Bayfield Thirteen

Another successful Bayfield vacation is in the books. Eight friends. Four couples. Six of us barely knew each other that first year, all of us only having one couple of friends in common. We never thought we’d make it an annual thing, but here we are, all these years later and always looking forward to doing it all over again. We remember how young our kids were when we first started vacationing together. We had to arrange for childcare while we were away back then. These days our kids are living their own lives and we talk about their college graduations, jobs and weddings. We joke about our gradually declining vision and physical ailments that come with being this age.

For the past several years, the question always seems to be, How many years have we been doing this?

We figured it out again this year. Two of us have boys whom we remember were just getting ready to start seventh grade the first year we went. I remember because Jake was leaving the Catholic school he’d attended since Kindergarten and transferring to the big, scary public middle school. He survived. I was probably more scared than he was. That was 2003. So this was our thirteenth annual trip.

We’ll ask the same question and have to figure it out again next year, I’m sure.

It’s been enough years that we now look forward to returning to familiar haunts. But we still manage to find new places to explore.

Saxon Harbor

Saxon Harbor

We still manage to find new restaurants at which to eat. We stopped on the way to Bayfield at the Anchor Bar in Superior, Wisconsin. It was dark, a bit claustrophobic, and jam-packed with old nautical decor. And the hamburgers were amazing. I tried an olive burger for the first time – a hamburger patty topped with a green olive and cream cheese spread. I’ve found my new favorite burger!

My favorite part of the vacation? I could say it was the food. All diets were off and the meals we cooked were better than anything we could have found in any old restaurant. But it wasn’t the food.

I could say it was having time to read an entire book, one that I couldn’t put down and which moved me to tears. But it wasn’t that.

It might have been the abundance of lake and beach scenery …

The lake and beaches were beautiful as usual, but they weren’t quite my most favorite part of the trip either.

There was plenty of time out on the boat, loads of time to relax, to talk and laugh together, to sit out on the deck and enjoy drinks. The ducks came to visit and we leaned over the deck railing to feed them endless bits of bread during the course of our days in Bayfield. We visited apple orchards, did a little shopping and played noisy, rambunctious card games at night. We went to Madeline Island, spent time at Tom’s Burned Down Cafe and listened to a pirate band play and laughed as they engaged with the crowd, even inserting themselves into our group photo.

But my favorite part, I think, were the morning hikes along the Brownstone Trail, which weaves its way along the Lake Superior shoreline. I needed some time away each day. I’m sure there’s a label for my kind of personality. I enjoy being social … for a while. But I also need my space. I found myself suffering from too-much-togetherness. I can’t be “on” all of the time. Those morning hikes? They saved me.


The benefit of having done this so many years together, is that we’ve established some routines. Mornings are for doing your own thing. Three of the guys go out every morning on the boat and do some serious fishing. Mark and two of the girls hit the local casino at the same time. Julie W and I? We hike the trail. Like me, Julie needs to take a daily breather from all of that structure and activity and busyness.

It’s funny. I’ve known Julie for as many years as we’ve been taking this vacation together. Outside of this vacation, I don’t see her but a handful of times during the rest of the year, and almost always only when the whole group is getting together. But she and I? We connect in Bayfield. She feels like the closest of friends, in spite of the fact that we spend time together merely a handful of times every year. I don’t know what it is about us, but we’ve discovered a connection with each other, a trust, a kindred-spirits kind of thing.

The trail is three miles, starting a few blocks away from the condos where we stay, and ending in the town of Bayfield. Every day, Julie and I would walk to town, take in the view, and walk the three miles back again. During that time, we talked. We talked about our jobs, our lives, our kids, our dreams and wishes… her new stand-up paddle board which she wants me to come try one of these days … and just everything. Some of our kids have had parallel experiences, such as the heartbreak of a broken engagement, or the struggle of being that sort-of lost middle child. We both have a somewhat creative side and I like her down-to-earth attitude. We’re both semi-serious about the way we eat and trying to stay fit. Somewhere within all of that hiking and talking, we’ve found that we encourage one another. Those morning walks? They refreshed us. Gave us the energy for a day filled with activity and for all that time we’d need to spend being “on.”

I think those hikes along those three miles of lakeshore, the stunning views, the fresh air and the chance to unwind with someone who just gets me … I think that was my favorite part. And it made everything else about the vacation so much easier to appreciate. I knew the same was true for Julie. As we hugged goodbye upon arriving back at home, she hugged me hard and thanked me for the “walks and talks.”

Year thirteen is over too soon. I’m already looking forward to fourteen.

Four Heavenly Days

Four days away from it all. Four days to spend with all of my kids and hubby and dog and … “granddog” as the kids sometimes refer to Dacotah. Four days at the cabin with the lake just outside the door. Four days of perfect cabin weather, so hot and sticky that we couldn’t stand to stay inside for any length of time. We practically lived in our swimsuits and I spent glorious hours floating in the water.

I needed it. I hadn’t fully realized what a frenzy the past couple of months have been until I had a few days to just stop. I stopped making to-do lists. I stopped worrying about my parents. They were under someone else’s watch for those few days. I stopped obsessing about all of the things that “need” to be done around the house, and about what’s happening or not happening at work. I just stopped. And relished it all.

The weather at the lake rarely seems to work in our favor. For the handful of summer days that we’re able to be there each year, luck usually hands over clouds, rain, or cool temperatures. Kacey jokes about the eternal rain cloud over McGregor, Minnesota where the cabin resides. For the past few days, though, we got our wish. We were blessed with exactly the kind of sun and heat we always hope for when at the lake. The fishing wasn’t great. Too hot, I suppose, but the guys managed to catch one walleye that was too big to keep and a good-sized sunfish that went back in the lake just as soon as it was caught.

It was Brad’s idea to have a family vacation. My outdoorsy son proposed a few days together at one of his most favorite places in the world – his grandparents’ cabin. We all requested time off from work for the same few days and kept our fingers crossed that it would all work out. And it did – so perfectly. Brad drove over from North Dakota and met the rest of us at the cabin late Friday night. Dacotah and Lucy were overjoyed at seeing each other again, their tails wagging furiously, whipping our legs, the old furniture and everything else that got in their way. After getting settled, we all claimed a place to sleep in the old cabin. There was a friendly skirmish between Brad and Kacey for the daybed in the front room. It’s the newest and most comfortable bed in the old place, which isn’t saying much since it was second-hand when it belonged to Kacey during her toddler years and only became a cabin furnishing when she got a new bedroom set.

Ultimately, Brad won the battle and Kacey settled for the back bedroom. Jake, not being picky about where he sleeps, spent the first night on an ancient daybed in an open area off the kitchen, and subsequent nights on the couch in the front room in an attempt to sleep where there might be more airflow through the open windows. Mark and I slept in his parents’ bedroom. My father-in-law’s health kept him from his beloved cabin for the last two years before his passing last December, but his presence is still tangible there. I found it rather comforting to be in the room where his work boots are still arranged neatly alongside the dresser and his bottle of cologne still sits on top.

On Saturday we left the cabin for a few hours to attend Mark’s family reunion. A cousin hosted the event at his rural home not far from the lake. It was our first time attending since the family started reuniting a few years ago, and it was a good time! Mark’s extended family isn’t vast. His dad had only two brothers, and only one of them had kids – five of ’em. During the years we’ve been married, it’s only been the occasional wedding or funeral that brought us together with Mark’s cousins, so this was a chance to spend quality time with people we don’t see often enough. It was entertaining to see which kids go with which cousins … and amazing to see the family resemblance when we discovered two Jake-look-a-likes among the second cousins. We cooed over adorable little ones who have made grandparents out of the cousins in the past few years. And good-natured jealousies flared up when a darling little eighteen month-old girl inexplicably wanted to kiss me while the girl cousins, her aunties, protested that even they, the familiar faces could rarely coax a kiss from this little beauty. I’ve got a way with the little ones, apparently! :-)

Top Gun!

Top Gun!

Both uncles passed on long before I ever knew Mark, but Auntie Florence was at the reunion. She’s nearly ninety years old and her memory is fading. But we attended the same church as she for years and she always remembers us. I’m not sure she remembers my name, but she knows my face, and my heart swelled when she squeezed my cheeks between her hands and planted a kiss on my face.

Later, there was a trap-shooting contest among the men-folk and Jake’s smile was as big as I’ve ever seen it when he proved himself the champion! He was made to promise to return next year to defend his title.

Back at the lake in the afternoon, we wasted no time finding “floaties” in the garage and diving into the lake. The surface water was steamy, but a few feet below it was cool and inviting.

Over the next few days, we allowed ourselves to sleep, to play, to eat and relax. I ran laps up and down the long driveway in the early mornings, and then came back to the cabin to make a big breakfast – with BACON even – for everyone as they were waking up.

One of the things I really love about being at the cabin is cooking and sharing meals as a family. With nowhere else to rush off to, and no obligations hanging over our heads, cooking becomes fun again. And food just tastes so much better when we’re all together, eating, talking, laughing and happy. Also? This toaster. It makes the most perfect toast ever. You can’t get ’em like this anymore. Check out that cord!


Kacey and I spent Sunday in the water. We’d be in for a while, get waterlogged and come out. Soon the heat and humidity would become too much to bear and back into the water we’d go again. The guys spent Sunday morning cutting down a dead tree, and afterwards, joined us in the water. I’m sure it felt good after all that hard work.

Monday, we took one of the old boats out on the lake. (Everything is old at the cabin, which gives it such a nostalgic feeling, and also means that when something gets broken, it’s not a great loss. There’s something to be said for making do with just enough.) The kids hooked up a tube and took turns being dragged around our bay. When they’d had enough, we loaded the dogs into the boat with us and took a cruise around the bigger lake, admiring the other cabins and homes and contemplating what it would be like to have this property, that beach, or a mansion like any of the ones we saw.

Tuesday, our final morning arrived with a thunderstorm. We lost power for a little while and I guess it all just made it easier to accept that it was our last day and it was time to go back to reality. The power eventually came back on. The rain stopped, but a fully clouded sky promised that it wouldn’t be another picture-perfect lake day anyway. We tidied up the cabin for the next visitors and loaded up the trucks to go back home again. It was hard to say goodbye to Brad, but I reminded myself to remember what a gift the last few days had been. And if we didn’t have to all go back to work and normal life and everyday routines, none of this could have felt as special as it did anyway. It was heavenly!

Cape Coral Canal Tour

Friday, February 20th was our last full day in Florida. When we awakened that morning, it was chilly! And I don’t mean “for Florida.” I mean it was cold. From what we’d heard, Cape Coral was seeing its coldest temperatures in fifty-five years!

The men folk had gone to a nearby marina earlier in the week to inquire about renting a boat. They were told that no boats would be rented out during the middle days of the week due to high winds, but they’d secured a rental for Friday. I woke up that morning thinking, “I don’t want to go out on the boat! I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go…”

But of course, it never even crossed the minds of the men folk that we might cancel our boat rental. Before I coaxed myself out of bed for the day, I could hear Paul and Steve in the kitchen, making coffee and preparing to go claim our boat for the day. Once I’d showered, I descended the spiral staircase from the upper level of the house dressed in jeans, t-shirt, hoodie … and socks for the first time all week. And there was Paul, standing at the kitchen island in a pair of cargo shorts and a nylon pullover, sipping on his coffee and studying local maps.

“We’re still going?” I asked.

“Absolutely!” he replied. He didn’t have to add, but I knew he was thinking, “We’re Minnesotans. And this is not real cold.” I don’t think I’m a true Minnesotan at heart. I was cold.

I poured myself a cup of coffee, hoping the heat of it would prepare me our day out on the canals of Cape Coral. Megan soon joined us in the kitchen and the three guys left to go claim their boat, promising to pull up in front of our (newly repaired) dock to pick up us girls.

During the short time the guys were gone, I realized there was food to be used up before we left for home again the next day. So I took to scrambling eggs, cooking the remaining breakfast sausage and reheating leftover pancakes from the previous day’s breakfast. Dori wandered into the kitchen and sat at the huge island while I cooked and we ate and waited for the guys to return. And soon, they did. They tied the boat up to the dock and came across the patio into the kitchen, telling tales while they downed their own breakfasts, about how the marina workers hadn’t put the boat in the water before they’d arrived. They didn’t think we’d really still be going out on such a cold day. The guys gave them all of their boastful we are Minnesotan lines and so the boat was put into the water and released to us for the day.

When everyone had eaten some breakfast, we packed up a cooler with some drinks and bagged some snacks for our day on the water. Megan borrowed some blankets she found in various closets around our rental house and I slipped my jean jacket on over my other layers. The boat awaited us and so we all piled in.

Even though the air was cool, the sky above us was clear and blue. Rays of sunshine danced on the surface of the water as we putted up and down the neighborhood canals. And as long as we weren’t facing the wind, the weather actually didn’t feel too bad. As the hours passed, the temperature rose to a more comfortable sixty degree range and I realized I was really glad we hadn’t cancelled our boat day. There was plenty to see – the usual birds and the flying fish, some of the rowers we’d been watching all week long, not to mention the homes, properties and boats that left us with our mouths gaping open.

Steve was dressed appropriately.

Steve was dressed appropriately.

By the time we’d passed through the lock and ventured out into the gulf, I was able to shed my jackets, shoes and socks. I rolled up my jeans and let the warmth of the sun soak into my skin. The music was turned up and everyone was having a good time, laughing, relaxing and admiring the scenery around us.

Canals 22

Mark being silly with Dori








We saw a handful of dolphins – or more accurately – we saw their fins. None of them gave us the full show, but still, it was a thrill to see them.

Canals 14b

There was a curious floating building. (A bar? Maybe?)

Canals 16b


There were the ever-present pelicans and just beautiful views.

When it was time to return the boat, I found myself thinking how glad I was that the guys had insisted we go out on such a “cold” day. It was an amazing way to end our week in Florida. From the marina after handing off the boat, we walked to a nearby bar and enjoyed some frozen fruity drinks out on a sunny patio before going out for our last dinner in Florida. (I had king crab legs. YUM!)

Even though home was calling to me, I knew I’d always remember this week in Florida as a special time with great friends, loads of fun, beautiful scenery, and a much-appreciated break from the Minnesota winter.

Florida 2015 06b

Thank you, Florida! We’ll miss you! Hope to see you again sometime soon!

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

After departing from the Naples Pier, we weren’t sure what to do next in order to kill off a few hours. And even though three of us were searching our smart phones for tourist attractions, no one was really offering up much in the way of suggestions. Truth be told, Mark was probably just playing Bejeweled and only pretending to the search for fun, entertainment, or education.

By the way, it occurs to me that this ongoing litany of sight-seeing experiences and typical touristy photos is maybe becoming slightly boring and doesn’t really describe the level of fun that was had in addition to the expected activities in Florida. But there is no photographic evidence of such things as Dori executing beautiful dives into the pool. In her strapless swimsuit. With me wondering out loud how her top stayed up when she did that. And her breaking the surface of the water again, laughing and shouting, “It doesn’t!”

Or on our last night, Paul and Steve, two fifty-something men chasing my husband throughout the main level of our rental home like a bunch of little boys. Attempting to catch him and throw him into the pool. Because he was the only one of the six of us who had not jumped into the cold water the entire week we were there. They didn’t catch him. He’s apparently faster than the other two. He never did end up in the pool, but the three of them were giggling like little girls by the time it was all over.

Or any number of us, upon losing a game of pool, kneeling at the opposite end of the pool table from the winner(s), howling and barking like dogs. Because howling and barking like dogs was the consequence of losing a game of pool.

Or Steve standing up on the bedroom balcony in his swimsuit and Megan’s bra. (Actually, there is a picture of that, but he would never forgive me if it made the internet!)

Instead … I give you pictures from the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, which is where we ended up after leaving the Naples Pier. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is two and a half miles of boardwalk weaving through a swamp filled with massive trees, impressive plant-life, and a host of birds and other creatures. And my first impression as we began our trek through the swamp amongst a steady stream of other visitors? Was camera envy. Some of the zoom lenses around me were enormous! My biggest lens didn’t even compare. Still, I wouldn’t have wanted to lug around ten or twenty pounds of camera and lenses, and I got some decent pictures in spite of my amateurish equipment.

In the sanctuary, we were protected from the wind and chill. We enjoyed our stroll amongst huge, hundreds year-old trees, with sunshine warming us from above. We searched below the boardwalk for a glimpse of a gator … and finally spotted a few of them, one sunning himself nicely in view on a log. By the time we’d reached the end of the trail, Steve and Dori were done golfing and ready for us to come pick them up. It was a good day of sight-seeing. And Steve’s famous Thai shrimp pasta dinner awaited us back at the house.

Naples Pier

On Wednesday in Florida, the temperatures took a little dip. Hanging out by the pool didn’t sound so appealing. Steve and Dori had made plans to go golfing with a friend of theirs who lives in Florida over the winter months, so we all piled into the mini-van to deliver them to the golf course. Once we’d dumped off Steve and Dori at the course, Paul, Megan, Mark and I headed for the Naples Pier.

Megan searched directions on her phone and got the GPS set up to take us to our destination. Thanks to a slight typo, we first ended up in a mobile home community with no body of water in sight. We all had a good laugh, and caught some odd stares from a few residents as we pulled over and Megan searched for the appropriate address and corrected her GPS. Soon we were cruising the streets of Naples, Florida. (And what a beautiful place it is!)

We spotted the pier and found visitor parking nearby. As the four of us spilled out of the mini-van, we pulled on extra jackets and sweatshirts. The sun was bright and the sky was clear, but there was a good wind and a slight chill in the air. It was only a short walk to the pier entrance and the closer we got to the water, the stronger the wind felt. We stepped onto the pier and began to walk toward the far end along with many other visitors. The waves rolling in onto the beach were much higher and faster than the ones we’d seen the day before at Lover’s Key and we were impressed to see a surfer out in the cold water!

When we’d reached the far end of the pier, there were a variety of birds to entertain us. I don’t know most of their names, but they were very tame and fun to watch. I’m sure many of them were hoping to catch a few crumbs of food from one of the human visitors on the pier.

I noticed something pink seemed to be stuck to the pelican and wondered out loud what it was. Paul said it looked like a fishing lure was stuck in its neck. Poor thing!

We did our best to document in pictures our visit to the pier, but I was finding it hard to maintain any sort of photographic pose thanks to the cold wind and my chattering teeth. (Yes, I know I’m being a bit dramatic, but I’d traveled to Florida with plans to dress in shorts and t-shirts every day. My body could not seem to acclimate to weather that required long pants and layers of clothing!)

Naples Pier4We’d spent maybe a grand total of ten minutes on the pier when we all agreed it was just too cold and windy to enjoy it. The view inland from the end of the pier showed just how strong the winds were that day. It was a beautiful place and on a warmer day, we’d probably have stayed longer and wandered up and down the beach.

Naples Pier10Naples Pier15As we strolled back to the pier entrance and made our way back to the parking lot, we all wondered, “What now?” Steve and Dori were planning to golf eighteen holes and would be nowhere near ready yet for us to come pick them up. Back at the van, Paul got behind the wheel while the rest of us pulled out our phones and began searching for another way to spend a few hours.



Lover’s Key

The weather on Sunday and Monday of our vacation week seemed to be as close to pool weather as we were likely to get. We spent those days in our swimsuits, lounging poolside or soaking in the hot tub, enjoying a few beverages …

By Tuesday, we decided it was time to leave our rental house and go see something new and different. Megan wanted to go to Lover’s Key State Park, so we all piled into our rented mini-van for a day trip to the beach.

One thing I’ve noticed about Florida – and I realize this is probably a seasonal thing – but it seems to take for-ev-errr to get anywhere. Or back home again. People are out and about, driving everywhere at all hours of the day. The eighteen mile drive through Fort Myers Beach to Lover’s Key took at least an hour. The drive back again took even longer!

But I will admit that it was worth the time in the car. There was plenty of parking at Lover’s Key and it was only a short walk from the parking lot to the beach. We walked across the footbridge and stepped onto an immense carpet of soft, white sand. A constant breeze whipped the hair back from my face and ocean waves rolled and lapped steadily up on the beach.

Lovers Key1

Lovers Key6

A few of us took a quick dip in the water – it was too cool to stay in for long. We noticed someone fishing down the beach from where we had settled our towels on the sand. A crowd was beginning to gather. The rest of my crew went to investigate.

Lovers Key2While they were watching a fisherman try to figure out how to unhook a stingray, I was entertained by a pelican.

Lovers Key4

Lovers Key5I’m sure to Floridians, pelicans are as common a sight as robins and squirrels are to Minnesotans. I’ve seen white pelicans a time or two in Minnesota, but Florida’s brown pelicans were a constant fascination for me, the way their colors fan out when their wings are spread, the way they glide through the air and spot food under the surface of the water, swooping down to scoop up their prey. SO cool!

When the others came back from the stingray show, the guys took a walk down toward the other end of the beach. We girls sat in the sunshine, people-watching, (and learned you don’t have to have a bikini body to sport a bikini, nor a Speedo body to sport a Speedo!) A few brave kids romped in the water, but we were content to sit on the warm sand and just take in our surroundings.

Lovers Key3Eventually, clouds floated in front of the sun and stole the warmth we’d been enjoying. It was time to make our exodus from the beach and get some Mexican food!




Dropping in Unexpectedly

I managed to transfer photos from my camera – in a round-about way – so it’s on with the Florida stories!

My vacation started off with an adventure I won’t care to repeat anytime soon. We’d awakened to our first morning in the beautiful rental home that was ours for the week. Steve proved to be the early riser and had a pot of coffee going by the time the rest of us arose to greet the day. The girls – Megan and Dori and I were still in our pajamas and were enjoying a lazy start to the day and a cup of coffee each. The sun and blue sky outside looked so inviting, we decided to venture out by the pool.

Canal View

We soon learned that the canal behind our house would be a constant source of entertainment. Boats constantly puttered back and forth along the waterway. And some serious rowers put in some serious practice every day, paddling by with impressive speed. On that first morning, we decided to stroll out on the dock to get a closer look up and down the canal. I was walking barefoot behind Megan and Dori when all of a sudden …


I wasn’t immediately sure what had happened, but I soon found myself up to hip with my left leg dangling below the dock. I was freaked out by the thought of dropping in all the way through to the canal waters, and quickly scrambled out of the hole and back to safety off the dock. Megan and Dori were shocked. None of us had any clue when we’d gone out there that some of the wood boards were rotted out. And apparently I didn’t scream as I fell through. I only exclaimed, “Oh my god, you guys” as I pulled myself back up. Didn’t even lose my coffee cup in the process! And I have several impressive bruises to show for my experience.


The handyman we’d met when we vacationed in Florida last year, Tony came by to check us in again this year and show us how to manage the pool and hot tub controls before our week really got underway. When he did, I pointed out the place where I’d fallen through the dock. He was respectably alarmed by what I’d told him and returned the next day to replace several boards on the dock.

Even though the dock was repaired, I kept my distance for the remainder of the week. And thankfully, there were much better and fun adventures ahead!