Enjoying weekend day trips: Frederik Meijer Gardens & Silver Beach

We’ve squeezed a lot of fun into the last week or so, including some things I didn’t photograph well or at all, so they didn’t get any air time. Last week Monday we were lucky enough to crash a Brendan James private house show. He and his band play tiny shows at people’s homes between their venue shows while on tour, and there happened to be one about 30 minutes from here. Despite never having met the homeowners or anyone else at the show (well, except for Brendan), we were allowed to attend and ended up with front-row outdoor couch seats, which was amazing. It was definitely one of the best live music experiences I’ve had.

The next night was the 4th of July, and while I feel kind of “meh” about the celebration of genocide and slavery that underpin the origins of the country, I love fireworks in a big way. I even love neighborhood fireworks, even on random summer nights, and yes, even when my kids are sleeping. I love them because when I was a kid, “big” fireworks weren’t legal in Michigan (that has since changed and grouchy people hate it), but every year my dad would go to a particular liquor store over in the neighborhood where his office used to be, and he would buy illegal fireworks from Indiana that they secretly sold in the back room. Sure, we spent some 4th of July nights in South Haven watching the official fireworks over Lake Michigan, but most of my 4th memories are of amateur fireworks shows put on by my dad in the elementary school parking lot across from our house. This year I wanted to take the kids to the lake (because it really is fun to be there with tons of people and glow necklaces and all of that energy, and to see the show over the lake) but ultimately we decided that it was going to be a hassle, and we were talked into heading to a church parking lot where the country club fireworks are visible across the road. It was actually a lot of fun, and my dad even came through with a few rockets and roman candles of his own. Every kid there was crowded around him, and our kids seemed to love it.

This weekend we ended up taking a couple of unplanned day trips that turned out to be absolutely lovely. On Saturday we checked out the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids. We’d been told that they have a really nice children’s garden, but it absolutely exceeded my expectations. The boys loved the Great Lakes water tables with boats, Vivi would have played in a little fountain all day, and they went wild in an amazing treehouse structure that made me think of Swiss Family Robinson (although I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually read or seen that, so that association may be misguided).

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There was a lovely old barn in the farm garden, and naturally Vivienne wanted to climb the ladder up to a beam. There weren’t a lot of people around and we didn’t see a sign that told us explicitly not to climb it (although I’m guessing that wasn’t their aim), so we let her go. She’s always been such a climber, so nimble and fearless, and she scrambled right to the top.

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A family came through and seemed surprised to see such a tiny person up there. We mentioned how fearless she is, and they said something along the lines of, “Watch out when she’s a teenager!” We’ve heard that before, but this time when the family walked away Kristin pointed out that no one would ever say that about a little boy at the top of a ladder. I love how brave she is. So brave, in fact, that when we asked Jonah if he wanted to climb, he asked Vivi if she would rub her head against his so that he could have some of her bravery (they did it, but I didn’t get a photo – it was adorable though). He only made it up one or two rungs before he was too afraid, but Vivi did it three or four times, slapping the beam at the top each time to make her success known.

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On Sunday the day was actually off to a rough start; we have a tendency to keep the kids out late in pursuit of these adventures, and then we act surprised the next day when their behavior is out of control. Kristin took the twins to see some live music at a park while I went grocery shopping with Jonah who hadn’t exactly earned the field trip. In the late afternoon however, when I was feeling grouchy and sad about the way the day was unfolding, K convinced me to pack everyone up and drive to St. Joseph (about an hour away) to the beach and the splash pad. It completely turned the day around for me.

I expected the kids to be super into the splash pad since they’d loved the fountain the previous day, but they were a little tentative. Only Vivienne really got into it, although she tried hard to physically move Jude towards the water.

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See the photo above? Every so often, the vertical spouts shut off and all of the kids (and some adults) run into the center of the fountain to wait for giant water cannons to shoot into the middle. That’s what’s happening in the photo above. There’s so much water that you can hardly see the big group of people standing in the center. The first time it happened, Vivi and Jude and Jonah just stood back and watched, but the second time Vivi ran to the center to join everyone. Except that I don’t think she really knew what was going to happen, and as soon as the water rained down on her she began to sob hysterically, but didn’t know how to get out. Kristin the hero ran into the downpour fully clothed and carried her out.

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Believe it or not she wanted to keep playing for a few minutes after that, but before long we headed to the beach for some playground time.

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We aren’t big beach people really, because none of us love getting a lot of sun (hence the 6:00 p.m. trip to the beach), but we went in Charleston in April and we went to Lake Michigan last summer when my sister and the kids were in town, but this is really the first time I’ve seen the kids enjoy the beach in this way. Jude would have thrown handfuls of wet sand into the lake all night long. Vivi loved wading into the water again and again, and Jonah just seemed to take it all in, alternately playing in the sand, dipping his toes into the water, and climbing the lifeguard stand.

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Jude actually fell from that lifeguard stand after making it up another rung or two, which was pretty scary, but luckily he was OK. We all headed towards the bluff for pizza and made it a very late but beautiful evening. Jonah asked if next time we could go to “the beach with the pink house” (North Beach in South Haven) so I’m sure that’s coming up for a future weekend.

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