Longwood Gardens

DSC01827Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA is one of my reset places.  I can always rely on a trip to the gardens to simultaneously free my mind from everyday stresses and inspire me with a million and one ideas for my dream garden back home (even when I didn’t have a garden or home of my own).  Like Shenandoah National Park, Longwood Gardens is one of my most favorite places in the world.

kristen3I don’t get to make this trip as often as I would like (now that I live in southwestern Virginia), but I do visit every time an opportunity presents itself.  Boo was 6 weeks old for her first trip.  She slept almost the whole time and I got my first taste of public breastfeeding.  I could be wrong, but I don’t imagine she will remember much of this trip.

We recently made the trip now that Boo is a toddler (19 months at the time).  She might not remember this one either, but I know I will!  It is one of those special moments when your child realizes that magic and fairies really do exist in the real world – because how else can this place be so amazing?!  Hopefully her memories of Longwood Gardens will be like mine – so many little memories gathered from so many different trips coming together to make one big happy memory!  Like that time there were hidden Wizard of Oz topiaries all over the place.  Or the time my little sister fell into the fountain.  Or the time we released our wild box turtle onto the grounds because we couldn’t think of a happier home for the little guy.  Just a whole bunch of happy.

I guess the magic (for Boo) first began in the bathrooms of the conservatory.  This sounds really bizarre, but my mom had been raving about the bathrooms since lunch at the cafe.  “Wait to change her diaper until we get to the conservatory!  They won best bathroom!”  I totally fact-checked her when we got home.  True story.  Who knew this even existed?  So we made it to the bathrooms and they were impressive-looking, but I did not see a formal changing table in the family bathroom.  Instead, there was a strange flat surface with a dent in it.DSC01822

Am I really suppose to change her in this?  It seems inconvenient to have to reach around in there to try to clean her tushie.  Ok, I’ll give it a shot.DSC01821

Boo seems satisfied!  I must say, I have never changed her on a public changing table without lots of screaming.  Longwood Gardens for the win!

Now the conservatory itself – always my favorite part of the trip!  It’s like a jungle…or a rainforest…or just something else completely wonderful.  Boo took off exploring the instant her feet touched the ground.

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The conservatory has a special section reserved as the “Children’s Garden.”  This existed when I was a kid and I loved it.  It had a maze and some fun fountains you could stick your hands in.  It has now been completely revamped!  At first, I was distraught (why mess with a good thing and all that), but the new version is completely magical…for everyone!

Here are some other pictures of our day.  I can’t wait to go back!

70 degrees in February!

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(Pardon the ketchup all over her face!)

Boo and I took an unplanned trip home last weekend for a whole bunch of special birthdays and crab cakes (I am from Maryland)!  Driving back to Roanoke Sunday, the weather was absolutely gorgeous!  Bright blue skies, 70 degrees…just perfect – especially for February 28th!  The kind of day where I would much rather be outside than stuck in a car.

My drive back to Roanoke along I-81 parallels Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park – one of my all-time favorite places in the entire world!  I always know its there during these drives, taunting me.  My parents always manage to squeeze in a hike along the Drive when they come to visit, but I have never made the stop due to time constraints (It takes a looong time to travel with a baby).  Today was different.  I had my annual pass in the car and the mountains were beckoning!

Boo and I grabbed a quick lunch from Sheetz and trekked our way over to Skyline Drive.  We planned on heading for Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (the first visitor center you reach from the north entrance in Front Royal) and enjoying a little picnic!  Even though this side-trip added several hours onto our journey, I could not be more pleased with my decision!

This!  This is why I adventure with the Boo!

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She loved it!  She has seen many beautiful look-offs in her short life, but this is the first time (at 18 months) she has really been awestruck!

I can’t wait to spend some time camping up here this summer!  (Interesting fact: This park was my first ever camping trip at 6 weeks old.)

Explore Walks for Toddlers

DSC00701Boo is definitely an independent little girl.  She wants to do everything for herself.  The first time we gave her baby cereal, she grabbed the spoon from my hand and fed herself.  A few months later, she completely rejected spoon-feeding in favor of feeding herself finger foods.  She has been brushing her own teeth (with a follow-up brushing by mom and dad!) since we first introduced a toothbrush.  She zippers her own jacket, buckles her own car seat (chest strap), and carries her own lunch box from daycare.  I encourage this independent streak in all of our activities – to include outdoor adventures.

That’s why we started taking “Explore Walks”.  Imagine a day where you get to choose all of your activities – how you spend your time, whether you go left or right, etc.  In a world of grown-up responsibilities, this sounds fantastic!  Well, this is the idea behind Explore Walks.  I choose a location (Boo isn’t quite old enough for this task yet!) and get us there.  Boo decides what we do!

I never know what to expect and every walk is a little different!  She was a brand new walker with a dog obsession for our first Explore Walk at Mill Mountain Park, so we spent quite a bit of time following “gogs” around on their walks.  On the Wetlands Trail behind the South County Library, we spent a lot of time just observing everything – trees, plants, flowers, deer, shadows, etc.  At the Salem Rotary Park, we collected rocks and black walnuts.  You get the idea!

Toddlers are enthusiastic learners, so these Explore Walks are ideal!  Here are some of the benefits:

      1. DSC00874These walks are an awesome outlet for excess energy.  Whether your toddler chooses to run circles around a tree or just sit and absorb their surroundings, their brains are constantly being challenged.  Sometimes brain exertion is even more exhausting than physical exertion!  In other words, you will thank yourself come bedtime!
      2. Toddlers love nature.  Boo has never been grumpy because she was outside.  In fact, sometimes when she is inconsolable inside, I take her outside for a quick pick me up!  A happy toddler = a happy mom.
      3. Toddlers are used to walking on solid surfaces – floors, sidewalks, roads, etc.  Explore Walks expose them to a variety of walking surfaces – grass, sand, mulch, rock, etc.  This helps develop balance for beginning walkers.  Sometimes Boo finds a surface she particularly enjoys and she will walk back and forth over the same spot just to practice.DSC01028
      4. Toddlers touch everything, so we also have exposure to natural textures of all sorts – tree trunks, leaves, rocks, pine cones, acorns, etc.  You just can’t beat that with a texturized toy from your favorite baby outlet (Although, I think babies should be exposed to these artificial textures as well!)
      5. Toddlers taste everything, so I guess we will add germ exposure to the benefits!  Maybe you’re addicted to hand sanitizer, Chlorox wipes, and boiling everything (You are reading my blog though, so I kind of doubt it).  I’m not.  I think early and regular exposure to a variety of germs helps to boost her immune system.  {Side note: I am just now realizing how many times I use the word “variety” – must start using a thesaurus!}
      6. Freedom to make all the choices!  Seriously – what a gift!

These don’t have to be fancy locales or epic adventures.  All three of the aforementioned parks are within 20 minutes of my house!  The key is to focus on a diverse (ahem…variety!) collection of locations to keep things interesting and boost exposure of the senses!

And for fun – a clip of Boo’s first Explore Walk at about 13 months!  Note the flying bird she points out…and the not-so-graceful tumble at the end 🙂