My conversation with Elliot yesterday morning sums up how I feel about being on the tail end of a wonderful vacation. Clearly, he misses the people who live in the houses. Who he can’t keep straight because he is three and there were so so many loved ones we visited with over the past two and a half weeks.
As we drove home, I just wanted to be home already. If we couldn’t be en route to a loved one’s abode, then I just wanted the trip to be over. Especially when we were stopped in traffic in Maryland and Virginia and the we were all achingly sad with leaving our final friends’s house. We all dealt with our feelings in different but typical ways. Henry kept scratching his brother. Elliot threw things around the vehicle. Then Henry would throw things back. I anxiously tried to ignore everything, but did a terrible job because of the confined space. Keith stayed level-headed until all the other mess happening in the car got to him and he exploded once.
These bad behaviors occurred so briefly on our vacation that they stand out in memory as exceptions to the overall awesomeness. Don’t get me wrong, they often occurred when we rode in the car for an extended period of time. But then laughter would fill the air as Henry decided to make Elliot laugh instead of hurt him because that was more fun. Or we’d all listen to an audiobook waiting to hear how things would end for “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” or “Ugly Cat and Pablo.” Or a kid would fall asleep mid-sentence bringing the car to a peaceable silence. I couldn’t ask for better travel companions. I love them all the most.
We stopped at Santee State Park on the edge of Lake Marion before checking into our hotel for the night. A last-minute decision, its beauty at sunset filled the sky with warmth. We stood near the docks enjoying the cool breezes the end of the day brings, and then raced to the playground for the kids to burn off their sitting-all-day energy. We’ll have to return another day to conquer its several hiking trails. On our way out of the park as darkness surrounded us, we discovered 7 deer alongside the road including a fawn. The boys found them especially delightful. I forget how rare it is for suburban kids to see wild animals outside a zoo. I think I’m going to work on finding the wonder in the ordinary and see what happens.
A nice way to close out a fantastic vacation is to not really have anything planned and to simply enjoy our friends’ company.
Kate and I (and all the little boys plus Keith) took a walking tour of two playgrounds and a trail. The littles liked climbing the rocks more than the actual playgrounds, as they should. Keith loved the large trees towering over the trail. We could have hit up a third playground to complete our play triangle, but our hunger for second breakfast persuaded us otherwise.
Swimming wore out the kids and created a meatball monster in Elliot. We calculated that he ate at least 10 meatballs as part of his lunch that included pasta and peas. During nap time, Henry pulled out his first tooth! It was a bit of a production before he got it out; ibuprofen plus a special placebo concoction created by Jon helped make the pain go away.
We finished the day was some blue bear ice cream sandwiches and loads of running around. Fueled by dessert or just full of energy, it was a joyous end to our day.
Beavertail State Park in Jamestown got its name because of its shape – people thought it clearly looked like a beaver’s tail. I didn’t really see it like that, but it’s possible. Before we headed off the island, we visited this park because it’s Hudson’s (Cindy’s dog) happy place. Not only that, it’s incredibly beautiful with its rocks jutting out into the sea and a lighthouse overlooking the southern tip of the peninsula.
We climbed some of these giant rocks that were mostly safe for kids to be scurrying over, and walked along the coast. I’m so happy we made it, because it’s such a peaceful place. Especially when contrasting it with driving among the vehicles on I-95 (our main portion of the day).
We took a break in Metuchen, New Jersey to see our good friend Chris (we hope you feel better soon, Lisa!) It had been eight years since he and Keith graduated from seminary, so you can imagine the catching up that occurred. On our southerly drive, we ticked off the last few new states for the kids – Connecticut, New Jersey, and Delaware – so now the only ones left are ones we’ve traversed before.
Arriving in Maryland, we received Costa love and Henry relished his big brother role by reading to the three-year-olds at bedtime. More fun and hijinks to ensue in the next couple of days here.
A big driving day means saying goodbye to loved ones, but also saying hello to other people we love. Hen had been clamoring to hit up Black’s gift shop the ENTIRE time we were in Wolfeboro so we stopped on our way out. He and Elliot bought treasures: a set of rocks and a red car. The thrill was real, and they still have money to spend the last few days of our trip. We also stopped by the Yum Yum Shop because no one can leave Wolfeboro without first eating a gingerbread cookie from there. Happy to oblige, the kids chose ones with frosting, Keith ordered a gingerbread donut, and I ate a praline cookie (& the rest of El’s).
We had the brilliant plan to drop by Maine on our way to Rhode Island since none of us had ever gone, and we were so close we felt we just had to go. Our plans unexecuted; we didn’t make it to the art museum or the beach in Ogunquit, but we did eat a wonderful lunch and hang out at the library. We made the executive decision to return to Maine and do it up right the next go-around.
After being stuck in Massachusetts traffic for forever, we made it to my cousin Cindy’s home. The wild littles needed to run off their energy so we visited the best park – huge things to climb, a zip line, and tall slides – the kids loved it. And the adults spent so much time catching up that I forgot to take photos. Jamestown is beautiful (I feel like a broken record saying it so much on this trip, but it’s the truth!)
Lake Winnepesaukee’s majestic mountains surround it’s clear waters, which makes for a wonderfully peaceful boat ride across the lake. Except if you have two littles with you. Then it’s still mostly peaceful interspersed with loud kids singing/yelling the lyrics to their favorite songs while dancing on the life jacket bins. Or something like that. We hung out on the third level, and the cool breezes made everything better.
After nap time (especially for “the Bill”), we headed downtown to hear the band practice for its evening performance. The boys danced like no one was watching, except they knew some people were watching so they danced extra wild. My boys really bring everyone in their lives such joy. I know all parents say that, but there’s a light within mine that they can’t help but share it with the world. We ate delicious seafood for dinner (swordfish tacos that made me actually like swordfish, and all of the avocado Elliot could bum off of others). The evening’s magic permeated our hearts.
Elliot woke up this morning wanting to visit the Village Creeme Stand. Immediately. It tasted that amazing. Too bad it doesn’t open until 10am, or we’d be eating it for breakfast.
Our last morning in Bristol was delightfully spent doing the same things we did yesterday. We ate at Snaps, played in the town square (this time at its excellent playground), and visited with Tom and Claire at their home. Elliot and Henry fed the horse (bye bye Lil’ Sebastian) carrots.
Driving through the Green Mountains, Keith and I marveled at their heights and hidden wonders like waterfalls and walkways. We broke for lunch at Rollins State Park in New Hampshire. Henry called it “amazing” and thanked us for taking him to this park. He also said we should come here every time we visit New Hampshire.
We got back on the road, and swiftly made it to the Petersen’s home in the Waumbeck Woods. We love them, including their new puppy, Tucker. We headed to downtown Wolfeboro for dinner, but since there was a long wait we just had to have our dessert first (mom, you’d be so proud). Ice cream as a first course is always a good idea. The Mexican food we had afterwards was also delicious. Wolfeboro looks way different in the summer than the winter, which is the last time we visited. I love it now!
Four years ago, the Hen and I were flying together to see his Tía Nesa in DC for his first visit to the Capitol. So it’s fitting that we said goodbye to the Brownes this morning as we head north on our adventure. El was inconsolable at Vanesa leaving for work; he may have thought he was going to work with her to be a Boss Baby and that we were staying longer. Next time, little one.
Continuing the day of seeing Godparents and Godchildren, we briefly stopped by the Costa’s house on our way out of DC, even though we’ll be seeing them again in a week and a half. Totally worth it for the hugs and the kids to see/play with each other.
We got back on the road and drove until lunchtime where we stopped at Kidsgrove Park (247 W Sassafras St) in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. A wooden fortress of a playground, it had ladder tires, a wooden train, tunnels, turrets, and swings! Sadly, we didn’t have all day to play or else I think the boys would have tried. We ate lunch at the adjacent Major Anthony Selins Park (241 W Sassafras St), which had a small colorful playground and a shaded pavilion. Keith took a walk in it’s tree museum, kidnapping the Doritos and having a peaceful time up in a tree.
Several hours later, we made it to the Meyer’s house and it’s just so wonderful! Too fantastic to remember to take pictures. I’ll be sure to take plenty in the next few days while we’re here.
Last night when Keith asked what time the hotel pool opened in the morning the clerk responded with a grin, “Do whatever you want to do. I don’t care.”
We didn’t swim because we had a busy day of driving through three states, but we are doing what we like because we’re living that vacation life.
We had planned to stop to play at a park in Dunn, North Carolina, but Elliot was asleep so we continued north to Rocky Mount for lunch and park time.
Sunset Park (1550 River Drive) was an awesome detour. We rode an antique 1920 carousel and a 1952 Model G-16 Miniature Train around the park including through a tunnel. For train aficionados, it had a 20 horsepower Wisconsin gasoline engine and is a scale model one fifth the size of the train it depicts (F7 General Motors Diesel Locomotive). There were actual seats for 36 people (unlike the Largo Central Park trains) and it went FAST (well, faster than I thought it would, topping out at 8 mph).
The kids’ favorite part was the spray ground, where they ran (until Elliot wiped out) and then walked and chopped their way through the water making friends. For $5 a person (E was free) I definitely recommend it!
Getting out of the car for a bathroom break in Virginia, Henry said to me, “Thanks for planning such a great trip, Mommy. I’m having a great time.” I asked Keith if he prompted the Hen to say this, and he came up with it all on his own. No, I didn’t cry, but my heart soared.
We made it to the lovely Casa Browne in Alexandria just before dinner and we are so thankful to spend some time with Vanesa and Scott. Complete with a champagne welcome, presents for the kids, and a home-cooked meal we feel so welcomed and loved. An evening passeggiata to the playground (actually 4!) combined with races and climbing fun rounded out our evening.
I don’t know about you, but it’s been just so hard to make it to playgrounds this summer with this crazy heat making it unbearable outside. But last week I got our act together and we made it to a park a little before 10am and it only felt like 87 degrees. Or something like that.
A couple weeks ago, I spied a park that had SHADE on our car tour of South Pinellas! So it was totally worth it to make the 23 minute drive into Gulfport for a mostly shaded playtime adventure at Caldwell Park (Gulfport Blvd and 64th St, Gulfport). Pulling into this small neighborhood park, Elliot exclaimed, “This is so cool!” He wasn’t wrong.
The boys loved spinning themselves silly on the multiple spinners, climbing up the fun webs (and laying in their hammocks), racing cars down the slides, and of course swinging on the swings (which were also partially in the shade – a Pinellas park miracle because there’s rarely any shade cover for the coveted swings!)
The playground abuts the busy Gulfport Boulevard, but the park is fully fenced and set back behind the trees. Kids can watch cars, but you don’t have to worry about them running out in front of them. It’s nicely mulched and well-kept with and adjacent adult fitness area so you can work out while your kids play. There’s also benches and a picnic table for you to sit back and watch your kids when they aren’t asking to be spun like maniacs. The only drawback is no bathroom facilities, so it’s not the best if you’re potty-training. Everyone agreed we had to go back this summer.
Northeast Park (4630 East Bay Drive, Largo, FL 33764) is a City of Largo park tucked away from the busyness of East Bay. I can imagine the playground gets more use when parents are playing basketball or roller hockey on its concrete-jungle courts (they close at 11pm), but on a weekday morning we saw no one. Pine trees provided needed shade cover for the playground equipment, which varied from the usual swings and slides.
We loved the zip line swing that is the focal point of the playground. A challenge to get up the platform because of its steepness (teamwork with Henry allowed the ramping up to happen; he did a running Superman and then leapt and grabbed onto the rail, which allowed me to haul him up the rest of the way), it was totally worth it to hear the boys’s giggles as they swung down the first big drop and were whipped around the corners. They did a great job of taking turns.
They also ascended the yellow mountain climber, which required help for Elliot and panicking by Henry that he couldn’t do it (even though he did). It was a different type of climbing because they had to move sideways without great handgrips. A small jungle gym that looked older than the other equipment was quickly climbed, then forgotten. The boys liked the merry-go-round (safer than the one at Largo Central), but didn’t ask to be lifted up for the bigger kid spinner. Elliot, of course, loved the swings, but didn’t like only having baby swings as an option. I guess the zip line swing is supposed to provide all the swinging fun needed for bigger kids. Finally, my kids tested the workout equipment made for adults, which looks like it was recently installed.
Dislikes: On our most recent visit I saw an abandoned car in the overflow parking with a lot of gear (plus a bike). I saw no one else at the park while I was there. Previously (more than 3 years ago), the trails were overgrown and littered with needles and other trash. I didn’t try to take a stroll this time around because of that. Additionally, my kids ended up getting filthy dirty from the park because there is no mulch or other ground cover. It’s pretty much pine needles over Florida black sandy soil. Dirtiness doesn’t really bother me, but it was a LOT.
Overall, I’m sure we will return this summer because that zip line swing was so unusual and fun, but I don’t think we will regularly go (unless the boys ask).