Category Archives: Travel

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spring break 2017 | part three

On our final full day in Florida, we visited Solomon’s Castle. Artist Howard Solomon, who passed away in August of 2016, built himself a castle and the art within using found and recycled materials – wood, aluminum, steel. You name it and he probably used it to create one of his masterpieces.

We enjoyed a delicious meal at the Boat in the Moat restaurant before taking a tour of the castle. There was live music while we dined under the big oak trees with spanish moss hanging from the branches. It was hot out, but it felt nice in the shaded yard next to the big ship and across the moat.

Then it was on to the castle for our tour.

The guide had us all laughing at Howard’s corny jokes during the tour. One of the first things we saw was his “Florida Keys” (upper left) and I knew that this was going to be some interesting art. That was an understatement. There were so many quirky, original displays. But one of my very favorite things was his art made from carved wood.

Especially his 3-d recreations of some of Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post paintings like this one above (bottom right photo) and this cool soap box racer creation below.

As much as I enjoyed the interesting and creative art, I think my favorite part of the tour was seeing where Howard actually lived. His home within the castle was quaint and lovely. Seeing his shoes/slippers under the piano bench was so sweet and sad (top middle). And the beautiful stained glass throughout the entire building was another favorite thing of mine.

This one especially since I am musical (piano) and a writer. :)

It was a really cool place to visit. Definitely worth a stop if you’re ever near Ona, Florida.

We ended our evening with a little shuffleboard. Jake, Mom, Dad and Chloe had played on another night, each winning a game, so they had to do a tie-breaker. Zach sat on the sidelines for a while with his poor hurt knee wrapped up and was the scorekeeper. But then he and I got in on the action and played a couple games. We lost both, but the last game was 109 to 110. So close. ;)

On our final morning of vacation, we went to coffee and donuts with Mom and Dad at the main clubhouse, had water aerobics in the morning with Mom, then floated around in the pool for a while before we headed out for a nice late lunch. Had to soak up as much sunshine as possible. After lunch, we packed up the car in 95 degree heat and headed for home.

Despite Zach’s knee injury, it was a wonderful Spring Break trip. So thankful we were able to go and enjoy this place and the people there that Jake’s parents have come to love so much. Looking forward to many more visits in the future.

spring break 2017 | part two

After a wonderful weekend, we started the week with water aerobics at the pool with Mom O. It was fun and I’m sure it’s part of why my muscles felt so much better by the end of our vacation. Low impact exercise in the water is so good for the body. After aerobics, I floated around in the pool while Jake and Mom went in the hot tub. The kids had been at the pool for a bit swimming and hanging out in the hot tub, but had gone back to the camper. Then Chloe came back suddenly and told Jake that Zach had fallen and hurt his knee. Jake went to check on him and discovered that he had reached for something up on a shelf in the camper, but his shoes (slides) were wet and his foot slipped sideways as he reached causing his knee to pop and he fell. I guess when he stood, it popped back into place. Ouch! So his knee was all swollen and we got him some ice for it, an Ace bandage to wrap it up, and some ibuprofen for any pain. Poor kid. Our plan for the day was to go to Myakka River State Park so he had to stay back and rest his leg. Felt so bad for him, but he didn’t complain.

Our visit to Myakka was nice. Hot, but nice. And we did see gators. Eeeeek!

Felt like we were in Jurassic Park all day … without the dinosaurs, of course. ;) We did the Canopy Walk, which loops through the park a short distance to these towers. You climb the shorter first one, cross this bridge, then climb the second one with lots of stairs that take you above the trees.

Totally worth the climb!

There is a longer hike that you can take through the park, but we didn’t do that one. It was a hot day. We did drive back and see the lake that is there, though. Very pretty area.

I was going to finish the Spring Break posts with this one, but then I started looking through all the pictures from the next day and I knew that one needed a post of its own, so that will be coming soon. :)

(Update on Zach’s knee: after we got back from vacation, our doctor was able to get him in last minute to check the knee. It had a lot of fluid built up in it from the injury, so he drained it right there in the office, right in front of me. I couldn’t look. Too gross. But he could finally bend his knee again. It’s been almost a month since vacation and he rode his bike the other day with no problems, so I’d say he’s healing up nicely.)

spring break 2017| part one

We weren’t planning to travel during Spring Break this year. Not at all. But Jake’s parents have become snowbirds this year and in March, they decided to stay a little longer in Florida than originally planned, which coincided with the kids Spring Break. So we decided rather spontaneously that we would go down for a visit. Best decision ever. All the details fell into place for us to stay as if it was meant to be. :)

So we hopped in our car on Thursday evening (an hour later than I hoped due to a random hail storm that prevented us from loading the bike rack onto the car!) and made the 20 hour drive south (took us about 23 due to stops and traffic and such). We arrived Friday evening and this is the beautiful night sky we were blessed with after the long journey south. Totally worth it for that and for the big hugs from Mom and Dad after not seeing them for a few months.

After a good night’s sleep, we took it easy on Saturday, visited Joshua Citrus for yummy ice cream (mine was pineapple/orange twist! Yum!), did a little shopping, picked up some groceries for the week, and enjoyed the Chinese buffet for dinner.

On Sunday, we ventured out to the Red Barn flea market in Bradenton. The guys ventured off one way while us girls went another. I don’t think we even saw half of the things offered there. It is huge. The kids picked up some souvenirs. I grabbed some fresh strawberries to nibble on. Mom treated us to some mini donuts made right there in the booth and iced coffee (lemonade for Chloe).

Then it was off to the Gulf of Mexico. We drove through Bradenton, which takes forever with all the traffic heading toward the beaches, and made our way to Anna Maria Island to find a place to play for the afternoon. We came across Coquina Beach and settled there. It was a really nice location and a beautiful day for some swimming.

OK. I really do like Jake even though this looks like I’m pushing him away. That’s just because he was soaking wet and I was dry. :D And Chloe had to do a little gymnastics on the beach, of course.

We ended our day in Sarasota for dinner and took some family pictures by this pretty tree that was behind the restaurant.

Need to go through the second half of my pictures and then I’ll share our further adventures from the week!

Happy Easter, everyone!

budding photographer

Earlier this month, we went camping as a family for the first time since 2007. The last time we went, the kids were little (Zach was 6 and Chloe was 4). Not sure why we never went again. We took other vacations instead over the years. But in June, I asked the kids to make a list of some things they would like to do this summer. Two of the things on Zach’s list were to go camping and to go to the U.P. again. I asked what he thought about combining the two and camping in the U.P. He was OK with that idea and so the planning began. We decided to ask Jake’s Mom and stepdad if they would like to join us and it was a really great time together.

I will share more pictures of the trip later, but I found these two today while looking through the ones that Chloe took. I gave her my backup camera from when I used to photograph weddings, showed her a couple of settings she could play around with, and told her to have at it. She was so excited to be using the big camera, and I love seeing all the things she pointed her lens at. A lot of little detail shots – just like her mama. And she’s got such a good eye.

I love these two pictures taken on our first night of camping at Muskallonge Lake State Park north of Newberry in the Upper Peninsula. It’s a favorite campground that Jen and I discovered a few years ago, and ever since then, I’ve wanted to take my family there. So glad I was finally able to. The lake is so pretty, sometimes so still that it reflects like a mirror, sometimes with these pretty ripples like the night these were taken. And the sunsets there are always so beautiful.

Here’s our little photographer. I took the one on the left of her that night while we were photographing the sunset. The other is one she took of herself when we were visiting Fayette, the old ghost town near Manistique.

our weekend

Our daughter, Chloe, has been in gymnastics for the past 4 years. She started out taking a class then joined the team and has been competing since then. When I was in middle school, I was obsessed with gymnastics. I never took a gymnastics class in my life, except for some tumbling in gym class. I never even learned how to do a cartwheel. But my girl has been flipping since she was little, so this was the perfect fit for her.

Over the past year, she started mentioning that she might not want to do team next year, and I always said that if it wasn’t fun for her anymore, I would not force her to do it (even though I love watching her compete!). So, sadly, this past weekend’s USAG Michigan State Championships was her final meet. I’m so proud of her. It has been such a joy to see her learn and improve in this sport. And so much fun to watch – always so graceful with her long legs, making back walkovers on the balance beam look effortless, pushing up onto her tiptoes just before she runs for the vault (love that), putting her hands together to form a heart whenever she saw me in the stands. So proud of you, baby girl. <3

Afterwards, we went to dinner with my Mom and Mom & Dad O, who all came over for the meet. It also happened to be this guy’s birthday, so we celebrated him that night, too.

Another bit of GREAT NEWS to celebrate — JAKE GOT A JOB! He started on Monday, so we were really happy and celebrating that fact as well. Thank you to all of you who prayed for us over the past few months while he was without a job. God is good and it’s so awesome the way He worked everything out for Jake to get this new job and stay in the publishing industry. We were a little nervous that we might have to move out of the area or even out of the state, but it all worked out and the job is still close to home. We are thankful.

So, since we knew we had to travel across the state to Saginaw for the meet, we decided to stay in Frankenmuth at the Splash Village hotel for the night. Great choice! We took the kids there nine years ago and it was just one small room with one big slide, a water bucket, lazy river and some kiddie slides. Since then, they have added a huge atrium to the back of the building and really expanded it with a couple of bigger, faster slides and a bigger lazy river. It was nice. One of Chloe’s teammates was there with her family as well, so they had a blast together.

Before leaving Frankenmuth, we hit the outlet mall at Birch Run to pick up some dress pants for Jake for work. We went into a few stores for the kids to spend some money they had and I mentioned that there was a Claire’s and spontaneously said, “Chloe, you could get your ears pierced at Claire’s.” I have been telling her for a few years now that we would go get her ears pierced, and this seemed as good a day as any. A nice reward for her last gymnastics meet and four years of hard work.

She loves them! She opted to have both done at once, which was a good thing, because she said it really hurt. ;) She had this scared look on her face just after and I thought for sure she was going to pass out or something. haha! She didn’t.

Another highlight of the weekend was sitting in the hotel room with my mom chatting while the kids and Jake spent a couple hours at the water park. We talked about my books and checked my sales stats online. Goodbye, Magnolia was on a free promo over the weekend and we watched it jump to #1 in its categories, which was fun. I also told her what I’ve come up with so far for Book 3 in the series. She always lets me talk things out and gives me her thoughts.

It was a very good weekend. :)

throwback thursday | fall in Chicago

Throwback to five years ago when we took a fall trip to Chicago for Zach’s birthday. CLICK HERE to see my original post with all the pictures and details. :)

around the campsite

This was the first year that I didn’t take a picture of the Mackinac Bridge. No idea why. I took this one (above) out the window as we were crossing. Look at the color of that water. Our Great Lakes are so gorgeous. This is the Straits of Mackinac that connect Lake Michigan to Lake Huron.

OUR CAMPSITE. Here’s our campsite once we got it all set up. Jen owns all the camping supplies because she camps a lot more than I do. After ten summers of camping together, I pretty much know everything she’s got and where she keeps it. She’s super organized and always thinks of everything. The screened in tent was something she bought a few years ago and it’s been great to be able to sit under there to eat, to protect our food from the bugs (Except this year! We were killing flies left and right!), and to keep us dry if it rains, which it did.

OUR CAMPFIRE. In the background, you can see our neighbors under their screened tent. You can also see the fence and the little electric box, where I charged my phone. If you read the tales I shared the other day about our trip, this is the spot where the line of baby raccoons came parading out to their mama, who was under the neighbor’s tent. Eeeek!

Love me some burnt marshmallows. Mmmmm.

OUR RESTROOMS. These are the lovely temporary restrooms that were set up in the campsite next to ours in place of the modern bath facilities, which had been demolished and were in the process of being rebuilt. I actually just received an email the other day from the DNR informing me that there was construction happening on the bathroom building and about the temporary restrooms, but it said “for your upcoming camping trip on July 16th” and I received the email a week after that. Duh! We had to laugh at the title “Royal Restrooms”. They might be perfect for a wedding or smaller event, but when you’ve got so many campers using them daily, week after week, and often overflowing the toilets (gross!), well, it’s far from a regal experience.

OUR MEALS. I didn’t photograph all of our meals. Gasp. We always bring along marinated chicken, veggies, and Jen added salmon into the mix the past couple years that her parents caught fishing. We cook the meat/fish and veggies in a tin foil packet over the fire. So good. Jen also has a small Coleman grill that we use to heat water for coffee/tea. This year, she invested in a griddle for the grill, so she cooked up some pancakes and sausage, which was so yummy. If you follow me on instagram, you will have seen that our sausage had a mind of its own. See that HERE. When we are out and about for the day, we make sandwiches and take a small cooler with us. And hobo pies are a favorite. We had pizza hobos the first night and hobos with pie filling the last night (I had apple! Yum!).

On the last night, we had a bit of a rain storm blow through. We sat under the screen tent while it passed. We ended up playing Uno by flashlight. And we might have taken pictures of Jen making scary faces with the flashlight pointed under her chin, which made me laugh hysterically, but I won’t share those here. ;)

More pictures to come of all the sights and the beautiful sunsets we saw.

i love camping

As much as I hate winter here in Michigan, I love the other three seasons in our beautiful state. Fall is by far my favorite, then Spring, then Summer. We like to get out and walk or, in recent years, go for a run. Lake Michigan is an hour from where we live. It’s beautiful and, if you love the great outdoors, it’s the perfect state.

Over the years, I’ve discovered a love for camping. People who knew me when I was younger are shocked to learn this. I hated getting dirty and having to go without makeup. I hated bugs and, heaven forbid, having to sleep on the ground. I’m so glad I grew up a bit and no longer feel that way, because sleeping in the middle of the woods with the sounds of the breeze in the trees and waves from a lake lapping against the beach is so relaxing and just good for the soul. There’s so much noise these days. Everywhere. Coming at you from all sides. Being outdoors, sitting by the fire, roasting marshmallows (so many marshmallows that I need a bag for myself!), looking up at the stars … it clears the mind. And it’s awesome!

Every summer since 2005, I’ve gone camping with my friend Jen, who I’ve known since we were 6! It’s become a wonderful tradition in our friendship. Just us, hanging out, relaxing, catching up, seeing the sights around Michigan, always near one of the Great Lakes, checking out a different campground around the state every year.

Michigan really is so beautiful. Here are some of my favorite photos of camping adventures over the years with Jen, as well as a family camping trip when the kids were little, and a girls camping trip with my college roommate, Julie, and her daughter. Most I’ve shared on the blog before, but a few are never before seen here.

I always try to get at least one “selfie” on our camping trips. I think they were still referred to as “self portraits” when I started taking these. ;)

We look pretty much the same as we did ten years ago. That’s a good thing, right? :)

There will be one more GIVEAWAY in tomorrow’s post. CLICK HERE to see all the GIVEAWAYS on one page. Like I mentioned last week, meeting people and making friends through this blog has been an unexpected gift, which is why I wanted to do these giveaways. I really want to give back to you. So, whether you’re my friend or family and have known me for years, or if you just found my blog today, please ENTER!


Enter by Thursday at midnight EST. Winners will be announced on Friday!

See ya’ tomorrow!

a few numbers

In looking back at ten years of blog posts, I’ve written about all sorts of topics. The big ones have been my family, my kids, photography and scrapbooking with lots of other things throw in. I’ve posted in recent years about my writing and publishing my books. There are always annual posts about camping trips and “girls days” and any vacations we take. Some days I’ve shared what was on my heart, struggles I’ve had, and how my faith in God has seen me through many situations. Music and movies and television pop up every once in a while. And the weather. There are probably far too many posts about how much I hate the snow. ;)

I thought it would be fun to put together a few stats for you.

There are 105 posts about faith, 62 holiday posts, 55 posts on writing, 50 about healthy living, 21 throwback thursdays, 18 posts about my “one little word”, and many more.

So many words typed. So many thoughts shared. Seeing it by the numbers was interesting. Some years I posted a lot. Some years not so much. There were times when I was very busy with my photography business that I posted twice in a month and times, especially in the past couple years, when I posted every weekday, Monday to Friday, without fail.

The most important thing to me is that this blog is here as a record of our life. It’s a document of us and lots of things that have happened in our life since 2005 and that’s what I love most about it. I don’t often sit down and read through my old blog posts, but putting this Blogiversary stuff together has pushed me to do that. And what I’ve found is that I’m very familiar with the photos I’ve shared here, but I’m not always clear on the exact things that were going on in the photo or at the time I took it. So many posts I stumbled upon told the details of the photos, something the kids did or said, what they were doing when I took it. Like this post I shared last week. I’ve looked at those pictures a ton of times, but I had forgotten that Chloe was making “snow angels” on the kitchen floor. And the picture of Zach playing video games, well, that’s a very familiar site, but I recorded what he was playing that day here on the blog. I love that.

I also love that this blog has brought me new friends – scrapbookers, photographers, writers, readers. It’s not something I expected when I started this, but it’s been a wonderful gift.

Now, on to today’s giveaway …

GIVEAWAY INFO: There are four ways to enter through the giveaway box below and each will get you five entries in the drawing.

• The first option is the only one you HAVE to do in order to be entered. I’ll ask one question in every day’s giveaway. You just have to enter your name and email address, give a brief response to the question, and you’re in the drawing.

If you want more chances to win, you can …
• Join my mailing list (if you already have, enter your email address so I can verify)
• Tweet about the giveaway and copy/paste the link from Twitter
• SHARE about the giveaway and the BLOG-IVERSARY on your own blog, Facebook*, Pinterest, etc. and link to that as well.

All giveaways will end on my actual BLOG-IVERSARY, next Thursday, February 26th, so the giveaways will all be OPEN until then.
The winners will be announced in a blog post on FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 27th!

* Note: If you share on a private Facebook account and we aren’t “friends”, make sure you change the audience of that one post to “public” so I can see it. ;)


I posted on Friday my latest entry in my ING Journal and I wanted to give away a copy of the journal to one of you! I’ve designed them in three colors, so the winner will get to choose the color of their choice. Grey is my favorite!

Enter below. Tell a friend!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

CLICK HERE to see all the GIVEAWAYS on one page!



You’re here! I’m so excited! On February 26, 2005, I started this blog, and for the next two weeks, I will be looking back at the past TEN YEARS of blogging!

Ten years has gone by in the blink of an eye. At least, it seems so at times. I’ve been browsing back through old posts and, while the style of my photos (lots of borders and filters in the early days) has changed, the core of the posts has not. It started with a few posts about my kids and that’s pretty much the same today. I wrote about things we did, places we traveled, movies I loved, following my love of photography into a business, family, friends, parties, scrapbooking, memories, happy times, sad times, publishing my novel. So much of our life.

Ten years is a really long time.

So, for the next TEN DAYS, I will be looking back, sharing old photos and favorite posts, and there will be GIVEAWAYS!!!

GIVEAWAY INFO: There are four ways to enter through the giveaway box below and each will get you five entries in the drawing.

• The first option is the only one you HAVE to do in order to be entered. I’ll ask one question in every day’s giveaway. You just have to enter your name and email address, give a brief response to the question, and you’re in the drawing.

If you want more chances to win, you can …
• Join my mailing list (if you already have, enter your email address so I can verify)
• Tweet about the giveaway and copy/paste the link from Twitter
• SHARE about the giveaway and the BLOG-IVERSARY on your own blog, Facebook*, Pinterest, etc. and link to that as well.

All giveaways will end on my actual BLOG-IVERSARY, next Thursday, February 26th, so the giveaways will all be OPEN until then.
The winners will be announced in a blog post on FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 27th!

* Note: If you share on a private Facebook account and we aren’t “friends”, make sure you change the audience of that one post to “public” so I can see it. ;)


I’ve got a paperback copy of my first young adult novel ready to sign. The Truth About Drew was published last May.
It’s a sweet, uplifting, heart-warming story full of friendship and family with a journey to faith and a mystery surrounding a boy and his notebook.
Enter below. Tell a friend! :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you have any questions at all about the giveaway, feel free to ask.


AJAXed with AWP