This week was so Hazy, Hot and Humid we had to cool off. Earlier in the week we took a day trip back to the Merrimack River in Massachusetts for some fun on the Tree House boat again with my mom and her friend.
Captain L. got in some driving but needed some assistance navigating under one of the bridges from the real captain of the boat. She likes to swerve around and laugh while driving and that makes her steering less-than-accurate.
L. drives the boat, sort of
On this trip though the kids spent more time in the water playing with Grandma than riding in the big boat.
But with a rocky bottom and muck (the Saco River by our house has a lot less of both), the girls decided to borrow some swim shoes from Grandma. It was a tricky fit for L's little feet.
Her finger on the end of her big toe indicates they were more than a few sizes too big. But it kept her feet comfortable so she didn't complain.
And between dips, of course L. had to explore every little space on the boat.
The next day we were still boiling hot back in Maine so I took the girls and a couple of their friends to the Saco River.
What did you and your kids do to stay cool this past week?
Our new ducklings have moulted their baby feathers and are now looking like they're all grown up.
Our Indian Runner breed duck (on the right in the photo above) has had a few long feathers on the back of her head since she was a duckling. We just thought it was some uneven feathers moulting but after gently tugging at the stray feathers a few times recently, we've come to realize that they are there to stay.
The feathers looked kinda crazy when she was a duckling but as her body has grown, so have those feathers.
NOTE: I know I'm a geek and this has NOTHING to do with being outdoors with children. But I can't resist sharing the info with other parents looking for books to read with their kids this summer ...
PPL's new feature on their homepage - Tumble Book Library (you have to click the link off the library's home page to access it though) - looks really fun for young children. It's a kid-friendly site of children's picture book titles in audio book format WITH the book's actual illustrations. It's pretty cool and includes a lot of titles I recognized that my kids read when they were younger.
We have accessed Rosetta Stone learn a language feature on the library's site and found it to be kid-friendly. It's free (for PPL card holders) and doesn't require you to go to the library to register for it online. My kids haven't made it too far into the Rosetta Stone program but they're thinking about getting back to it this summer just for fun (because they really think it is).
But one of the features that caught my geek-minded attention today was LibriVox. It's a site for adult and young adult readers who want to listen to the classics in audio book format without any hassles (no registration or 'check-out' policy like the library's other audio book site). My kids are getting older and although aren't all that interested in reading a lot of the classics on their own yet, they do like the audio versions.
The cool thing about LibriVox is that all the audio is contributed by volunteer readers. If you like to read and have the basic recording equipment/software (an mp3 player or computer with a microphone) you could volunteer too. And you don't have to record yourself reading an entire book, just a chapter if that's all you want to do.
I've listened to a few chapters from different books on the site and although the recordings are done by volunteers, they're pretty good. The site offers a variety of ways to listen to the recording and by downloading the .zip file of the entire book, you can burn it on CD and take it to go in your car.
My girls liked the Anne of Green Gables movie and wanted to listen to the audio book version this summer. They're participating in our local library's summer reading program and although they plan to read other hard copy books, we thought it would be fun to listen to that one together. And I find that it's nice to have an audio book going in the car because it's a great way to get in some 'reading time' on the way to one of our outdoor adventure locales.
After the kids' experience with their YouTube channel, I can't image recording some audio would be all that hard for them. The trick is finding a chapter from a book on the list that they want to record.
I think it's a great family challenge for us with our summer reading.
Oh and if you have time this weekend, it looks like there are some great children's authors participating in the Maine Festival of the Book today!
OK, tomorrow I will be back to my regularly scheduled outdoor adventures with kids and crazy pets postings...
There's a story in today's paper about a 10-year-old South Portland girl who wants the city council to change the law that prohibits chickens from residential areas.
It's a sad day when a kid who really wants a pet chicken is deprived of having one. I'm certain my girls will be up-in-arms with the city of South Portland when I tell them about this story.
The good news is that most commenters on the story seem to be in favor of letting the South Portland girl have her chicken. And the Fair or Foul question today is leaning towards fair as well (note the photo on the question -- the Almeida family has the site's chicken stock photos). It's nice to know the general public is rooting for her.
We went for a bike ride last night around our neighborhood and the kids had to include their dolls in the ride.
The baskets were an important addition to the kids' bikes when we started our trail riding last month because I wanted them to be able to carry their own water bottles and snacks on our rides.
Well, it was a good idea in theory. In reality, L. can't fit her water bottle because after her lunch pack she HAS to also take some random - very important - stuffed animal.
The bear from the Bronx Zoo had to come along on the Portland Trails.
The little cat she sewed was a must on our ride in Brunswick.
So G. usually ends up carrying the majority of the picnic supplies in her basket (a second-hand store find that we modified for her bike that she loves) ...
... and usually L.'s water bottle (and reminds L. about her good deed often).
I usually carry my backpack with the first aid kit, camera, sweaters and random supplies.
The only one who doesn't have a basket Fino. He's "too cool" (as the girls say) for a bike basket. He hangs his water bottle on his handle bars and leaves it to me and G. to carry the rest of the supplies.
But it all works out in the end because he's usually the one with the heaviest back pack when we go hiking.
What do you carry with you when you go bike riding?
Every year after dance recital the studio has some fun with marshmallow Easter peeps and my kids look can't wait for it.
They love making art projects around the Peep theme but unlike the Edible Book Festival at the library, they can use whatever materials they want (not just edible) as long as the project includes Peeps in some way.
"Peep Winter Dance" by G. Since we've done Peep Fest for a few years she decided to expand into Peeps from other holidays for her project. L. thought the gingerbread peeps were weird looking so she explained it by telling everyone they had "big brains". I thought they sort of looked like aliens.
L.'s "Peep Love." She enjoys making shadow boxes and last year's "Peep Show" that included purple peeps with canes and hats dancing behind a curtain was really cute. She still hasn't figured out why the adults thought that one was so funny though...
There were some really great entries in the art display this year like the "Just Born" (there's great detail in that one like the dad's cigars) and "Leaning Tower of Peep-za" made by a couple of the older teen dancers.
The Peep Fest also includes a day of carnival games and relay races and you can see all the art and fun in our My.MaineToday.com photo gallery. Peep Fest
Earlier this week we went to the living history museum, Strawberry Banke and there was so much to see and do that we couldn't do it all in one day.
The museum is in Portsmouth (NH) and has homes and exhibits from Colonial times to the World War II era. The girls were excited to see homes from the era of their favorite American Girl historical book characters.
We went with some friends and opted for the self-guided tour so the kids could explore the houses and exhibits they were most interested in.
There were interpreters at most of the houses and some were on the street. This woman was sitting in front of the Abbott Corner Store and had a lot of gossip about the town to share.
And the interpreter at the Shapiro house had the kids convinced that the house was really hers and that she lived in it. She was a wealth of information about immigrant Russian Jews in the early 1900s and the kids spent a lot of time asking questions and hanging out in this house.
L. struck up a conversation with the cooper and found out that he made the barrels she had seen at Old Fort Western in Augusta last fall.
There were lots of flowers in bloom during our visit but the extensive gardens around the museum promised quite a colorful and impressive display in mid- to late-summer.
G. had her camera and we have lots and lots of photos (many more than we needed) of fancy beds, kitches and other "cool stuff" inside the homes we visited.
The kids also had a chance to play some old-fashioned outdoor games like Rolling Hoops and Game of Graces.
But then an interpreter came along and set the girls straight on the "proper way" to play the Game of Graces. Apparently they were using the shorter rolling hoop sticks instead of the longer, thinner Grace sticks.
And the girls' hoop activities continue as they're dancing with the more modern hula hoops during their dance recital tonight and tomorrow.
What happens when you get a group of kids together that like to sew and knit? In the case of my kids' 4-H club, a new afghan for charity.
Yesterday the kids' 4-H Club put together an afghan for the Warm Up America! program. It's a non-profit that encourages community groups to knit or crochet afghans for people in need.
Basically this whole project started with my girls wanting to learn to knit. I taught them the basic knit stitch (all I know!) and they found they liked it and ran across the Warm Up America! website when looking for simple knit patterns. The only problem was that my girls' were beginner knitters and after knitting their first squares found that they weren't exactly, well, square.
That prompted me to consider making a completed afghan to donate to the program because I could work their not-so-square pieces into the strips needed for the afghan. I spoke with the girls' 4-H leader about making it a service learning project for the club and she thought it was a great idea.
It worked out that about 7 of the 49 squares were knit by the kids; the rest were crocheted by an adult (i.e., me - I crochet much better than I knit) over the course of a couple of months.
I wasn't sure how long it would take for the kids to actually put the whole thing together at the meeting so I did some hand-wringing (it's in my nature to over-think things) about the best way to organize the squares for the kids. Surprisingly though, it took less than 2 hours for them to hand-sew the squares together (which was thanks in large part to a couple of the older girls' focus and skill!).
The speedy, skillful sewers of the day!
Once the afghan was put together, some of the kids got silly wrapping themselves up in the afghan.
Even though not all of the squares of yarn were baby soft, it really was soft and "snugly" (as L. and her friend C. put it).
And there were a lot of proud faces after completing this service learning project.
I had ordered some 4-H tattoos for the meeting since they were working with their hands for the project and the kids had a lot of fun with them.
If you are interested in this type of project, you should check out the Warm Up America! website. They have directions and patterns to make single squares or strips (which you can make only a single one - of the specified measurements - and mail it to be included in a future afghan) or organize a group to make a full-size afghan.
A rainy afternoon yesterday did not stop us from exploring a new hiking trail. We really wanted to check out Diana's Bath in the White Mountains National Forest that several friends have told us about over the years. They also warned us about the crowds that the area attracts so we thought a rainy day was just the time to explore the trails and waterfall and find some geocaches.
Since we had never been to Diana's Bath before, I wasn't sure how to get there. But thanks to my geocaching friends, locating the trail head was easy. [From North Conway take Route 302 through the downtown area. Take a Left onto River Road and then bear Right onto West Side Road.]
Diana's Bath is in the White Mountains National Forest so there is a $3 fee to park at the trail head.
Under the tree cover the rain wasn't so bad. I thought the real bonus of the day was the fact that neither of the girls complained about the rain. They really wanted to see a waterfall and find some new geocaches.
We found three caches in the area (but there were actually a lot more!) and each was a different shape and size.
G. spotted this one first and loved the hiding spot.
The trail to Diana's Bath was an easy .6 miles and after getting sidetracked with looking for geocache's that by the time we got to the bath area, the rain had stopped for a while which was great.
Not only was it a rainy afternoon, it was pretty chilly so the kids opted to climb around the rocks to explore the area rather than jump in for a swim (which I was grateful for as I thought the current was too strong for them that day anyway).
Then the girls and Fino found some interesting puddle shapes and I was directed to take pictures of them.
A heart with an arrow going through it.
A chocolate bunny.
Then there was a dispute in the ranks because L. thought that if you turned sideways the bunny turned into a skeleton mouth. Yeah, I could see it.
Then as we made our way back to the trail head we spotted a bunch of pink lady slippers and that was a nice bonus.
During the warm summer months I'm told Diana's Bath is crazy busy. But if you don't mind that (or you go on a rainy day like we did), it's a beautiful place to explore with the kids. And the geocaches are aplenty and easy to find for novice players.
The only flaw with our afternoon plans was that although we were prepared for the rain, we didn't pack a change of clothes for shopping. We were quite soggy at the outlet stores afterwards.
... it's about all the other stuff we can see and do on the trail too.
Like watching the frogs in the pond at the Androscoggin River trail head in Topsham.
Or trying to identify birds on the Eastern Prom (L. believes she heard an American Goldfinch and a Song Sparrow during our picnic).
If you're unfamiliar with the Identiflyer, it really is pretty cool even though it's a bit pricey. The Indentiflyer cards have pictures and songs for 10 birds on each one. And on the back of each card is the human-word translation of the bird songs. L. shares her impression of the Barn Owl, "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all" in this most recent video.
The kids have had a lot of fun this week and riding their bikes.
Biking the Back Cove & Eastern Prom Trail in Portland
We had so much fun biking in Brunswick, we decided to try out the Portland Trails yesterday.
We started off on the Back Cove loop because parking is easier (and free) there but our plan was to connect to the Eastern Prom trail so we could avoid riding in the street bike lane (part of the Back Cove loop is on the street and my kids aren't ready for that just yet).
Part of the Back Cove trail is stone dust with some pavement while another portion of the trail is a bike lane on the street.
We stopped for a closer look at the graffiti wall as we left the Back Cove trail and connected to the Eastern Prom trail.
The kids thought the waste treatment plant was pretty bogus - especially this bubbling brown water - but still stopped to read the signs explaining the treatment process, which turned out to be pretty interesting.
The Narrow Gauge Railroad was running while we were biking the Eastern Prom trail.
We had brought along our Identiflyer because we know this area is a fun place to hear the birds singing.
We also took a detour from the trail to visit Fort Allen Park's cannon so G. could take some photos.
The girls spotted this impression on the cannon and insisted I take a photo of it.
The girls liked the Brunswick trail better because there were less hills there but said these Portland trails had lots of fun stuff to look at.
Thank you Pati for the bike trail recommendation last month. We finally found some time when the weather was cooperating to make the trek over to Brunswick to try out the Androscoggin River Bicycle Path.
The trail was smooth without many hills and the bike lane was wide enough to accommodate the girls' occasional swerving because they are still novice bike riders (they learned to ride about a month or so ago) and are working on their steering correction technique.
Of course the reason for L's swerving is usually because she's looking everywhere but where she's going (yes mom, I know I did that too).
But her wandering eyes came in helpful for a stray caterpillar that had wandered onto the trail.
She had to 'save' the caterpillar from being run over and used a leaf to coax him back into the grass.
After the tree-eater rescue we continued on our way and before we knew it, we were at the end of the trail in Topsham.
We all thought those 2.5 miles flew by.
At the Topsham trail head there was a small pond brimming with frogs. I was surprised we heard the croaking over the highway traffic noise and airplanes flying overhead (it's not a quiet nature trail). But we did and were rewarded with many frog sightings and their croaking songs.
We found a quiet, grassy spot for a snack on our way back to Brunswick and after eating, L. demonstrated her bike hand signals for a poster she's making about bikes for her 4-H project.
Left turn signal
Right turn signal
The girls gave this trail an enthusiastic two-thumbs up! If you've never tried trail bike riding with your kids, it's worth the effort to dig out the car bike rack and load it up. And if your kids are like mine, they'll be beaming at the end of the day when they realize they rode 5 miles and passed through two towns in a single afternoon.
If you ever wondered what more was possible to do with a pet chicken, here's another gem from the Almeida girls.
Taking your pet chicken for a bike ride.
And Carl, I'm sorry about Burley the Dog's envy about riding on - rather than beside - your bike. But I think the chicken would have gladly traded places!
Oh, and my favorite bit in the video is when G. catches her dad doing a wheelie and L. lamenting that he's such "a showoff." Their commentary while recording their various videos was worth the price of their digital camera.
I'm stuck at the office for the better portion of today but hope to go on a short hike with the kids when I get home. We've got a geocache on a trail near Watchic Lake that L. has been suggesting we visit and do some maintenance on (with the ulterior motive that she get a chance to swim as well). I think today is the day she'll get her wish.