Summer activities (our favorites)

One of our favorite past times this summer has been going to the Prairie Preschool Class at Buffalo River State Park. We follow it with a picnic and a beach day every Thursday. We missed a few in the beginning and weren't able to go this week due to rain, but we don't miss it if we can help it. This summer, we were able to go fishing (using pop cans, string, and hot dogs for bait, not necessarily successful or interesting to the girls who have fished with daddy the "real" way) and make homemade kites. We also got to walk out to the "buffalo rock" and learn about different kinds of bugs that live on top of the water. they read books about trees, flowers, leaves, and animals. They have show and tell and get to do crafts. It's just great.

I'm well aware that the girls will need other adults and influences in their lives who they can look up to and learn different perspectives. While I want them to love being outside, they won't necessarily develop a true love of it themselves without some outside help. This class has been so perfect in this regard. It's not long, so right when their attention starts to wander, we switch activities. Picnics are always fun. Water is fun. Sand is fun. Being outside, learning what is seasonally appropriate and enjoyable, and adapting to your surroundings help them to appreciate it in many different aspects. 

I've gotten to talk to the park ranger who teaches the class. She's kind and encouraging. The girls, Josie in particular, adore her. I hope we can continue to strengthen our relationships with her. We will be going back every summer until the girls are too old. 

With Josie finally overcoming her fear of swimming while not touching the bottom (we all celebrated that one, it's never fun to panic or watch someone else panic) we have been able to utilize my sister's condo community pool. The girls wear their puddle jumpers and swim around like little fish. Amelia is happy to hang out with whoever is currently not in the water. Otherwise, she wants to be held (not in a floatie device though) and is not too crazy. It makes it easier. She is not afraid of the water, though. I can see her learning to swim much younger than her sisters since she's not afraid like they were and she wants to keep up. Wouldn't that be awesome?

Water activity season is coming to an end. This year's summer season ended up being a pleasant surprise. I had mentally prepared myself for a tough time with Amelia, being that age where she wants to do all the big kid things but isn't able to or old enough. Instead, she participated when it was doable and happily stayed near me when it was not. She's always been well behaved and easily entertained when we get out of the house. Something about outside distractions and people to observe just keeps her focus and energy. She hasn't really held us back from many activities. What a blessing, right? I'm thankful for that.

The older girls mostly do well when we are not at home. I can usually count on an outing to brighten moods or at least provide a good distraction. I've noticed that their play is now different at parks. While they do still enjoy them, they are not necessarily entertained or enjoying them like they used to. They are ready to leave sooner and don't always jump right in with excitement. Actually, bringing them somewhere without obvious playground equipment can be more fun. Last summer, we visited parks and playgrounds in town at least twice a week. This summer, once every week or even every other week is enough.

Josie is riding her bike without training wheels as of late June. I knew she could do it with a little push from me (pun unintended) and as per her usual, she got it after a little frustration (tears, screaming, etc) and plenty of stubborn moments. Once she got it, she was off and riding without looking back. I shot myself in the foot a little, teaching her so young, because now she's always going at her one speed - fast - leaving us behind. It's hard for me to walk with the stroller if she's riding bike now because she's at the end of the block before I've left the driveway. She goes at a great speed if I am also riding bike, but we don't always do that. We certainly do it more, but not all the time. 

Walking can also be frustrating because Miss Audrey wants to ride her "Honkah bike" (balance bike) instead of riding in the stroller. She is doing great on this bike, enough so that I am fairly confident she'll also be training-wheels-free next summer. The problem is that the bike is tiny and just can't go super fast. There is no way I could jog behind her, so we have a bit of a time butting heads about the speed we should go.

We enjoyed Summer as much as we could. No regrets here. :)


Chatty little ladies

Josie often says "No thanks!" when she is asked to do something she doesn't want to do. While I appreciate her manners, she often doesn't have a choice in the matter and her assertiveness with it has me hiding a smile behind my hands while I insist that she does what she is asked to do. Also, it sometimes sounds more like, "No sanks!" which is just a tiny glimpse at the toddler/preschooler she is no longer. That part isn't so funny...why do they grow up so fast? She also says "No thanks!" when someone else is doing something she doesn't like. If a friend or sister is trying to take something from her or wants her to play a game she doesn't like, she looks around desperately while yelling ever so politely, "No thanks! NO THANKS!" Again, while the manners are appreciated, the tone is not the most pleasant. We are working on that part.

Josie can be very expressive with what is around her. She exclaims how beautiful the view is or pretty the sky looks. She is quick to tell me that the garbage smells disgusting. Everything is silly or crazy. It's neither a compliment or an insult, just an extreme. She is an excellent complimenter. She tells women that they are beautiful and men that they are handsome. She only sometimes adds the disclaimer that all men are handsome and all women are beautiful. She hasn't quite figured out that she is lessening her compliment when she adds that at the end. It does make for many smiles followed with many laughs.

Audrey still hardly uses the "sss" sound. Many words come out leaving everyone puzzled, silently adding an "s" to words to figure out what she is saying. She will say that something is 'parkly, that she doesn't want a 'pankin when we tease her about it, that she loves to 'twim, and that her favorite meal is 'paghetti. When we ask her say the words again, you can tell she knows why we are asking because she often takes the time to slowly say the "s" before each word. She is capable of it, but for whatever reason chooses not to. It creates many a head 'cratch in confusion.

Many statements made by Audrey start and end with an affirmation. "Yep, I like this food, mm hmm." "Dad did you know that my hair is in an Elsa braid? Yep!" "Mom, this meal is so good for me. Yes!" It's like she is answering for you, even when it doesn't call for an answer. Or maybe she is reassuring herself that what she is saying is true. Either way, I often have to stifle a laugh or smile since she can be more sensitive to being teased.

Both Audrey and Josie often will say the word "even" instead of "too or also" Audrey will say, "I want to go to the park even!" or "I like ice cream even!" I don't correct it because I know how fast they learn and grow. It's so sweet with it's innocence. Both girls love to say one thing and then correct it by using the word "actually." "I want to empty the dishwasher! Actually, Josie can." "I want to go outside! Actually, I don't want to. I want to stay inside." (Most of the time, it's because they agree to something before actually processing it. Once they realize it's not the most fun option, they change their minds.) The other day, they sat at the table saying, "I am literally eating this bread. I am literally drinking this milk. I am literally using my fork." through the whole meal. What could I say? While kind of annoying, they were using it correctly.

The girls can't be bothered with details such as names while playing. The roles are often just "mother" and "kid" and that is how they refer to each other. I hear it constantly, "Kid! Come over here and eat your supper." "Mother, I don't want to go to sleep!" At least it makes it easy to tell when they are imagining and playing, because they never call me "Mother" and I never call them "Kid" in real life. 

Audrey calls Josie "Jojo" when she's excited about something or when they are sharing a story or thought. Both girls alternate between Mimi and Millie for Amelia. Josie doesn't call Audrey "Audge Podge" anymore, though. Audrey is always just Audrey when they talk to each other. They don't seem to notice that she doesn't have a nickname. In fact, when asked what her name is, she insists that it is just "Audrey." Maybe she likes that she's the only one without one.

Amelia went from showing no interest in words and talking to trying to say everything. She succeeds at a handful: mama, mimi, da for dad, papa, nah for Hannah, mo for more, moo, neigh, meow, woo for woof, highn for hi, bye, wa for water. Then there are the words that only she knows. All day, she points and says words that we are not understanding. We look around and ask her millions of questions, and when we finally figure it out, she beams at us with satisfaction. She watches our lips very closely to try to understand how we make these crazy sounds. If I break words up into one syllable at a time, she copies me more and more accurately, and slowly some of them are coming together. Our absolute favorite right now is when she joins in with her sisters in excitement. I will ask, "Who wants to eat lunch?" and she'll raise her hand and shout "Me me me me!" when she sees the older two do it. There's nothing sweeter than an 18 month old trying to talk like her big sisters. We do it over and over and none of us have tired of it.

Kids are fun.


A season within a season

I find it a little ironic that the last post on here was all about being outside and how to do that easily and often. It's not that my hopes or intentions have changed, it's that the usual summer activities, temperatures, and bugs have taken over. 

Instead of being outside for hours at a time daily, we are outside for hours at a time a couple of times a week. We are often busy, going to parks, swimming, visiting friends, and going on bike rides, but we don't spend as much time hiking (at all) or being in our backyard unless there is a breeze. I could be hard on myself about this, but I've really come to an understanding about myself (ourselves) and this time of year.

It's a season that ebbs and flows. Just like in winter with the harsh wind and freezing temperatures, you have good days and bad. The beginning and end of the season are usually the best, for both our attitudes and the conditions. I'm finding that this is true with summer as well. 

We had an amazing Spring. I would go so far as to call it almost perfect. It was dry with few rainy days, so the bugs were minimal. We were out and about daily and enjoyed it to the fullest. When the humidity hit, we slowed down. It just wipes me out, no matter if I'm pregnant, nursing, or just me. I used to blame it on those two stages, but honestly it's just exhausting. We still go outside, but we don't have the energy level or desire to do a lot. Now that the rain has come (a blessing, of course) and the humidity has lingered, the mosquitos are out and we are not. I have yet to find a spray that works effectively against them and we get eaten alive, as if they are magnetically drawn to us. It's not fun, and we find ourselves avoiding them at all costs.

I'm not complaining, though. This is my point: it's a season. I shouldn't feel guilty or frustrated about it, because in not too long, it will pass and we'll back to the best of times, when we can be outside all day without the humidity and bugs, maybe needing a sweater or blanket at times but possible nonetheless. I do so love Spring and Autumn. The end of a season leading into the start of another is one of the best things in life. I couldn't live somewhere that didn't have this transition four times a year. I cannot wait to feel that anticipation with my little girls.

While we wait, we will continue to do the activities that we do enjoy right now. We will continue to swim at our favorite spot, Buffalo River State Park. We will continue our random walks around the neighborhood (specifically the neighborhood behind us that winds along the river with hardly any traffic around). We will have picnics and play in the sand. We will stop for ice cream treats and splash pad visits. 

When the humidity finally goes away and the sun isn't quite as hot, we'll eagerly get back on the trails and explore some more.


Outdoor living

We've been soaking up the great weather over here and it's kept us busy. Any day now (I've been saying for weeks) the bugs will come out with a vengeance and we'll be forced to go back inside in the evenings or avoid the woods where they are the worst. Because we've been quite intentional with our efforts, we've already had a solid three months of "summer activities" in the books and we are ready for the next season. The girls are itching for any and all water activities, and I don't disagree. We're ready for sprinkler play, swimming in pools, water tables, and the lake activities.

I've been surprised with how many people have commented in wonder on our outdoor time and activities. I do understand it, because that was me just a few years ago, but what people don't understand is that this new way of living, incorporating the outdoors into our daily lives as much as possible, is relatively new for me. I didn't grow up spending my free time enjoying outdoor activities at all. I did them, sure, but it was forced and I rarely enjoyed it as much as I would now. Over the past few years, something in me has shifted and I have a new perspective on this gift given to us from our Creator. You don't have to go far to discover something new and there are great ways to spend time together as family just right outside your door. The kids and I can be active together and they aren't stuck in front of a screen for most of their time (I'm not either). They burn off a lot of energy and we don't drive each other crazy. That's important!

Moms with younger kids wonder how I am able to go exploring with three little kids under five. It's not anything fancy or mysterious. We start small and work our way to longer distances and time outside. For Josie's birthday, we got her a backpack full of adventure tools like binoculars, a magnifying glass, a fishing net, a flashlight, a compass, bird and tree books, and room for her water bottle and sweatshirt. When they seem to be growing tired of the hike or path we are on, we pull out one of the tools and their interest is renewed. Another trick up my sleeve is to always always stop for a snack or picnic lunch. It's worth the time to get it packed and ready before we head out because stopping to rest, sit, refresh with water and fuel, and let the baby move around (who usually rides in a pack on my back) is priceless and the second half of our time is usually even more fun than the first.

Audrey carries a backpack as well, usually filled with her water bottle, an extra pair of leggings (you never know if a kid will slip in mud or water and get soaked and leggings would fit either of the big girls) and a thin blanket we can spread out for our break. It's quite light but she feels important carrying it, so we never leave it behind.

I bought a Deuter child carrier backpack for Amelia because there's no way she could keep up with us and our Beco carrier that I usually use isn't ideal for longer time periods. This backpack has helped tremendously. It's even more comfortable (the Beco is quite comfortable for our usual usages) and she sits higher up, increasing her visibility and circulation. She also has shade and room to rest her head if she gets tired. There is a small pocket right behind her and a larger pocket down below where she sits, so I can carry water for us without relying on the big girls and most of the food, sunscreen, and even my nice camera (it's easy to keep it safe since it's nicely cushioned and won't get bumped). There's a stand for when I put her down, so she doesn't just fall over while I take her out, and there's a pocket on the strap that goes around my waist for my phone (easy access). Seriously, it's made our adventures much easier. The pace that the big girls set is fairly slow, so I have no problem keeping up as the family pack mule.

For clothing, I try my hardest to encourage jean shorts, capris, or pants, but honestly they don't ever seem to mind or seem held back by their usual dresses and leggings. Josie often wears a skirt with biker shorts underneath along with her Tevas. Audrey and I wear Keens when it's nice enough since they grip the ground a lot better. If it's chillier, I'll wear tennis shoes but I prefer not to since I slip and slide more and I really hate that while wearing a child. I usually wear workout clothes, like compression pants or yoga leggings with a tank top and light sweatshirt that can be tied around my waist easily. The girls also just got new baseball hats that I'm hoping will help keep the sun out of their eyes and keep their hair off their faces. Plus, they just look adorable in them. Amelia wears light layers and a bonnet along with her Saltwater sandals and a good layer of sunscreen. Nothing fancy for her, since she's not the one walking on the dirt trails amongst the plants and bugs.

I was worried about going out on my own with the girls, so we eased into it. First, we went out with the whole family (my parents, my husband, the girls, and myself). Of course that went great. We also went out with another mom and kids during the week. I had got most of the kinks out on these two hikes, so now we are confident enough to go on our own. I've been so impressed with what is available within 20 minutes of us. It's no big deal to get out of our house for 3-5 hours without having to sit in the car for an hour there and back. That's priceless! The more we explore and drive around, the more nooks and crannys there are that nobody seems to be aware of.

All that to say, I am hoping and praying that we stick with it. I hope that all three girls can find ways to enjoy being outside and that we can participate and support these efforts as they grow older and become their own individuals. I have dreams of us swimming, tubing, kayaking, biking, and hiking tougher trails together in the not so distant future. We are well on our way, I'd say.

This summer, Josie is in t-ball and seems to love it so far. I was not going to force her to be in it each year, but I did want her to try it at least for a season. I needn't have worried because she hasn't complained once. We walk there since it is at a park near us, and Josie often rides her bike. Any chance we get to choose time outside, we take. We could drive there and save the time, but I prefer that time together, breathing the fresh air, chatting, and moving our bodies around over what we'd probably be doing at home (sitting around, making a mess, bickering or whining if we're honest).

It does take work. It takes planning. It takes a will to go outside even when you'd rather sit inside and chill out. Sometimes it's rainy or windy and the sun refuses to shine bright. Sometimes the humidity makes me want to nap instead. Sometimes the girls don't want to go on the particular path I've found or chosen or they are just not in a good mood. Of course these things happen. More times than not, though, they cheer up once we get moving and their poor attitude is forgotten. We find our rhythm and all end up refreshed and happy. It's worth it.