Backyard Tourist: Windmill Island, Holland, Mi

Such a fun morning being tourists in our backyard. Windmill Island is free for residents of the @cityofholland and it's a hidden gem. Beautiful gardens, parks, tours of the mill, horses! We will be back again and again.

It’s the first Monday of Summer Vacation and I’ve decided to take a relaxed approach to how we fill our days. The months are going to fly, this I already know, with sleep-away camps and sports camps and a few camping trips already planned, we’re going to arrive at the beginning of the next school year as if we left for a walk across the State and only ended up rounding our city block.

The kids wanted to roller blade and I wanted caffeine so we geared up and headed downtown to JP’s Coffee for my must-have and then meandered down to the Window on the Waterfront for theirs.

Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists

It’s gorgeous with plenty of wildlife to watch and the end of the Spring flowers to see. We saw a family of swans, muskrats eating and swimming, and lots of birds and bugs.

Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists

As we were leaving I remembered Windmill Island is close to the park and, if I was right, it’s free for residents of the City of Holland. I wanted to check it out.

Backyard Tourists

TRUE! Free all day long for us, every day they’re open (save for the week of Tulip Time). I was super excited.

Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists

It was fabulous.

Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists

There’s so much to see and do, and with this being free to Residents, it’s like our own personal oasis. The carousel ride is free, the park is updated and multi-aged friendly. There are picnic tables literally every where. Water you can kayak in (bring your own), all kinds of flowers to meander through, it’s stunning. There’s even yard games for the kids to play and music is often wafting in the background. A small cafe and gift shop and tons of opportunities to learn more about the Netherlands. There’s horses on the island you can watch or bing an apple to treat. They’re nice, and they’re used to people. You can bike around the island as well (bring your own, or bike TO the island from your home).

Backyard Tourists

We enjoyed a lively and informative tour of the working Mill and even met the Miller in house.

Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists

You can buy the flour milled right here in Holland on Windmill Island, too. We tried but they were sold out today.

Did you know that they used to use the blades of the windmill as a local billboard to communicate? And during the wars they had signals to the town about where the troops were. Fascinating. The entire mechanism of the mill is crazy complicated and our Miller is the only female certified Miller by whatever association based in the Netherlands – it’s very prestigious. And she’s going for her Masters. Or something. On the tour we took there were folks from Germany! They’re touring the great lakes and made a stop in Holland to see the Windmill.

People, if Germans travel to see this gem and it’s in our backyard for free … I’m telling you. Geek out and get out. I can’t wait to go back.

It was a great (and mostly free) day. (I spent $2 on my cup of coffee. šŸ˜‰ )

Backyard Tourists

12 weeks of freedom

Summer has arrived! And right on time.

Centennial Park
Centennial Park
Centennial Park

Every year since the 4th grade summer vacation has gone faster and faster. I say this because that was the summer I finally understood time passing. Before that the days were an endless buffet of exploring, climbing trees, riding my bike. I didn’t have a concept of time because I didn’t need one. Life was one big Saturday. And this year, this summer, it feels like eating dessert first – and with gusto, on purpose.

Is it our age? Or are we all in at a place where it’s time to savor the slower burn of time? Longer days, sun kissed shoulders. Water sports and beach days and hikes, camping, adventure.

Centennial Park
Centennial Park
Centennial Park
Centennial Park

There’s something about this season, these 12 weeks ahead of us, of freedom from rigorous charts and lists. Maybe it’s the age of our kids and the complete disregard for bedtimes or their ability to ride their bikes for miles at a time. Maybe something just opened up to us that we’ve never had before this summer. A new kind of opportunity.

Where grass stains are the mark of a well accomplished day. Where we keep track of how far our kites can fly and how long it takes for the first bite to bend our line off the end of the pier.

Centennial Park

This summer feels special. A giant red-bow wrapped package of time. And I can’t wait to tear into it.

Kids summer rec. and a story

Lunch break planning session. Each kid has an oversized calendar - all info on camps, VBS weeks, summer programs, and rec guide in one place. I master plan the budget and available weeks and sign up in one afternoon. Hopefully. That's the idea anyway.

I’m the youngest of 4 kids and before my parents divorced we lived in Texas. I was born in Africa and all of this has a point, hold on, because my parents were missionaries there and while doing so my father was a pilot – he flew supplies (medical mostly I think) to remote areas. He took sick people to the hospitals. I was hours old the first time I was on a plane, legend has it. This profession carried through and my father is still a pilot … so growing up my mom had all 4 of us kids to entertain and keep busy on a very different schedule than any of my friends.

I think thats where I get this from. My mom was (still is) the queen of recreation organization. If there was something free happening in our small towns and cities – we were there. City pools, block parties, VBS camps, parades, and celebrations. We frequented our Libraries, always stopped at the Big Read Bus, and I was a champion Salamander hunter. (That last one is just for fun.)

When my kids were very little so much of this free stuff was for us … something to do, something new for the little kids to see. Although for a while it was enjoyable because we were all together; now these activities are fun because they’re excited about them. Their interests are being catered to, their senses. Riding bikes isn’t exercise … it’s an adventure.

So when my kids started getting to the age of appreciation or eligibility – I started making lists of all the fun things to come:

Summer Jar 2010
Spring Break Staycation
I Live in Holland, Mi (And freaking love it.)
Labor Day weekend circa 2007
Tulip Time 2013! (And every year after … I love this festival)
A collection of resources and links

This year, similar to years past, I’m working this summer. I’ve done a few different things with my kids like nannies/babysitters, daycare centers, summer week day camps … and I’m going to do the same again this year. I’ve been compiling all the information and we talked over a budget for both kids for the entire summer and then one afternoon I gather everything up, take two oversized desk calendars (one for each kid) and pencil in every possibility.

Then I master plan, fill in holes, rearrange classes or workshops as needed, and register.

So. Here’s my list this year – we aren’t doing everything but this is what I found available for the summer of 2014.

Vacation Bible Schools (VBS)

Beechwood Church June 16-20, 9am-12pm
Central Park Church June 16-20, 9:30am-12pm
Rose Park Church June 23-27, 6pm-8:15pm
Park Church of Holland June 23-25, evenings, with picnic on 26th.
Providence Church July 14-18, 6:30pm-8pm
Christ Memorial June 16-19, 9am-11:30am (had to call to get info)
Calvary CRC July 21-25, 9am-11:45am
Community Reformed in Zeeland June 16-19, 6:15pm-8:30pm
Harderwyk Church June 23-26, 9:30am-12pm Thanks, Julie, for the info!

Holland Local Recreation Programs

Degraaf Nature Center Various classes for various ages. Day trips, 3 day (mornings or afternoons) classes, etc.
City of Holland Playground Program
City of Holland Junior Adventure Club
Hersheys Track and Field Age 9-14, June 11.
Holland Rec (Here’s the bulletin online)
Herrick Library various events, have to search for them. Fridays they have a free lego club for an hour. Just show up and build! (This link might help)
Holland Farmers Market events for kids and chef series.
Zeeland community activities

Zeeland picnic, local links

Macatawa Bank’s Movies in the Park
Macatawa Bank’s events
Kids Summer Movies Goodrich Theaters
Holland Events Music in the parks, at restaurants, Summer film series…
Huntington Bank Summer Concert Series


Critter Barn
Frederick Meijer Gardens Classes and camps
Downtown Market GR summer classes and camps
SpringHill Day camp Zeeland, Mi
Kids Rock Summer Camp Zeeland, Mi
Winding Creek Dive Camp Sleep-away camp in Hastings, Mi
Camp Roger Sleep-away camp in Rockford, Mi
Camp Geneva Sleep-away or day camp in Holland, Mi

Information overload much? Yes. If you’re sticking to free things only your best resource is going to be your cities event calendar, the libraries and the local attractions (free days for residents, for instance.) or for the banks in your area who host or sponsor events.

Don’t overlook the touristy things in your town that you never really check out because you live there. Many of them have freebies for residents or events and classes you’ve always wondered about and they’re discounted because you live there. Museums are a good check-in point to remember. In Holland we have Windmill Island and Dutch Village. Great little day trips. Nurseries (Countryside Greenhouse, as an example) have great playscapes for the kids and often a hot dog cart out front. You can go for an afternoon just to play, or scavenger hunt for certain plants and plan to eat lunch.

I’m hoping we make it to a few of the events in GR this year, movies on Reeds lake? Yes. We have full calendars, I’m so excited for Summer!

I’m sure I missed many things – so if you have something (even other areas) that you want added to the list, leave them in the comments and I’ll keep building this as a resource.

let’s play together

Food fight.

Twister in the rain.

Paddle boards, pontoons and umbrella’s.

Scooters and sun hats.

A lot of back yard (safe) fires.

Pop-Up cafe, often.

Lemonade Stands, with a twist.

Midnight trek to see the Northern Lights.

Skinny dipping.

Trash the dress-ing.

Thrift Shop parody music video making.

Old school photo booths and purple margarita’s.

Hanging twinkly lights for tea parties.

Fishing at dawn.

Fresh baked and crusty bread.

More hiking, bird watching, small stepping.

You in?

Spring Break 2013 {ideas}

There was a possible vacation in the works for Spring Break, demoted to a day trip away, demoted to Tourists In Your Own Town! hashtagexclamationpoint

(This may feel like deja-vu)

Today I’ll make the kids each a “passport”…

Source: viaJodi on Pinterest

Places to see, things to do

on a cultural adventure in our backyard:

  • Study Egyptians! (Embalm a chicken!) (Place to go: Library, grocery store)
  • Holland Museum, take a step back in time.
  • GR Public Museum, Planetarium show. Out of this world! (har har har)
  • Frederick Meijer Gardens, butterfly’s!
  • Host a High Tea – English style. (Places to go: Goodwill, costumes. Library, books/ideas)
  • Adventures of Pippy and Huck! Spend the day navigating local trails, making maps, climbing trees.
  • Big City Adventure. (Use public transit to get everywhere for one day, bikes too)
  • Pick a country: make a flag! (Library or computer time for research, Home for art making)
  • On the job: explore different options. Construction? Let’s build. Food industry? Let’s cook. Engineer? Let’s plan.
  • Great Wall Of China: make eggrolls. (Jessica’s always been fascinated with China)
  • Become an advocate: adopt a species, then raise awareness.

I’m sure I’ll add a few more ideas, less involved ones, or even small outings to a park or playdates. Not all of these ideas will make it into our passports but it’s fun to get the ideas flowing so we’re sure not to miss the many opportunities around us.

If you’re headed on vacation, tell us where! And have fun.