Friday, March 21, 2014

My Michigan Travel Bucket List

My family LOVES to travel - in case you haven't caught on yet from my previous posts ;-)  We especially like to spend time in California!  One of our friends made a comment once that we should try to spend more time enjoying the beauty of our home state - Michigan.  Well, he was right.  There are a lot of great things that are so easy for us to get to.  So, I started thinking about what I would regret not seeing in Michigan if we moved.  Some of these are ironically places that people from out of the state ask me about and I regretfully have no advice to give them.  Can you imagine - some people from other states want to travel all the way to Michigan to see things that I haven't even explored?!?

To start my list I figured that I better clarify that I have already been to a few places in Michigan:

And now for the places I want to visit "before I leave Michigan":
The East side of the state...  There has to be more - right?  We have been to Monster Jam in Detroit, the Detroit Zoo, and to the Hard Rock Cafe....  What else is there in Eastern Michigan?  Detroit is the motor capital of the world so there has to be more to discover!

Any other places I should consider?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My Journey: Postpartum Depression, Life Long Anxiety

This is one of the posts that I have known for a while I wanted to do.  But, it's a part of my life that I have hidden from everyone except my husband - until more recently.


This is something that I have dealt with all of my life!  I have "self-diagnosed" OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).  I have never seen a professional to get help with this.  Why should I if I can still function pretty well???  I don't lock myself in the house - nor am I afraid to be around others...  Now that I know more about this I have realized more about my life.  When I was younger my mom and I would get in arguments over her not properly storing food in the correct containers and organizing them in a way that made sense - to me....  My friends would laugh (in a fun way) at how I organized the can food in my cupboards....  I would completely loose it if my husband suggested any last minute changes to our plans!  In my head things had to be planned out days, weeks, months in advance.  Last minute suggestions to go see a movie would cause me to go find a spot where I could be alone and cry.  

I had read so much about this while I was pregnant and after I had both of my babies.  But, I have to admit that it is VERY hard to recognize it in yourself.  Really - how do you tell the difference between depression and just having a bad day (every day)?  Before kids, my husband and I devoted a ton of time to our jobs.  We both had pretty demanding positions in the companies we worked for.  Plus, with technology growing, it was hard to get away from work - even at home or on vacation!  

When my daughter (my oldest) was born there were some changes in our lives.  We had a baby to care for.  She was colicky, had issues with reflux (couldn't keep formula down), and needed to be held a LOT.  But, we loved her and loved being parents :-)  I can't explain how grateful we were (and are) for her!  I also went back to work after my 6 weeks of maternity leave.  I had time to miss her and I still felt like I had something that defined me - outside of being mom and wife.  

My daughter was 20 months old when my son was born (again - blessed to have this little man join our family).  Two weeks before my sons birth I stopped working.  So this time was very different.  Also, my son was taken from me shortly after birth due to a possible infection in his lungs.  No visits from family and happy days of holding our newborn baby 24/7.  He was in the children's hospital for a week.  I was able to see him but I needed someone to take me there the first couple of days (since I just gave birth).  Then, after I was released from the hospital, I felt like I was torn between my kiddos when I was with one but not the other.  I was lucky that my son was only there for one week and ended up being just fine!  But, it did add to my emotions at the time.  

We had two little ones that needed help with everything.  I was not working so I was mom 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Hobbies - I had none.  Who had time for hobbies when, in the past, I was working so much??  My husband and I had even joked in the past about him being the at home parent (if one of us ever was) because I wouldn't survive.  Well, joking turned into reality except I was the one staying home...

I remember nights, when my husband would get home, I would immediately put him in charge of the kids and I would go to our room to cry.  I didn't want to go out of the house - ever!  Why would I?  I never had time to safely take a shower (the babies needed to be watched), my hair was a mess, there was puke on my clothes, I was "fat"....  I would tell my husband that he could go out with his friends but then I would break down and cry when it was time for him to go - leaving me alone again with the babies.  

I flipped out on a kid (not my own) once...  Sounds bad but we had a "ding dong ditcher".  Just image all this stuff that was going on with me.  I finally get the babies to fall asleep (which was never easy) and then someone rings your doorbell!!!  Well, it was happening a lot at our house!  I now remind people all the time that a simple "kids will be kids" can turn bad because you never know what frame of mind the person "on the other side of the door" is in!

When my son was about 6 months old I decided to start a serious work-out program and controlled eating.  I spent all of my free time (after the kids were in bed) working out.  I was losing weight but it wasn't making me happy at all.  It was actually the reverse - I was more unhappy than ever.  And - that made me cry even more...

Why would I be so depressed when I had the perfect husband, the best kids in the world, the perfect life!?!?  I remember getting up early to do grocery shopping.  I always shopped on the weekend so I could leave the kids at home with my husband.  That was the ONLY time that I had to my self.  I would get a coffee and shop for 2 hours.  Just wandering around the grocery store - knowing that it was the only 2 hours I would get all week.  Then, I would get home to find that the kids still needed to be dressed and fed breakfast.  I would break down again...  Reality is, why did I expect that my husband would have had them dressed and fed?  I always did this stuff and I yelled at him for not doing it correctly when he did try!

Then, there is the pressure (brought on even more by social media) to be the perfect parent, make sure my kids were going to every cool place/activity, getting them enrolled in everything (sports, play groups, events) that is offered, ....  Add to that, when my daughter turned two I was told that she had delayed speech.  Now I had really failed as a parent!  I still don't know much that I could have done different those first two years but do you understand why I would take it personally?  So, my calendar was filled with home visits, play groups, and other programs to help get her on track.  I was also faced with multiple "grandparents" (not just mine but any stranger we'd encounter) that had advice on how my kids should be raised - as if there wasn't enough pressure.  I even had one lady chase me down at a garage sale to ask me if my son was autistic!!  All because he was upset over a piece of candy!  Don't get me wrong, I know and love some kiddos that are autistic.  But, why did this lady feel that it was okay to do that?  Especially in the middle of me dragging my son to the car while he is kicking and screaming!

Time to make a change:  

One day, after my "vacation" at the grocery store, I pulled the car off the road and just mentally broke down!  At that moment I thought the only way to end this was to die.  Yes, DIE!  I just couldn't figure out why things felt so bad when I KNEW that my life was perfect.  Why couldn't I FEEL like my life was perfect???  So, I called my doctor and set up an appointment to see him right away.  I didn't tell my husband about this until the day of the appointment.  I didn't want him to feel like he failed was a husband.  I already knew that I was feeling like I failed as a mother and wife...  FAILURE is a big thing for me!  So, I met with my doctor who right away started me on a depression and anxiety medication.  It took a few weeks to really kick in but it was worth it!

My fix (keep in mind that we are all different and you need to seek a professional to find your "fix") :
I don't remember what the name brand was called but my generic version is Venlafaxine HCL (37.5 MG twice a day).

Now, my "happy" pills have helped me in more ways than I thought possible.  I am able to enjoy my family, my life, my everything!  Don't get me wrong - I have some bad days.  But wouldn't it be weird if I didn't?  My husband started to make observations about how well I now handle last minute suggestions to see a movie or go out to eat.  And, I was fine with the kiddos tagging along!  I started taking classes to learn how to do things that I had been interested in before.  You know - to help me find a new me aside from being a mom and wife.  I finally learned how to use my sewing machine.  I took photography classes, food canning classes, cake decorating classes, .... the list goes on!

I kept this a secret for many years.  I still didn't want anyone to look at me as failing and not being able to cope.  Eventually I started opening up to others when I would see them going through what I had.  Now, I know that there are so many woman that have had the same experiences as me.  I am fine with talking about it now.  Even to blog about it for the world to know.  I am in such a better place now and I couldn't be more thankful!  Will I ever stop taking a medication for this?  Probably not.  Now I know how much this medication has helped me deal with my anxiety caused by my OCD.  I'm pretty sure that other people like the "new me" better too ;-)  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Johns Family Travel Bucket List

Bucket list, wish list, ...  whatever you want to call it.  I think it is important to have some goals to work toward.  Many of my obvious bucket list items revolve around travel.  There are so many places that I want my kids to experience.  Yes - I said my kids!  My entire travel bucket list (except one item) revolves around experiences that I want my kids to have.  Many of them are experiences I had as a child, or I missed out on, or that I have heard about as I research places and activities that might be memorable.

So, here's my current travel list:
It's hard to share a picture (that I own) of places that I want to go to but "haven't" yet.
This picture was taken when I was in 5th grade (my dad is behind me).
We were hiking at Jenny Lake (part of the Grand Tetons National Park).
  • Washington DC: The only reason this is on my bucket list is for the educational exposure for my kiddos.  This trip will be planned for a time when they are learning more about government.
  • New York City:  A must for summer (great weather to explore outside) and winter (love all the Christmas activities).
  • Bora Bora:  My only bucket list vacation outside of the United Sates.  This one is for my husband and I only - no kiddos!  I'm thinking maybe our 20th wedding anniversary.
  • Niagara Falls:  We will probably do this one the way to our summer visit to New York City.  It's not really a "must see" for me but it's on the way to New York so why not?!
  • Florida - Disney World:  Many people in our state have been here.  We always go to California so my kids have been to Disneyland a few times.  My husband and I have been to Disney World but our kids have not.  I hope to do this trip when my kiddos are a little older and can really make the most of it.  I have no desire to go twice so it will have to be perfect when we do go.
Am I missing anything that you think should be considered?  Or, have you been to any of these places and have tips to share?  I would LOVE to hear from you!!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Goodwill Donations: EASY, Tax Credit, & Supporting Your Community

I spend so much of every day thinking of ways to help others - and actually following through.  It is hard for me think back to the days that I tossed out so many things that could have benefited others!

Goodwill is an organization that is so simple to help!  For years I heard about the tax benefits of donating to Goodwill but I really had no clue how to donate.  Plus, I figured most of my "hand me downs" wouldn't be valuable to others.  I was wrong!  Here's my journey - and my hope that you too will start donating!

I mentioned that I had heard from others about the tax benefits of donating to Goodwill.  That was pretty much all I knew about the organization until 2009.  During the spring of 2009 Disney parks was offering a free one day admission to a park if you donated a day of your time to community service.  We were planning to go to Disneyland that spring and the savings for donating our time was huge!  Goodwill was one of the organizations that Disney was working with so I signed up for the Younkers Goodwill Days.

The experience I had sitting at a table, taking donations in-trade for store coupons and tax receipts, was eye opening.  First of all, I was paired with a very friendly Goodwill staff member.  During slow times she told me so much about Goodwill that I would have never guessed!  I will explain this more later in this post as my daughters Girl Scout troop just went on a tour where we saw first hand how donations are handled.

A newly remodeled store in my area.

The donation drop off is usually in the back or the side of the building.
If you can't locate the donation drop-off you can get direction from a clerk in the store.
I had to ask for help the first time I donated as the area was not as visible at the time.

Just drop off your items (clothing, books, furniture, toys, electronics, ...) and grab your tax receipt.
It's as simple as that!
What happens with that donation??  Well, at a store like the one pictured, they price most of the items and put them out for sale.  Some items will be sent to the distribution center (especially those that don't sell quickly) so they can be evaluated for other potential profit.  This could be sending it to another store (especially for clothing so people do not recognize that someone has purchased something the donor once owned), posting it for sale on eBay, posting it on, selling it in bulk, or recycling it.  

Books:  Goodwill once sold books in stores for super cheap.  They realized that repeat customers were coming in regularly to buy books.  What they found was that these customers were buying the books for pennies and then selling them on eBay for a profit!  Now, Goodwill posts many of the donated books on eBay, Amazon, and other partnered sites so the organization benefits from the profit.

This outlet center sells unsold items by the pound.  These are mostly clothes that have been on the shelf for too long.
You can dig through the bins to buy items for pennies on the dollar!
I do not have a picture of the outlet center but this is the rotation they follow for the items sold.

If the clothes go through all rotations and still have not sold...  Trash - right?
Goodwill has found a way to make money off just about everything they would have tossed in past years!

Clothing is compressed into large cubes and then sold.  I'm not sure what use a
company would have for these but they do pay for it so it's turned into money that benefits Goodwill.

They were VERY low on donations at the time of our tour in March 2014!
This is the area of the center where there would normally be large boxes piled high of items to go out to stores in the district.

EVERYTHING is recycled!  They no longer have big trash bins!
This is paper and cardboard items waiting for a buyer to pick them up.

More odd items that some company is will to pay for.
Our tour guide told us that they even have a buyer for the rubber soles on shoes.
They are turned into rubber padding/bark for playgrounds!
So, even your unmatched or super ragged shoes have a place - and a profit! is a great way to find out about larger items for sale (like furniture, bikes, ....).  This site allows you to bid on them.  The main difference from eBay is that you pick these items up at the center (versus shipping).

What is Goodwill's purpose?  They provide training, job assistance and so much more!  You can read all about it on their website.  They do get some government funding but, as I'm sure anyone familiar with this knows, it is never guaranteed and there is usually a lot of red tape to work through.  So, having other ways to fund programs allows Goodwill to continue their mission and to provide opportunities to people that don't always qualify for normal assistance.

So, donate!!!  It's great for you and for so many others!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Update: Great Wolf Lodge - Traverse City, Michigan

You may remember my Great Wolf Lodge 2012 Post.  
We have also had great experience in 2013 and 2014 too.  

This year I felt like an update was needed.   The Traverse City location has made a few modifications.  Here are some note worthy changes that we noticed during our February 2014 visit:

They have added a small bowling alley.

It's not like a normal bowling alley but still fun!

Something new for the arcade.

They no longer offer the pizza deal that we used to buy for dinner ;-(

So, we ate at the restaurant!
Fun theme, super busy the night we went, we ended up ordering pizza off the other menu....

Free balloon animals!

Story time - always fun!

This time we stayed in a kid camp room.
We have stayed in all three of the kid themed rooms and love them all!!

Cookies and milk delivered to our room!
In my 2012 post this all went terribly wrong!
But, now I know to order this when I make my reservation and confirm that I have it when we check-in!

This is new and so yummy!!!
Donuts, sandwiches, beverages, coffee!
I have been told the one in the morning can get a little crazy.

We love caricatures!  These were done on a computer so he could easy add your face to an existing drawing he had pre-drawn (and saved).  My son loved that he could be a Detroit Redwings player!  They didn't have a themed pictures that my daughter was interested in (at least not on display) so she just had a basic colored sketch done.  It was interesting but we have caricatures done often and these really didn't look anything like my kiddos....

 And from our November 2014 Visit:

They now require that you use a card (kind of like a credit card) to play most of the games.
They points are used toward the games you play.
And - you have to buy the card the first time (can use the same card to replenish).  
Junior Life Guard 

Additional fee but worth doing at least once.

Turning on the water for the park to open!
This is also a great time to save some seats since it is nearly impossible to find a seat once the park is open!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

My Journey: Migraine

Oh MIGRAINE!!!!  I remember the days when I thought it was all an imaginary thing that was really just a bad headache.  But, a few years ago I experienced my first migraine.  I am known to handle pain very well but it became very clear to me that this was not just a bad headache!  Every three weeks I would spend three straight days in bed trying to sleep and trying not to puke!

What caused it?  My doctors haven't been able to figure this out.  I had heard that migraines start in many ladies after having an epidural done during labor/child birth.  Makes sense to me since I started having them after the birth of my son (my second child and the only one I had an epidural for).  But, my doctor thought the idea was ridiculous....  So, I had a cat-scan done of my head - nothing wrong....  My doctor felt that my deep love for coffee was not a factor because there is caffeine in the medicine to help relieve migraine pain.  So, the next thought was that maybe my birth control was causing it.  I met with my OBGYN to consider other options.  Before my migraines started I was taking a name brand birth control pill.  Due to changes in my prescription insurance I was switched to a generic version.  Could that have been the cause?  Well, it was going to cost me a lot of money to switch back just to see if it was maybe the cause of my migraines.  There was also the option to try other forms of birth control.  All of them were not covered by my insurance....  So, I decided that if my birth control was the cause of my migraines there wasn't much I could do about it....  

Next step for me:  I started taking a prescription medication that would help relieve the pain when I was having a migraine.  It didn't fix the problem but it did help enough to allow me to sleep a little more comfortably.  Which is the only thing that did seem to help - just sleep for 3 straight days.  My doctor did recommend taking a preventive prescription drug on a daily basis but for some reason I didn't want to rely on another daily medication....

Okay, so I am taking my prescription pain medication every time I have my usually migraine (3 straight days every 3 weeks).  Then, I discovered I had postpartum depression (my blog post).  My doctor notified me that the migraine medication I was on could not be taken with my depression and anxiety medication that I was now going to need daily.  The migraine medication even said that taking it with depression medications could result in comma or death!!!  Since my postpartum depression and life long issues with anxiety were impacting my life daily, I decided to stop taking the migraine medication.

Fast forward a couple of years:  My migraines were pretty consistent (3 days every 3 weeks) until the summer of 2012.  My family and I went to Boston to visit my brother.  For the entire week I was there I had a really bad migraine along with some other symptoms.  When I returned home it preceded to get bad enough for me to go into the emergency room.  They gave me their "migraine cocktail" and sent me on my way.  I was like a zombie by the time I left there.  Finally able to sleep!!!!  When I asked the nurse what I should do if the migraine returned she told me that 99% of the time the migraine will not come back (well, until my next "scheduled" migraine).  I had 4 peaceful hours and then the migraine was back!!!!  It lasted 15 straight days!!!  It was time to talk to my doctor about my options.  

This time I had a different doctor who I had never really spoken to about my migraines until this 15 day experience.  Really, why should I when my only option was a pill that could cause death?!?!  I'm glad I did talk to him.  It turns out that the migraine medication that I was taking in the past wasn't an option (which I knew).  But - there were plenty of other options that could help!  I could take a migraine preventative and this time I was more than ready to try anything.  Unlike a few years prior when the thought of me relying on a daily medication was out of the question.  

I am happy to say that it worked!!!!  We had to fine tune the prescription and strength but I finally have something that works for me!

Amitriptyline Tabs (25mg) 
Notice I said "that works for me".  Everyone is different.  There are many causes for migraines.  Some can be figured out and hopefully fixed.  So far this has been my journey.  Do I still have migraines?  Yes!  But no where near as often or as bad!  I can live with it and it isn't bad enough for me to seek other treatment.  So far, this is my "fix".

Other things that I have heard work (keep in mind that everyone is different and you should consult a doctor):

  • Botox injections:  I have a relative who swears these work for her.  She has to get them every couple of months but when she keeps up with the injections she has no migraines!!!  My family doctor does not have faith in this form of treatment... But, there are many reports I have read from people who swear this was the only fix for them and that it works GREAT!!  Beware, most have found that this treatment is not covered by insurance.
  • Another friend I know has stayed away from a preventative but uses a medication to help when she is having a migraine.  She takes Sumatriptan Tablet, USP 100 mg when she is having a migraine and she swears that it is the only relief she has found.
  • Others I know have actually found what the cause of their migraine is.  Oh, how I would love to know so I could "fix it".  It's not always easy, and most I know haven't found their cause, but I strongly feel that doing something (with help from a medical professional) is better than suffering with no end in sight.

Grand Rapids, Michigan - Blandford Nature Center: The Journey of Sugar Maple Sap to Maple Syrup

Around this time a year ago my kiddos and I visited my grandparents.  They live in a small town that has Sugar Maple tress lining the streets.  I remember as a kid my grandfather hanging buckets from the trees in his yard to gather sap.  The sap would later be turned into maple syrup.  Well, during this visit my kiddos and I noticed that all the sugar maple trees in the village had buckets gathering the sap.  My grandfather explained to us that a local maple syrup company was no longer able to tap trees in an area they used in the past.  So, they went around and asked all the neighbors for permission to tap their trees.  It was amazing to see buckets, street after street, gathering sap.  While visiting my grandparents, we witnessed the company gathering the sap from the trees.  It turned out that it was the end of the season.  My grandfather told us a little about the maple syrup making process and said that some times they let people visit to see the process at work.  So, I was on a mission to find a place for my kiddos to see this the next season!

Where could a I go to have a kid-friendly, educational, maple syrup experience?  I did some research and found Blandford Nature Center.  I had been there before for another program.  I was really glad to see that they could help me with this adventure!  For those that live locally, they do have a festival that you can participate in.  We were not able to attend the festival but luckily they offered just the educational piece the weekend before.

Sugar maple trees grow in North America.

The trees are identified by the leaves (have 5 points like your hand),

The Sugar Maple leaf is on the Canadian flag.

the bark (I didn't really figure this out while there),

and the branches (branches grow in pairs across from each other called "opposite branching" - I saw a few sugar maple trees and I did not recognize this pattern).

I am clearly not a Sugar Maple tree expert when it comes to identifying them ;-)

Sugar Maple trees store sap in "pockets" under the bark.  During the right conditions (before spring) the sap starts to flow up and down the tree to "give it energy and wake it up".  We learned a lot about this during the introduction of the program (before we went outside for the hands on tour).

Most maple trees are about 40 years old and at least 12 inches in diameter before they are tapped.

The maple sap season lasts about 4-6 weeks, but the sap flows heaviest for 10-20 days.  Ideal weather  would be freezing at night at warm during the day.  Do not tap after the sap has reached the buds - it is too late.  You can tell this has happened when the buds start to open.

Measure tree to see how wide it is.  The wider the tree the more taps you can add.   There really isn't a benefit to more than 3 taps.

This is a test tree for class purposes - obviously it will not provide any sap ;-)

Drill a hole about 3/8 inches in diameter,

tap in a spile (metal spout),

and then hang a bucket to catch the dripping sap.

Large maple syrup producers now use tubes to draw the sap from the tree to the sugarhouse (where the sap is boiled down to syrup).

Put a metal cover over the bucket to keep water out (like rain water and snow).

Each hole/tap will give about 10 gallons of sap.

Approximately 40 gallons sap will provide 1 gallon finished maple syrup

Maple sap looks just like water and has a slightly sweet taste.

Tasting the sap!

The sap will be strained before boiling to get any extra things out (bugs, twigs, ...)

One of the first steps is to boil off the water.  A Hydrometer is floated in the sap to find the exact sugar content.  Coming from the tree, maple sap is about 98% water and 2% sugar.  An evaporator (made of one or more pans that sits on a firebox) is used to boil down the sap into maple syrup.

Steam from the boiling syrup escapes through a vent in the roof of the sugarhouse.  If they didn't have vent for steam to escape it would cause condensations in the house (it would start "raining" inside).

Front of Sugarhouse.

Back/side view of the sugarhouse.  The top peak is where the steam escapes from the building.

The sap becomes maple syrup when it reaches 7.5 degrees above the boiling point of water and is 67% sugar.  Then it is filtered and ready to bottle.  Take about 8 hours of boiling to turn into syrup.  Less with newer technology.

Strain again after boiling to get any other things out (like sand).

This picture shows the inside of a strain bucket, a large 40 gallon bucket (the amount of sap you start with), and a small 1 gallon bucket (the amount of syrup you get from 40 gallons of sap). 

Maple syrup has no fat or proteins but it is a good sours of calcium, iron and thiamine.

Next, it was time to learn a little history about maple syrup.

An example of an native American house.  The domed hut was better for the cold weather.

Inside:  Fire pit, cooking tools, open hole in top to let smoke out.
Of course they didn't have benches like this ;-)

An example of a way the sap was cooked in the early days.
Side note:  Did you know that cast iron usually get hot only where the food is?  You could easily touch the top of this pot but the exterior bottom (where the sap is inside) was very hot!!

Kids were responsible to gather the sap.

Native Americans made sugar rocks and pounded them into granulated/sand sugar.  These days you can fast this sugar via pure maple sugar candy - like a sugar cube but with the maple flavor.


  • Many of you know that you can tell the age of a tree if you look at the rings in the trunk (you would have to cut the tree down to see this).  But did you know that the width of each ring will tell you how good the growing conditions were for that year?  The wider the space between rings - the better the year.  If the rings are close together it show less growth for the year (a bad year).
Other things you can do at Blandford Nature Center:

Gift shop

Maple items in the gift shop.

I really liked this coloring book.  I has all the facts that we learned during our tour.

Owls outside.

Owl inside


More animals.