Tag Archives: Lake Orion

Summer (winter?) vacation – same same but different

This is for Sam, who reminded me that I haven’t posted in awhile…

We left South American winter for North American summer in mid-June for a stay at our lake house in Michigan.

Our school calendar includes only a month’s break with a new school year kicking off July 24 (tomorrow!). That meant we had to cram in a year’s worth of house maintenance and family fun into four short weeks.

Annesley perches on the wall in front of our house.

My sister, Kate, lives nearby with her family. My other sister, Megan, drove from Texas with her family and stayed with us for three weeks. (Her husband flew home for work, but he came back for a few days at the end of her visit.) My brother, Mike, stopped by Michigan with his family en route from England to their new home in Korea. And my parents roadtripped from Florida. Seventeen of us in all, including seven kids ranging in age from one to 10. We are a pretty tight-knit family, even though we migrate to various global destinations, so I was thrilled to spend this time together.

Kate’s friend, Gary, kindly and patiently staged a family photo shoot for our gang of nutballs.

As Tony said, if you want to know what our summer was like, you should read any summer blog post from the last few years. But here’s the scoop.

We have some standard summer activities…

Lake fun, of course!

Biking on the Paint Creek Trail. We almost always see a few deer.

Playing in the creek at Rochester Park.

Jack got soaked, so I gave him my sweatshirt.

Jumping on giant rubber food in the play area of the Great Lakes Crossing Outlet Mall….

… followed by lunch at the Rainforest Cafe. (I’m not really sure why we keep coming back here as there is always at least one kid who is scared to death of all the loud, animated animals. This year, it was poor little Max.)

Flare Night is a Lake Orion tradition with a fabulous party at our neighbor’s house. Unfortunately, I had to make an airport run that night to pick up Tony, who was returning from a conference. So no photos. The Fourth of July fireworks were pretty spectacular, as always. We watched from our deck after a fun day of splashing in the lake.

Other summer snapshots…

Kate’s new house features a fantastic basement playroom, where we sent the munchkins to build with legos, play Monopoly, hold nerf wars, watch movies, and whatever else kept them busy.

They also set up a badminton court in the backyard, which was a huge hit with children and adults.

Mike is always good for a little rough-housing, but he might be getting a bit old to take on all seven at the same time.

When my dad babysits, this happens.

We watched Moana a lot. Meg bought these costumes at the Dollar Store, but her kids soon fought over who got to be Maui.

Jack turned four and celebrated with a party at the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center. Everyone learned about and touched several animals, including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, a small snake, a bearded dragon, and a couple turtles.

Party highlights:
When Kate was setting up the party, her balloon bouquet escaped into the woods.

Getting out the ice cream, Summer found some tarantulas in the freezer.

The bearded dragon snacked on a crunchy beetle, and the turtles shared a worm. Yum!

The superhero masks were pretty funny.
Birthday boy, Iron Man.

The Hulk (Will) eats some pizza.

We also celebrated my parents 43rd wedding anniversary, a few weeks early.

Tony and I spent a day at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Detroit. We picked our favorite cars (1955 Corvette roadster for me; 1965 Mustang convertible for Tony), marveled at the massive old trains, strolled down memory lane at an exhibit called “Your Place in Time,” and toured the aluminum Dymaxion House.

As part of a powerful exhibit on transformative moments in U.S. history, we saw the original bus where Rosa Parks took a stand and the chair in which President Lincoln was assassinated.

In a less evocative moment, we posed with the Wienermobile.

Overall, it was same same but different … another wonderful – albeit fleeting – summer.

Summer Flashback: Flare Night and 4th of July

Flare Night at Lake Orion was quieter than usual for me this year as most of the family opted out. Tony had gone to Kansas to see his family, so Kate and her boys spent the night. We set up the road flares (without any family men to help!) and waited till 10 p.m. to light them, when the whole perimeter of the lake glowed red.





The Fourth of July was also a little different. Usually we all traipse over to the neighbor’s yard for a clear view of the fireworks, but this year the location changed and we could see most of them from our deck. Fortunately, the painters finished the exterior work in time. The whole gang came over (including our adopted siblings Mike and Chris Gray). John looped twinkly lights along the porch railing and hung my red, white and blue lanterns from India. So festive!










Summer Flashback: Kids and kayaks

A typical summer day at the lake involves pitching the little tent for shade, kayaking around the island and through the willow tree “jungle,” possibly unmooring the paddle boat for a short outing, filling the baby pool with a few inches of fresh water, loading up the picnic table with snacks and drinks, feeding the ducks, playing with the fishing pole (with a glow stick instead of a hook), swimming and splashing and otherwise scaring the fish.

We always spend at least one day raking out sea grass. Nobody wants that stuff grabbing your toes or wrapping around your thigh while you swim. It’s enough to give you nightmares!



We had LOTS of ducklings hanging around the lake this summer. Our favorite duck, Sheila, made a nest in our front yard for the second year in a row, but we were sad to hear all her eggs were broken – presumably by a neighborhood cat. Here, Paul kayaks with a mommy duck and her three babies.

Paul Chasing Ducks from Sharon Dent on Vimeo.


The kayaks were a huge hit. Kate bought two children’s kayaks, but Nico easily managed the adult kayak. Even little Paul paddled around the whole island by himself for the first time. After watching a neighbor pull a huge snapping turtle out of the lake, he far preferred kayaking over swimming!

All five nephews got together at the lake this year. Can we make that an annual event? Mike, Summer and Max visited from London, and Britt, Megan and Will popped by Michigan during their move from Korea to Texas.










All the men on the dock.

SOS – Summer of Stress

For international teachers (well, probably for ALL teachers), summer is a time to relax and recharge, catch up with friends and family, travel and/or find a little stillness. During the school year, we often daydream of lazy days by our lake, biking on the trails, kayaking, finding our zen at yoga classes, playing with the nephews, maybe roadtripping around the region, drinking quality but affordable wine, grilling and chilling, and so on.

By that definition, this summer has been the anti-summer. Sure, we did those things, but not nearly as much as we wanted to, and not nearly with the usual laid-back seasonal spirit.

Every single member of my immediate family is experiencing a major life event this summer: Meg has a 10-month-old baby and is preparing to join her husband in Korea in a couple weeks; Mike retired from the Air Force and just moved with his wife Summer to England; Kate and John have a new baby AND decided to buy my parents house and let them live in the basement apartment; and my parents are moving into the basement AND buying a winter home in Florida. Although Mike isn’t here in Michigan to share his stress in person, the rest of the gang more than made up for it. For now, Megan and her baby, Kate and her whole family, and my parents are all living in the same house. And the stress they’re feeling? I feel it, too. Sigh…

As for Tony and me, we launched a massive renovation of our lake house, which meant we were tethered to it for most of the summer. We couldn’t wander off much because the workers seemed to have hourly questions, to which our answers were usually uninformed and arbitrary but caused us to second-guess ourselves for the rest of the day. (Did we want the bedroom door to open in or out? Did we want an extra light in the hallway to avoid a dark spot? Did we want clear or frosted glass in the bathroom window?) Although we still tried to enjoy our morning coffee on the porch, the construction noise and heavy metal music blaring from the contractors’ radio drowned out the birds. (This morning’s most notable tune was “The Bitch Came Back.”) A makeshift wall separated our living space from the construction zone, but it was far from soundproof. Sometimes we had to stop ourselves mid-sentence (or mid-fight) when we realized the men on the other side of that flimsy plastic sheet could hear everything we said. Perhaps the most stress-inducing part was the mental image of winged money escaping out of our bank account and flitting away into the distance.

We know the remodeled area of our home will be wonderful when it’s finished. Going for long walks around our island in a futile attempt to relax, we have met many neighbors and made some new friends, giving us a sense of optimism about future summers here. We also know the family issues will resolve soon after everyone unpacks and life gets back to normal. Still, we can’t help having a little pity party about our lost summer, compounding our stress with the knowledge that we’re heading back to India and our jobs in just a few days.

That said, the summer wasn’t a total bust here at the lake. Looking back at my photos, I realized we had a few good times.

Flare Night
This annual event includes a big party at our neighbor’s house, followed by everyone lining their lakefront property with road flares and lighting them at 10 p.m. We shook things up a bit by adding glowsticks to the mix.





Fireworks Night
Lake Orion put on a smashing show this year! During the day, we were happy to have our usual cookout and lake time with the usual guests (geez, I didn’t take any photos of the Grays) and special visitor, Cami.










Family Tine
As always, I was super excited to spend time with my family, especially the growing gaggle of nephews.




















There is ONE big drawback to having little boys at your house all the time.

As the Summer of Stress draws to an end and as I read back over this post (and realize how whiny I sound), I must admit I feel pretty lucky. I have two days left in the States. My goal is to breathe in this fresh air, kiss and cuddle all the little people in my life, and feel grateful for summers off, no matter how chaotic they may be.

Make way for ducklings!

Jack wasn’t the only new baby at the lake this year.

When Tony and I first got back to Michigan, we spotted this duck chillin’ in one of our front-yard hosta plants.


We named her Sheila because it sounded funny when we imitated her boyfriend calling her from the lake, “Hey Sheila, c’mon, there’s a big party under the willow tree. Sheila! You used to be so fun! Now all you do is sit around on that nest all day, geez.”

We presumed Sheila was nesting, so I did a little research. I am now an expert on mallard duck nesting behaviors. For example:
* Once mama duck has found a place to nest, she typically lays one egg per day, up to about 10.
* Incubation doesn’t start until she’s done laying eggs. Who knew?
* Once the clutch is complete, incubation lasts about a month, and then all the ducklings hatch around the same time.
* When the babies arrive, mama duck leads them to water, and they all paddle off to a safe source of food.

I also read that Sheila would abandon her nest if things got a little too loud or scary, so we stressed about her for weeks. Our noisy construction project, paired with all the Fourth of July festivities, would have persuaded me to waddle away, but she stayed put.

On July 8, I woke up early and walked out to the dock, where I spotted Sheila and her little brood at the water’s edge.

Hang in there, Sheila. Don’t let those randy drakes distract you from your parenting duties.

Love it or List it … or Leave it alone?

I’m newly addicted to the HGTV show “Love It or List It.” A decorator and a Realtor face off to convince people either to remodel and stay in their home or put their house on the market and move. I love it because I’m living it.

In 2009, we bought a summer home in Michigan that had been divided into two living areas so the owner’s adult son could have his own apartment. We decided to let him stay and serve as a caretaker. For legal reasons (turns out our house isn’t ALLOWED to be a duplex), we recently asked him to move. Although we renovated “our” side of the house, we haven’t set foot in “his” side since we bought the house. Let’s just say it needed a lot of TLC. We knew we had a few options:
(1) Seal that part of the house until we could save up enough money to update and renovate.
(2) Avoid the hassle and sell the house.
(3) Give the space a facelift with a coat of paint and new carpet (even though we knew there was surely some wiring, plumbing and HVAC that was last up to code in the 1950s).
(4) Do what we always do and impulsively jump without thinking it through.

We opted for #4.

After perusing Angie’s List and contacting several contractors, we hired DA Home Improvement to tackle the job. Our plan? Rip out the downstairs kitchen and convert it into a garage. Bump out the upstairs to create a space over the new garage with a big bay window and new master bathroom. After hearing some estimates for the work, we scrapped the garage and scaled our project WAY back. Now we’re looking at a downstairs utility room and an upstairs master bedroom/bath.

Originally, we were hoping to finalize all the plans so the contractors could do the work over the winter months, communicating with us in India via email and FaceTime. However, DA said they would put two other jobs on hold to get our work done before we head back to Delhi! With only three weeks to go, we’re cautiously optimistic.

Here are some BEFORE shots.

Everything left of the tree is gutted.

The kitchen is gone.

This was a garage in our dream plan, but now it will be a utility room.

Upstairs, we’ll have a grown-up-sized bedroom. Woo hoo!

One half bath + one half bath = one master bathroom


This room was the original construction (with an outhouse in the back yard). It’s well on the way to becoming a spacious closet and bathroom.

Cross your fingers!

Rockin’ the sleep-over!

Preparing for my nephews’ first sleep-over at my house, I switched to teacher mode. At ages 3 and 5, my little love bugs have a very short attention span, so I decided to take a “learning centers” approach. I checked out 21 books from the Lake Orion library and planned corresponding activities for many of them. In addition, I had gone cuckoo-la-la at the Dollar Store, stocking my pantry with coloring books, markers, crayons, construction paper, sidewalk chalk, craft supplies, and Play-Doh. I designed a nature walk scavenger hunt and prepared some music-and-movement games. I stumbled upon the website krazydad.com, where I found and printed piles of mazes (some in dinosaur shapes!).

Unfortunately, Nico and Paul had “Superhero Letters and Numbers Day Camp” until 3:30, so we got off to a late start. We managed to cram in a lot of fun, nevertheless.

Scootered to the field and kicked the soccer ball around.

Nico’s more than a little obsessed with crayfish, so we read the book About Crustaceans: A Guide for Children (about 38 times) and then Tony and Nico rigged up a crayfish trap. Their hotdog bait lured half a dozen little bass into the trap, but alas, no crayfish wandered in.


Paul made lots of rainbow spaghetti with his Fun Factory.

Rain dampened our al fresco dinner, so we took the mac-n-cheese inside.

After reading The Rainbow Fish, we stuck colorful paper and tinfoil “scales” on paper fish and decorated foam fish with self-adhesive stripes, googly eyes and glitter glue.

Around 8 p.m., they wanted to play in the lake. So hard to say no to these guys! (They forgot swimsuits, so they swam in their underpants.)

In the morning, we visited the library to return our books, play in the puppet house and toy boat, and attend Legos at the Library.

Tonight, I had to say good-bye to Nico and Paul (and the rest of the family), but I’m so glad we had this special sleep-over before heading back to India.

America, we gonna partay like it’s your birfday!

The Fourth of July festivities are always a little crazy at our lake. I don’t mean Katy-Perry-Last-Friday-Night-crazy like Independence Day used to be in Lake Orion’s glory days. I mean we light our flares too early and incur the wrath of local residents à la 2010. Or we have a hailstorm that cancels the fireworks display à la 2011. As for 2012, well, Michigan stupidly decided to pump up the economy by legalizing more lethal fireworks for stoners with empty beer bottles to shoot at their loser friends. Which they did.

The best part of our Independence Day celebration was WHO shared it with us! All my siblings were here, as well as two very dear friends from my days at Mannheim American High School in Germany. It’s the first time Tarren, Cami and I have been together since 1998. Tarren and her husband, Jim, flew in from St. Louis, and Cami drove from Virginia with her two kiddos, Quinn (11) and Denison (7).

BTW, I am the Zombie Godmother for Quinn and Den. Cami used to call me their Fairy Godmother, but Quinn and I decided that was lame.

Isn’t it the best when you just pick up where you left off with the special people in your life? That never ceases to amaze and thrill me.

As usual, Lake Orion’s celebrations started with Flare Night the Friday before July 4th. Everyone lit road flares – at 10 p.m. sharp – around the perimeter of the lake. I had brought a bunch of bindis from India for the ladies, but when Nico saw them, he wanted one, too, and before we knew it, he had stuck them on everyone. (Disclaimer: All good photos in this post were taken by Tarren and/or Jim; crappy photos were taken by me.)
Quinn helps Nico with his bindi.






Saturday night, we played with sparklers, snappers, snakes and other low-testosterone fireworks before traipsing to our neighbor’s peninsula for the lake’s fireworks show. For the record, extra-long sparklers are an extra-bad idea.
Quinn sparkles.


Quinn, Den and Nico play with sparklers while I have a coronary.

I like this shot because I think my fear is palpable.

Love this photo!

Boaters get ready for the REAL fireworks show.

We watched from shore, and Jim got some awesome shots!


Here are some other fave photos from our big reunion:

Nico checks in with Meg’s baby, due in late September.

BFFs. Cami and Tarren.

Jim at the lakefront.

Denison kayaks.

Kate, Tarren and moi.

Quinnster chillin’.

Nico and Denison giving the ubiquitous summer signal.

Hanging out at the Dickinson Resort pool.

Family reunion! The only one missing was Meg’s husband, Britt. My brother, Mike, and his wife, Summer, visited from Belgium.


Nephew Paul and Uncle Mike wear their American Embassy School shirts.

Sophie checks out her mom’s pretty hair and baby bump.


Every day in India is an adventure of emotions. That’s not hyperbole. Some adventures are small and giggly, like riding home from a restaurant in a tuk-tuk with hot pink vinyl upholstery, disco lights and “Who Let the Dogs Out” blaring from the stereo. Some adventures are vast and spiritual, like strolling the prayer path around the Dalai Lama’s residence or standing in line with ecstatic Sikh pilgrims at the Golden Temple. Some adventures are ongoing and frustrating, like explaining to the plumber that he is nuts to think the lack of hot water is because the water has to come from far, far away and cools off along the journey (right, Nancy?). Some adventures are gut-wrenching despite their predictability, like shaking your head at tiny, dirty street children with outstretched hands. Some adventures are mesmerizing in their outlandish implausibility, like smearing psychedelic colors on your friends for Holi or watching a two-story effigy of Ravana explode in fireworks on Dussehra, or really anything that happens on any Indian holiday.

That’s all to say that Tony and I are quite content to spend a few weeks in a relative adventure-free zone. Although we love our international adventures, we also really, really, really love coming back to Michigan for summer vacation and …

… chilling on our deck, overlooking Lake Orion,

riding bikes on the myriad nature trails,

eating insane quantities of American delicacies (I had a bacon cheeseburger with avocado at this restaurant),

and hanging out with my wacky family!

So bring on summer vacation!

The Hossacks are Heeeeeere!

Our special friends Scott, Amy and Blake Hossack made their second annual pilgrimage from Canada to Lake Orion today. We taught with them in Shanghai and love them to bits. When my mom and sister visited us in Shanghai, they also got to know the fabulous Hossack family, so they joined us for a little lakeside reunion.

The Hossacks came to Michigan last summer and spent Christmas with us in Laos, so we had planned to return the favor before leaving for New Delhi. Unfortunately, I still don’t have my passport back from the Indian consulate, which means I can’t cross the border into Canada. Drat!

Despite the heat advisory, we did the usual stuff: fed the fish, waded in the lake, floated around on the raft, and took the paddle boat out for a spin. Such a nice day with such wonderful people!

The boys head out on the paddle boat.

Kate and the kids throw bread to the fish and try to attract some ducks.

Cooling off with freezy pops.

Blake and Paul play basketball with the fishnet.

Group hug!

Tony falls asleep while watching a show with Blake.