The Epic Summer of 2017

We’re into our third month of school, leaves are falling, and the air is definitely chilly, but I wanted to share some of the memories we created this summer. I’ve been meaning to write this for months, but with four Little Ones…well, you know.

At the beginning of every summer, our church ladies get together at Hidden Lake Gardens for a retreat. I’ve made it a family tradition to bring along one daughter each year for some one-on-one Mommy-daughter time. This year was Lydia’s turn and she was absolutely thrilled about going. The theme was “Transformation” with butterflies tied into everything from the activities to the decorations to the talks. There were caterpillars and butterflies adorning the tables at lunch and, at the end of the day, we released butterflies on the top of a hill. Lydia had a blast.



Our family made one more visit to the Toledo Zoo before our membership ran out and we let the kids ride one of the carousels. Growing up, my own parents often took “carousel pictures”, so here’s to carrying on that tradition.


The first week in July we spent up North, visiting family and enjoying the Cherry Festival and Traverse City beauty. We squeezed in lots of visits, two beach days, a day at the Cherry Festival, and cherry picking. We had planned on staying in a cabin near town, but the cabin was too musty, and, since Dan is particularly sensitive to mold, we made an emergency call to my parents and decided to haul our Little Crew over there. That turned out to be great because we got extra family time and we were even closer to everyone we wanted to visit and everything we wanted to do. It was fun, but exhaustingly fun.


One night, my parents took the three big kids and Dan and I got to go on a free VIP Cherry Festival date.


My sister and her family came too. 🙂

The girls looked so sweet all tuckered out from the fun.


One of my favorite moments from the trip was relaxing under a cherry tree after a morning of picking cherries. We had packed a lunch, and we just rested there eating our picnic and enjoying some time together.


Ever since last year’s family Christmas photo attempt, I’ve taken to a new philosophy: capturing life as it really is. Tears and all. (Some say you can’t have too much fun. You can. This is what it looks like.)


Papa entertained the kids for a few minutes while Dan and I unloaded the car.

A couple more visits…


Our kids love the children’s parade because…candy. For once-a-year tourists, they’re getting pretty good at snagging the candy. Even Paul caught on this year.




Toward the end of our trip we realized that the kids really only wanted to go to the beach. We tried to squeeze in a little more time there on our last day.





And then it was time to head home. The next day was our Church Picnic followed by a busy week of Camp Tikva (our version of Vacation Bible School).





Every year the kids learn a large Bible Memory passage set to music. Those who learn it and can recite it for their counselors get a prize. Lydia was so excited to get her prize on the very last day.

Once we recovered from the craziness of having a week of vacation followed by Camp Tikva, I gave Dan his first-ever day off. We sent him out of the house to have a day alone to read and pray and bike and think. The kids and I had a tea party lunch and played games.



Lydia lost her first tooth. And then her second.

And I raced in a triathlon. This was actually what made this summer so epic for me. Every other summer since Dan and I got married has had its share of difficulty (pregnancy, NICU stays, temporary living situations, working crazy hours, etc.) so this summer felt epic to me. With Dan’s help and support (and weekly babysitting help from Dan’s mom), I trained four days a week to be able to complete a sprint triathlon (1/4 mile swim, 14 mile bike ride, 2 mile trail run). I could write a whole post on this, but I just don’t have time. In short, it was SO FUN but also so hard. I definitely would like to do another one someday, but I think Dan’s going to have to do one first. I was by no means near the front of the pack, but I didn’t come in last place either, so that was good enough for me. The goal was to get back in shape and have fun and both of those goals were accomplished.





After the race we spent a day at our church camping trip. Then we stopped for ice cream on the way home. Best ice cream stop of the summer.

Since our kids so desperately wanted more beach time in Traverse City, and since I feel like they’re deprived not living ten minutes from the beach (like I did), we planned a sort of last-minute beach trip to the West Side of the state.

We found a family-friendly bed-and-breakfast and had a wonderful stay. Getting to eat breakfast, play in the pool, then go to the beach definitely brought smiles (and good sleep) to all of our kids.










Shortly after our beach trip, we embarked on a long-awaited vacation in Pittsburgh. What’s in Pittsburgh? That’s what everyone would ask us, and we honestly didn’t know. We knew we wanted to visit a big city, just our family, and our first pick was Boston. We decided Boston was too far away to drive with these kiddos, so we looked at a map and picked something within driving distance.

On our way down (and back) we stopped at Brandywine Falls in Ohio. It’s just a short walk from the parking lot to the falls, perfect for the short break we needed.

We fell in love with Pittsburgh. The amazing city views, welcoming old neighborhoods, incredibly hilly winding roads, three rivers, a million bridges, and tons of fun things to do. We visited a science museum, children’s museum, parks, play grounds, unique restaurants, and a natural history museum. We stayed at an old apartment building that had been renovated and converted into hotel suites. One of my favorite parts of this trip was waking up in the morning, eating a casual breakfast together, taking our time getting ready for the day, and talking about the fun we had planned.






We also took the kids to a Pirate’s game, starting with batting practice. The evening turned out to be WAY too much fun for our family to handle, but batting practice sure was fun. Each of the kids got a baseball while the Cubs were practicing.





We took an inclined railroad up Mount Washington and ate at an Italian restaurant with a beautiful view. And we took a few now-classic “take it like it is” family pictures.



And then there were more museums…




Our last day there we made it to the River Walk, something I had on my list of things to do. When we got to the “water steps” we had to hustle to keep the kids from jumping right in (which would have been a lot of fun if the weather had been warmer!)



And so wrapped up our epic summer. We gradually have made our transition into fall and are currently enjoying the school year, colorful leaves, and lots of apples and pumpkins.

🙂




Our Summer Family Staycation – Part 2

(You can read about the first half of our staycation here.)

Wednesday morning we got up early, loaded everyone into the van, and started driving straight West, to South Haven. I’d never been to South Haven before, and had heard good things about it. When our vacation budget started shrinking this winter (due to unexpected home repairs) we decided to stay home for vacation, but then I had the idea that we could spend one night somewhere on a beach and give the kids a couple of beach days on Lake Michigan. So, Dan booked a local hotel about as close to the beach as we could get and we planned a two day outing in South Haven.

When we got to town, we grabbed some lunch and headed straight for the beach. It was, after all, the whole reason we had come. Abby wasn’t too sure about the water, but Lydia loved it. Paul played in the sand, and eventually figured out that he could sit in the wet sand just close enough to the water to feel the waves hitting his legs. So that became his little home on the beach.

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Although we had mentally planned on spending the whole day at the beach, it turns out a whole day is too long for our family to do any one thing. Paul and Mommy, in particular were worn out and ready for a nap after about an hour in the sun. So we made the half mile trek to our hotel and checked in. The hotel was fantastic, and I was so glad I let Dan talk me into staying in one of the local ones closer to the beach. As it was, we spent a LOT of time walking, but it was nice to just park the car and leave it in the parking lot for our whole stay.

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After a little rest in our hotel we explored downtown and grabbed some dinner. Then we headed back to the beach in time to watch the sun set. The kids loved playing in the sand, while Dad and Mom just relaxed on a bench and watched the sun go down over the water.

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As soon as the sun set, everyone cleared off the beach and our family called it a night. The next morning we got up early to get in a little beach time before naps and heading home. It wasn’t that early, but we still got the whole beach to ourselves. It was just us and the sea gulls.

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On our way out of town, we stopped to go blueberry picking. We had high hopes of picking three buckets. Soon, however, we realized the girls would not be able to fill their own bucket. So, we set our hopes on picking two full buckets. Then we realized how long it takes to pick blueberries and how impatient our children were becoming. We set Abby and Lydia to work picking blueberries to feed to Paul while Dan and I picked as fast as we could and left exhausted with just under one bucket of blueberries.

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Not to worry, though. One bucket of blueberries is enough to eat several hand-fulls, to make two blueberry desserts and blueberry waffles, and to freeze some for snacking later. (Our family loves to eat frozen blueberries for a treat).

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Friday was a day of rest. Apart from making waffles and taking afternoon naps, we didn’t really do anything but stay home. Saturday was going to be our grand-finale: a day at the splash pad. When the time came, we got into the car just in time to hear thunder and feel the first rain drops of a storm. We went to the splash pad anyway, hoping the storm would pass quickly. Then we sat in the parking lot listening to the thunder, watching the lightening, and discussing how irresponsible it would be to let our kids play on the splash pad with lightening in sight. We finally decided to drive to Plymouth and walk around instead, once the storm lightened up. It didn’t seem like a day for the splash pad, after all.

The rain was pretty much done by the time we got to Plymouth, and, as it turned out, there was a free event going on where the kid could do activities and pick out prizes. So, the kids got their prizes and we had a special dinner out followed up by dessert with Grandpa.

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We made it home late and fell into bed, exhausted, but pleased that our staycation was a success.

Our Summer Family Staycation – Part 1

Last month Dan took a week off work and we enjoyed an action-packed staycation (with an overnight trip in the middle). We started off with a day-trip to our church camping trip, which affirmed our earlier decision NOT to take our children camping overnight. Camping is fun when you’re a kid. Maybe it’s fun when you’re an adult. But when you’re chasing around three little Munchkins (and pregnant) it’s a LOT of work. We enjoyed our day of fun and I decided to let Lydia sleep in the tent with me for one night, in our back yard. Even that was a big much for me this time, with a baby in my belly, a bathroom trip in the middle of the night, and a leaky air mattress, but we survived. And, Lydia thought it was a lot of fun.

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Next up we packed everyone into the van and headed down for a day at the Toledo Zoo. I may have mentioned before that we bought a family membership this year, and this was our second trip out. Since we are able to go periodically now, we don’t burn ourselves out trying to see every single exhibit. Instead, everyone picks one thing they want to see and we call it a day.

My choice came first: the Arctic animals. They are my favorite. We made it just in time to watch the trainers feeding the seals.

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Then we went inside and watched their Mommy and Baby polar bears swimming together. So sweet.

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As always with our kids at the zoo, the statues were almost as much fun as the real animals.

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Lydia chose to see the giraffes next.

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Then we took a break to let the kids play on the splash pad. It was short break, though, because the splash pad turned out to be extremely slippery. After a few wipe-outs we decided to move on.

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Abby chose to see the monkeys, and by now most of the visitors were clearing out. We got this little guy all to ourselves.

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Dan chose the aquarium, which is always his favorite. When you first walk in there’s this big wall of bubbles that amazes the kids, again, almost as much as the animals.

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Once we made it past that bubble wall, I loved watching the kids expressions as they got close-up looks at some of the animals.

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Then we called it a day. The next day we stayed a little closer to home and had more of a low-key trip: Ann Arbor. It’s a family favorite. First we visited the Natural History Museum, where we mostly enjoyed looking at the dinosaur bones. Afterward we piled everyone onto a Blue Bus and took a trip around North Campus. Sadly, the bus trip proved to be a little too long for our kids and the novelty wore off after the first few minutes. Lesson learned.

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We had to change our plan at this point, because we had planned a beach day for Thursday, but it was supposed to thunderstorm. So, we bumped up that part of the trip, but that’ll be continued in Part 2…

Summering

The past few weeks have been really FULL for our family. Just a typical week is usually more than enough for me, but we’ve really been packing in the activities this summer, and I’ve struggled to find both the time (away from the attention of my Munchkins) and the energy to update. So forgive the lengthy blog post and take your time scrolling through the pictures. Who knows when I’ll get back on here to update again!

First of all, our Little Man is learning to walk. He took his first wobbly steps in June and has been slowly growing more confident and steady on his feet. He still prefers to walk on his knees, just like his sisters did for so long, and he can scurry around like lightening on all fours, but soon enough he’ll be keeping up with the rest of us all the way up on his feet. When he gets tired he starts to cry and looks around for Mommy, and if I put out my arms to him, Paul will scurry right over and grab on to pull himself up to both feet. (Also, we painted Paul’s room a few weeks ago, and you can get a glimpse of that in the picture below)

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The kids love to play outside, and they especially love to play with their Daddy outside! They squeal and run when he gets up and chases them like a bear, then giggle uncontrollably when he tackles them in the grass.

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Like most 16-month-olds, Paul likes to eat dirt.
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A few weeks ago, we packed up and headed North for the first time since Christmas. We had fun at the beach, and National Cherry Festival, and were able to stop and visit lots of family throughout our trip. (I didn’t get as many pictures with family because I was just too busy catching up to stop and take any.)

We took the kids to the downtown splash pad, then continued through to the Kid Zone at the Cherry Fest, and on to the Open Space.

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It’s amazing how much fun Little Ones can have just playing in a sandbox full of (clean) cherry pits!

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“Want some?”
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Lydia loved the free giveaways (sunglasses) and the free cherry samples.

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Paul too!

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And meeting Cherry Man!

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One morning we decided to drive up the peninsula to our favorite cherry picking farm. Much to our dismay, the farm had just sprayed all the trees and was closed for the day. We decided to keep driving to see if there was another farm. We ended up driving up the peninsula until we were so far along, it seemed silly to turn back. Eventually the open grape vineyards and cherry orchards were replaced with some Up North, Pure Michigan woods that brought me right back to my summers as a Camp Counselor.

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Funny enough, I was wearing a Camp t-shirt that day and happened to run into a family of other former Camp Counselors on Old Mission Peninsula. We had a nice little reunion before the rest of my family got out of our car to explore. We were met with this beautiful view.

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We meandered down to the beach and spent a while just enjoying the blue skies and clear water.

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Then we headed back in to Traverse City for some more Cherry Festival fun. Since this was our “vacation” for the summer, we splurged and let the girls ride their very first carnival rides. Abby thought she was pretty sweet getting to “drive” a car. And, much to our surprise, Lydia did not get scared on the Dumbo ride that she so eagerly wanted to ride on with Daddy. (Please note, we made sure Lydia and Daddy got to ride in the Dumbo and we let the girls wait in line an extra time so they could get the highly-sought-after purple car.)

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Our last full day in Traverse City was largely spent with some of my family at the same beach where I spent most of my summer days as a kid.

Abby felt so big lounging next to her Nana.

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And Abby and Paul both thought it was great fun to lounge in their cousin’s beach toy.

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My favorite part of the trip was jumping in the waves with Lydia. She’s a little dolphin, although she kept telling me she was a little penguin.

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We took advantage of our beach time by catching up with my oldest sister.

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Who also had the great idea to take a family picture for us. Thanks Christina!

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Afterwards, we treated the kids to dinner at a restaurant. Lydia thought it was especially cool that there were sandboxes to play in. Paul was too tired to care about much of anything. 🙂

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And so ended our trip Up North, but not our fun! The following week was “Camp Tikva”, our church’s annual Vacation Bible School Program. But maybe I’ll save those pictures for another post.

Windy Sunsets

Ok. I finally finished going through pictures from our trip, but some of the best ones turned out terrible because I was using Dan’s phone. I’m including them anyway because the memories behind them are just too good to leave out.

Where to begin? The views, the views. I wouldn’t normally use the word “delicious” to describe a sight, but that’s what kept coming to my mind as we drove along the peninsula, stood outside our room to watch the whitecaps, or played on a playground overlooking the beach. The wind was cold, but we just soaked up the Northern Michigan beauty.

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On our first day up North someone mentioned something about apple cider and it became a quest throughout our week to buy some. Sadly, we were just a bit early for apple season and we couldn’t find the cider anywhere. Not a day went by when someone didn’t mention hot apple cider. And each day we failed to find any.

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I took Dan along one of my favorite trails in all of Northern Michigan, close to the house where I grew up. The girls were baffled as to why we wouldn’t let them in the freezing water, but we sat on a bench and enjoyed the view for a while despite their protests.

We didn’t actually get to Northport until Tuesday, although we enjoyed some visits on our way out for the first part of the week. Once we made it to our vacation-home, the fun really began.

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We packed most of our food for the trip, special meals we don’t get to eat very often. Then we splurged with little treats here and there.

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Wednesday morning we treated the girls to a normally against-the-rules sort of treat: doughnuts from the famous local bakery. If you ever make it up to Northport and you want a sugary treat, you must try a baked cinnamon twist from Barb’s. Take Abby’s word for it.

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A quick outing in the morning, and then we make our way back to home-base for lunch and naps. Yes, naps. Every day. It was one of my stipulations for making it a successful vacation. I insisted on naps; Dan insisted on treats, and the whole gang was happier than ever.

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In the afternoon we took it easy and played with bubbles. As simple as it may sound, bubbles really made the day with our munchkins.

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Then bath time, and another special treat: baseball in bed. After the kiddos were in their pajamas we snuggled together for a couple of innings on Lydia’s giant bed.

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Then it was early to bed for another early day. Dan tried sneaking Lydia off for a Daddy-Daughter doughnut date, but Abby woke up and Lydia invited the rest of us to come along too. Despite the very cold wind, we stuck to our plan to visit the marina. It was one of the things we just had to do so I could get a picture to go along with the one of us walking the marina on our honeymoon. 🙂 We walked the whole marina, although it wasn’t actually fun because it was so cold. We stubbornly enjoyed it anyway before rushing back to shore and letting the girls play on the playground for a while.

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We enjoyed another day of bubbles, yummy meals, traveling around Northport, enjoying the views, and naps. Yes, I loved nap time. Afterward I stayed in the warm room while the girls played outside with Dan.

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Our last night in Northport we came up with a Grand Finale activity. We ate an early dinner than bundled everyone up in their pajamas and drove to an overlook to watch the sunset. This turned out to be pretty hilarious. Everyone was freezing and it felt like the sun took forever to set. When it finally did there wasn’t much to it. No pretty colors, just a big, blinding ball of fire sinking below the horizon. But it made a great memory that we can already laugh about.

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Friday was the day we had to leave Northport, which was sad for everyone. But, not to rush things. We wanted to enjoy every moment of our trip so we planned a grand outing for Friday as well. We hung out in our old stomping grounds, letting the girls run around on the train playground at F and M park. Then we walked the downtown stretch, stopping to sample goodies at Cherry Republic (where we also received free apples in honor of “Apple Days” weekend, but alas, no cider), and stopping again to eat at the supposed best pizza place in town.

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As you can see, this was a special treat. Lydia was practically in awe of her own personal pizza which was twice as big as her stomach and much bigger than her face. Before the night was up we made one last grocery store stop to find…

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Apple Cider! And at that moment the trip officially became a success.

We had a wonderful week. Every memory is pleasant. We have never seen the girls, especially Abby, so happy ALL the time. Paul was as cooperative as ever. And Dan and I got to revisit our honeymoon location. As we were about to leave I was feeling a little sentimental as I looked out over the bay and thought about how crazy it is that we hadn’t been there in so long. Five years and three Munchkins later…Dan came up behind me and just started praying, thanking God for the past years and committing the next ones to Him again. Maybe that, and not the cider, was my favorite moment of the trip. 🙂

Back to Northport

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“Hey Paul,” Lydia said as she lay on the floor looking at her baby brother, “we’re going up North next week. We’re going to see Grandma and Grandpa and go to Nana and Papa’s, and Daddy’s not going to work for a whole week but Ford is still going to pay him!”

That’s Lydia’s explanation of why I won’t be posting next week. We’re busy down here getting ready for our first family vacation on our own. We’ve gone “up North” many times to visit family but this year we’re taking a few days to revisit our honeymoon town, this time with the Munchkins. We’re planning some fun times relaxing, visiting the beach, and maybe watching a sunset or two. I’m excited to go back up where we had our honeymoon and, like Lydia, spend a whole week with Dan.

See you when we get back!

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Trains and Dinosaurs

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It’s been a couple of weeks now, but I promised I’d share a report from our staycation, so here I go.

After our visit to Plymouth, we gathered up our munchkins and headed out for a day on a farm, including a used homeschool book sale. Our favorite part was getting to see the animals. Lydia loved petting the bunny and watching the ducklings. We like to call them Ducklets. Lately I’ve been thinking about the way baby ducks follow their Mommy around in a little train. I’ve been wishing it was that easy going places with little people. Ours tend to scatter in all different directions rather than follow their parents in a little row.

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The next and biggest event of our staycation was a trip to Greenfield Village. It was Abby’s first time and Paul’s too, and for the rest of us it was only our second visit. I wanted to watch the glass blowing, Dan wanted to see Edison’s buildings, Lydia wanted to watch the train, and Abby wanted to eat some sweet potato tots. Paul just wanted to be carried around all day.

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In the end, Dan got to see his buildings, Paul got to be carried, and I got to see my glass blowing. The girls loved the playground. Abby never got her tot, and Lydia’s first glimpse of the train made her cry (too loud). But in time, we figured out how to enjoy the train. We even stayed late to watch it go by one last time.

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The last successful voyage was over to Ann Arbor to look at the dinosaurs and animals in the Natural History Museum. As always, the dinosaurs were a big hit. We splurged and ate out at a restaurant, only to learn that it’s not worth it to buy the girls a $9 plate of food to share. Abby will definitely throw it on the floor. Lydia will complain that it doesn’t taste good, and in the end they will enjoy the $2 fruit cups from Seven Eleven much more than the $9 plate of restaurant food. Lesson learned. After our lunch and museum visit we trekked over to the Ann Arbor Arboretum for a little walk in some nature. We found a bench in the shade and sat to rest for a long while. I think that time resting on the bench might have been my favorite part of the whole week!

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The last outing for our week was to the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum. It was an epic fail. Dan and I don’t really enjoy art that much, but when you throw in a needy baby, a very loud toddler, and a high energy preschooler, we really don’t enjoy art. So, another lesson learned: dinosaurs – yes, paintings – no.

In all I’d say the staycation was a success. We learned a little, had some fun, and ran around enough that we were ready for a normal Monday once Dan started his job. Getting regular meals, naps, and playtime does our family good.

Happy Things

There are some days when I struggle to think of a good, picture-worthy blessing to be thankful for. Lately, that has not been the case.

After writing Wednesday’s blog (on Tuesday afternoon), Dan emailed me with news about another house. On Wednesday evening we went to look at it, already almost certain this would be ours. By Friday we had filled out the paperwork to put in our offer, it was accepted, and suddenly we’re on our way to having a home of our own. As things fall into place, I plan to share more about how God brought everything together for us.

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Also on Wednesday, Lydia started to figure out potty training. It’s a work in progress, but now it really is a work in progress. This is making all three of us so happy. (Abby doesn’t know what all the fuss is about).

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On Sunday, we packed up a picnic and met up with my parents and brother on their way back home from vacation. After lunch, my mom took Lydia over to the playground while Dan and I chatted with my dad about their vacation.

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It was good to see them again, especially after such exciting times with the housing (and potty training).

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And I’m only days away from finishing the front of Abby’s quilt and moving on to the actual quilting step. I thought this day might never come.

Today is a drizzly day outside but here in this home we are overflowing with blessings. I just wanted to share a little of that overflow this afternoon.

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We’re Off Again!

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Yesterday we packed up some clothes, some food, and our girls and made the four-hour drive up North. This time we brought Dan with us too. For the next few days we’re planning on being “Traverse City tourists”. We’ll go to the beach, walk downtown, and spend some quality time with our families. Even as I write this, Lydia is having a blast with Grandma mixing colored sand and playing outside. Saturday is a big family reunion, so check back with us next week for lots of pictures of our trip. Happy weekend everybody, see you when we come back down!