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Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

I remember the year everything about vacation changed.

It was sometime in those middle school years, I think, and my parents took us on a trip to Florida they or someone in our family had won through some kind of promotion. And of course, there was a catch. The kind where you go on the trip in exchange for sitting through an hour-long promotion from an agency that sells condos. (We did this on our honeymoon to score some gas cards and a restaurant gift card. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever done, but it also wasn’t pleasant.) My parents sat and listened to the man and his sales pitch while my brother and I did whatever we could to entertain ourselves. I remember they told my parents afterward how well-behaved we were. Maybe that was part of the pitch.

Our family walked away from the meeting that day the proud new owners of a time-share condo in Daytona Beach. I secretly thought my parents might be crazy, but I was a kid, so what did I know?

From then on, our vacation destination was set: Daytona Beach, Florida. Or, if it wasn’t too much trouble, somewhere else we could exchange our week. One year, it was Arizona. (The aforementioned honeymoon was in Williamsburg, Virginia, and is thanks to that time share week, so I guess I better not complain!)

The beach. Most summers we drove for two days to spend time at the beach.

And what I remember most about those summers is ridiculously painful sunburn (the fate of the fair-skinned) and overwhelming feelings of inadequacy about my body (the fate of the non-bikini-clad, at least that’s what I thought then). I was never a partier, so a week at the beach was not the raucous good time I’m sure some of my peers might have envisioned. In truth, I was happy to sit on the balcony of the condo (in the shade) and read book after book after book. But that was how I would have spent my summer no matter where I was. The view was just a little better in Florida.

Two years ago, our little family of four got to go to Daytona together with my parents, and that trip redeemed most of my so-so memories of Florida vacations.

But I still had my reservations about the beach. We are reluctant acquaintances.

Months ago, our friends posed the question: What would we think about taking a vacation to the beach with their family?

We’ve lived in Pennsylvania for six years and the “shore” has been on our list of things we wanted to do, just to experience what so many of our friends and acquaintances know and love. But we didn’t know where to begin or if we could go for the day, and frankly, we’ve never had the money or time to do it. Our friends go to Cape May, New Jersey, and they stay in the same house each time, and we’ve heard wonderful things about that area. So, this seemed the perfect opportunity.

Still, I was hesitant.

I’m not really a beach person, I told my friend, who is the complete opposite. She could live on the beach and be happy the rest of her days (and I love her for that). But we kept talking about it and because we love this family so much and their kids and our kids are friends, we agreed to look into and consider the costs and availability.

Long story, shorter, we booked a week in a house in Cape May, New Jersey, and last week embarked on our first-ever vacation with another family to the beach.

In the week leading up to vacation, I was super stressed out. Our kids had been back from Illinois only a few days before our beach week was to begin, and I hate packing. Plus, our travel was going to be split up. The moms and kids were going on Saturday and the dads would follow on Sunday. So, I had to segregate the packed belongings into Saturday and Sunday piles. It was overwhelming. 20140719_103529

By the time I got in my friend’s van on Saturday, I was ready for some R&R. Except that we had five kids between the two of us and more than three hours of driving ahead of us. R&R was maybe a far-fetched dream.

Traffic snarled and crawled as we drew closer to the beach. The miles ticked down on the GPS and time seemed to stand still. Then finally–FINALLY–we were at the house and out of the car and unpacking our meager belongings (the second wave of provisions would arrive Sunday night with the men). And we could hardly wait another minute to see the ocean. So, we piled back into the van and drove out to the park where the lighthouse stands. We raced over the dunes, spread our arms wide and exhaled.

IMG_20140719_175613With a breezy welcome, the ocean crashed its greeting onto the shore. We cast off our shoes and let the sand fill the gaps between our toes. The ocean teased us with its gentle lapping, and we let the cool waters wash our feet. It was a foretaste of the week to come, just enough to remind us that we had made it. We walked the shore, the kids running off their dormant energy, collecting shells, until our feet couldn’t take any more. We bid the ocean “good night” then searched for a pizza place to satisfy our hunger.

We woke the next day with plans to hit the beach for real and after a Herculean effort to wrangle five kids into swimwear and pack a lunch, we made it to the beach and the children frolicked while we soaked up sun and let the rhythmic ocean waves soothe our weary souls. (But lest I forget, the wind was fierce that day and the sand was stinging us. We may look relaxed in our pictures but we were fighting for our happy place.)

It is not easy getting to the beach, but once you’re there, it’s worth it. Each day we were at the beach, I felt like time stood still.

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After dinner, we walked the promenade and stumbled upon a wedding taking place on the beach. As my friend, Beth, so eloquently observed:

We (2 exhausted mammas and 5 full of energy children) walk the mile or so to the end of the promenade-where ocean meets rocky shore-where a wedding party forms. Bridesmaids clothed in teal, hairspryed hair withstanding wind. Groom wringing his hands. A bridal white horse drawn carriage rolls to a halt. The girl children-busily imagining their weddings 20 years the making-“Ohhhh and Ahhh” as they see her, the Princess bride. As we all are taken by the magic of the moment-of the majestic ocean and mystery of love-the horse, adorned with braided hair and roses, urninates while all five of our kiddos loudly observe, “Ewww He’s peeing.”

Our men arrived later that night to find their wives barely hanging onto sanity. They’d never been more heroic in our eyes.

We had literally already been to the nut house.

We had literally already been to the nut house.

The week was full of surprises. Perhaps the most surprising was this: I actually had a good time. And by that I mean I would do it all again tomorrow. All the packing, all the driving, all the washing sand out of everything, all the protecting our lunches from seagulls, all the sunscreen, all the lotion, all the walking and sweating and cooking and cleaning.

It’s not that I expected to have a horrible time. I knew it would be fun because our friends are fun and seeing new places is fun and being together as a family is fun. I just didn’t expect to have so much fun I’m actually missing it today. Me? Missing the beach? Who’d have thought?

I had hoped to write a post listing all my favorite things about our trip or recounting all the best moments, but the truth is, I can’t choose favorite moments because there are too many. Each day was special for lots of reasons and to single out a best moment is too hard. (Plus, I don’t want you to hate me for having a fabulous beach vacation. Trust me, it’s a rarity for our family. We do not live glamorous lives all the time. Case in point, this blog post.)

So, how would I sum up our vacation? You’ve read this far, so I owe you a word, and that word is the word that I’ve been meditating on all year long.

Enjoy.

From the splashing in the water to the digging our toes in the sand to the climbing the lighthouse steps to the date night with tasty seafood to the shared meals around the kitchen table to the late-night talks to the overall ambiance of this historical seaside resort, I enjoyed our vacation. (And if you need to know why it’s so hard for me to enjoy life, read this post.)

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So, here’s my question for you: When’s the last time you were surprised by how much you enjoyed something? Care to share your story? Leave a comment so we can enjoy together.

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Today marks the first day of summer break, which also means it’s the beginning of the first summer of two children home all day after having one in school all day all year long.

Pray for me.

I joke. A little. But I’m determined to make our summer fun and relaxing since last summer was full of stress and moving and settling in and all kinds of new things and did I mention stress?

So, the kids and I are going to have fun. And sometimes my husband will be with us. And I might be able to pause to tell you about the things we’re doing.

And I might not.

So if things get a little quiet around here, just imagine us having all kinds of summer fun. Or me tearing my hair out. Or children fighting because they of so much togetherness. Because all of that and more is what’s in store for us this summer.

I can’t commit to blogging regularly while keeping the kids entertained, or at least occupied, for the whole summer. So, I’m giving myself the freedom to walk away, if  necessary. You’ll still see some book reviews here because for me, summer is about TONS of reading. And some of you will be ecstatic to know that one of my book-related goals this summer is to finally read all–yes, ALL!–of the Harry Potter books. A dear friend is loaning me the ones from her personal collection. The first two wait patiently on my bookshelf. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you want to see all of what I’m reading (all the time, not just in summer) you can find me on Goodreads. There’s a link to my profile on the right side of the blog.

And I doubt I’ll be able to give up Facebook and Twitter or Instagram for the summer, so feel free to look me up there, too.

I hope you have a wildly fun summer. And a relaxing one. And that you find joy whatever the months ahead bring.

Thanks for reading! I’ll see you around!

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So it’s Labor Day. The unofficial end of summer. Or maybe that happened for you earlier this week, or the week before, when the kids went back to school.

For the first — and last for probably two decades — time in our married lives, we are not bound to a school schedule. And let me tell you, it’s a little weird. In the five years we’ve been married, my husband has been in school. Our daughter will start kindergarten next year. So, this year, August, September, they’re just months. I remember, a little, what this was like the first fall after college. When for the first time in my life that I could remember, I wasn’t starting a school year. My working world continued, for the most part, as it had the previous month. And suddenly, I was a grown-up whose “year” didn’t start in August or September but in January.

I happen to love fall. I’m not a hot-weather girl. Humidity and I are not friends, and when the temperature rises beyond 90, I get cranky. I prefer open windows to air conditioning, pants to shorts and sweaters to tank tops. But summer has its moments, and even though we have a few more official weeks of it, I’ve made a list of seven things I love about summer and will miss as the season changes.

© Melissa King | Dreamstime.com

1. Hanging laundry on the line. If there was a sunny day this summer, I had clothes on the line. I think I can count on one hand the times I’ve used the dryer in the last 2 months. It’s been partly an economic decision and partly a we-can-so-why-shouldn’t-we decision. As the weather turns, those clothes-hanging days will dwindle. I’m not yet a die-hard winter clothes hanger like our Mennonite and Amish neighbors.

2. Flip-flops. So easy to slip on. And off. Terrible for my feet, but I can’t resist. I wore out one pair this summer. Maybe the pair I just bought will make it till next summer, but I will wear flip-flops with jeans and a sweatshirt, until my toes start to freeze. I know people who will wear them until Thanksgiving, or even into December. Socks and boots are soon in my future.

3. Time it takes to leave the house. In summer, when ushering three people out the door, maybe you need to grab a hat and a bottle of sunscreen. In winter, it’s layers and layers and layers of clothes. I find myself having to start getting the kids ready about 15 to 20 minutes before I want to actually leave the house so we can get hats and gloves and coats and boots on, if necessary. And I’m guessing this will be the year that we get all bundled up and someone says to me, “I have to pee” just before we walk out the door. In some ways, summer is easier.

4. Playing/sitting outside. We’ve spent many days this summer with the kids riding bikes or playing with sidewalk chalk or bubbles or even just reading books or coloring outside. I did a lot of reading on the porch. Spending time outside in winter requires much more activity. I don’t see myself sitting outside with a good book in the middle of winter (unless it’s a balmy day).

© Alison Grippo | Dreamstime.com

5. Fresh fruits and vegetables. I’m not a gardener (yet) but I appreciate those who are. I love seeing fresh local produce in the grocery store and visiting the farmer’s market for some homegrown fruits and veggies. I feel like our meals are much more colorful in the summer and we eat with more variety. Fall still brings us squash and apples, so all is not lost. Winter is dull in the food department. (Although we tend to make more soup in winter, and I love soup!)

6. Summer reading programs. The kids did the library program this summer and loved it. We read a lot of books, made some neat projects and treats, and they won some cool prizes. On Saturday, they get to each spend a dollar, courtesy of the library, at the annual book sale. I participated in the Tyndale Summer Reading Program again this year and read a lot of books for me. I love being exposed to new authors and new ideas, which is one of the major benefits of the program. (That, and earning a free book for every five books I read.) I won’t stop reading now that we’re heading toward fall. I’ll probably read more, in fact, but there’s something exciting about summer reading programs. (Yep, I’m a word nerd. High five!)

7. The pace. Even though summers are busy for a lot of people, the season tends to be filled with things we WANT to do not things we feel we HAVE to do. We’re more relaxed. We go on vacation. We have more flexible schedules for leisure and play. (Generally speaking.) With fall comes school activities and the BIG holidays and family gatherings. Church activities start again. Life is FULL. And before we know it, it’s the first of a new year and we’re tired. Summer passes all too quickly, but it seems time really does fly in the fall.

Those are my top reasons for missing summer. I welcome fall and all its coolness and color.

What will you miss about summer?

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We’re home.

That’s No. 1 on the list. No matter where we live, home will always bring a smile to my face.

In part, that’s because of the people we love. The weekend has been full of catching up with cousins, celebrating a marriage, meeting our nephew, spending time with aunts and uncles, and sharing life with family. What we lack the other months of the year, we pack into our short trips home. No matter how long we stay, it’s always too short.

Here are some pictures from the past few days. Of course, the weekly smiles post wouldn’t be complete without saying that it’s good to have the family back together. I missed the kids like crazy and even though they drive me crazy sometimes, I’m glad we’re all in the same state (crazy?) again.

Yeah, they’re angels. Including the monkey.

They were all dressed up for my brother’s wedding reception. Congratulations to Chris and Clara!

Best. Reception. Ever. And we’re so happy to have Aunt Clara in our family.

The kids haven’t really been to many weddings, and now that they’re older, we get experiences like these.

Daddy-daughter dance preview. She enjoyed her dance lesson.

And her very own big girl soda. (Oh, wait, we were in Chicago, so it was “pop.” Yes, Pennsylvania, you have converted us.)

I don’t know if this was the actual reaction to the lemon-lime taste or the excitement of being awake far later than normal. Or all of the above.

 The reception was the first chance for my brother, my cousin Shawn and me to all be in the same place at the same time for the first time in a VERY long time. It was Cousins Collide Part 1.

Part 2 took place at Uncle Jon and Aunt Cassie’s house when our kids met their cousin Kaiden for the first time.

Two things about this picture: a) This reminds me of every forced family photo I’ve ever seen. Someone in the photo is always visibly unhappy to be there. Thank you, Corban, for filling that role, and b) you can’t tell me these three aren’t going to find some way to get in trouble together. Man oh man are we in trouble.

(Side note: Phil was speaking in a list like this to Corban that day and said, “A, such and such …” and before he could continue, Isabelle said, “What’s “B” Dad?” It was sass-tastic if  I’ve ever heard it. Cute when she’s 4, not so much when she’s 14 and rolling her eyes at the same lecture we gave her a week earlier.)

It was so much fun to be able to feed Kaiden on our first meeting. I love narrating for babies, so in this picture, I think Kaiden is saying, “Look, man, are you sure you know what you’re doing? It’s been a while.” Actually, Phil is an accomplished bottle feeder because he and Isabelle had to share some bottle moments in her early months.

I’ve loved this little guy since the day he was born, and I love him even more now that I’ve met him in person.

We also got in a visit with Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Zach. Fun times at the park. FYI, if you’re anywhere near John Dixon Park, watch out for the “snakes.” Corban drew a bunch of them on the ground with chalk and said, “I’m not going to protect you.” You’ve been forewarned.

And the weekend isn’t even over yet. We’re off to see some fireworks tonight and visit Uncle Lewie tomorrow. Then it’s back to PA for, literally, God knows what.

A week without the kids was refreshing and somewhat productive. When I look back at all that happened in a short week’s time, I feel good and blessed.

May your week be full of blessings and may your eyes be open to see them!

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Right. Sunday again. I’m thinking I’ll have to rename this feature to Weekend Wonderfuls or something like that.

Many reasons to smile this week, so it’s not for lack of material.

One of my prayers of late has been, “God, where are You? Please, Lord. Show me that You haven’t forgotten us. I need to see You.” I wasn’t asking for a sign, per se, just an assurance. Like a short text or e-mail from a friend who’s been out of touch that says, “I’m still alive.”

I know God is there. I believe. Sometimes I just need a little reminder to help my unbelief.

My uncle is much improved this week, even moving out of critical care to a regular room. If you want the details you can find them here.

Not forgotten.

We came home to some distressing news for our budget and succumbed to stress and anxiety about the coming months. Then, we received four checks in the mail this week. We were expecting one, but couldn’t remember the amount. The other three were not exactly surprises except for the timing.

Not forgotten.

My husband completed another job application this week. That makes two out there for consideration. And we received an offer to pray about another ministry opportunity.

Not forgotten.

Then, there were things like experimental cooking that turned out yummy.

I call it sausage alfredo florentine pizza. Or something like that. It was good.

And this free activity for kids every other week at Lowe’s. Isabelle and Phil went for the first time on Saturday. Here’s what she did:

And she got an apron, goggles and an iron-on patch for finishing. This may be a regular part of our summer.

Then there’s this little guy, our future skater dude. He cracks me up.

Lemonade.

Cold root beer on a hot summer day.

The kids being excited about Bible school, which starts tonight.

Working out at the Y with a friend.

A park outing.

Eating supper al fresco in the backyard.

Life doesn’t always make sense. And life is good.

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We’re back in Illinois for two weeks. Our kids are growing up fast. And while we love the abundance of new and exciting adventures available to us in Pennsylvania, sometimes a little taste of nostalgia is needed.

Our mornings are pretty much our own these couple of weeks. Just because we’re on vacation doesn’t mean everyone else is. So, Tuesday my husband had the brilliant idea to take the kids on a hike. It’s one of our (his and mine) favorite activities and the couple of times we’ve taken the kids, they’ve enjoyed it too. Our hometown area offers all kinds of natural scenery and organized parks from which to enjoy the beauty. It was hard to pick one place to go, so we went with location. Closest to my parents’ house won.

We packed a bag and headed out to Franklin Creek State Natural Area. We passed the Franklin Creek Grist Mill on the way. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open. I haven’t been there since probably middle school. Both of our families spent significant portions of our childhood at Franklin Creek. It’s a simple yet beautiful area, and the day we went, it was almost deserted.

Here’s one little explorer who is ready to go. Both kids insist on carrying maps with them. Isabelle likes to follow along.

Franklin Creek is home to a spring, so we planned to hike at least to it. One of the nice things about this part of the park is it’s handicapped accessible with a nice paved walkway to the spring. So, the kids could run mostly free for the beginning part of the hike.

We also discovered a lookout area near one of the ponds in the park. We tried to capture a nice family photo of our hike.

What we got instead was more the reality. Oh well. At least it’s us to a T.

The walk to the spring isn’t long and we had all morning to kill, so we decided to trek on. The kids were in good spirits, we had snacks and drinks. The weather was perfect: cool, breezy and clear.

So, one by one (sort of) we crossed the spring and set off to explore more territory.

Corban blazes a trail and sometimes wanders into the weeds. Isabelle likes to dawdle and look at flowers, plants, trees and bugs, if we can see any.

The trail was full of obstacles in the form of downed trees and limbs, which was like a playground for the kids.

Little miss kept saying, “I have to go first because I’m the sister bear.”

So, she’d get a leg up and swing it over and climb down the other side. Not to be outdone, her almost 2-year-old brother would try, too. Unfortunately for him he’s been “gifted” with the long torso, short legs from his father’s side of the family. But it was funny to watch all the same.

I kept saying they’re going to be ready for boot camp. Just kidding. I think.Limbo, anyone? Sometimes over just wasn’t good enough. Pretty sure they wanted Phil and me to go under it, too.Overall, it was a blast. Our summer has been so packed with Phil’s schooling (last summer of seminary … what?!?!) that I feel like we’ve forgotten to have fun. So, I’m glad that we could have this little bit of family fun in the midst of our visit home to see family. Few things fill my soul like spending time with my three great loves. And it ended up being a 2-and-a-half hour hike. More than I’d planned on but fun just the same.

Hiking plus family equals satisfaction. I never really liked math, but this is one equation I could get used to.

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If only we’d had a treasure map.

But our compass for adventure today was a Groupon I’d bought several months ago for a local place called Indian Echo Caverns, in the Hershey area. It wasn’t spelunking (that’s a fun word to say); in Isabelle’s words it was “cave exploring.” I feared it might be a cheesy, gimmicky experience.

I’m pleased to say it was neither.

Had we stumbled onto the caverns while running from Italian fugitives holed up in an abandoned restaurant on a quest for pirate treasure, the day would not have been more adventurous.

The tour begins at the gift shop, then leads visitors down 71 steps (a number they continually repeat) to the entrance to the caverns.

Because I was trying to keep Corban occupied and sort of on task (he’s easily distracted by water of any kind), I missed much of the explanation and history of the caverns. But, as Isabelle remarked part way through the tour, “this place is the coolest.” And she wasn’t just talking about the 50-degree temperature of the caverns.

Pictures will say it better than my words can. So, here’s a few to consider:

Maybe the most memorable moment in the caverns is in a room — that’s what the guides call each section of the cavern — where the guide turns off all the tour lights and you experience total darkness. Like, can’t see your hand in front of your face darkness. The kids freaked out. But it’s something we don’t really grasp in our electricity-dependent world. That, alone, was worth the price of admission.

The cavern tour ends in a spot where a man, Amos Wilson, also known as”the hermit of Pennsylvania,” lived for years, emerging only to work for a nearby farmer. His journal was available for purchase, but I didn’t bite this time. Sounds fascinating, though. (Chester Copperpot, anyone?)

I wouldn’t have imagined that a hole in the ground could be so fascinating, but imagination is part of the experience. I wish I could have let mine run wild a little more.

A definite recommendation. Isabelle even asked if we could come back sometime. Maybe when Corban is a little older. His favorite part of the caverns was the puddles.

His legs were covered in thousand-year-old gunk. And a few of the other guests in our group were none too pleased by his splashing.

After the tour, we picnicked on the grounds, played on the playground and petted and fed some goats, bunnies and chickens. Also Corban’s favorite part. Every time he heard the rooster, he took off running toward the animal area.

When we were finally able to pull ourselves away from Indian Echo Caverns, we drove back toward Hershey, hoping the kids would fall asleep for an hour or so. Success! So we hung out in the outlet mall parking lot while the kiddos napped.

Next stop, Chocolate World. Our umpteenth trip but when it’s free, it doesn’t really matter how many times you go. Especially when the kids enjoy it more the older they get.

Plus, free chocolate at the end of the ride — who could pass that up? No Baby Ruth. I think that’s a different company. But Chunk would have liked it.

Our final stop: Fuddrucker’s. World’s Greatest Hamburgers. The sign says so. And I’d have to agree. Although I don’t think they really have to compete with “the world.” Burgers outside of the U.S. just aren’t burgers.

We were going to eat here anyway, but a kids’ dinner deal sealed the deal for us. $1.99 for a kids meal after 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays.

The money we “saved” on the kids’ food we used for a post-dinner milkshake. Not only is the food good, but Fuddrucker’s brings back happy memories for me. Road trips, good friends and fabulous burgers and conversation. It was great to experience it with our kids, too.

We didn’t find any “rich stuff” like the Goonies were looking for. At least, not the buried treasure kind they needed to save their homes.

But we did make a whole lot of memories.

 

And for us, that’s the richest stuff on earth.

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The past two summers, we’ve created a Summer Fun List as a way to help us make the most of the time when the weather is favorable and my husband’s class schedule is less rigorous. Last year, we packed a lot of fun into the months of June-September. You can check out last year’s escapades in the summer category at the top of the page.

We’ve been slow to start the summer outings this year, getting adjusted to class schedules and managing extreme heat, but today we wanted to get out of the house and do something fun as a family. Our next two Saturdays are kind of busy, so we wanted to make today count.

Here’s what we decided: We dressed and packed for a hike and headed north to the Appalachian Trail.

Phil and I have enjoyed hiking together since before we were married, but life post-wedding and post-kids hasn’t afforded us as many hiking opportunities as we’d like. A couple of years ago, when we first moved to Pennsylvania, we unsuccessfully tried to find the Appalachian Trail to hike part of it. We had a great hike anyway, but there’s something about hiking the Appalachian Trail that makes me a little giddy. Or maybe geeky is a better word. I kind of want to hike the whole thing eventually someday. This is a start.

We headed south because the map promised us a couple of lookouts. We weren’t disappointed.

Here, we met a nice couple who were part of a charity motorcycle ride to benefit a sick child. They took our picture after we took theirs.

Pictures from the overlook just don’t do it justice. And “beautiful” isn’t a good enough word. Breathtaking. Peaceful. Inspiring. Glorious.

The clouds were hanging low so we couldn’t see a lot. But we weren’t sure where we were looking anyway. Next time, we’ll look for Myerstown.

The kids did awesome. Corban was pulling me along, eager to keep going. The rocky terrain wouldn’t keep him down. We must have worn him out. He slept for 2 1/2 hours after we got home. And Isabelle loved looking at plants, insects, flowers and rocks. When Phil pointed out some ants eating a caterpillar, she looked and said, “Ohhh, cute.” Better she says that than take after her mother and say, “Ew.”

Needless to say, hiking is on our list of summer fun. And after today, we’re planning more trips to the AT.

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Thursday. Our last day of “summer.” Phil’s classes started that night, so we took advantage of the half-price ticket deal we got from Groupon.com and went to Longwood Gardens (www.longwoodgardens.org), which we’ve dubbed the Biltmore of Pennsylvania. The house is no comparison, but the gardens are exquisite. The house dates back to the 1700s and the property was developed in the early 1900s by Pierre duPont (yes, THOSE duPonts!).

Our pediatrician recommended the gardens to us, so when the deal came along, we couldn’t pass it up.

We started our day in the conservatory (pictured above) because there’s a children’s garden within it. The sort of place kids are encouraged to touch things, get wet and run around. Perfect for our little girl, who was confined to the car for an hour and a half.

She could have stayed in the children’s garden all day.

Even her baby brother sort of got into it.

There are lots of water activities here, and Isabelle availed herself of all them: wetting a paintbrush to “paint” a picture on the wall; watching water “jump” across a wall; chasing water as it appeared and disappeared through a series of faucets. She drummed and shook a rattle made with seed pods. And played an insect matching game with one of the friendly docents.

We heard this a lot: “Oh, look at that.”

After she’d had her fill of the children’s garden (or maybe I should say, after we moved her along so we could see some of the other areas of the garden), we took in the rest of the conservatory. We marveled at the outdoor waterlily display and the palm house, with palm trees that seemed as tall as buildings. Then for perspective, we viewed the bonsai exhibit.

Not sure why, but this was one of my favorite parts of the day. These beautifully manicured, old, tiny trees fascinate me. Surely if I had one, I would kill it, though.

The Gardens’ current focus is on fragrance, so we browsed the perfume-making exhibit. We even got to create our own fragrance. Isabelle chose the ingredients: lemon, jasmine and vanilla, I think. The machine said it was similar to a Calvin Klein fragrance on the market. She has good, if expensive, taste, I guess.

Roses, bananas and orchids were just a few of the rest of the plants and flowers we saw in the conservatory.

After a short break for lunch (we packed a picnic that we ate in the car so as not to lose what Phil said was “a really good parking spot”) we headed toward the Peirce-duPont House. It was built by a Quaker pioneer and added on to by duPont. Mostly, it contains pictures and essays about the development of Longwood. A few furnishings, including a miniature dining room display that was one of many miniature displays in the home’s library. Mrs. duPont was a fan, apparently.

Next came treehouses. The gardens boast three. The Birdhouse was the tallest of the three, and Isabelle and her daddy climbed to the top. Lookout Loft was less high but more accessible to the stroller. Plus, there was a honeycomb display with hundreds of bees flying in and out of it. (I might add, at this point, that the camera battery died before lunch, thus the lack of afternoon pictures. Sigh.) We tried to locate the queen, who was marked with a neon dot but we were unsuccessful.

If the bonsais were my favorite part of the conservatory, then the Italian Water Garden was the highlight of the rest of the Gardens. Reminded me of the gardens at Harlaxton. I could have looked on it for the rest of the day and been content. Stunning. I had to buy a postcard to capture the memory.

The final treehouse was called Canopy Cathedral. Corban was napping by this time, so I took Isabelle to the top of this one. I never had a treehouse as a child, but the idea of a personal retreat in the trees captivates me. I felt like a kid as we climbed the stairs and looked out on the Gardens from a cathedral-like window.

As we walked on toward the flower gardens, we thirsted, or as Isabelle said, “I’m really drinky.” Abundant drinking fountains were a gift, though the weather was mild and pleasant, not too hot. We passed the topiary garden and its fun-shaped shrubs and the main fountain garden on our way to the idea garden, with more children-themed activities. Isabelle immediately spotted another fountain at her level and she splashed in the water next to other tots her size. Water periodically shot up from the fountain and Isabelle quickly learned if she put a finger over the spout, she could direct the water to spray her face and the adults standing nearby. She did this many times without tiring.

She and her daddy also explored an outdoor children’s garden shaped like a honeycomb. She ran around in the maze, sat in a queen-bee chair and lounged in a kid-size Adirondack chair.

We pulled her away from the fountain once more to check out Chimes Tower, which looks like the tower of a castle and appropriately, contains the chimes that sound the hour and partial hours throughout the garden. Near the tower is a waterfall — amazing — and something named the eye of water, which called to mind magical sorts of things like eye of newt for me. In reality it looks like its name — an eye of water that pumps thousands of gallons of water into the Gardens every day.

Phil and Isabelle wandered through the topiary garden on our way out, and we stopped to buy postcards at the visitor center, but we had to call it a day.

Sore feet and legs, tired babies, and little bit of sun — a wonderful end to our carefree days of summer.

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Isabelle finally had a dream come true on Sunday: Baseball! Ever since watching a Barney video for the first time, she has been into baseball. Of course, it doesn’t help that her parents are die-hard Cubs fans, even in the land of Philliedom.

One of our summer fun list activities was minor league baseball, so on Sunday, we traveled to Lancasater for a Barnstormers game. They were playing the Somerset (N.J.) Patriots. Our seats were on the lawn, so we brought a blanket, and sat near the fence, right behind the opposing team’s bullpen. Phil described it as being like a kid in a candy store for him. So close to the action we could talk to the pitchers. And we did.

But that’s getting a little ahead of myself. After Isabelle and I scoped out the food, Phil noticed that people were gathering on the field to play catch. So, he took Isabelle out to the outfield to have a catch with her. It was more like target practice for Isabelle. He said she stood a foot away from him and hurled the ball as hard as she could. But she was adorable in her Wrigley Field shirt and too-big Cubs baseball cap.

We wandered around the concourse for food and made our selections before heading back to the blanket. Just after we sat down, one of the pitchers handed a ball under the fence to Phil for Isabelle. Just like that: Isabelle had an official Atlantic League baseball. We didn’t know until later what a valuable gift we’d been given. We had to guard it from ambitious older kids who had their eyes on it.

Here she is showing it off while swinging the bucket her kids meal came in.

Corban wanted to get in on the action, too.

Hey, Dad. Gimme some of those fries. Good fries, by the way. Excellent food all around, but maybe the ballpark atmosphere contributes to that.

So, even before the actual game started, we were sold on the Lancaster Barnstormers ballpark experience and vowed to come back as long as we live in the area.

Between innings, we got to know our pitcher “friend” a little better. As all of us were decked out in Cubs attire, he asked why we weren’t home watching Lou Piniella’s last game. Then, he asked Phil if he was a die-hard fan, to which Phil replied, “If by diehard you mean we like them even when they suck and we hate the White Sox, then yes.” Turns out he was in spring training with the Cubs but was released after an injury. Before we left for the night, I asked his name and we figured out later he was Jeff Kennard.

He was kind to the little ones on the lawn, making good on his promises to give the next foul ball to whoever’s turn it was, handing out bubble gum and teasing the overeager boys who would do anything to get a foul ball.

We also got to watch a former Big Leager pitch in Jason Simontacchi, who used to play for the St. Louis Cardinals. My husband, the baseball almanac, told me this.

One of the great perks of this park is its kid-friendliness. Playground equipment — three big sets of it — free for all to play on; a carousel and bouncy toys for a one-price, play all game fee; and bumper boats. The latter my husband was looking forward to, so he and Isabelle made the trek to the other side of the park, only to find out she was too small to ride them. Phil was disappointed, but he made it up to her.

She’s No. 1! She can’t hurt anyone with it, I don’t think, and she can wave it around like crazy, which she does. Corban’s already taken a small bite out of it, so it’s fun for everyone!

We left before the game was over but spent almost four hours at the ballpark. Is there a better way to squeeze the life out of summer? Phil’s classes start on Thursday, and we have one more day trip planned before we settle in to a school routine.

I think a trip to the ballpark is a must-do every summer. It’s nothing like Wrigley and the Cubs, but it’s a start.

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