Monday, November 17, 2014

Thanks and Giving

It turns out that having two kids under 4, a successful career, wonderful family and friends near by makes the opportunity to blog hard; almost an unsurmountable obstacles. It occurs to me to take some pictures and I make a mental note to jot something down about the moment, and then just like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of lives.

November is time of year that we all should take the time to be thankful. Some folks post a daily thanks on Facebook or Twitter, add a hashtag and admittedly, that's sort of nice. I like seeing them, but some how I am not diligent enough to pull off such commitment for 30 days. At home with the girls we have a little tree that once a week we ask the girls what they are thankful for and we write it on a leaf and add it to a tree. On the coffee table in the living room we have pulled all the Thanksgiving children's books out and we've been reading them off and on.

However, our goals as mentioned in my epic last post is to give and minimize our stuff. So we have been working on that. For our church service project we put together a few boxes for Operation Christmas Child. We had the girls pick out items at Target. They colored pictures. I also had been hoarding shoeboxes, so I sent those to church too. We packed up 2 boxes designated for girls ages 2-4 and 1 for a boy age 2-4.

We gleaned the playroom with the girls again and took the items to Metropolitan Ministries. We arrived on the day that Met Ministries was breaking the world's record on the most food ever collected. News fans were present and volunteers were gathered around a giant thermometer. The excited was palpable and Tampa Bay beat the record. It was amazing!

Our last contribution over the last few weeks was with the help of the boy scouts in our neighborhood that are collecting food for the hungry. They dropped off a bag at the door asking for canned food. We simply put in a few cans that we had on hand. It couldn't have been easier.

When I was taking pictures and conceiving of this blog entry, I wondered about potential boastfulness of blogging about our family giving. It occurs to me that I am proud to be working on serving others. To be more conscience of the needs of others and the abundance of advantage that I have. I am proud that we are hoping to teach our girls by example. And I do believe if you are able you should care for others in the world in whatever way you can. If you share about your service to others, perhaps someone will feel moved to do that same. Thus to accusations of boastfulness, I say NEH! Join us in trying out best to help those in need.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Own Mutiny Against Excess: 7 Goals for 7 Living

It drives me crazy to think that my stuff is weighing me down. I worry that my girls’ stuff is too abundant. I worry that others may think that they have too much and that they will be spoiled and that they will grow up to not appreciate things. I worry that the girls will be those people that believe they are entitled to things or jobs or to a certain status. That may kill me. I find myself making excuses about their toys to our closest friends that don’t really care that the girls have a lot of toys to begin with. I lose sleep over it. I also lose sleep over being sure that my girls are thoughtful and thankful always. Both Eliot and I have parents that have always worked really hard. We both had the things we wanted when we were young and neither of us ever felt like we wanted something and didn’t get it. And some how, we managed to walk away with an understanding of the importance of hard work, the importance of valuing people; our relationships, more than any thing that we could have; possess.

As I pondered these ideas, I was watching HGTV. This is not to say that I need a bigger home or fancier home. I just like HGTV. I like seeing hard work turn into something cool, particularly if it’s got some sort of vintage flare. Vintage may be a cool new word for old but to me it says homey. I digress; I was watching a show with the Hatmaker family. These Texans were so fun and easy going I did something I rarely do, I googled them. Turns out the Hatmakers are professional Christian authors and ministers. So I downloaded Jen Hatmaker’s book “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” I read it. I had to slow myself down as I read it because I wanted it to seep into my skin. I was looking for an awakening, to be transformed in some way and I got it.

In the book, Jen Hatmaker systemically tries to addresses issues of excess for her and her family. For example, one month she focuses on the excess of their possessions so as they reduce the amount of clothes and other things they have around the house she commits to only wearing 7 items of clothing for the month. Another month, they decided to go green, so they identify 7 new behaviors such as recycling, gardening, and composting. There were 7 but I can’t remember them all. What I go out of it was a perfect segue way to into my own mutiny, as I read I was inspired. It shifted they way I want to live myself.

1. I want to be part of a church community that focuses on service. The image of the typical Christian from the outside looking in, sadly has increasingly become narrow minded, conservative and greedy. I struggle sometimes to defend the institution when the loudest of voices are arrogant and instead of caring for others are pushing them out of sight whether it’s a politically charged controversy of immigration or the regulations in towns on the homeless. The Jesus I know would likely have not been a modern day Christian. The Jesus I believe was the example I want to follow is that of an individual that was comfortable with those in society that were the most oppressed and casted aside.

To that vain, I want to be a part of a community of faith that seeks to care for those that need it the most. I want to spend less time in conversation about big giant Trunk or Treat party and more time in providing food to families without it in my community. Currently we are in process of building a “foot washing church” at least I would like to hope that we are. My church campus has suspended Sunday morning services every second Sunday to serve the community. We have service goals through February, which will be family and visitor friendly. We planning on being a true community church where the doors are always open, and so are our hearts.

 2.   I want to develop a habit of giving to others for our entire family. From the little things like donating used toys and used clothes to gathering food for Metropolitan Ministries to participating in family service activities.  

i.    I believe that giving is better than receiving. Empathy and compassion fulfill our lives in a way that envy and greed could never. It is part of that living by example that I believe children really see. As a child my mother opened her door to many in need, she was always trying to care for others, give to others whether it was a meal or a pair of socks, her heart is still one that focuses on giving. To this end, I want to be sure that we are doing our best to be giving people as well and talk to our girls about the importance of doing so. It’s a little holding hands and singing “Kubaya” –ish but there is value in generosity for all.

3.   I want to pick a day of the week where Eliot and I unplug together and connect to each other. I can’t completely disconnect, partly because I hardly watch television and vegging out to an hour of TV after the girls go to bed gives me great joy. But on the other hand, my incessant need to check email on the weekends or the evenings needs to be curved. Some things can wait, actually most things can wait. Life gets so busy and tiresome that Eliot and I will lay next together on our cell phones. He looks at soccer stats and I look at vintage furniture. An absolutely needed downtime, but once a week I want us to connect together together, rather than together separate. It is a tad counterintuitive perhaps to disconnect in order to connect possibly in another tech sort of way. Eliot and I may choose to watch a movie together or a show or a game, but at least we are engaged with one another; focused on the same thing.

     We disconnect with the girls often. We go to the park, or play games or do crafts without any tech oriented sort of thing, however, in Hatmaker’s 7, she had the entire family observe the Sabbath. They shared in a family meal and stayed home, stayed away from outside influences like phones, computers and ignored the host of household duties like laundry, mowing the lawn and simply just were together. Sometimes they ate popcorn and watched a movie, other times they played games, but I like the idea. Our lives are so busy that I would like to claim the Sabbath back. Ideally we would do this every week, but chances are that we won’t pull that off. I am trying to create habits of attainable goal setting so as of January I will schedule us one Saturday night a month as Sabbath night. We will wake up in the morning and go to church too.

4. Stuff is crowding my drawers, my closets, my garage thus I want us to reduce the amount of things we have. Now I should be specific because I am not claiming that we will give away everything and live in a state of asceticism. However, there is no reason we need 3 blenders. True story. I rarely blend as it is. So why 3 blenders? One doesn’t even work, but because it says magic on the side I shove it in a corner thinking that perhaps it’s inherent magical nature will revive it. It’s unlikely. We have likely 20 pots and pans, if not more and I am certain we use only 4.

So what I hope to accomplish is to evaluate the things we have. Things we do not need or no longer use we either sell or donate. This way we have things that we actually have a reason for and otherwise we let go of it. I am sentimental about photographs and a small handful of things, otherwise I have the tendency to let it go, the goal here is get it out of the house and into the hands of someone that needs it.

5. This past weekend we went to a local fruit and vegetable stand. We bought I think good quality items and I think a little less than we normally do. I want to be sure that we aren’t wasting food. We have definitely gotten better at this over the last few months. We have been trying to eat everything in our, 2 refrigerators instead of buying more things and forgetting we have it stored. One of the ways we have been doing this is menu planning.

Over the weekend, we try to talk through what we could have for dinner during the week and then purchase additional food as needed. Maybe everyone does this, but don’t really. I used to go to the store and just buy things that may strike my fancy on that day. So we ended up with 7 pounds of chicken or 12 bags of frozen vegetables. As we plan for the week, we consider at least one leftover day, and a day that my parents will make us dinner and a day that we may eat out.

6. At the risk of being redundant, I want us to evaluate our closets and pass things along to people that we have out grown or are out of style. I have been pretty good at doing this with the girls’ clothes because they out grow things so quickly, but Eliot and I have too much clothes. There is no reason I need 50 skirts in my closet.

h    There is also no reason that every drawer in my dresser doesn’t closed completely because there are so filled items get partly stuck at the back of the drawer and stop them from closing. I also have lots of clothes pre-pregnancy that do not fit because my body changed significantly.

      7. An item on the list of most Americans is spending. Addressing and evaluating where most of your money goes will determine what you value in life. I want to be thoughtful about our spending and to use our financial resources for experiences rather then the acquisition of more things.

Of course there are things that I want and there are things that I need, but there is balance. We also have a love for travel and a desire to feel financial secure as we enter our 40’s, 50’s and beyond. This is the time to figure that out the plan.

**I haven't blogged since June. It's hard to believe that life has gone so fast and that I have let go of something I love to because time has gone too fast. I will add writing to my list of goals. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Summer Fun: Toddler Crafts and Kid Cooking

A few weeks ago I had the rare opportunity to have time with each of the girls by themselves. This is very rare. I set a couple of things up for Vivi (22 months) to do. She likes to feel successful immediately when she is doing activities and so I wanted to be sure to be ready to change activities when she got bored or frustrated. I know this is a common trait for this age and in other areas good parenting dictates you allow them to be frustrated to overcome adversity however, I want her to have fun while doing art, therefore I create the opportunities for that feeling to be pervasive. 

The first activity was painting with tubes. I poured washable paints into a plate but out the paper and let use them as a stamp. She did this for a few minutes and then asked for a brush. She likes painting so she multi-tasked.

 This is an oldie but a goodie. A used Pringles can. I made holes of different sizes in the top and gave her a stack of pipe cleaners. This helps her use small motor skills and work on patience a little. Once the can was full she was done. She didn't want to do it again as if she completed the task and moved on.
 The next activity was a string game. It's an Alex Little Hands activity. The theme for this one is thee farm. I pulled off all the wooden figures and put them in a bowl. She then threaded them on. I was surprised by how this held her attention and how many times she wanted to do it again. It must have been close to 10 times. She would put them on the string and then I would take them off, she would happily thread again. This is another small motor skill development and she was very good at it. I recommend these because the figures are sturdy and Lydia actually likes to use them for imaginative play.
 Once Vivi was napping, Lydia had gotten home from her morning camp. I let her use the same paint, tubes and brushes but added a couple of paint stamps to keep her busy. She loves this type of thing so she painted here for a whole 30-45 minutes without question or fuss at all. The difference between an almost 4 year old and an old most 2 year old.

 Once everyone was up and awake we made dinner. Digiorno has a new pizza that comes with various toppings, they call it they Design a Pizza. The consumer can put whatever they want on the pizza. I found this to be a great kid cooking activity. Even Vivian was able to help. They each have a step stool so they can reach the counter. I opened up the packets of toppings and they just put the stuff on there any way they wanted.  It was sort of awesome. When they were finished we made the pizza and ate it. They both ate 2 whole pieces and I think that part of it was certainly the ownership over the food itself.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Collection of Random Ideas and Little Crafts

I was looking for some art for the  girls playroom. I didn't really want to spend any money. Lying around my garage was an old cheesy painting of of a women playing the guitar in a cool old green frame. I had some chalkboard paint lying around. I painted over the guitarist with 2 coats and turned it into a chalkboard. Using colored chalk I wrote on it what you see below. I worked out perfectly. It's placed somewhere the girls can reach it so it will remain like this for awhile. Eventually I can take it down let the girls use it or draw something new. Easy to do, less than $5.
Lydia is loves butterflies so I cut a paper plate up to look like one. I let her use the glitter glue and pom poms we had. It was an easy craft. Quick to do but tough to finish because we had to wait for the glue to dry repeatedly to be able to do the next part of it. So we had to let the head pom dry before we added a face which also had to dry before we added the antlers. It's a tough task for a 3 year old to wait.

Obviously you see what I mean about butterflies. I bought these a while ago at the dollar store. I believe there were 4 in a packet. I let both girls (ages 1 and 3) paint them as they saw fit, but then there was nothing else to do with them. I could have added them to anything really, but I chose to glue them to clothes pins. I use them to close chip bags and to hang kid art on our display line provided by Ikea.

The last completely random mom artsy moment was this set of dice. Eliot brought home a couple of boxes that were almost perfect cubes. I taped them up and spray painted them white. I used sharpies to make them sort of like dice. Instead of the normal dots I made each side with different shapes. So we can throw the dice and count the squares, then the circles and then all the shapes. I found a couple of dice games with fun printables, so Lydia can practice counting and then match the total with the actual number. We play bingo with them. She counts, finds the right correlation and then place a coin on it. We fill the sheet. It's easy. And fun and once we get bored of the giant dice we will recycle them, a nice Earth Day project for sure.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Raising Children is No Joke

Raising children is no joke. It’s not easy. There is no right way to do it and there is no absolute assurance of the long term outcome. Your child will eventually make their own decisions and sometimes those decisions will be bad ones that result in negative consequences. If you are lucky those are imposed by you rather than society (the cops) or the universe (death.)

All mothers worry. That’s normal. I worry if the girls will grow up to be good people. I worry if they will kind. I worry if they will be honest. I worry if they will be compassionate. I worry about the future of their surroundings. I worry about the friends they will make and the influences they will have.  I worry about the moment that I lose the control over all those factors. In reality, I already have.  Lydia goes to preschool. She attends 3 days a week for half of the day. A seemingly minimal amount of time, but in this time she has interactions with other children. That is the goal of course that she will become socialized. Sometimes she comes home telling us all sorts of stories about the inner-workings of their tiny social groups. Her closest 3 girls friends are a team (her term not mine.) The other day she reported that her team didn’t like the other team because they were friends with boys (as known as the enemy.)

We asked a few questions to clarify. We have repeatedly talked about the equality of boys and girls in our house mostly because instead of having some sort of submissive or latent girl insecurity my daughter believes that boys are beneath her and are not as capable as girls. And honestly I work hard on not destroying these feelings of confidence and assertiveness that are always at the forefront her nature, but we do talk often that all people are able to do things they chose. Boys can dance. Boys can play dress up. Boys can color. All of which is unsure of is true.

A few days later she reported that her team was better than the other team, and as a result she said a girl spit on another person to prove it. The flags were flying up faster than I could put the words together. None of these behaviors are appropriate to us for any reason, so the conversation began and continue throughout the evening. It turns out that she used the term better instead of saying that they were good at following directions. We are better because we listen to the teacher. We are better because we cleaned up after crafts. We are better because we ate our whole snack. In another turn of events, no one spit intentionally on anyone either. Her friend sneezed while having milk in her mouth and spit on someone accidentally, but on the surface these initial reports her disturbing.

As we decoded the actual events of the day, I wondered if we would need to go and talk to the teacher. Make sure these girls were split up or given consequences for early mean girl tendencies. Then I realized that it is now where my parenting would be put to the test. Should I intervene or should I allow her to develop her own voice?

A girlfriend had told me a story about receiving a phone call from a mother in her son’s class. Both kids are in the sports club after school. The mother called to tell my friend that her son, which towers over most other children in the class, was upset because her son kept hitting him in the head with the ball. It turns out the kids were playing dodge ball, where of course the purpose is to hit each other with the ball. When she told me that story I was literally rolling my eyes along with her. It’s absurd that the boy felt compelled to go home, complain to his mom, and the mom then in turn fought that battle for him by my calling my friend. To me that is the perfect opportunity to each your child to stand up for himself. He should speak up and say “Hey! Don’t hit me in the head!” and or he should learn how to dodge the ball since it’s the objective of the game. We must empower our children to have their own voice.

I will not always be present to fight Lydia’s battles and make her choices. She must have a clear understanding of what we as a family value and she must learn to fight for it. With this story in mind and her friend situation at school, we took turns talking to her about kindness, compassion, inclusion, equality and respect. We read stories about it. We modeled it through play. We prayed for it together before going to bed. Perhaps it is overkill, but sometimes we do things as parents because it makes us feel better on this journey to help our kids be good people. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Summer List of Things to DO

Summer Bucket List for 2014. 

35 ideas and things to do locally and at home with my girls, one is almost 4 and the other almost 2. Most of these are free and the couple that have admissions costs are less than $30. You can't beat it. 

I am lucky enough to work at an independent school that has great opportunities for the summer. Lydia will attend a fine arts camp for two weeks half days while I am teaching for a couple of weeks. We will take advantage of our church family VBS this year too, which will be just a few days in the evening, since we have already made plans for the traditional VBS times.

We will also go on vacation for a few weeks to Tennessee to be in the mountains and see friends. So we will be on the go, as always but I also love the days that we get to be home, and this is what the bucket list is for. Fun summer days and rainy summer days where you can find something new and special to do. I labeled the ideas that can be done on rainy days since there are plenty of them in Florida. 

  1. Roast Marshmallows. We have a fire pit outside. We were thinking we could roast marshmallows with the girls and make s'mores in our backyard.
  2. Road trips: Orlando, Chattanooga, Knoxville and Jensen Beach. We are still hoping to get the most out of our Disney Passes so we have on the calendar at least one trip to Orlando. We are going to vacation in Chattanooga and see friends in Knoxville and then spend a couple of days at Jensen Beach, to rest and relax.
  3. Library. One of my frustrations is always that the Children's programs at the public library tend to mirror the school calendar so when I am free they are vacationing which is fair, I suppose but I hope to take Vivian at least a couple of times to the library. Free. 
  4. Bayside Gymnastics Open Gym Time. This local gymnastics establishment is not only owned by someone I went to high school with but Lydia has taken several classes there. It's a great establishment and even though their summer open gym time can be nutty, I think it's an easy thing to do with the girls when we want to get out of the house. For both girls $10.
  5. Pool. Lydia know how to swim and Vivian is taking lessons. I am excited about moving into a pool-tastic summer. Last year the pool thing was still a lot of work. Lydia wasn't a big fan and Vivian you had to hold or put into the floaty device. Lydia can swim well now, so we are hoping that will add more fun less work. 
  6. Little pool slide. This is simple. Take a small blow up pool and put it at the bottom of you playset slide. Instant water slide.
  7. Mudpies. On the day we do the little pool slide I figure would be the day to make mudpies. Messy and clean all at once. Chances are there will be little clean, but here is hoping.
  8. Tea party. I wanted to have a fancy tea party for summer fun. Little muffins, little sandwiches, fancy cups and plates and dress for the occasion. I think it will adorable. rain
  9. Make jello aquariums. There are gummy snacks that have fish and we will make blue jello and put them in clear containers as a fun snack and dessert. rain
  10. Root beer float. Giant frozen mugs, ice cream and root beer. Also a fun summer treat. rain
  11. Paper roll road map. I keep having this thought. We have long hallways at our house. I think I can take paper from the easel roll and roll it down the hallway. I thought I could draw some things on it and have them draw some roads and play with cars. rain
  12. Obstacle course. My vision of this is things to jump over, things to crawl under, things to do along the way. I think this will work indoors or outdoors depending on your home and your willingness to make things chaotic. rain
  13. Outdoor fort/tents. The new play set has space underneath it where you can clearly tie sheets and create a tent. Recently we cleared out our linen closet so we are very prepared for sheets to hang all over the backyard.
  14. Make bird feeders/bird bath. I fear that these projects will bring bird poop into my yard as well but since we have already been spending a lot of time in the backyard I have seen bluebirds, robins and hummingbirds. It would be fun for them to be a little closer. 
  15. Sprinkler fun. Simple. Old School.
  16. Splash park. My girls have never really liked splash parks something about the water in their face but I like to try it at least once a season. 
  17. Kite flying. Simple. Old School. Kite are pretty cheap. Dollar Store for sure, we have a couple from Walmart that I think were a couple of dollars. All you need is a field or front yard with some space. 
  18. Little Kid Yoga. I love yoga. At one point in my life I practiced every week and it was genuinely fulfilling. Since then it's been hard to fit it in. I think Lydia would enjoy doing some position and so will Vivian so I ordered a book about yoga for kids. Book $12. rain
  19. Soccer game or baseball game. The Rowdies are back and so are The Rays, we haven't taken the girls to a professional game and it just may be a ton of fun to do it. Prices vary. 
  20. Scavenger Hunt. Hide stuff, make the find it. rain
  21. Make pizzas. We would get pre-made dough have the girls make pizza. A little sauce spread around, cheese sprinkled on, maybe mushrooms. rain
  22. Get Sea shells. Lydia loves to find sea shells, so I thought it would be fun to go to the beach just to do that. We would take "hunting" gear. We would be on a search for just shells like explorers. 
  23. Paint Sea shells. Once we got our shells we would paint them. It would be fun to do. We are about painting just about anything. If I give them small brushes they like the fancy feel of this type of painting. rain
  24. Sunset. A lot of the time we catch the sunset on drives from point A to point B. I would like to take the girls to the beach to see the full on experience. 
  25. Beach 3x Eliot and I are lazy beach people because we have always lived by the beach and well it takes a lot of effort. The girls on the other hand love the beach. My goal is to make to the beach at least 3 times this season for them. 
  26. Ft Desoto Park I have been to the Fort itself in years. I think it would be fun to go check it out. $5 toll to get out there. 
  27. Tin foil river Another backyard idea taking a roll of tin foil and making a river through the yard filled with water. Random silly fun. 
  28. Weaving with paper  Imagine painting paper then cutting them into strips to weave them. I am not sure at all how this will go with Lydia but I think it has the potential of being kind of cool. rain
  29. Sewing with yarn and paper plate Another craft as a pre-sewing activity. Punch holes in a paper plate and have her make a design with yarn colors. rain
  30. Spaghetti painting. I have been waiting to do this for a couple of years now. Make spaghetti and let the kids dip it in paint and paint with it. It is clearly the messiest thing in the whole world, so I have to gear up but I think it could be really fun. rain
  31. Shaving cream designs. Cheap shaving cream and a cookie sheet. Let them have some sensory play. I was thinking of filling up the water table with it too, see what happens. 
  32. Tube wall. I have seen this a couple of times now, using tubes from paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls. Using paint tape you position the tubes all over and some what connecting. Then roll marbles or other small balls through them. rain
  33. 4th July crafts and World Cup crafts! The World Cup is serious in our house. So there will be more to come for this item, but for now the idea is watch, play, dream soccer and add a few kid crafts to the even rain
  34.  Dinosaur World a Florida delight! I think. I want to know. $15 for adults, $12 for 3 and older. 
  35. Old Mickey's Farm This is a local farm with farm animals. You can visit there for the day. Milk cows, pet goats, you know your average farm visit activities. $20 for me and Lydia, Vivian is still free.

Monday, April 14, 2014

And We are DONE!

April 11 marked the one year anniversary of our Park Quest. After reading some inspirational outdoor articles, we decided to venture to visit as many parks in the area as possible, the first goal was 50 between April and August. This goal quickly evolved to as many as we could over the course of a year.
Crescent Lake 

This is what we learned:

  1. There was no way to get 50 parks in 4 months unless both of us would have been unemployed and wanted to do nothing else but go to parks. We covered 36 parks in one year which breaks down to about 3 parks a month. Even that was tough. Imagine there are 4 weekends in every month, if we only went on weekends, which we didn't but that could have been an activity planned for 75% of weekend time in one month.
    Albert Whitted Airport Park
  2. Not all parks are created equal. Based on my experience I can say that the city of St. Petersburg seems to work hard on maintaining these community spaces, but if you have just one afternoon in the area there are several parks I would recommend over others. The definition of park is even different for each consumer. As a young family a park usually has a playground, but for a hiker, runner or biker a park has a host of trails to explore, or perhaps for a tourist may just want to sit and see the water. I can provide lists for each of these. 
    Myrtle Beach City Park
  3. Sand sucks unless on a beach. 
    Northshore Park 
  4. Fenced in playgrounds are great for parents who want to zone out. 
    North Straub Park for Tree Lighting
  5. Always take water or a drink with you. I can't remember if all the parks have water fountains but I don't recommend using the ones I do remember. Creatures live in these parts.
    Philippe Park in Safety Harbor
  6. Don't be afraid to drive a little longer to see something new. We live such rushed lives that if we carve in time to go to a park, we tend to go to the closest because it's easiest when in fact there may be something new to do just minutes a way. 
    Hammock Park in Dunedin
  7. There is a ton more to see!
    Boyd Hill in St. Petersburg
We are so lucky to live in a truly gorgeous part of the country. The weather, of course, is typically amazing, so even on the coldest of days it is great to be outside and we have a ton of options to chose from in the Tampa Bay area. Even though the Park Quest itself is complete, I will continue to share new parks when we get to them, one at a time.

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

As a child this place was home to a lot of my memories. This is where I remember going on library field trips. This is where I pet my first snake and saw my first bee hive. I was not the kid that chased frogs in the mud, but I thought they were cool and pretty much every creepy crawly bug thing I can think of was in a small science center at Boyd Hill. I was excited to be there on Saturday and it had been clearly a long time since I had been in the building itself, because when we went inside, the library was gone. Apparently, it has been gone for 15 years, a true surprise to me. The lovely volunteer behind the counter, though gentle was amused by my dismay. Even though, change is always had, the new and improved all nature center was very well done. They clearly have school come in for programs so there are a couple of classrooms.

We paid $3 for each adult to get in, so for a family of 4 a total of $6 was not bad. This allowed inside the actual nature center to see various displays, touch and play with several areas and have access to the several trail preserves. Inside we got to see and pet a tarantula, see several turtles, frogs and the biggest toad I have ever seen in my entire life.  Outside there was an aviary sanctuary. There were several interesting rare birds to see up close since most were birds of prey. We walked around a couple of the short trails which were perfect for our kids attention spans. Afterwards we walked through the butterfly garden and saw the metal sculpture in the trees which really has been there since I was a child.

The park was full of small kids and families some attending birthday parties since this was a gorgeous Saturday morning. We went to the playground which Vivian was obsessed with and once again I was reminded that it used to be a huge wooden structure that must have over time just fell to pieces. Now it is a traditional strong playground equipment. There is a smaller one near the picnic tables which Lydia declared was the perfect playground. I think because she was able to play on every element without help from me. There is also a little area that has a stage and benches which my girls loved.

The girls loved it and we could have spent all day there running around. Next time we may bring a picnic. There is also a ton of programs the center offers for young children, some during the week and others are for summer camp. The edge of this preserve is right up next to Lake Maggiore, which also has picnic tables and playground space. It is a rich nature corner of the city of St. Petersburg.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Northeast St. Pete Parks: A Hidden Gem

On the Eastside of town, East of Fourth street down 62nd avenue north there are two parks seemingly on opposites of the road, both of which have a unique role for the neighborhood. However, the Northeast Park really could either be enveloped by Mangrove Gulf Club or could be considered the second campus to Puyear Park. At this point in my park travel I create additional unnecessary narratives to make sense of some of the choices that are made about the proximity of certain parks or the distribution of resources the city may have. Northeast Park is basically a baseball complex with a playground to entertain younger kids, while Puyear Park has a lot more going on, but primary it's the soccer center for this part of town. The Raiders Soccer Club meet on these fields and there were at least 4-5 games going on at one time while were there plus various other practices. Thus the age old debate of baseball versus soccer, I know where I stand, do you?
Kidding of course, we intended to go to Northeast Park because we had never been there, but when we arrive the parking lot was being repaved and the baseball families' cars were lined up and down the street. What appeared as an already small parking lot was empty with new tar and the small street was filled. My guess is that is always filled but on this night it just happen to be worse. There is a small playground that we didn't play on because it was too much to navigate and not to diminish it's quite possibility delightful play opportunity, we didn't stop to play. It appeared to be a very standard small playground that is fenced in which does help if a parent's attention is else where like a baseball game.

Puyear Park was filled with the community participating in many activities, soccer being only one of them. There are great tennis courts there which are always full and commonly the host of tennis lessons, even I took lessons there as an adult about 4 years ago. There were a couple of men playing racquetball and Puyear even has a Jai-lai cancha which I haven't seen since I was very young and my cousin was a pro player in the Tampa league. In addition to odd walking trails and picnic shelters there was a playground.

There are lots of open fields, a concession stand and parking placed in multiple areas of the park to access the thing you'd like to do without having to cross the whole park to get there. I mentioned there was a playground. The playground is fenced in which is always a thumbs up, but it's built on sand. Now we had a bit of a debate about this par. Eliot loved it, mostly because the girls really enjoyed playing on it. It was a 5-12 year old recommended play space but there was enough for Vivi as a 20 month old to access herself. But for me the sand is a real downer. Sand gets everywhere. Always. As soon as you take off a shoe or pick up a kid and up them in the car seat you see that playground pour out of them. The other anti-sand thing is there is always a kid that decides to pick up the sand and throw it. Always. This happened on this day. His parent was watching soccer and his older brother which may have been 5 to his 3 was calling the shots. Putting the ubiquitous sand issue to the side, I felt that the playground was a little faded and not so awesome.

What I will say for Puyear Park it has something for everyone in the family. I imagine bringing the girls to soccer practice and playing a little tennis with Eliot a couple years from now. You can sit and have picnic lunch while the kids are on the playground safely tucked in by the fence surroundings. It's a lovely park for sure. Puyear is the hidden gem.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Totally Awesome Cheap Kid Backyard

Slowly we have been working on our backyard. It is small. We are lucky enough to have a pool but it's actually positioned in the middle of our house. This was a really highlight for me, because I always thought that the girls would be able to play in our backyard without worry of the pool. The swampland of our backyard and drainage issues, have been a significant hurdle. Over the last year, we have been working on that. After two years, we can hang out in our backyard. I have diligently been looking at Pinterest for various ideas on what to do in small spaces that is inexpensive and kid oriented.
First of all, I wanted them to have a play set of some kind. We were looking at many different types, but with a small space it's hard to really  know what to do. I kept my eye on Craigslist. I knew we didn't want to spend a lot of money and the wooden play-sets are expensive. On the low end, they are close to $600. I found a relatively small one for $100. We went and measure it, then Eliot and his dad went took it apart in chunks and put it back together in our yard. We purchased a couple new swings, new screws and bolts and added a coat of wood finish to protect it.
The playhouses were a similar story. These things are crazy expensive brand new, some of them range close to $400, even the second hand stores were selling them for $200 which technically is half price. I just looked on Craigslist for almost 8 weeks. I found one that was terribly beat down, everything faded for $20, I spray painted  it bright solid colors and it looks lovely. We found the other one for $30 in really great condition.
The sand boxes were also second hand and so was the kid picnic table my in-laws got the girls which is great to outdoor mess activities and fun lunches. I placed the old play kitchen outside as a mud pie station for the future, when I am ready to commit to a mud day.
On Pinterest I saw a couple of really easy things that I knew I needed to do. One was spray painting stepping stones. We had a stack that happen to come with the house, so I just used the extra spray paint I had to rainbow it up. The girls love those things, more than I would have guessed. They jump from one to the next over and over. I also saw a chalkboard screwed to the fence which seemed adorable to me. Most of the links lead to really complex and expensive directions for this project. My original plan was to go to Home Depot and purchase chalkboard paint and a piece of wood which roughly would have been about $50, then we found a pre-made chalkboard. It is about 4 feet by 2 feet and it was being sold as an outdoor sign option, it was $9.97. We pre-drilled the holes and attached it to the fence. I added a dollar store bucket with rope next to it, we drilled a couple of holes in that too and poof $11 for the same effect. We figured for this price point, we could replace it in the future if we wanted with very little effort or even add another one.
The piece that I was most excited about was the fairy garden. I was going to wait until the summer, but decided why not now. I planted a couple of herbs which I have been wanting to do for a long while and bought a couple of dollar flowers. I let Lydia pick them out. The bucket was a Walmart find for $5 (meant for a drink container at parties I drilled holes in the bottom) which was a fourth of the price of some of the flower pots that I was looking at. At Walmart I found a Fairy Garden kit which I could pass up for $12. We planted the flowers together, she added all the kit elements, and daddy moved it to the back yard so we could take care of it. I hope for her to make a fairy house this summer to add to it too.

That is basically it. I found $1 buckets and bowls at the dollar store to stick in the cubies of some old shelves that were laying around outside anyway so I put them on their sides. The buckets have shovels, some have rocks, some have other sand toys but they are to be played with as they see fit. The grown up part of the yard at this point is just a couple of chairs and umbrella for the sun and a fire pit for the evenings. Eventually we would like to add a couple more chairs and the hammock we bought on our honeymoon that we have never hung up. Right now this is a great play space and I am so excited to be able to open the backdoor and not worry about them. They can play while I get dinner ready. They can play while I work on the computer right inside. It's ideal. A great fun space for less than $300 including paints and additional accessories.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Dunedin Parks

Spring Break is a time to skip in fields, climb trees and play in playgrounds. Since we had sometime off we decided to take advantage and head a little further north than we normally do to a part of Pinellas. Since I have been on the park quest I wanted to go to these two parks in Dunedin that appeared to be huge and pretty impressive. Hammock Park has 90 acres of land, a plethora of walking trails, playground area and even a butterfly garden. Highlander Park only a street away has the largest Splash Park in the county and 70 acres of land, my imagination was dancing with the possibilities of these places.

Sadly, I was a little underwhelmed perhaps it was the fact that my expectations were been blown way out of proportion but the website alone for Hammock Park was significant in contrast a hard to find entrance. We started by going to Highlander Park. The playground was position right next to the splash park which was really great. The splash park was huge, fenced in and provided several shaded benches for parents. The playground had some unique features which is always the key to a well liked park by my girls. Even though the city of Dunedin website had a brief description of the park on their website there wasn't any more information, for example, what is on the rest of the 70 acres property. There are hiking trails and that one needed to walk around to find because they were not labeled significantly from the playground area. If you were a visitor, as we were, you would not know what else there was at this park. There were a couple of fields, courts and such. My girls found these fun.

Since Hammock Park was right around the corner and we wanted to check out the Butterfly Garden we tore the girls away from the softball field and went on to the other part of our adventure. We followed the signs to Hammock Park. We found the entrance to the park which was an odd, road that ends into a dirt road by some run down service buildings. It turned out that one of those shacks was the front of the Butterfly Garden that clearly had not been kept up with. A sad area with overgrown plants that have already clearly been effected by the erratic hot and cold weather.

There was a small climbing area that had been designated on the Internet map as a playground and several paths to follow for hikes. Right at the front of the property there was an old church that was built in 1888. It happened to be closed on the day we were there but it was adorable. It added to my series of disappointments.

Butterfly Garden. We saw one. 

Afterwards we went to British Deli_cious in downtown Dunedin which was adorable and cute. It was very kid friendly. There was a mom there with her two daughters having a tea park. It was quaint. The downtown area was great. We wanted to have lunch right by the marina but it wasn't terribly kid friendly. Though I was disappointed by the over all park experience the girls loved the playground at Highland and I am curious about the splash park even though I will never go up there since it is so far away. The rest of it must be designed for hikers, runners but for a Florida park that just seems silly.