Going Home to Jacksonville Part 2 – Mandarin

My parents wanted to take us to Clark’s Fish Camp on our visit because it has delicious seafood and stuffed animals. I thought they meant weird looking Care Bears, but they meant taxidermy stuffed animals in a “lovely room of death” (to quote Ace Ventura). Actually multiple rooms of death, I felt totally creeped out and saddened by the dead animals. The seafood was on point, though. Shrimp for days, plus tasty sides (I brought my Grandma my shrimp since she wasn’t feeling well enough to come out with us. She actually smiled, she was so stoked. 


But backing up a bit to before we went to the restaurant, we hit up Mandarin Park first. Keith couldn’t believe we were still in Jacksonville after driving for one hour to get to the park. Oh, but we were – Jacksonville is the largest land area city in the United States. It’s freaking huge! And also explains why I have no idea where things are outside of Arlington and some of the Beaches, Riverside, and Southside areas.
 
Mandarin Park is beautifully shaded right on Julington Creek. Keith and I watched the boats sail and motor down the river, taking off from a small dock on the property. Henry napped in the car (watched over by my Mom), and Elliot played on the shaded playground with my Dad. We sat on a bench in blissful silence, enjoying every moment. It was like a date (if by date I mean it was a break from parental responsibility for all of 20 minutes before the littlest came looking for us.)

The playground had swings, slides, and things to climb – all in the shade! Elliot liked the swings the best, but we couldn’t rouse Henry to get him to play. His sleep schedule was all out of whack being out of town and all. If we lived in Mandarin, I would definitely return to this park often. 

Going Home to Jacksonville – Part 1, Downtown

Keith had a church thing at the Lutheran church closest to my parents’ house in Jacksonville (St Matthew’s) so we took a mini-vacay because it’s summertime and the living is easy (even if travel with littles isn’t so easy). Our first evening there we headed downtown to see the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp play baseball. I hadn’t been in the new stadium (it opened in 2003; I’m slow) and I definitely hadn’t seen a game since the team changed names from the Suns to the Jumbo Shrimp. 


The name change suits the team (because Florida), and the stadium is awesome! We had third baseline seats, and could see everything. The beer was cheap and cold ($1 beer night), and the game was short in length thanks to a rainout the day before (only a 7 inning game). Henry liked dancing in the grass seating berm and sliding down the inflatable slide (bring money if you want to do this or play the other outfield games). I think even my mom had fun (and she’s an indifferent sports-ball watcher).


 
The next morning we checked out the Dinosaurs in Motion Exhibit at the Museum of Science and History for free since we have a MOSI annual pass. We even got my parents in for free (something they always like) since our pass is for five people! We controlled the dinosaur bones’ movement and sound via levers, wheels, and game controllers – Henry’s dream! Other parts we enjoyed were seeing the live animals from Florida, building structures, and zooming through Jacksonville’s history (not so interesting for a little).


 
My favorite activity of the day, however, was taking the monorail to and from the museum. It’s just so cool to ride above the road and see the city and river from a different perspective. Henry was all about it, too!

Elliot is ONE

Our littlest turned ONE in May, and he continues to be a joy. He seriously cannot stop smiling, and makes others feel welcome simply by looking into their eyes, smiling, and waving. He loves to get down and dance at every opportunity, like while the blender is running. Drums are his favorite instrument, and he does a great job keeping the beat. He’s beginning to like reading – especially the BabyLit and Duck & Goose series – after not caring much for the first year of his life. Now, we read many books a day to him. He plays quietly by himself for a good amount of time, just checking in with me periodically to give me hugs. It’s lovely. 


Elliot’s Stats:

  • Weight & Height: At his one-year checkup he weighed 20 lbs (~10th percentile) and was 29.75 inches long (~50th percentile). He’s growing right on his curve and was in the 25th percentile weight for height. 
  • Clothing: He’s just now wearing 12-month clothes, and will be for a while. 
  • Diapers: size 3
  • Teeth: 4 on top, 3 on bottom
  • Sleep: He goes to bed between 8:30 & 9 and wakes up for the day between 7 & 8, with usually 1 nighttime wake up (but sometimes more than that if something is going on with him). He generally takes one afternoon nap for 2-3 hours starting around 12-1pm, but sometimes still does a quick morning one that messes up his afternoon one. Sleep has been a challenge, but hopefully will continue to get better. On the plus side, he goes to sleep easily, just doesn’t stay asleep. 
  • Nursing: He continues to breastfeed a lot – primarily before he goes to sleep and when he wakes up. He takes at least one nursing break in the middle of nap, and doesn’t seem like he wants to give it up anytime soon (although I’m feeling more and more ready to be done, especially when he’s biting me!)
  • Food: He prefers to feed himself, which can be messy! He doesn’t love food, but likes cantaloupe, strawberries, yogurt, green beans, beans and rice, and peas. Plus, he enjoys snack food like chickpea puffs and yogurt melts. I offer lots of food to him, but he’s picky about what he actually consumes. 
  • Movement: E began walking at 11 months (Easter Sunday) and is now working on running and climbing. 
  • Words: Mama, Dada, Dog, Head, Hi, Bye, Door


Other Things: He understands so much more than he can say. For example, if we say you need to sit in the chair, not stand, he will sit down. We’ve started working on getting him to stop doing things that hurt (like pulling brother’s hair)…although we continue to work on that with Henry so we know it’s an ongoing process. He gives fantastic hugs, and sloppy, wet kisses and we are all so in love. 

Hiking Black Balsam Knob With The Littles

We spent our last day in North Carolina hiking up a mountain. You may be thinking, they have two kids not even school-age – they must be crazy! Naysayers be damned – the kiddos did splendidly!
 
Keith selected Black Balsam Knob (via the Art Loeb Trail) in the Pisgah National Forest (Mile 420 off the Blue Ridge Parkway) as the location. It’s the second highest mountain in the Great Balsam Mountains at 6,214 feet tall! The weather was freezing for us Floridians – in the 40s! It was quite a shock from the temperature in Asheville, so I took Henry’s hat for myself because he had a hooded coat. 


Henry has been preparing his whole life for hiking. He has an abundance of energy, climbs everything in sight, and has been doing trail walks since he took his first steps. Up on the mountain, he acted like a little mountain goat hopping from rock to rock and sprinting the straight-aways. We have a great backpack carrier that Elliot rode in since his walking skills weren’t up to snuff for a mile and half hike. He could look out and see over Keith’s shoulders, and looked quite relaxed so long as we didn’t stop moving.


After the one mile hike to the peak, we took a break for snacks and water, reclining on the grass while enjoying the beautiful view. On a clear day, you can see Shining Rock, Looking Glass Rock, Mt. Pisgah, Cold Mountain, and occasionally Mt. Mitchell (the highest point in the Eastern United States). In other words, the view is pristinely lovely. Henry only needed the tiniest bit of help going down the mountain when the rocks were slippery. We didn’t see any bears (thank goodness!), but ran into a few hiking dogs (much to the Hen’s dismay). 


We stopped for ice cream at Dolly’s Dairy Bar (Lutheridge is a special flavor!) on the way back to Amber’s (kids were sleeping so we got to enjoy a mini-date), and ended the day with an evening stroll and playground adventure in her neighborhood. It was such a great visit; I hope we return soon!

Birthday Beer is the Best!

Keith asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday and my request was simple: spend some time with the family and some non-kid time with Amber, but all of it should include beer. Asheville has a fantastic craft beer scene, and I wanted to partake!

After worshipping at Amber’s church where I wasn’t solely responsible for two littles (meaning I got to enjoy most of worship!), we headed to the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company for lunch. Amber and Chris had told us that it was like the Disney World of breweries and they did not lie. We could have spent the entire afternoon there, if we didn’t have to get the boys home to nap. Lunch consisted of shareable small plates and everyone was licking their fingers. We headed out back afterwards and enjoyed live music while relaxing around a fire pit (it was chilly for us Floridians!) A sand table area was set up for kids, and Henry had too much fun digging and laughing (as usual). We also walked through their garden where edible plants are grown for their brewpub. The brewery offers tours, too, but we didn’t have time for that.




Because after dropping Keith and the boys off at Amber’s, us ladies headed to downtown Asheville for more fun (and drinky-drinks)! Our first stop was Catawba Brewing Company in South Slope. This was our favorite tasting room – lots of tables, great beer, and a beautiful warehouse. There’s a smaller room for private events, and I’m sure it is a cool place for wedding receptions. It also has food trucks outside for food, and there’s a donut shop next door that looked delicious.
 


Next up was Green Man Brewery, which turned out to be our least favorite. I liked the Yoda, Slimer, and other green decor, but the beer I had was just so-so. Finally, we visited Hi-Wire Brewing, and the beer there was yummy. We sat at the bar, there was a nice breeze, and great service. By that point, I was full of beer and super hungry and there was no line for the French Broad Chocolates. So of course we had to get some sweet treats! I had the most delicious Mexican hot chocolate, Amber snagged a tasty cookie, and I picked up a mint chocolate brownie to take back to Henry.
 



Back at Amber’s, we had burgers on the grill and sides before chowing down on birthday pie from a Hendersonville bakery. It was decadent and a perfect birthday treat. The best part of my birthday was spending it with people I love: Keith, my kids, and best friends. That evening, I told Keith my birthday priority in the future would be spending it with best friends who I don’t get to see all the time, because it was so lovely. What a fantastic start to 35!

Asheville Adventuring with the Littles

Let me first start by saying that everyone needs a friend like Amber in their lives. She’s one of the best, and we are lucky to have been friends with her since college. It’s one of those friendships that can pick up after not keeping in touch well (on my part, she’s always the one reaching out to say hi) and it seems like no time has passed. Additionally, she was kind enough to invite all four of us to stay with her for a week while Keith was at his conference and she was teaching. Adding our four-person level of craziness to her quiet home was probably an adventure in itself, but then we ventured out!


She recommended a playground in Asheville called Carrier Park which was incredible! A velodrome surrounded the playground area so we had fun watching bicycle racing before playing. The playground itself was a wooden castle, with climbing tunnels, swings, slides, and an airplane! In two sections – one for older kids and one for the smaller ones – we spent equal time in both. Henry loved playing hide and go seek against me and Elliot because there were so many spots to hide. We also took a walk alongside the French Broad River to relax before heading back for lunch and a nap.


The next day we headed into downtown Asheville to get awesome books from Malaprops, the local bookstore. The kid’s selection was on point – we got four excellent books. Then we attempted to go to the Western North Carolina Nature Center. Unfortunately, all the schools and everyone with kids (at least that’s how the crowded  parking situation seemed) had the same idea, so we didn’t even make it past the parking lot. There was a playground nearby so we hung out there until lunchtime. Are you sensing a theme? When all else fails, a playground always makes things better.


The final day of Keith’s conference occurred on Saturday, so Amber had the day off to play with us! We visited the Hands On! Children’s Gallery in nearby Hendersonville and had lots of rainy day fun. Henry loved creating energy by peddling a bike, selling ice cream in the ice cream shop, making lego cars and racing them, and rapidly running from exhibit to exhibit. I think everyone took naps after this.

Road Trip To North Carolina

Keith has been wanting to attend the Catechumenate conference for a few years now, but never managed to go. This year’s one was hosted by Nativity Lutheran in Asheville (our friends and family’s church), so we decided the whole family was going to road trip it up to Amber’s house and spend the week working and playing. But first we had to get there, and that is no easy feat with a 4yo and almost 1yo. It’s about a TEN hour trip, without stops (and we knew there would be stops) so I researched potential stopping points along our route so the kids could play and we could get an “are we there yet” break.
 
The Play Across America Blog was particularly helpful once we hit I-95 because it had a descriptive listing of playgrounds to be found within a few miles of road exits, but first we had to make it out of Florida. Which takes HOURS. The only real place to stop for a picnic lunch along the route from Seminole to the Georgia border via US-301 was the town of Starke. I drove through this place all through college (it’s about halfway between Gainesville and Jacksonville), but have never really stopped. Except for that one time I toured the Florida State Prison located there, but that’s another story. The town of Starke had a small park a few blocks from downtown with clean bathrooms, picnic tables, and some playground equipment. It wasn’t fancy, but it worked for us. Henry had fun climbing and making up games while we ate in the 90+ degree weather.


The kids were getting stir crazy as we crossed the South Carolina border, so we stopped at one of the coolest playgrounds ever in Ridgeland – Harold Turpin Park. It comprised nearly a whole city block surrounded by quiet, tree-lined streets, and just looked how a playground was supposed to look (you know what I mean-picturesque). The whole playground was a wooden treehouse, and it had slides, fun swings (including a spiderweb swing), and a zip line! E loved the little splash pad to cool down. We would have spent more time here if we could have, but had to hop back in the car for the last stretch to Amber’s house where she was waiting up for us.
 

The day took a little more than 12 hours, but it was totally worth it to us to take these two long breaks for everyone’s sanity. 

Henry is FOUR

I have no idea how Henry is four years old already. 

At his four-year-old checkup, he weighed 38 pounds and has grown to 41 inches tall, putting him in the 69th percentile for weight and the 58th percentile for height. He’s growing healthy and strong. He did NOT like getting two shots, but had no reaction and was fine within minutes of receiving them.


Sleep remains a challenge. It takes several tries to keep him in bed following a lengthy bedtime routine, and once he finally falls asleep he wakes up and we frequently find him in bed with us. This frustrates me, but his extroverted self just doesn’t enjoy being alone. We have recently created a sleeping bag pallet for him next to our bed for him to go to if he has a bad dream; hopefully, it will work. He still takes one nap a day, usually for 90 minutes or so, except for when he’s at Oma and Opa’s and he sleeps for several hours. He spends two days a week at Oma and Opa’s, which allows Elliot free reign of the house and Henry to get one on one time. Everyone wins.
 
His favorite things include playing at playgrounds with other kids, dancing (especially to the Go Noodle app), Star Wars toys, building ships, going to Sunday School, and reading. He’s taking swim lessons this summer in the hopes of making him a more confident swimmer, and he loved (except for when he flipped out) playing soccer at the YMCA this past year.

We had a family birthday dinner the night before his actual birthday with the theme – Dragons Love Tacos – because everyone loves a taco party! Instead of having a friend party, we invited his best friend, Maddie, to visit the Lowry Park Zoo with us on his birthday. Henry loved the dinosaur exhibit (Maddie, not so much), and they both loved seeing the animals, riding the rides, and especially playing in the splash pad. We had a fun day, capped off with ice cream for dessert.

 
He starts part-time VPK at Little Lambs, our church’s preschool, in August. He is excited and optimistic about it, but sad to leave mama and Elliot at home in the mornings. I’m sure he will forget all about us after school starts. May the force be with whoever gets to be his first teacher, he’s a force to be reckoned with.


The Yearly Birthday Survey:

  • How old are you? Four.
  • What is your favorite color? Pink.
  • What do you want to be when you grow up? Zoo protector.
  • What is your favorite animal? Flamingos & cheetahs.
  • What is your favorite food? Chicken.
  • What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Strawberries.
  • What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? Peanut butter on a spoon.
  • What is your favorite thing to eat for dinner? Chicken and rice.
  • What is your favorite thing to drink? Orange juice.
  • Who is your best friend? Maddie. And Lucas.
  • What is your favorite toy? Rancor rumble.
  • What is your favorite TV show? Hmmm…Oddbots
  • What is your favorite movie? Trolls.
  • What is your favorite book? The Hobbit.
  • What is your favorite thing to do? Crafts. And collecting money.
  • What is your favorite thing to do with your family? Going on vacation. Like to Milwaukee.
  • What is your favorite holiday? Halloween. 
  • What is your favorite thing to wear? Superhero shirts.

Tia Vanesa Is Our Favorite

Shortly after my parents’ visit, one of our best friends (& Henry’s Godmother) came to see us. She brought Henry his birthday present: a NASA astronaut suit from the Air and Space Museum. It definitely solidifies his coolness status as the coolest one in our family. 


Vanesa may be the only person I know who was stoked to be a soccer mom for the day; she even wore her official soccer mom outfit (I told her that next time she needs a visor.) After the game, she bravely painted outside with the Hen. What started out with painting on paper quickly morphed into painting each other’s faces and arms. Luckily for her, I only buy ultra washable paint so it came off very easily. I don’t know who had more fun (it was me, watching them and relishing the fact that I didn’t have to be painted!) 


We took a picnic to the beach to watch the sunset later that day, and followed it up with Amish-made ice cream. We loved having her visit our crazy, and can’t wait for her to come back again soon (or else we will invade her D.C. apartment – all four of us!)

Grandpop and Grandma’s April Visit

My parents try to visit us every month since they’re retired with a flexible schedule, and we are not (with Keith’s pastoral duties and kids who don’t sleep well outside of our house and all). Sometimes we just hang out at playgrounds or around the house, but this visit included trips to the Florida Botanical Gardens and the Glazer Children’s Museum. 

I love the Botanical Gardens; they’re never crowded (except at Christmas-time), and there are so many varieties of flowers and trees to discover along the varied paths. I like looking for ideas to plant at our house. The kids like smelling flowers and having free reign to explore so long as they (mostly) stick to the paths. My parents were big fans of the butterfly garden because they’ve been talking about growing one of their own for forever. It was a win for everyone!


I’d never been to the Glazer before, but it was three stories of awesome building toys, interactive experiences, and rubber sand and water areas. As MOSI members we received a 50% discount, which made it very affordable. Henry loved racing cars with Grandpop and seeing how far handmade paper airplanes could fly. He also enjoyed the sports area where he could race different animals; he was faster than them all except the bird sometimes. Its ridiculous how fast he can run. Elliot loved splashing in the water with Grandma, and playing in the confined toddler area pushing toys, knocking down towers, and driving a boat. I thought it was fantastic they included a nursing moms area that was in an upstairs nook. Everyone had a blast! Next time we will have to bring bathing suits so the boys can splash in the fountain outside.