|Zoey has HAD IT. 😂|
Every few years, Jack’s family tries to get together for a family reunion since everyone has flown the coop and is scattered across the country. It’s no small feat to find time, a place for everyone to stay, and enough food, amenities, beds, activities, and quiet time (a must for the introvert in me) for Jack, his parent, his six siblings, their spouses, and children. All in all, we were pushing thirty-plus people for an entire week of fun.
Last time, the reunion took place in Panama City Beach, FL, where we spent the week swimming, surfing, collecting shells, eating too much, and catching up with family we don’t get to see all that often. This time, Jack coordinated a stay up in Michigan (we scouted out the area last Labor Day with his parents). It had a lot of the same things that Florida had–since we were by Lake Michigan, there were miles of beach, the promise of surfing lessons, fruit picking, a nearby pool, canoes, and a large communal cabin where we could eat and have fun together.
The drive for us wasn’t bad–it was only a few hours in comparison to the double-digit-long drives and flights others had. So, we arrived early and immediately hopped in the canoes to explore the river out behind where we were staying. By nightfall, most of the rest of the family trickled in and the reunion officially began.
|The cutest pirate and mermaid ever, right? 😂|
When I checked the weather forecast for the trip, we were looking at blue skies and pleasant temperatures in the upper seventies. When we arrived, though, each day the temperature kept falling, low-hanging gray clouds blocked the sun, and there was a near-constant drizzle of rain.
|Evelyn sizing up the farmer’s market. Pretty sure we could do well at one of those events.|
That wouldn’t stop us from exploring. So, even though I didn’t have a jacket (whoops!), and everyone’s toes were a bit cold, we headed to South Haven to check out their farmer’s market, and walk along their quaint little touristy downtown before heading to the Mermaid Festival.
|The funniest little bronze statue…a naked boy writing “Who is responsible here?” Reminded me of Henry.|
Sadly, the cold weather seemed to have scared off a lot of the mermaids. An old King Tritan lounged on the rocks (he didn’t impress the girls, though)…
…and a few brave, very cold mermaids were there but for the most part, the weather scared very many mermaids from congregating. No world records being broken that weekend.
Not to be disappointed at the fizzling display of mermaids, we met up with the rest of Jack’s family, had a picnic lunch at the beach, changed, and got to building sandcastles.
|Ready for laser tag!|
One of my favorite parts of getting together with family is watching the cousins play together. Though I grew up with only four cousins, all of whom are younger than me, I still have fond memories of being with them. My kids are blessed to have over forty cousins spread out over both sides of the family, most of whom are their ages. I am admittedly jealous of their pool of friends.
After all that playing, swimming, digging, bouncing, running, and shouting (and admittedly, some screaming, crying, and fighting), it was time for s’mores. We went through an entire bag of marshmallows, a huge jar of Nutella, and two boxes of graham crackers. Not really surprising with how many sweet tooths there are in the family.
The best part of Jack’s family reunion is the traditional night out with all his siblings. When the kids are in bed, grandma and grandpa tend the little ones and we find an ice cream shop and enjoy some much-appreciated adult time.
If you’re ever in the area, South Haven has THE BEST ice cream shop, called Sherman’s. It’s been around for years, has a super fun atmosphere with happy employees, and has the most delicious, generous portions of ice cream. See?
Jack and I split a Piggy Dinner, which comes with eight scoops of ice cream, four toppings, nuts, whipped cream, four cherries, and is served in a little wooden trough. 😂
You bet we were able to finish. Jack might feel sick after eating that much ice cream but I feel AMAZING. Consuming large amounts of sugar is one of my superpowers.
Sunday was much the same as it usually is…we woke up early for church, put on our Sunday best, and brushed our hair, though the girls were in for a treat when their new aunt Makayla, who happens to be a hairstylist, braided their hair. Let’s just say my braiding abilities bow to her superior skills.
Since it was Father’s Day that Sunday, Jack and I volunteered to make lunch, which is no small feat with the size of the crowd. We brought enough of Parton’s meat up with us and had some yummy burgers, some hot dogs, and all the fixings. Meals always were a whirlwind of activity and it was incredible to watch that much food disappear so quickly.
|The first time I’ve ever seen a bridge actually raise for a passing sailboat.|
The next day, we traveled to St. Joseph to look around. There was a small children’s museum and the very first thing the kids wanted to try was face painting. I always enjoy honing my skills as a face painting artist, so when Halloween rolls around, I’m ready.
|Aunt Cecilia’s dragon creation and my pretty princess.|
|All the cool moms had their faces painted.|
We met at the canon for a picnic lunch, then split to head to the beach, the carousel, or sightseeing.
Before we got wet and sandy, we walked the streets in search of a few souvenirs to take back with us. Mostly, it was cheap trinkets and overpriced shirts, but some of the stuff we saw was noteworthy.
Everyone rounded up at Silver Beach. With the weather still cold and cloudy, not many people actually braved the frigid Lake Michigan water and instead opted to dig around in the sand and search for driftwood and rocks.
Kate wanted to be buried (again), probably because it was warmer under a few pounds of sand than it was crouching down on top of it.
Over the past few years, Jack has taken up fishing. He went in Florida and spent eight hours out at sea, catching red snappers, and has been shark fishing off the east coast. On Lake Michigan, he convinced about a dozen people to go with him in search of lake trout and king salmon.
They were up before the crack of dawn to catch the ship that would take them out into open waters where the fish hang out. It would have been fun to go but I wasn’t sad to get a bit more sleep and not spend the day hanging over the side of the boat, seasick.
|Claire decided to go with Jack.|
It was another chilly morning but they all got in plenty of time reeling in fish. Claire had help from Jack’s mom pulling in her catch and I can imagine the two of them giggling the entire time.
The biggest catch of the day went to Jack’s nephew, who pulled in a whopper of a lake trout without any help.
The rest of us slept in, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, and when the sun came out, we went for a swim, and capped it off with a soak in the hot tub.
I even managed to squeeze in some writing time on my then-current work-in-progress. It may be work but it’s the kind of thing that keeps me sane when the introvert in me is feeling a bit overwhelmed.
One of Jack’s favorite obsessions is making his own rootbeer. This spring, it was taken to a whole new level when he discovered we have sasaffrass trees growing in our forest. When the roots are pulled up, washed, chopped, and stewed, he adds sugar, cinnamon, and some other magical ingredients, mixes it up, throws in some dry ice, sits on the bucket lid, and out comes some super delicious, custom-made, one-of-a-kind rootbeer…and plenty of it to share.
|Dry ice captivates children.|
By the evening, most of us were waterlogged but still wanted to enjoy the precious remaining hours of sunshine. While some brave souls swam again, the rest of us watched their silly antics from the pool deck.
It was our turn to make breakfast the next morning, so we decided to serve up a buffet of pancakes, bacon, fruit, and juice. It was a good opportunity for the kids to practice cooking and within half an hour, we were done.
We had another beautiful morning that we wanted to take advantage of, so it was decided we’d go strawberry picking. Everywhere in Michigan seemed to be behind their fruit production, due to the unseasonably cold and rainy summer. There should have been raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, but they were still green on the vine.
I love that even though we have a garden at home and the kids are often sent outside to help me plant, weed, and harvest, that they were gung ho about picking strawberries. We ended up getting a few dozen pounds worth and though we ate as many as we could during the week, a generous portion came home with us and was turned into a very delectable batch of strawberry jam.
|The weirder and bigger the better for Kate.|
Since the kids had heard about our eating the legendary Piggy Dinner, we thought it would only be fair to take them in after a hot afternoon picking strawberries to enjoy their own. Surprise, surprise, they complained that they were going to have to share. 🤣 In the end, all five of them couldn’t finish anyway, so the whiners rescinded their complaints and happily admitted it wasn’t so bad to share.
As easy as the concept is to jump headfirst into the water, it’s also easier said than done. Time after time the girls plugged their noses…
Until finally, it clicked and they worked up the nerve to get themselves diving the right way. It only takes once to get the feel for it, then it was all perfect dives try after try.
One activity the kids were looking forward to was a ride on a pirate ship. Though I had to stay behind with Zoey and Peter, everyone else loaded up on plastic ponchos and boarded the boat for a two-hour trip on the water.
Judging by their happy faces as they told me about it, swinging their foam swords the entire time they talked, they had a fantastic time.
|They found treasure, toured the ship, and watched a pirate fight!|
The last day in Michigan was the coldest, dreariest of the entire week but we didn’t let that stop us. Everyone changed into their swimsuits, dug in the sand a tiny bit, then quickly retreated under their towels for warmth. Jack and I tried out our wetsuits that Santa brought us and though I had to stuff myself in like a sausage, I’ll be the first to exclaim that a wetsuit is a wonderful thing. The water was still frigid but it’s hardly a bother with a wetsuit. Trading off turns watching the kids, we tried to catch a few waves with our bodyboard–Evelyn and Claire even took a few turns using my wetsuit–but the water was awfully tumultuous and unpredictable. Still, it was fun, exhausting, and memorable.
|Watching Jack and some cousins bodysurf.|
We gathered for dinner at a local restaurant and though the group was too big for them to sit all together, it was a nice break from having to cook.
The last evening of a family reunion is always a little bittersweet. It’s a time of lasts on the cusp of goodbyes. Everyone played their last video game, jumped on the bounce house one last time, played one more round of pickleball, had one more soak in the hot tub, and ate one more time at Sherman’s.
|Playing pickleball on the new court.|
By the time we were packing up, we were all exhausted. The late nights, early mornings, eating too much, swimming, digging, jumping, and playing caught up with everyone.
|Zoey couldn’t even make it through her meal before zonking out.|
|This sums up what it’s like to live with thirty-ish people in a very small space.|
One by one, families started departing, going their separate ways to the airport in Chicago or the long drives home. We waited until last since our drive was less than four hours home and to make sure we got everything. Silly me, I thought we’d go home with less things, but somehow, our car ended up more packed than before. Mostly, we ended up with leftover condiments that Jack wouldn’t let anyone throw away. Waste not, want not, right? 😉
The entire trip was over in a blink and though it was tiring, sometimes stressful and chaotic, we were extremely blessed to be able to go. We got to know family that lives far away, I was reminded of my limits and how to recenter when it’s getting to be too much, I observed parenting skills from others that I’d like to put into practice, I found out Claire and I were accidentally using the same toothbrush all week, Jack barely showered all week because he figured going swimming in the pool was good enough, we all ended up sleep-deprived, borderline hypothermic, and deliriously happy. Everyone left with a story, good memories, maybe a few extra pounds, and a smile on their face.
|Saying goodby in the family reunion chaos.|