Near the end of our Rhode Island trip, we visited Beavertail State Park located in Jamestown, Rhode Island. Jamestown sits on a lovely island just beside Newport. It is a very beautiful area of the state. Beavertail is home to a lighthouse as well as a stunning coastline. The lighthouse, unfortunately, was closed when we were there (though it was supposed to be open), but we still enjoyed visiting the coastline.
Lest anyone think we have neglected classic vacation past times, today I'm sharing pictures of our bowling and mini-golf outings.
When in Rhode Island, we love to go to the duckpin bowling alleys. For those of you who don't know, duckpin bowling uses a much smaller ball (without finger holes) and smaller pins. It is very kid-friendly. For her last birthday, Meg very much wanted to do a duckpin bowling party, but our closest alley at home is nearly an hour away. So, she had to settle for normal bowling (we still had a good time).
In Rhode Island, we all enjoyed watching three-year-old Anne take her turn at bowling. She experimented with numerous methods of pushing the bowling ball down the lane. Regardless of the method it would move at a snail's pace. During the long wait to see if it would knock down any pins, she would do all the classic bowling moves. If the ball moved too far to one side, she would lean the opposite direction, hoping to will the ball to move, Sometimes, she would just cover her eyes with her hands because she just couldn't watch. The ball often managed to hit a few pins and she would cheer accordingly: "Go Annie! Go Annie!"
We also enjoyed mini-golfing during our vacation. Clare had the best time and surprised everyone by sinking two holes-in-one. Meg was mostly just hot and wanted to go home. Anne played mini-golf her own way. At the beginning of the round, we told her she could put her golf ball wherever she wanted. So, at each hole, she put it right beside the hole and knocked it in. I'm going to start playing mini-golf her way.
The Washington County Fair in Rhode Island is an annual tradition for my family. My husband went to this fair every year as a child and it is pure nostalgia for him. I love going because I grew up going to county fairs similar to this in the Midwest. Our kids love the Washington County Fair because, hey, what kid doesn't love a fair.
Each year we seem to spend less time with the animals. The girls still enjoy the rabbits and the baby chicks. While there are some seriously strange looking chickens at the fair for judging, Anne refused to go into the barn to look at them because they were too noisy. The cow barns are located in the sunniest spot of the fairgrounds, so the girls are anxious to move on. In the past, we often spent a large part of our time at the cow barns. When Meg was a baby, my husband's relatives still showed cows at the fair and we would spend time with them at the cow barns. But those days have passed and now we move quickly pass the cows. All attention is on the rides.
Meg and Clare are ride daredevils. These two will ride anything. If they are tall enough to go on a ride, then they jump on it with absolutely no fear. Their two favorite rides were the two scariest. And yes, my children were on the rides pictured below when the pictures were taken. Yikes!
Anne and I were playing it much safer. At this point, Anne does not like rides that go up in the air--even the ones designed for preschoolers. Anne refuses to ride many of the rides her sisters loved when they were her age. She definitely has some motion sickness issues, so I'm certain that impacts her choice of rides. At the fair, she liked three rides: the cars, the tea cups and the dragons (as long as I rode the dragons with her and kept our dragon from spinning too much). Anne and I just continuously walked in a circle, riding those three rides over and over and over again.
The Washington County Fair turned out to be a full day excursion for us. After drinking quite a bit of Del's frozen lemonade, the entire family returned home and collapsed in exhaustion.
We decided to add a Connecticut day to our vacation. We spend a lot of time driving through Connecticut on our way to Rhode Island, but we don't often return to Connecticut for sightseeing. This year we decided to make the short drive back to Mystic, Connecticut to visit the aquarium.
There are two wonderful things about the Mystic Aquarium: the penguins and the beluga whales. The aquarium has all the fantastic exhibits you would expect from a top aquarium. There are touch tanks with stingrays. Long tubular displays hold floating jellyfish of many varieties. There is a fantastic tank full of sea horses and another giant tank with sharks. There are outdoor exhibits with seals and sea lions. These are all great and would make a trip to the aquarium completely worth it. But the most awesome exhibits are the penguins and the beluga whales.
Mystic Aquarium has African penguins. They are small as penguins go. The exhibit is designed to allow the penguins to rest on rocks above or swim in water below. Visitors can view the penguins from either spot. In the past, we have enjoyed watching the penguins come right up to the glass as they swam in the water. We laughed at memories of Clare being taken by surprised when she was suddenly eye to eye with a penguin. On this trip, the penguins were mostly relaxing on the rocks. Just as we were about to leave the viewing area by the glass, two penguins began swimming high in the water. Unfortunately, there were no eye to eye encounters with the penguins.
There, however, was an eye to eye encounter with a beluga whale. I love beluga whales. Perhaps it is because their mouths seem to be stuck in a permanent smile. Perhaps it is just the adorable shape of their heads. I don't know exactly why I love them, but they definitely make me happy. We were lucky enough to snag a fantastic viewing spot of the belugas at the aquarium and one kept swimming right beside the girls. When the enormous beluga whale would suddenly appear in front of them seemingly out of nowhere, Anne would scream, turn around and run to me. Then she would go back to the glass and wait for him to return. The picture below captures her mid-scream and turn.
Following our trip to the aquarium, we did a little relaxed sightseeing. We drove through the town of Mystic and Mystic Seaport. When in Mystic, I always expect to run into a 19th century sea captain. The town is pure New England charm. The houses are old, but well care for. Old ships sit in the seaport. It is simply a beautiful place to visit.
We also visited the nearby retreat center at Enders Island. This beautiful island is the perfect place for a retreat. Whether you are sitting in a beautifully manicured garden or on a glacier rock that nature placed there randomly, every spot provides a place for reflection and prayer. The retreat center includes a beautiful chapel built of rock perfectly designed for the environment of the island. If anyone is looking for a place for a spiritual retreat, I strongly encourage you to consider this location.
After Enders Island, we headed to nearby Niantic, Connecticut--home of the Book Barn. The Book Barn consists of several locations throughout Niantic. Its main location is not a single building, but a landscape filled with random structures full of used books. In the midst of these structures are fantastic play areas for kids. There are cats that wander freely and goats that are confined in a fenced area (if the goats were allowed to run free, I'm guessing there wouldn't be many books left to buy). The only thing lacking at the Book Barn is a real bathroom. There are only porta-potties available. Three-year-old Anne desperately needed a potty, but she flat out refused to use a porta-potty. We had to cut our trip short a little bit and the lack of a real bathroom probably cost the Book Barn a larger sale. That being said, I did well in the time we had. On the recommendation of the same friend who initially recommended the Book Barn, I bought several Geraldine Brooks books and I'm excited to read them. Meg and Clare picked out an assortment of books as well, including a couple that they are considering for a book club meeting. Anne wasn't too interested in the books, but she loved a tricycle she found and rode it throughout the grounds and into various buildings. Here are some pictures from the Book Barn.
We added a new outing to our vacation this year--Edaville Family Amusement Park. A few years ago I read that Edaville was opening a Thomas the Tank Engine Land as part of their amusement park. My first thought was to wish my teenage nephew was still a preschooler so I could take him. He loved Thomas so much as a child. My girls like Thomas, but not the way my nephew did. As we were preparing to go to Rhode Island this year, I researched Edaville a bit to see if it was something our family would enjoy. We decided to take a chance on it and we were so glad we did.
Prior to even entering Thomas Land (as they call it), Edaville is filled with rides perfect for elementary age children. Meg and Clare enjoyed classic rides such as the tilt-a-whirl and flying planes. There was a ladybug roller coaster that they absolutely loved, which both twirled and zoomed. While Anne was tall enough to ride many of these rides with an adult, she was very timid that day and refused to ride most of them. When I rode with her on the flying planes that we could maneuver up and down in the air, she said, "This is like a really scary carousel." Hmmm, probably not what the park was going for with those rather tame planes. The jolly caterpillar ride was much more Anne's style. Considering Anne's timidity that particular day (which might have been attributable to motion sickness), I was very glad that there were several calm quiet rides that suited her perfectly. While the big sisters rode every crazy wild ride they could find, Anne occupied herself with little train rides and other tame options.
When planning our trip to Edaville, I anticipated that Anne would love Dino Land. It actually frightened her, but it was nonetheless cool. Dino Land is a little walk filled with mechanical dinosaurs. Not all the dinosaurs move, but those that did terrified Anne. It didn't help that Clare was telling her the t-rex was going to eat her. I feel confident in saying most kids would love Dino Land. Caution should be taken with younger children, whose sense of reality isn't always clear.
I'm happy to report that all of Anne's joy returned once we entered Thomas Land. Our first view of Thomas Land came from the Thomas Train, which departs every hour on the hour. From the train, riders can easily see all the amusement park has to offer as well as the cranberry bogs that surround the park. The Thomas Engine pictured above pulls that train.
Once inside Thomas Land, I was struck by what an incredible job Edaville has done in recreating the charm of the Island of Sodor. Little buildings and miniature people create the perfect set of Thomas the Tank Engine all around you.
The rides incorporate some of the shows favorite characters, such as Bertie the Bus, Harold the Helicopter and Toby the Engine.
Meg and Clare road a Cranky the Crane ride that I couldn't even watch. It was one of those rides that went high and then dropped. Yikes! How are my little girls old enough to ride those types of rides! A much calmer ride that we all enjoyed were the cars that circled high above Thomas Land and provided a wonderful view.
As the day came to a close, Meg and Clare headed back to the main park to ride the ferris wheel and bumper cars. I stayed with Anne to watch the Thomas show. By some engineering magic, engines were talking along with Sir Topham Hat and a driver, who was the only actual human in the show. Anne loved the show and had to finish the day off with a big hug for Percy.
Edaville was a huge success. Meg and Clare were so proud of being big enough to ride all the rides and they can't wait to go back next year. Anne woke up the next morning and asked to go see Thomas again. That's a pretty good sign she loved it.
We recently have been vacationing in Rhode Island. I strongly concur with the decision of the Vanderbilts and other tycoons to build their Newport "summer cottages" in Rhode Island to escape the summer heat of the city. We aren't in Newport. We rented a little house just off a rocky beach in Narragansett. But like those tycoons, we have been enjoying the much cooler temperatures and lower humidity in our escape from the city.
One of our first outings of the vacation was to Watch Hill. Watch Hill is the new cool spot for Rhode Island mansions. Entertainers such as Taylor Swift and Conan O'Brien have homes there. Other celebrities stay at the breathtaking Ocean House--a five-star hotel that appears to be the very definition of luxury. We, however, did not go to Watch Hill for the luxury. We went for its legendary carousel.
The Watch Hill flying horse merry-go-round is the only continuously operating carousel of its kind. It was built in 1867 and has made Watch Hill its home since 1883. It is small as carousels go and only children weighing less than 100 pounds can ride it. The girls were thrilled to be first in line so they could carefully choose their horses. Clare chose the horse looking most like Black Beauty.
Our next major outing of the trip was our annual pilgrimage to the New England Patriots Hall of Fame. My husband is a lifetime Patriots fan. His grandmother used to take him to Patriots training camp at Bryant College. He, now, takes our children to training camp at the practice field beside Gillette Stadium. The girls don't get much out of training camp because they are too short. The crowds are enormous and they simply can't see over the heads of all the adults. But they love the Patriots Hall of Fame. Their favorite part of the Hall of Fame is dressing up, though they do have to wait patiently while grown men also dress up in Patriots jerseys and helmets and pretend they are about to win the Super Bowl.
I'll continue with more of our vacation outings tomorrow.
We are not frequent visitors to the Children's Museum of Richmond. Their closest location is in Fredericksburg, which is an hour drive from our home. But there are times when an indoor play area is needed--for example, during a heat wave. A few weeks ago, when every day was nearing 100 degrees and my kids were sick and tired of being in the house, we drove to Fredericksburg and visited the children's museum.
While the Fredericksburg location is not huge (it is part of a shopping center), it is well designed. For the most part, the various play areas are located along the sides and the middle area is kept open with only a few play centers that do not impact the flow of kid traffic. It feels spacious and it is easy for parents to keep track of numerous children at once.
When the girls need to get rid of energy, there is nothing better than the giant mountain of tires at the museum.
This structure allows the kids to climb, slide down ropes and engage in fantastic pretend play. My girls joined up with numerous other children at the museum to play pirate ship on the tires. I could hear Meg shouting orders across the museum, so I assume she was the captain. My favorite part came when she yelled, "Man the ship." A boy then yelled, "Yeah, abandon ship." Apparently, these pirates were having some communication problems.
The grocery store play area is a constant favorite of my children. I'm not sure what it is about grocery stores and children. Is it that they spend so much time observing us in grocery stores and they want the opportunity to do it themselves? They do seem to love the opportunity to be the shopper and especially to be the cashier. The museum offers the kids grocery carts and shelves lined with food boxes as well as a produce section filled with plastic fruits and vegetables. After filling up their carts, the kids can head over to the checkout where they find a cash register as well as a sensor that allows them to pretend to scan the food. My girls spent so much time scanning groceries.
A play diner is located right beside the grocery store. This was well-planned. The kids take food back and forth from the grocery store to the diner. There is even a pass-through between the two play areas, which makes it easy for kids to ask for certain food and makes clean up a little easier as well. The diner includes a place to cook and plate the food as well as tables on which to serve customers. Parents often play the part of customers and, I can tell you, the kid-size seats can be a tight fit. But it works.
The play areas also include a bank and a dentist office. The bank never seems to get much traffic. It makes me wonder whether the kids really knew what the bank was and how to pretend play in it. So many of us manage our banking through ATMs, direct deposits and phone deposits. I rarely take my kids into a bank. The dentist office was a little more popular. Anne had recently been to her first dentist appointment and I noticed, of my girls, she had the most interest in the dentist office. She very much enjoyed using the dental tools to clean the teeth of the mannequin patient.
An ongoing favorite section for all of my kids is the art area. Here kids can use paint, markers, scissors, glue, as well as cardboard, tissue paper and various other supplies to create their masterpieces. The girls kept returning to this area to make new things. We were able to store their artwork on a drying rack until we were ready to gather it up before heading home.
A new addition to the museum since our last visit was the building area. Anne loved this area. A partially framed room allowed kids to pretend to be contractors working away. The girls made walls with blocks. They used toy tools to hammer and saw. They even pretended to do a little wiring. It is a very fun area.
The Children's Museum of Richmond (Fredericksburg) continues to be a fun outing. Some of the play areas are starting to show a little age. As I recall, a few things in the dentist office were not working. But the kids had no problem imagining around these technical difficulties. The best review has come from Anne, who continues to ask to go back every other day.
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I love reading aloud to my children. I also love being read to. The night before my wedding, I was very concerned about being able to fall asleep, so my mom curled up beside me and read Madeleine L'Engle's Meet the Austins to me until I fell asleep. I don't know at what point in childhood we stopped reading at bedtime. I am certain we kept it going as long as possible and I definitely begged her to read special Christmas stories to me well into my teens. Many of the books I remember best from childhood were not books I read myself, but books that my mom read to me.
A few years ago I read the memoir The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma and was very moved by the book. The book tells the story of a father and daughter who made a pact to read together every night. They kept their streak going from fourth grade until the day he dropped her off at college. Their family went through many difficulties during this period--including the mother leaving the family--but the nightly reading kept the father and daughter connected.
While nightly reading used to be a solid part of our family life, we have struggled recently. Meg and Clare are older. They often want to read their own books before bed. Anne prefers a few picture books, while Meg and Clare want chapter books. But perhaps our biggest struggle has been meeting expectations. For almost a year, we read through the Chronicles of Narnia. Each night the girls waited anxiously to hear what would happen next to the Pevensies or cousin Eustace and Jill. When we finished one book, there was no question that we would pick up the next book in the series. It was all so easy.
We also have many fun memories from reading the Narnia series. One evening, my parents who were visiting sat quietly with us and listened to several chapters with the girls. A friend hosted as book club meeting about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in which the kids discussed the book and ate Turkish Delight. As you can see from the picture above, as we were finishing the series, we moved outside and read by our Narnia lamppost (though, as I recall, the bugs were a bit distracting to the girls).
Since finishing the Narnia series, no one can agree on a book to read. We'll start a book and then the kids lose interest. We've continued to listen to books together on CD in the car. As I mentioned here, we are currently listening to the Penderwick books and all three girls are enjoying it. I, of course, still read lots of picture books to Anne. But something still seems to be missing. I guess I long to be Mrs. Austin from Meet the Austins reading classic children's books to her four kids, who ranged widely in age, each night before bed.
If anyone has suggestions for a great series to read aloud to the girls, please comment below. I'd love to hear them.
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I kicked this summer off with a weekend of reading. May had been a very busy month. We had Meg's First Communion, piano recitals, a ballet recital, our parish festival, Clare's birthday party, and a few more things thrown in. When Memorial Day arrived, I declared I would be spending the weekend reading and so I did.
I started my holiday weekend off with The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick.
I loved this book and read it quite quickly. Arthur Pepper is mourning the death of his wife to whom he had been married for forty years. He has managed his grief by following a strict daily routine. On the one year anniversary of his wife's death, he begins to clean out her clothes for donation and he finds a charm bracelet he has never before seen. As he investigates the charms, he discovers the life his wife had lived in the years before they met--a life about which she has never told him. While he is anxious about what he might discover, he also finds he cannot stop the pursuit. Learning about his wife's early life pushes him out of his routine and helps him to begin living his life again.
My favorite aspect of this book is Phaedra Patrick's ability to push flat characters into dynamic characters. Arthur's children are initially seen as uncaring, preoccupied adult children who occasionally check on their dad out of duty. As the narrative progresses you discover the personal woes the children are facing and you realize that their father's perception of them is not the whole story. Similarly, Arthur's do-gooder neighbor has a son who initially falls into the "goth teen who won't speak" flat character category. But the reader soon learns about this teen's struggles and why he is how he is. This technique not only challenges us as readers, but also as human beings. We have perceptions about people, but we don't know everything they are going through. Actions we perceive as a slight might in fact be perfectly innocent. There's always more to the story. People are not merely the stereotype they seem to fall so easily into.
This book is filled with hope. There are certainly some very sad scenes that realistically draw a picture of a mourning widower. But life continues as Arthur moves away from his own grief and comes to know so many people in his life better (including his deceased wife).
The next book I read over Memorial Day weekend was Jenny Colgan's The Bookshop on the Corner.
The first thing I will say about this book is don't skip the "A Message to Readers" section at the beginning of the book. It is a very funny recitation about various places one might read and the pitfalls involved. This is a must read for anyone who identifies reading as one of their hobbies.
Now onto the story itself. This book follows Nina, who is being laid off from her librarian job. As the library undergoes many changes, she finds herself rescuing unwanted books, but then finds she has no place to put them. She has already filled her home with so many books that her roommate forbids her from bringing in more. After a series of unforeseen events, Nina finds herself living in a Scottish village and running a bookshop out of a truck. If this sounds like your secret dream come true, then you should read this book. It is a charming story. Undoubtedly the book is a light read, but it is a well-written light read.
The final book I started over Memorial Day weekend (and finished soon thereafter) was Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly.
In recent years, I have had an interest in books following the lives of people in World War II. Lilac Girls falls into that category. The book follows the stories of three women in World War II. Two of the women are real historical figures. Caroline Ferriday was a New York socialite who worked for the French consulate. In Lilac Girls, she finds herself desperately trying to help those most hurt by Hitler. Herta Oberheuser was a German doctor and was the only woman to be tried in the doctor trials at Nuremberg. Kasia is a composite character of the Polish women in concentration camps who were operated upon by Dr. Oberheuser in cruel, experimental surgeries. These women were later brought to the United States by Caroline Ferriday to receive medical assistance the corrected some of what the Nazis had done to them.
This is an amazing story. Martha Hall Kelly takes on the difficult task of humanizing a Nazi. It is easy to explain the actions of the top Nazis as psychopathic or pure evil. But there were a lot of people who went along with the actions of the Nazis who were neither pure evil nor psychopaths. This book explores some of the reasons that might have happen.
This book also explores the mental anguish of those who survived the concentration camps. We see some of the characters prior to their arrest, within the concentration camp, and after the war. We see the change in them. They struggle with anger and hate toward the Nazis as well as guilt over surviving when their actions might have placed others who didn't make it at risk.
I highly recommend Lilac Girls. It's not perfect. Historical fiction is difficult because you don't want to put a phrase in someone's mouth that would not have been a phrase the character would have used in that time period. Lilac Girls is not only historical fiction, but also has characters in Polish culture and German culture. At one point in Lilac Girls a character says her Polish mother would have called the rain "a gully washer." But "gully washer" is a term unique to only certain parts of the United States--not Poland. Little mistakes like this keep the book from being perfect, but it is an excellent book and certainly worth the read.
In the coming weeks I'll review more of the books I've read this summer. I think we'll also figure out a way to have the Meg and Clare review some of their favorite books of the summer.
Today is Beatrix Potter's 151st birthday. It has become almost an annual tradition for us to have a tea party on Miss Potter's birthday and today was the perfect day for it. With rain pouring down outside and even a bit of very loud thunder, we baked scones and put out some biscotti and shortbread. Clare--our resident Beatrix Potter expert--insisted on chamomile tea, because that is what Mrs. Rabbit gives Peter after his harrowing adventure in Mr. McGregor's garden.
You'll notice in the background of this picture a new addition to our dining room--the doll house. As a general rule to preserve my husband's sanity, we don't have toys stored on the main level of our home. Puzzles and games are in cabinets in the family room and can be pulled out when the girls need entertaining. We have converted an entire kitchen pantry closet into a craft and activity closet for the girls. But toys have to be put away upstairs...with a tiny exception.
Our dining room is a huge room. Once we unpacked our boxes after moving in, I realized that even with a full dining room set, there was still a large amount of unused space. Our dining room has a very old-fashion feel to it with antiques and blue and white china on the wall as well as filling the china cabinet and sideboard. Therefore, I realized, Victorian-era toys would fit in quite well. My rule became if the toys were something with which I might decorate even if I didn't have kids, then they could go into the dining room. At times, a wooden rocking horse makes his home in the dining room (though he also spends a lot of time in our upstairs library). For Christmas, the kids received an electric train set. There is every possibility that the train set was as much for me as it was for them. I love train sets and I happily placed it in the dining room, where our kids and many of their friends enjoy playing with it.
This past spring, my sister asked me if I wanted our old dollhouse. My grandparents gave it to us when I was probably three. It had traveled with us through our many homes as children and at some point, my sister rescued it from storage and used it for her daughter and then in her classroom. Several years ago, she spruced it up before my girls came for a visit and they enjoyed playing with it at her house. She had previously asked me if I wanted it, but I had to decline because at the time I simply did not have the space. But by this summer, we had the space and if we didn't take, she was going to put it back in storage. I was very happy to take the dollhouse and put it in our dining room.
My sister brought the dollhouse to our mountain vacation. She had it wrapped heavily in plastic for its trip in the back of her family's pickup truck. It sat in front of the mountain house for days before the girls realized what it was. When we unwrapped the dollhouse, we discovered my sister had designed a room for each of the girls. Meg's room had her name on the wall and butterfly wallpaper. Pink bunny wallpaper with a Victorian-style letter monogram made a perfect room for Clare. Anne's room had vintage wallpaper of children playing and, of course, a puppy. My parents and I were amazed how much the girls managed to play with the dollhouse without any furniture or dolls. That being said, they were anxious to fully decorate it. On our trip back home, we found a few dollhouse items at Cracker Barrel and then found these lovely pieces on Amazon (please note my new status as an Amazon Associate--which basically will earn me some money on a gift card if any of my recommendations lead to sale).
The dollhouse has become a favorite play spot. It is a great place for the girls to play when I am making dinner just a few feet away in the kitchen. Sometimes if I'm reading or blogging in the living room (which is also adjacent to the dining room), Anne will occupy herself at the dollhouse. I placed a nice looking basket just beside the dollhouse to hold any unused furniture or dolls to prevent my husband from complaining about "pieces all over the dining room." The truth is, I very much like the look of dollhouse in the dining room. Though it looks best with one of our sweet girls playing in front of it.
I am Sandra Penfield--a one-time lawyer who is now a very happy stay-at-home mom. This blog is about making every day the very best it can be.
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