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We just did something we rarely do around the KnowitAll household–we took a family vacation. Normally we’d fill our vacation time with a mission trip, or a trip with family, or a trip to visit family. It has been several years since we just vacationed, just the four of us. And what a vacation it was! We took a full two weeks off, which was the perfect amount of time. We were really able to relax and unwind, without worrying about things to be done when we got home. One of the biggest gifts I think we can give our kids is learning to take time regularly to step back, unplug and unwind. Not taking a vacation and filling it with things to do, but taking a vacation and actually relaxing. Honestly, it was revolutionary to us as parents as well. But oh, was it worth it!

Our first week we spent camping in Mackinaw City, Michigan–and promptly fell in love! We went other places too, to visit friends and family the last few days of our trip. But the shining star of the whole trip was camping in Northern Michigan. The weather was cool, Lake Huron was stunningly beautiful, the campground was well run, and we as a family had one of the best weeks of our lives.

We started by renting an SUV and stuffing it as full as it could possibly be with camping gear. I’d read every glamping article I could find and was determined we would camp in style! We drove our well-loaded (meaning it could burst at any second) SUV nine hours up to Mackinaw City. The drive was pretty unremarkable–very little traffic, and interstate driving the entire way. I’d chosen the area because for years I’d heard about the beauty of northern Michigan, but had never been. We all wanted to go to the beach, but after a summer of record-high temps, none of us wanted to deal with the heat. Because I’m not working any more, we had a very strict budget to keep, so we decided on camping. We love camping anyway, but had never camped for a vacation before. After a lot of research, I decided on Camp Mackinaw in Mackinaw City as our place. I crossed my fingers and prayed more than a few times that God would get us to the right place for us to really relax. As we pulled into the campground, and they assigned us a spot right across from the shower houses and playground, I wasn’t really sure it would all work out. I wanted peace and quiet for our week of camping, and wasn’t sure that right by the bathrooms would be a good spot for us. Thankfully, it was. It turned out to be the perfect location for us. The site was just off the lake, wide enough for our compound of tents, and had two trees perfect for my hammock. We were close enough to the bathrooms to get there quickly with the kids, but not close enough that the foot traffic bothered us. Even better, when LittleMissSunshine was bored with the days of napping and reading that the rest of us had planned, we could send her over to the playground to play with other kids without her being out of our sight for too long at a time.

But really, who wouldn’t have an amazing vacation when this was your view all day, every day?

Yes, that was our view. A full ocean/seaside experience without any of the tourists, heat or the enormous price tag.

We set up our camp with two large tents. My husband and I split a behemouth from Coleman and filled it with our double-high air mattress. In full glamping style, I covered it with sheets and blankets from home, not sleeping bags. We were here to relax, and that called for nice things. I was going to take a photo of the tent, but then the kids moved in their suitcases and made the place look like, well, as kids always make their rooms look. Not photo worthy.  The tent was massive inside, and I almost felt guilty hogging it just for the adults. Almost. One of the most glorious parts of the tent was that we were able to stand up fully inside the center of the tent. (It also held up really well to some strong storms that blew through one night and the following day of 20 mph wind gusts.) The kids had their own tent, perfect for their two folding cots. Then we set up a pop-up canopy between the two tents. I decorated with white christmas lights and these really cute garlands the kids made from cut up pool noodles. (Tutorial will be up later this week.) It made the site really cheery and fun, plus added some nice light to the site as the sun went down.

One of my favorite parts of the whole campsite–the thing that I feel like took it from campsite to vacation site–was the hammock. I picked up a cheap camping hammock on Amazon and used tree straps to hang it. It was the most used item in the whole campsite! I was constantly chasing the kids out of it so I could have a nice read (er, nap) in it. Every morning and evening both JD and LittleMissSunshine clambered up in it with me and snuggled up. Many a neighbor camper mentioned they’d wish they had one!

There was so much we’d planned on doing that just fell by the wayside. The lake was gorgeous, the water was crystal clear and such a beautiful shade of blue–and ice cold. On warm days we’d take a chair out to the beach, set it in the water, and just watch the waves roll in. Or well, the adults did. The kids ran around like monkeys on acid. Occasionally I convinced LittleMissSunshine that she wanted to just sit and enjoy the peace of the water. Never lasted long, but she did enjoy it.

We only had one major snafu the entire trip. We borrowed a very nice camping (or tailgating) grill from my parents, only to get all the way to Michigan and discover the piece that connected it to the gas tank was missing. After a 30-mile trip to the nearest Walmart we discovered the piece was not replaceable, so we ended up buying another camp stove. Still, we had wonderful meals. I learned all about dutch oven cooking (meaning I learned how to burn cinnamon rolls beyond recognition) and finally got the hang of it towards the end of the trip. I introduced my kids to the fun of camp breakfasts: bacon and pancakes on the cast iron griddle, and hot cocoa in the cool mornings. Both kids learned how to cook a little on the grill, and both learned how to wash dishes with very little water. I was very happy with my cast iron skillet/griddle combo–they were magic! We ate well, from grilled pizza to fajitas. We even had chocolate soda cake one night! Yum!

Through it all, the beauty of nature came through. We all relaxed, we realized how much we really like each other, and we unplugged. Actually, unplugging was the hardest part for most of us. Being a social media gal in a digital world, I thought I’d struggle without it. In fact, it was JD who had the worst time. But eventually he realized that he would live without internet, and became quite content just to sit and enjoy the surroundings. There were always kids nearby, and while I’m used to seeing LittleMissSunshine make friends in only a few seconds, it was a happy site to see my little Aspie doing the same thing as well. While he wouldn’t go near the sand on the playground, he had a ball talking with any kid who came within ten feet of our campground. There were many frog-catching discussions, along with forecasting the weather based on the type of clouds he observed. JD and his dad took lots of long walks together too, to enjoy the scenery. And with scenery like this, is there any doubt that he’d unplug and enjoy it?

All in all Mackinaw City was a true delight. Camp Mackinaw was the perfect place to camp. It was very well run, very well thought out. Between free mini-golf for the kids, the lake, the playgrounds and nightly hay rides, the kids always had something to do. The management had really thought things through, so there weren’t the usual hassles of animals in the trash or hanging around your campsite all night long. People were quiet at night and respectful of others. We spent a night on Mackinac Island, and while it was also beautiful, Mackinaw City had already stolen our hearts. We will definitely be going back!

One of the biggest lessons we learned on our trip? That we don’t require a lot of stuff to have a good time. Home is where the hammock is, because that is where my kids and my husband are. We travelled lightly for two weeks (despite the stuffed car) and found that when we got home, we really didn’t need all of the things we thought we “needed”.  Life is good, no matter where we are.

Here’s a few more photos from our trip:

JD kept us entertained while waiting for the ferry

LittleMissSunshine enjoying the view

The grand porch at the Grand Hotel

Mackinaw Lighthouse

My little tourist

Bikes, bikes everywhere!

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