Three weeks ago, we were on our way home from Traverse City, Michigan, and what an incredibly full and fun week it was!
We spent two days driving out, stayed there for three days while Joe took part in the Samaritan Ministries International board meetings, then spent two more days driving back home again.
Four people captured photos of the week for us, and we’re so grateful, because our camera was being repaired. Laura’s photos alone numbered about a thousand!
We drove two vehicles, one a fifteen-passenger rental with two removable back seats where we put Katie’s smaller wheelchair, and the other our wheelchair minivan with Josie’s bigger wheelchair. We assigned seats strategically after much discussion.
We put together three social stories for Verity the week before we left. One was titled, “Going to Michigan,” the second, “In Michigan,” and the third, “Coming home from Michigan.” The stories prepared her for the various situations she might face and focused gently on areas we knew could be challenging for her, like keeping her shoes on during the long ride. She took to her new books right away and wanted us to read them to her over and over again.
Here are a few pages so you can see how impressively low-tech they were.
Low-tech or not, they worked wonders!
We took them with us and reminded her of them at key times. “Verity, remember? Verity will sleep in the hotel bed! Look, Verity! Here’s your hotel bed!”
She went through the week cheerfully and confidently nearly one hundred percent of the time; we were so proud of her good behavior!
We’re planning several more social story books for her now that we’ve seen how marvelously well they work for her.
Nathaniel started out the vacation week by pulling himself to standing. A few days later, he figured out the crawling thing, cut his first two teeth, started saying, “Dada” and “Mama,” and signed and said, “Ah-duh (All done)” at appropriate times–all by six and a half months. Apparently he didn’t get the memo that youngest-borns must slow down and stay babies longer!
We had to move his crib mattress to the lowest position post-haste.
One of our prerequisites for this particular trip was extra help. We were so happy to learn that my cousin’s oldest daughter Jess (who helped us paint our laundry room back in the winter time) was able to take a week off her usual job as personal aide and tutor for a young man with disabilities and help us with the child wrangling. She is just exceptional and worth every penny! We would not have managed to fit in so many adventures without her help! Thank you again, Jess!!
We left for Michigan on Sunday the seventeenth after the annual congregational meeting.
We told Josie that just for this one week, our goal would be to help her fast-forward through the boring parts (like showering), so we had more time for the fun parts! Even though it meant temporarily sacrificing a bit of her independence, she didn’t mind, because she knew the adventures she would have would be worth it!
And this girl is always up for an adventure!
What works for our family for a trip like this right now is two two-room hotel suites, one of them being handicapped-accessible. Since Samaritan pays for all the travel, lodging and meal expenses (and even offers a daily sum to reimburse child wranglers) for their board member families to be able to travel to the meeting locations twice a year, and since there are so many of us, our whole family has only participated twice in the three years Joe has been a board member. We are expensive!
And some of us are cute~
We stayed in the Pittsburgh area the first night. Jess, Laura, Jane, Josie, Verity and Ben stayed in the handicapped-accessible suite.
The children who could dress themselves had outfit rolls packed into gallon-sized ziplock bags labeled with the day of the week, as well as swim clothes and a few extra outfit rolls in their backpacks.
[What is an outfit roll? This is my typical method of organizing clothing for the eight youngest children. It only takes a few extra seconds when folding the laundry, but greatly improves logistical flow. I put an outfit together and roll it all up together. The rolls are stored in each child’s bin or other storage space, good outfits labeled with laundry marker and stored separately from play outfits. When making outfit rolls for travel, I add undergarments before rolling.]
I didn’t look through Laura’s photos until we had been home a couple of days. I found so many cute ones of this dynamic duo, far too many to use here.
Back on the road to Michigan again Monday morning.
I didn’t regret any of the time I had spent organizing the stuffing out of this trip.
For a couple of months prior, I’d been collecting suitable travel activities in a bin for the children; that was their Treasure Box. Each of the youngest eight children also had individual Treasure Bags packed with carefully-chosen items to pass the time during a long road trip. Jane was in charge of handing out the snacks. All but Katie had a water bottle as well.
James devours books. Last school year we recorded one hundred thirty-seven books on his reading list, and I know there were some we missed.
Pit stop. Joe was comforting a crying Nathaniel while I was gone. When we got home after our whole trip, we asked each other whether we had at any point driven even two hours without a stop and agreed we hadn’t. And each stop lasted at least half an hour. Slow as snails, we are.
See how much that bothers us?
I had gotten a Paint by Sticker book for Jane, and the resulting creations were really lovely.
It was late when we arrived at the Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City, but the children had been sitting for hours. Besides, we were on vacation and intended to squeeze every drop of fun out of every moment!
Very late supper and we were hungry, in spite of the copious amounts of snacks we had packed for the trip.
All our children proved to be resilient travelers. Complaints were few and far between, and they mostly came from Nathaniel every time he had to be squished back into his car seat.
“Why do you call them the monkeys?” you ask.
*heh heh heh*
It was nearly midnight when the children fell asleep.
It’s now Tuesday morning, the first of three full days here at the Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City. All the careful planning in the world doesn’t guarantee success, and I am always braced for disasters of many kinds, so I was completely unprepared for the unqualified gift that was lavished on our family over the rest of the week.
After breakfast, our little caravan headed to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
We had come prepared with documentation to acquire lifetime Access Passes for both Josie and Katie when we were at the visitor’s center. I was a bit disappointed to find out that they didn’t even ask to look at the documents I had made effort to obtain, but both girls now have passes!
I am skipping past so many photos in order to keep this moving along.
The children and I had a conference the week before traveling, and we talked over many aspects of the plans. One of them is that we have a wide range of ages, needs, and abilities in our family, so we’d take our patience along on this trip; sometimes we would need to wait our turn while someone else in the family was having fun.
Here we are stopped at an overlook on the Sleeping Bear Dunes drive, but the four younger boys were of course less interested in Looking at Something than in Doing Something…
…so on our next stop, Josie and I hung out in the air-conditioned minivan with the sleeping baby while Jess supervised Doodle and Ben in the sand near the parking lot and Joe took the two older girls and the four boys on a one-and-a-half mile hike through the dunes.
(In a rather far-fetched and surreal scenario, from my seat in the minivan I spotted one of the Sock Sisters, a mutual friend of Elizabeth DeHority, our friend who died of breast cancer more than a year ago. A Sock Sister from Florida and a Sock Sister from Pennsylvania accidentally bumping into each other in Michigan?! We now have a photo of the two of us with our six-year-old daughters with Down syndrome, just to prove it really happened.)
The boys had a grand time!
From there we rushed to meet up with some of the other Samaritan Ministries families for a quick picnic lunch, and then this is where we had to say goodbye to Joe. He headed back to the Lodge for two and a half days of board meetings, and we headed off for an afternoon with a friend we had only met once before.
If you have read this blog from the beginning, you may remember that almost six years ago, a family gave us the money for a refrigerator when our old one was leaking. This family includes a young adult woman with Down syndrome named Tracy and her mom, Pam. Well, when Pam read recently that we were headed to northern Michigan, she immediately wrote me to find out whether we were staying close to their lakeside cottage twenty minutes north of Traverse City!
She had recruited friends and family members to come help us get the most out of our visit to her gorgeous corner of the country! Pam is in the light green and Tracy is behind her wearing a yellow life jacket. Tracy won my heart immediately when we first arrived–she walked toward the van, and as soon as she caught a glimpse of Doodle, she exclaimed, “So this is the famous Verity I’ve heard so much about!”
Tracy rode with this crew.
And who should they spy…
…but the rest of us in another boat!
The view from our boat~
Hello, beautiful people!
Katie most emphatically did not approve of the life jacket, but she forgot her peeve when the speed picked up, and the wind was blowing right in her face. I wish we had a photo of her laughing with glee at that! She loved it!
Verity wasn’t crazy about the speedy part, but she kept her composure nicely throughout the adventure.
Come on, Mom! When are we going fast again!?
Of course Josie reveled in every moment and yelled during the fast parts like it was a roller coaster ride!
Back at our friends’ cottage, we feasted on the tasty spread she had prepared for us.
Tracy is one incredible young woman! Articulate and fully engaged, fun to be with, amazing me by filling in the gaps of her mom’s memory quick as a flash. She was very taken with Verity, and kept a close eye on her. The time we spent with Pam and Tracy that week was pure gold to me. I know Verity is her own person, but it did me a world of good to hear Pam say things like, “Oh, I remember when Tracy used to do this or that. She grew out of it.”
After years of just seeing photos and hearing Pam talk about Tracy, it was deeply satisfying to finally meet her in person!
Relaxing while others take their turns on the next surprise, which was…
…Sea-Doo rides, courtesy of Pam’s niece!
Most of you probably know enough about our family and about me by now to understand why I began to feel a sense of unreality envelop me. Our barefoot country kids are not exactly what you’d call jaded or spoiled. Before we bought our little pool from a neighbor last summer, our kids would fill up a couple of old fifty gallon drums if they wanted a little cold water to play in on a hot day.
I couldn’t stop grinning as I stood in Pam’s backyard, watching them.
Will somebody please pinch me? Are those really my kids zooming around this stunningly beautiful clean lake in Michigan on this breathtakingly gorgeous day?
Thank you, Pam and friends and family, for going out of your way for us.
These are the kinds of fun memories our kids will carry for a lifetime.
That night Joe read to the children for several hours. I don’t have photos of that, but here’s a glimpse of these two and their hijinks.
Stephen will turn eight in October; Verity just turned six.
The next day we decided to stay at the Lodge and take advantage of its indoor water park. Jess was an invaluable help on this day, as the children had to be accompanied by an adult. Because of Jess, nine of the children spent most of Wednesday having a blast and didn’t have to wait around for Katie-baby-Mom to get through all the time-consuming but necessary daily routines.
Josie literally having a blast under a giant thousand-gallon bucket of water~
It occurred to me that some readers may be curious about why the girls weren’t wearing more typical swimsuits, and may mistakenly conclude that we lay strict religious burdens on their backs. Actually, we let them each choose the swim clothes they preferred, and they each came up with something unique. Apparently they are free of a compelling need to “fit in;” we in turn are glad they feel that inner freedom to be confident in their choices.
Laura was Josie’s helper, and she was also the photographer, so unfortunately we don’t have any photos of Josie doing the water rides and slides. She took all of them more than once and absolutely had a ball!
Verity enjoyed herself after one of the kids ran back up to her room for her noise blocking headphones. It was pretty loud in there! She also loved the hot tub.
So did Nathaniel once he got used to it!
Meanwhile, Katie found her preferred spot and stayed there until we had to go back to our rooms and change for supper. As I stood keeping an eye on her, I happened to spot another mom of a young adult daughter with Down syndrome, and we ended up deep in conversation. She is an American believer living in France who was back in the States for a wedding. I will never forget her looking me directly in the eye at the end of our conversation and stating firmly, “You will have to be a very strong mom.”
Laura captured a whole sequence of Katie photos, and even after paring them down to my favorite shots, there were so many that I put them all in one long string below! Judging solely from facial expression, body language and audible glee, Katie enjoyed the waterpark more than any other person there that day, with Josie a close second!
That night we attended the banquet for all the Samaritan staff and board members, plus a couple of hundred Samaritan members who lived in the Traverse City area and were able to attend. It was nicely planned, and Joe and I both had several opportunities to connect with Traverse City members and/or potential members.
Our tables were back in one corner (thankfully!) near the little temporary photo booth they had set up for the kids. Needless to say, a good percentage of the photos shot that night were of our children! It definitely took the boring out of the banquet for them!
I sent Jess, Laura, and Josie back to the waterpark after the banquet, just to drain every last drop of fun out of their one final opportunity.
The other children began their game night! Which, as you may remember, is traditionally accompanied by Jelly Bellies during a Musser vacation! Which further means that the first forty-five minutes or so is spent immersed in the absorbing pleasure of Jelly Belly Trading. There weren’t any photos of this night, since Laura was at the waterpark with Josie while Joe and I tucked the younger children into bed.
But I grabbed her camera later on, when the older kids stayed up for their game night!
Whoa, Josie, that’s some bedhead you’ve got going on there, girl!
Josie the lioness at eleven-thirty pm or so!
On Tuesday, Pam had told me about a small, quiet beach a couple of miles from their cottage. It had a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk that ended very close to the water. We had made our plans to meet there on Thursday morning. We both brought all the beach gear we had, and Pam insisted on bringing lunch like the generous soul she is.
We were sorry that Jess missed this entire day, as she was sick in bed.
Also, the weather was a tad iffy, but by George, we were not letting that stop us if there were more fun experiences to be had and memories to be made!
All the beach photos were taken by Pam’s niece (niece-in-law?) Brooke, who was with Pam on Tuesday and again on Thursday with her three charming children. It was a pleasure meeting Pam’s extended family members, who were as friendly as every other Michigander we met during our stay there. Thank you, Brooke! If it hadn’t been for you, we’d have no photos of these memories!
Verity dug the sandy shore like she was born to it; Katie is in her glory in any water at any time!
Pam and I enjoyed another nice chat until the wind picked up intensity, and we knew we were in for a race against the storm.
Kids, they’re going to try to get a photo of everyone before we go.
Seeing Ben’s reaction to Kate’s splashing makes me chuckle.
A few more shots before we have to run to our vehicles!
(Yay, Verity actually smiled at the camera!) I wish each of you could meet Tracy. To know her is to love her.
Look at those storm clouds rolling across the lake toward us! Most of us ended up drenched through, eating Pam’s picnic lunch sitting on beach towels in the van before heading back to the Lodge. All part of the adventure! Thank you again for everything, Pam and Brooke!
Since Jess was still sick in bed (couldn’t take them to the waterpark), and there were twelve of us who needed showers after the beach experience, I told the children they could divide up the rest of the Jelly Bellies and play Apples to Apples. This kept them happily absorbed while everyone took turns in the showers.
Blueberry and coconut are two of Josie’s favorite flavors, which works out nicely because they aren’t generally liked by the rest of us!
A contact person from the Disability Network of Northern Michigan had emailed me information about an adaptive sailing event that happens regularly at a lake in Traverse City. After inquiring further, I signed up Josie, even though we knew it meant that she and Laura would probably miss the Samaritan supper plans and have to pick up a bite to eat on their own afterward.
Josie knew that she might have to wait a while for her turn to sail, and that there was always a possibility that the activity might have to be canceled due to weather. That afternoon, the weather was still looking so uncertain that we didn’t know for sure whether they were still going ahead with it until it was time for the girls to head out the door. We were all so thrilled to hear that Josie would get to sail!
There was a change in supper plans that night, so when it was determined that Joe would meet with other Samaritan board members and staff at a local restaurant, and the children and I would be on our own for supper (to their great relief), I cooked up a few schemes.
First, we would head over to Boardman Lake to watch Josie sail. We would find food nearby and eat it outdoors. There was a two-mile accessible trail skirting part of the lake that I hoped we could walk if we had enough time. Then we would meet Joe at an outdoor ice cream shop near the Grand Traverse Bay and take our ice cream to the beach.
I only have photos of the sailing and supper, but the rest of the plan unfolded more beautifully than I could have imagined. The weather was unbelievably balmy. After we arrived home, I looked and looked for the photos I was sure we’d taken of the children standing at the water’s edge eating their ice cream, first bathed in the glow of the sunset coming across the water and then as silhouettes against the fading light. They will remain snapshots in my memory. What a truly idyllic evening and a perfect close to our stay in Traverse City.
A few of many sailing photos, most of which Laura captured from another sailboat after an instructor kindly offered to sail her about the lake and take pictures of Josie’s adventure~
They have a small fleet of specially-adapted sailboats. Did I mention this activity is offered free of charge?
Josie’s instructor was a kindly grandpa-type gentleman who explained basic sailing to Josie and let her take over steering.
Josie’s fan club back on shore~
After flagging down a local trail-walker and asking for supper recommendations, a few of us walked across nearby railroad tracks and ordered several artisan pizzas for $7.99 each at a local brewery (everyone knows they make the best food). We were not disappointed, even the little girls and I who eat ours without cheese. It was delectable!
We went to bed that night with hearts full of happiness.
Friday morning was spent packing up to leave, but our adventures weren’t over!
My brother and sister-in-law live in Michigan with their family. Months ago, when we first heard the projected meeting place for the summer board meetings, I was especially delighted to learn that we had to pass through my brother’s town in order to reach Traverse City–very close to the date my sister-in-law was due to have twins!
We made plans to take their eight oldest children to a local indoor trampoline place for an hour and then visit their home briefly before heading to our halfway stop.
Well! Never assume. Next time, we will definitely ask whether the place is air-conditioned before making reservations from a couple of states away! It was nearly ninety degrees outside, and with a crowd of human heat machines and only a couple of large fans indoors, it had to have been close to a hundred degrees in there. Oh well! Sometimes the ideas that don’t go perfectly end up being some of the most memorable!
The kids were troopers for the most part. They got as much fun out of the experience as they could between stops to cool off and re-hydrate in front of a fan! We don’t get to see these cousins very often and it was neat to see how they had grown and matured since we last saw them two years ago.
Josie whooped and hollered; you can’t tell from the photos, but we were jumping very high with her.
These two cousins look like they could be brothers; they’re less than three months apart in age.
Our fraternal twin boys holding their week-old fraternal twin boy cousins. Peter and James will be ten years old in a few months.
So delightful to feel the precious weight of twin babies in my arms again!
[Confession: On our way out to Traverse City the previous Monday, when I found out that our highway would take us a quarter of a mile from these babies, I couldn’t resist a super-quick detour to hold them at three days old. Who knew what might happen between Monday and Friday? I couldn’t bear to miss such a golden opportunity!]
We stayed at my brother’s two hours instead of the one hour we’d planned, but it was worth it!
When we arrived at our hotel in Toledo at ten-thirty that night, the children asked, “Will we still have movie night tonight?” Of course, my dears, because we’re still on vacation, and your parents are more than slightly certifiable. I mean of course that we’re the most sensible parents in the Western Hemisphere. I couldn’t keep my eyes open for long and fell asleep to the sound of my children’s laughter. And the smell of microwave popcorn.
This was basically my view for most of the trip out and back. We hadn’t left our house too far behind when I realized that those in the big van up ahead were getting all the fun, and I was getting all the peace and quiet. That little detail worked out nicely, huh?
I think we fit two or three days’ worth of fun into every day we were gone, so when we pulled into our driveway at ten pm on Saturday night three weeks ago, it was hard to believe we had only been gone for one week.
See photo below for a pointed personal message from Joseph to his night owl family.
(So sorry, Jack; Joseph opined that putting your name with the common sense would lend it extra weight!)
After returning home, we broke a family record with Jess’s help–I put the last pile of laundry away on Monday afternoon. That’s eight days’ worth of laundry for thirteen people, plus whatever household laundry was created by those we left at home. I would have finished the task earlier if I hadn’t spent Monday morning dealing with an eleventh-hour insurance denial of one of the four duPont appointments scheduled for that upcoming Thursday.
Josie’s much-anticipated state-of-the-art gait analysis went forward that Thursday as planned, due to a disgusted staff telling us to just bring her anyway, and they would deal with insurance on their end of things. That is so duPont, going to bat for their patients.
We arrived mid-morning for Katie to be fitted in her new MAFOs. Then after lunch, Josie’s gait analysis was a two-hour plus appointment followed by a hip x-ray and an appointment with her pediatric orthopedic specialist, Dr. Miller. I appreciated how all five children–Katie, Josie, John Michael, Peter, and Nathaniel–handled that long day, and equally appreciated those who supervised the children back home.
It has been determined that Josie will benefit from surgery, so obviously we’re very excited about that! It’s on the schedule for early November, and we’ll be lining up extra home care for her during the weeks she’ll have to be home from school and off her feet while she recovers. We’re glad for her sake that the procedures Dr. Miller plans to perform will be relatively minor, not another painful bone surgery involving casts.
She took the news like a mature young woman, saying that she’s not afraid because she knows I will stay with her in the hospital the entire time. and she won’t have to go to rehab afterward. She says it will be worth it to gain more mobility and independence!!
The kids haven’t been bored for one moment since returning home. Besides more typical fun like playground fun, splashing in the pool, having friends and family over, taking walks, and Josie’s newfound loves of taking apart old electronic equipment with her brothers and running errands with her older sister Laura, the kids have gone to the creek and to a local farmer’s market, among other things.
We’ve completed the laundry room project…
May I be in the picture?
(Having fun with quotes…)
…and finally put together an impractical and therefore all the more valuable idea I’d been working on for months…a tea corner where friends can join me for tea and conversation–and music from their favorite CDs–on my weekly night off. Josie wants to dress up when she has a turn.
Opening night this week was a resounding success. (Maybe a little too successful? I need to move the clock to where I can see it in the future, haha!) I’m looking forward to many more happy hours shared here with friends. I may have trouble getting out of the house, but this pretty and peaceful spot enables me to connect with good friends (rather than folding laundry), while Joe is downstairs holding Reading Nights with the children.
There are many of you I would invite for a chat if I could.
It was inspired by my dad’s wife and her gift of many pretty things when they downsized, a friend who invited me to her home for a cozy evening, another friend who is a tea aficionado, the book, Hidden Art, and the book, Hope for the Caregiver…I’m sure there are others as well.
Maybe I’ll call it The Homely Teapot.
Last week and this, I finally got serious about organizing the books and educational activities that had been in storage during the building project and otherwise setting up for a new year of home education, Musser style.
Hello, dear old friends; I missed you so while you were indisposed.
How good it is to be home again. It didn’t feel like a letdown after the gift of that marvelous week. It was more, “How splendid to cap off a perfect trip by coming home to find all our favorite comfortable places waiting for us.”