Happy Place

One of the Roc’s favorite places to visit is the beach and we got to go many times in the two weeks we spent visiting GC’s family over Christmas vacation.

We went in sunny warm weather,

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IMG_3036with Marcello while he was still in town,

IMG_3049and with the Roc’s cousin Aiden when he came up to stay at Nonna and Nonno’s house for a few days!

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We even took our crazy dog to the beach one evening!

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It wasn’t sunny every day, but even light rain won’t keep the Roc away from the water.

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While we spent most of our time walking on the beach, the Roc and I finally hiked a little trail at the state park (that I won’t step foot on in the summer — poisonous snakes!) and he loved this awesome tree.

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IMG_3409I love that the Roc wants to be outside as much as I do.

We also stopped by the marsh and freshwater lagoon one afternoon so I could photograph birds.

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The Roc is working on his patience while I work on my photography.  We both have a long way to go.

The beach is my happy place too.  Especially when I’m with my boy.

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Arizona (The Highlights)

The Roc and I escaped the Minnesota deep freeze and went to Arizona to visit my parents last week.  We were there for eight days.  Eight days of no alarm clocks, lots of hiking, sun, geocaching, sun, eating, plants vs. zombies, sun, and (almost) daily margaritas.

But first we had to get there.  A midnight snow storm made for slow going at 3:30 am when we left for the airport.  Luckily we got there with plenty of time.  Enough for the Roc to get some quality time playing plants vs. zombies on his iPad (a new obsession.)

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Soon enough we were on our way.

2014-01-18 06.45.29The Roc was so excited when we touched down in Arizona.  “YAY!!  Now let’s GO!  NOW!” was what the passengers surrounding us were subjected to after we landed.  It was loud and we were in the very back of a very large plane.

On the drive to Tucson we stopped at Casa Grande National Monument outside Phoenix.

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IMG_2869The Roc was not used to the sun and he was feeling the effects of getting up at 3 am.

IMG_2872He actually fell asleep in the car for a bit.

2014-01-18 14.35.02We spent the first couple days taking it easy, walking around the neighborhood,

IMG_2897playing a little plants vs. zombies,

IMG_2907going for a short hike,

IMG_2922and to eat downtown–where I had a yummy prickly pear margarita!

2014-01-19 15.06.53The Roc got to climb in the empty fountains.

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IMG_2976Then we got busy!

On MLK day we hiked to the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area, which was once a prison camp and then an internment camp during WWII.

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IMG_2998(A geocache)

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IMG_3006(Another find!)

We also went to Sabino canyon, a favorite of the Roc’s, specifically for the water.  We rode the tram in and then walked the 4 miles back out.

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IMG_3131(I told the Roc to see if he could run up this giant hill at the end–he did!)

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He also found a geocache!

IMG_3141Something new we did was a cave tour and a hike at Colossal Cave Mountain Park one day.

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(The boy can HIKE)

After a picnic and another geocache,

IMG_3212we spent one afternoon at the Desert Museum where the Roc asked me to take his picture,

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just like he did a few years ago.

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At the museum I finally get to see the coyote,

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catch a sweet shot of a hummingbird,

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and get a picture with my boy.IMG_3246We had one overcast day and we took the Roc to Coldstone Creamery and then for a short hike at Saguaro National Park.  The Roc was super silly and I couldn’t get him to stand still for a picture with my mom!

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His silliness went away a mile later when he got a very small splinter in his hand and he spent the rest of the hike agonizing over it’s removal, which my mom was able to do when we got back to the car–thank goodness for a Grandma who hikes with a first aide kit!  (I have no photographic evidence of the splinter.)

On our final day in Arizona we went for a long hike and I soaked up the sun, knowing that we would be heading back into sub zero temperatures the very next day.

Gabe Zimmerman trail head.

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IMG_3384Lest you be fooled by all the smiling photos in this post, the Roc fell apart at the turn around spot on this hike.  He had complained of hunger and so my mom and I sat down with him to eat while my dad went on to find a geocache.  When my dad came back, after finding the cache, the Roc lost it.  He wanted to see the “treasure” and proceeded to sit down, scream, and throw his hat and some rocks.  He was disappointed, sad, and frustrated that we wouldn’t go on so he could see what my dad had found, and instead we were heading back to the car.  We had a long way to go, over 3 miles, and we needed to start back to make sure we got there before the sun set.  I felt for him and was frustrated with myself as I had a feeling he was going to be upset when my dad came back and he realized he had missed out.  He wasn’t happy for a lot of that hike back, but eventually he followed close to my dad, and I didn’t hear most of his tirade.

IMG_3360We were bound for home the next day and the Roc and I were both sad to leave.  He was happy to have a treat at Starbucks near our gate at the airport,

2014-01-26 11.22.59and play plants vs. zombies while we waited to board the plane.

2014-01-26 11.59.42Which is what he did the whole way home.  I tried to get him to watch a movie, but he would have none of it and continued to play the game, while wearing headphones–which caused him to very LOUDLY exclaim for me to, “LOOK AT THIS!” and “WATCH THIS!” jolting me and the poor couple seated in front of us.  But I reminded myself how I had to entertain him by reading books, doling out snacks and crayons, and watching movies with him when he was younger and we flew across the country, and I felt a little better about the loud exclamations.

2014-01-26 12.26.42We landed and were both shocked by the below zero windchill!

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Back to real life and our routine!

Weekend Camping

Last October we had a wonderful experience camping with the Roc.  We knew we wanted to go again this year, and decided to try this weekend.  With only 5 days of school left we pulled the Roc out of school 2 hours early on Friday and drove up north.  We knew many of the state parks had first-come-first-serve sites and we were hoping to get up there early enough to get one.  We didn’t have a back up plan in case all the sites were taken, other than turning around and driving all the way back home!  We lucked out and got to choose from 4 sites.  We choose this cart-in site, up on a hill (which was really fun for GC to lug all our gear up!)

But it was worth it in the end.

After setting up camp we went down the lake the throw some rocks and build a rock tower.

On Saturday GC was up early preparing breakfast.  This is what he made (and that’s his plate, not mine!)

He was a very happy camper (and he finished all that food!)

The Roc kept asking if we could go see waterfalls so we decided to drive up the shore a bit and go to Temperance River.  He was so happy.

The water was really rushing from all the recent rain.

Then we went to Cascade, to see more waterfalls.

On our way back down to Split Rock we stopped at Tettegouche and hiked to the high falls.  GC had to carry the dog across this bridge.  I could hardly look down as we crossed.

We stopped at the top of the waterfall (and GC kept a tight grip on the Roc)

Then we hiked all the way down to the bottom,

and I remembered the last time I was at that same spot, June 2008.  How different things were, in so many ways.  The river was a lot lower, and the Roc was much harder to photograph.

We headed back to our campsite for dinner and some quality time around the campfire (s’mores).  On Sunday we packed up all our stuff after breakfast and then set off on a hike to see the backpacking sites at the campground.  The Roc had to get down to this beach and throw some rocks.

We hiked for awhile before doubling back towards the campground.  We were all tired and sore from Saturday, but decided that since we were there, we might as well hike to the top of Day Hill to the look out.  It was worth it.

Look!  I exist!  I need to give GC my camera more often.

A rare photo of me and the Roc.

This boy has the best smile of anyone I know.  He is my outdoor kid (as long as it’s not raining) and I love being able to show him the places I went with my parents growing up.

On the whole the Roc did awesome camping.  He had a few moments when we were really, really glad we chose that cart-in site deep in the woods with no one around.  He also needed to know exactly what.came.next at every moment of the day, and that was hard when you don’t know exactly what comes next!  But when I look through the photos, the fun stands out and the couple incidents are already fading in my memory.  We will go again, for sure.

We had a great weekend!

Camping: A First

Camping has been a part of my life since I was a child.  We tent camped when I was young, my sister and I sleeping in the back of our mustard yellow van, and when I was a bit older my parents purchased an RV and we traveled out West, to Canada, to Michigan, and to the “north shore” of Minnesota.  I have so many good memories from our camping trips and I am so thankful that my parents took me.  I always hoped that my children would love the outdoors as much as I do and that we would camp as a family.

But all your best laid plans seem to change when your child is diagnosed with Autism.  As I watched the Roc struggle to communicate as a 3 year old, seeing him through eyes filled with the diagnosis, I worried about so many things, life had suddenly seemed to veer off course.  I also wondered if we would do the things I had dreamed of doing, and one of them was camping.

I knew early on that the Roc was an outdoor kid.  He cemented it when I started to take him out to Arizona during the winter to visit my parents and he would hike.  What 3 year old will hike a few miles willingly?  We took the Roc to Colorado around his 5th birthday and the boy hiked 5 miles in the mountains, all for the promise of a waterfall, and he didn’t complain.  I’ve reveled in the fact that I got my outdoor kid.  With our move to Minnesota, I started to think more about camping.

Could we?  Would he like it?  What if it rained?  (The Roc is like a cat when it comes to rain, don’t rain on him)  Would he sleep in the tent?  What about all of our daily routines that would most definitely be out the window while camping?  Would he eat camp food?  and on and on.

There are so many variables with camping, so many things that would roll off another kids back, but would greatly bother the sensory sensitive Roc.

We decided to give it a try.  Because you never know until you try.

I told the Roc on Thursday morning that I had a surprise for him when he got home from school.  He immediately wanted to know what it was, but I told him to wait, I would tell him when he got home.

“What’s the surprise?” the Roc asked me as soon as the van door opened.

“How would you like to go to Duluth tonight, stay in a hotel with a pool, and then tomorrow we’ll see waterfalls and go camping?” I asked him excidedly, sure that he would burst with joy.  Hotel!  Pool!  Waterfalls!  Lake Superior!  Camping!

“I thought we were going to Coon Rapids Dam!” the Roc screeched at me.

Oh boy.  After talking him down and explaining how we could drive to the dam any old day, but that hotel/pool/waterfall/camping is something special he got excited.  We left when GC got home from work, and the evening went well.  We arrived at our hotel, stashed the dog and our stuff, went to 5 Guys for dinner, and then came back with enough time for the Roc and I to take a dip in the hotel pool and whirlpool.

We woke up early on Friday, not sure what time the park office opened, but without a reservation we were banking on getting a non-reservable site, and were hoping for a “cart-in” site to maximize the distance between us and other campers, therefore reducing the chances of us greatly disturbing anyone should a meltdown occur.  It was still dark when we left our hotel.

We watched the sun rise out of Lake Superior.

The park office wasn’t open when we got there, so we checked out all the empty non-reservable sites and got our first choice when the office opened.  We were lucky and got a great cart-in site at the end of the campground, set back in the woods.  We quickly went to work setting up our site.  Well GC did,

the Roc, Guinness and I went down to check out the lake.

After set up and a quick lunch, we packed a bag and headed off to see some waterfalls and hike to the top of Carlton Peak, the trail sign stating a 3-hour round trip hike.  At the top of a series of waterfalls we asked a guy with a big camera to take our picture,

and enjoyed the view before setting off to the peak.

It was a long hike and a strenous climb to the top, but the views were worth it.

We rested and had a snack before heading back down.  We knew it would take awhile to get to the bottom, and even longer to get back to our campsite down by the lake.  The last bit is a scramble to the top, which took awhile, and took even more time to get back down.

We made it back to our campsite and started dinner.  GC had some trouble with his little portable cook stove, that he had just purchased from a guy at work and had never used, and we ended up eating dinner and washing up in the dark.  The Roc was good throughout it all, he sat by the fire, he ate his dinner, he repeatedly asked when we were going to make s’mores, and around 8:30 he announced he was tired and he wanted to go to bed.  He went to sleep in the tent with the dog and a lantern.  GC and I looked at each other in amazement.

The next morning GC got his little stove working and he made us some eggs and bacon.

After breakfast we drove up to Cascade River State Park and hiked around the waterfalls there.

We picnicked down by the lake

and then drove up to Grand Marais to walk around and check out the Coast Guard area.

We went back to our campsite earlier and cooked some pasta over the fire, (in the daylight!)

When it got dark we went down to the lake with a lantern and watched the water shimmer in the moonlight, heading back when it got really dark and when we realized that the Roc wasn’t going to sit quietly!  Of course we made more s’mores that night and again, when the Roc got tired, he told us so, and then went to sleep in the tent with the dog and a lantern.

We woke up to gray skies and a screechy Roc on Sunday, he was upset that we couldn’t watch the sunrise and it took a little coaxing to bring him back down, so we ate breakfast and packed up our stuff to head home.  On our way south we stopped at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, but it had started to lightly rain, so we went down to the lake to check out the view of the lighthouse, and the Roc threw rocks.

We drove home happy, dirty and tired.

You never know until you try.  I was apprehensive about camping with the Roc, but I’m so glad we gave it a shot.  He was so happy, he kept telling us he was having fun, and really, is there anything better?

When your kid is having fun, and he tells you about it?

I know enough to deeply cherish those moments.

An Epic Weekend

It’s no secret, the Roc loves water, and he especially loves waterfalls.  Many months ago GC showed the Roc some waterfall videos on You Tube.  One of those videos became a favorite and was requested over and over and over again.  It was a 10 minute video of Ricketts Glen State Park in Pennsylvania.  It mesmerized the Roc, completely.

So we decided to go visit.

The Roc was soooo excited when we got out of the car on Saturday morning.  He was literally bouncing up and down, manically grinning, and repetitively repeating “I’m so excited!  Let’s go mommy!  Hurry up!”  As soon as we got on the trail he lead us off the path right to the water, and we were still over a mile away from the first waterfall!  He was all smiles, so happy to be outside.

We didn’t rush and let the Roc stop at each and every waterfall for as long as he wanted.

We hiked up one side of the Falls Trail and back down the same side, deciding not to risk the whole loop in one day, and when we got back down to the bottom the Roc insisted on throwing rocks into the stream.  There’s just something about little boys and rocks.

That night we stayed at a Residence Inn and while GC made dinner in the teeny, tiny kitchen,

the Roc made a waterfall on the couch.

The Roc has stayed in cabins in northern Minnesota, but this was his very first hotel experience.  We decided not to tell him there was pool there (or we’d hear about it all day) until we were ready to go swimming.  So while I was washing the dishes, GC had the Roc go look out the window where you could see a little bit of the indoor pool below us.  His expression was priceless as he realized what he was looking at.  He had a great time swimming in the (cold) pool,

and he even sat in the hot tub with me for a little bit.

We decided to hike up the other side of the Falls Trail on Sunday.  It proved to be just as beautiful,

but much steeper, see the trail there right next to the waterfall?

It was just a little bit nerve wrecking to hike this with the Roc!  We stayed glued to his side during each ascent.

We hiked to the 96 foot waterfall, but the Roc wouldn’t get any closer for a photo so I took his place.

After hiking up, up, up we found a great place to stop for lunch.

The scenery was beautiful, and when we got to the top of the Falls Trail we decided to hike across the Highland Trail and go back down the side we climbed the day before.  I couldn’t imagine hiking down the waterfalls we’d just climbed up with the Roc.

The Roc thoroughly enjoyed himself at Ricketts Glen.  We hiked around 5 miles on Saturday and just over 7 on Sunday, and the Roc really hung in there, only really showing how worn out he was about a mile out from the car on Sunday afternoon.  It was a great weekend, one we will not forget.

The Arizona Travel Post (with lots of photos)

I started looking forward to our trip to Arizona as soon as I clicked the purchase button on the Expedia confirmation page many months ago.  And now it’s over.  We are back home, with much more snow on the ground than when we left.  I’ve now set my sights on spring and am anticipating the fence that will enclose our minuscule yard (hint hint GC) and the flowers and vegetables I will plant along it’s border.

And now on to the details of our trip:

Traveling with the Roc went well.  I was worried about this being his first trip through the airport sans stroller, but he was a rock star, and rarely looked over his shoulder at the swarm of people behind him.  He did have a hard time waiting in line to get through security at the Philly airport, and for the umpteenth time I wished they would hire more helpful and polite souls, is it too much to ask?  Maybe someday?  Probably not.  In the 9 years I’ve lived out here, the Philly airport is never a friendly place to be.

The bathroom was another area of concern well before the day of travel for the Roc, but he faced his fear and used the bathroom on the plane, and then we were lucky to find a fairly empty bathroom at the Denver airport, and he willingly went inside wearing his headphones.  I think the water he guzzled during our 4+ hour flight and the pressure on his tiny bladder had something to do with it.  He didn’t bolt from the bathroom as soon as the stall door was opened and even used the hand dryer.  Simply amazing stuff for him.  I couldn’t help grinning at a woman who did a double take as we came out of the bathroom.  Yup, my kid rocks the headphone look.

We arrived to nice weather but relaxed in the house that afternoon.   The Roc was consumed with his need for nourishment and ate a snack as soon as we got there, and wanted dinner almost immediately after.  He went to bed early that night.

On Saturday we went to Saguaro National Park (East) and took a hike.  I just love the desert landscape and the Roc’s need this year to be photographed by the different cati.

After our hike we headed downtown to an awesome restaurant,

where we got to eat outside in the courtyard.  Not bad for February (and I was nice this year, I didn’t call my sister in Minnesota while sipping my margarita in the sun, but I thought about it.)

After dinner we took a walk to see the fountains (it was the Roc’s reward for good behavior at the restaurant.)

I couldn’t help but trying to snap a picture of the mountains through the window as we drove back to the house.  They are so beautiful when the sun starts to descend throwing shadows all around.

We woke up to cloudy skies and rain in the forecast on Sunday.  (The news people go NUTS about rain and the possibility of snow in the lower elevations there.  And the weather guy used words like snizzle and graupel to describe snow.  Watching the weather was always good for a giggle.)  So we made the rounds at the health food stores in the area, baked brownies,

and my Mom made a fort for the Roc to play in.  She even got in there herself!

Better weather was forecasted for Monday so we went to the desert museum, and on the way we stopped for a picnic,

which the Roc fully enjoyed.

I enjoyed the view (and the fact that I wasn’t back home where snow was starting to fall for the second time in less than a week!)

The Roc enjoyed walking through the desert museum and he started something that continued throughout the trip:  “I’ll climb on this rock, and you take my picture Mommy.”

Not only were there lots of rocks to climb at the desert museum, there were some pretty cool animals to see.

We finally saw some javelinas up close!

On Tuesday we went to Sabino Canyon.  This year we had to ride the tram into the canyon because it’s almost 4 miles to the end and then another 4 miles back to the car, and no more stroller for the Roc. He said he didn’t want to ride the tram, but he did fine once it started moving.  A benefit to riding the tram was being able to learn more about the canyon and have little things pointed out to us like Snoopy sleeping on his back.  See him?

As soon as the Roc got off the tram he found a rock to climb, and instructed me to photograph him.

Then he wanted to get moving so he could see Sabino creek.  We took the first trail down and he clambered over the rocks to get close.

My parents stayed a little lower.

After watching the water for awhile we convinced the Roc to continue down the road and we walked on,

before stopping for lunch and then again later for a snack,

all the while reminding the Roc that he didn’t have to walk the whole way back to the parking lot, we could get back on the tram.  He repeatedly said he didn’t want to ride the tram and so he ended up walking the whole thing.  3.8 miles.

Pretty good (and not too much whining.)

It rained on Wednesday so we spent another day indoors.  It’s hard to entertain the Roc indoors while in Arizona.  My water obsessed son took three (yes, 3!) baths that day.  Nuff said.

It cleared up on Thursday so we offered the Roc a choice of activities, the zoo or hiking.  My outdoor boy chose hiking, and I wasn’t surprised.  We headed back to Saguaro National Park (East) to hike a trail that is deemed “strenuous” because of it’s uphill nature.  Second to the Roc’s love of water is his love of climbing rocks.  We hiked part of this trail last year and he did well going up, going down was hard on him and we had to lift him down steep sections, and I vividly remember piggy backing him for a portion at the end.   A year later (and a few inches grown) proved to be even better.  He followed close on the heels of his grandfather the whole afternoon.

We hiked up to the same spot we stopped at last year,

and then instead of going back down like we did in 09, we hiked up even further,

before heading back down to the car.

Friday was our last full day in the desert and we took advantage of the nice weather and headed out for another hike.  My Mom had a terrible headache (the result of her flights to Atlanta and then Jamaica being canceled two days in a row I’m sure) so it was just my father, the Roc and I.  My Dad picked a trail the Roc and I had never been on before, and his pick didn’t dissapoint.  It was steep, and the Roc loved it.

Around the time we thought we should turn back we found a pond, so we stopped to rest and let the Roc refuel before heading back.

On the way back I was really digging the way the light lit up these teddy bear chollas.  Don’t they look soft?

Look close, you can see the path on the side of the hill.

The Roc did awesome on the way back down,

so he got to have a lollipop in the car and then pizza for dinner!

I had to pack up that night and was sad to do so.  We always have such a great time in Arizona.  I was not looking forward to going home to lots of snow, cold, and most likely gray weather.  Our return flights went relatively well.  The first, and shorter flight to Denver went fine.  I got the Roc to watch a movie and he didn’t give me too much grief.  Once we got to Denver we rode the moving walkways and sat by a window watching the planes before boarding.  The final flight was a long one.  The Roc didn’t want to watch a movie, or watch the (FREE!) TV, didn’t want to color with markers, eat what I brought for him, play with his tag reader, or be read to.

And he definitely didn’t want me to read my book.

It.was.a.long.flight.

And now we are home.

And it’s cold.  And there’s lots of snow on the ground.

We’ll make the best of it.

And dream of spring, then summer, and then Arizona in 2011.

Weekend: Beach + Forest

I’m an outdoor girl.  I grew up hiking, canoeing, and camping in Minnesota.  I would rather be outside than in, I hate feeling cooped up, and struggle to get through the winter every year.  I always hoped that I would have an outdoor child so I could pass on my love of the outdoors to them and see their delight at the things I experienced as a child.  When the Roc was a baby I took him outside whenever I could, even pushing him in the stroller when it was sunny and 38 degrees in January because I just couldn’t be stuck inside any longer.  He went on at least two walks a day when he was a baby.  I think all of my walking did him good because to my utter joy I have produced an outdoor boy.  He loves to be outside just as much as his mama.

Like most weekends, we didn’t have any plans and after the Roc had been fed on Saturday morning I wondered out loud if we should drive down to the beach.  The Roc was beyond excited and started in on us.  “Can we build a sandcastle?”  “I don’t like the waves!”  “We will take our clothes off!”  “Let’s go to the beach!!”  Those sentences were repeated over and over and over.  We had to remind him that it wasn’t summer and we were going to walk, not roll around in the sand, because it would be cool at the beach.  We drove down to Cape Henlopen State Park and the Roc really enjoyed walking on the beach,

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picking up shells,

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and he even got to build a sandcastle

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while we stood by with our hands jammed in our pockets, that wind was cold and the blood had quickly drained out of my fingers.  We drove over to the nature center and tried to go for a hike on the nature trail but found it too muddy so we drove down to “the point” and walked a bit more, bribing the Roc with a lollipop.

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I took a picture that I would have used for my Christmas card, if only he had been looking at the camera!!

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(Which prompted me again to start lusting after a new SLR camera.)

We drove back down to the beach parking lot and loaded the Roc into his wagon so we could walk along the paved hiking/biking path.  As soon as the Roc saw all the pine needles he had to have  some and GC filled up the wagon giving him his very own “hay ride” which he thoroughly enjoyed.

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We walked along the trail and stopped to climb up and enjoy the view.

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On the way back to the car the Roc got to go for a ride down a big hill.  I could hear him laughing the whole way down.

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We were worn out by the end of the day!

On Sunday we drove up to Brandywine Creek State Park and went for a walk in the woods.

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GC picked up a big stick and then Roc had to have one of his own.  Like father, like son.  Or maybe it’s just a thing with boys and sticks?

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Not long after the Roc decided that I needed to have a walking stick too.

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Whatever makes him happy right?

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He is most happy near water and insisted we stop to sit by the creek.

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GC was happy he got to wear his Vibram shoes.

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There was only a minimal amount of whining: “My legs don’t work” and “I’m hungry” and GC gave him a shoulder ride once, but all it did was reinforce my childhood memories.  I remember whining a little when I was his age, and apparently it never failed that I would ask “Is this a circle trail?” but the fresh air, the sounds of the forest, and the peace I felt while outdoors as a child still exists for me today.  I hope the Roc will look back on his childhood and have happy memories of the outdoors.

We spent the weekend outside.  What could be better than that?