If you live in the Chicago area, then you are probably like us and make at least one trip a year out to a state park that makes you feel like you are a million miles away from suburban life. Well, now that we moved, I realized we live almost on the same street as this state park. I mean, yeah… We have to drive through about six towns and 40 miles of corn fields, but other than that, the state highway that runs by our subdivision goes all the way to Starved Rock.
So, Thursday morning, I had a bit of work to do, but I promised the kids I would give them a surprise as soon as I was done.
“We’re going to Starved Rock!” I announced in my most enthusiastic voice, probably with a bit of a hip wiggle for effect.
They weren’t quite as excited as I had hoped:
“Do we have to?”
“Can we just stay home?”
That’s pretty much how they respond to most of my big, exciting ideas for a fun family day together. But somehow I always convince myself this time will be different.
“I guess this means we’re not going to Chick-Fil-A,” one child muttered. (Chick-Fil-A has been giving away free breakfast every day this week, and this was the first day we were going to miss having some form of chicken or biscuits for breakfast.)
I assured them this trip to Starved Rock would be like all of the rest. They would complain that they had to go, but once we got there they would all have a great time! (Does this happen to anyone else??)
Once you get to Starved Rock, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the unique beauty of the cliffs and canyons. (I should clarify that we actually went to Matthiessen State Park, which is right next to Starved Rock.) I think they all dread the hour-long car ride, but once we’re there, it feels good to be outside exploring.
I’ve been taking these kids to Starved Rock for as long as I can remember. But this would be the first time in the history of forever that I would take them and everyone would be big enough to walk the entire time. Even last winter, we still had to take turns carrying the youngest on our backs because she was too tired to walk. This time she only had to get on someone’s back to help her safely traverse a tricky spot… and to pose for a photo!
She is the one I always worry about most. But she ended up being the most excited hiker of the bunch. The best part of the day for me was watching my big kids help their little sister make her way across rocks and logs and climb up roots to scale the side of paths. She loved every minute of it, and they took charge of keeping her safe.
Sometimes, I think it’s just the bond of working together for a common purpose that brings out the best in people. I loved watching them all take turns looking out for little sis. And in return, her joy at being out in the wilderness doing something that was SO BIG KID was contagious.
After a few hours, we were all starting to get tired and thought of skipping the last section of our hike. “I want to keep hiking!” she demanded several times, her strong little legs already covered in mud. (Yes, I’m the only mom who would tell their kids to wear sandals and flip flops on a hike to Starved Rock! WHAT was I thinking?!)
By the time we got back to the van, we were all tired from walking up what felt like hundreds of steps in and out of the canyons. But she still wasn’t done.
“Can we go hiking again tomorrow?”
Hey, maybe her enthusiasm is spreading! Even a few of the older ones said they would like to go again before summer ends.
So, thanks Little Jay. You always have a way of bringing out the best in the rest of us!
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I can’t believe we are almost in the last month of summer. Other than that small detail of moving, we have had the most low-key, slow paced summer I can remember.
We didn’t create a big list of places to go and things to do. We aren’t going on vacation in the first time since forever. We haven’t even planned a camping trip or a weekend getaway. The only real planned activity we’ve had on our calendar is a few weeks of diving and swimming lessons for the girls and the end of baseball season.
I’ve realized that I almost feel entitled to my summer vacation. I have such an urge to go somewhere and get away from it all. I will admit I’ve had my moments when I’ve felt like one of my kids and wanted to throw up my hands and scream, “I’m bored!” Sometimes I can’t look at one more person’s glorious vacation photos without wanting to have a pity party for myself.
But lately, I’ve been challenging myself to re-evaluate how I usually view my summer bucket list. Can my bucket list be not having a bucket list at all? In other words, can we be happy when there’s nothing on the calendar? No destination to cross off the list? Can we be content in the everyday? Can we enjoy a summer with more staying home?
It feels like Opposite World from our usual go-there-and-see-that kind of summer.
The reality is that we are super blessed. So blessed that our “normal” has become a little over the top. But even our “boring” is really pretty awesome. We get to go to a big pool/waterpark on a very regular basis.
Our new house often feels like a vacation because of the peaceful setting. The kids have had play dates and sleepovers. We’ve gone on family bike rides and spent time with friends. And we’ve been able to host people at our new house.
That leaves me trying to enjoy every day like it’s a vacation. Relax and enjoy those moments at the pool. Take a camera along on a bike ride. Play games with the kids and enjoy family dinners.
I’m trying to soak in the normal of this slower pace.
When we all start getting stir crazy, I want to pack everyone up and go create an experience. It seems so much easier than hearing kids argue because they can’t agree on anything they all want to do. Instead, I’m trying to find joy in whatever is before us. Right here. Usually in our own backyard or a nearby park.
I wonder if I will look back at this summer and regret that we didn’t have a big family getaway. We aren’t going to remember a trip or a destination. Or maybe our expectations will start to change. Maybe we will start finding more in doing less.
I’ve been camping in southern Michigan a few times, but I’ve never ventured to northern Michigan in my life. This would be a completely new adventure.
As we drove along the eastern edge of Lake Michigan, we found ourselves driving along a highway with dense forest on each side. The highway weaved in and out of the forest allowing us to enjoy miles and miles of the bright blue water of Lake Michigan.
As we headed north, the temperature dropped and a fierce wind was building. Finally, we made it to the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the upper peninsula of Michigan to the lower peninsula. It is the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere. (Oh, and did I mention that I HATE bridges?!)
We made it across that crazy bridge that is 200 feet above sea level. I begged Kent to only look straight ahead the entire time he was driving and to go SLOW! The wind was blowing so hard, we really didn’t have a choice.
By the time we checked into the campground, the wind was whipping so hard around Lake Huron that we could barely stand to stay outside. I was wondering WHAT I had gotten us into!
I actually had made the choice to pay a little extra for a cabin right along the lake with a view of the bridge. Now, I was wondering if I had paid extra to have the wind whip so hard at my face that I couldn’t stand to look at the lake. During the next week, I would learn that the weather is one of the mysteries of Michigan. Just as the scenery can suddenly change from a dull highway to a beautiful lake shore within a few miles, the weather can change dramatically in the span of a few hours.
We did withstand the wind long enough to at least see that we were surrounded by some beautiful scenery! Mackinac Island was directly across the lake from us, and we also had an incredible view of Mackinac Bridge.
To write about our vacation in Michigan, I first have to write about the end of camp. For the past two days, we’ve had only one child at home. It took both Jayda and I a full day to get used to this feeling. It was one of the few times in her life that she hasn’t been surrounded by siblings, and she wasn’t quite sure how to react.
Her only-child grumpiness was compounded by the fact that Kent and I were busy trying to prepare for our vacation. We had a few obstacles to overcome:
We would be staying in a cabin at a campground. The meant we would need to take our own sheets, towels, pillows and anything required to cook our food. We would pack our camping stove, as well as pots and pans, not to mention my beloved crock pot.
We were determined to take our bikes, although we weren’t quite sure how we would accomplish this. We had to find a way to transport five bikes and a bike trailer in addition to all of our luggage, sheets, towels and cooking supplies.
We would be leaving for vacation straight from summer camp, which means the kids would have suitcases full of nothing buy DIRTY clothes!
And finally, we had to be at camp at 9 a.m., with everything loaded onto our car, and a 2.5 hour drive to get there.
Somehow, we did manage to accomplish all of this, and it was completely worth it when we walked up to the breakfast area and saw our kids finishing up their morning meal. We got to spend some time talking to their camp counselor, attending a final chapel with them and hearing all of their stories from the past week.
For the next couple of hours, we didn’t need any entertainment in the car. The three of them talked non-stop about all of their adventures from the past week.
We drove about four more hours through northern Wisconsin and into Michigan where we stayed for the night. We had booked a room in the town of Escanaba, Michigan, at a Comfort Suites where we were pleasantly surprised to find a nice indoor pool with a water slide.
The kids asked if we could stay in this place for the rest of the week, but we had some other adventures in store.
Every summer, the 4th of July seems to be the signal that summer is halfway gone. I guess it all depends on your school schedule and perspective. But if summer begins at Memorial Day and school starts 12 weeks later, this is, in fact, the halfway point.
We always start the summer with a long list of places we want to go, people we want to see and things we want to do. This year, we actually got a jump start because our academic co-op ended on May 15. It’s the first summer in a while that we have a real deadline for going back to school. We will start again on Aug.23.
I’m already feeling like our summer bucket list is well over half full. We’ve had some great adventures, and the list of things left to do is shorter than what we’ve done!
Here’s a list of some of our summer adventures so far:
1. We went to Cantigny (a couple of times). The kids love playing hide and seek in the beautiful gardens and climbing on the tanks. I love taking photos. It’s always a nice relaxing day.
2. We went to Brookfield Zoo.
3. We visited the Chicago Botanic Garden for the first time. The place was so large that we only had time to see half of it. I guess we’ll have to plan another trip there!
4. We took our bikes to the BMX dirt track.
5. We got to visit my side of the family at my sister’s place in central Illinois. This trip was extra special because we got to bring a cousin home with us!
6. The boys went to Survivor Camp.
7. The girls and I went to the Morton Arboretum…
8. and Blackberry Farm.
9. We got to visit our good friends in St. Louis, go to the Arch and see Busch Stadium.
10. The 11-year-old got to go to his first Junior High event at our church!
11. My parents came for a visit and we headed back to Cantigny.
12. Kent’s parents came for a visit and got to see one of Matthew’s baseball games.
13. We took a train into the city, went to the top of the Willis Tower, visited some other Chicago landmarks and rode in a water taxi!
14. We got to go to work with Dad for a day.
15. We spent five days visiting family on the farm in southern Illinois.
16. We went to Holiday World.
We also spent lots of time at the pool, finished a full season of baseball, had play dates with friends and spent time with several families we’ve been wanting to catch up with! We also cleaned out our basement and transformed my son’s bedroom down there to be a cool place to hang out.
Some of the things I still hope to do this summer:
1. Go to Starved Rock.
2. Go to a beach.
3. Go camping.
4. Take a short vacation. (We would love to go to Michigan or Wisconsin for a few days, but we’re not sure if this will be able to happen.)
5. Take the girls to the American Girl store in Chicago.
6. Send the three big kids to summer camp (in late July).
7. Go for a few bike rides at my favorite forest preserve, Waterfall Glen.
By the time we have completed the list, I think I will be feeling good about sending the kids to school for the first time in three years. We’ve already had a fantastic summer, and I’m so thankful for all the things we’ve been able to do!
What has been the highlight of your summer so far? What would you still like to do?