Saturday, July 28, 2012

Vacation Day Trips: Port Sanilac, Michigan

We did a little day tripping during our recent vacation in Lexington, Michigan. More than once we drove along M-25 north, looking for restaurants, garage sales, and a little adventure.

One of the few really good meals I had all week was at The Stone Lodge in Port Sanilac. I had a nice, fresh salad, but most notable was the spinach and artichoke dip, as well as the bread spread with spinach and artichoke dip and topped with cheese and tomatoes. Don't judge. There's spinach in it, I firmly believe it can't be all bad.

In this area of Michigan, there are roadside parks instead of rest stops. They typically provide gorgeous views, perhaps a basic bathroom (likely with no running water), maybe a picnic table or two, and beach access. At one such park on the way to Port Sanilac (maybe even in Port Sanilac), I was busily snapping pictures when a man pointed out that there were a couple Christopher Columbus replica ships sailing on the lake.

Is it the Nina, the Pinta, or the Santa Maria? Lake Huron
At an M-25 Roadside Park
Beautiful Lucy with beautiful Lake Huron
M-25 Roadside Park
Meema and the kids
On the final day of vacation, after we checked out of the cottage, we drove to Port Sanilac once more to have lunch at a restaurant we had passed another day, Uri's. I had a baked potato and a house salad, which turned out to be a really good lunch. The restaurant is on the second floor of a sailing school, overlooking the Port Sanilac marina. I was particularly impressed with how they handled our corn dog dilemma. Corn dog #1: dropped on the floor. Corn dog #2: frozen inside. Corn dog #3: success. Number of corn dogs on the bill: one.

Since we were not anxious for our vacation to end, we sauntered over to the nearby playground after lunch. It was a cute little park with a lovely view. Our visit to Port Sanilac was a pleasant way to wrap up our trip. We passed an historical museum that looked interesting and that I wouldn't mind checking out on a future return visit. And I would definitely go back to Port Sanilac again just to eat at the Stone Lodge or Uri's.

Uri's, Port Sanilac, Michigan
Uri's, Port Sanilac, Michigan
Port Sanilac, Michigan

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Vacation Day Trips: Port Austin, Michigan

When our vacation to Port Austin, Michigan fell through this year, we wound up in Lexington instead. We had a great time on our alternate vacation, but we couldn't stay away from our beloved Port Austin. So we took a little day trip.

Ordinarily, the drive from Lexington to Port Austin would be just over an hour and a half (ish). But we ran into a detour that took us away from the scenic M-25 and deep into farm country. Luckily we were not in Detroit, where detours are not typically well-marked, to put it mildly. So we made it to our destination with no trouble, it just took a little longer than we had expected. The farmland drive was pretty too, especially if you enjoy looking at lots and lots of corn, with a few cows thrown in for good measure.

In The Bank's entrance way. Port Austin, Michigan
Our first stop in Port Austin was The Bank for lunch. This used to be one of my favorite restaurants. The food was fantastic. But, I've noticed that in recent years the food has gone way down hill. It isn't cheap either. We had a great waitress, I'll give them that, and the setting (in an actual old bank building) is definitely unique. I ordered vegetarian quiche and it was awful. The roll that came with it tasted like freezer burn, and the grapes had a moldy flavor. My mother-in-law loved her lunch (chicken salad on a croissant), but I was sorely disappointed in mine. Eating vegetarian while traveling has proven to be a bit of a thorn in my side. The options are so limited. 

After lunch we drove all the way to Caseville, 17 miles each way, just to go thrifting at a little resale shop in town. We probably spent a little too much time in there, but it is something my kids look forward to each year. I know, totally weird, right?

When we got back to Port Austin, we stopped at the soda fountain for ice cream. Chris had told the kids to have a cherry soda for him, which was what he liked to order at the very same shop when he was a kid. So Bethany, Connor, and Lucy each had a cherry soda, while Mattie and I had some regular old ice cream. They have really good ice cream, with some flavors you don't see every day - like carrot cake. There is also a gift shop attached. Please note that although the sign on the door says "no public restroom", there actually is a restroom, and if you ask the cashier she will give you a key. Customers only, though.

Beach time! Port Austin, Michigan
By this time it was starting to get late in the afternoon. We headed to the beach to hang out for a few hours. There are two public beaches in Port Austin. One of them is right there in town, at the marina. There is a newer playground too. But construction was going on all around (I'm wondering what they're up to??), and the restrooms were inaccessible. So we drove down the road to the other beach. Just follow East Spring Street east, past the first beach, and you will come to a sign on the left hand side directing you to the beach. You'll have to drive through a neighborhood to get there, but it is a quick five minutes from the other beach. At this beach there is an older playground and a wooden boardwalk that lines the beach, with shaded picnic tables along the way. 

We chose a picnic table, plunked down all our junk, and the kids got busy in the water. One of the things I love about this beach is that I can sit at the picnic table and watch my kids on the beach, without actually going on the beach if I so choose. There are never many people there, which is awesome sauce in my book. The water is very calm at this beach, because there is a break wall, but it is warm and shallow and not rocky. It is full of sea weed though. Kind of icky in parts, and it really scared Mattie. She didn't want to go in the water much at all because of it. Judging from her screams of terror, you might have thought she had encountered a new breed of freshwater sharks, indigenous to the Great Lakes. But she is a beach baby, and was perfectly happy building her sand castles.

Mathilda hated her dress. A lot. The Farm, Port Austin, MI
Although we really didn't want our beach fun to end, we had made reservations at a nearby restaurant. I was in desperate need of a good meal at this point. We got changed and cleaned up a little in the restrooms, which were passably clean. Then we drove a few miles down M-25 (toward Caseville) to Port Crescent Road and The Farm. The Farm is probably the best restaurant in the area. Or maybe I'm just gloating because they provided me with what was, by far, the best meal I had the entire week of our vacation. I had the Spring Vegetable Strudel and it was to die for. Delicious. I want to eat it again, right now. The menu does change from time to time, but everything is delicious - from the bread basket right on down to dessert. Speaking of dessert, Mathilda and I shared the creme brulee. So ridiculously good.

By the time we got back to our Lexington cottage, it was past 11:30. What a long day!

Who is that mysterious stranger lurking at the beach? Port Austin, Michigan
Reading at the beach. Port Austin, Michigan
Kayaks on the beach. Port Austin, Michigan
Cheese smiles at The Farm. Port Austin, Michigan
With dessert fresh in their minds, these are some very happy kids. The Farm, Port Austin, Michigan

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Vacation Day Trips: Croswell, Michigan

We did a little day-tripping during our recent vacation in Lexington, Michigan. The main road in the area is M-25, which hugs Lake Huron in many places along the way, making for a fantastically scenic route.

Croswell's "famous" swinging bridge
But our first little adventure was not on the lake at all. There is one stop light in Lexington, and if you turn east at the light you will find yourself driving toward the lake. If you turn west you will soon arrive in the town of Croswell. Besides being home to a Pioneer Sugar factory, Croswell's claim to fame is its swinging bridge. Since my childhood days of vacationing in Lexington, I have been coming to the swinging bridge. I hadn't been there in a few years, but I managed to find it. Of course I can't remember detailed directions at the moment, but I know I made one turn. There's a Ben Franklin dime store nearby. Look for signs leading you to Croswell's "famous" swinging bridge. The town is not that big and I'm absolutely certain anyone you pass would be able to point you in the right direction.

Other than the addition of a little splash pad, the park which houses the swinging bridge hasn't changed much at all since I was a kid. The splash pad is on one side of the bridge, and a little playground is on the other side. There is parking available on both sides. On the playground side, there are a couple port-a-potties. On the splash pad side, there is a proper restroom, although be warned that my mother-in-law ventured in and said it was pretty awful. There are also a few picnic tables and barbecue grills scattered around the park.

So the bridge. It's not like epic Indiana Jones style or anything, but I honestly didn't know if my kids would go on it. It does swing, and it does go over a body of water. Some of them are not terribly fond of heights. But they all crossed it and did fine, until some dumb jerk decided to be cute and start swinging it like crazy, side to side. This nonsense terrified Mathilda, and she started screaming her head off. Luckily we were near the end, so she didn't have to endure the terror for long. I couldn't even pick her up because I was afraid I would lose my balance and drop her. It looks fairly sturdy, but I don't know. And the idiot who was getting his jollies off of frightening little kids, he was not some teenager, but a grown man. Why he couldn't wait two more minutes for my family to get off the bridge, I'll never know.

We parked on the splash pad side, so our reward for crossing the bridge was a few minutes of running around at the playground. Then we crossed back over and bought ice cream from an enterprising young lady who was selling frozen treats out of a cooler attached to her bicycle. We didn't know about the splash pad, so we hadn't brought swim suits and towels along. So the kids enjoyed their ice cream, Bethany and Connor ran across the bridge one last time, and we were off.

The sign at the beginning of Croswell's swinging bridge. Why? I couldn't tell you.

Swinging Bridge playground, Croswell, Michigan
Swinging Bridge playground, Croswell, Michigan
Swinging Bridge playground, Croswell, Michigan
One more time across Croswell's "famous" swinging bridge

Croswell, Michigan

Monday, July 23, 2012

Teaching Kids Healthy Competition: Guest Post by Nancy Parker

I'd like to thank Nancy Parker for the following guest post. Enjoy!

Competition has become this ugly monster that we try to shield our kids from, instead of encouraging the idea that everyone is the best at everything, and that there is no one person or team who ranks higher than others. However is all of this equality in events and activities that are supposed to be competitive really doing our kids any good, or is it making them less equipped to deal with life out in the real world? Being competitive to the point of degrading others is certainly not something we want to instill in our children, but a little healthy competition can be beneficial. Here are four ways we can teach our kids healthy competition:

          1. Instill the value of competing for your own personal best: Whether it’s out on the field, in a meet, or at the local spelling bee, teach your kids that they always need to strive to beat their own personal best. By focusing on their own improvements, the competition shifts from who is the best overall to how much better your child did individually as compared to the last time. 

          2. Encourage kids to try several different activities: Instead of denying failure in one sport and forcing kids to practice repeatedly, despite their overall unhappiness at doing so, let them try out several different sports or activities until they find one that they find the most personal satisfaction in. When you find something you’re passionate about, even if you’re not the best at it, you naturally want to try to improve, versus being forced to do something that you have no interest in. 

          3. Be a good role model: Show your kids the joy that comes from always striving to do your best by displaying those behaviors in everything you do. Kids need to see that losing doesn’t have to mean getting upset or defeated; they need to see that losing can be used as an opportunity for improvement. This attitude begins with you; as their parent you are their greatest role model. 

          4. Review failures together: Instead of getting upset when your child fails an exam or loses a big game, review what happened together. Ask him if he studied enough for his test or practiced enough for his game, and what can be done the next time around that will result in a better outcome. Use failure as a learning experience that can be improved on for higher success next time. 

When we constantly reward failure and embrace losing, we teach our kids that striving for better is unnecessary. However we should always be reaching for a new personal best, and as parents we need to teach kids how to do that. Competition shouldn’t be an ugly thing; it should be something to look forward to, and something that pushes kids to excel. It’s very alive in the real world, and sheltering kids from it is only setting them up for a rude awakening when they leave the nest.

Author Bio
Nancy Parker was a professional nanny and she loves to write about wide range of subjects like health, Parenting, Child Care, and Babysitting, find a nanny tips etc. You can reach her @ nancy.parker015 @

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Screen Time Intervention

I'm going to admit something kind of dreadful. My kids have all fallen into the habit of going to sleep with the television on. Every night. It started when Lucy didn't sleep through the night until she was 18 months old. Desperate times, people. So when Mathilda began sharing a room with Lucy, she was also subjected to the nighttime movie, which quickly became a sleep necessity for her too. Bethany and Connor never (okay...rarely) went to sleep with the TV on until sometime in the last year or so. I'm not even sure how it happened. But somehow it started, and before we knew it, they couldn't manage without the television lulling them to sleep either. Parenting fail.

I like to make little goals for the kids over the summer months, and this year one of them is to break the bedtime TV habit. This is a huge, tall order. Like, you have no idea. Or maybe you do, and I'm not the only one with this particular parenting fail? Anyway, I thought our recent vacation in Lexington would be the perfect time to get moving on kicking the habit, since there were no televisions in the bedrooms. went well. Just perfectly fine. I read to the kids longer than usual, which helped things along. There was a little trouble falling asleep at times, but no tears (definitely  helps when there are simply no TVs in the bedrooms to facilitate the habit), and I'd call it a successful venture.

Then we got home and the kids automatically assumed they were back on full television bedtime viewing mode. Nope. I put my foot down, and I held it down firmly. It's been less than a week, but so far we're doing pretty well. Tears have been shed, but the tragedy of the matter seems to be wearing off somewhat. I told Lucy that if she really wants to use her TV pacifier at bedtime, she can go to bed an hour early and watch a DVD before I come up to read. Hasn't happened yet. They're getting over it. I have confidence that this goal will be reached.

I think I've mentioned that a friend remarked on Facebook that she doesn't allow her kids to watch television during the day in the summer. I thought this was a wonderful idea and decided to adopt it as well. Our magic hour is 6:00. Until that time, no one uses the TV or the computer. Unfortunately, I started noticing a little clock watching going on.

" many hours until six o'clock, mom? Can I pick a show first, mom? Is it almost six o'clock, mom?"

So I had to add a provision to this new rule of ours. If any one of them badgers us about how long 'til six o'clock, that will mean that no one will get to use the TV or computer that day. One person will ruin it for everyone.

When we were in Lexington, the little girls wanted to watch a DVD on the second night. So I popped in  Barbie and the Magic of the Pegasus, and mid-way through it, the DVD player suddenly stopped working. There was a little bit of grumbling, but after that night, the television did not get turned on again all week. No one even asked for it once. There was even cable! So I know they are capable of refraining. Not having the TV on at all was really refreshing. We also had no WiFi, and my cell phone had no signal either! There's nothing like unplugging for a few days. Instead of television and internet, the kids read, wrote in journals, drew, played outside, worked in their Summer Bridge books (they were super excited that I made them bring these on vacation! Note: I'm being sarcastic.), and practically collapsed from exhaustion at the end of each busy day.

What my little sweeties don't yet know is that I'm pretty sure this rule is going to stay in place once school starts.

Do you have specific rules for television and computer usage for your kids?

Would you look at that, they're not in a TV trance!
Cool tree in the backyard at the cottage...not a computer screen in sight!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

AstroBrights Paper Adds Color to Any Project

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Astrobrights Papers by Neenah Paper for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

I love paper, especially vividly colorful paper like AstroBrights. So do my kids, and they are always making one paper project or another. Colored paper is an especially coveted art staple in our home. AstroBrights paper comes in a whopping 23 different colors, which provides a great array of choices, whether the paper is for me or for my kids. I feel like having more options helps to inspire. I have a project I started months ago and never finished. I'm hoping to eventually complete a detailed menu planning board to hang up in my kitchen, in the hopes that it cold help cure my cooking block. I would love to play around with some color combinations of AstroBrights paper to help freshen up my plans and get me motivated to finish.

Right now, AstroBrights is sponsoring the "Give a Brighter Year" sweepstakes. Visit the AstroBrights papers Facebook page for your chance to enter to win a $500 gift card for you and $30,000 in school supplies for the school of your choice. Just like their Facebook page, and follow the directions for entering the sweepstakes from there.

While you're visiting the AstroBrights paper Facebook page, also check out the Make Something AstroBrights challenge, you could win a gift card! Each week, a new challenge is posted, and the prizes are worth more as the contest progresses and the challenges get more difficult! Right now the challenge is to find a project that could be made better with AstroBrights paper, and the prize is a $100 gift card. Just search the internet or that box of your kids' old school project that you're saving in the attic and find something cool, then submit a photo or a link to enter the challenge. For this challenge, you don't even have to make anything, you just need to find your own special inspiration and share it. Sounds simple enough, right? If you enter, leave a comment letting me know what you came up with!

Visit Sponsor's Site

Friday, July 20, 2012

Book Review: The Dark Monk by Oliver Potzsch

Last month, I reviewed The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch. This month I'm reviewing the next book in the series, The Dark Monk

As I've mentioned, I'm a fan of historical fiction, so this series of books, set in 17th century Bavaria, is right up my alley. I love the dark element - one of the main characters is the town hangman, after all. Besides being realistically historical, both books are mysteries, with a little romance thrown in for good measure.

In The Dark Monk, the mystery involves the Knights Templar (You know, King Arthur? Knights of the Round Table?). The hangman Jakob Kuisl, his daughter Magdalena, and Simon the physician are on the trail again, putting their heads together to solve crimes around their little German town of Schongau. This time they learn that first impressions can be deceiving. As they each head off on their separate adventures and missions, each of them is in for more than he (or she) has bargained for!

Potzsch includes a cast of characters at the beginning of the book, which I didn't realize until I was done with it. But it would have been really helpful in keeping everyone straight, considering that there are quite a few characters, most with names I can't pronounce. I love when authors are so considerate of their readers.

Many of the characters and locations in The Dark Monk are based on real people and places. Potzsch is an actual descendant of the real life hangman Jakob Kuisl. This just makes the book even more fun to read, knowing some of the events may have really happened, even if they are written with generous artistic license. Potzsch also includes a travel guide at the end of the book for anyone who might want to hunt down the locations that helped inspire the book. I thought that was a really thoughtful addition, and one readers don't find very often.

I'm hooked on this series, and I look forward to reading the next, The Beggar King: A Hangman's Daughter Tale. I'm almost afraid to read the excerpt of the new book that is included at the end of The Dark Monk because I know I'll have to wait to read the book in its entirety!

The Dark Monk and The Hangman's Daughter are both available on Amazon.

I received a complimentary Kindle copy of The Hangman's Daughter thanks to BzzAgent. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Life Insurance Decisions

As a mother of four, I'm ashamed to admit that Chris and I do not have life insurance. This is something we've talked about on and off since before we became parents, but somehow it has always been pushed to the back burner. We've never made a decision,we've never committed to a plan. We've just sort of forgotten about it for the most part. Once in awhile we'll start talking about it again. A couple months ago we even made an appointment with an insurance agent, but something came up and we had to cancel, and never got around to rescheduling.

Nobody wants to think about the "what ifs", but the fact is that it's the responsible and necessary thing to do, especially for parents, but really for everyone. There are websites, such as Term Life Insurance Rate Company, available to help. You can enter in all your information, such as your health status and how much insurance you want, and they get back with you with quotes from various insurance companies. They do not represent a specific insurance company. Websites like this simplify the process and make it easier for people who are looking for term life insurance to choose the company that is right for their specific circumstances. Because they are not biased, consumers can really get a feel for the different companies out there, without wondering if they're being steered toward something that is not in their best interest.

Insurance is complicated enough as it is. A resource to make the decision making process easier is a really helpful tool for confused and reluctant customers like Chris and me.

Thankful Thursday

Today I am thankful for...

14 years of marriage, and 20 years altogether with Chris

my mother-in-law babysitting last night so Chris and I could go out for our anniversary

free movie passes to see a screener of The Dark Night Rises

surviving standing in line for 2 hours at the movie heels

spinach and feta cheese pizza at Pizza Papalis

I actually liked the movie! All three hours of it!

Bethany's friend's mom taking her & her friends to a movie and dinner yesterday

having most of our clothes packed for our next trip already...well not packed exactly, but stacked up & ready to be packed as soon as I figure out what to pack them in!

my in-law's for letting us use their van for our road trip...with DVD player & a  lot more room than my van! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

perfect weather every single day of our vacation in Lexington last week

an awesome cottage in Lexington, and my own bedroom which I only had to share with children a little bit

my new gigantic cooler, that I paid nothing for, thanks to Amazon gift cards earned from various web sites

that Bethany read an entire book while we were on vacation, and is now reading the sequel and loving it

kids who do what they're asked to do the first time without argument

living so close to the beautiful and majestic Great Lakes

the end of Lucy's early-morning-the-waffles-are-gone tempter tantrum

being invited to a local blogger event tomorrow...I'm so excited to meet some other bloggers from the area, tour a dairy farm, get an awesome gift pack, and give away an identical gift pack!

a day to myself tomorrow, before all you-know-what breaks loose very soon and I'm stuck with my kids 24/7 for a two and a half week 5000 mile round-trip "vacation". And, FYI, I use the word "stuck" in the most loving way imaginable. I have a feeling I'm going to need a vacation from my "vacation", although I am really excited about the "vacation" nonetheless!

What are you thankful for this week?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

So What! Wednesday

I'm linking up with Life After I "Dew" for So What! Wednesday!

So What! if...

I'm squeezing 5 blog posts out of our Lexington vacation.

I feel like a blogging failure if I skip posting for more than a day or two at a time. 

But...real life takes precedence. 

I'm so excited to tour Goma Dairy Farm this week, thanks to the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. I was invited to this blogger event, and it sounds like it's going to be a great day. And...afterward I'll be offering a totally awesome giveaway package! Stay tuned for more details!

Mathilda will only wear skirts. Even dresses are no longer acceptable. 

I'm really impressed that Bethany made Chris and I an anniversary breakfast in bed this morning. Today is our 14th anniversary, by the way. She went online and found directions for making omelettes. Not bad at all for her first attempt either! The kids made us cards too. It was really sweet.

Last year I did an anniversary blog post. I don't think I'm going to do a new one this year. 

I have so much to do this week, I think I'm going to need to develop some kind of super power to get it all done.

I've been practicing French braiding the girls' hair. I'm getting better!

I went to the dentist yesterday for a cleaning. I would get my teeth cleaned at the dentist every week if I could.

I think packing for vacation is a learned art. Packing for five is nothing short of a strategic adventure.

What are you saying So What! to this week?

My Michigan Memory: Summer Vacation in Lexington, Michigan

I'm linking up with Mrs. Weber's Neighborhood for My Michigan Memory. This week the prize is a family four pack of tickets to the Detroit Institute of Arts, one of my favorite places in Detroit! Go on over and enter, and if you are a blogger with a Michigan Memory to share, link up for 10 extra entries!

By the way, I won the prize a couple weeks ago for a family four pack of tickets to the Midland Center for the Art, a place I recently wrote about in a My Michigan Memory post! Remember, you can't win if you don't enter!

Almost every summer since Bethany was born, we've vacationed in The Thumb with my mother-in-law.  This year our plans fell through when the place we were supposed to be renting was unexpectedly sold at the last minute. So instead we did something different and moved our vacation to Lexington, which bills itself as the "First Resort North." Basically, it's at the base of The Thumb, when we typically stay at the tip of  The Thumb.

Sad kids who had to wait until the next was closed!
My grandparents used to have a second home in Lexington many years ago, so I spent a  lot of time there as a kid. Even after they sold their place, we would take regular day trips, a tradition I have sporadically kept up with my own children. Lexington is a little beach town, nestled on the shores of Lake Huron. The highlight for me, three plus decades ago, was The General Store. Back then they sold true penny candy, but even now they have a candy counter where kids can stand on a stool and point to everything they'd like, while a very patient employee fills a little paper bag with the chosen goodies. Needless to say, no visit to Lexington is complete without a trip to The General Store in town, and I would have to say I think it's also the highlight for my kids. It's worth a visit to the General Store even if you're not in the market for candy. They have all sorts of unique merchandise in a really cool setting. There's more stuff upstairs too! But do keep in mind that they close early!

Our cottage was an awesome, refurbished (with central air, a dishwasher, and a washer and dryer) old house with lots of space, a heavenly front porch, and a huge yard. We were only about one block from town (ie: The General Store), one block from the beach, and one block from Dairy Queen. In short, a perfect location! The downside would be that several of the restaurants in town have closed and dining options within walking distance were very limited. But we made the best of it and managed just fine.

Sunset at the beach
The public beach is sandy, with warm, shallow water (no rocks! no seaweed!). There's a playground, restrooms, concerts on Friday nights in the summer (we caught a little of an Elvis impersonator), and a long pier to walk along for gorgeous views. It is kind of small and narrow, and it tends to get pretty crowded. We did hang out there some, but since we prefer a little more privacy on the beach, we made the trip to nearby Lakeport State Park a couple times. It was about a 20 minute drive, but there the beach is big, spread out, and sparsely populated. The park is accessed right off of M-25, south of town, with the parking lot on the opposite side of the street. You have to cross a pedestrian bridge to get to the beach, but the walk isn't too bad. This was my first time at Lakeport, and I'd definitely go back for a beach day - it is only about an hour from home. It's clean and the water is warm and shallow, although a bit rocky. You might want to bring some water shoes.

Our first visit to the state park, as we were packing everything up to leave, an older gentleman ran over to tell me how impressed he was with my children. He positively raved about how nice and well-behaved they were, and said he didn't want me to leave without telling me. This stranger's kind comments gave me fortitude the rest of the week every time we had a difficult moment, and trust me, there were plenty. But I'm glad he saw them on a good day and took the time to come over and say such wonderful things about them. It got me thinking that I don't give out compliments often enough, especially to strangers, and how a few kind words can really make someone's day, or even week.

We had a lovely, relaxing vacation. I'll tell you more about it soon...

A perfect day at Lakeport State Park
Lakeport State Park

Lakeport State Park
Beautiful beach at Lakeport State Park, Lexington, Michigan
Boogie boarding in Lake Huron, Lakeport State Park, Lexington, Michigan
Busy building sand castles at Lakeport State Park, Lexington, Michigan
That's quite a rock you've got there, Lucy! Lakeport State Park, Lexington, Michigan
Candy-crazed in Lexington, Michigan

In candy heaven...although I suspect that candy cigarettes are not quite PC? Lexington, Michigan

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Review: Hell or High Water by Joy Castro

When Hurricane Katrina hit back in 2005, I remember being mesmerized by the television coverage. I was sickened and wished I could be there to help the victims. I was sad and frustrated that something like that could happen in our own country, and that red tape and incompetence were permitted to keep people from getting life-saving assistance in a timely manner. I had the TV on so much to watch for news updates, that when Lucy was born over a year later, Bethany suggested we name her Katrina.

The novel Hell or High Water, by Joy Castro, explores an issue in post-Katrina New Orleans that never crossed my mind until I read the book. The storm and mass exodus of the city provided the perfect opportunity for convicted sex offenders to go off the grid, and possibly never get back on it. When Times-Picayune reporter Nola Cespedes is given an assignment to investigate this problem and write a feature story about it, she hopes it will earn her a transfer and beef up her reputation at the paper.

At first glance, Nola is a tough, confident and independent party girl with a full social life. She is determined and driven. But as her research gets more and more intense, pieces of Nola are pushed to the surface, despite her best efforts to keep them buried. The complexity of her character is intriguing and keeps the story interesting. Bit by bit, the reader realizes there is quite a bit more to Nola than meets the eye.

Hell or High Water is full of surprises. It hooked me early and kept me curious and interested right up through the end.

For more information, visit the author's website at 

I received a complimentary copy of Hell of High Water. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thankful Thursday

This summer, I'm feeling particularly blessed. I have been able to spend so much wonderful time with my friends and family, and I have oodles and oodles to be thankful for!

I am thankful...

...for being able to take my kids someplace that I went often when I was a kid, and that holds sweet memories for me. 

...that I got so much laundry done before leaving for vacation. Here's to patting myself on the back!

...for my recent dinner at The Hard Rock Cafe, where I was able to go on a date night with Chris. If you want a date night at Hard Rock Cafe too, or a girls night or whatever, be sure to enter my giveaway to win a $50 gift card for Hard Rock Cafe!

...for my new ergonomic UGLee pens, that really keep my hand from cramping up when I write. Want to try them too? Enter my giveaway for a chance to win a 3-pack of UGLee pens!

...that very soon I'll be seeing my dear friend who I miss so much but rarely talk to because we're in different time zones and the only time I think to call her is like 5 a.m. her time! in close proximity to the Great Lakes, which = great beaches! And also, beach vacations!

...that my kids love being in the water, and that Lucy is really interested in improving her swimming this summer.

...for the ability to schedule my posts ahead of time, for instances when I'll be away from home with no internet access!

...for kids who love to travel, and are always excited to do and see new things.

...that two of my favorite shows (True Blood and Weeds) are back on, and that I can depend on my DVR to record them for me when I can't be home to watch them.

What are you thankful for this week?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Still Looking For Somewhere to Vacation This Summer?

The following is a "re-print" of a post I published just over a year ago. Besides the ideas described below, I have a few other close-to-home vacation ideas up my sleeve. Well, close to home if you happen to live in southeast Michigan! Some other places my family likes to visit include:

  • Toledo, Ohio. I've written about our adventures in Toledo and the surrounding area several times, like HERE,and HERE,and HERE, and again HERE. It might not sound like fun, but read my posts - there's actually a lot to do! 
  • Michigan's "thumb" region. We generally make at least one trip a year to Port Austin or Caseville. It's a long standing tradition that started when Chris and his brother were little boys.
  • Grand Rapids. One of these days I'll dig through all my old pictures and do up a whole post about how much I love the Grand Rapids area, but there is a ton to do and it's really beautiful on Michigan's west coast. 
  • Chicago. I heart Chicago. Big time. There is tons and tons to do, and it's only a 5 or 6 hour drive from Detroit. You can even do nothing but walk around window shopping and people watching and still have fun.
Then there are some places I hope to visit at some point with the kids, but we haven't made it yet. For example:
  • Toronto. Another big city, only about 4 hours from Detroit. I went there when I was a kid and would love to get back there.
  • Michigan's Adventure. The only big amusement park in the state, complete with a really fun looking water park. Although I've never been, I have been to Muskegon, the west Michigan town where it's located, and it is home to a beautiful state park.
  • London, Ontario. In particular, I'd like to take the kids to the maybe kind of hokey  but still cute looking Storybook Gardens. It's on my short list for this summer.

I love to travel. If I don't get out of town every once in awhile, I start to get ants in my pants. Being a one income family and lacking a money tree in the backyard, most of the traveling we've done since becoming parents has been limited to the close to home variety. Luckily Michigan has quite a bit to offer, and so do Canada and Ohio. We've had some fantastic trips, all within a few hours drive from our home in southeast Michigan. The travel season is upon us, so here are five summer getaways I think every kid should experience.

  1. Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada Niagara Falls is one of the largest and most well-known waterfalls in the world. It is a site to behold, especially when there are a few rainbows in view. I sort of have a thing for waterfalls, so this is just the kind of attraction I love. Besides the natural wonder of the falls, there are tons of touristy attractions and activities in the area. So if the kids tire of gazing at the thundering water and getting sprayed by its mist, you can choose from things like wax museums, Build-A-Bear, the Sky Wheel (giant heated ferris wheel overlooking the falls), and haunted houses. Yes it's kind of kitschy, but it's fun and you can walk just about everywhere. There are hotels and restaurants in all price ranges too. Travel time from metro Detroit: approximately 4-5 hours.
  2. Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, Ohio I've written about this place before because I love it. If you think Ohio is boring, think again! My kids would rather go here than Disney World, that's how much fun they had when we visited last year. There are several natural attractions in the region, such as waterfalls, gorges, and caves. The awesome thing about Hocking Hills is that it has been left so natural. You just park and start following a trail, and pretty soon, like within seconds, you won't believe the beauty before you. It's like walking into another world. This also means there are no restrooms (you will find them located near the parking - make sure everyone tries before you get started!), pop machines, or food vendors of any kind. Also no souveneir stands, safety guard rails or pretty much restrictions of any kind. And did I mention FREE? This place is absolutely incredible. There are cottages galore in the area; the ones for rent right on State Park property are nothing fancy but perfectly serviceable and very reasonably priced. Approximate drive time from Metro Detroit: 4-5 hours.
  3. Mackinac Island, Michigan This island located in northern Michigan is famous the world over. People come from all over to leave their cars behind and ride a ferry boat from Mackinaw City (or St. Ignace in Michigan's Upper Peninsula) to Mackinac Island. That's right, there are absolutely no cars allowed on the island, with the exception of a few emergency vehicles. Bicycle, horse and carriage, or your own two feet are the preferred methods of transportation. The main street is bustling with restaurants, fudge shops, and gift stores galore. You can explore the island on your own, most of which is state park property, or take a guided tour. Your can check out Fort Mackinac or the many natural attractions on the island. Don't forget to snap a few pictures of the Mackinac Bridge on your way to or from the mainland. At five miles long, (and the3rd largest suspension bridge in the world), the bridge connects Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Travel time from Metro Detroit area: approximately 4-5 hours.
  4. Michigan's Upper Peninsula Crossing over the Mackinac Bridge, high above the Straits of Mackinac (where two of the Great Lakes - Lake Huron and Lake Michigan - meet), into the Upper Peninsula is like entering a completely different world world, one with lots of forests and lakes and hills and waterfalls. There are touristy places to be sure, but the U.P. definitely has the feeling of undeveloped, quiet remoteness. The air is fresher. Life slows down. I have great childhood memories of Upper Peninsula vacations, and my hope is to provide my children with the same kinds of experiences I enjoyed. Things like going fishing,visiting the Soo Locks, walking along the shores of Lake Superior, exploring the water front college town of Marquette, pulling a raft across Big Springs, and seeing Tahquamenon Falls. Travel time from Metro Detroit to St. Ignace, the first city on the other side of the Mackinac Bridge: approximately 4-5 hours. 
  5. The Shores of Lake Michigan The best beaches in Michigan can be found along the shores of Lake Michigan, on the Western side of the state. The sand is soft and the water is good for swimming or boogie boarding. Huge sand dunes can be found here and there along the coast, just waiting to be climbed. There are beach towns, like Saugatuck, an artsy community with unique sculptures decorating its quaint streets, and Harbor Springs with its upper crust shops and antique vendors. Or you can just drive along the shoreline and stop off at any beach you happen to pass...just literally park on the side of the road and walk on down to the beach. Travel time from Metro Detroit area: approximately 3 hours to Saugatuck, in southwest Michigan, approximately 5 hours to Harbor Springs in northwest Michigan, or anything in between.

Niagara Falls

Hocking Hills State Park

Mackinac Island carriage ride

Mackinac Bridge at dusk

Random Lake Michigan beach

I'd love to hear what your favorite close-to-home travel destinations are, and what you love about them!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Michigan Memory: Sublime Summertime in Michigan

I'm linking up with Mrs. Weber's Neighborhood for My Michigan Memory! Go on and check out the 'hood, and while you're there, enter to win a family 4-pack of tickets to Midland Center for the Arts, which has a Bob the Builder exhibit now through August 18th! If you're a blogger, you can link up your own My Michigan Memory post for extra entries in the contest!

The following is taken from a post I wrote at the end of last summer. It's a little run-down in pictures of some of our favorite times last summer. Sometimes I complain about living in Michigan (usually in the dead of winter...), but summertime is a lovely time to live in the Mitten State!

It really, really was such a fabulous summer. As always, I'm sorry we didn't get more in before the start of the new school year. But we concentrated a lot on doing nothing this summer too - which definitely has its own charms!

    Happy back to school to you. Happy end of summer, happy fall. 

    Bethany & Mattie at the pool

    Hanging out with cousins ~ Lexington ~

    Connor, Lucy, Bethany, and Mathilda ~ Lexington ~

    Sno Cones with friends at the park
    Splash pad

    Lucy ~ Sleeping Bear Dunes ~ 

    Mattie & Bethany ~ Sleeping Bear Dunes ~

    Starting the climb ~ Sleeping Bear Dunes ~

    Lucy ~ Sleeping Bear Dunes~

    Connor & Lucy ~ Sleeping Bear Dunes ~
    Kiddies with their Auntie Mary ~ Sleeping Bear Dunes ~
    The kids at Sleeping Bear Dunes with my 'lil sis
    Lovely family picture ~ Frankfort ~ Lake Michigan ~

    Bethany ~ crystal clear Lake Michigan ~

    Lucy ~ beautiful Lake Michigan beach ~ Frankfort


    Cottage in Frankfort
    Connor & the Playmobil pirate ~ Frankfort ~

    Lucy enjoying a caramel covered rice crispy treat ~ Frankfort ~

    Downtown with friends
    Playing in the fountains outside of the Renaissance Center
    Oh Canada ~ view from Detroit RiverFront
    Carousel ride downtown