The Piano

The piano sits in my parents’ living room, adorned by seasonal knick knacks, next to the wall displaying their 14 grandchildren’s pictures.  They always refer to it as “your piano,” when talking to me, but I would never claim it as mine.

I started piano lessons at the age of eight.  My parents had bought me a keyboard for my birthday and I began expressing interest in learning.  I was the third of six kids, and it was no small sacrifice for them to pay the $7.50 a week for my lessons.  At the time, we lived on the east side of Detroit and I attended St. Matthew’s Catholic School.  Once a week, I would walk across the overpass that crossed I-94 to the apartment of my piano teacher.  Mrs. Peckham was a woman from the church and she taught me piano for the next eight years.  I believe an entire book could be written about her; even as a young child, I found the stories about her life to be fascinating.  She was in her 80s when I met her and was “sharp as a tack” as my mother would say, and she always smelled like beets.  She patiently sat beside me at her piano as I plunked along, practicing only on my keyboard at home.

Within months, my skills improved and the keyboard was no longer enough for me to practice on.  And that is when my parents bought me the piano.  They bought it used from another family for $400.  I was only in third grade, but I was acutely aware of the huge price tag for my parents.  Now, as an adult with three children and bills of my own, I am even more humbled by the fact that they bought it for me.  A year or two after they bought the piano, my mother painstakingly took the piano apart, stripped it, and refinished it.  It looked like brand new by the time she was done.

Even after we moved to a new house, my father would drive me back to our old neighborhood on Saturday mornings so that I could sit beside Mrs. Peckham and learn.  She would patiently tap the sheet music, directing me to read the tempo instructions.  At home, my father could often be heard instructing me, “Tempo, tempo!”  And even after Mrs. Peckham moved, my father would drive me to her new apartment on Saturday mornings so that I could continue to sit beside her and learn.

I played recitals regularly, but I never really enjoyed it.  What I have always enjoyed about playing, and still do, is being completely alone with the music; learning it, mastering it, hearing it, feeling it.  It has always been a form of meditation for me.  I never really cared if anyone ever heard me play.  As I grew into a teenager, I cared less about playing; I rarely practiced anymore, and finally broke the news to my parents that I no longer wanted to take lessons.  My mom was accepting, my dad was devastated, and I cannot remember Mrs. Peckham’s reaction; I suppose my parents took care of telling her for me.  For years, the piano sat mostly untouched by me, except for at Christmas time.  Sometime around the beginning of December, my 25-year-old book of Christmas sheet music always makes its way to the music stand and I play again.

As I have grown into an adult with my own children, our oldest the same age that I was when I started taking lessons, things have come full circle and I feel the desire to play again.  I have purchased and learned new music for the first time in years.  I would like to buy a piano for our house; I would like our boys to take lessons.

On more than one occasion, my parents have told me, “Take your piano home.”  But I never will.  The piano is a beautiful reminder of my parents’ hard work, sacrifice, and dedication to their children.  It belongs in their home, to fill it with music by the many hands that long to plunk around on it.

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This Is Where I Leave You

This is where I leave you.  I totally stole that line from the movie, which is totally appropriate.  In the movie, the grown children were somewhat resentful that their mother had detailed their childhood sexual discoveries in a book.  And though my blog is not about ALL THAT, I have written extensively about my kids, my husband, my family.

I started writing this blog on a whim; I had a very trying day, and when Colin went down for his nap, I sat in the very chair that I am sitting in right now and wrote it all down.  I was surprised that anyone read it.  And I kept writing, and people kept reading it.  And eventually, a few people that I did not personally know started following my blog.  It was only a few people, so I did not think a whole lot about it.  But over the last year, I have had more and more views.  I think that is the goal for most bloggers, but not me; though I admit, I brought it all on myself.

The past nearly four years of writing have been entirely selfish, a way for me to work through the many feelings that accompany mommyhood.  Plus I am an oversharer by nature.  Writing this blog has become as much a part of my life as running, my own therapy.  But I am unable to write about my own feelings and thoughts without including my husband and kids.  I usually ask Mark before I publish anything that includes him, but I have never asked the kids.  When they were younger, it all seemed pretty harmless, stories of wayward preschoolers and sleep-resistant babies.  The older they get, the more I feel it is unfair to sacrifice their privacy; even if the stories I write seem fairly innocuous at the time, I don’t know how the kids will feel about it in the future.

So this has been something that has been on my heart for awhile now.  I had considered making the blog private and just allowing family and friends to read. But then, I would still be oversharing, just with people that know the kids, which is probably worse.  I rarely have time to scroll through Facebook, but today, while I waited for the kids at the dentist, I had a few minutes.  One of the first stories in my feed was a blog about why one woman decided to stop writing about her children.  My sister HATES that I think everything happens for a reason, but I kinda sorta do; I can only see one reason why THAT blog would show up in my newsfeed in the little time I had to scroll Facebook, when I have had all of this on my mind for the last couple of months.

So this is where I leave you.  Thank you so much for all of the kind words and encouragement over the years, it has meant so much.

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A Day Without Electronics

I looked at Sullivan yesterday and I felt like a failure.  Not like a full-blown failure, but a mini-failure.  He was zoned out watching YouTube videos of adults playing Minecraft.  (What is up with that anyway?)  He would be perfectly content to watch videos for hours and hours if left uninterrupted and, in fact, would not even notice if I left the house.  And sometimes I think I allow too much electronics usage because it is easier than constantly finding other things to entertain them while I am busy with all my mom-jobs.  So I made the painful decision to have an electronics-free Friday, myself included, but not until after 8:00 am because momma needs her coffee in relative peace.  Mark pointed out the folly in my plan; that the kids would get up extra early to get in as much electronics time as possible, and he was right.  Sullivan claimed that he was the only one that slept in when he awoke at 5:45 am, and in comparison to his brothers, who were up at 5:30 am, I guess he kind of did.

As soon as we were all up for the day, I reminded them that we were going unplugged at 8:00 am.  They remembered.  By 6:00 am, Brady was fashioning a slingshot out of a balloon and a milk jug cap, apparently deciding to go electronics-free extra early and not allow me to enjoy my coffee in peace after all.  The early morning hours slipped away quickly and a few minutes before 8:00 am, we turned it all off and started cleaning the house.  I did make a bit of an exception and we used my phone to pump music into each room that we cleaned.  By “we,” I mean “me.”  The kids sort of cleaned, but mostly they made x’s out of electrical tape on my rear end and shot the target with a licorice dart from Brady’s balloon slingshot.

I was saved by the bell when my friend called at the last minute to see if we could meet at the Michigan Science Center.  Yes, yes!  I am sure I sounded overly eager to escape my electronic-free, mostly clean home.  I doled out a stack of clothes to each boy and was in and out of the shower in five minutes flat and we were on our way.

We had a wonderful time together, my friend having three boys almost the same age as mine.  And now that the kids are getting older, we are actually able to finish MOST conversations that we have, though at least a few were interrupted by impatient children chanting “Mom,” on repeat.  As our visit was coming to a close, the boys and I were all thoroughly exhausted, having been awake since before dawn.  As I attempted to say goodbye to my friend and her kids, I had one child attached to my leg, sobbing because he fell and hurt his knee, and two children persistently asking for a drink from the vending machine, even though there were zero dollars in my wallet and a water fountain nearby.  My friend said, under her breath, “Mommy needs a drink.”  Truer words were never spoken.

The littles fell asleep on the car ride home and as soon as we walked in the door, I lifted the electronics ban.  So we did survive most of the day relatively unscathed, though I am not entirely sure if my rear-end does or does not have the marks to prove it.

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A Night Away With Friends

I worked at the hospital on Friday and left feeling conflicted.  I sat in my car not sure which direction I should drive.  At the last minute, I had found out that some of my high school friends were doing a girls’ weekend an hour and a half from home and I decided to join them.  I was supposed to leave the hospital and head for Lexington for the night, but I was hesitant.  I did not want to leave my boys.  I called my husband and told him that I would come by for our standing Friday pizza night at my parents’, shower and change, and then hit the road; but once I loaded my route into Google Maps, I realized that it would add at least an hour on to my trip, so I steered my car towards Lexington with a heavy heart.

I wanted to see my girlfriends, of course.  They are some of my oldest and dearest friends.  I just was still in Mom Mode, with a thousand thoughts and worries left over from a hectic week racing through my brain.  But as the miles fell behind me, I felt my head and heart grow lighter, and I knew for sure that something was different when I stopped at Vinny’s market to buy beef jerky, a frozen pizza, and Captain Morgan to eat and drink for dinner.  I had called my friends when I first left to find out what they were doing for dinner and their reply was, “We don’t know…whatever.”  When was the last time I did not have a plan for dinner?  It was too long ago to answer accurately.  When was the last time I stopped at a place called Vinny’s, on a whim, to buy a frozen pizza for dinner?  Probably never, I think.  But as I drove those last few miles to the girls’ weekend cottage, I felt care-free again, unencumbered as the day I met them over twenty years ago.

We had become close friends in high school, all cheerleaders our freshman year.  We were not the mean, witchy cheerleaders of the movies.  I met them at a time in my life when I felt lost: awkward, weird, before I had braces and my right front tooth stuck out of my mouth like a dagger, self-conscious, on the quiet side, without any current close friendships and certainly without any boyfriends.  I had felt like a misfit until I met them, but suddenly, I had a crew; people who loved me, people to sit with at lunch, people who good-heartedly teased me when I preferred to read at home rather than hang out with boys on a Friday night, people who got me.  We learned from each other and supported each other through the many ups and downs that high school can bring.  We wrote daily notes, rollerbladed to Dairy Queen for peanut buster parfaits, stayed up late at night  at hundreds of sleepovers, talking endlessly, comparing notes on our first experiences with boys, crying through sappy movies after break ups.  We had each others’ backs during a time of great change in our lives and the bonds that we formed transcend space and time.  I moved away for college but we stayed friends, but of course, some of the intimacy of any relationship is lost when you are not together daily.

Over the last 18 years since graduation, we have remained friends, though I might only see them a few times a year at breakfasts that last into the afternoon hours, or Halloween parties, or a last-minute night away with Captain Morgan and frozen pizza in hand; moments when we sneak away from work and Momming to fill in all the gaps since the last time we spoke.  Last night, as always, there was a constant, effortless, flow of conversation, a thousand laughs, a thousand nods of understanding and support.  There was absolutely no pretense at all, just a group of thirty-something women who felt like teenagers all over again, and after all these years, being with them still feels so easy.  It is comfortable to be in a group of women that have known you since your youth, that not only know who your family members are, but have actually spent time in your childhood home, women that know your entire backstory, women that get you more than most.  We sat around the table and out by a bonfire for hours, chatting endlessly about the best and worst parts of life.  As the hours ticked on, I regretted that they were passing far too quickly.  I did the same this morning, watching the clock as it grew closer and closer to noon, when I knew I had to leave to get home, back to real life.

As I drove home, I felt myself age again, planning meals and schedules, phone calls that need to be made, errands that need to be run, loose ends that need to be tied up.  But I am forever grateful for a last-minute stolen night away with women that have influenced me probably far more than they will ever know.

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My Kids Are 1000% Better Behaved When Their Father is Present

Typically, my husband leaves for work long before the children are awake, so I am on my own getting our three boys up and dressed and out the door by 7:00 am; however, today, he stayed home sick.  The morning went ridiculously smooth, and when we were all prepared to go, I looked at my watch and realized we were fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.  And that is when I realized that my children are 1000% better behaved when their father is home.
And I have proof.
The following is a breakdown of a typical morning, when I am on my own, versus this morning, when the mere presence of my husband turned my children into perfectly behaved wonderkids:
Waking children:
Typical Day:  Turn on lights and sound very much like Mary Poppins as I tell the children it is time to get up.  Nobody moves.  Sing each of the three children their own theme song, made up by yours truly. They roll over, cover their faces with the blanket and ask me to please stop singing.  I tell them that they have to get up or I will be late for work.  Eight-year-old gets up.  Five milliseconds after waking, he tells me he is bored and asks me what he can do today.  Frustration is starting to set in and I do not sound like Mary Poppins anymore as I beg the children to wake up.  Finally, I promise them Slurpees after work.  Six and three-year-old get up, walk to the couch, wrap up in a blanket, and lie back down, apparently feigning death.
Husband present:  I turn on the lights and tell them to get up.  All three of them simultaneously sit up and get out bed, asking if it is morning already.  They don’t even know that their father is home, but they must somehow sense his presence.
Getting dressed:  
Typical day:  I hand the eight-year-old and six-year-old their clothes while I go searching for something for the three-year-old to wear.  When I come back out of the room and they are still not dressed, I bark at them to get dressed, we are running late.  The eight-year-old asks me where his clothes are.  The clothes are sitting beside the eight-year-old.  The six-year-old asks me if I can help him get dressed.   I tell him I don’t know if I will have time, we are running late.  He stays lying on the couch, making zero effort to help a momma out.  The three-year-old insists on being “manly” and wearing no shirt.  We argue for five minutes before I finally convince him that he can take his shirt off as soon as we get there, but he MUST wear a shirt in the car or the straps on his carseat will hurt his skin.  The six and eight-year-old are still not dressed.  This is usually around the time I start yelling and also when I give up and dress the six-year-old myself.
Husband present:  I hand the big boys their clothes while my husband finds clothes for the three-year-old.   Big boys dress themselves, three-year-old insists on being “manly,” I tell him he must wear a shirt.  He says, “Okay.”
Using the potty:
Typical day:  No problem here with the bigs.  Three-year-old refuses.  I remind him of the time he did not use the toilet before we left and then he had to pee really, really bad and he was crying because it hurt so much and then I finally convinced him to pee in his pull-up, which he eventually did, and then it got all over his clothes.  He agrees that he remembers that unfortunate morning but still refuses to use the potty.  I look at my watch, we are running really behind. I recall all of my mommy Jedi skills from raising three toddlers and remember that CHOICES work.  I tell him he can stand in the bathtub to pee or pee in the potty.  He opts for the bathtub.  (As if there was ever any doubt which he would choose.)
Husband present:  I ask the three-year-old if he peed.  He says he did.  I tell him that he did not.  He goes into the bathroom and pees, presumably, in the toilet.
Preparing dinner for that evening:
Typical Day:  I cannot find any of the spices I need to season the chicken taco meat.  All three children come into the kitchen, stand on the chairs to talk to me.  For some reason, they must always stand on furniture to engage in casual conversation.  I shoo them out of the kitchen.  If they discover that the “taco” meat is actually chicken, they will never eat dinner tonight!  I beg them to go back into the living room five times before I finally give up. The eight-year-old asks why the taco meat looks like that and I make up a lie on the spot; yeah, I don’t know, it’s like some new kind of meat, but it’s STILL taco meat, I insist.
Husband present:  All the spices I need are right at the front of the cabinet.  Children come into the kitchen and I shoo them out.  They return to the living room.
Actual departure:
Typical day:  I am frantic at this point.  I keep looking at my watch.  I need to leave by 7:00 am, it’s 6:55 am.  I panic and throw the entire loaf of bread, packet of tuna, bottle of mayo, entire bag of grapes, and half-eaten bag of pretzels into my bag for lunch and throw in a banana and string cheese for breakfast.  I scream at the kids to put their sandals on while I am pouring my coffee.  The six-year-old cannot find his sandals.  The six-year-old’s sandals are on the floor directly in front of the six-year-old.  I beg the kids to get out to the car so we can leave.  It is after 7:00 am by this point, and suddenly, the bored eight-year-old has an idea for what he can do today and it takes an additional five minutes for him to gather all of the components for his grand scheme.  By 7:07 am we are finally walking out the door, but it takes an additional three minutes to get everyone buckled in because they ALL decide that they MUST enter the car through the same door, proceed to fight about who gets to go in first, before I finally threaten to NOT get them Slurpees after all.
Husband present:  It has been such an awesome morning already, I think I will just go out to lunch!  Everyone mysteriously has their sandals on without me so much as breathing a word and they walk out to the car while I am pouring my coffee.  The big boys are already buckled by the time I get outside and the three-year-old climbs into his seat and smiles at me like the angel that he is.
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The Real Reason I Need a Morning Nanny

My morning nanny only comes during the school year.  During the summer, I get all three boys up and take them to my sister-in-law’s, leaving the house as early as 6:15 am.  And while it’s true, the mornings are much more “interesting” when I have to drag all three boys out of the house, and I am seriously considering hiring a nanny for next summer, there is a different reason that I NEED a morning nanny.  And it has to do with a bag of rocks.

Last Friday, I finally had a day at home with not much planned for the morning, so I went through my cleaning ritual, starting at the back of the house, room by room, straightening things up, dusting, mopping.  The living room is typically the last room that I clean.

Since summer vacation has begun, and I do not have the pressure of someone seeing my house four mornings each week, I have been a bit more lax about keeping things tidy.  More junk has been accumulating on the kitchen table, more junk accumulating on the entertainment center in the living room.  The presentation of the junk has been fluctuating between neatly arranged, organized chaos, and unorganized piles that reek of ‘I need help.’  Mark and the boys clean the living room during the week, but they live by the philosophy of ‘if it is off the floor, it’s clean’!  They never touch these piles and I have determined that I must have some mystical powers that allow me, and only me, to know where to put the variety of items that will find their way to the table and the entertainment center.

So Friday was the day to tackle the piles.  I removed the first pile of kids’ board games and I found garbage on the entertainment center; wrappers of some sort and I have no idea how long they have been there, likely at least a couple of weeks.  Brady shouted, “I found my OTG cable!”  It had also been under the pile of games.  That, for sure, has been missing for a couple weeks, so one could assume the garbage had been there just as long.  I continued my organization, making piles for the basement, kids’ room, and garbage.  And then I found a bag of rocks that Colin had collected from a soccer practice almost three months ago.  That is when I decided having a morning nanny is an absolute must if I am ever to keep the house in any kind of shape.  Apparently, I require the constant threat of someone else seeing the house to find the motivation to clean in a meaningful way.

When Mark came home from work, he said he thought he walked into the wrong house.

“Now THAT is how you clean the living room!” I told him.

“No,” he said, “that is how YOU clean the living room.”

Touche.  But only if someone might be coming over.

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About My In-Laws…

Nobody has in-laws like me.  I have never been able to describe them to people who don’t know them.  But I’ll try anyway.

Being a part of their family gets you invited to a lot of weddings.  They are a big family, Mark is one of eight, but they also have a large extended family of every friend they have ever welcomed into their circle.  Last night, we attended a wedding of a family friend that I have known since we were kids.  Immediately after the mother-son dance, he invited several of his friends and their mothers to the dance floor.  One by one, the groom cut in to dance with his “other mothers,” two of which were my sisters-in-law.  I was thankful I had a three minute warning that this was about to occur and I was able to grab a napkin from a nearby table because the tears, they were a-flowing.

I am not surprised that he considered them to be moms to him.  That is exactly how that family is.  They have zero friends.  The first time you are welcomed into one of their family parties, you are greeted as family with hugs and kisses on the lips (except me, I have perfected the head turn make a kissy sound next to their cheek move) and then you are family for life.  If you come early, you can usually find a spot at the table or on one of the couches, but soon the party becomes standing room only.  Everyone’s arrival is pretty staggered, but these are not parties that you just come in, stay for a few, and leave.  If you party with my in-laws, you are going to be there late.  There is no need to RSVP and it doesn’t matter how long it has been since they have seen you, you are always welcome.  The conversation always starts out at a reasonable level, but after an hour or two, people are talking louder and louder.  And there is always something that happens or is said that makes you laugh so hard that you cry.  It is impossible to be with this family and NOT feel good.

They were family to me long before Mark and I ever thought about dating.  We moved into the house on Garfield in June, when I was eight years old, and met Mark’s sister first; she lived across the street.  I am pretty sure we were family by that Thanksgiving.  And every holiday after that, we were welcomed into their family parties with hugs and kisses on the lips.  When my family’s party broke up, we would always end up over at my in-laws.  We ended up over there on a lot of random Friday nights, too.  And sometimes Wednesday nights.  I grew up calling my mother-in-law “abuelita,” and I still do.  So do my mom and dad.  In my teens, I babysat for the young adults that are now my nieces and nephews.

I wonder, sometimes, if my kids will ever understand how unique their situation is.  That not everyone can stop on one street and see their grandparents on their mom’s side and their abuelita and aunts and uncles on their dad’s side.  That not everyone’s grandma on their mom’s side is BFFs with the aunts on their dad’s side.  And, truly, I wonder if they even know the difference between my family and Mark’s family, because the lines are so blurred, even I cannot tell anymore.

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The L’Anse Diaries: Day 6 High Alert

I woke up and I knew it was early from the light and the fact that I still felt tired.  I looked at my watch and realized that it was 6:30.  I really wanted to roll over and go back to sleep, but I forced myself up.  I thought we were headed to Copper Harbor for the day, and I really needed to get some laundry done.  After camping for 5 nights, everything seemed a little stinky.  The laundromat in town opens at 7 am and I figured if I could get there right when they opened, I would be back to camp by 9 am, around the time the rest of the family would be functional.

I stepped outside the camper, relieved that our site was not flooded.  I took a quick peek inside our tent and was thankful that it was mostly dry inside.  I made a pot of coffee, dried off the picnic table for when the boys would get up, and removed the chairs and breakfast food from the back of the truck.  I loaded up the truck with two bags of nasty, damp laundry.

I got to the laundromat at 7:04 am.  Perfect!  I dragged my stinky laundry to the door and found it locked.  I checked my watch again and thought maybe they were just running a few minutes late.  I dragged the laundry back to the truck and waited 10 more minutes.  When nobody came, I walked down the street to Java By The Bay for a peaceful breakfast, giant cup of coffee, and free wifi.  I returned to the laundromat at 8 am, still locked up.  The woman at Java By The Bay told me that there was another laundromat in Baraga, so I headed there.  I had to stop at a grocery store and get directions since I could not find the building, but eventually I did find it and it was open!

I went inside and tried to put my $10 in the change machine, but the change machine did nothing. Like nothing at all.  The light that would indicate that it was out of change was not lit up.  The machine said it would give change for $1, $5, and $10 bills.  I tried again.  Nothing.  I was aggravated.  The least the machine could do would be to humor me and accept the $10 bill and spit it back out at me.  But no, it did nothing.   I went to the back and knocked on the office door.  No answer.  I used my phone to call the number for service that was posted on the wall.  It went to voicemail.  At this point, I think my head was ready to explode.

Just then, a local woman walked in and I told her about the change machine.  She told me I could go next door to the car wash and there was another change machine.  Great!  I walked next door but that change machine would not take my $10 either.  I returned, frustrated.  The woman told me that I could drive down to the BP and get change as they owned the laundromat.  So I did that and was finally able to get a roll of quarters.  While the laundry was washing and drying, I sat in the truck and wrote a couple blogs, taking advantage of the quiet time.

I returned to camp and found everyone else to be on ‘high alert’ as well.  Tension was running high on the Arnold/VanHamme/Patterson/Norander/Minnema/Supanich/Belko/Kramer family vacation.  Most of the tents had gotten at least some wet inside, with some of them outright flooded.  Everyone had laundry and cleaning up to do on account of the storm.  We would not be driving to Copper Harbor because the view from Brockway Mountain Pass would not be great with the overcast skies.

Five nights of camping, too much togetherness, and then the storm had worn us down.  We were tired and cranky, and I am sure at least a few of us were questioning our own sanity for doing this trip at all.  I wondered, once again, how we were all able to talk our spouses into this in the first place.

Instead of Copper Harbor, we ended up making our annual trip to the Bishop Baraga Shrine where everyone just sat there, looking sullen.   My kids complained that it was “boring” and that they didn’t want to come.

“No one wants to go the Bishop Baraga Shrine, but we do it every year, so you had better get used to it,” I snapped at them.

Most of the family ordered pasties from the gift shop, but my kids won’t eat them, so we hit Burger King on our way to Powerhouse Falls, the next stop on our adventure.  As we left Burger King, we saw my parents’ van, followed by niece’s car, pull over and turn around.  We ended up behind them on the highway, but when we were not quite to the road that leads to falls, I saw my dad whip his van into another parking lot and turn around again; my niece followed.  We made it to the falls and found the rest of the family there, swatting at millions of mosquitoes and spraying bug spray, wondering where our parents were.  We told them that we saw them turning around, as though they could not find the road.  They had the pasties for everyone to eat, but the kids sat down at the picnic table to eat their Burger King.

They had just settled in when I heard my brother-in-law calmly say, “Everyone off the table.  There are a lot of bees.  Everyone off the table.  There are a lot of bees,” as though he was evacuating a building on fire.  We hurried the kids into the vehicles and then spotted the bees’ nest under the picnic table.  My sister’s dog had gotten stung, but thankfully, we had not disturbed the bees enough to create a disaster.

I called my mom and was actually able to get through and she told me they ended up at a different park.  We met them there and took the kids on a hike to see Falls River Falls.  One pasty SNAFU later, and you could cut the tension with a knife.   Mark, the boys, and I returned to camp to take a much-needed nap.

When I awoke, my crankiness had diminished minimally.  My sister-in-law told me that it was supposed to start raining Thursday night and continue raining all day Friday.  We were supposed to stay until Saturday, but were already thinking we would leave one day early on account of the weather.   After hearing about more rain in the forecast, we decided it would be better to leave Thursday and drive to Mackinaw in order to avoid packing up camp in the rain.  At that point, I was not really disappointed to cut the trip short and I went about packing up with vigor.

After dinner we made another trip to the casino, thanks to my brother-in-law who watched all the kids, and then returned to camp to put the kids to bed.  Everyone had gathered at my sister’s campsite and we joined them.  I had planned on going to bed early because I had spent the entire trip chronically sleep-deprived, staying up too late but still waking early.

We drank and told stories, the tension from earlier in the day melted away and escaped our bodies in the form of laughter and maybe a few tears from laughing so hard.  My brother-in-law commented how everyone was in a much better mood that night than they had been earlier in the day.  This is what we had come for, and even after a very trying couple of days, we found joy being together.  Or maybe we were just all really relieved to be leaving the next day, hard to tell for sure.   I really did NOT want to go to bed, but I forced myself to around 12:30 am, as I knew the next day would be a long one.  I returned to my camper and curled up in the sleeping bag and drifted off to sleep to the sound of my family’s hysterical laughter two campsites down, more than a little maudlin that our trip was coming to an end.

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The L’Anse Diaries: Day 5 The Storm

I woke up on a mission to do something.  Anything.

I cooked pancakes, eggs, and bacon.  It tasted delicious, but seemed to be more trouble than it was worth by the time I had made several trips to the water spigot, trying to figure out the best way to wash the dishes with the limited amenities of a campground.

After we were all dressed for the day, we took off to Canyon Falls, where the hike to the falls was longer than I remember.  Because nothing says ‘relaxing vacation’ like hiking with three kids, walking out onto rocks that overhand the rushing water, no safety rails.  And even when you get to the falls, the safety railings could not keep a three-year-old safe.  I had major anxiety every time Brady would take off running and jumping.  But we made it there and back in one piece, though Mark did hear an animal rustling around in the trees right beside the path.

We returned to the campground to have lunch and rustle up some more people to go back to Second Sand Beach as it looked like it would be the last good beach day for the week.  It was another great day at the beach, with the kids staying busy playing in the sand and splashing in the waves.  The water was still frigid.

We came back to the campground to shower and then off to the Press Box for TACO TUESDAY!  We were not there long before many of the other families in our crew started arriving.  Sullivan ate his three tacos and one of Brady’s and then asked for another half of taco.

“I’m not ordering you a half of taco, but if you would like to go table to table, maybe someone will give you one,” I told him.

He looked at me, disgusted.  “I don’t want to talk to strangers!”

I am not sure if I should be more concerned that he did not realize that the entire dining room was our family or that he really thought that I would tell him to go ask a stranger for one of their tacos.

After dinner, it was ladies’ night at the casino.  The Let It Ride table was not kind to me.  We returned to camp and my sister-in-law told me it was supposed to start storming around 11 pm.  We knew it was going to rain, so we had already taken most of our things inside, but we finished making the preparations.  I was hoping it would not be bad, but I have watched the storms roll across the bay and they are always terrific.

We put the kids to bed and sat outside having cocktails and waiting on a storm.  The sky started lighting up, but we could not hear the thunder for at least five seconds.  The storm was a little ways off, but it was coming soon.   When it started sprinkling, we all split up to our own camps to take shelter, with some of those in tents opting to go to a few open spots in campers and trailers.

I was not inside for a full minute when the sky opened up and buckets and buckets of rain drove into the top of our camper, the sound amplified and echoing on the fiberglass top.   Several times a minute, the lightening would light up the whole sky and the thunder, so loud, sounded like it was right on top of you.  The wind was so forceful that the canopy over the kids’ bed was sagging.  Mark went over to it, thinking it was pooled up with rain, but even after shaking it off, it sagged, seemingly from the wind.

At first, I found sleep difficult.  The fury of the storm did not diminish after 15 minutes like I was expecting, but seemed to last an eternity.  But at some point, it must have put me to sleep because I did not know, until the next day, that there was a lull in the storm, followed by more rain.  I also did not know that Mark left the camper when he heard our family members partying it up in his brother’s camper and he decided to join them.

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The L’Anse Diaries: Day 4 Fried Ham

I woke up early in order to slam a couple of cups of coffee before the 5k.  I had ran the same 5k three years ago, and in my memory, the course was uphill for 2 miles and then down one very steep hill for 1 mile.  This year, my brother-in-law, niece and two nephews would join me.  We left the campground and arrived early to register.  I was scoping out my competition, seeing how many woman in their thirties were around.  It is a smaller race and I actually have a shot at placing in my age group.

I felt good running and the course was not quite as terribly hilly as I remember.  The entire race I was neck and neck with a woman who I presumed to be in her thirties.  The last half mile, I found the energy to take the lead.  I was running so fast I thought I might throw up.  I placed second in my age group and set a PR, but it turned out that woman was actually in her forties, so my last minute effort was all for naught.

All five of us placed in our age group, with my brother-in-law being the overall first finisher.   And since we were with the big winner, we had our picture taken for the newspaper!

We returned to camp just in time for the Fourth of July bike parade.  All the kids from the campground decorated their bikes, or in my kids’ case, their scooter and helmets, and rode slowly through the campground.  Afterwards, they had games for kids of all ages.  Mark and I took third in the three-legged race and they let us pick a prize and everything!  All three of our kids won puzzles in the prize drawing and a random assortment of prizes from the games.

Later that afternoon we went to Grandma Kitty’s for a barbecue and to wait for the fireworks over the bay.  L’Anse is further west than Chicago, but still in the Eastern time zone, so it does not get dark until nearly 11:00 pm.  There was A LOT of time to kill between dinner and the fireworks.   We went to the waterfront park for awhile and then returned to Kitty’s for the First Annual Talent Show.  That’s right, family, this is going to be an annual thing.

Participation was a little low this year.  Brady showed us some computer tricks, Drew did a stand-up comedy routine, Patrick and Christina sang, Brady and Lindsay put together a skit about her calling him for tech support, more people told jokes.  So then I knew I had to do it.

Fried Ham.

If you are not familiar with Fried Ham, it is a silly little verse that you sing about fried ham and then you change it up every verse and sing in a different voice.  I chose three voices:  hillbilly, British, and preacher.  I did an EPIC performance of fried ham about 13 years ago and I have not done it since on account of being pretty sure I could never live up to the legend.  But desperate times call for desperate measures.  The talent show crowd needed to know that ANY talent is worthy of being put on display, even Fried Ham.

I was fully committed to the performance.  Arms flailing, body gesticulating, I was in the second verse when the crowd started pointing and laughing.  I turned behind me and saw a police car come to a full stop.  I am guessing the policeman was wondering why a whole crowd of people would just sit there and watch a woman have a seizure without trying to help.

Family, you’re welcome.

After the talent show, the kids did sparklers while we waited some more for the fireworks.  Because nothing says ‘relaxing vacation’ like dozens of kids running around, 3 feet from a road, with sticks of sparking fire.

The fireworks FINALLY began and a good time was had by all.  We returned to the campground where the kids fell easily asleep.  As did I.

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