88. Traveling with Kids: Monterey & Carmel

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Should you? Yes. It is magic of the truest kind to watch the sea creatures swimming in front of, above, and around you and your children at the aquarium. We visited a year ago when our son was almost three and it made such an impression that he still remembered it when we went this October. Last year he made jelly fish movements with his hands for months and months afterward. This year, he’s making baby sea otter noises to call me (sea otter mama) when he wants to snuggle. The tidal wave window is wonderful. The touch pools and children’s hands-on areas up stairs are wonderful. The kelp forest is wonderful. Really, it’s all wonderful!

Of course, the beach itself is beautiful, and this year we saw dolphins, seals, and otters offshore. We collected dried kelp and pebbles to place around our sand castle just like the decorator crab places on his shell.  It was California at its best.

Monterey has a fabulous Dennis the Menace playground as well for more outdoor fun.

If you can go, you should go! The experience carries over into my son’s life for months afterward and provides countless opportunities for learning as we talk about what we saw, act out what we saw, and do art projects about what we saw.

76. A Room of Her Own

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My sister and I were teens the summer our family went to Yellowstone, and our mom spent much of her time in the cabin instead of touring the sites with us and our dad. We all wanted her to come along, but now I understand why she may have wanted to stay behind. Beyond the fact that she didn’t really enjoy being away from home, she also loved, craved, needed quiet time, time to write and think. Staying behind at the lodgings while we went out was her one chance for a bit of solitude during our road trips, even if it meant missing a geyser or a bison herd.

Such were my own plans this June when I found a remote cabin for us to rent in the Black Hills. I would bring the laptop and try to get back into the groove of writing while my husband and son rode the 1880 Train, went to Jewel Cave, and visited the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research. They could have fun while I had solitude – and perhaps most important, solitude in a peaceful place that was not my own home, because at home it’s all too easy to be distracted by all of the other tasks and projects piling up around me.

I have several hours a week to myself when my son goes to preschool, but my most productive period of writing was when my son was an infant and I hired a babysitter at home for four hours a week. I locked myself in an upstairs bedroom and wrote. I wouldn’t leave that bedroom because I didn’t want to risk setting off another round of separation anxiety. But now when he is gone, I have the entire house to myself, and so I can roam and gaze at my clutter, the art projects, boxes of supplies for the Montessori course I took recently – and sitting down to write is easily put off.

Nothing I could write or photograph or paint or make with my hands even comes close to the amazing, creative journey of parenthood. But beyond parenting itself, motherhood has opened me up to a stronger sense of creativity than I have ever felt. And with all of these new ideas to pursue, new plans to implement, I am often unable to complete the course due to lack of energy and time.

So I quite happily settled myself at the old wooden table in the historic cabin with a wide view out over a green field, racing to put as many words onto the screen as I could while the guys were out. There was nothing I could distract myself with, other than attempting to light a fire with newspapers from the 1990s and making countless cups of tea. They were gone much longer than I expected, and while I relished my hours of quiet, I was very happy for their hugs when they returned.

75. Cauliflower Clouds

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Between rain and cold wind, and day trips into the Black Hills, we did actually manage to get our son to one of his scheduled mornings at Art in the Park through Rapid City Parks & Rec. He and his cousin joined others of their height and size to make prints with vegetables in the picnic shelter (and do sidewalk chalk.) I liked the cauliflower clouds he made, and I was impressed with the pizza box drying rack that their teacher put together. But mostly, I was happy to find such a fun summer program run by the city, for a relatively modest price. I may do this kind of art with him at home on a regular basis, but I know that many parents can’t or don’t, and it cheers me to see the classes offered.

72. Stavkirke

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The oldest cousin groaned when he heard we were going to go visit a church on a sunny summer weekday morning, but he was quickly won over when he saw Stavkirke, a wonderful treasure of a carved wooden building. Telling them how much the building was like those they see in Frozen (which I have still not seen entirely) and How to Train Your Dragon also helped garner excitement. The kids took off to play hide-and-seek in the covered passageway that surrounds the interior body of the church. They admired the wood carvings and the metal door knockers. My son saw the altar and asked if we were going to have Communion (sweet little Orthodox preschooler that he is, ha!) After I finally corralled them back together they ran up into the pine forest along the newly developed prayer path while I admired the statuary along the way. It’s usually a quiet, peaceful place, and I’m so glad we finally fit it in again during our trip.

70. Graffiti Art with Young Children

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Taking the cousins down to Art Alley in Rapid City with paint and brushes seemed like the next logical step after doing sheet murals in the backyard. The boys (ages 3, 4, and 7) especially were very thrilled to be painting on the walls, doing something that would normally be off-limits. We brought tempera paint, brushes, and rollers, and they quickly set to work adding some color to a very black, oppressive wall (final work pictured in the last photo.) The oldest painted a train after hearing one’s whistle a few blocks down. All of them added their handprints to the walls. We had quite a few smiles and laughs from passerbys when they saw the tots out painting alongside the spray painted graffiti. Of course, even though Rapid City is quite safe during the day, we planned carefully, going in mid-day, having four adults (including one big male) to keep an eye on the four children, painting near the end of the alley so we were not able to be blocked in, and keeping a close eye out for traffic or unsavory characters. The kids loved it and felt quite special to contribute to this bit of public art. Afterward, we took them to Main Street Square to run in the fountains and wash off the remaining paint from their hands and arms. I’d say this was one of our most successful cousin camp experiences this visit.

64. South Dakota Sand Work

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We spent the warmest day so far of the year in the Black Hills at the lake of my childhood, where the cousins created sand castles and moats and dug to their hearts’ content. They were quite protective of their creative sand work, until the temptation to smash and rebuild was too strong to resist. Apart from a family of Canada geese, we had the beach to ourselves. Watching the children play freely in nature was delightful, but also bittersweet to think of how very quickly the years have gone since I was their age and playing on the same shore.

56. Sand Work

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Spring is quickly turning into summer here in the desert, and that means the return of sand play in the backyard.  My son very happily digs, pours, mixes, and covers himself with sand for long stretches throughout the day. I can see him from the kitchen window while I work on my own projects.  An empty clay pot is used for mixing mud pies as well as creating volcanoes.  An unused Frisbee holds the mud pies.  Our yard already had a large, shady play area when we moved in, and so far, the sand holds more draw than the swing set or the play house.  I am so happy to see him playing outside and getting grubby (clothes come off and pockets shaken empty before he comes back into the house, though!)  Life has changed too much since I was a child for him to enjoy the freedom to roam the neighborhood (and even the forest) like I did when I was young, but he can roam, dig, and pretend play in the big, fenced backyard as much as he wants.  Oh, and it looks like Sefton the Chorkie pup (dog #3) will enjoy digging in the sand as much as he does!