What do you mean “up north”?

I will never forget the conversation that I had with a friend while living in Texas during college.  We were talking about what things were like at home, what we did for fun, etc., and I mentioned that on the weekends, we often go up north.  “Up north???” she exclaimed.  “But you live in Michigan! How much more north can you go???”

With Labor Day–the unofficial end of summer–upon us, I would guess that a great number of people are heading out for one more weekend of fun and relaxation before the early mornings and late nights of the school year take over the schedule. For those of us here in southern Michigan,  this often means a trek up I-75 to some familiar turn-off that leads to a beloved piece of heaven nestled on a lake or in the woods, filled with the memories of vacations past and the hope of adventures to come.

My family loves our vacation time, so I wanted to share a list of five of our favorite places (in no particular order) to visit in our corner of “up north”:

  1. AuSable River, Oscoda:  You can canoe, kayak, or tube down the river, or just walk down to swim or hunt for river treasures.  We’ve also found some great geocaches along the way!  We love to rent from Oscoda Canoe–always a fun and friendly group.

2.  Lumberman’s Monument and Iargo Springs:  About 17 miles straight west of Oscoda you’ll find these two hidden gems.  I should qualify this by saying you have to like stairs. Lots of them.  I find it worth the work for the beautiful views, but even if stairs aren’t an option for you, the Lumberman’s Monument (part of the National Forest Service) is still a great place to walk the grounds, check out the visitors center, and learn about the history of the lumbering industry in Michigan.

3.  Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, Alpena:  This is always on the kids’ must-do list.  What better way to spend a cool or rainy day than learning about ships that have sailed the Great Lakes, particularly those that never reached their destination?  Admission is free, however donations are accepted.  Explore a replica of a Great Lakes schooner, complete with rough seas and a thunderstorm, as well as many more exhibits that give you a new respect for the sailors who lived and worked on the lakes.

4.  The Presque Isle Lighthouses:  Situated just a few miles away from each other, you can purchase a combo ticket and visit both lighthouses, including the keepers’ homes and climb to the top.  There are beautiful grounds to walk at each–and one of our favorite picnic spots down the road behind the New Presque Isle Light.  The staff at both facilities (often volunteers) are very knowledgeable about the lights, including the history and the reported hauntings (something my 11-year-old always has questions about).  When you’re visiting, be sure to grab a locally-produced Shipwreck Soda–they come in a variety of flavors, and each flavor’s bottle tells the story of a different Great Lakes shipwreck.  However, there is one that highlights a ship that is still in use–and I’ve talked with locals won’t drink that one, out of superstition. (I have to agree with that one!)

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5.  Ocqueoc Falls:  I first heard of this park while searching for waterfalls to visit in our vacation area.  What caught my attention, particularly as a physical therapist, was this YouTube video, highlighting it as the “only universally accessible waterfall in the United States.”  I have to say, it did not disappoint!  There are smooth, wide pathways from the parking lot to the falls area, and along the riverside as well.  My kids absolutely love that it’s shallow enough to play in, and you’ll usually see a line of kids taking turns jumping over the edge into a “just deep enough” area.  (In fact, this year my husband tried it and discovered that there’s a reason that just the kids were jumping–apparently adults will “bottom out”!  But perfect for the kids.)  Ocqueoc also has beautiful picnic areas, and plenty of hiking trails to enjoy.  It is part of the Michigan DNR’s state park system, so a recreation passport or day pass will be required for entry.

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I hope that you whether this weekend takes you up north, down south, anywhere in between, or just to your own backyard, you enjoy a peaceful and restful end of summer, and return refreshed and ready to take on the next season in the year and in life!

Out with the old

Anyone who’s known me for a while knows that I absolutely loved being pregnant and having my babies.  I loved all the stuff that came with them–the swings, the clothes, the cups and bottles, the strollers…oh, the strollers!  For a while there, I could–and would–tell my husband the make, model, retail price and pros and cons of every stroller we passed on the street.  I refuse to divulge how many I owned at one point–let’s just say I had one for every occasion.  To be fair, most came from resale shops or garage sales, but nonetheless it was probably excessive.

And now, with my oldest on the verge of starting middle school and my youngest heading off to kindergarten, it’s time to part with the load of baby gear that has been acquired over the past twelve years.  Now, anyone who has been through this process knows that you have to be in the right mood to do it effectively.  As I’ve gone through this process somewhat like a madwoman over the past few weeks, allow me to share a few tips that I’ve learned:

  1.  Picture your goal.  Start here, because it will keep you going when you feel like returning all your items to their previous homes once you feel overwhelmed.  Write it down, stick it on your fridge, make it your wallpaper on your phone–whatever you need to do to keep it in mind.  Are you making room for new treasures, or a freeing up a space of your own? Selling things to finance a trip or other splurge?  Or is the idea of decreasing the “stuff” enough motivation for you?  For me, it’s a combination of all of the above, with an emphasis on just having less stuff.21191300_10214439155869779_478044883_o
  2. Decide how/where you want to get rid of things–this is the part that held me back for the longest time.  Are you good with donating, or are you looking for a little cash?  Are you willing to sell to strangers, or would you prefer to find someone you know will love those tiny little Winnie the Pooh tennis shoes just as much as you did?  Donating is by far the easiest–and some tax professionals would say the best–way to part with your little ones’ leftovers.  There are tons of great charities out there to take gently used items, or with the huge reach of social media, asking your network if anyone is looking for items is a sure way to find someone to take your hand me downs.  Selling is another story.  With so many options available, you have to make decisions about how much time you want to spend versus how much money you expect to make.  Go back to your goals.  If just clearing space is key, with a little cash being a bonus, you could do well to garage sale it.  A word of caution–you have to be prepared to Let. It. Go.  You have to be okay with people asking for a lower price on that cute little Pottery Barn chair that you had your daughter’s birthday pictures taken in for the first five years.  You have to be okay with them offering what you consider an appalling price for a whole table of clothing that you know they will be attempting to resell on their own.  If you can picture yourself dragging items back into the house because you just can’t imagine them going to a stranger’s home or store, then make a different plan.  Mom to mom sales are still hugely popular, and the big benefit is that you get your items in front of a lot of people at once.  However, that also means that there’s a LOT of things for people to choose from, so to do well, you’ll need to price competitively and have nicer things to sell than your neighbors.  There is more work involved compared to a sale at home, as you spend time packing and transporting items, and there will be a fee to rent a space as well.  Online mom swap groups are also very popular–search Facebook and you can join a local group, post your items (either individually or by a “lot” of a certain size and gender), and swap for cash or other items that you need. This is a low cost, low effort way to do it, and once you’ve met a few families with kids in the sizes above or below yours, you can get into a groove of where to send/get your things.  Be aware of safety when swapping however–if meeting someone, I recommend always meeting at a police station, or another very public location, and always taking someone with you.  One last option, that is also very popular, is a consignment event (check out Just Between Friends), where you turn in your clean, organized, tagged items, and they are put into a huge public sale.  After the event, you get a percentage of which items of your have sold–typically a higher percentage if you volunteer to work part of the event.  This type of event involved a lot of prep ahead of time, but once you turn in our items, you’re done–for the cost of sharing your profits.21175684_10214443285653021_1047910982_n
  3. Set a deadline, make a plan, and go!  Keep a trash bag handy and ditch anything that is ruined as you go along.  If you are donating, drop off a load each time you have one ready, rather than making a huge pile that fills half a room and then waiting for one monumental day to make a half dozen trips.  Taking a bag or two as you go will you save space, give you a feeling of accomplishment and decrease that overwhelmed feeling.  This is like eating that elephant: one bite at a time!  If you are selling, there are obviously more steps.  Set aside time to wash, sort, and tag your items.  Check for stains and do your best to fix what you can.  If you are having a sale, take the time to make signs and advertise.  Baby items are very eye catching–make sure if you have swings, strollers, or other large items, that they can be seen as people drive by.
  4. Have a plan for what is left over.  If you donate, there shouldn’t be anything, easy enough.  If you sell at a mom to mom or consignment, there is usually an option to donate what doesn’t sell.  And if you are having your own sale, it could be as simple as what I’ve told myself–“Nothing is coming back into the house!”  Load up the car (or call for a donation pickup) and consider it gone.

“But what about my/her/his favorite _________?”  My advice is if you’re not ready, don’t do it.  If you debate for more than a few minutes, or if you find yourself picking out and returning the same book to and from the donation box, then set it aside to keep for a bit.  Search Pinterest for some great craft and keepsake ideas for your little ones’ favorite things.  Some of those baby outfits will work for her baby dolls, or I’ve seen quilts made from favorite onesies and t-shirts.  Don’t assume, however, that your grandchildren will wear and enjoy the same styles–although it can be cute to try!  (Yes, my mom brought over this little polyester number that I wore when I was little–I claim that my daughter wore it better!)716

However and whenever you choose to part with the things that remind you of the beginning of your parenting adventure, know that you removing these from your home does not remove their meaning from your heart (or their memories from your scrapbooks!).  You are just making space–both literally and figuratively–for more treasures and adventures that come with their own new memories to embrace!

Something New

I don’t know about you, but late August/early September always seems more like New Year’s to me than January 1st does.  Maybe it’s the fresh start of school, complete with blank calendars, no late homework, perfect attendance records, and straight A’s to start the year.  I find myself making resolutions (“I will shower and dry my hair every  day, even if I’m not going out”), setting goals (“If I go through one bin of kids clothes every day, I can have a clean basement by Thanksgiving!”), and writing my plans in my very fresh new planner (exercise 5:30 a.m. every day!).  So when the idea of writing a blog kept pressing on my heart, I decided there was no better time to get it up and running than in the fall–a fresh start!

So what is RF Living all about?  You saw two RF’s in my tagline–Radical Freedom and Ridiculously Full.  (I’ve since added Really Fun as well to my list.)  When I say “radical freedom”, I’m talking about not only time and financial freedom, but also about freedom to enjoy every day without the weight of guilt on you heart–mom guilt, marriage guilt, guilt over broken relationships. Even freedom in the midst of a chaotic family schedule that seems to be controlling you!  Because that’s where the Ridiculously Full comes in.  Yes, life is full.  It’s jam-packed, something in every minute of your 24 hours.  What is yours filled with?  In this blog, you’ll get a picture of what mine is filled with.  Some topics may speak to you, while others are new territory.  That’s ok.  I honestly don’t know if this will be more of a journal, a place for me to organize my thoughts, or if anyone else will read it.  But if you stop back, you’re sure to see a patchwork quilt of sorts–all kinds of individual subjects coming together into something beautiful and purposeful.  That is my hope anyway!  Welcome, and thank you for coming.