Category Archives: Outdoor Fun

Best Giant Bubble Recipe

Ingredients

  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 cup blue Dawn dish detergent – original
  • 1/2 cup corn starch
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder (not baking soda)
  • 1 Tbsp Glycerine

 Directions

  1. Mix cornstarch in the water, stirring very well.
  2. Gently stir in the remaining ingredients without making froth
  3. Allow mixture to sit for at least an hour.
  4. Stir occasionally if needed
  5. use giant bubble wands/rods

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Footnote

Avoid creating froth when playing with the mixture Overcast/humid conditions are best. Wind, dry air and sunlight will wick the moisture out of your bubbles.

Camping Checklist


Angelika’s Car-Camping Checklist, with free printable pdf file at the end. I have linked each item to the actual product I use. This is the list I use to go with Alex and Jen. We sleep together on a Queen-sized mattress and all in a double sleeping bag. We put sleeping at one end of the giant 8-person tent and the table at the other. The kids keep their toys and books there so that they are off the floor.

Sleeping

Kitchen

Campsite

  • table
  • chairs
  • insect repellant
  • sun screen
  • bikes
  • clothes line
  • powercord rated for outside use
  • insect bite medicine
  • allergy medicine
  • camp towels

Clothes

  • underwear
  • shorts
  • shirts
  • pants
  • fleece top
  • rain jacket
  • sandals
  • swim suit
  • sun hat

Here is the downloadable pdf file Car-CampingCheckListbyPlaygroundHunt

Purgatory Chasm State Reservation–Sutton, MA

Mother’s Day can be a wonderful, joyous holiday.  But sometimes, as thankful as you are, it doesn’t live up to expectations.  Perhaps your family is far away, or passed on, or perhaps you have complicated family dynamics.  Sometimes there is just some understandable frustration if the kids decide to pick that day to begin acting up.

Some kids are tree huggers. Bridget is a rock hugger!

Some kids are tree huggers. Bridget is a rock hugger!

Why not embrace this, and spend Mother’s Day in Purgatory?  Purgatory Chasm State Reservation, that is!  The chasm is a bouldery cliff and cave filled mini-canyon in Central Massachusetts.  Unlike many geological phenomenon where they’ve got a pretty good idea about the science of it, there seems to be a lot of controversy about how this one actually formed.

As always, it can be tricky to illustrate the scope of these things with photography, but here are a few tries.  Note some remaining snow in the last one!

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Yes, we brought the littles to a state park filled with such gorgeous but challenging features.  There were a lot of children there and it was not harrowing.  One should be mindful and very serious injuries are not common, but like any outdoor adventure the payoff is worth it if you take precautions.  Climbing among the cool rocks and exploring the caves was refreshing on this 90F Mother’s Day!

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We were careful to follow the marked trail which leads through the bottom of the chasm and then you can loop around the top on either side.  Be prepared to boulder climb through the chasm and then the loops are easy to moderate.  We took another short extension at the end of the chasm that followed a beautiful stream and led to a waterfall.  There are several more miles of trails around the rest of the park as well. (Click to enlarge any thumbnails.)

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They have a lot of regular park programming just like our Middlesex Fells here in town.  We’d just missed a “skull science” presentation.  In-season there is a very reasonable parking fee of five dollar per car but that doesn’t begin until Memorial Day weekend.  So all it cost us was an “ice cream tax” from the friendly truck driver who correctly assumed it would be a great place to plop down for the day, but overall it was a very reasonable Mother’s Day celebration!  There are public bathrooms, a small visitors center (pick up a trail map!), and the entire park is dog-friendly (on leash).

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In honor of all our playground  lovers, I have to mention the park has a pretty nice playground, considering it is pretty much a natural playground itself, arguably moreso than most day hikes.  The landscaping is beautiful and the merry-go-round was especially popular.  There are also many picnic tables with grills. There doesn’t seem to be an extra fee for those, but I imagine they are staked out quickly in peak season!

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At one hour from Boston, Purgatory Chasm is a good getaway when you feel like exploring a bit farther afield but don’t feel like driving all day.  Or do make a day or weekend of it and check out other Worcester area kid-friendly destinations like the Ecotarium, Old Sturbridge Village, and more.  Time to plan those summer adventures!

deCordova Revisited

 

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We hope you all got some outdoor time on the second beautiful weekend in a row!

One of the places we visited (in addition to the Stone Zoo and the new storybook walk out of Greenwood Park at the Middlesex Fells) was deCordova Sculpture park and museum in Lincoln, MA.  Angelika’s done a post on it before but it has been five years so we figured a quick update wouldn’t be out of line.

Nice to meet you, otter man!  Teach me about art, please!

Nice to meet you! Teach me about art, please!

It was founded in 1950 and is known for its sprawling lawns with large scale sculptures and art installations, as well as a museum with a wider variety of media.  Admittedly, we’ve only taken quick peeks inside the museum because we had so much fun playing outside and need to pay it the attention it deserves someday.  The main indoor exhibit at the moment is on Walden, which is not too far away, although the museum itself is on Flint Pond.

But as Angelika said, the outdoor portion is perfect for small kids.  They can run and play and picnic and the huge and sometimes colorful sculptures are right up their alley.  Dogs are allowed in the outdoor portion as well.

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We made it *right* when the grass was turning green. I swear it was brown in our yard the day before and brightened up that morning. A good day for a picnic!

Another perk to bringing kids is they are free under 12!  Adults are $14 each, but there are all kinds of discounts. We used a combination of library passes and teacher discounts (thanks, Bree!) and there are many more including AAA or Zipcar or biking, to free admission the first Wednesday of the month, and more. Of course it is a worthy institution that I’m happy paying full price to support, and there are membership options as well.

Sneak peaks of some of the new and different things, with more in the works:

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Belated

I’m back. In case you don’t recognise me, it’s Angelika 😉 .

It has been almost a full year since I have written anything for Playground Hunt. And it has been a year of huge change in my life. Briefly, and without complaining, I got sick last April and spent a week in hospital with kidney issues. I spent the rest of spring on the sofa and in bed recovering, while many of our friends helped looked after Alex and Jen.

I spent most of the summer taking it veeeeery slowly, but taking Alex and Jen to as many fun activities as I could. Luckily my children like playing with each other and they are both now at an age where I don’t need to hold their hands everywhere. I could take them to the playground and sit on a bench, and to the lake and watch them potter around the water edge from our blanket. I did have baby sitters come and help, but at least I could spend time watching my children enjoy themselves and sleep when I needed it.

We did go camping a few times. I posted pictures of these trips on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/PlaygroundHunt), but we went to the yurts on Peddocks Island again (this time with Lindsay and her girls), to Searsport Shores Ocean Campground in Maine where I somehow also spent a week showing campers how to make paints, giant bubbles, playdoughs, bouncy balls, etc. as a follow-on from the Recipes for Disaster Kickstarter *, and to Pawtuckaway Campground in New Hampshire.

Fall and Winter seem to have gone by in a blur. Alex and Jen both enrolled in school because homeschooling became infeasible due to my health (it’s hard to teach when you have to spend so much time resting). It has been a time of reflection on how life will be now that some weeks I sleep 16 hours a day. It has been a time of learning how to parent and have a couple of chronic illnesses (suggestions welcome). I am trying to be at peace with enjoying the present, the calmer, and the smaller things.

One more thing before I go for now… I have joined the Friends of the Fells board in the hopes of getting an outdoor afterschool program started in the Fells. They did a superb summer camp forest Kindergarten last year, and this would hopefully be a natural extension. Check out their website and join the Babes in the Woods hikes – they are hugely popular!

* This project was almost funded when I ended in hospital and couldn’t promote it for the final two weeks to make it become a reality :-(

Furry this February: How are the animals doing?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Playground Hunt slows down in the winter, guilty as charged.  We remain outdoorsy, but school and work can take over.  Do you know who else slows down in the winter?  Some animals. Some hibernate, and some slow down to conserve energy.

Some not so much!  Read on:

Farms

Farmers and their livestock remain busy in the winter.  New England has a surprisingly long grow season, then they plan for next year.  The animals need to be kept safe and warm, and many are getting ready to have adorable little babies in the spring.  Many farms have CSA programs that go through the winter.  Some have bed and breakfasts to help them through the season.  And many that allow visitors continue welcoming them.

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We visited Tall Grass Alpaca Farm in  Whately this season.  They have a great set-up.  Alpacas are very hardy and do well in a wide variety of climates, as you may guess by their wooly coats.  But still, many farms heat the barns and use lots of insulating–and filling!–hay.  They were also playing classical music.  They are very refined alpacas.  This serves a dual purpose.  One, it  makes them feel like they have company, and two, it scares predators away, because the predators also think they have company (in that area, mostly coyotes).  They have a nice set-up for visitors, too. The farmers offered us free hot beverages and cookies, and have a nice store with handcrafted wool gifts to browse through.

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Many other farms and outdoor educational venues stay open in the winter.  Sturbridge Village is having a Chocolate Valentine festival, as well as a child-focused week.  Drumlin has a big to-do for maple syrup season next month, but are open limited hours until then.  Speaking of maple syrup season, check out Angelika’s post from the archives.

Wildlife

It seems most people have mixed feelings about this record-breaking snow.  Epic snow forts!  Sledding! Hot cocoa! Bragging rights! But there are the negatives.  Thankfully true tragedies have been minimal but missed work and school is taking its toll, and there is worry about the future too (flooding, etc).

It is also tricky for the wildlife.  Research what you can do to help them.  The Humane Society and the National Wildlife Federation seem to have some good articles here and here.  The main tips involve shelter and food.  Leaving shrubs untrimmed or even a leaf pile out in the fall makes more great burrowing spaces.  It’s recommended only to feed the birds, if that, but leaving out freshwater is said to be fine. Change it frequently before it freezes, when you can.

It is also an ideal set-up to look for animal tracks in the snow.  Track-spotting remains pretty great with all the mud in the spring, but they are even easier to see on the flat white surface.  Have you seen anything cool?

Pets

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How are your pets doing?  Okay, indoor fish probably have no idea what is going on. And I’ve heard most cats are loving watching the snow.  Dogs seem to love it or hate it.  It can be tricky taking them for walks with unshoveled sidewalks and slick streets. Dog parks are buried or unsafe to drive to or empty.  Thankfully our dog Moxie loves it, and she’s having a great time prancing about and digging tunnels.  Her best friend Lupo lives next door and his dad snowblowed some trails and they’ve been having a ball chasing each other around, so she’s doing pretty well but some are not so lucky.  What do your pets think of the storms?

From the fun parts to the frustrating parts to the photos, this winter will be memorable to us.  Animals likely don’t have the same context.  But it is still fascinating to learn and observe the different ways they are experiencing it, and how we work together and help each other.

 

Granola Strolla Solar Charger Review

Have you ever wanted to head to the playground or out on a hike or to the beach but waited because your phone was about to die and you were expecting a really important phone call?  This charger looks like it’d make it a lot easier to recharge while YOU recharge.

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The Granola Strolla family enjoying the outdoors–just for the sake of it, and to take advantage of their solar charger!

If we sponsored and shared every worthy Kickstarter we stumbled across, we’d have to rename ourselves The Stoneham Review of Interesting, Worthy, and Potentially Very Lucrative Brainstorms and Beyond because there are a lot of brilliant and innovative ideas out there. But this one for the portable Granola Strolla solar charger caught our eyes.  Why?  It shares our mission on multiple levels:

  • most practical when getting outdoors, enjoying nature
  • environmentally friendly
  • while it isn’t geared towards use by small kids, it is more kid-friendly/kid-safe than many solar chargers out there (more on this later)
  • calls on our love of all that is science geeky
  • it is a small family business with local ties

 

 

Here’s the link to the actual Kickstarter to support it: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/granolastrolla/granola-strolla-portable-solar-usb-charger

When I first heard about this, I thought, “Well, it is a nice concept, but there are other portable solar charges on the market.  How is this one different?”  Not that any idea is truly unique.  For instance, when I was a kid I thought a glow-in-the-dark toilet seat would be the answer to all the inconveniences of sharing a bathroom with my kid brother.  I was sure I’d be rich and be invited on 3-2-1-Contact or something.  It wasn’t a week later, I saw they were already on the market. Foiled!  So things have got to stand out and be different somehow.  And this one definitely does, in our opinion.  And I daresay it took a lot more thought and engineering than my midnight inspiration.  So I think this one’s got a great shot! How Granola Strolla stands out:

  • they are taking the lead by putting a more eco-friendly Lithium Iron Phosphate battery in it, in addition to a recycled casing.  Their promotional items, rewards, and “swag bags” are natural crafts from local artisans, as well.
  • It’s multi-directional.  This makes it easier to charge with more surface area on multiple sides, and it is also set up to loop easily onto your bag, strollers, or other accessories.  No unfolding or set-up with this one.
  • Its casing makes it more durable and hardier than many solar chargers already on the market.  And it is water-resistant!
  • It is more lightweight than some.  This is especially important when carting around the kids and all their stuff.  Or for backpacking!
  • It is more affordable than much of the competition and will be manufactured in the U.S. to create jobs.

 

See!  Water (drool?) proof and BPA free!

See! Water (drool?) proof and BPA free!

The sturdiness is a big one for me.  Confession time!  I don’t even have a smartphone yet.   I use mine for calls and texts only.  I can sometimes go five days on one phone charge whereas some of my friends make only five hours. (Less worry with Granola Strolla!) But as most of  you know, we’re running off camping constantly.  Usually there is no electrical source to be found!  It can still be good to have a phone or GPS in case of an emergency, or an e-reader if you read as much as we do.  It sounds like this would be a great addition to our camping checklist.

Irene and Ben reside in the Memphis area with their two little boys and their dog and cat but lived in Boston for a while and still have ties and connections here.  They are crafty, creative, and interested in environmental issues.  You can direct questions to their website and also check out the Facebook feed or Twitter @granolastrolla.  Irene also has a business doing custom sewn and  knit designs at Tea With Frodo Designs (which has a giveaway going on this week!).

Their son Garrett and Bridget when they were small.  Perhaps he's saying, "Ok, let's bring these to the playground.  And mommy can charge her camera on her Granola Strolla and take many adorable pictures of us!"  Sadly, it didn't exist then.  But it does now!

Their son Garrett and Bridget when they were small. Perhaps he’s saying, “Ok, let’s bring these to the playground. And mommy can charge her camera on her Granola Strolla and take many adorable pictures of us!” Sadly, it didn’t exist then. But it does now!

They are off to a great start, and are already 15% to their goal not even three days in. (It was very cute when they rewarded themselves with Toblerone–a Granola Strolla shaped treat–for meeting their first micro-goal.)   I think they’ve got a great chance and  an exciting idea that fills a niche.  Support them, or consider sharing if you’re unable at this time but still intrigued.  It’ll be exciting to see this continue to develop!

Dog Mountain–St. Johnsbury, VT

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Remember when we talked about Dogtown, the local place that sounds like a dog park, but isn’t really a dog park–the name has historical origins–but so many dog lovers are drawn in by the name that in some ways it might as well be?

This shows part of the gorgeous mountaintop view.  The view of Moxie isn't so bad, either ;)

This shows part of the gorgeous mountaintop view. The view of Moxie isn’t so bad, either ;)

Well, Dog Mountain, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, has an equally convoluted description.  It DOES define itself as a dog park.  But it has so much more to offer, from miles of hiking trails, to an art gallery and shop, a chapel, and multiple local festivals–so much so that dozens of non-dog owners visit every year as well, and everyone is equally welcome.

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Folk artist Stephen Huneck (raised in Sudbury, MA) and his wife Gwen were inspired to open the place on their Vermont property in the mid-90s.  The chapel was an integral part of the original idea.  Everyone is welcome to leave a memorial note for their pets, and it is wallpapered in them.  Even the most stoic will find it difficult to leave with dry eyes.  Sadly, the memorial has wider implications now, because after a lifetime struggle with physical and mental illness, Huneck took his own life in 2010 and his wife later followed.  But they’ve left a beautiful legacy, and and supporters claim to want to keep it open and free, and donations (either direct or through the online store) and volunteers are always welcome.

Up the hill...

Up the hill…

...and down.

…and down.

Last week we were on Craig’s family’s annual camping trip and decided to check it out.  The entire property is off leash if you desire, and dogs are allowed in the buildings as well.  Huneck’s sculptures adorn the property, the area is full of wildflowers, and there seem to be water bowls set around.  There is a doggie play structure and a pond where swimming is welcome–if you have four legs.

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The St. Johnsbury area is pretty kid-friendly otherwise, as well.  There is a lot of stuff to do mentioned in our more general write up from last year.  In that article, I neglected to mention it is also near the home base for Circus Smirkus.  Although you don’t have to go to Vermont to see them; they are in Waltham next weekend!

Moxie on the porch of the gallery and shop.

Moxie on the porch of the gallery and shop.

Despite the bittersweet history, this is a happy, peaceful place where community and common interests come together.  We love traveling New England and finding places where art, nature, play, and kid-friendly stuff come together and Dog Mountain is a great one.

 

 

 

 

Wolf Hollow–Ipswich, MA

“What do you think is in this bucket?” asked Z Soffron, Assistant Director of Wolf Hollow, as he emerged through the pack with a large orange pail.  “Raw meat?”

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He dumped it on the ground and we saw large red dripping chunks, which the wolves excitedly started lapping at.  Nope, it was homemade apple and watermelon “popsicles” (just fruit pieces frozen in water, an appropriate summer snack for your canines, as well).

While verbally reminding us that they are wild keystone predators, by serving what is basically a healthy version of the snowcones featured at the festival’s entrance, they made these creatures  instantly relatable as well.

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And that seems to be the point of Wolf Hollow’s Free Family Fun Fest.  Wolf Hollow is a non-profit wolf education center, and an affordable day trip any season ($7.50 adults, $5.00 children and seniors).  But once a year they open their gates for free so newcomers can check out what there is to learn, and old fans and new friends can enjoy the celebratory atmosphere.

It was very crowded–not overly so or in a bad way–but one could see how taking in these fascinating animals in their multi-acre sanctuary like atmosphere would take on a whole different tone on a quieter day, and I’m sure many first-time visitors (like us!) are now eager to have that experience as well.

But the Family Fun Festival is a good way to do it once a  year, too.  The usual hour long presentation was cut in half.  While it was well done and made me curious about what else there is to learn, the shorter time is great for the younger children.  As were the games and activities, including a coloring contest, puppet making, tye-dying, Pin the Nose on the Wolf, and more.  There were food and drink vendors, and if you saw the post I made on the Facebook feed, the free Ipswich Ale Brewery samples for the adults did not disappoint!  I recommend the summer ale!

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The rest of the year they have hour presentations on weekend days (going down to Sundays only during the thick of winter) at 1:30pm.  They are occasionally cancelled due to bad weather or special events so it is good to call first.  Groups of 20 or larger, like school field trips or camp groups, can schedule presentations by appointment on weekdays.

Wolf Hollow supports its wolves and their habitat through their modest admission fees, gift shop sales, private donations, special fundraisers, and their Adopt a Wolf program so if you go and enjoy it, support them!

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When I ask a small child what their favorite animal is, I find I often get one of several answers: dinosaurs (a lot to learn but sadly extinct), unicorns (imaginary, but many great creative myths) or wolves.  With the latter, you’re in luck.  Two local non-profits aim to feature them and educate us about them.  There are the Mexican Grey Wolves at Stone Zoo and the the British Colombian Timber Wolves at Wolf Hollow.  We’ve got easy access to these popular but occasionally misunderstood animals, so take advantage of it!

 

Danvers-Wenham SwampWalk

“Hey, mommy!  We’re bringing you to the swamp today!”

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Some mothers might hear those words Mother’s Day morning and wonder if the kids were exacting revenge for having been subjected to that celery-parsnip soup last week:  “You want green sludge! We’ll show you green sludge!” At the very least they might wonder if they are allowing one too many screenings of The Princess Bride.

Yeah, I essentially got to view a skunk cabbage bouquet for Mother's Day--but liked it!

Yeah, I essentially got to view a skunk cabbage bouquet for Mother’s Day–but liked it!

But no, my kids know they have a nature geek mommy and that I’d be genuinely pleased and excited to hear those words as part of their Mother’s Day plans for me.

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We’d been wanting to check out the Danvers-Wenham SwampWalk for a while, so we met up there with some friends, who had originally recommended it: Daryl, Emmaline and Gideon.  Sadly their mom Meghan had to miss it due to her obligations as an emergency services pediatrician.  I figured she could rescue the kids who were already sick, while we’d work on her kids’ base immunity by smearing them around in some dirt.

The swampwalk is a loop off the Danvers Rail Trail, and a great place to see some of our local wetland plants and animals.  If you do decide to tour it as part of your bike trip, you’ve got to park the bike at the entrance to the boardwalk section, but they’ve got bike racks set up there.  It’s also accessible by foot, just a short ways in from a parking area.  It’s dog-friendly (on leash, of course), so we brought Moxie and our friends’ dog Scout.

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At about a mile and a quarter, it is a relatively short doable walk for kids, and our 2-year-olds walked the whole thing without struggle. That said, much of it is an elevated boardwalk, so gauge whether you think your little one will be careful when it comes to staying on it when you are deciding between babywearing and toddling.  Because the water is shallow and we’re not in alligator country, risks are probably more  unintended mucky mudbath related than immediate danger related, but you might want to read up on some safety practices first anyway.

Okay, okay, so they did get rests and shoulder rides near the end…

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There are several beaver lodges along the walk, and the 4-year-olds thought they spotted one bobbing along but it was too far away to get a definitive sighting.

We saw probably about a dozen common brown water snakes, both on land and swimming, so if you’ve got ophidiophobia, you might want to sit this one out.  I love snakes, but would not want to go on a goose-ridden hike, so I understand.  They greatly interested the kids, and thankfully did not interest the dogs one bit.  They get quite large and thick; we saw ones at least three feet, and they can get to nearly twice that.  They are non-venemous and avoid you when crossing paths, but are quick to bite when handled, so be cautious that way.

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Check out the big guy in front of that large tuft. Sometimes we look for letter shapes in nature. It’s easy to spot Ys, but Ss can be a bit tougher. This friend helped us with that! Thanks!

It was a gorgeous sunny day, so we were a bit surprised we didn’t see any turtles out basking.  The pre-schoolers are both little chatterboxes, which is sometimes not conducive to spotting wildlife, but is thankfully very conducive to engaging them deeply and educationally on wildlife when we do see it, so it evens out.  But apparently turtles don’t have great hearing, especially when it comes to high pitched noises like 4-year-old voices, so it was probably just co-incidence.  We also didn’t see (or feel) excessive bugs, surprisingly, but we put on our repellant and sunscreen ahead of time just to be safe.

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We DID see a wide variety of birds, and you bird watchers among us will lament that we are not great at identifying them.  I’ll have to be sure to bring along my trusty Audubon Guide to New England next time.

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We were excited to get another great local outdoor destination off our bucket lists. Any requests for a future write-up?