Monday, July 24, 2017

Family Bike Ride

Last weekend my dad coordinated a family bike ride near New Glarus, Wisconsin.  So, we loaded up the kids, a cooler, all of our bikes, and the burleys for the kids (man it takes a LOT of stuff to move 10 people!) and we headed out on a family bike ride.  The ride itself wasn't too long or too hard.  About 11 miles on one of the Wisconsin Rails to Trails bike routes. But, probably the coolest (literally and figuratively) part of the ride was that we got to go through an old train tunnel about half way through the ride.

It was completely dark inside so we had flashlights to help guide the way.  The temperature inside was maybe 20 degrees cooler than the outside air temp so it was a welcome site when we came back through the tunnel on the way back to our cars.

All in all, it was a great day with family and I'm so glad I brought along my real camera and made everyone stop for two seconds to take some pictures.  It always seems like such a hassle in the moment to grab big group photos but I NEVER regret it later.  Thanks for putting up with me guys!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Day Out with Thomas

Did you know we live within 5 miles of a local train museum?  I guess they are widespread across the country and can be pretty big attractions in and of themselves, but by far the most exciting thing that happens at ours is Thomas coming to town.  We pass this spot every single day on our way to and from daycare and last year right around Abby's birthday we noticed Percy (from the Thomas the Train show) sitting right there on the tracks.  We hadn't lived her for more than about a month yet so we had no idea what it was all about, but it sure didn't take us long to figure it out.

For literally an entire year Abby would ask me over and over again when she could go see Thomas and we went through listing all of the holidays that would need to happen before he would be back again and we could go see him.  Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentines Day, Easter, Hazel's Birthday and then THOMAS!

Guys, you think I'm kidding, but Abby has the memory of an elephant!  I'm serious.  A holiday would pass and Abby would go back to the list and start counting down the holidays until Thomas would be back.  So, I knew we needed to get tickets, no matter the cost this year.

Jamie and Zach joined us and we had a great time!  We picked the earliest train ride possible and bought tickets literally the day they went on sale (I plan everything pretty far in advance) and we're so glad we made the choices we did.  We arrived about an hour before, just as the park opened and the day was still cool enough that we could squeeze in all the activities before nap time/swimming pool time.

If you have kids this age, and live anywhere near us, I'd recommend it!  It was a little pricey, but what isn't these days.  Hazel and Lucy got in free which year, we'll be on the hook for all 4 tickets but maybe Abby will be out of this stage by then?

All the other kids were terrified of Sir. TopumHat and you can tell even Abby wasn't getting too close, but all in all, we had a great time.  Around 10 am we all loaded up on the train (pulled by Thomas) and we went on a quick little ride down the tracks.  I think the whole ride lasted only 20 minutes and that's one thing I wish they'd have extended but the day was getting warmer and we were all about ready to get in the pool.

We stopped at a few more booths so the kids could finish up their little stamp collecting maps and get their prize and we were on our way back home.  Well, not before scoring two corn dogs...I mean, when in Rome!

All in all, I'd do it again.  So, if you live close, check the website in the spring and grab some tickets...then come stop by the's just down the road :)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Hazel's Birthday (at the lake)

Well, Hazel may not have gotten a big birthday bash this year, but she sure made out regardless.  She somehow managed to get THREE parties instead of just one.  Ha!  I'm going to try that out myself next year :)

As always, Ellen worked with a small little bakery in Geneva to make a custom cupcake for the birthday girl.  This year Hazel's cupcake was a picture of her little "Dollie", her most prized possession and the one thing she just can't leave home without.  Erin got this cute little raccoon doll for Abby when she was just a tiny baby and for some reason Hazel has adopted her as her own.  Erin got her a second, similar, raccoon doll for Christmas this year, but Hazel really loves the original best (of course).  So, it seemed fitting that her cupcake this year should sport her favorite thing in all the land....her Dollie!

I'm sure the number of pictures in this post is gratuitous, but some of them were just too cute not to share so prepare yourself for a full on slide show of the festivities.  Hazel's favorite part, by far, was the signing and the cupcake but the family pulled out all the stops and stocked her up on presents and fun summer things.

I mean, look at that face!!!  That's Erin's present, new clothes for her Dollie which she desperately needed!!  Now Dollie is all cleaned up (mostly) with a fresh new jumper (with hole for her tail) and a cute little red overcoat that Hazel just LOVES to put on and off.  Good choice, Auntie...good choice!

Oh yeah, and a Bears t-shirt (yuck).  No wonder I blocked that memory from my mind :)  All in all, she is one loved little girl and we're so thankful for everyone who helped to make her second birthday so special!!!

Couldn't resist take it...I'm posting it :)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Up North

Things have finally settled down a bit since coming back from vacation and I'm finally catching up on our latest adventures.  After leaving the Porkies on Wednesday morning we headed straight to our lake house in Cable, Wisconsin.  This lake house has been in my mom's family since she was a kid and I have so many memories there. One of which is our treasure hunts!

I've written about this tradition before and how we've passed it on to the girls (and Lincoln now too) and this year was no exception!  We scaled back a little after last year's DOUBLE treasure hunt and the kids had just as much fun as I remember having when I was their age.  Having some new toys after camping for 5 days and playing with the same old stuff mom packed, doesn't hurt either!

It was fun to be able to share the lake with Erin this year!  We always love bringing friends along to experience the beautiful lake.  It's so remote, and there are never any other boats on the lake which is a far cry from what it's like to vacation at Koontz lake, Ryan's family's lake.  We have around 500 feet of lake frontage and about 20 acres of's so pretty there!

So, we spent Wednesday - Saturday at the lake house and in addition to the treasure hunt tradition, we did a few other "traditions" including a trip to Hayward to grab my most favorite pie of all time (the  Forest Fruit pie for anyone that knows the area and may be stopping in).  While there we also stopped at the candy store to stock up on all of the crappy gummy candy the girls and Ryan could fit into a bag and a record store to see if we could find anything to add to our small, but growing, collection of records.

Friday we "kids" ditched the "parents" with the babies (yes, all four of them!) and headed out for a canoe trip down a local river.  Joey and I have done this trip before, as kids, but it's been quite a few years and Ryan, Andy and Erin had never done it so we thought we'd try it out.  We had a great time, and only a few close calls.  Erin and I canoed together, Joey and Andy in a second canoe and Ryan in a Kayak.  I'll let you guess who nearly tipped over (more than once) and who missed the exit all together and needed to be pulled back across the (luckily) pretty shallow river to safety.

The big kids got to go fishing one evening with the Dad's and Uncle Joe and I got to play more than a few games of Yahtzee with Peggy and Erin.  Of course there was cribbage, and popcorn on the stove, too many beers to count and lots and lots of laughs.

We even got to see Tom and Carolyn on this trip.  Living in Minneapolis, they have a lake house less than an hour from ours so it's always a special treat when our trips include a visit from them.  Next time we'll have to visit their lake....they've made the trek to us the last few years because the kids are small and it's easier to manage them at "home".

Oh, and Hazel's birthday!  Since we were gone both of the weekends surrounding her birthday this year she didn't get a huge birthday bash like we've been known to throw but instead she got three smaller celebrations, which, ain't too bad either.  One evening I baked the Ritterbusch family birthday cake (a chocolate chip sponge cake with custard frosting) and it was JUST as good as I always remember it being.

I can seriously hardly believe that this little peanut is now two years old.  It seems like just yesterday we were at the cabin and I had a little 10 day old baby in my arms on the pier.  Now she's running and swimming and jumping and being just as crazy as the older girls.  Its so crazy how fast it all goes by.  I feel like I'll have a lifetime of saying that.....but it's true!

That just about wraps up our vacation in the UP and at the lake.  Of course I have more pictures than stories, so I'll just let you enjoy these last few of the girls fishing with their Daddy's.  A right of passage if I've ever seen one!

Friday, July 7, 2017

UP Camping Trip

A few weeks back we went on a big family vacation, camping in the UP.  We didn't log a lot of time in the camper last year so this year I wanted to be sure we had at least one long trip where we got to camp and spend time outside!  Now that the girls are getting older it's getting easier (though, harder to carry them on our backs!).

We left on Friday morning, really really early....think 5:00 am.  Erin came with us too (yea!!) so she spent the night and we stayed up too late hanging out and just enjoying vacation eve.  It's seriously one of the best feelings to know that you've got a ton of fun ahead of you and it's just the very beginning.  Our first stop was Copper Harbor, Michigan, a mere 7 hour drive nearly straight north from our house.  It was a LONG trip but we had lots of new activity books and stickers and of course the novelty of having Auntie in the back seat with the girls helped a ton!  It took us about 9 hours to get there, but we stopped quite a few times, ate breakfast and lunch at sit down restaurants...trying to run some energy out of the girls before getting back in the car seats again.

We stayed in Copper Harbor for three full days and left on Monday morning.  If there is one thing we've learned in our years of camping its that we ALWAYS wish we had more time at each campsite.  Copper Harbor was no different especially since it rained one of the days.  We made due though and spent some time driving around checking out the little towns and found this hole in the wall bowling alley which was SUPER fun for the girls.  We found a record store and we stocked up big time.  At $2 or $3 a pop, you can hardly go wrong, even if you don't love the entire record.

We spent Saturday hiking one of the best hikes we've done in a long time.  It was a 4 mile hike (round trip) and we had waterfalls and beaches all to ourselves.  The beaches in Michigan were all across the board.  We found beaches that were made totally of small/medium sized rocks, sand beaches and even a cool beach that looked like it was made of slate.  On our Saturday hike we found the rock beach and I found the coolest egg like rock there.  I told Abby it was a dinosaur egg and it's still (three weeks later) sitting in a special box in her room wrapped in a blanket waiting to hatch!!  So adorable!!

Sunday was super rainy so on top of exploring and bowling we found a brewery (which we of course all loved) and did some planning for Monday.  Monday morning we ate breakfast and packed up to head to our second stop, Porcupine Mountain State Park.  The Porkies are still in Michigan but about 2 hours closer to our lake house near Hayward (our final destination).  I regret that we didn't get to go explore some of the lighthouses in/near Copper Harbor and there was a cool little historic replica of a town with people in period clothing located right inside the state park we stayed at.  But, there is always the option of going back to explore further.

The Porkies were really cool.  There were miles and miles and miles of hiking trials and tons of backpacking/camping options available there.  I'd guess that there were probably 50 back country cabins or yurts you could hike in to and I'm SURE we'll be back to try that out once the girls are a little older and can at least hike themselves and maybe even help to carry some of their stuff.  We just don't have any way of carrying "stuff" when we've got the girls in for now, we take a little slower pace and cherish the moments and things we CAN do with them at this age.

Our campground at the Porkies was right on lake Michigan.  Our site was a row back but there were sites that edged right up to the lake which was super cool.  We spent lots of time on the slate like beach right there in our "back yard" with the girls.  It was too close and too cool to miss.  The summer solstice happened while we were there and Ryan, Erin and I stayed up to 11:30 waiting for darkness to start setting in.

The Porkies is set up to do lots and lots of long hiking and didn't have a ton of short hike opportunities so we stuck a little closer to the campsite and did a few smaller hikes instead (like to the ice cream store near our campground!).  But, on Tuesday we decided to go on one of the local mine tours.  As the name Copper Harbor suggests there are lots of mines in the UP and it was a little rainy on Tuesday morning so we figured if we might as well hike inside a mine if it wasn't nice enough to be outside hiking.

The mine tour was actually pretty interesting.  We went on the shortest option (around an hour and a half) which was the perfect length for us and about all the girls were interested in doing.  We stuck them in our backpacks, strapped on helmets (with lights) and jumped right in.  We learned a lot and enjoyed it quite a lot.  One of the nicest things was that we had the tour all to ourselves.  Our guide told us that we were right on the front end of their busy season (4th of July through Labor Day) so we got the benefit of pretty warm/nice weather and relatively few people.  It was perfect!

One thing we weren't ready for was the black flies.  I'd never even heard of them, but they were terrible little things.  I can't decide if they are worse than mosquitoes or if it's just that we aren't used to them.  They were little like gnats but their bites were brutal.  The girls (kids and adults) all ended up with bites all along our hair lines.  They bleed pretty bad right after being bitten and then they'd itch for 4 or 5 days later.  Not ideal!  If you plan to camp in the area, a local told us to use Vicks Vapor Rub or eucalyptus to try and repel them.  We didn't get that tip until our last day so we didn't get a chance to try it out for ourselves.  If we ever go back, I'll be prepared!

Wednesday morning we packed up and headed out for our last stop, our lake house near Hayward.  We had such a great time trying out some new places to camp/explore.  I just love spending time with these people and vacation are seriously my favorite part of the year!  I start planning our camping trips for the coming year in December or January so I'm always so excited when the new campgrounds and locations we try turn out better than I could have hoped.  I hope the girls continue to humor us and let us take them all over the country for summers to come!  The older they get, the easier the long car rides, America, here we come!!