Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lake Andrea Beach in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin

Every summer vacation should include a beach, right? That's what Lynn and I figured, too, and we actually visited two beaches during our camping trip. The first one was definitely the nicest: Lake Andrea Beach in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.

Yup. this was my view of the lake from a lounge chair. I love vacations.

It's a small, well-maintained beach on a little lake, but the kids had an absolute ball. Since the weather was so cold (Maybe 70 degrees, if that), the lifeguard let us in for free, even though there's usually a $7 per person fee.

Poor Henry looks a bit chilly, doesn't he?

Originally, we were just going to walk along the beach, because we had neither bathing suits nor towels and we thought the lake would be freezing. The boys decided very quickly that swimming was going to happen, however, and we acquiesced because we weren't the ones getting cold and wet. I discovered when I dipped my toes in that the water temperature was actually warmer than the air!

No, the boys couldn't go on the climbing and sliding equipment. You had to pass a swim test.

Since the beach was deserted (or nearly so) for most of the time we were there, the benefits were enormous. One lifeguard was pretty much staring at our kids the entire time, plus the lifeguard showed the boys where all the abandoned beach toys were, so they had something to use for digging and dumping. The adults? We were free to relax on these lounge chairs and watch the boys playing.

I brought with sandwiches, cucumbers, carrots, muffins, etc. in an attempt to save money. It worked really well for Nick and Henry, because every time they said they were hungry, I could just whip out some carrots or a leftover piece of sandwich.

Henry says that swimming makes him really hungry. 

The one downfall to playing on the beach is sand. It gets everywhere, makes a huge mess, and is very hard to scrub from the hair of young children. Ahh, but the fun they had. . .

We didn't know we would be going to the beach, so we hadn't brought towels or swimsuits. The boys just swam in their shorts. There were no towels, either, except for this one that a lifeguard left behind for Henry to use. He must've looked cold.

Nick didn't sit down for more than a moment or two. He just kept swimming and jumping and digging and running.

Yup. He's using an old McDonald's cup to pour and carry water. Whatever works, I guess. 

Unplanned though it was, this beach trip turned into something the kids will never forget. I think I'll have to take them to more beaches. The experience was well worth the sand damage.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Visit to the Jelly Belly Factory (told through pictures)

This tour had better be worth the really long wait!

Whoa, are those giant jelly beans hanging from the ceiling? Maybe this will be cool after all.

Is this a train or some kind of tram? I'm not too sure if I like these "required hats."

I  like the hats so much I'm going to give my best grin!

Henry might be too cool to pose in front of the jelly bean "painting," but we're not!

Wait, you mean if we wait in line we get free jelly bean samples? Yay!

So you're going to buy me this, right mommy? Look at my nice smile.

No, I didn't stuff my mouth full of jelly beans. Why do you ask?

Do you mean we can just walk up to this "bar" and order any flavor we like? What a cool concept! We like bars!

So if there are jelly beans on the car, does that mean it is filled with jelly beans? Can we eat some?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Play Time While Camping

Yesterday, I started writing about the trip I took with my friend Lynn and her son, Aidan. My boys went, too, of course. One of the reasons we chose this particular campground was the amenities: a water park, a pool, water slides, a jumping pillow, and a park.

All of my pictures of Nick are action shots, because this boy does not sit still!

The kids noticed the water park as soon as we drove in, and in the morning when we were getting our swimsuits on, Nick was jumping up and down with excitement. That actually isn't too unique for Nick, who is often jumping up and down for one reason or another.

Anyhow, everyone was eager to get in and get wet!

The water was the perfect depth for my boys, who are both chicken about what they call "deep water" (anything over waist deep on a little kid).

Here's Henry checking to make sure the water wasn't "too deep." 

The slides looked pretty fun, though I didn't actually try them myself.

What did the adults do while the children played in the water? Well, not much. That was the beauty of the whole operation. We sat and chatted, we read and napped and laughed at the antics of our young ones.

Though we're looking pretty pale here, we left quite tanned after all the time in the sunshine.

Every half hour or so, the picnic basket on top of the climbing structure would fill up and tip over, delighting all the kids who got splashed.

We did bring the kids into the regular pool for awhile, but my boys are still pretty scared when the water is over their heads, so that didn't last too long. Most of their time was spent going up and down the slides and splashing in the 1-2 foot deep water, which was pretty warm, considering that it was only in the upper 70s that day.


Nick didn't seem to get tired at all, even after four or five hours of straight up running and jumping. Henry, though, got quite tired at one point. It's a good thing they had kiddie-sized lounge chairs.

Henry was so tired, in fact, that he climbed on top of me and passed out for a good hour. He's quite the snuggler.

The awesome water park wasn't the only fun part of this campground. They also had a park and a jumping pillow. What is a jumping pillow, you ask? Well, it's one of those things that's easier to see than to describe.

I think I need a jumping pillow in my backyard. Nick needs a lot of physical exercise, and one of these would be perfect. I could just sit at the table and watch him bounce all day long. And he would. Bounce all day long, that is.

Bouncing was pretty fun, actually.

My best pictures were of Aidan, who can look at the camera and jump at the same time.

Now, think about what might happen if a big kid, say, a teenager, were to get on top of the jumping pillow and jump as high as he could. . . What do you think would happen? Yup. Henry kept going flying.

He got really scared and I finally had to sit on top of the jumping pillow and have him jump right next to me so he wouldn't fall or go flying through the air. He liked that much better.

Strangely enough, the kids still had enough energy to play at the park for another hour. By this time, I was ready for a nap. Ah, well. At least the kids were having fun.

I think if I visit this particular campground again, I will spend most of the time on the campground, making use of the amenities there. Between the water park, the playground, and the jumping pillow, my boys could kill an entire week just playing. That's okay with me. More time to rest and read.   :)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cabin Camping in Wisconsin

Though I never had the chance to camp as a child, when I was a teenager, I worked for the Cub Scouts as a day camp counselor. Joining the Explorer Boy Scout Troop (a requirement of being a counselor) meant I got the chance to go on co-ed camping trips and have lots of outdoor time. Wanting Henry and Nick to learn more about being outdoors, but not quite ready to try tent camping yet, my friend Lynn and I decided to try cabin camping at Jellystone Park in Caledonia, Wisconsin. I brought my two sons and she brought her son, Aidan.

Nick got to know those stairs well. He served many a time out perched on that bottom stair.

We decided to rent a "Boo Boo Basic Cabin," and it saved us quite a bit of money, compared to a hotel. This cabin came with a front porch, two rooms, a picnic table, and our own fire pit. We brought in all of our own food, and I made breakfasts on our electric skillet out on the porch.

See our bracelets? We had to wear them the entire time. Henry kept taking his off.

It was a ton of work to prepare and bring enough food, utensils, and cooking equipment for five people for four days, but it was very different and fun. The hardest part for me was not having running water. Cooking outside was actually enjoyable. I think bacon tastes better when it is cooked outside.

The kids adored our little cabin, and they slept well every night. Nick, Henry, and Aidan had their own bedroom with a bunk bed plus a twin bed. They liked it so much that they got rather attached and wanted to go back to "our cabin" even after we had checked out.

Our cabin was very small, with only the bedroom and a main room with a queen-sized bed and a refrigerator. We had electricity and heat/AC but no running water. It was rustic enough for me and much roomier than a tent.

I bought Nick and Henry their own flashlights and sleeping bags just for this trip, and they loved sleeping in the sleeping bags so much they didn't want to stop sleeping in them when we got back home!

Seeing as this was mid-July, you wouldn't think we would've needed the heat and all the blankets, but it was so cold that first night we had to turn on the heat! This summer's weather has been weird and cold compared to most. For the purposes of campfires and having to walk to the bathrooms, though, cooler weather was actually quite convenient.

Henry looks so innocent in this picture, but the next morning he snuck a 3-pack of sweet peppers into the bedroom and smashed them all against the walls and floors. 

I think the hardest part of cabin camping was not having running water. There was a small hose attachment outside, but it was hard to use for anything other than washing my hands. I didn't realize until this trip how many times I wash my hands each day!  It was especially a pain when cooking on the fire.

We also figured out that it was easier to brush our teeth in the woods with a bottle of water rather than wait for a free sink in the communal bathrooms. My friend Lynn thought it was funny when we brushed our teeth outside the first night, so she snapped this picture of us. I returned the favor the next day!

I was so proud of myself for making my very first campfire. Let's not discuss how many paper towels and tiny sticks I used. I also won't mention how many times the fire went out before it got going. For a first effort, it wasn't too bad.   :)

I made this fire all by myself! See the foil packets cooking on top? This method worked pretty well.

Speaking of fires, this aspect of camping probably made me the most nervous. Although I'm totally a feminist, I'm also somewhat lazy about the more challenging aspects of camping, and I have no problem letting a guy make the fire for me. When I was in scouting in high school, there were lots of guys around who'd been camping their whole lives. They were the kind of guys who wanted to show off for us ladies and make fires literally from piles of sticks with no matches. I remember they'd try to one-up each other over who could make a fire more quickly.

Anyhow, the end result was that though I'd been camping plenty of times, I had never actually made or cooked over a fire. The first night I was rather, um, irritated. I kicked the fire pit a few times and said some choice words every time the flames started to go out. We still managed to roast marshmallows and have some yummy s'mores, though!

I ended up bringing mostly foil packet meals, and I'm so glad I chose to cook this way. I do not think I could have successfully cooked on open flames without the foil packets. I made beef/mushroom/corn quesadillas one night and sausage with green beans and potatoes the other night. Eating outside for every meal was great for cleanups! The birds liked our outdoor eating, too.

Our campground had tons of ameneties, including an on-site water park, a jumping pillow, and a park. In retrospect, we probably could've spent most of our time on the campground. Tomorrow I'll write more about the super-cool water park and post some mid-air jumping pictures that show what happen when teenagers get onto the jumping pillow and fling my boys into the air. We had such a magnificent time that I know I'm going to try cabin camping again.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fun at the Splashpad

Even though this summer has been cooler than most, we've tried to give Nick and Henry lots of chances for water play. We visited the Splashpad in Rosemont by my dad and stepmom's house recently, giving the boys the chance to run through the water and get wet, over and over again.

Grandpa Mike helped them figure out how to get some of the cooler water features to turn on. The railroad crossing sign has buttons that make the mushroom and the buckets work.

Since it was a cooler day, we got out of the water to dry off and warm up. Henry excels at snuggling, especially when he's on Grandpa Mike's lap.

Henry's favorite part was the buckets, which would fill with water and then overflow. He did this over and over again. Nick liked it, too. The boys kept trying to figure out the pattern so they could stand under a bucket while it dumped.

I managed to snap this picture of Henry while water was falling down. I get about one good picture in every seven hundred, so I was rather proud of this one.

Henry didn't seem to care how cold he got or how much he shivered--he just wanted to get wet!

We had to force Henry to come out of the water and warm up a few times because he was shivering so hard. Poor guy.

Nick kept wondering why different features weren't turning on when he wanted to, so he went up to ask the attendant what to do. My boy is not shy, that's for sure!

We had a picnic (with yummy pizza) and time to play at the park, which was huge and really fun for the boys. Pardon my inferior photography skills. It's hard to take cute pictures of boys when they're stuffing their faces with cheese-its.

Nick's favorite feature was the mushroom that rained. He kept trying to turn it on.

There's something wonderful about relaxing in the sun while your children run, safely, in an enclosed water play area where they cannot drown. I love summertime precisely because of these kinds of moments.