July 29, 2016

Discounted Michigan Renaissance Festival Tickets

I know it's not a local event, however the  Michigan Renaissance Fest (12600 Dixie Hwy, Holly, MI) is a great experience to have at least once in your life. Mom, dad and the kids are sure to enjoy spending the day on the grounds exploring all there is to see, do and eat!

When I was in college I spent a season at the festival as a street performer. it was a lot of long days and hard work, but I loved it. It was an experience like no other. I've been wanting to take my kids to the festival for the past few summers, but for one reason or another, we were unable to go. When I saw this amazing ticket deal though, I couldn't pass up going.

Get your discount MichiganRenaissance Festival tickets today! 
Right now CBS local is offering deeply discount tickets - $11/adult and $6.50/kids ages 5-12 - That's over a 50% discount on Michigan Renaissance Festival tickets! I know that the day will cost much more with food and all, but for this price, I can afford to take the entire family for a day of fun.

From past experiences, I can recommend getting there early to park. It's difficult to say how different things will be now, I noticed that a few friends still performing (like my friend Rob from Pippin Puppets) with many new acts being offered. I can't wait to share the experience with the kids! The Festival runs weekends & Labor Day, from 10am-7pm, from August 22nd thru October 4th, PLUS Festival Friday, October 2nd. Then after the festival, get in the spooky spirit of the Halloween season with fun activities at Halloween In Hollygrove with discounted ticket prices of $25 for one-entry to the Horton Lake Outbreak At Halloween In Hollygrove or $27.50 for one-ticket to the Phantom's Feast At Halloween In Hollygrove.

One hint to new comers. Don't ask any of the street performers where the restrooms are...  Then again, go ahead and prompt your kids to do it for you. You may get a big surprise!

My friend Rob of Pippin Puppets with my kids in 2013.

Now I need to go try and dig up a photo or two of my Ren Fest days...  The kids will get a kick out of that!

Disclaimer: I do have an affiliate link through CBS Local and may receive compensation as a result of blogging about this deal. My tickets were however purchased.  

July 25, 2016

Easy to Create Christmas Ornaments

Children can quickly and easily
throw together this Victorian style
ornament for friends and family!
One of the things I look forward to is creating the opportunity for my children to make their own Christmas ornaments to give as gifts to family, friends and special people in their lives. I've done this since the kids were born, even if I only helped them hold a crayon or add beads to a wire they bent into some interesting shape. It allows them to have a special feeling of accomplishment, to get creative and to look back over the years at the great memories they have created.

A few years ago I was also able to help my Tiger Cub Scout den do the same for their families. My challenge was the boys have different abilities and attention spans, so I needed something fairly quick, and I wanted something that would be special for the moms. It was as I was unpacking my tree ornaments, the idea hit me.

 Many years ago, my mom and I took a class at a littler herb shop on old US-12. The ornament we created was something akin to old world or Victorian charm, and it used many easily accessible gardening and craft items, specifically the very easy to find plant lamb's ear.

 Lamb's ear is a fuzzy, sage green perennial that is found in many yards and gardens throughout Ann Arbor. The great thing is, that even with this snow, you can clip the leaves to use any time of the year even now! Since the Lambs Ears are now in full growth, AND it's Christmas in July, I suggest picking the leaves now and wrapping the Styrofoam balls. You could then make the ornaments later or go ahead and create them now. Honestly, these could be hung up year round - they are so natural and pretty!

Regardless, this is a quick, easy project, to keep the kids occupied. The Victorian style garden ornament fits the bill.

2 1/2-inch Styrofoam ball
12-15 lamb's ear leaves per ball
Straight pins
Assorted dried or artificial flowers or herbs, beads, pearls, gems, buttons
Ribbon Hot glue and glue gun or white glue

Step 1) Begin by pinning the lamb's ear leaves, vein side down onto the Styrofoam ball. Smooth each
leaf as it is placed.

Step 2) Add additional leaved slightly overlapping with their tips meeting at the bottom of the ball covering the Styrofoam with the stem side at the top. Ideally once covered, the balls would be slipped into the kegs of a pair of tights or pantyhose and allowed to dry for several days. It will work without drying but looks much nicer if allowed to dry!

Step 3) Once covered, glue or pin assorted flowers, naturals, pearls and beads to the top of the

Step 4) Add ribbon or bow to top to hang ornament. Either pin it or add glue, then pin it for security.

Step 5) Add a gem or filigree to the bottom of the ornament for a finishing touch!

The boys loved the project and easily finished it within 20 minutes with the help of an adult helper. It would be a easy kids activity though even with limited assistance. Do you have any other easy ideas for the kids?

This article was originally published on annarbor.com.

July 13, 2016

Why I Send My Children to Summer Camp

As a child three things epitomized summer - Long nights running up and down the block with friends, swimming at the community pool, family vacations "up north", and most importantly, my parents sending me away to summer camp. I loved camp so much, that I even worked as a wrangler when I turned 14 and later a camp counselor. I have some of the most amazing memories of time spent at camp. Riding horses, mud-bogging, swimming in the swimming hole, crafts, rappelling, hikes, wildflowers, capturing bugs, capture the flag and laying on the hill under the beautiful might sky star-gazing. I suppose that is one of the reasons why I sent my children to camp as soon as I could.

The wranglers at Spring Hill Camp in the mid-80's having
as much fun as the summer camp kids did!

Summer camp helps a child gain so much in life and it gives us parents a much needed break from the never ending "mom, mom, mom" requests. I can selfishly say that because it is true. Even parents need breaks! 

My daughter started attending camp after her First -Grade year. My son attended camp after his first grade year, but at scout camp parents always went, so his experiences of attending camp alone did not really begin until after first grade when he attended camp with our church. The age of the child matters not though, ultimately parents will know when the timing is right!

As my daughter is younger, she had watched her brother attend camp for three summers before she had her opportunity to. As a scout my son worked really hard to sell enough popcorn so that he earned camp for free, a benefit our Pack promoted to encourage profits for the Pack. So it came as no surprise when my daughter, a Girl Scout Daisy, sold a lot of cookies. That year the council offered an incentive allowing scouts "cookie cash" instead of the cheap prizes. I was all for that, since who needs more "stuff." The cookie cash could be used in council stores, but I felt it was important that my daughter understand that she could contribute to her camp. She was truthfully very excited to "help pay her way too." Between the fall product sales and cookie cash, my daughter helped cover over half of her camp experiences too! She was proud of what she did, as was I.

That first year I registered her for camp though I became nervous about her leaving. After the holidays she went through a period of exceptional separation anxiety in school. Every morning a teacher would have to peel my daughter off me and out of the car to get her into the building, where she went down the hall in full tears. This went on for months, however my daughter insisted she still wanted to attend camp. 

Fishing, metal working, sculpture, climbing, and
shooting sports are some of the fun activities
my kids have learned about at summer camp!
As her week of summer camp approached, I prepped her to the best of my ability. I explained the drop off and pick up procedures, read her the camp documents and went through her packing list over and over. I even made sure that she would have a letter from home each day of her 4 days away. Her first camp was a short stay, three night one, so she could become more comfortable at camp. On the day of drop off, I drove her to camp, went to her cabin to set up her bunk and kissed her goodbye. I had prepped the camp ahead of time, letting them know of her anxiety issues, but from the moment I walked away from her campsite, I saw no tears. 

This year my daughter tossed her items into her bed,
turned and said, "Peace out mom." That was my cue that she
was ready for me to leave her at summer camp.
I was anxious that week, and expected a phone call from camp. Thankfully none came. She did fantastic that week. I picked up a filthy kid with hair skewed around her face. She was grinning from ear to ear, singing songs loudly for the parent performance at 5:00 too. She did briefly run quickly to me, engulfing me in the biggest hug, but then went back to sit with her new friends and counselors. I ultimately knew she would be fine, however I was exceptionally pleased to see the newfound confidence my daughter came home with that first year of summer camp!

I mentioned that my son attended Cub Scout camp for several years WITH me there as his parent. The last two years there, other boys trusted me with their boys, but my son was stuck with me attending as the leader too. Although he had lots of growth, learning new things and having plenty of new experiences, he still had me with him. So the same year that my daughter attended sleep-away camp, my son also had his first time away. He went away for a week though!  I so appreciated the week as both were away at the same time for part of it and they both appreciated "life without mom" for a bit. Their newfound independence played a big role in their development and growth.
I enjoy that they get to be part of a bigger, broader world too.  I'll never forget being a camp counselor and telling all my campers that if they wrote me, I would write them back. That may have been a big mistake on my part though, since I spent the summer buying stamps! Both of my children have come home with names, phone numbers and addresses of other kids and more importantly, they have stayed in touch with those kids! I made some amazing friends in similar fashion. My kids have mostly attended camp without knowing others there, both have had friends attend camp with them too. They will both say though, that they have had the most fun when they have gone without knowing anyone!

We have always delivered our kids to their summer camp.
Last year we let them ride the bus. It was yet another first
for the kids and an exciting adventure for all!
Summer camp has given my children a way to conquer fears and challenges like very few activities can. Several years ago while at camp, my son experienced a bit of hypothermia. He had to learn to go on with his day (after warming up of course). Last year, extreme weather coming through camp forced my daughters group to move their campsite THREE times during the week. If you've ever packed up after camp, you'll know this is no small feat either. Last summer during camp, my daughter had to pass the dreaded "tip test" during her camp session too. That is where they tip your canoe and teach you to be OK with that happening. She fretted over this for months ahead of time but came through it with flying colors. Having that experience helped her cope with her canoe getting stuck in the swampy mud during that week. She still tells the story of her counselor toeing them to safety, and that if you stepped out the mud would suck your shoe off.  Overcoming obstacles helps children to understand how to cope in their every day life when something does not go their way and goes wrong. I love the confidence that summer camp has helped build as the kids adapt to their environments. 

Summer camp has provided my children with the opportunity to learn new things, gaining the strength, courage and confidence to try something they would have never otherwise tried. Several years ago, a monkey bridge and climbing wall caught my daughters attention. At the time she was timid about trying it, but she came home from camp last year telling me that her counselor on the climbing wall could not belay her fast enough. She was told she was a monkey on the wall and should consider climbing as a sport. This last year she was part of the Kids Club at Planet Rock! My son too has learned many new things. He seems to be a bit more like me, in that he aims to try something new at every opportunity. Last summer he tried sculpture and this summer is welding. He has taken to shooting sports too, and has decided he may like to get more serious about them this next fall. Camp is one of the few places where he can try these activities out. I'll admit. I feel kind of gipped - The only activities that were different when I was a kid was copper enamel crafts, rappelling and mud-bogging! 

Sending my kids to summer camp is the highlight of their summer, much as it was mine. This summer my son is attended three weeks of camp away from home as well as another week away as part of the governor's honor guard on Mackinac Island. My daughter was a bit disappointed to not be going away for more, but as I write this she is away at Girl Scout camp learning to be a master chef. I can not wait for her to be home and show me what she has learned. I'm sure she will be cooking dinner for us soon and look forward to eating what she makes while hearing about the awesome adventures while she was away at summer camp.

July 6, 2016

Huron River Day

This Sunday, July 10, from noon - 4:00 p.m. Ann Arbor families can enjoy FREE fun at the Gallup Park (3000 Fuller Rd., Ann Arbor) Huron River Day Festival!

Celebrate this annual event featuring everything the Huron River has to offer - River exhibits, storytelling, music, fishing and many great eats. My personal favorite is $5/boat canoe and kayak rentals! There will also be many great children's activities including a butterfly house where kids can hand feed butterflies, musical entertainment, geocaching and so much more.

Families do not need to pre-registration, just show up at noon on Sunday. For those families with running enthusiasts, don't forget that the morning begins with an 8:00 a.m. Gallup Gallop Run too. For more information on Huron River Day and the great free family events of the day, call Gallup Park at 734-794-6240.

Building Memories to Last a Lifetime

A small hand-blown green glass animal, Tabu perfume, and bendy straws: What do these things have in common? They are all a part of who I am, each holding a significance in my life, each item a memento, a precious memory.

I try to expose my children to so many experiences in life - a quiet walk in the woods spotting birds, feeding the ducks in the pond out back, planting a garden, eating at nice restaurants, participating in special mother/son and mother/daughter time, sports, movies and so much more.

I feel that by enriching their minds with new experiences, memories can be shared. Memories can be built. I wonder though, "Will my children remember?" And "What events will they reflect upon with a special fondness?"

My husband often says that I try too hard to build these moments - It's as if I am trying to shape their experiences much like a photographer sets the stage for his still life study. Items are painstakingly arranged, lights perfectly aligned, shadows cast in just the right direction so that the viewer knows exactly what the photographer was going for with the final image. But life doesn't hold still. No matter what I say or do, my children will not always remember things I want, the way I want them to - I suppose this is what makes things so right.

The funny thing about new experiences is that we each remember the things we do by the color of the glasses we wear. I know this sounds like a cliché, but it's painfully true. What I remember differs from what my brother remembers, even if the events are the same. How I see things after hearing the story for the millionth time is different.

While cleaning out my jewelry box the other day, I unwrapped a small bundle of tissue. In it, gently wrapped, was the tiny green glass Bambi mom brought home from Williamsburg for me when I was a kid. To this day I cannot believe that it has gotten through my life unbroken! (Although since the kids were born it HAS been tucked into a small box gently wrapped in the aforementioned tissue!) Bambi sat on my dresser year after year as I turned from a girl into a young woman.

When I moved to my first post-college apartment, Mom lost the fragile animal somewhere en route. (It was found months later located under the seat in mom's car!) At the time, I was devastated. Mom couldn't understand why I had gotten so upset, until I told her WHERE Bambi had come from. She thought it some silly childhood trinket I should have disposed of; instead I suppose every time I glance at it, it's a reminder of happier, more simple childhood joys.

The smell of Tabu perfume stops me dead in my tracks. My grandma Cray had a poodle grooming business. She sprayed all of her "customers" with Tabu. To this day, if I catch a whiff of that perfume it's as if I am suddenly an awkward adolescent playing in her pink poodle grooming room, clipping pretty ribbons from spools. My brother only remembers me locking him into the dog cages or otherwise getting into trouble.

A few nights ago, I pulled out two straws for the kids' smoothies, only instead of being the typical straight straws, I apparently had a few bendy straws in the box. You know, the straws with the accordion goose-neck style bend? Bendy straws are an iconic remembrance of a good friend's mother who recently passed away. As I pulled the two straws from the box I instantly thought of Judy - the way she would hold her soda can, the way she could never open the tops of cans, and the way she would sip her soda with a bendy-straw poking out an an awkward angle but tipped just right as not to drip!

So today, as my children and I played along the banks of Lake Huron, while standing in the shadows of the Blue Water Bridge, across from the home that as a baby I was brought home to, I wonder: "Will my children have fond memories of some silly rock they picked up, a treasure they gently tucked into their little fists and kept from today?"

I don't know what the future holds for my children; however, I know there are apt to be memories I cannot fathom, stories I don't remember and experiences I hope they'll never forget. I can't wait to take this awesome trip with them and watch, every day, as the wonder and amazement of something new crosses their faces, and lives.

"Memory is a child walking along a seashore. 
You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up 
and store away among its treasured things." 
~Pierce Harris, Atlanta Journal

republished from an annarbor.com 2009 post

July 4, 2016

Free National Parks Pass

Swimming while visiting the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes.
We were exceptionally excited to learn about the new program "Every Kid in a Park" which grants families of fourth grade children free admission into our National Parks. We got our pass this past year and have already visited the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. We do have plans later this summer to visit the River Raisin Battlefield, Gettysburg, and Assateague Island National Seashore as well as many other national treasures. My daughter especially appreciated that SHE was able to get this free pass for us too!

So how do you get YOUR free National Park pass? Started September 1, 2015, the National Park Service granted all fourth grade students the opportunity to sign up for a free pass into the park. The program is being offered in the year to come too. The National Parks Service is celebrating 100 years this year so this is an excellent time for this awesome opportunity. To sign up for your free National Park Pass visit everykidinapark.gov today!

4th graders across the nation get FREE entry into America's National Parks.
Register today for your free pass.

July 1, 2016

Michigan Activity Pass

Explore local cultural attractions for free with your family
with the Michigan Adventure Pass.
In past years I loved participating in the Museum Adventure Pass program with my family. Then the program changed and fell off my radar for a year. In reality though, the program just changed a bit. Later this month, On May 23, it's back for the second year.

The statewide Michigan Activity Pass program works with the Library Network to provide cultural activities to families.  Families can go to their public library to print out passes, coupons, and special offers from participating cultural institutions - museums, theaters and historical locations - This is a free program too!

To learn more about the Michigan Activity Pass program and participating attractions be sure to visit the Michigan Activity Pass (MAP) website. Below is a list of the closest attractions that were on the list when I checked in.

Let me know if you take advantage of passes and where you and your family explored! Here are a few of the closest locations that can be found throughout Washtenaw County (and nearby) that offer admission using a MAP pass. They are all within a 25-mile radius of Ann Arbor.

Michigan Firehouse Museum
Yankee Air Museum
Cobblestone Farm Museum
Rentschler Farm Museum
University of Michigan Museum of Natural History
Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
Saline Railroad Depot Museum
Argus Museum
Washtenaw County Historical Society Museum
Wayne Historical Museum
Wild Swan Theater
Plymouth Historical Museum
Plymouth Community Arts Council
Michigan Philharmonic
Old Mill Museum
Maybury State Park
Mill Race Historical Village
Greenmeade Historical Park
River Raisin Territorial Park
Hamburg Historical Museum
Southern Michigan Railroad
Dearborn Historical Museum
Monroe County Historical Museum
Waterloo State Recreation Area
Monroe County Vietnam Veterans Museum and Memorial
Jiffy Mix Factory Tour
Gibraltar Historical Museum
Lakelands Trail State Park
Pinckney State Recreation Area
Sterling State Park
Island Lake State Recreation Area
Arab American National Museum
Holocaust Memorial Center

Tubing Argo Cascades

That's me!!! Even adults enjoy riding
down the Argo Cascades in tubes! 
One of the best ways to stay cool in Ann Arbor during the summer is to tube down the Argo Cascades. We have been over after school in the evening, took a quick trip for a brief cool off and have even spent an entire day at the Cascades complete with a picnic lunch.

My kids love riding their tubes to the end of the run then jogging back up the path to start all over. I will spend hours sitting on the side lines, dipping my toes in or taking photos of the fun. Recently I even took my Girl Scouts to spend some time cascading down the river!

To get to the Argo Cascades you need to get to the Argo Canoe Livery (1055 Longshore Dr., Ann Arbor, MI 48105). Families can bring their own inner tubes or rent them for $10/tube, for a 2-hour rental, at the Argo Canoe Livery. Kayaks may also be rented and floated down the Cascades however I would think that is more of a one-way trip as getting them back to the beginning of the run would take significant effort.

With a recent increase of weekend traffic and attendance at the Argo Cascades, the City of Ann Arbor has published specific details about the best parking locations, and details on tubing the Huron River.

So grab a tube and cool off at the Argo Cascades, you will not be disappointed. While the current is not overly strong, nor the river deep, I do recommend life jackets for smaller children, or better yet, mom and dad can ride with the kids!

Life Lessons: The First Cow

Content originally published in annarbor.comin 2009. 

My son has been very interested in asking questions of late. I suppose that’s not so bad since he is five; however it is the nature of the questions that is of a little concern to me. His most common questions revolve around babies and specifically “Mom where do babies come from?
I know its normal behavior, and I don’t have difficulties answering most questions - but he is 5 - FIVE! He doesn’t even begin school for a few weeks, so where are these questions coming from? Is it normal for five-year-olds to NEED to know this info? It feels a little too early to answer this question with any substance. Luckily, as coincidence would have it, he seems satisfied with the vaguest of answers.
My M.O. has been to ask him “Well what do you think?” or simply say “Babies come from their mommy’s tummies.”
The other day though, as we were driving down I-94, he asked me again, “Mom where do babies come from?” “Well where do you think they come from?” “I know it takes a mommy and a daddy and the doctor cut me out of your tummy.” (C-section for both kids wouldn’t you know…) “Yes honey that’s right. Did you get the answer you needed?” “Yes.” As I breathe a HUGE sigh of relief...
There is silence in the car, until we pass a large truck hauling cattle. “Mom where are they taking the cows?”
I have to stop at this, because again, how much information is TOO much information for a five-year-olds brain. “Well Zach, sometimes cows become food for us. You know that, right?”
“That is where we get steak and hamburgers.”
“So someone is gonna cut them up? Won’t that hurt?”
Again I have to dig deep for the answers, thinking quickly for something that makes sense - Got it. “Well sweetie, the cows are asleep and they don’t feel it.”
“Mom, did it hurt when I came out of your tummy?”
Damned my answers came back to haunt me - He’s back to asking about babies due to my C-sections. “No sweetie, I wanted you and your sister so badly it didn’t hurt me.”
Now comes the rapid fire, on the chopping block questions...
“So where do baby cows come from?”
“They come out of their mommy’s tummies.”
“So they are like us?”
“Yes sweetie, they are called mammals - They come out of their mommy’s tummy and drink her milk so they can grow.”
“But where do they COME from?”
I’m now getting frustrated and I sense his frustrations as well as I ask, “WHERE do you think they came from?”
“No, MOM, I mean the FIRST cow. Where did IT come from”
Now this stops me. To avoid any explanation of Creationism vs. Evolution to a five-year-old though, I opted for the easiest answer for my son to grasp - I suppose one might argue that I saw my out…”Well sweetie, God created the first cow.”
There is now silence in the car, complete, blessed SILENCE. He seemed to accept that answer - Thankfully he hasn’t asked about the first human, or asked again about babies and their "specifics", but I have a sinking suspicion that I am going to need simplified answers sooner rather than later…
But, he’s only FIVE!!! Isn’t that a bit early to want to know about the human reproductive cycle?!