You guys, school has already started and I just realized that I never finished my What I Did Over Summer Vacation essay.
When last you saw us, we were departing the hectic pace of hanging out by the big lake to discover the peaceful pace of hanging out by a little lake in northern Wisconsin. Alex’s mom’s house is between those two lakes, so on our drive past, we stopped by to say hello, eat all of her food, and play with objects that were thirty years old or older.
Sam and Jack don’t normally do a lot of creating epic battles with toy soldiers, but they enthusiastically did so with Alex’s old toys.
Jack also traveled into the past via his grandma’s old-fashioned phone. (Don’t worry, she has a regular phone AND a cell phone as well.)
From there, we continued our drive north until we reached the shores of Van Vliet Lake, otherwise known as The Most Peaceful Place on All of Earth.
You know, until we arrived.
Van Vliet Lake is about 20 miles away from a small town where you can get ice cream and about 40 minutes away from a bigger town where you can get doughnuts. (This is how my family thinks about places.) The morning after we arrived, we headed to the bigger town for breakfast and to visit the local wildlife park/petting zoo, because if there is anything Team Stimey likes better than water play, it is animals.
Certain members of Team Stimey were irate about being forced to participate in an away-from-the-cabin activity (*cough*Quinn*cough*), but once we got there and discovered baby goats, everybody got on board.
Alex was still paying our entry fee when the rest of us wandered through the door into the goat yard where Jack was immediately and viciously attacked by a goat.
Seriously, that goat targeted Jack instantly upon his arrival. It tried to eat his shirt. Please note Quinn’s hand reaching in to pet the aggressor.
Those goats were probably the greatest things to ever exist. I actually think it would really behoove Team Stimey to acquire a pack (a herd? a swarm? a nibble?) of goats all for ourselves. Our grass would always be short and we could feed them our tin cans. Win win.
We could also have this ALL THE TIME.
I wanted to start our herd by smuggling this particular guy into my bag. He got all up in my space. I love him.
I believe I mentioned this on Facebook, but this goat was a total attention hog.
I don’t know what this next animal is, but Jack walked up to it and said, “Hey look, Mom, it’s you!”
Evidently I should take fewer naps around my kids. They’re starting to notice my habits.
This wildlife park/zoo had lots of really fun animals to pet. We petted pigs and skunks and opossums. Jack and Quinn also went into the bunny hutch where we discovered that some of my kids have better bunny-holding skills than other someones.
I don’t think bunnies are supposed to fold like that, Quinn.
Which rabbit would you rather be?
Next it was off to the deer enclosure where we competed with toddlers to attract some seriously overfed deer.
These deer get fed all day every day so they had little interest in us.
The deer thing was okay though because this particular place also had a budgie feeding barn. If you’ve never been to a budgie feeding barn (and you don’t find birds weird and scary what with their calm, evaluating eyes, sharp beaks, and cryptic head bobs), you should go to a budgie feeding barn. Now. Like today.
Unlike the deer, the budgies are always hungry.
I’d like you to notice Jack there in the background petting his bird. He seemed to go for quality over quantity. Sam was the opposite.
I had one little guy stay with me the whole time we were there. He was determined to get every last seed.
I wanted to stuff them in my bag with the goat. That might not have turned out well for anyone.
When we first walked in and purchased our budgie feeding sticks, Alex was all, “Pshaw, budgie feeding…pfft,” and he didn’t get a stick like he was too good for the fucking budgies in his top hat and monocle and snooty attitude.
But then a budgie landed on his shoulder and, much like his children before him, he was one hundred percent on board.
Alex bonded quickly and completely with that budgie.
Which made it even worse when Quinn stole Alex’s bird and put it on his own shoulder.
Look at Quinn’s smug little face. Needless to say, Alex was devastated.
Alex got his revenge though by paying five bucks for a giraffe-feeding experience that resulted in Quinn’s entire face getting mopped by a giraffe tongue.
I think moments like this are why people have kids.
Not all members of Team Stimey chose to feed the giraffes via the mouth to mouth option.
Who’s a good giraffe?
From there, we fed some more goats and some giant fish and then headed back to our cabin, where we took the first of very many boat rides we would take over the next few days. There is both a rowboat and a canoe at the cabin. For our first outing, we all piled into the rowboat.
One of these photos represents the end of the boat that never even thought about helping to row. Guess which one.
We came up to this lake for several years before any of our kids asked to go swimming in it. Last time we were here, that all changed. This year, Jack and Quinn were ready on Day One.
I didn’t join them because, you know, lakes. God only knows what is living down there…algae…turtles…lake monsters.
Jack upped the ante by being the first member of Team Stimey to go skinny dipping. Here is a photo of Jack in the water and Alex wringing out his swimsuit on the boat.
If lake swimming seemed unwise to me, naked lake swimming seemed worse, but who am I to stop him? (If you say “his mom,” well, you might be right.)
Sam was not interested in lake swimming, naked or otherwise, but he was super interested in rowing boats, something that I think Alex, a.k.a. the Designated Rower, has been waiting for for a decade.
You can almost read Alex’s thought bubble: “Aw, Sam is so grown up. Where did the time go?”
But the rowboat wasn’t enough. After Jack and Alex tired of boating, Sam, Quinn, and I headed back out, this time in the canoe.
I had a paddle too, but I sat in the back so Sam wouldn’t know when I was slacking. Quinn didn’t even pretend to help.
The three of us had a very good time and many adventures whilst canoeing about the lake, but the most photogenic one was when we accidentally paddled too close to a family of loons and seriously pissed off one of them. Once I saw what was happening, I made Sam row away. And I took photos while the loon strutted about back and forth in front of us.
All right, all right, we get the message, Mr. Loon.
Eventually we returned to the cabin but Sam hadn’t had enough. He dropped us off and headed out by himself, which went against every overprotective parenting instinct I have, but because he’s a teenager, he took his phone with him, so we were still able to contact him if necessary.
In retrospect, maybe it was less about getting out to canoe and more about getting away from his overprotective mom.
The next day we headed out in the boats again, but this time we took both boats out at the same time, Sam and I in the canoe and the other three in the rowboat. They were doin’ some fishin’. We were avoiding worms.
We were speedier than them too, which was fun.
While we started out in that configuration, only Sam and Alex remained in their respective boats. Eventually Jack and Quinn bailed from their boat to swim and I was transferred from the canoe to the rowboat for some reason that I don’t remember.
Maybe it was to spend time with Alex.
It sure wasn’t for the fish.
Nice catch, Alex!
The cabin we stay at when we visit here is one that Alex’s grandfather built a looooong time ago. It’s an A-frame house right on the shore of the lake and comes with the added bonus of a nearby aunt that we were able to visit.
We had a picnic with said aunt (and her husband) at an entirely different lake. She brought Yahtzee and watercolor paint and paper and…my kids set about painting their arms. Because we’re us. And we’re problematic.
I still don’t know what Jack intended, but Sam’s is his status quo art.
I did get this perfectly posed photo of my compliant children out of it though.
I still kinda love it though.
Another high point was visiting the town’s community garden, which is absolutely gorgeous.
I’m glad that our family doesn’t garden in a community setting, because our garden is not as pretty or tidy as the gardens there.
We continued our S’more in Every Hand and a Hand in Every S’more policy—wait, maybe not exactly that, but we continued to eat a lot of s’mores, these being the northern indoor s’mores.
Wherever we make them though, it’s always Alex doing the work. Clearly he loves it.
We had big plans for the following day, so we made sure to eat a big breakfast at Paul Bunyan’s which is not only awesome because of its fun statuary, but is also a Pokestop with a perpetual lure.
We go there primarily for their sugar-covered doughnuts.
But what were our big plans, you ask? Well, Team Stimey was going to go river kayaking.
What could possibly go wrong?
*another ominous pause followed by raucous laughter*
We’d found this place that would drive us and our kayaks upriver to drop us off and we would then kayak back down until we got to their landing. Alex had looked at their offerings and was all, “Ooooh, this two and a half hour option looks fun,” and I was like, “We’ll be doing the one-hour trip, thank you very much.”
Thank the good lord and his sweet baby Jesus that Alex ended up agreeing with me.
The kayak dude put Sam and Quinn in the water first, which might have been a mistake, because they were not interested in waiting for the rest of us, but I was all, “Oh, well Sam will take care of Quinn. They’ll be fine.”
It was just before the guy shoved me in the water that one of us asked how many of us were likely to capsize and he was like, “Oh, you’d have to work pretty hard to turn one of these things over.”
While I trust in Sam, I’m not a total fool, so I quickly paddled down the river to make sure he and Quinn were okay.
They were hunky dory, happy, and kayaking through a scenic vista.
Having made sure they were okay, I paddled a little bit back upriver to check on Jack and Alex. Jack was fine and paddling away although getting tired of working his arms so hard, which would become more of a problem the farther into our trip that we went.
I got very used to saying, “You’re doing great! Keep paddling! I know it’s hard! You’re doing great! You have to paddle, Jack! You’re doing great! Unless you want to live in your kayak, keep paddling! You’re doing great!”
Alex, meanwhile, was busy taking on water after grounding himself on a mid-river rock and nearly tipping over, or, as the kayak guy would have said, “working hard to capsize.”
He didn’t capsize, but he did get to sit in water for the rest of the trip.
All of this in the first five minutes.
*ominous pause followed by ominous music*
Midway through, the river opened up into a small lake where I spent a fair amount of time shouting and herding my family so that I could get a shot of all five of us.
The way I imagined this photo turning out was very different than the way it actually did. My imaginary photo involved a straight line of kayaks and a smiling family. I’m not sure why I thought we could accomplish this in tiny individual boats when we can’t even manage it standing on dry ground.
From here, Sam and Quinn took off again, but by this time I was sure they’d be fine as they had proven themselves to be excellent and responsible kayakers.
*ominous mus—oh never mind. You know.*
At some point Alex, Jack and I rounded a bend in the river to find both Sam and Quinn standing on a riverside dock with their kayaks floating nearby. Quinn was noticeably wet.
We would later find out that we were the first capsize of the season, so I guess that’s something. Evidently Sam had intentionally rammed Quinn repeatedly resulting in his overturning and proving that Sam is not to be fucking trusted. Fortunately the river wasn’t deep, they were both safe, and they had rescued the kayak. Unfortunately, the thing had filled with water and that was turning into a HUGE problem.
We spent a lot of time trying to empty the kayak, which is incredibly difficult to do, especially if you don’t want to get wet.
I don’t have a photo of the moment that Alex’s head exploded, so I drew it for you.
Eventually Quinn had to get back into a kayak partially filled with water.
In retrospect, we should have made Sam use that kayak.
Even Sam felt bad. At some point, Quinn refused to continue paddling, so Alex and I created a boat formation wherein Quinn didn’t have to paddle. We held on to each other so we were three across and we each paddled to only one side. It was onerous, but better than leaving Quinn behind and starting anew as a family of four.
Quinn wasn’t ready to admit for the record that it wasn’t the worst way to travel down a river. Also notice Jack downriver with his paddle over his head. He traveled much of the river that way.
I tell you, no five people have ever been so happy as we were to find our landing dock. We headed back to the cabin where the rest of the family decompressed and I departed for a 12-mile run into town.
Said run was hot and exhausting and I ran out of water only to come upon a park with a drinking fountain at mile eleven. But it was this:
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!
I have never been so sad in my life. This wasn’t even just a pumping water fountain. There was some sort of tank and some incredibly unclear instructions molded onto the thing and it took at least two hands to operate leaving no hands to hold my water bottle there and it was at about this point that I called Alex and asked him to pick me up.
We went out to dinner that night, which I mention only because we were sitting outside on the deck near yet another lake and I saw a shape bobbing in the water and I yelled really loudly, “HEY LOOK! A SEA LION!” and my family and every other family seated outside turned to look and because sea lions don’t live in lakes, we all realized that it was a dog playing fetch with a ball that his person kept throwing into the water.
I am maybe the most embarrassing person in the world.
We were leaving the next day, but before we did, we wanted to have our traditional lunch on the little island that Alex used to row to when he was a kid. We gathered all the food we had left, creating an absolutely ridiculous picnic lunch, and set off to the island.
Even though both Sam and Quinn claimed they were done with watercraft after the prior day’s kayaking experience, they headed out together in the canoe while, Jack, Alex, and I departed in the rowboat.
We kept Sam and Quinn in our sight though. You know. Just in case.
It was a beautiful day and it took about 20 minutes to approach the small island.
Wisconsin is pretty.
We had a delightful lunch of leftover milk, pancakes, doughnuts, corn chips, carrots, and maybe a sandwich or two.
We guarantee our kids food. We don’t guarantee them tasty or edible food.
Sam wanted to canoe back by himself, which was cool with everyone. It was a long way, but we’d be nearby and we figured it wouldn’t be a problem. Sam paddled off, we loaded the rowboat, and we eventually found him texting from his canoe.
All was well.
Alex was paddling the rowboat and we might have been chasing a bald eagle or something, so we ended up drifting off a ways. Jack and Quinn jumped in to swim and we were enjoying our leisurely return to shore.
I love how much joy Jack and Quinn get from each other. (Also, see Sam waaaaaay in the distance.)
I also enjoy how much joy *I* get from them.
Unfortunately, while all this cavorting was going on, the wind was picking up. Also unfortunately, it was blowing against where we were rowing. I started to receive ever angrier texts from Sam complaining that he couldn’t row anywhere. We were watching him struggling and started to get a little concerned. I texted him to find his way to us and I would join him in the canoe and help him get back to the cabin.
Then I wrote, “Sam’s Epic Battle Against the Wind!” into a text and he flipped the fuck out. I thought we were being funny and amused by the pickle in which we found ourselves. He, on the other hand, was merely furious.
Nonetheless, he was able to get to us and I climbed into his canoe and the two of us together were able to fight our way to the dock. It was tough going though. I can understand why he was having such a hard time by himself.
Meanwhile, Jack and Quinn were swimming back but staying near Alex’s boat for safety and Alex was working really hard all by himself to return home. Sam and I, with the two of us on an aerodynamic boat, were able to make good time and we arrived well before Alex did.
Sam went inside to curse at the boat from a distance as I watched Alex’s slow progress.
I am happy to report that he eventually arrived back to the dock.
Then we packed our car and got the fuck out of dodge. Our next stop was the Wisconsin Dells, where we would join a million other tourists participating in many activities, none of which involved piloting a watercraft.
That post is coming soon. Before Thanksgiving at least.