Days 6 &7

We’re home!!! Well, sort of. On day 6 we set out to return home to the good ol’ USA. We packed up camp, getting pretty efficient at it now, and hit the road headed toward New York. The drive was quiet and easy as we approached the border. After the debacle that was getting into Canada, I was a bit nervous about getting back into the states. There was no hour wait this time as the border crossing in Champlain, New York is not nearly as busy as the one in Michigan. In fact, they only had two lanes open for cars and we were second in line at either of them when we arrived.

The US Border agent was not nearly as grumpy as the Canadian one a few days before. He asked for our paperwork and asked the usual questions about where we’ve been and where we were going… and that was it. “Have a good trip,” and we were on our way, back on US soil. There was no complicated app, no proof of vaccination, no proof of rabies vaccines for the dogs. It was easy and fast and now that we are back in the states my resting heart rate is sure to be much lower, along with the gas prices. (seriously, Americans are complaining about gas prices, maybe for good reason, but t’s nothing like Canada or Europe for that matter so everyone relax and maybe bike to work one day)

About twenty minutes later we pulled into Cumberland Bay State Park in Plattsburgh, New York. Check-in was smooth, they asked for rabies vaccine proof for the dogs, which was unexpected, but we had them and were prepared for that situation so no worries. This site was the most rustic that we will stay at all trip. It was electric only and a back-in site as well. So we stopped at the dump station and filled up our fresh water tank, then found the site and backed right in. I say it’s the most rustic due to the lack of amenities at the site, but this site and the campground were amazing! The sites were really big, with lots of mature pine trees. The electric sites were all located in one loop that was right on Lake Champlain. The views, especially on Wednesday and Thursday when there was no one else around, were fantastic. This campground also had brand new showers and bathrooms, including a laundry area. It had brand new playground equipment and a beach shower for your feet or body if you decided to swim. It was great. We definitely recommend staying there if you’re ever in the Plattsburgh area.

Lake Champlain from the campground

We unpacked and headed to the store. Walmart was only 15 minutes away so we stocked up on food for the next few days and also got the kids some toys/things to do since we knew day 3 at this site was a work day for my wife. We stopped at Texas Roadhouse for dinner, our first really big dine-out experience of the trip, and then back to camp for bed.

Day 7 was cloudy and cool, but no rain. This was Ausable Chasm day so we hit the road around 10:00 after we had breakfast. Ausable Chasm is about 30 minutes from our campground and when we arrived we legit thought it was closed because the parking lots were empty. Nope, it was open, there just wasn’t any crowd because it was a Thursday and schools had not ended yet. In fact, as we were checking in there was a field trip that arrived that the staff encouraged us to go ahead of, which we gladly did.

We paid for our hike and float passes and started up the trail. The trail leads you under an overpass and then up and across that overpass that leads over the chasm. I don’t like heights so walking across this bridge was a bit unsettling. My kids of course wanted to hang on the railings and look straight down so dad would have a heart attack. Surprisingly this also startled my wife, who in her day was quite the adventurer herself, and we quickly made rules about staying away from edges and cliffs and whatnot.

The bridge of death

From the bridge, the trails starts to wind down the side of the chasm. There are railings and nothing ever feels too dangerous, but our youngest was quite content to stay with dad as we walked along the edges. The hike down the chasm to the rafts takes about 30 minutes or so depending on how much you stop to enjoy the views. It was really incredible and worth the nerves that come for those who also don’t like heights. Once at the raft station, you cross the chasm on a footbridge and staff members get you fitted in life jackets. We loaded into the raft and off we went down the Ausable River.

There are two sets of rapids that your raft down. The water level was down when we were there so they were barely a Class 1. Our guide did say that at times of high water they become Class 2-3, so if it’s been raining be prepared. For our little ones up front, the small rapids were enough. They had fun and got splashed but were never scared. The rest of the float is nice and slow as you take in the chasm walls all around you. Our guide Brooke did an excellent job talking about the chasm and how it formed and answered all of our kid’s weird questions. At the end of the float you wait for a bus to take you back to the welcome center where, if you’re like us, you can spend an insane amount of money on souvenirs.

Rafting down the Chasm

We packed a picnic lunch so we walked over near our car and found a nice place on a grassy hill to have lunch. We decided the afternoon would be well suited for a ferry trip to Burlington, Vermont, so we loaded up the car and headed back to camp. We let the dogs out and walked them a bit before loading them back into the camper. We piled back into the car and drove down the road to the ferry station. $32 dollars later and we were waiting in line to board the ferry and cross over to Vermont.

The ferry ride was maybe twenty minutes long and very pretty. The weather had started to clear so we could take in the lake and the surrounding mountains. None of us had ever been on a car ferry before so it was a new experience for all. The ferry was not full so we were able to get out of the car and walk around a bit. The kids really enjoyed the semi-truck parked right next to us as well. As we neared the dock we got back in the car and after the ferry lowered the ramp we drove off and into yet another new state.

Burlington is very cool. It is a biggish city, but they have a fun waterfront and downtown area. The highlight of course is church street which is a walking-only street with cobblestones and neat little shops on both sides. There’s a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop that we of course had to stop at and a fun little bookstore call the Crow Bookstore. Our family loves a little non-corporate bookshop and this one fits the bill. We walked up and down the street and then stopped at a nice little fountain before making the trip back across the lake to our little home on the road. Meatball subs for dinner and a bonfire with smores concluded a very fun and very long day.

Day 5

On the morning of day 5, we had a typical camp morning. Waffles and bagels for breakfast, nothing too complicated, and then loaded up to head into Montreal. We had 11:00 reservations at “Voiles en Voiles” a ropes course, zip line, and bounce house attraction right at Old Port Montreal. It took us about an hour to get into the city and find our parking spot and we walked up at about 10:45.

The older two boys, Claire and Allison, all decided to go to one of the ropes courses about 15 feet off the ground. Nothing too high, and labeled “easy” as far as the obstacles were concerned. Grant had no interest in going that high so he and I did the course that was maybe two feet off the ground. This was a good choice. Halfway through the course, Grant was complaining that his stomach hurt, but you can’t stop and turn around, so we pressed onward. We finished our course and went to sit down and rest a bit to see if he would feel better. Not long after we sat down Allison and claire came over. Allison did not enjoy the ropes course at all. She used to be very adventurous, but sometime in the past ten-fifteen years, that willingness to sacrifice her body has left her. Claire enjoyed the ropes course but wanted to do the rock climbing wall, along with Grant who was now feeling better. They both made if about 10 feet off the ground and then urged me to join them. I obliged, even though I’m still minimum of 60 lbs overweight, and started off strong. Then my poor fingers realized that they had to continue to lift and hold 260 lbs roughly ten feet in the air and my will to go on quickly evaporated.


After the hilarity that was me attempting the rock wall, Claire and Grant decided to head to the bounce houses/obstacle courses. We were more than happy to let them jump all they wanted if it meant we didn’t have to be off the ground anymore. The older boys, however, loved the ropes and were now hanging off the side of a pirate ship and scurrying along on all manner of things 30 feet in the air. It was a lot of fun for everyone.

Sometime during the bouncing and jumping, Grant once again said he didn’t feel good. He did not look great, so we pulled him off the inflatables and had him rest some more. As the boys wrapped up their fourth ropes course and ziplined over us we decided it was time for some lunch. We gathered everyone up and left in search of a place to eat.

We did not go far. Just across the train tracks from Voiles en Voiles was a nice little restaurant with a lot of street seating. We checked in and got a table by the walkway. Being in Montreal, everyone spoke Frech so my wife took the lead on ordering although I tried to order my own with moderate success. The kids ordered some cheese pizzas, Carter had some kind of meat sandwich, I had a cheeseburger and my wife had the obligatory Poutine. Obligatory because one we were in Canada, and two she’s gluten-free so there’s not a ton for her to choose from on most menus.

The real fun of the day happened when, halfway through lunch, Grant felt bad again. Allison decided to take him for a little walk to some shade, in case he was just too hot, and a few moments later we see him barfing into a garbage can in the middle of Montreal. This of course is about the worse possible thing to happen on a 3-week-long camping trip. Does he have a bug? Are we all going to get it? Barfing in the camper is no Bueno! The fear that permeated every fiber of my being was almost paralyzing.

The plan for the day originally was to go to Voiles en Voiles, eat lunch, and then walk around Old Montreal and allow my wife to soak in as much french goodness as she wanted. She wanted to go to a book store and buy some books in french, she wanted to go to a french bakery and eat something french regardless of if it had gluten or not, and we all wanted to find a city market to bop around and maybe buy some fresh produce. Then the barfing happened. In fairness to 6-year-old Grant, he did say he felt much better after he barfed so we didn’t necessarily need to change the plans for him, but as a parent with a child who just barfed, roughly 900 miles from home, we felt cutting the day short and getting back to camp to rest was a good choice.

My poor wife though. She had found a bookstore that was a 12 minutes walk from where we ate. After we finished our food and paid, we started that way. We agreed, that we would walk to the book store, hopefully find a bakery somewhere, and then get back to the car and head to camp. Grant was feeling better so the walk to the bookstore was fine. We passed all types of little shops and cafes, and even a gluten-free bakery we figured we’d hit on the way back since the car was in the opposite direction. Then we got to the bookstore. It was closed. ON A TUESDAY!! The only day of the week besides Sunday that the bookstore was closed of course was the day we were in town! My wife was not happy.

We walked back to the gluten-free bakery and let me tell you if this is what gluten-free french baked goods taste like, I can not wait to try the ones with gluten. They were amazing. Croissants that melted in your mouth and some chocolate and pastry concoction that my oldest ordered that was delicious. This helped my wife’s mood a little but she was still disappointed. Looks like we’ll be heading back to Montreal someday so she can have the full experience.

The day ended back at camp. Everyone just rested and laid around. We had grilled chicken, watermelon, and rice for dinner. After we ate we packed up as much as we could so that we could have an easy morning and drive to Lake Champlain.

Day 3 & 4

The big east coast trip is plodding along with two fairly uneventful days to tell you, dear reader, about. First off allow me to say thanks for reading and hopefully enjoying this recap of our big family adventure. We are having a blast and having this space to come to every day or two to re-hash what we’ve done has been an awesome addition to our vacation plans.

Without further delay, I give you Day 3. It was fairly lazy and easy. Originally we had planned to go into the city of Toronto and just walk around in the city. We had wanted to go to Yonge St. and check out some of the local markets, however, it was Sunday so those were all closed. After the long day at Niagara Falls we decided to instead have a family and dog day and go to the beach on Lake Ontario. Living in Michigan we have fairly easy access to Lakes Michigan, Huron, Superior, and Erie, but this was going to be the only time we’d ever be near Lake Ontario so we thought we should take advantage. We had a nice easy morning and loaded the kids and dogs into the car at about 10:30.

Confederation Beach Park was about thirty minutes from the campground, just south of but basically in Hamilton, Ontario. It was free to enter and was dog friendly so it was an easy choice. However, before we entered the park we stopped at the local Walmart to get a few supplies and ended up getting a new wagon to haul all of our stuff. This Walmart was very similar to all Walmarts in the states which was a nice surprise since the one my wife had gone to in Kitchener was not. A short run into the store and we were back on our way to the beach which was only 5 minutes or so away.

We pulled into a parking lot that was across the bike/walking path from the beach. I use the term beach loosely as the sand was very coarse and there were many rocks. It was a stark contrast to the powder white sand of Lake Superior that we had visited a few years prior. However, it was still a beach and the kids still played in the sand and even waded into the water. It was cold, 51º to be exact, so there was no swimming, except for the dogs who didn’t seem to care. We had lunch on a blanket under a tree and watched as the kids and dogs played in the surf.

My kids getting out of that water

Since the water was cold in Lake Ontario we decided to head back to our campground that had a lake that was not great and therefore probably warmer. We were correct. Valens Lake Conservation Area had a nice beach, with picnic tables and benches. The water was indeed warmer so the kids went a swam and played while my wife and I sat under a tree in our zero gravity chairs and napped with the dogs who were tied to said tree. A few more hours passed and it was time to get back to the camper and cook dinner, hamburgers and hotdogs, with watermelon and cheddar broccoli rice.

After dinner we started to pack up camp because we knew we’d have to hit the road early the next day. Things were mostly put away by the time we turned out the lights at 9:00pm. Fitz slept at Claire’s feet again and did excellent. Jessie was in the tent with Carter. Everyone slept very well since the day had been so tiring.

Day 4 was our day to drive from Valens Lake Conservation Area to Maplewood Acres RV Park in South Glengarry, Ontario. The trip was 540 km or 336 miles. It was estimated to take 5 hours and 30 minutes, but we always add an hour onto the estimate when pulling the camper because I drive slower and we have to get gas more often. So we figured it would take 7 hours to complete the drive which is why we wanted to get on the road early. Since we had packed most everything the night before, breakfast was cereal. We walked the dogs and hooked up the camper and pulled out of the dump station at 8:50am. Traffic was slow going as we worked our way through the north side of Toronto. Stop and go was the theme for our first hour or so in the car, but it wasn’t too bad considering. Once we were past Toronto though the ride was easy. I set the cruise to 104 kmh (65mph) and we cruised without incident in the right lane for 400 odd kilometers. We stopped three times. once at a Costco for lunch ($26, by far the cheapest lunch we’ve had on this trip) once at an OnRoute rest stop for gas, and once about 20 minutes before the campground for a restroom stop. We pulled into the campground at 4:00pm, almost exactly 7 hours after we had left.

A quick camp setup, spaghetti for dinner and the kids went to explore/play on the playground. The mosquitos however chased us into the camper a bit early and most everyone was in bed by 8:30pm. The end to a very long travel day where everyone did amazing and there was no complaining or fighting. That is a win in our book.

Day 2

Much Better! After the frustration that was day one and our entry into Canada, today was a huge success. Last night we had to set up mostly in the dark, which was fine, and then we all crashed and slept surprisingly well. It was the first night in the camper for our new puppy Fitz. He’s seven months old now and is really getting big. Of all the things we were worried about for this trip, Mr. Fitz was by far our biggest. We didn’t know how he would do spending a long time in the car, especially with Jessie (7-year-old lab) in the far backspace of our Suburban. Yesterday he passed that test with flying colors. 

The second concern was how he would do sleeping in the camper. We brought his collapsable crate, but the kids want him to sleep with them. Last night we decided we’d try him sleeping on the couch/bed with Claire with the thought that if he wouldn’t settle down and sleep he’d go in his crate. Last night he calmed down immediately and slept at Claire’s feet for the entire night. He woke us up at 6:30 which is late for him but otherwise he made it all night long and didn’t cause mass destruction. 

The third concern was how he would do in the camper all day while we were out and about exploring. Well, today we ate breakfast, loaded up the car, put him in his crate and Jessie in the camper with her blanket, turned on the air conditioner so it wouldn’t get too hot for them, and set out for Niagara Falls. We returned seven hours later to an intact camper and two happy dogs that slept most of the day. (We also installed a wireless camera so we could check on them throughout the day, which worked decently except for the terrible wifi reception we have in Canada.) They both went out to the bathroom and were generally happy to see us and suddenly that concern was also put to rest. 

Not our dog, but the vibe is accurate.

The other success of the day was, as I noted, Niagara Falls. Allison and I had gone there for our honeymoon almost 19 years ago. We knew we wanted to get the kids there on this trip but initially planned to do so on our way back from Maine, not on our way out. When we decided on our route we knew we had to go there when we were camped outside of Toronto and today was that day.  

We had pre-bought “Journey Behind the Falls” tickets a few months ago and planned to also walk over to Clifton Hill. It was just over an hour’s drive from our campsite to the Table Rock Welcome Center. Included in our tickets were parking passes which made the parking situation much easier. We parked quickly and walked into the center to figure out when we’d need to do our trip behind the falls. 

It was crowded but not too terrible for a Saturday, let alone Memorial Day weekend in the US. I jumped in line to redeem our vouchers and Allison headed for the gift shop to buy Claire a pair of sweatpants because it was a little too chilly near the falls for shorts. I signed up for the 12:00 time slot and met everyone outside the store. We decided to grab lunch before the tour because we were already hungry and the tour could take a while. Allison and Claire got sushi, the older boys split a too-small personal pan pizza, Grant had chicken nuggets and I got a cheeseburger. We timed lunch perfectly, by the tie we had finished eating the lines were crazy long for food.

Does not do it justice.

We started our journey behind the falls with a group picture. Then we marched in line to the elevator that takes you down to the tunnels behind the falls. A quick ride down with a little speech from the elevator attendant and we emerged out into a windy… and smelly tunnel. We took the first right to go toward the holes that put you directly behind the cascading water. There are two holes, one further into the falls than the other. We decided to go to the far tunnel and soon regretted that decision. Near the opening we stood in line and slowly shuffled forward as people took their turn getting photos, videos, etc. before heading back down the tunnel. I can only imagine this was a much faster process before camera phones, Instagram, and selfie sticks. It seemed every group was much more concerned with getting their photos than they were actually taking in the experience. I say that with some frustration but also being well aware that we did the same thing.

As I said it turns out we should have just gone to the first opening because it was pretty much identical to the second, only with no line. We quickly moved to the guard railing and watched the water pour downward. A moment to vent here: Did everyone forget how to stand in line due to COVID? All sorts of people just walking in front of other people. No consideration for those who’ve been waiting patiently! Being an Eneagram 9 I was almost frustrated enough to say something!

Our last stop on the tour (self-guided btw) was to the viewing platform at the base of the falls. This was what made all the lines and waiting well worth it. It was incredible. The mist floats all around you and slowly drenches anything not covered by a rain-coat or poncho. The clear blue sky hovered above the falls as the sun illuminated what it could through the mist. The views around the gorge were breathtaking and the kids marveled at the sheer size of the falls from below. We took our pictures and videos and decided to slog our way back to the elevator and up to the visitor center. We watched the falls with the masses for a while before we started our walk over to Clifton Hill.

Clifton Hill is quite the conglomerate of arcades, shops, restaurants, ferris wheels, fun houses, and museums. It really is a bit overwhelming, especially to kids. Ours for instance argued back and forth between putt-putt golf and the mirror fun house before settling on Midway, the giant arcade. $50 dollars, 3o minutes and a few cheap knickknacks won later and we b-lined for Dairy Queen and some ice cream. By now it was nice and warm and in ice cream cone for the walk back to the car was a welcomed addition. The kids were tired and hot which meant it was time to load back into the car and drive the hour back to the campground.

A few pieces of advice for Niagara Falls:

  1. Absolutely do the “Journey Behind the Falls” it is worth the money and the lines to be able to go down to the observation deck and see the falls up close. Purchase the vouchers online before you go and then when you get there you can decide on what time slot you want to do the tour.
  2. Purchase the parking pass when you buy your vouchers. The parking lot is right next to the visitor center and having the pass makes getting in and out really easy. All you do is scan the barcode on the paper, which means you should print the parking pass before you go if possible although you can scan it from your phone too.
  3. Get there early and dress warmer than the forcecast calls for. Near the falls it is always misty and cool, and the sweateshirts in the gift shop are not cheap.
  4. Wear a rain coat on the tour. They give you ponchos but we all had our Columbia rain jackets with hoods and they kept our persons dry even down on the observation deck. Before and after we just shoved them into our backpack.

New Name, Same Content

So the transition to a new format is official. Welcome to Jeff and the Big Wide World! In case you don’t have children this title is a reference to possibly the greatest kids’ show of all time, “Peep and the Big Wide World.” It is a show about a chick, a bird, and a blue duck. Quack, the blue duck, is far and away my favorite part of this masterpiece, but all aspects of this show are amazing. There’s a young beaver who’s not too bright, a dog that perfectly portrays the lazy dog, and a multitude of other creatures that feature throughout the episodes.

Day 1

Day 1 of our big East Coast trip started with frustration as most big trips do. Everything was good until we hit the Canadian border. The kids had a great last half-day of school. We ate a quick lunch at home and got loaded up. We pulled out of our driveway at 1:30pm with what should have been a 4-hour drive ahead of us. Less than 20 minutes up the road we hit heavy rain squalls that slowed the already congested highway to a crawl. US 23 north in Michigan on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend is a parking lot normally, let alone when you throw in random downpours and thunder and lightning. Even with the rain and slow traffic we made it to the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron without too much of a problem, maybe a bit slower than we’d hoped, but nothing to be too frustrated about. Then we hit the toll traffic and slowly inched forward for the better part of an hour. Again, annoying, but nothing serious. We paid our toll and drove across the fog draped bridge.

Home for the next 3 weeks!

Then we arrived at the border crossing. Before the trip, I made sure to check the restrictions regarding COVID-19. We are all vaccinated and boosted so that was not an issue. I checked the requirements for bringing dogs into Canada; rabies vaccine certificates were in hand. I check what food we could bring, and I had all of our vaccine cards in our passports. I had our itinerary printed out… I was ready…or so I thought.

After waiting in line for another 20 minutes we pulled up to the booth. The officer asked for our license plate number… ummmm please hold. We pulled out our registration and found it. He asked for our passports which I handed to him, and he asked the normal questions; where are you going? How long will you be in Canada, etc? Then he asked, “Did you complete the Arrive Can application?” What now? Never heard of it.

Apparently, in all my research I missed the fact that in order to get into Canada you have to download an app and register all of your travelers and upload pictures of their vaccine cards. So this grumpy border agent looks at us and says “Well, you’re not getting to Canada today until you complete the Arrive Can application.” We of course couldn’t fill it out sitting in line so he directed us to the “Return to US” lane and back over the foggy bridge we headed. The very nice Canadian toll operator waived our fee for going right back over the bridge we had literally just crossed, which was the one pleasant thing about the whole experience, and back to the US we came.

As we waited, again, to now get to the US border crossing, my wife frantically downloaded the Arrive Can app and began filling out our applications. We finally got to the border agent for the US and he gladly welcomed us back home after our long grueling international travel. We quickly took the first exit off of the highway and found a Mcdonalds so the children, and dogs could use the restroom. We grabbed some snacks, Allison finished our applications and back in line we went…again.

We paid the toll for the bridge a second time and up into the fog we went. Another thirty minutes in line at the border crossing and the moment of truth arrived. To say there was a let down is not sufficient. I have never had an easier border crossing process. The agent asked his questions, scanned our passports, and said enjoy Canada! My wife and I looked at each other in disbelief but proceeded quickly through the gate and down the road. What should have taked maybe thirty minutes had in fact taken two hours, and now we were on a race against time to make it to camp before dark. Sadly, a race we would not win.

Challenge Accepted

I’m back again. Every time I think I’m done with this writing thing I get sucked back in. I enjoy it, but I seriously lack consistency. I’m optimistic that this can change, but also know that there’s a real possibility that I won’t post again for four months. This is my struggle.

I’m actually pretty confident that this will stick at least for a little while. Why you ask? Because the camping season officially starts tomorrow! That’s right, tomorrow morning my son Jackson and I will hit the road with our camper in tow, headed for Traverse City. He has a soccer tournament up there this weekend so we are camping just outside of town and enjoying the great outdoors a bit. I hinted last summer that this place might transform from a weight-loss/fitness blog into more of a backpacking/camping/hiking blog, and that transition is now in full swing. I’m sure I will still share about my weight loss or lack thereof, but my focus will be much more on our travels and experiences both in the camper and on the trail.

I’m planning on posting regular updates on where we are, where we have been, or where we are going. I will also begin to include some hacks or things we learn. I am going to work on doing some reviews of gear and will try to figure out how exactly to do that in conjunction with the manufacturers. I will always state if a product was free or purchased, or if I’m in any way getting compensated for my reviews. (I’m not currently and don’t anticipate that happening for a while, but if there’s anyone out there, let me know!!)

So, there you have it. Another new beginning in my life that has had many new beginnings. I’m 40 now, almost 41. I have had several careers, and have now settled into being a part-time substitute teacher. I am a full-time stay-at-home dad because my wife lives in the corporate world and works her tail off so we can have nice things for the kids/dogs to destroy. The one good thing that came out of Covid for us is that she now works from home almost exclusively which makes our lives so much easier. She has to travel some for work but not much and all things considered it’s not a big deal. We are incredibly blessed, but I also know how hard my wife works, and she deserves every penny they’re paying her and probably more. I on the other hand work around our kid’s doctor’s appointments, orthodontist appointments, dentist appointments, eye doctor appointments, illnesses, and all other manners of things. It works great for our family. I have the flexibility we need but can still bring in some extra cash to pay for all the kid’s activities. I am now done subbing for the year however because May is awful and super busy and did I mention the 23-day camping trip that starts the day school gets out that I have to finish planning? Holy cow is life busy for the next two weeks leading up to that trip.

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Puppy Sleep Deprivation Program

Yes, you read that title correctly. The Puppy Sleep Deprivation Program is in full effect. Last Friday we added to our family when we picked up young Admiral Percy Fitzwallace*, or Fitz as we call him. He is a Yellow Lab that is more red than yellow thanks to his father who was also very red, and he is very very adorable so long as it’s not 2:00am.

This new adventure has been the focus of the past week which means my eating and exercise habits have taken a hit. I have somehow maintained my weight while eating horribly and moving very little, but zero progress has been made toward weight-loss or just healthy living in general. It’s hard to do when you have to constantly be watching the puppy. Keeping him from chewing everything in sight, peeing everywhere, and biting our tiny people is a full time job. Add in the joy of waking up in the middle of the night to take him out and it turns out having a puppy kinda…sucks. I’m tired of the puppy stage already and it’s only been a week. I am ready for the adult dog stage, where he lays around and doesn’t pee everywhere and sleeps all night and all day. Our other dog Jessie, a 7 year old chocolate lab, is very much in this stage and it’s wonderful. Puppies are cute and all but they are exhausting.

My favorite mode for him

Why then did we decide to get a puppy if I don’t enjoy the puppy life? Well, because it’s time. Jessie as I said is 7 so we only have 5-7ish years left with her and so this gives us a good amount of time with both. That will make saying goodbye to Jessie easier on the kids and it gets us on a 5-7 year overlap of new dogs. When Jessie leaves us we will get another puppy for Fitz to be with and the cycle will start all over. Also, the kids have been bugging us to get a puppy and we had promised to this spring. However, we have a few big camping trips planned for this spring/summer and we want to have the puppy fully trained before we head out to a campground. Training a puppy while camping sounds like no fun at all, so we moved the timeline up a few months so that by the time the trips start Fitz will hopefully be pretty well trained and ready for adventures.

He really is a very good dog. He is smart and snuggly, and has already picked up how to sit and where to pee outside. I’m really glad we got him and will love having him. I just get grumpy when the bulk of the care falls on me, and dang it I am tired and now I’m fighting a cold my daughter brought home on top of all of it. The kids have been really good too but it’s hard right now because he just wants to bite everything and an 8 year old and 6 year old don’t like being bit. They’ve helped when they can and they do love him. I cant wait until he’s a little bigger though because then he will be a lot of fun for them. Right now he’s just a lot of work for them. Jackson, our second oldest and biggest animal lover, has been great. He loves Jessie more than any of us, and she in turn loves him. Now with Fitz he is very helpful and loves playing with him and snuggling with him… I’m certain he will win him over on us as well.

Jackson and Fitz napping on the living room floor

So life is busy and crazy and exhausting and wonderful all at the same time. Four kids, two dogs, and a turtle keeps us on our toes. It’s incredibly cold outside now that we’re in the middle of winter in Michigan, so it’s a good time to have a fun new inside toy to play with. Of course, the tiny dog has to go out to use the bathroom which is less than pleasant, but the cold makes him go fast and then want to run back inside so at least we aren’t standing out there for long. The days are starting to get longer which makes me very happy. ( I hate the dark of winter so much more than the cold of winter) We’re actively booking campsites for our trips so that’s raising the excitement level.

We’re going to Kalahari (water park) during Spring Break so that’ll be a nice taste of warm weather. The wife and are in Chicago in April for our anniversary weekend (it’s in October but I got us tickets to the Popcast Live show so we will celebrate in April with a weekend away) In May, Jackson and I are headed up to Traverse City for a soccer tournament. We decided to take the camper and camp just the two of us as a primer for our June trip. The afore mentioned June Trip actually starts in May. May 27th, the day the kids get out of school, we leave and head east for a 3 week camping road trip all the way to Acadia National Park in Maine, with stops in Toronto, Montreal, Lake Champlain, Mt. Washington in NH, Boston, Niagara Falls, and of course Cedar Point to wrap things up. 2 Adults, 4 kids, and 2 dogs in Hagrid (our 2021 Chevy Suburban) pulling Buckbeak (our 2021 Grey Wolf 19sm Travel Trailer) for just over 3 weeks covering over 2300 miles across two countries and 8 states. I will be sure to have a more thorough breakdown as that trip gets closer and will of course be writing from the road and giving feedback about our campgrounds and activities in each spot.

Buckbeak… Our new little trailer

Instagram to follow : @timberworks_design. Love their house plans. Someday maybe we’ll build one on a mountain side in New Hampshire (not a sponsor)

Show to watch… Ozark Season 4 Part 1 dropped today. I love Jason Batemon so that will be watched ASAP. Also rewatching Ted Lasso because it brings me hope and laughter in the dark dark winter.

Podcast to listen to: Again I suggest The Popcast with Knox and Jamie This weeks episode was “The No’s of Instagram” and I laughed out loud and woke up the puppy, which instantly took away my joy. Allison and I both listen to every episode and we are BFOTS (best friends of the show) which means we pay cash money to them to get extra episodes and AUAs. If we had to cut every single thing from our budget, this would be last to go. It brings us so much happiness. (not a sponsor(

* As big West Wing fans we decided to name the puppy after the character played by John Amos. If you’ve never watched The West Wing I suggest you do so. It is available on HBO Max.

New Year, New Start… Again and Again and Again

It’s been 25 weeks or 175 days since I posted anything on this page. A lot has changed and yet nothing has changed. My weight is still around 255lbs. I can’t say exactly because I haven’t weighed myself since New Year’s Eve and oooh boy that was no bueno. Obviously, I have the itch like everyone else to “get in shape” but I once again find myself stranded in the middle of nowhere in regards to how to actually achieve said goal. Get this app, take this supplement, eat this, don’t eat that… it’s all crap and it all sucks, and dangit all why is it so hard to lose weight and so easy to gain weight?

As has always been the case with me, it comes down to eating. I am pretty active. We go for a walk every day with our dog, so long as it’s not raining. It is 16 outside today and we already went for a walk, so getting out and moving isn’t the issue. My issue remains that I enjoy food and I like to eat a lot of it. Portion control is my kryptonite. I don’t want a 6oz. steak I want a 16oz. steak. I don’t want two eggs and 2 sausages for breakfast, I want 4 eggs and 4 sausages. I don’t want a bowl of ice cream, just give me the whole dang tub. So I know what I need to do, I just need to do it.

recreation of my Dr. Appt.

As my doctor said back in November, “There’s no magic pill.” It takes commitment and time and it is painfully slow. However, I am committing to doing it all again. I am now actually 40 years old, I’m not getting any younger. My health and my ability to be active is incredibly important to me. We love to camp and hike so I need to be able to do those things. We bought a new camper last fall and when we did so we decided that we are going to use it, not just let it sit in storage. We camped in October, and then hauled it all the way down to Kansas City for Thanksgiving at my brothers. We are planning to camp in April and then in June we are taking a 23-day camping road trip to Acadia National Park in Maine. Stops at Toronto, Niagara Falls, Montreal, Boston, Lake Champlain, The White Mountains, and Cedar Point will fill out this incredible trip. I would like to be able to hike in the mountains and in Acadia. We want to walk around the big cities and have tons of fun, and I want to be able to do everything without being super sore or worse, not being able to ride something or do something due to my size.

So here we are again. A new year, a new start, a new attitude. The rest of today I am looking at options to help me in this journey. I’m checking out apps and programs and tips and all of that stuff. I want to find something that works for me. I want to still eat the foods I enjoy, just less of them. I want to control my sugar addiction and I want to be even more active than I have been. I’ll let you know what I find.

Routine Matters

Just because I love Paul Rudd

Summer is a weird time. The normal flow of life changes dramatically as soon as school lets out and nothing is consistent again until school forces us back into our life molds. Our school district has moved the school year forward by a few weeks over the past several years so now my kids are done with school before Memorial Day and return to school in mid-August. We are, as I type this, only 30 days away from school stating again, and I CAN NOT WAIT!

It’s not just about the kids being home either. I love my kids and I love having them home for summer break. I love going camping and doing all sorts of fun things. Really what I don’t like about the summer is the lack of structure. I try to instill structure into our days but I am bad at doing that on my own. School forces a structure upon us. It makes us all wake up early and eat breakfast and get dressed. It forces life to progress. In the summer all of those things are optional. Wake up early? Maybe, depends on what’s happening that particular day. For me this summer has been nice in that regard because my oldest has had swim practice everyday at 7:00am. Therefore I am up everyday at 6:15 to wake him up. I have actually loved getting up everyday at 6:15. Granted there are days I really just want to roll over and go back to sleep, but most of the time I push past that urge and end up being glad that I am awake before the rest fo the world. That is one area that I won’t have to adjust to come the school year, it’s the one area that hasn’t changed much this summer.

Other than that everything is fluid. Breakfast happens some days but not others. Showers are sadly not a daily event, especially for the little kids, although they all love showers and baths so sometimes it’s a fun activity more than a hygiene requirement. Grocery shopping, which during the school year is always me doing a 7:00am Kroger pickup on Monday morning, is sporadic at best. The dog is out of food right now and while I could run up and buy some, I’d have to take a kid or two with me and, well, that’s not happening. She can survive on bread butts for a day or two, plus she still needs to lose some weight sooooo, it’ll be fine.

Writing time is also very fluid in the summer. Today I’m writing this in our newly redesigned office, looking out our window at a beautiful, albeit hazy day. The kids are playing on the slip and slide in the backyard, the dog is sleeping, my wife is working, and somehow I have some time at 11:30am to write. That doesn’t happen during the school year. The time between when the kids leave and when the kids come home is priceless and thus must be used to its maximum potential. Writing doesn’t usually meet that requirement. I can write anytime. I can write at night or in the evening when the kids are home but occupied. When they are at school I must do the things that I need to do without them around.

The basement project is a prime example of this. Since the kids got our of school I have gotten exactly zero things done in the basement. This project that was supposed to wrap up by the end of school has gotten stuck in the lack of routine quicksand that does not allow anything to get done. I still hope to get it done by the start of football season so I can watch games down there, but that means the last two weeks of August are going to be very busy. I know what you’re thinking, “Just because the kids are home doesn’t mean you can’t do stuff down there.” On the surface that is true, but dig deeper and you’ll find that most of what needs to be done down there, painting, flooring and trim, takes big blocks of time to do. If I’m going to paint the ceiling down there I want to do it and be done. It’ll probably take 4 or 5 hours and I don’t want to break that time up and have to rinse out rollers or change clothes multiple times or any of the other things that painting requires. Also, I have to do all the parent things, like make lunch and make sure they stay alive, so it’s impossible to get into any kind of rhythm. I’ve resided myself to this reality during the summer and am ok with it, but boy oh boy do I miss my routines.

The fitness and healthy living journey also really does thrive in a routine. Breakfast every morning, lunch with my wife and our daily walks and dinner at a relatively consistent time helps by body know what is going on. It keeps me from randomly eating a bowl of ice cream at 2:15 in the afternoon, or eating no breakfast but a huge, terribly unhealthy lunch. I have somehow managed to maintain the progress I made in May. I am still sitting at 242lbs, but there has been no progress made there either. A few good days are immediately offset by a holiday or a party or camping. Exercise is almost non-existent unless you count vacuuming and cleaning the kitchen 400 times a day.

We are trying to hike more once again. My wife and oldest son just returned from a 3 day backpacking trip with Boy Scouts. We want to do more backpacking but it’s hard with all the children. We’re looking to put together a little trip for the two of us this fall for my wife’s 40th but we have to figure out child care and dog care and of course the finances of the whole thing. Any recommendations on where to do a 3-5 day backpacking trip in late October early November would be appreciated. We love getting out there and “roughing it” a bit and going minimalist for a few days. We just need to find the time to do it more.

This week I’ll be camping with the middles, the two kids in the middle of our 4, for Cub Scouts. I’m looking forward to it as we have had fun the past few years. (not 2020 due to Covid) There’s swimming and fishing and bow and arrows and bb guns. The food is usually pretty good and the activities are fun, so as long as the weather holds out we should have a great few days. We return from that trip to my daughters birthday followed by my own birthday. The first week of August is actually kind of quiet and then we have our last camping trip of the summer with some friends the weekend before school starts. We’re also camping Labor Day weekend and again in October and like I said we’re trying to find a few days to go backpacking. Now that we have Hagrid (our 2021 Chevy Suburban that we love and adore) we can even camp into late fall since we will be able to drive south a few hours and find good weather. We’re also heading to Kanas City this year for Thanksgiving to see my brother and his family, so it’s going to be a busy fall! At least it will be filled with schedules and routines!

Podcast and Instagram Recommendation for this week is a repeat due to the launch of the new Podcast: @sharonsaysso on Instagram or Sharon says So Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. She is amazing and I just listened to the new podcast and I love it!

As always you can find me on the socials:

Twitter: @jaoran

Instagram: @jaoran03

The Quiet Solitude of a Summer Morning

Back again, two days in a row, what on earth is happening? Well, nothing is happening which is leading to me sitting in front of my computer spewing forth my thoughts. It’s early, it’s quiet, it’s refreshing, and it tends to produce an environment where I write.

Now I am well aware of the fact that I am not some great writer. John Grisham I am not. However, I also know that writing, like many other things in life, takes practice. It takes finding your voice and your tone and just working at it. I hope I am a better writer now than I was a few years ago, although that may be up for debate, but I feel like I have at least found my style. I tend to write in a sarcastic, light hearted tone. As you read this and other posts I hope that comes across. I’m pretty sarcastic in my day to day life. I have on many occasions been compared to Chandler on Friends or Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs. I’m a bit of an ass that enjoys quick wit and humor and appreciates good banter.

So as I continue to write I encourage you to not take anything I write personally. Don’t be offended at my Dumb and Dumber poop .gif, or my sometimes blatant disregard for decorum. I share what I see and my views tend to be skewed toward the comical side of life. I laugh at others and I certainly laugh at myself. I don’t generally mean to be self-deprecating but sometimes we have to laugh at ourselves and our idiocy. (as I type this I look up the “Merry and Bright” sign I put up in my office back in November in preparation for Christmas and wonder if I’ve reached the point where it’s better to just leave it up until this Christmas or should I change it only to change it back again in a few months. At what point is it too far? Is it laziness or just busyness that has lead to this conundrum? Do I care? Does anyone?)

So I’m back in the mode of writing. If you’ve followed me at all you know that this season may last a week or a month or honestly a few hours. I will probably go back into hiding here at some point and go weeks if not months between posts, but for now I am in a zone and I plan on taking advantage of it. I don’t have some white board* agenda I put together with a list of topics to discuss (maybe I’ll do that) but I am here to write and work on writing to get better. ( I don’t feel like I have to be an excellent writer with incredible grammar to write, especially online, but I do want to not suck at it, and be boring or meaningless.) I want to write to share my life. Does anyone care? Maybe not. I’m ok with that. I’m not writing here to make millions of “fans” or to become some influencer or anything like that. I write because I feel like it. I write because I sometimes need to vent and rant and since I’m no longer a pastor with a pulpit, this is how I can do that. I’m not overly qualified to dissect this world of ours but my point of view has it’s merits and so away I go.

I will not get into politics or religion on here. I have my views and I’m certain those will bleed into my writing without being the actual topics. You don’t have to agree, you do’t have to like it, but I’m not about to get into arguments about it. This is a place to talk about my health journey and as we progress my hiking/backpacking experiences. I will add in life tidbits and general updates, like the post yesterday, and I will try my best to keep things light and fluffy. Any questions?

I do ask that if you like my writing you say so. Leave a comment, like my posts on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, share it on your social media. I’m not looking to have some huge audience, but I also don’t want to just be speaking to a void. The more people that read my stuff the better, so share away, and comment away, and follow me on the socials. If you have any thoughts you want to share about something I write, send me a message. I am going to be working on increasing my Instagram presence and actually post more. ( I keep saying that but life gets busy and I’m not great at remembering to snap a pic or video to post, I’m working on it!!) I’ve also thought a lot about some kind of podcast, mostly because I love podcasts, but I have no idea what about or why anyone would want to listen to me ramble on about who knows what. The interest is there though for sure plus I already have a sweet Blue Yeti microphone that I got a few years ago when I was going to do a “church” podcast. That fell through and now it just sits on my desk as a lovely ornament that makes my desk look cooler than it really is… I dust it regularly as to keep up the facade. So if you know anyone who podcasts and is looking for a co-host or an additional voice, or a new podcast or whatever (looking at you Popcast Media Group) let me know! I’m cheap and easy to work with! I am after all an Enneagram 9.

That last part feel’s a bit like a dating site profile, “white male seeks podcast friends” but I’ve found in life that you have to put what you want into words and get it out there or nothing will ever come of it. I have an interest, why not throw it at the wall and see if it sticks?

On a completely different and totally unrelated topic, we are getting new carpet in our office and living room this friday and I can not wait. It really is amazing how much damage four kids, a dog and a grown man you doesn’t like to take his shoes off (ME) can do to carpet in just over 4 years. We vacuum on the regular and even deep clean it like once a quarter, but still its time has come to be gone and for the new shinny carpet to begin it’s slow demise. See you in 4ish years Home Depot Carpet department.

The down fall of getting new carpet is emptying the rooms for the installers. As soon as my wife and son leave Thursday for their backpacking trip (read Michigan Summers, Fireworks, and Fireflies if you don’t know why they’re leaving) the office, office closet and living room will all be emptied and the dinning room and kitchen eating area will be filled. The dog will start shaking and shedding due to this activity, thinking the world is ending, and the children that remain will undoubtedly try to build forts out of the stacked items. Something will fall and break, dad will get frustrated…great times for all will ensue. Friday evening and Saturday will be putting everything back, but in a slightly different place because change is good and I like moving things around to keep us on our toes. If something isn’t broken you must fix it. Is that really the best place for the couch? What if we inverted everything and hung from the ceiling like bats? Surely that would be better then the same old setup we’ve had since…May?? Hours will be spent trying this and that but in the end everything will probably end up right where it started just shifted a few inches left or right. This is adulthood. So that is the rest fo my week. Preparing for new carpet, getting new carpet, putting the house back together… honestly I’d rather be backpacking.

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Instagram: @jaoran03

Facebook: jeff.oran.3

Twitter: @jaoran