Monday, May 31, 2010

A Riding We Will Go


Rounded out this jam-packed three-day weekend of outdoor fun with a trip to my parent's house outside of Charlottesville, VA. My Mom has a small horse farm (and by small I mean a measely 30-some-odd horses) that I grew up on and the kids LOVE to visit. Of course, I didn't care one lick about growing up on a horse farm when I lived there, but I do appreciate the lifestyle a lot more now that I'm grown and have become "citified." Now I think of it more as a great place to visit, but still not somewhere that I'd like to live for long. Its a small step, but a good one.

The kids, of course, think the horse farm is a little patch of heaven. They get to be outside practically ALL DAY, between the barn, the playset, the lawn tractor and the expansive deck and pool, its even better than Chuck E. Cheese to them. Yeah, really!

They both got to ride their ponies, and the older one is becoming a pretty decent rider. I sometimes wish we lived closer so he could ride more often, I think he'd really get into it if he could. His trot actually looks quite good, but he's still too scared to canter. I tried running next to him to help out, but only succeeded in scaring him and the pony worse. I think the best way to do it would be to ride double with him so he gets the feel of it. He's such a meek little kid sometimes, I really don't know where he gets that from...

My little one rode his pony "all by myself" and is starting to get the hang of steering. We also trotted for a while with me holding both him and the pony, and my little man just giggle and grinned and didn't want me to stop! Unfortunately, I'm not as 'in shape' as I should be and couldn't keep up that pace for long!

An evening on the deck with food off the grill was the perfect way to end the long weekend. Funny, we have no less than THREE decks at our own house, but something just feels better and right and cozy about the deck at my parent's place. I could sit out there all day and all night. I'll have to put my finger on it someday and bottle up that feeling to sell to the masses. The kids are really lucky to have Grandparents that love the out of doors and practically live outside all day, especially when they get to ride horses any time they want!

I think we spent a total of 15 hours indoors the entire weekend, and most of that was to sleep. The kids and I and their Dad are all fairly exhausted, but also very happy and content. I do wish every weekend could be so filled with fun and fresh air. But right now, its time for a good long sleep!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tiger Cub Spring Leave No Trace Hike

In an effort to help those that may not have gotten all the requirements done for the Cub Scout Leave No Trace patch, I organized a hike at Robious Landing Park for today. Interestingly, the kids who showed up were all ones that I don't think actually needed the hike for the patch. I don't want some of the boys feeling left out about not earning things that the other boys are, but I'm not sure what else I can do to help them get into the activities. It breaks my heart to pass a boy by with an award just because he couldn't make a hike or a camping trip or some other event.

But anyway, we still had a lovely day hiking at the park, which runs along the James River. First we reviewed the Leave No Trace principals. I asked them to name some from memory, and they all seemed to want to keep nameing the one pertaining to not littering, Trash Your Trash. At least we know that idea is firmly implanted in their heads! I then gave the kids a printout from the Virginia Department of Forestry website that listed common trees of virginia with drawings of their leaves. They really did seem to get into trying to find all the trees on the list, and we think we got pretty close.

We did the 1.5 mile circut trail, which was just the right length for this rather hot day. I had the two boys with me, but DH stayed home. Turned out his knee was a bit sore from the bike hike yesterday. See what the ripe old age of 33 does to you? YS was his usual talkative self on the trail, talking to anyone that would listen and to himself when someone wasn't there to hear. He bounded along with the big kids and had a grand old time. OS hiked way up at the front, as usual. He always wants to be the trail leader. He chatted with all his friends about all the inane things kids talk about while looking for leaves that were not yet checked off his list. We always have a great time with the Tigers, and hikes are much more fun with a group!

After the hike we took out our picnic lunches and took a well deserved rest under a shady tree. The boys were back up and playing on the playground after only a few moments to eat, though. I swear I don't remember having that much energy when I was a kid.

A thouroughly enjoyable hike with great company. If only I could have gotten the kids who really needed the experience to come, I'd be even happier with the hike's success.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

First Bike Hike!

Let me start out by saying that I think we missed the boat on getting my OS started on riding a "big boy" bike without training wheels. Partly due to my own laziness, partly due to his own timidness, its just not something we ever got around to until the end of last summer. He was already 6, and boy were DH and I ashamed when the neighbor's not-yet four year old hopped on his bike without training wheels not long after our OS finally started to ride on his own.

But, he is now a pretty confident, albeit somewhat shakey, proud rider of a two-wheeler. We practiced a little through the winter but the rather unusual amount of snow and cold made it difficult to get out as much as we would have liked. So now we are finally getting out on occasional bike rides around the neighborhood and its been a nice thing to be able to do as a family (YS rides in a seat on my bike, not on his own). The problem is, our neighborhood is SOOOOO hilly, even us adults have to get off our bikes and walk them up the hills sometimes, and poor little OS's legs don't do any better.

So I really wanted to get out somewhere that we could ride on more level ground and farther than the confines of our little streets. Having been to a local park, Hugenout Park, I knew it had nice wide gravel trails and a surprisingly level lay of the land. Problem is, we don't have a bike rack. After some manuevering, we managed to get one adult and two children's bikes into the rear of our SUV, and strapped the other adult bike onto the roof on its side. Yeah, not the coolest looking family driving down the road, but I'm glad we made the effort.

Our family's first bike hike went even better than expected. OS was able to lead the way the whole time, and we didn't even have to crawl along to match his speed. YS talked non-stop from his seat, as usual, and declared that this park shall forever be known as "Bike Trail Park." Sure, i can go with that. I estimate we biked about 3 miles, though a lot of that was circling around so its hard to say for sure. OS never once said he was tired and only fell when he wasn't looking and hit a tree (no injuries, not even a wimper!). Sometimes my family still surprises me as to how much fun we can have on an outing.

We rounded out the day with some time on the playground and a stop at the ice cream truck conveniently placed int he parking lot. Well, at least we'd burned enough calories to compensate for some of those popsicles!

We definitely will be doing another bike hike soon. It was a wonderful experience and I'm so glad we finally got to try it!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ode to a Busy Summer

Oh Calendar,
How I love to see thee
With almost all your days filled in.

How I love to see
All the fun we will be having
before the summer draws to an end.

Be it camping trips
Or amusement parks
Or hiking to see what we can see,

Or Scout adventures
And long vacations,
Its all good times with the family.

Some may protest
And think that summer
Should be a time of rest and lazy days,

But as for me,
I've always found
There's no happier time than when we 'play.'

And it seems to me
The more you have written
On your perfect squares, so white,

The less my children
Whine and complain,
And sleep all the better at night.

And so,
Please forgive me
If I stare so happily at your pages and grin,

And don't you cringe
Or roll your eyes
When I look for even more fun things to pencil in!

The boys at Pamlico Sound on Hatteras Island, summer 2009.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Camping and VSP Trail Quest at Bear Creek Lake

Yippee! Our first family camping trip of the year turned out to be a great one!

I had reserved our camping spot online (VA has a great online reservation system) at Bear Creek State Park and in the process found out about the Virginia Trail Quest program. That's it, I'm hooked. We will now proceed to visit every State Park in Virginia over the next couple years.

How could I not have known about this great program? You simply visit a State Park, hike a trail, write down the "secret" code for that park (available at the office or at the new electronic kiosks) and then enter the code online when you get back. For the first park, you get a very nifty pin in the mail, and very quickly I might add! I signed me and the two boys up for the program. You also get pins for the 5th, 10th, 15th, etc parks that you visit, with a special pin if you go to EVERY State park in Virginia. Free stuff just for doing what I probably would be doing anyway? You betcha! And the pin looks great on OS's newly made Cub Brag Vest. :)

But, back to the camping. Bear Creek Lake was a nice park, complete with playground and lake with swimming beach, two things a parent highly prizes when looking for a campground. Then again, most VA parks do offer those things. Just another perk of this State's beautifully managed Parks system. Since it was before the "busy" season that begins with Memorial Day weekend, there weren't too many other families there, so we had a nice feeling of solitude and privacy. there's really not a large number of camp sites anyway, so even in the peak season I doubt it feels very crowded... except maybe for the beach area.

It felt good to get away just with the family. Camping with the Cubs is wonderful and the boys have a great time running amuck with their friends, but this more laid back family camp weekend was just what I needed to take a step back and reconnect with myself. No schedules or super-planned activities. Swim, hike, eat, sleep, swim some more. That's about it! Funny how the kids get so excited about doing something that can be explained in just a few words. I smile in my heart every time my little one asks when we can go camping again. Kids were meant to be outside and they sure know it at that age!!!

In preparation for our big trip to Yellowstone later this summer, we have been trying to get out on more hikes, walks and bike rides as a family. So, while we were at the Park we decided to do a 2 mile hike along Channel Cat Trail. I believe this is the farthest my YS has ever hiked on his own, and he made it the whole way with only a few minimal complaints about being tired. He's only 3.5 years old, so two miles sounds like a pretty good accomplishment for him to me! At least now we have a benchmark on how far he can hike on his own on our vacation. We're still undecided about bringing the toddler hiking backpack to carry him in, so sightseeing may be limited to what he can manage. Good to know now just what that is!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Maymont: A Perfectly Lovely Mother's Day

My family doesn't get into all these arbitrary holidays. Personally I feel like they are mostly all hyped up just to help the gift shop's bottom lines. I'm pretty sure that when the idea of Mother's Day was first introduced, it was meant to be a day set aside to show your Mom how much you love and respect her. Maybe do something nice like breakfast in bed, or a cute hand-made card. A sparkleing gold and diamond necklace or a 5-star meal without the kiddos was probably not on our forefather's minds.

So, generally for all these types of 'holidays' such as Mother's Day, Father's Day and Valentine's Day (yes, you heard me, Valentine's Day), we are pretty happy with a big hug and a card (hand made even better). This Mother's Day I decided I wanted to go on a nice family outing. Spring has been especially beautiful this year with leaves bursting bright green from their branches and flowers coming into bloom overnight. It seemed to me a trip to the beautiful Maymont Park in Richmond would be the perfect way to spend a warm and sunny afternoon. I was so right.

Maymont is an incredible place, even more so because it is mostly free (an occasional donation is strongly recommended). It is the one thing that I truly love about moving to Richmond from my beachy abode. The gardens are spectacular, the landscaping gorgeous, and the animal exhibits quite impressive. Its like a small zoo and botanical gardens all rolled into one. Add on to that the nature Center/Aquarium (which now does charge a small fee) and the old Manor House, and you have yourself a very full day of sightseeing. Not to mention walking. A circle of the grounds will easily take you on about a 2.5 mile hike over rolling hills and up and down stone stairways. Its quite a surprise for those that are unprepared for it!

We packed a picnic lunch and laid out our blanket in a quiet corner of the Japanese garden. The boys being boys, they prefered to find the highest rock nearby to sit on and eat their sandwiches, so I mostly had the blanket all to myself. Laying there, looking up at the sunlight through the unfurling leaves and the rustling of the bamboo groves behind me, it was like I was a whole world away from everything, not a few minutes walk from a bustling city.

Of course, the kids had a grand old time too, which makes any day a great one in my book. Highlight of the day was seeing a new bobcat that was in a once empty habitat. He was prowling around on tree branches, giving the kids quite a show. My OS and I noticed just how much the cat's face looked liek the bobcat on his first Cub rank badge. That was a nice little bonus!

Our stroll around one of my favorite local places, coupled with the FOUR hand drawn cards and pictures that my eldest gave me, made for a very lovely Mother's Day that I will not soon forget. This may, perhaps, become one of my favorite yearly traditions!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spring Cub Family Campout

This weekend was the anual spring Pack Family Camp Out and the first real camping we have gotten to do with my oldest's Cub Scout friends. We are veteran campers and the kids always enjoy themselves whenever we camp, but its definitely a whole different experience when we go with a very large group of other kids. I can't believe how much ENERGY they all seem to have! Even in the oppressive heat, they're running around like maniacs! Cute maniacs, at least!

We all really had a blast. The hubbs couldn't stay the night because of work, so I was there with the two boys most of the time by myself. It didn't matter much though, since they were constantly with other kids and there were swarms of adults to help keep an eye out for them and make sure none ended up in the lake. Team parenting, it rocks!

I got to lead a short 2 mile hike so the boys could earn the new Hiking belt loop for Cub Scouts. I had them tell me what I was doing "wrong" before we started the hike, and I was very impressed with how much they knew without any prompting. They told me right off, before I even had a chance to start my shpeil, that my flip flops were NOT going to cut it on a hike. And they also informed me that the candy bars and soda I packed for snack were not good for me either! I needed water and healthy food. Duh, silly Leader! Needless to say, I was very proud and I think they enjoyed it better than a lecture on "Rules for Hiking."

I'm still learning that camping with boys may not necessarily be the same as camping with girls, like the Girl Scouts, when I was growing up. The planning, structure and activities that I am used to seems to go right out the window with these kids. They almost seem happier coming up with their own activities and just clowning around with eachother. They're also not that big into singing camp songs, much to my chagrin. The boys seem to prefer screeching and running in the dark with glowsticks to sitting and singing. But, it won't stop me from trying to make them into fireside-song-loving campers though! Just some of the many lessons I'll have to learn as I venture on in this new phase of outdoor living as a parent of two boys.

It was great to get out on our first trip of the year. The weather was wonderful for a change too! We're already planning the next trip in a couple weeks, and I'm really looking forward to it. There's nothing like the smell of smoke and bug spray on your clothes and hair to remind you that you're really alive!
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