Summers in Michigan: A Van Winkle Family Tradition

There’s nothing quite like summers spent by a lake. Long days, warm nights, the hum of critters off the front porch mixed with the laughter of kids playing in the yard. For us, that special place is Harbor Springs, Michigan where the Van Winkle clan gathers for a few weeks each summer. My sisters, Louise, Chenault and I have been coming here our entire lives and now we bring our own children, together with my brother that makes for nine grandchildren, four sets of parents and our own parents Julian and Sissy, also known as Diddy and Juju to the little ones.

Settling into the slow paced routine of lake life comes easily for us all and is hard to say if it’s the fact we all get to be together or the simple charm of Harbor Springs that makes this such a special place. Perhaps it is just the right mix of both. Days pass easily, lazily and with not much thought to things like schedules or to do lists and continues to prove to be the perfect reset button we all need once a year. It reminds me that we all probably need to enjoy a little bit more of what summer is best loved for and hope you have a chance to find your own moments away this season. For us lake life is just that and couldn’t ask for much more. Here’s to a day at the lake.

Lake Life Living:

Whoever is the first to rise (adult that is) knows they better put on a strong pot of coffee before the herds roll in. As all of the kids trickle down to the kitchen, we mill about tag teaming breakfast and corral them out the door to “camp.” The bigger ones bolt off by themselves on bikes and parents escort the littles on their scooters or strider bikes. Camp headquarters, otherwise known as the "casino" is an old turn of the century wreck hall of sorts where the kids can do arts and crafts, games, and talent shows with tennis courts and a playground nearby.

Once we get the kids to camp, it’s time to squeeze in a little work and some form of exercise, like a group road bike or run. And then it’s time to meet the little kids at noon with lunch at the beach. Afternoons are usually spent playing at the lake or taking a picnic on the boat. One thing that makes this area so special are the gorgeous rocks, so the kids are always searching for pretty colors and fossils and Petoskey stone regional to this area. Meanwhile, the older kids come home on their own for lunch and then go right back out for sailing until mid afternoon. Behind the lake are woods with natural cold springs that create creeks and little ponds. The kids love to go frog and turtle hunting and make up their own adventures. When it’s time to get a break from the sun, we all bike to town for ice cream at Yummies and stroll the pier to look at the big boats and feed the ducks.

Evenings are spent sitting on the front porch sipping cocktails while the kids play in the yard, doing crafts like painting rocks they've found at the beach and keeping each other company. We love that they don’t even ask for screen time or think about television with so many things to do and all the cousins to play with. It’s refreshing to keep things easy and happy with not much beyond what nature offers.

Family dinners are pretty simple and healthy with fresh lake trout or whitefish and salad. But when it’s one of the three July Van Winkle birthdays, it’s ribs and slaw to celebrate--my dad and brother’s favorite. We slow cook them in the oven with a rub and then finish them with barbecue sauce on the grill. This year we’ve been trying our friend’s version: Home Team BBQ sauce but can always count on the Pappy & Company recipe with our maple syrup and pepper sauce as a go to.

If dinner gets done early enough, we all head back to the beach for a night swim. The littles play by the water’s edge while the big kids take the kayaks out or swim to the floating dock. With nine grandkids milling about, it’s mostly about the kids, but if the parents can get out for a bit and let the grandparents be in charge, we ride bikes to town for a nightcap at The Pier bar. They’re famous for their dessert cocktails aka: Hummers. It’s like a blended milkshake for adults made of vanilla ice cream, Kahlua and rum. Yum!

But like I said, it’s hard to say if what I love most about summers in Michigan is the slow paced living by the lake or the fact that we can all get together for a few weeks as a Van Winkle clan and just enjoy the company of family. We hope you and your families are enjoying a great summer, get a chance to slow down, listen to the crickets and appreciate all that you are thankful for.

-Carrie, Louise & Chenault