A Camp-tastic Weekend!

This weekend, Cort’s mom and Ray took all of the Sluiter siblings camping and canoeing up at Vic’s Canoes at Salmon Run Campground in Grant. What an adventure! Now, Cortney and I will NEVER claim to be campers by trade–in fact, I will actually admit that in the week leading up to this trip, I started to moan and groan about having to sleep in a tent, battle mosquitos, and have sand on everything. Anyone who knows me knows that my idea of camping involves…well…I just don’t camp. But this weekend, we packed up the truck to overflowing (which proves that we are not minimalists) for two nights of camp-a-rama!

We were greeted at the campground around 6:30 Friday night by Kim and Ray and Kenzie and Dave. Liz and Cody arrived shortly after we did. We had some snacks and conversation that night around the fire, and then called it a night. I may have mentioned that I am not a camper. This became painfully obvious the first night. Camping in a tent involves being close to nature. Nature is a beautiful thing, don’t get me wrong, but I like to see it from the comfort of an air-conditioned building or behind a protective structure in a zoo. Having only a thin layer of nylon between me and nature is not my idea of a fun night. All night long I heard animals fighting each other and racoons trying to find camper food. All I could think about was how Chris told me about how racoons broke into his friend’s car once on a camping trip, and I SWEAR those racoons were trying to bust into our truck. And because I didn’t sleep much, neither did Cortney. The funny thing about an air mattress is that if one person shifts, you shift. So every time I sat up to look at the dumb nature acting up, Cortney woke up and told me to go to sleep.

Finally, around 6:00 in the morning, it started to thunderstorm and I fell asleep. We were worried that the rain would cancel our canoe trip scheduled for 11:00 am, but it cleared up and we were on our way. I have pictures of that trip…oh the fun…but I took those with a water proof camera and they need to be developed before I can post them up here. I can hardly remember what we did before digital cameras!

Anyway, after the canoe trip we were all sunburned, bruised, and tired…AND hungry! We cleaned up and started a fire. Actually, because of the rain, it took us over and hour to figure out how to get the fire started with damp wood and no kindling, but with some charcoal briskets and lighter fluid, we made it work. As soon as that fire was burning, EVERYONE threw their hobo pies on the fire! And Kenzie made us beans! Mmmm! Looks delicious! Our canoe trip was supposed to be a 3-hour tour…we turned it into a 6 1/2-hour tour–this made us HUNGRY!
Cortney started the fire–and kept it going–with our little air pump for our air mattress.

Dave and MacKenzie rest by the fire.

That night I slept MUCH better–probably due to my sunburn and exhaustion! This morning we woke up to the sun shining brightly and the humidity being GONE! I celebrated by brushing my teeth by the truck.
Everyone seemed rested from the day before. Liz, however, had some “war wounds” from the canoe trip. You’ll see when I get those pics back, but she felt the need to jump from the canoe and take a swim. Apparently she got a few HUGE bruises in the process. Below she and Cody examine them before breakfast and assess the damage. While we got the fire started, people started preparing to pack up. There’s Kenzie in her tent packing up!
Mom washes up our dishes from the night before in her tent.
Ah, the fire was ready. Kenz and Liz wasted no time preparing their breakfast hobo pies: egg, ham, and cheese between the break slices.

All hobo pie makers are back in the fire for the morning meal! Me, Liz, mother, Kenz, and Dave wait for breakfast below.
Check out our boo-boo’s! Liz got hers canoeing–mine is less spectacular. I burned my chin on hot melted cheese from my pizza hobo pie the night before. Ouch!
Check out my breakfast! Looks good!
Liz’s is so tasty she doesn’t even notice Cortney and the camera!
Kenzie’s is G-O-N-E before we can get a shot of it!

Hey…do you want a bite? It’s really good!
Once breakfast was done, it was time to pack up our adventure. Everyone started cleaning up their site and packing things away. Dave started with their tubs and coolers.
me, Liz, and Kenz posed for a quick “sister” picture!
Ohhh! A flat tent is the international sign for the camping is over! As much as I was dreading all the “roughing it,” we both had a super fun time! We brought home sunburns, bruises, bug bites, cheese burns, and TONS of fun memories!

Sluiter Christmas Retreat

This past weekend was the annual Christmas retreat for the Sluiter side of the family. Grandpa and Grandma Sluiter reserve a “cottage” in Northport, Michigan for the entire family to use for the weekend and celebrate Christmas and just being together as a family.
I guess “cottage” is sort of misleading. You see, the Sluiter side of the family has swelled to about 68 members; Cortney’s dad has 4 sisters and 3 brothers – the cousins range from being in their mid to upper 30’s all the way down to elementary school. So what we really stayed in was more of a really HUGE condo. It sleeps 64 people (with so many babies, this still works for our size family). There are also numerous pullouts and couches. There is a huge double kitchen in the middle of the place, a great room with a fire place, a game room, bar, mini-gym, and laundry room downstairs, and a bunch of bedrooms and “dens” on the main and upper floors.
This annual event is looked forward to by all of us – and every member of the family attends! Gramps and Grams started doing this after we lost Cort’s dad in 2005 as a way to all see each other at least once a year – obviously with that much family we are a bit scattered throughout the country.
As a way to get us to mingle and get to know each other better, Grandma always has little activites for us to do. She assigns us rooms with people we might not talk to so much, gives us assigned seating at meals to break us up even more, and creates a “duty” list for each meal so that we are on a team for either preparing or cleaning up one of the meals. Along with all these things, we also play tons of games (table shuffle board, ping pong, pool, video games, card games, board games, etc.), watch TV, or just chat.
We are very blessed with such an enormous and fun family!

Pumpkin Carving Take 2

Every year Cortney’s mom and stepdad have all of the kids over to carve pumpkins. This year was no different! After a yummy lunch, we all went outside to choose our canvas. Then we went downstairs to the pool table and hacked into our pumpkins.
Kim and Ray…

Cody and Liz…
Kenzie and Dave…
Cortney and me…

After all our hard work, we brought them back outside. Kenzie and Dave model their creations. Kim took a picture of all of us with our jack-o-lanterns – I will post that picture as soon as I get it.

Another Year…

The past five days are the hardest days that we Sluiters go through during the year. We try to be positive and remember just the good, as was requested of us, but it is still hard. There is no other way to describe it.
Two years ago today, my husband lost two things: his appendix and his dad. Looking back, I believe God took these two things at the same time for a few reasons – a few of those reasons He lets us in on, others not so much.
Steve was diagnosed with cancer in January, just 6 months before Cortney and I were going to get married, and only about a year after I had really met Steve. I have never witnessed anyone go through something so terrible with such gusto. Everything I knew about Steve before showed me the man knew how to LIVE. He loved life, he loved his family, and he loved God. And cancer illuminated that much, much more. He never let you leave his sight without saying, “hey, I LOVE you!” He made me so comfortable in that family it was just too hard for me to believe that he would not always be there. After our wedding in June, things continually got worse, and by his 49th birthday in August, we knew our days were limited.
On Saturday, August 13, 2005, Cortney began having horrible stomach pain. It was so bad that we had to leave our friends’, Erin and Tad’s wedding quite early. I was a bridesmaid, so I felt badly leaving so early, but we had been getting a few phone calls throughout the day with less than stellar updates about Steve (who by this time had had Hospice come in to his home). Cortney felt like he would puke at anytime, so it was time to go.
Sunday morning Cortney was supposed to participate in a fantasy football draft, but just couldn’t get out of bed, so I went in his place. In the meantime, Cortney’s brother and sister kept calling him saying, “you have GOT to come over; there just isn’t much time left.” Cort finally called me away from the draft and said, “it’s time to say good-bye to Pops, Kate. We gotta go.” So I drove him and his puke bucket (which he hadn’t used yet despite the fact that the pain just kept getting worse) to his dad and step-mom’s house. When we arrived, the house and lawn were packed with family and friends. Cort’s uncle Scott cleared out the living room where Steve’s Hospice bed was and Cort sat beside his dad.
I don’t think I will ever forget that sight for as long as I live. I could describe absolutely everything about it: from MacKenzie sitting on the couch in the background to the blurs of people outside the slider door. From the smells of hospital mixing with house to the tremble in Cort’s hand as he sat next to his dad. All I could do was sit and stare. I had zero words. Cortney craddled his puke bucket in his lap and in a sort of hunched over position took his dad’s small hand and stroked it with his thumb. He just sat there for what seemed like forever quietly holding his dad’s hand. Then he finally patted it and said, “it’s Ok dad. Go home.” Then he turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, “take me to the hospital.” So he got up, I leaned in to my father-in-law and whispered, “I’ll take care of him. I promise.” Then we jetted out the door and out to the car. We weren’t even out of the subdivision when Cort’s stepmom, Lynne called to say, “He’s gone.”
Was it coincidence that even though Kenzie and Cody had been calling us all day, Steve waited until less than 10 minutes after we had been there to go? I just can’t believe that. He may have had tons of drugs in his body, he may have had massive tumors on his brain, and he may have been “out of it”, but I believe with all the certainty in my body, that he WAITED. He could not be Ok with going until he had heard from ALL of his children.
I rushed Cort to the hospital and by 10:00 pm, his appendix was out. When I went into the recovery room, Cortney looked over at me in his half in-half out drug haze and declared: “There she is! There’s my WIFE!” I chuckled and talked with the surgeon about when he would be able to walk and if he would be able to by Wednesday. “What’s Wednesday, what’s Wednesday?” Cortney kept asking me as if I had some exciting surprise for him. I swallowed hard and said, “honey, Wednesday is your dad’s funeral.” “Oh yeah,” he said with a forced seriousness that only drugs can do to you. “My dad died today.” My heart broke all over again. His funeral was August 18th, exactly 2 months after we were married in the same church.
So last Thursday, August 9th, we went to dinner with Lynne, Grandpa and Grandma Sluiter, MacKenzie and Dave, and Cody and Liz to celebrate the great life that was Steve Sluiter for his birthday. Tonight, Aunt Lisa and Uncle Rick took Kenz, me, Cort, Cody, and Liz out toward the place were his ashes were spread on Lake Michigan. We shared memories and thoughts. It was an incredibly special time.
I didn’t get to know Steve that well. I feel ripped off because of that, I won’t lie. But most of my saddness comes when I look at Kenzie and Cody and especially Cortney. In the past two years, even if they don’t know it, Kenzie and Cody and Liz have BECOME my siblings. Their happiness means as much to me as my actual brothers’ happiness. I would go the distance for them. And Cort knows I am not happy without his joy. That is why I feel so helpless to make them feel better in this area.
But that is not what Steve wanted us to think about. Steve wanted us to think about all the great times. All the joy he brought us. All the fun we had. All the beers we drank. All the laughs we shared. So that is what we did. There is no doubt that his not being here is shitty. But there is also no doubt that while he brought us joy here, he is recieving that joy a million times over where he is now.
We love you, Pops. Save us a beer.