be, killing him. He was BOOKING it. So much that Nella’s initial cries at spotting him turned into straight-up laughing because yes, watching a T-Rex sprint and weasel through the park with a trail of kids screaming and chasing him is indeed a knee-slapping event.

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3 in Stripes at once.

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Isaac the dinosaur who comes with us everywhere.

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Summer reading.
There’s a stack of old kids’ books from the 70’s at Gary’s family cottage. The Sesame Street one doesn’t have Elmo in it because he wasn’t born yet.

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Not giving a hoot about how filthy they get. I think I’ve washed their hair sll of maybe 4 times on this entire trip.

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Watching my dad love my kids.

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The way-past-bedtime cereal bowl she talks my dad into giving her.

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Switching clothes.
They wear the same size, and I love it.

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The girl who caught 15 fish on her own the other day and now has a slight obsession with fishing.

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Lake swimming.
I love the ocean but don’t have the overwhelming urge to dive in and swim. Here? I want to go under. I want to canon ball off the boat, somersault under the water and swim until I’m too tired to tread water.

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Breakfast bagels in the garden.

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Tucking an entire month of memories with these guys in the books.

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Looking forward to going home and all that the horizon holds.

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Camp Bliss: A Summer Camp Adventure

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Seeing as we’ve now watched Parent Trap 19 times on this trip (NOT KIDDING–it plays in the car when we’re on the road, and Nella won’t let anyone switch it out), we decided to kick off our own camp day this summer. Actually, I made that sound like a random carefree decision, but let’s be real here. I thought the dickens out of this thing. I started out landing on some cute tube socks around Christmas, thinking “oh, wouldn’t these be cute for a summer camp day,” and then it snowballed until one day I was designing camp logo shirts and googling how to emboss leather. I don’t know how the hell it happened. One minute, I’m throwing canoe stickers into a pile saved for summer and next thing you know, I hold the inventory to run a 3-month camp for the Girl Scouts of America. Whatever, we rolled with it.

We planned this for a weekend with some dear little cousins, but they couldn’t make it this year so we invited some new friends who live near my dad’s cottage. (Lainey had a blast with her new friend but isn’t in a lot of photos here because I don’t know the family of the little girl with her and didn’t have a chance to ask if it was okay to feature her photo.) Also one more disclaimer and I swear I’ll shut up–I’m editing on a tiny laptop with limited software, so these photos are a little off.

Basically, I wanted to give the kids a full camp adventure with an emphasis on arts and crafts lodge because I was the dork who hung out there all day long. What’s that? Time for tug-o-war? No thank you, I’m finishing my 59th lanyard keychain. You go ahead. Also, they are too young for the hot sailing instructor, so I skipped that part too.

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Table camp décor: compass plates, campfire centerpiece, pine tree cupcake toppers, mini flashlights. Also, several people have asked about the kids’ tube socks. We wear these ones, and they are perfect–nice and snug.

I fly my camp freak flag much like my Christmas one, so anything that screamed summer camp, we were all HELL YAAAAAAAS. Kayaking? Yes. Archery? Yes. Build a lean-to out of sticks? YES! Okay, we didn’t build a lean-to, but look! Sack races!

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Our outdoor nature lesson came from my dad’s butterfly house where more than 30 butterflies feast on milkweed and flowers.

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I ran the camp tattoo parlor (Tattly camp set), and I take my job seriously.

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We did these camp crafts for the arts and crafts lodge along with several others, and I’d hereby like to say a huge thank-you to my dad and Gary for not saying one word about their back deck looking like a ransacked Hobby Lobby bin.

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The 10th Camp Commandment: Thou shalt not hold camp without tie-dye.

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Or archery. Even if you don’t ever make it even close to the target. Just fling the arrows at each other and get mad and throw them when they don’t go where you wan them to go. I think that’s how the professionals do it too. One more thing–FAKE ARROWS. Whew, that was an important one.

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Camp. of course, ends with a fire. With wood and sticks gathered by the little ones. And hot dogs and marshmallows.

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And now, I pause this post to impart the wisdom I gained from toasting marshmallows for 30 consecutive nights. Want the perfect toasted marshmallow? Crispy and brown, bubbly in all the right places?

1. Don’t use those commercial metal sticks they sell. The marshmallows slide off them, and there’s no grip to keep them positioned properly. You need a real stick, scoured from a Walk for the Perfect Stick (proper noun, of course). 
2. Don’t go near the flames. Go for the glow–the wood that’s red hot but won’t catch your marshmallow on fire.
3. ROTATE. Think rotisserie. Slowly rotate your marshmallow to even brown all sides.
4. Patience. It’s going to take time. You have to be in it for the long run. Think goals. Perfectly brown takes time, but that marshmallow will be worth it in the end.

With those four rules, you too can create this beauty.

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We rightly trashed our camp shirts with marker and glue and dirt and marshmallow. We laughed and made messes and decided that camp is really just real life summer with a cool logo.

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Either way, we liked it. And I’ve got 12 months to start planning the next one

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So much to do…so little time. wink-wink.

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To all our fellow Monday-ers out there, happy day to you.

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The Little Bear Who Roared at Sleeping Bear Dunes

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This week we hit the one month mark since we’ve been away from home. We are more than grateful for the opportunity to answer summer’s invitation to adventure in places we love far from home, but we are definitely missing Brett and will welcome the routine and familiarity of home when we begin to make our trek back next week. It’s always in this last week that I open the sensory receptors just a wee bit more–sip my coffee a little slower, pick a few more wildflowers, swim further out into the lake and memorize what it feels like to let my legs dance under the cold clear water–free of salt itch–surrounded by a scene I love so much. Clusters of pines, tall white birches, worn docks that pepper the lake’s edge in between rock ledges and loose dirt beaches, laughter that echoes across the water like a summer song… and my kids, a picture of a July dream I’ll save forever–their skinned knees and dirty hair, half-dried in the sun after braving the “1-2-3 Go Under!” dip; the constellation of bug bites that runs up the back of their legs; the quarter inch I swear they grew since the last day of school; the way they smile and skip and glide into the water with the freedom that only summer can bring.

Among summer’s idyllic story is, of course, the bits of reality we bring with us wherever we go–a good reminder that life isn’t a storybook. Or an Instagram feed. Or a silly standard we set in our mind where we forget to make room for what really happens on vacations with three kids. Reality chirped its tune amid our day at Sleeping Bear Dunes last week–on my favorite patchwork quilt, to be exact, right when I pulled out the sandwiches–with the good cheese, on the expensive bread–and the individually wrapped portions of grapes and pretzels and little vanilla cookies I picked out just for that moment. Right there atop the sandy summit of what Good Morning America once dubbed “The Most Beautiful Place in America.” With all the onlooking tourists. I mean, clearly it was a set-up. Regardless, that’s where Dash got mad about me not letting him be an independent 40-year-old man who drives cars and pays bills and watches for danger in the street by his own damn self, for crying out loud, and launched a 10-minute performance of will that brought out every ugly feeling I’ve ever had in motherhood. I did not feel patient or grateful or loving. I did not gently hold him with the assuring smile of “I’m a good mom who’s handling this fit like Jesus.” I felt angry and embarrassed, guilty and defeated and held him awkwardly, mumbling a stern “That’s enough” as if the ventriloquist “That’s enough” (you know–through clenched teeth and a forced smile so no one will know you’re losing your cool) from an exhausted mom ever convinced a strong-willed toddler to wrap it up.

We hung on, the two of us–made it through after a walk together and finally a let-go–and returned to the picnic blanket where the sandwiches and the scene and my mother were patiently waiting for us. My mom told me stories about the hard days she remembers–about the crying and the fits and the stroller that broke in the middle of the street–and how she never let it keep her from taking us on adventures. “It gets better,” she tells me. And I know it’s true.

The adventure was worth it.

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And goodness, my poor mother who is afraid of heights–she nearly had a heart attack watching the kids jump at the top of the dune. Is it steep? Yes. In fact, there are signs warning visitors that if they venture to the bottom, it’s a 2-hour steep climb back to the top, sometimes needing costly rescues. But, the top of the dune has a gradual incline where lots of kids jump before it gets steep a ways down, so I was comfortable giving them a little space for adventure.

For anyone with plans to visit, this was at the top of Scenic Overlook #9 on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.  It’s so beautiful–well worth the drive, the heart flutters, the fits.

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Nella broke out some yoga, naturally.

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I have a picture of my mother, around 25 years old, in a bathing suit, looking all modely and beautiful, sitting in this exact same spot.

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A mile or so down the road from the dunes is one of my favorite little beaches. It’s covered  with smooth flat stones, handfuls of which we bring home to make jewelry. Dash was running along the shore there and bumped  into an older woman who asked him his name. He told her it was Al.

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Another three miles or so from the beach is my favorite town in Northern Michigan, Glen Arbor, this picturesque gem planted right along M-22. I’m convinced the entire town grew from magic beans planted by someone who loved summer–and cherries and lavender and bookshops and coffee and families making memories.

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Speaking of families making memories, meet the coolest family ever. I saw them eating dinner outside at Boonedocks, all dressed in completely outlandish clothes–men wearing sparkly shirts with “I love Bieber”, girls in horrendous muumuus, pom-pom frills and neon capes, Barbies glued to shoulders. So I had to ask–and I’m so glad I did. They have an annual reunion at the family’s lake house, and the dad (the cool guy in the blue flowered shirt) decided that if they were all going to be together, they had to have fun. So he came up with the idea to have them draw names before their reunion–and they have to design the most embarrassing outfit for the person whose name they draw. Come reunion, they all wear their outfits for a night out on the town. Amazing? AMAZING.

For the record, add a ponytail and some heels, andI’d totally wear that watermelon outfit out.

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So much good art in this little town–not one speck of “My grandma went to Glen Arbor and all I got was this t-shirt” crap.

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Why yes, that is a children’s art studio, painted with rainbows, tucked beneath the sun setting in a pine. I KNOW.

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All good fit days and hard motherhood prayers should end with soft serve at the Pine Cone where kiddie cones equal behemoth towers.

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Summering hard with knee scrapes and bruises to show for it.

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