Tag Archives: Michigan

Meeting Santa and Merry Fun


Our time in Michigan was magical. It was so much fun catching up with my sister and making memories with her darling family. We fit in a lot of fun during our short time there, including a trip to the movies where half our large group went to see the new Disney movie, Moana, and half went to see the Harry Potter spin-off, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Another morning Kelly and I snuck away for a few hours to go grocery shopping and out to breakfast without children. Toby and Tom graciously offered to take care of the kids on Saturday morning so Kelly and I could enjoy some uninterrupted sister time. It was wonderful. We went to a cute little café in downtown Gaylord for breakfast and enjoyed our first uninterrupted conversation in what feels like years. We talk regularly on the phone but our conversation is always sprinkled with interruptions by crying kids, having to break up fights between boys, stopping to clean up dog vomit, or yelling over a smoke alarm going off. Somehow we manage to stay connected and plugged into each other’s lives despite the lack of deep, meaningful, extended conversations. We take whatever minutes we can to connect before we are pulled away to parent, recognizing this is simply the season of life we are in.

So to get to sit and visit uninterrupted for an hour, while enjoying a meal that we didn’t prepare, was a blessed gift! And we loved every minute of it!

The following morning Kelly was able to enjoy another morning out, this time with her husband.

Kelly and Tom went out for a breakfast date on Sunday morning after we insisted they take advantage of babysitters being in the house. As you might imagine, being parents to 5 little ones doesn’t allow for a lot of date nights. We are blessed to have babysitter-aged children now, but Kelly isn’t quite to that stage yet, so we shooed them out the door to enjoy some time alone before we left to go home.

On Saturday night we all went out together. Treetops Resort, a golf/ski resort in the area, was having a light-up night. They were offering all sorts of fun holiday activities free to the public so we decided to head on over to check it out. It ended up being a really, really fun evening.


When we arrived we discovered different stations set up for the kids. The resort had gone all out to make the evening magical for its guests and the generosity they showed the community with this free event was impressive.


Santa was there and Lydia, Ozzie, Nate, Sammy, Noah and Charlie all took a turn talking to the jolly fellow and letting him know what was on their wish list. Ozzie, in his Ozzie-like style, was very specific as he told Santa his top 3 gift wishes, including make, model, and where they could be purchased, sounding much like the little boy in The Christmas Story expressing his desire for a Red Ryder BB Gun.


After everyone had a turn with Santa we began working our way around the lobby making Christmas crafts:


Assembling marshmallow snowmen:

And waiting in line to get a custom balloon from the 12 foot tall elf.


The balloon man could create 500 different possibilities and the kids all picked unique creations. The little boys all chose various weapons including swords, bow and arrows, and bazookas, so the could battle when they got home.

Rusty chose a Christmas wreath, Molly a rose, and Grace a hippo, in honor of the classic Christmas song, “I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”


After everyone had completed the activities inside we headed outside for free donuts and hot cocoa/cider by the bonfire.


It was magical and put everyone in the Christmas spirit.


We ended our magical evening with a horse drawn carriage ride around the resort. Everyone was bundled under blankets as Christmas music played softly in the front of the carriage and we talked and laughed under the cold, starry night.


It was my favorite moment of our Michigan visit.


It was a great trip. We loved spending the holiday with my sister’s family and loved getting time with Toby. His absence has been hard on everyone so to get a stolen weekend with him after weeks a part was a treasured blessing.

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, let the Christmas season begin!


Fun on the Ice


On the Friday following Thanksgiving we made plans to get out of the house and take the kids ice skating.

Gaylord, Michigan has a fun Sportsplex in town that offers indoor ice skating and an indoor swimming pool. We had never gone before, given the fact that we have always visited Kelly during the warmer months of the year and our time is usually spent enjoying all the lakes and outdoor activities in the area.

Visiting in the winter months makes our usual stomping grounds inaccessible so we were looking for an activity we could do that would get the kids out of the house and allow them to burn off a little energy.

Kelly suggested ice skating. That day the Sportsplex was offering “family skate” from 1:30-3:30 pm for a cost of $3.00/person.

We bundled the kids up and loaded into our van. Our 12 passenger van fit Kelly and I and our 10 children perfectly, allowing us to drive together rather than take two separate vehicles.

On our way to the Sportsplex we stopped at the Gaylord Elk Park to see the elk, a must see stop every time we visit the Kirks. We lucked out and found a couple of the big bucks right near the fence line. The kids fed them fallen leaves through the fence and were able to touch their antlers.


There is something thrilling about seeing these creatures up close.


From there we drove over to the skating rink.

After paying to get in we began the monumental task of getting everyone in the right sized skates and getting everyone laced up.


Then it was time to head onto the ice. Kelly and I stayed on the sidelines with Noah and Charlie.


This duo had fun climbing up in the stands, playing “Ring around the Rosie…BANG,” and making faces for the camera that they immediately wanted to view and view again.


They are such funny boys!


The oldest 8 kids took to the ice. Some had previous skating experience…


While others were on the ice for the first time.


The rink offered walkers for new or unexperienced skaters. These walkers allowed skaters to lean on something steady as they worked out the coordination of moving across ice.


Grace paired up with Nate, helping him as he skated for the first time,


And Molly paired up with Sammy.


Rusty, Lydia and Tyler had fun zipping around the rink.


Ozzie was the one who surprised me most. As a new skater he took to skating far more easily than I anticipated, choosing to forgo the walkers and just learn on his own. He did wonderfully!


Everyone had blast and at the end of our two hour skating window

exited the ice with pink cheeks, sore ankles, and big smiles on their faces.


Thanksgiving Blessings



Toby is still working up in Michigan at my sister’s house. He knew he wouldn’t be done with their newly built garage and the addition to their home by Thanksgiving, so discussion soon turned to what the plan was for this upcoming holiday.

As we saw it we had three options: He could return home for a few days to celebrate Thanksgiving with us, we could celebrate the holiday apart so as to speed up his return home, or we could bravely venture north to spend Thanksgiving with him and my sister’s family in northern Michigan.

We always eagerly look forward to our visits to my sister’s home. Our families enjoy each other and meld beautifully, with cousins picking back up, after their time apart, as though no time has passed.

This was the first time, however, that we have visited during the snowy Michigan months. Most of our visits occur in late spring and summer time.

That made me a bit nervous.

Add to the winter travel challenge the fact the kids and I were doing it without Toby and with the three dogs…

Well,  I was feeling a little anxious when I pulled out of the driveway on Wednesday morning.

The GPS said the trip would take us 7 hours. It ended up being closer to 13 hours.

The first quarter of the trip was easy and uneventful as we moved through Ohio. During the second quarter of our trip we slowed down considerably as we hit Thanksgiving travel traffic around Toledo and Detroit. We crawled along for 3 hours. Once through holiday gridlock, our third quarter of the trip was filled with torrential downpours. As one who hates driving in the rain I thought things couldn’t get more nerve racking, but that is because I wasn’t far enough north yet…

The last quarter of our trip took hours. As we drove north the temperature dropped below freezing and all that rain soon turned to  ice and snow. That stretch of road from Saginaw, MI to Gaylord, MI was the most treacherous driving of my life. There was a group of around 50 cars moving together through the dark, creeping along the ice and snow covered highway at 20 miles per hour. SUVs and trucks far more capable and built for Michigan roads were spinning off the highway in front of us as I crawled along the snow-covered ice in my 12-passenger van that was not built for Michigan snows.

We made it and my heart was filled with Thanksgiving for safety and family.

I peeled by fingers from the steering wheel and we were greeted by barking dogs, excited niece and nephews, and the loving embrace of my husband. It was wonderful to see Kelly and Tom and their five kiddos, as well as see all the incredible work Toby has been doing on their home as he transforms their garage into a mudroom, bedroom and gorgeous family room.


My sister also has a new addition…a silver lab puppy named Finn.

Finn and Olive were adopted into our families weeks apart. It was fun to compare Olive and Finn. Olive is a month older but significantly larger. She towered over him and he soon discovered that he could easily maneuver between her legs as they played.


Later during our visit, while on a grocery run to Meijer’s, Kelly and I spotted dog outfits for sale. We couldn’t resist the urge to turn our puppies into winter stuffies, with Olive transforming into a penguin and Finn dressed as a polar bear, reminiscent of Kelly’s favorite childhood stuffed animal, Snow Bear.


Thanksgiving Day was wonderfully relaxing. We spent the day catching up, eating delicious food, playing games, counting our blessings, and enjoying this incredible view:


The snow appears a lot prettier when viewed from the living room window rather than through the van’s windshield!

The kids took advantage of the sticky snow and headed outside for some snow fun.

It was perfect snow for a snowball battle!


It was a beautiful Thanksgiving Day and a perfect start to our Thanksgiving weekend in Michigan!


(Stay turned for more Michigan fun)

There is something FISHY going on!


When Toby and Tom went out fishing on their “Dad’s only” fishing excursion there were a few sad little boys. The dads avoided complete mutiny by promising another fishing trip the following day for those kids who wanted to go out fishing with the Dads. This promised fishing trip took place following our Petoskey outing. Kelly and I headed home with all the littles and those kids with no interest in fishing, while Toby and Tom headed to Deer Lake with the kids wanting to cast and reel.

The kiddos that wanted to fish included Molly, Tyler and Sammy. They went out on Tom’s fishing boat and had a successful day on the water, adding to an already impressive inventory for our fish fry dinner.

Between the two fishing trips they caught Pike, Walleye, Large Mouth Bass and some BIG Bluegill. All the kids caught quite a few fish and Molly kindly photographed the action for me. 🙂received_1722562121359458

Here is a look at their time on the lake:



Splashing through Northern Michigan



One of the three lakes we enjoyed while visiting Northern Michigan was actually a bay of Lake Michigan.

We decided to take a 45 minute road trip to Petoskey, Michigan. Petoskey is a charming summer town catering to tourists. We decided to spend the day at the State Park.

(Taken from the Petoskey State Park website)

“One of the premier destinations for campers and outdoor lovers is tucked away between Petoskey and Harbor Springs–the Petoskey State Park. What was once the Petoskey Bathing Beach, a park for the city of Petoskey, is now a state park with all the amenities plus a spectacular beach area.

Some of the advertised fun that can be found at Petoskey State Park:

Beach What a beach this is! With spectacular dunes, soft sands, and waves ranging from gentle to wild, this is the place to be. Beach walkers have lots of beach area to roam. “Water walkers”–walking in the shallow areas–should bring beach shoes as the area can be rocky. Kids love this beach because of the shallow areas and floating on tubes is often a great way to spend the day.”

“Petoskey Stones This is the place for Petoskey Stones! Walkers on this beach are often seen with heads down–looking for the fossils that are found here. Because the park is at the end of the Little Traverse Bay, the rocks tend to congregate here.”


We kept our eyes open but never found one of these cool Petoskey stones- Michigan’s state rock.

We loved Petoskey State Park. The sand dunes were stunning. The kids loved climbing up the dunes and jumping into the soft sand below.

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It was a great place to get some pictures.

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We set up next to the water. It was fun having the daddies join us for a day at the beach and a waterside picnic.

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First task: Blow up all the floaties.

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Then the kids headed into the water.

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Some turned around and headed right back out!

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The water was cold…very cold…but that didn’t stop some brave souls from enjoying the lake.

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Others preferred the warmth of the sand.

Here was the sand castle crew:

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The sand and crashing waves gave the feeling of being at the ocean…minus the pesky salt, sharks, and riptides 🙂

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It could not have been a more perfect day!



Making Memories in Michigan


“Cousins are connected heart to heart. Distance and time can’t break them apart.”

How grateful I am for the sweet relationship my children have with their cousins. My children’s only first cousins are the offspring of my sister, Kelly, and her husband. This is due to the fact that my brother is not married and Toby is an only child.

Their five cousins live in Northern Michigan so they don’t get to see them as often as they would like (only a couple times a year) but it never ceases to amaze me at how seamless it is for them to simply pick up where they left off when they do get together again.

This weekend we drove to Michigan to spend Memorial Day weekend with my sister and her family. The meshing of our two families is easy and effortless. I love getting “sister time” with my little sister, Toby and Tom enjoy similar hobbies and get along well, and our 10 children, although ranging from almost 2 years old to 18 years old, always have a fun time together. It makes our time together stress free and enjoyable.

Although Kelly has been down to visit us a few times in the last two years we have not been up to visit her since before Ozzie moved in with us. He had never been to Aunt Kelly’s house and couldn’t wait to see where she lives and experience the beauty and fun of Michigan.

Michigan is a beautiful state, especially in the area where the Kirks have made their home. The area around Gaylord, Michigan is surrounded by lakes and wilderness. Toby loves to get in some fishing time with Tom whenever we visit. The kids love Kelly’s backyard with its tall trees and trails to explore.

We spent much of our holiday weekend exploring lakes in the area, but first here is a look at some of the fun the cousins had just staying home, catching up,  and playing together at “Camp Kirk” :

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Sammy and Rusty. Photo credit: Miss Lydia

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Nate and Ozzie having fun on Nate’s motorized car.

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The kids loved all the room to run and play out in the yard.

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Star Wars was the prevailing theme of the weekend with many light saber battles and lots of imaginative play. (That is Nate in the green body suit)  🙂

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TWINS!! With only three girl cousins (in a gaggle of little boys) Lydia had fun getting in some girl time with Grace and Molly.


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Tyler LOVED that baby Charlie followed him around the house. Tyler loves little kids and I love seeing the gentler, nurturing side of him that is revealed when he is around babies and toddlers.

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For Nate’s birthday we bought him an “Eww Gross!” science experiment kit. He and Rusty had fun doing science experiments together.

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Even the most mundane household chores become fun when doing them with my sister. Vacation time still requires three meals a day, dishes and clean-up, but those tasks are so much more entertaining when Kelly and I are doing them together while visiting and laughing. Here the kids wait for another meal. I am amazed we could fit everyone around the table.

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Another meal! This time outside on the porch Toby built for them a few years ago…

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Playing school was another activity the kids had fun playing all together. I love seeing how they all enjoy each other despite the 16 year age gap between oldest and youngest.

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Tyler embracing the role of “student” with dress-up glasses. 🙂

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Even the rain was fun. The two littlest had fun playing in rain while we watched from the covered porch.

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Puddles are a two-year-old’s idea of heaven!

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Then they discovered the downspout…

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Noah and Charlie

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Enjoying s’mores and stories around the campfire. The kids loved hearing stories of Kelly and I as kids. 🙂

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One day we went into town to see the elk herd. The older three have fond memories of going to see the elk on our first visit to Michigan so we wanted to share the experience with Tyler and Ozzie.

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One of the big boys coming to say, “hello.”

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The elk are all shedding their winter coats.

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It was a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. We fit A LOT of fun into our three days in Northern Michigan. Stay tuned for some of our lake adventures!

That was a superior lake!


Thursday was spent swimming and playing at the lake, but not our “average” Boot Lake..instead we visited a superior lake. Boy, did it live up to its name! After a big breakfast we packed up our sand toys, towels and balls and headed to Sandy Point Beach, located on Lake Superior. When we arrived we were one of just a handful of people there. We quickly spread out our gear and were ready for a day of fun.

Family reunion 2013!

Family reunion 2013!

Some were eager to get right into the water while others were a bit more hesitant, especially after hearing that the average temperature of Lake Superior is 40 degrees. Rusty was the brave soul who ventured in first but others soon followed.

Rusty waving in the distance..

Rusty waving in the distance..

Other brave souls!

Other brave souls!

We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the water remained shallow for a long way out…a very long way out! You can see the kids in the distance with the water still waist deep.


While some were braving the frigid waters others were enjoying the sand and the sun.. particularly Nate, Sammy and Noah.

Noah loved the sand..its feel, its look, its taste..

Noah loved the sand..its feel, its look, its taste..

Brothers :)


 Soon after arriving the football was pulled out and a game began. Other than perhaps Noah and I, everyone was pulled in for a play or two. I declared myself team photographer and watched from the sidelines.  🙂



I enjoyed just walking the beach and taking advantage of the spectacular scenery as I photographed the area. The beach sat at the edge of Painted Rocks and the combination of the white sand, tall sea grass, and painted cliffs in the background made for beautiful photo moments.

Mimi and Pop pop

Mimi and Pop pop





Beautiful Lake Superior

Beautiful Lake Superior

My little man..

My little man..

Before we left for home we went on a walk as a family along the beach. It was magical. The sun was warm, the views were breathtaking, the company was familiar and precious, and the blessings were infinite.

As we walked Pop pop taught a science lesson to the kids. Along the beach there was purple sand. The kids learned that the purple sand came from the mineral stained cliffs of Painted Rocks. It was fun to watch the kids engage in a science discussion with Pop pop and see Pop pop in his element, teaching his grandkids.


It was another beautiful day in the UP of Michigan! 



A postcard perfect day


The last few days we have enjoyed all the wonderful things our vacation rental home has to offer but on Tuesday we decided to venture out for a little while and see what the local area had to offer.

IMG_9429But first..
On Monday we decorated family reunion t-shirts for our outing on Tuesday. Everyone brought their own white t-shirt and I supplied the sharpie markers, eye droppers and the rubbing alcohol needed for our project. To create a tie-dye effect we made circles of dots with the permanent markers and then dropped spots of rubbing alcohol in the center of those circles. The result was very cool. We ended up with pinwheel and starburst designs. It was a better choice than traditional tie-dye because the mess was minimal and even Sammy could participate. Each of my kids paired up with one of Kelly’s kids to help them with the project. Tyler was baby Noah’s partner and made his shirt for him. It was fun to see everyone’s personalities come through in their shirts.

Making t-shirts..

Making t-shirts..

The next morning we decided to visit the town of Munising and see some of the beautiful local sights. We all wore our t-shirts.

Our finished shirts!

Our finished shirts!

My sister's family wearing their cool shirts!

Poor Uncle Travis had a minor mishap with his shirt..

Mimi, Pop pop and "backwards" Uncle Travis... Oops! :)

Mimi, Pop pop and “backwards” Uncle Travis… Oops! 🙂

After walking around the small downtown area, Mimi and Pop pop treated us to lunch at Dogpatch restaurant. It was a lot of fun and the food was tasty. We had a wonderful waitress who handled our large crowd with ease and complimented us on our shirts. 🙂 When she found out that three people in our group had birthdays next week she surprised us by bringing out three icecream sundaes and 15 spoons. Yum!

Outside our restaurant for lunch.

Outside our restaurant for lunch.

After lunch we drove over to our first stop, Munising Falls. We parked and then hiked in 1/4 mile to the falls. The hike was beautiful, as was the destination. We stopped long enough to get some pictures and enjoy the beauty of the falls and then we were off to our second stop.

Tyler and his new best friend..Uncle Tom. :)

Tyler and his new best friend..Uncle Tom. 🙂

Rusty and Lydia on the path to Munising Falls.

Rusty and Lydia on the path to Munising Falls.

Tyler decided to take a load off his feet in the stroller with Nate and Noah.

After taking quite a few “nice” photos it was time for a funny photo..what a bunch of goofy kids.

This family tree has a whole lot of nuts!

This family tree has a whole lot of nuts!

Our next stop was Pictured Rocks.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore sits on Lake Superior and is stunningly beautiful. We chose to visit Miners Castle Overlook. As we approached the overlook the first thing we noticed was Lake Superior stretched out in front of us. The vastness of its size was awe-inspiring. As we got closer to the edge of the overlook we caught our first glimpse of the mineral-stained cliffs. The beauty and grandness of the scene took our breath away. We felt as though we had stepped into a postcard.


Our first time seeing Lake Superior.

Our first time seeing Lake Superior.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pop pop and Molly enjoying a special moment and a beautiful view.

Pop pop and Molly enjoying a special moment and a beautiful view.

Miss Gracie

Miss Gracie

Miners Castle

Miners Castle


And with this scene before my eyes I quote E. E. Cummings..

“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinate, which is yes.”