Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Camping Part 5: Walmart and Big Bridges

9:22 PM 1 Comments
Ahhh...another day of camping. I so wish we could go back. Maybe not right this minute. It's getting pretty cold out but I do wish I had my little family all in one place.

Now, if you recall, I mentioned that it rained some on Friday. Guess what? It rained a heck of a lot more Friday night. In fact, it poured. Now, like good campers, we had put everything that we didn't want getting wet into the van. What we didn't notice was that Roger had left his shoes outside their tent. What I also didn't realize was that Justin had left his outside of our tent. Granted, when we went to bed, the rain wasn't coming under the rain flap....

Sadly, by morning, that had all changed. The wind had shifted direction overnight and had soaked both of their shoes right through. While I was off taking a shower, Justin spoke with one of the camp caretakers and found out that Walmart was...wait for it....45 minutes away! Have you ever lived 45 minutes away from a Walmart? I live in the boonies and even I'm not that far from a Walmart. Well, if you've ever worn wet sneakers, you know just how miserable that is, so we loaded everyone up and we headed into Cheboygan.

Once there, we found the Walmart, bought new shoes for Justin, new socks for Roger (his shoes had dried out mostly by that point), a few odds and ends and then we headed across the street to Big Boy for some breakfast. Now, you might not find this funny, but I do. Justin is obsessed with not eating at chain restaurants. As in, we never eat at them. Unless..it's Big Boy. Seriously. I don't know what makes them the exception but they are. Of course, it's also taken me something like 5 years to convince him that it's just Big Boy, not Bob's Big Boy.

Ok, back to the story..did I leave the story? I dunno but either way, we're going back.forward..something. While eating our fairly delicious breakfast buffet at Big Boy, we decided to head all the way to Mackinac since it was only about 20 minutes away and Justin had never seen the bridge, let alone had the joy of driving across it.

 After breakfast, we loaded back up and back on the road! After a quick swing through Mackinac to find an atm machine, we headed up and over the bridge. Always looking for new educational opportunities, we turned the radio to the station telling us all about the history of the bridge. I didn't get a picture of it but we all found it really interesting that the water on one side of the bridge was a different color from the water on the other side. It was as if the bridge was a dividing line in more than just name.

After crossing, we drove up to Castle Rock. I hadn't been there in years and it hasn't changed at all! You still follow the giant footsteps through the shop and up the trail. It has been raining and none of us really wanted to hike all the way up so we explored the gift shop and then headed back down across the bridge. For those of you who haven't seen Castle Rock, I snapped a few pictures to show you.

I really wanted to buy the block in the first picture but Justin said no. It seems that I'm not allowed to cheat at my workouts. After a quick stop to admire the view of the bridge, we were back in the van and headed back to camp. Sadly, due to the time, we didn't get to stop by the apple orchard or the lighthouse. It was still a really great day though and it just made me all the more thankful for my family.

On the way back to camp, we had fun talking and daydreaming about us owning our own beach front house. We saw so many that were for sale. We even went so far as to talk about Justin opening up his search area to include up North. I wouldn't complain. I've always loved it up there. I'm not sure how we would possibly work it out with the boys' dad, but never say never, right?

Once we got back to camp, we realized that we needed to pick up some more wood. Unfortunately, there wasn't anyone at the office. That didn't stop Justin, though! He walked right over to the wood shed and snagged us a bundle of wood. I was a bit shocked until he assured me that he had left the money in there. Whew!

I don't know if I've mentioned it, but the boys had to earn their spending money for their trip. In the end, they both had $27 to spend. At the end of the day, they both had some money left, so after we parked, the family took a walk down to the Friends of the Park tent where Roger bought himself a t-shirt. It has the camp name and a fire embroidered on it. He wanted that one because it reminds him of us setting up and starting the fires together. I love that he wanted something that was special to something we had done together.

After struggling to get another fire started, we had a lovely dinner together. I was so proud of the boys. At the start of the trip, they were refusing to do anything with the fire. By the end of the trip, I didn't need to help them at all. They knew how to be safe around the fire. They knew how to cook their own hotdogs, marshmallows and even pizza. They grew up a little right in front of me.


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Monday, September 26, 2011

Detroit FanFare 2011

12:00 PM 0 Comments
If you had asked me even two years ago what I was doing for my birthday, you never would have heard me say I was going to a comic book convention. In fact, had someone suggested it, I most likely would have snorted and said, "and why would I want to do that?" You see, I was in the closet about part of my geek nature. Everyone knew I was into music and if you caught me unsuspecting, I'd even answer some sci-fi question without thinking. Now, fast forward to my birthday 2011. Want to guess where I spent it? Yep, at the Detroit FanFare Comic Book Convention. Ok, technically, it was the day after my birthday but since it fell during my birthday weekend, I'm counting it.

FanFare was held at Cobo Hall in Detroit. I had never actually been there before, but it wasn't too hard to find. Parking was a bit trickier, but we even managed to sort that out fairly quickly. By we, I ought to tell you, I didn't go alone. I actually tagged along with my friends Chris and Lauren. Chris ranks among what I call the uber-geeks of comic books. He has...*gasp*...subscriptions. Me? I merely have issues. They wanted to go and they were nice enough to let me tag along.

Lauren with some new friends
I am so glad they did. I had a great time and I met some really cool people. As usual, I want to tell you about the good, the bad and the summary. Ready?

The Good:
Location: Cobo is a great place to hold an event like this. It's spacious enough that you're not tripping over everyone and yet you don't feel like you're lost in a cavernous space, never to be heard from again. I have heard that next year they may move to a different location and I'm looking forward to seeing how this large event translates to another venue.
Plenty of space to setup photo shoots
Blood Drive: One of the things that this event offers is the chance to help save lives. In exchange for giving blood, you get the chance to rifle through tons of boxes of old comics and pick out 50 to take home and enjoy. Chris and Lauren both gave blood. I couldn't because of a recent tattoo, but because I tried, they still let me take home some comics. I think it's a fantastic way to combine a large event with something that could save lives. Since I have a son who needed a blood transfusion, I'm looking forward to next year and a new chance to help out, free comics or not. 

The Talent:
As someone who rarely knows who did what on anything..just ask my former dj friends, it was fun for me to walk around and to actually meet some of the people behind the books. Some of them were amazingly nice and friendly. In fact, I could have spent all afternoon hanging out with a few of them. These are the people that stick out in my mind. These are the people whose books I have started looking for. It was a fantastic experience.

Lauren with Art Baltazar
The Costumes: Why didn't anyone tell me about dressing up? Ok, the truth was that I wouldn't have anyway. If you notice, I've not included a single picture of myself at FanFare. That's because there aren't any. I looked back through the pictures I took and there are a ton of the beautiful Lauren with a variety of people. Next year, insecurities will not get in my way. We saw so many great costumes and people just having a ton of fun. Here are a couple of our favorites:

The Tardis & the comic books for the blood drive in the background.
Now, for The Bad:
The Talent: I know that I wrote about this up above, but I am sad to say that not all of the talent was super nice and fantastic. There were a few that were downright rude and I found that very disappointing. The reality is that in this industry, the fans and the artists/writers/publishers need each other. Without one, the other doesn't exist. It really doesn't pay to alienate or make a fan feel bad about themselves. I know more than one sale that didn't happen that day because of situations like this.

The Summary:
My bad section is rather on the short side and that's because all in all, I found this to be a wonderful event. There were tons of vendors there for people to pick up just about any item their heart desired. There was some seriously amazing talent there that you could spend a few minutes talking to and most likely, picking up some autographs. The publishers ranged from a brand new two man start up to companies that have been around for ages and that we're all familiar with .Bottom line? If you're into comic books, geekery and fun, this is a convention that you'll want to check out next year. I can guarantee I will be. 

For more information, be sure to check out the Official Detroit FanFare Website or check them out on Facebook.


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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Camping Part 4: Day 1 ...What we have to change in the tent?

12:13 AM 1 Comments
Wow, it's Wednesday already. I bet y'all thought I got lost on the trail somewhere and forgot to come back to tell you about the rest of our vacation! I didn't. It just got a bit busy here and I've not been able to make the time to write.

Now, where did I leave off? Oh yes, our very first camp fire. Well, I have to say that it was wonderful. I had so much fun teaching the boys how to build one and about camp site safety. Yep, I'm a teacher even when on vacation. I turn everything into something educational. My poor kids, eh?

Then, it was bedtime and my kids were surprised when I told them they were sleeping in their own tent. This was highly amusing for a few reasons:

1. We had talked about this many times.
2. They had loaded all of their things into their tent and laid it all out how they wanted it.
3. Umm...Ok, maybe just a couple of reasons.

Surprisingly, it didn't take them too long to get settled down. What amused me the most was their shock that I expected them to change their clothes inside the tent. Now, before you think they're a couple of nudists (trust me, this was the 1st summer I could convince them to run around without shirts on!), they expected to haul their things to the bathroom and back.

The next morning, we all got up and after a breakfast of cereal and fruit, we decided to head down to the beach. Wow, that walk was a lot further than it appeared! We walked over wood chips. We walked over boardwalk. We walked over sand. We finally got to the beach! There, we sat down on the one bench and slathered sunscreen all over us. I was not repeating last years' sunburn. Then, without warning, I heard ow! Ow! Mooom! Ow! It seems that not only do mosquitos love Ben, but so do biting flies. They were all over his legs! How do you get rid of biting flies? You get in the water!

Or you try to...except in my case, I had a Ben hanging all over me. He's afraid of the water, you see. His balance is off and he's afraid that if he falls down, he's going to drown. We had purchased a life vest for him and he had it on but the waves are so much stronger in Lake Huron that it really made him nervous. I spent most of my time in the water (which was pretty cold if I haven't mentioned that) standing with him while Justin and Roger went out into deeper water and had a good time. Eventually, I convinced him to sit down in the shallow water and enjoy the feeling of the waves while I swam around for just a little bit. 

Those are the harder moments because I feel like a bad mom for wanting a few minutes to enjoy the water myself.  On top of that, it's not terribly unusual for Justin to get frustrated and walk off by himself for a few minutes. Please don't think he's a bad guy.  He's really not. It's hard having a special needs child. It's hard when you haven't had 11 years of experience. Heck, it's hard for me sometimes. I get frustrated. I'm human. We both are. Trust me, when you're tired, a lot of things can be frustrating. He's wonderful with the boys. He honestly is. 

Ok, enough of that side bar.  After a while, the beach started to get crowded and we decided we were ready for an early lunch. Much to the dismay of my children, I refused to light another fire and instead we had sandwiches, pasta salad, fruit, potato salad and other goodies for lunch. Then, out came our brand new WWE Uno deck. Why did I point out the branding? Only because there was a near brawl in Meijer as the boys discussed which Uno deck we should get. Ben (avid WWE fan) wanted that one. Roger, my mini me, wanted the cheapest Uno deck. After all, he pointed out, they all play the same way.  In the end, to compromise, we bought the WWE one but Ben had to use his money to pay the difference in prices. Whew! Fast thinking Mama! 

So, UNO or is it Uno (why do I honestly care?) was played around the picnic table and then...wait for it...it started to rain! Ahhh! So, I chased the boys into the tent and Justin and I quickly rounded up anything that we didn't want wet and hid it in the back of the van before joining the boys in our tent. After further attempts at completing our Uno game, we gave up and just hung out in the tent for a while. Oh wait, I almost forgot! Roger suggested we play Life on the iPad so we did knock out one game of that. It seems to me that I had filled up my car with kids and was about to need a second one before we finally finished. It's a cute app but just not the same as the real game. 

Luckily, the rain let up not long after that and our wood hadn't gotten wet so we were still able to make pizza for dinner. I have to say that they were mighty tasty! Of course, before bed, the boys made us sing their one and only camp song again. Remind me to teach them a few more before next year, please! 

And that folks, was our first full day of camping. I know that Justin reads this so hopefully he'll fill in any gaps that I've left. I need to hurry and get the rest of this down before I lose all the little things that I loved about this trip...

Tune in next time to hear Spongebob me say...How did your shoes get all wet anyway? and It's how far to Walmart?!?


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Friday, September 16, 2011

Camping Part 3: Actually Camping

2:05 PM 1 Comments
Let's see...in yesterday's driving saga, we had finally made it to the campground. I have to say that I wasn't sure what to expect. Of all the campgrounds along our lake shores, this one was the least booked for the weekend which made me a little bit nervous. After all, when I reserved our space, the campground was only 29% booked compared to 98% booked at all the other state parks.

Thankfully, I had nothing to fear. The campground was actually really nice. The staff were friendly, the spaces were nice and even the bathrooms were really well maintained. I wouldn't hesitate to camp there again, but the family voted and decided to try out a different state park each year. We're already planning on Wilderness State Park for next summer.

After checking in, we headed towards our campsite. It was only 2 spaces and across from the bathroom which was nice. I wanted something close to the beach path, close to the bathrooms and level. Our site met all of those! We got all pulled in and the next step? Setting up the tent....

This is the boys tent. I've set this one up a few times and can do it by myself in minutes so with some help, it went up really fast. This, however, is where we met up with our first "Things She Forgot To Pack" snafu. The ground here was really hard and silly me hadn't thought to get a rubber mallet for pounding in the stakes. What is he using, you might ask? Umm...a great big, giant plumber's wrench that was in the back of the van. Why? Because it belonged to my grandfather and when I took it from the house (I won't say how many years ago.) it somehow became housed in my van.

The other tent was a bit more complicated. It took Roger, Justin and myself to get it put together. It mostly took all 3 of us because we'd need 2 people to hold one section while the 3rd person moved another piece into place. I was so relieved when it was up and our campsite looked like this:

Our tents are all setup, our sleeping bags and clothes are all inside and we even got our chairs around the campfire site and our picnic table looking all snazzy. After that, we relaxed for a while before making our yummy dinner of hotdogs (grilled on sticks in the fire, of course), fruit, veggies, pasta salad and potato salad. My favorite part of the evening? Teaching the boys how to set fires...hehe....in a safe and sane manner, of course. Then, the boys wanting to sing campfire songs but only knowing this weird one from Spongebob. 

For your viewing/listening pleasure, I include this video:

And as usual, once I embed a video, it no longer wants to allow me to set the alignment so I'll leave you with just one more picture...our very first campire....and a handsome boy enjoying it.


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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Camping Part 2: The Drive

1:56 PM 5 Comments
Yesterday, I left off telling you about poor Roger's faceplant and us zonking out for the...morning? Today is all about the drive up north. Before you all walk away, let me remind you that this is me we're talking about and that means something had to have happened to make this trip memorable....

Oh wait! Before I get into that, I have to tell you one of the things that had slowed me way down at Meijer. When the boys and I walked into the store, something set off the security alarm. This isn't unusual. I've had this happen before and I've been told it's probably due to the high amount of electronics I carry in my bag (camera, cell phone, iPad, gps, etc). The lady at the door waved us through and we went about our shopping. When we went to leave, guess what, the alarm went off again. It was the same woman at the door and she waved us out. Except, the manager was leaving for the night and stopped us before I could get the cart rolling. The door woman came over and explained to her that we'd set it off coming in. I sure was hoping we were going to be allowed to leave. Nope. The manager asked me to raise my bag up. Now, at this point, I ought to mention that it was 12am, we were late and my bag was stuffed to overflowing in preparation for the drive the next day. I had books, magazines, the usual electronics, my wallet, etc...Sure enough, something in the very bottom was making it beep. I explained to her the electronics theory and she said nope. That just doesn't happen. She then proceeded to make me empty out the entire bag into the front of the cart. The culprit? A textbook from a used book site that Justin had ordered for me. It still had the security strip it in. Oy! So then, we crammed everything back in the bag and satisfied, she called for someone to walk her out and we left.

Now, as I was going to tell you....We dragged our groaning, tired bodies out of bed somewhere between 9 and 10am, I think. I know that it was around 10:30 when we finally got onto the road. After a quick stop of McDonalds and gas, we were on the road. Have I ever mentioned that I cannot do burgers for breakfast? Yeah, it just doesn't happen. I was happy though with my yogurt and oatmeal.

The first part of the drive was a typical drive. Nothing very exciting happened. We ate, we talked and at some point, I know we stopped to go potty at another McDonald's.  That's where I pulled out the iPad, borrowed their wifi and sent what would be my last tweet for a week.

See? Even Google maps doesn't show anything exciting happening. There were a lot more cars than this, though. So, we were driving driving driving....stopped at the rest stop in Clare because I wanted to and for no other reason....

Little did I know just how handy the Michigan state map that I picked up would become later that day. After we all stretched our legs, had a who can find brochures to where we're going challenge, checked out the awesome solid wood furniture and snapped some photos, we were back on the road.

This is just more of us driving...Ok, it's Google maps showing where we drove, but you get the idea. Nothing exciting happened until the GPS announced suddenly that we were leaving the freeway.

Yes, you read that right. Get off the freeway and onto a state highway. No big deal, I thought. It's just shortcutting us back to the freeway, right? Nope. The next thing I knew, we were being routed off onto a county route. I didn't even know we still had those in this state. We talked about it and agreed to follow Miss Bossypants GPS. After all, she ought to know where we're going, right? So, we kept driving...and driving...further into the middle of nowhere. I joke that I live in the middle of nowhere, but folks, this was seriously the middle of nowhere. No other cars, no houses, no anything....until we saw this....

and then this....

Seriously. Tank crossing signs. I was driving by this point. I forgot to mention that Justin was super tired so after Clare, I had taken over driving. Now, I don't love to drive but honestly, I wasn't sure if I should be scared or laughing at our predicament at this point. More than once, I turned to Justin and said I felt like we were in a secret Band of Brothers episode and at any moment, tanks and infantry would be fighting in the middle of the road. Seriously. This was perfect crazy war games territory and it was freaking me out just a little. The speed limit was 55 but you couldn't do more than 35 because the roads were in awful shape and there were s-curves every couple of miles. In areas, if you looked to the sides of the road, you could see tank tracks through the brush. Where the heck were we? I tried to look online later for any explanation and there isn't one. Camp Grayling is on the other side of the freeway, nowhere near where we were. I dunno what Miss GPS was thinking but wow.....

I was never happier than when I saw this (bottom photo): 

That was the turn out of crazy land. We stayed on this road for a while but slowly but surely it became more populated and I stopped feeling as if some guy with a bayonet was going to insist we stop the vehicle. Whew!

Look! Civilization! By this point, it had to be after 5 and we were all hungry and some of us had to pee. I won't mention which ones, just that some of us had to. Sadly, we couldn't find a single restaurant. Can you believe that? I felt like Moses after wandering in the desert. All I wanted was a glass of water and some food. Sadly, we had to keep driving though until we finally came across: 

and the heavens and the angels rejoiced...there was singing, there was dancing...Ok, there were 4 hungry people staggering into what turned out to be a decent place to eat. The guys bolted for the bathroom (Ha! You thought it was me, didn't you?) and I relaxed and browsed through the menu. This place had good food, but the guy serving us (who I think was the owner) was a bit like yeah, whatever. Turns out that we should have come a couple of weeks later for the big Polish Potato Festival. It looked like a lot of fun.

Sadly, dinner/lunch/we weren't sure what to call it ended too soon and it was time to get back on the trail. Thankfully, by now, the trail looked like an actual road to somewhere.

It led right to our campground! Thank goodness! What should have been a 4.5 hour trip ended up taking us closer to 7. I've never been so glad to see a cute guy in a park ranger t-shirt in my whole dang life. Welcome to Hoeft State Park!

If you're curious at all, here is the map of the insane way that Miss BossyPants GPS took us. Trust me, we didn't go this route home, but that's a whole different post....


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