Monday, October 24, 2016

Wicked R Ranch

 We are certainly making the rounds to all the Fall festivities this season! I have no idea why we haven't been to Wicked R before! It is such a cool little place in the middle of nowhere. They are only open on Saturday's and Sunday's for their Fall Fest, so make sure you add it to your weekend schedule. One of the BEST things about them is that they don't charge for parents and the entry price of $8/child includes ALL activities. 

Pony rides
Bull train ride
Obstacle course
Bouncy house
Tricycle track
Carnival games
Tractor pulled wagon ride
Corn maze 
Petting zoo and more


Many other places have the ticket price which all adults have to pay, plus it costs extra for some of the "better" activities so the fun really adds up quickly and if anyone knows me, they know I'm super cheap so I love what a good deal this place is! And I can't even tell you how many times D would say he wanted to do something at other places, so we would buy tickets, stand in line and when it was finally his turn, he would refuse to get on the ride or do the activity so we'd end up giving his tickets to someone else. Wicked R is a very easy going, low pressure type of place.

D LOVED the duck race game where he had to pump water to push rubber duckies down the tube. He could have played with that the entire time we were there and we practically had to peel him off the pump to be able to see anything else!

We had a pretty big moment during our visit to the ranch with D. He has always had more sensory sensitivities than the average kid which leads to bigger fears and more apprehension than average as well. You know those barrel train rides that most kids love? He refused to ride one up until very recently and he's 4 1/2. Now, he's conquered that fear and we are hoping to conquer one right after the next from this point on. The pony ride at Wicked R was something I really wanted D to try. Usually, when he says he doesn't want to do something we just move on but I knew he could do it and I knew he would love it when he did so I begged and bribed until he agreed to try it. When he finally got on the pony, he had the hugest smile on his face and was SO proud of himself! Seeing him achieve this seemingly minute accomplishment made my heart explode and I am so thankful for Wicked R for providing the low pressure opportunity for him to try it on the most gentle, slow pony ever!

We had a ton of fun on this adventure and we hope you will try it too! While you are there, try this scavenger hunt to see how many of these animals you can find at Wicked R!

1. Bison
2. Bull
3. Horse
4. Pig
5. Llama
6. Dog
7. Goat

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Meadow Park

We are early birds. Usually the boys are up around 6am and unfortunately most events and attractions don't open until 10am. I try to use the time in between when they wake up and when our activity for the day begins to try a new park or playground. Something that won't take hours of our time, but will keep them entertained so they aren't destroying the house all morning. Before our trip to Milburn Orchards, we stopped at Meadow Park in Elkton, MD because it fit the bill!
This is one of those times where I use my trusty Google map site to locate a green blob to go to. We arrived to the park at the same time as all the football families were unloading for practice from their minivans. If you go on a Saturday morning, you can probably expect the same. Lots of shouting and cheering in the center of the park, with the playgrounds mostly on the outer rim. Meadow Park is sort of shaped like a racetrack, with an open grassy field in the middle.
The boys loved the "rock" climbing walls at the playgrounds with two sizes to choose from. O loved that he could copy his big brother and climb the smaller wall and D was very proud that he could easily climb up and over it. It was a good confidence builder for them.
I couldn't help but notice the creek that runs alongside the playground areas, it was calling to us! The boys had so much fun collecting items to drop in the water. We played the "sink or float?" game and D guessed which his item would do before it took the plunge. They both really enjoyed dropping the floating items on one side of the bridge, then going to the other side to see them go by.  

On the other side of the bridge was a trail that was begging to be followed, so we did. There wasn't much on the other end, just baseball fields, but it was still fun to find out!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge

I have a confession.

I've been holding out on you for a long time. I've been waiting for the perfect moment to write about Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge because it is one of my favorite places. The stars have aligned in your favor this week as it is National Wildlife Refuge Week, today is "throwback Thursday," AND October is Children in Nature Month. To top it all off, Fall migration has started, the bugs have died down with the cooler weather and there are a series of programs at Bombay Hook starting up on the blog calendar.
The main issue that I have now, is I have way too much too say and way too many pictures to share in one post and I don't even know where to begin! I guess I'll start with some background info.
My parents have been bringing me to Bombay Hook since I was a kid. I thought it was the most boring place ever at the time. I'm kicking myself for thinking that back then, but it probably had something to do with being a too-cool-for-school preteen. If you've been reading along since the beginning of this blog journey, you might remember that my husband is a farmer. Well, the family farm just so happens to be near Bombay Hook. When we lived there for several years, I almost never went to the refuge. After we moved away, I became more interested in photography as a hobby and was always looking for new subject matter to photograph. I somehow stumbled upon a birding group on Facebook and now I'm a bird nerd!
I liked the challenge of photographing birds. My equipment was/is inadequate, they're constantly moving, and often are far away. Despite that, in the process of trying to take pictures of birds, I began to learn to identify them. I also learned their behavior patterns and where each type might be within the refuge. It taught me to see more. To be more observant. As a kid, when we visited, I thought nothing was there because I didn't see anything, but the reality was that I didn't know how to look.
Teaching our kids how observe is such an awesome life skill. Kids are such sponges. They are desperate to learn, and when they finally nail that new skill, it really boosts their confidence. Being in nature is good for that.

What I've learned over the past year is that nature is constantly changing. Every single time we visit Bombay Hook, we see something we didn't see the last time we were there. A new bird, a new animal, a new flower blooming. We've watched animals grow from birth to adulthood in front of our eyes. We've watched as the leaves emerged from the trees in the Spring and as they changed colors and have begun to fall in Autumn.
We've seen foxes, deer, turtles, snakes, otters, beavers, rabbits, opossums, fish, frogs, and more types of birds and insects than I can even type.

And guess what?

 90% of the time we go, we don't even get out of the car. Surprised? I thought you might be. Our routine is to go Sunday morning and spend about an hour riding around in there before church. O usually naps and D helps me spot things to photograph. D is actually becoming quite adept at bird ID for a 4 year old and can even distinguish different types of ducks! I'm so proud :)

During the Summer months, the insects are usually so bad that you can't even roll your window down without being assaulted by flies and mosquitoes instantly. Fall, Winter and early Spring are the best times to hike the trails and visit the observation towers. In fact, Winter is the best time to go to spot ducks (did you know there many different kinds?) and bald eagles because they like to perch in trees overlooking the water and will be visible when all the leaves have fallen off.  All of the trails are stroller friendly and relatively short, the longest being about a mile.
Which reminds me, I had a conversation today with a friend that has a disability that prevents her from walking long distances and a lightbulb went off in my head. I'm always posting about whether or not adventure locations are stroller friendly, but not necessarily if they are handicap friendly. Doh! I want to make sure that EVERYONE can enjoy nature in some way, shape, or form and because most of Bombay Hook can be viewed from your vehicle, it is the PERFECT place to go if you aren't able to walk but still want to enjoy nature. I wish I had thought of this sooner!

In Summary:
 (because this post is long enough to require summarization)
1. Bombay Hook is awesome and you need to go.
2. Do not plan to get out of the car there during the Summer.
3. It's a great option for disabled nature lovers.
4. Check out the blog calendar or their website for a schedule of their programs.
5. Teach your children to observe.
Need help? Here is an idea of how we do it:
If you see a bird, ask your child what the bird is doing. Is it flying? Fast or slow? 
Is it eating? What do you think that type of bird eats?
 Is the bird in a group or alone? Why would it prefer to be in a group?
And so on.
Children learn best by watching and listening to you. Teach by example. If YOU see a bird, make your own observations (That bird is large! It's feathers are white and he has a yellow beak. He's eating a fish, he must be super hungry! His long legs allow him to walk through the water to find more food to eat. I bet he likes to eat frogs too!) and then ask your little what he/she thinks about your guesses. Most of all, HAVE FUN!
It costs $4 for in state vehicles to visit Bombay Hook, but I recommend buying the annual pass for $12 so you can visit as frequently as you'd like! They are open sunup to sundown so you can go whenever it is convenient for you. Keep in mind, you will see different things depending on what time of day it is and if the tide is in or out.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Milburn Orchards- Fall Fest and Apple Picking

Milburn Orchards is the quintessential Fall fun destination. Hayrides, apple picking, pumpkins, apple cider, corn maze, bonfires and MUCH more. Visiting the orchard is a must-do bucket list item.
Milburn has various "U-Pick" fruits all Summer long, so you don't have to limit your trips to the Fall. We definitely plan on going back for cherry picking next June! Apple picking is great for all ages, even my 2 year old loved it.
When you arrive to Milburn's, follow the signs for U-Pick parking. A tractor pulling a wagon will take you to the location within the orchard where the apples are ripest. Each variety matures at different ages, which works out perfectly so there is something new coming on each week from September through October. Don't be surprised if there is a line to get on the ride, as it is SUPER popular. We were given an expert tip to arrive earlier than the 10am opening time before a line forms and the parking areas fill up. We got there at 9:40am and it was perfect timing. We got on the second wagon out and when we came back, the parking lots were jam packed.
You will also need to take $$ with you to the orchard, as you pay out there before they bring you back. A word of caution: the weight of the apples add up fast and before you know it, you will have $60 worth of apples in about 2 minutes. If your kids are anything like mine, they will be pulling apples off left and right so it might be a good idea to set a # that each of them can pull before you get there so you don't go broke before you even get to the store to buy your apple cider doughnuts.

When I saw the "How an Apple Grows" sign while we were picking, I was so excited because it creates the perfect opportunity to talk to your kids about pollination and how important bees are to our food supply. We love watching busy bees work in our garden and when D asks what they are doing, I always tell him they are gathering nectar to make honey, but I haven't really touched on the more important job they are doing: POLLINATION! All too often, I see kids being terrified of bees, grouping them with other creepy crawlies like spiders, flies, ants, etc. Bees are actually some of the coolest insects out there and should be respected and admired by our kids for the work that they do! I found this awesome little video on YouTube that is a great intro to pollination for your kiddos:
Knowing where their food comes from and how it is grown is such a valuable life lesson to start teaching at a young age. Visiting a U-Pick farm is the perfect way to do that. Additionally, having their own small garden at home will provide some hands on experience. They can watch as the flowers turn in to the fruits of their labor, and even see pollination in progress. Start planning now to incorporate some veggies in to your garden in the Spring.
When you're done talking about pollination in the orchard, hop back on the wagon and drop your apples off at the car on your way to the store and Fall fest across the road. The smell of apple cider doughnuts is intoxicating and irresistible. I recommend grabbing them on your way out so that you don't eat them all while the kids play!
It costs $10 per person (under 2 is free) to go in the Fall fest area. There is SO MUCH to do! There's a petting zoo, sand box, giant spiderweb, bouncy house, groundhog hill with tunnels to crawl through, pumpkins galore and more. Just about everything is included in the ticket price. The only exclusions are food (for you and the goats) and the things listed on this sign:
There are no public restrooms, just porta potties so plan ahead for that. They do however have sinks with soap for washing hands, a diaper changing station and rocking chair for feeding your baby which was truly impressive to me!
We were big fans of the petting zoo, complete with goat playground that towered high above our heads. Feed can be delivered to the top of the structure to the hungry goat waiting with his mouth open via a pulley system. Or, you can do it the old fashioned way and feed from your hand.

D especially loved groundhog hill which is an ingenious idea for older kids. 4+ is best, otherwise you might end up crawling in after a little one that gets lost, scared or stuck. Or, you could always employ one of the older kids to help them. Tunnels are buried underground and go every which way inside the mound of dirt. It took us a minute to figure out where he would pop out after he went in.

We rounded out the trip with several dozen apple cider doughnuts and some apple cider. I was thoroughly impressed with how smoothly everything is run, how nice everyone was, and how well thought out everything is. We can't wait to go back!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Becks Pond

 Becks Pond, in Newark was another slam dunk adventure location. With a combination of playground and pond, you can't go wrong. The trees are just starting to change color, and the morning air is crisp and cool. I LOVE this time of year!
We were greeted at the pond by polite ducks and non-so-polite honking geese that swam, flew and waddled their way over to us as quickly as they could. Obviously they knew the routine and thank goodness we were prepared with a bucket of corn for them. We wouldn't want to disappoint, now would we? If you remember from way back when, I talked about the foods that were appropriate to feed fowl, and the ones that aren't (coughbreadcough) so we always make sure to have some corn in the car ready to go, especially this time of year when they are migrating. 
Once the buckets were empty, we walked over to the playground which had some fun features and the boys loved having the place to themselves. Don't forget to bring your towel if you are going to the playground (any playground) early in the morning so your kids don't end up with wet booties when they inevitably go down the slide with a puddle at the bottom.

While the boys were playing, we noticed they had a new "friend" on the playground equipment:
 It goes by several names that you might recognize like daddy longlegs or harvestman, but unfortunately our friend has a lot of rumors swirling about him and we need to clear them up.

Here are 5 fun facts about daddy longlegs:

1) They ARE NOT spiders! They ARE an arachnid. You may have noticed that they have only two eyes and no separation between their abdomen and thorax which differentiates them.
2) They are NOT venomous. They don't even have fangs! Therefore, they are absolutely harmless.
3) They do not have silk glands, so they can not make webs.
4) Their legs are full of nerves and serve as ears, nose, tongue, and supplementary "eyes." 
5) They have existed for over 400 MILLION years!
Are you feeling less hatred toward our new friend yet? I hope so! We watched him go about his business and then he actually took a ride down the slide and went on his way so we moved on as well to check out the rest of the park.
One of the cool things about Becks Pond is the accessibility to the water's edge. There are multiple access points, which can also be used for fishing if you care to bring your tackle. In fact, there were several people doing just that while we were there.

The park also has a lot of mature shade trees, including oaks which means lots of...
Acorn collection has been one of the boys' favorite activities of late, and we make a challenge out of it by seeing who can find "twins" or "triplets." We also got the chance to talk about how acorns are the seeds of oak trees, and we even cracked one open to see what was inside. Make sure you take your buckets to Becks Pond so you can collect acorns as well!
 Are you up for a challenge? See if you can find all the details that we did while on this adventure, good luck!

Becks Pond Scavenger Hunt:

1) A tree with roots above the ground
2) A patch of fuzzy moss
3) A balance beam tree
4) A tree shaped like a V
5) A lone rock, partially buried in the ground