How Long Until Camping Season?

According to all of the major weather services, this lovely Fall we’ve been experiencing here in Michigan is about to end. We’re currently under a Winter Weather Advisory, with three to eight inches of snow expected between tonight and Sunday. That makes today one of the saddest days of the year for me: The official end of camping season.

imageOkay, truthfully, we winterized our camper a couple of weeks ago, but with temperatures in the 60s, I’ve been tempted to get out one more time. If only the packing, unpacking, and planning didn’t take so long.

Speaking of planning, tomorrow’s blustery weather gives me a great excuse to start thinking about next year’s camping trips. This is where I’ll be starting my Camping Season 2016 planning:

  • Pinterest’s Camping Section: How many different ways are there to roast a marshmallow? I can spend hours looking at the clever things people have come up with for outdoor cooking and outfitting their RVs. I also spend far too much time looking at pictures of national parks and campgrounds.
  • Camping World: Who doesn’t need a new zero-gravity chair for relaxing by the campfire? I’m always amazed at the things this place sells that I didn’t know I needed–but now really, really want!
  • Families on the Road: How do families who travel the country in an RV survive? Okay, so I don’t think my family is ever destined to join their ranks, but I love to read the adventures of those who do.
  • RV Life: What’s boondocking? Why do I need a generator? A lot of the information on this site is geared toward full-time RVers, but I’ve picked up some useful tips from the pros.
  • Michigan Campgrounds & RV Parks: Where’s the best place to camp in Michigan? Since we spend a lot of time wandering around our home state, this Pure Michigan resource is a must.

So what are your favorite resources for planning next year’s camping season? How will you while away the time until it’s time to head out again?


Why I (Sort of) Love Michigan Seasons

Michigan Seasons FallMy yard is filled with mature oak trees. Several of these behemoths have trunks around which I cannot reach my arms. When we bought this property two years ago, it was these magnificent trees that sold us. The way their branches reached out and created a canopy over the backyard made the place feel like a secret garden.

But that was at the end of summer.

When that first fall arrived, we headed out into the yard to rake up the leaves. It was a wonderful day spent enjoying nature and getting some work done. At the end of the day, we felt as if we’d accomplished something as we looked out over the yard.

Until the next morning when we awoke to find that the entire yard was covered in another layer of leaves. As we looked out the windows, we couldn’t help but look up at the branches of those towering oaks. They were still full of leaves. We spent many, MANY more days raking, eventually buying a leaf blower to try to keep up.

I’ve often said that I love living in Michigan because of the distinct four seasons we get. I’ve gotten to watch those oak trees empty themselves of leaves in fall. During the winter, the trees’ bare branches provide a haunting contrast to the gray sky and falling snow. I always know spring has arrived when I see the little bursts of green in the highest-reaching branches, and by summer, our secret garden has returned.

As I stare out at the leaves piled in the yard, I have to remind myself I really do love all four season. Even fall. Sort of.

10 Reasons to Love Fall Geocaching in Michigan

The weather is cooling down fast now here in Michigan. We lit our first fire of the year in our fireplace last night. Our favorite Great Lakes beaches are emptying of tourists—and some have even gotten snow already. The trees are starting to look bare as last week’s red and yellow and orange leaves are twirling to the ground.

This is the time of year I love best because the cold gives me a good excuse to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and a book. However, with two young boys in the house, those quiet moments don’t last long.  When they need to get outside and run around, we grab our GPS device and head out treasure hunting–geocaching, that is.

A Geocache

A Geocache

If you’re not familiar with geocaching, it really is a bit like modern-day treasure hunting. Anyone with a GPS device or a smartphone with the geocaching app can login and get the coordinates to all sorts of caches across the world. Many of these caches contain just a log where you can record the fact that you found it; others contains trinkets that kids like to exchange for small items they bring along. There are even virtual caches, where there is no physical container to find—just the triumph of recording that you were there. To give you an idea of how popular this hobby has become, here’s a photo of the caches in the state of Michigan.

Geocaches in Michigan

Geocaches in Michigan

Yes, each of those little colored dots is a cache. We have a premium membership, which is well worth the $29.99/year price for the entertainment, but even without paying, there are plenty of caches to find.

Anyway, whether you’re an experienced geocacher or if this is the first time you’ve ever heard of it, here’s my top ten list of reasons why geocaching is a great fall activity for families:

  1. The whole family can participate. This is an activity that my kids love, and my husband and I enjoy it, too. The kids love the experience of finding “treasure,” while we get to take a nice walk and catch up on the events of the week. We actually manage to have *real* uninterrupted conversations while the kids are running ahead toward the cache—mostly unheard of otherwise!
  2. Geocaching teaches valuable navigation skills. I grew up learning how to find my way using maps, but the tools of navigation are much more sophisticated these days. My young sons can operate our GPS device far better than I can already. I’m sure that will come in handy someday—maybe!
  3. Geocaching is great exercise. In the pursuit of caches, we’ve clocked many, many miles—and no one complains about how far we’re walking because everyone is focused on following the coordinates and seeing what’s in the cache. The kids are active and loving it! (Oh yeah, and the adults are active, too, which is probably the bigger achievement, if I’m being honest.)
  4. Geocaching gets us outside. As I mentioned above, fall makes me want to curl up under a blanket. I could hibernate until spring, if my family would let me. However, once I’m outside smelling those leaves and feeling that cool breeze on my face, I can’t help but smile and appreciate the beauty of the season.
  5. We see places and things we’d never see otherwise. This is a big one for me. Since we started geocaching, we’ve been to so many places we otherwise never would have seen. One of our favorite unexpected finds was the Devil’s Washtub in the Keweenaw Peninsula, but we even found a couple of small parks in our own town we never knew existed.
  6. Geocaching teaches us to appreciate the journey as much as the destination. Whenever we head out geocaching, we know there’s a good chance we may not find the cache. It happens sometimes, and it can be disappointing. The best part of the adventure, though, is trying—even when we fail miserably. There’s always next time!
  7. Geocaching is a great problem-solving activity. Some caches require some ingenuity beyond just navigation. The GPS devices get us only so close to the cache; after that, we have to decode and follow clues or sometimes complete puzzles. This leads well to #3…

    Geocache Trackable

    Geocache Trackable

  8. Geocaching reinforces the value of teamwork. Our team, my family, does pretty well together. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I have been ready to give up on a cache when one of my sons stumbles (sometimes literally) on it. The boys sometimes get annoyed at each other when one finds a cache before the other, but they’ve learned that it takes all of us to be successful. Beyond our little team, we also participate in a larger network of teams, by finding “trackables” and helping them along their journey. The kids love seeing where those have been and where they go once they leave us, reinforcing that it takes many people to get something accomplished sometimes.
  9. Geocaching is an inexpensive hobby. With so many hobbies costing a fortune, it’s nice to have something we can do together that really costs very little. Sure, there’s the initial cost of a GPS device, but a smart phone works almost as well. We splurged for the $29.99/year premium membership, which gives us access to even more caches and some useful extras, but that’s not a necessity. There’s also the gas cost, but that can be managed with some planning.
  10. Fall geocaching with the family beats raking leaves any day! It’s going to snow soon enough anyway, so no one will see all those leaves we didn’t get to!

A word of warning, though: Geocaching can become addicting! Once you find that first cache, you’ll want to find the next and the next.

So much for raking!

An Epic Michigan Life: Character Profiles

Grandma pic

I got the call this past Saturday morning that my grandmother had passed away. I was actually in the car, driving from my house on the west side of Michigan to the east side, the “Thumb,” because Grandma was suffering the effects of a stroke and wasn’t likely to last much longer. When the phone rang, I knew it would be my mom, giving me the news we’d been waiting for.

Grandma died at 99. Or maybe, to be more accurate, I should say she *lived* 99 years, because she would be the first to tell you that she had lived a full life.

With family and friends together, we shared a lot of tears and memories. We talked about what we’d miss. We wouldn’t get any more of Grandma’s famous homemade yeast donuts or cinnamon bread. We’d never again be the recipients of her amazing backrubs. We’d have to find other card players to join our games of euchre.

However, what stood out throughout the conversations I had with family and friends this week wasn’t the things that we’d miss about Grandma. Instead, we talked a lot about what she’d seen in her 99 years. Although I can’t even begin to cover all the significant events of the past almost-century, here’s a handful of events (courtesy of The World Atlas, Wikipedia, and MI Legislature) that happened just here in our state of Michigan during the time my grandmother lived:

  • 1928 – Ford Rouge Plant Opened (the largest plant in the world at the time)
  • 1929 – Ambassador Bridge Connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario Opened (largest bridge in the world at the time)
  • 1941-1945 – Detroit Automakers transform into “Arsenal of Democracy”
  • 1950 – Detroit is 4th largest city in US
  • 1957 – Mackinac Bridge Opened
  • 1959 – Motown Records Founded by Barry Gordy
  • 1967 – Race Riots in Detroit Result in 43 Deaths
  • 1975 – Ore Freighter Edmund Fitzgerald Sunk in Lake Superior
  • 2002 – Jennifer Granholm Elected First Female Michigan Governor
  • 2009 – Detroit Automakers in Crisis
  • 2006-2010 – Michigan has highest unemployment rates in country
  • 2012 – General Motors reports record profits
  • 2014 – Detroit is 18th largest city in US
  • 2015 – Tourism brings about $17 billion annually into the state

I’m leaving out so much here, but the point is that a lot happens during a lifetime.

As a writer, I’m constantly trying to balance how much of a character’s history to include in a story or novel. My grandmother had a high school diploma and spent her entire life working on the family farm. She raised a family, she sewed, she baked, she drove tractors, she went to church, she hoed beans, and she milked cows. She never met Barry Gordy or Jennifer Granholm, yet I know these individuals—and so much of the events of the state, nation, and world—influenced who she was. It was all these people, places, events, and experiences that shaped her.

In order for characters to be real—to be authentic—they need to be products of their world. That takes some research and careful consideration. Sure, most of that “backstory” never has to make it into the story itself, but in order to write a believable character, those details matter.

Here are links to my favorite character profile resources. Spending time getting to know your character’s wants, needs, and wounds is always time well spent.

My grandmother lived an epic life. I can only hope that the characters I write live lives half as full.

What resources do you use to develop your character profiles?

The Up North State of Mind


The calendar in front of me says that summer officially begins on June 21st, but here in Michigan, the real start to summer has to be Memorial Day weekend. Although Mother Nature may not always be in agreement (truthfully, she’s RARELY in agreement, sending snow, rain, wind, and freezing temps for Memorial Day many years), hundreds of thousands of Michiganders greet the Memorial Day holiday with open arms, open windows, and full campers.

I remember once reading one of those “You know you’re from Michigan if…” forwarded email messages that contained the gem “You know you’re from Michigan if you go ‘Up North’ for every possible holiday.” Okay, so I’m not sure I fully agree with that, but a true Michigander would definitely head north for all the major summer holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. Since Memorial Day is the first of those holidays, the harbinger of summer after a too-long winter, the chance to escape to the Great North of Michigan is too much to resist.

I was once asked by a friend at grad school way down in Ohio just where “up north” is in Michigan. That’s a tough one to answer—even with my trusty map.

Most people would probably assume “up north” refers to the cardinal direction North, literally getting in a car and driving northward. Now, don’t get me wrong. On Memorial Day weekend, people in Michigan DEFINITELY pack their cars, load the campers, stock the boats and hit the road. If you’ve ever accidentally ended up on I75 headed north on a holiday weekend—okay, any weekend in the summer—you might think the entire population of the state is migrating northward. Every campground from West Branch northward seems to fill to capacity by Friday night, and the familiar acrid smell of campfires wafts as far away as Ohio, I’m sure. If you’re not headed north, you’re probably laughing at those who are, sitting on lawn chairs in your driveway watching the endless line of traffic, taking part in this ritual of “heading north” even without leaving your own house.
Who wouldn’t like to escape every now and then? Who wouldn’t want a little “up north” every now and then? I’m of the mindset, though, that “up north” is about something much more than a direction. For me, going up north is all about escapism—a chance to get away from the daily grind and reconnect with family, friends, nature…. Remember that old 80s’ haircut the mullet? The saying that went along with the look was something like “Business in the front; party in the back.” “Up north” for me is a lot like that haircut: Work hard down here during the week; head north to play harder during the weekend.

What’s your favorite “up north” memory—whether you’re from Michigan or not?