Tag Archives: nature

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!

 

Sap in Making-Do Collector

Drink your Trees – making maple syrup

I won a maple syrup making kit at a charity auction. AND GOT VERY EXCITED. I had never made maple syrup before, so I was super glad the kit came with these three books (pics link to amazon.com).

The kit I got came with a metal spile, a hook, and an aluminum bucket and lid – like this kit on amazon.com :Maple Sugaring / Syrup Tapping Starter Kit with Metal Buckets. The only other thing you need is a drill to make a hole in the tree. 7/16th drill bits are a bit hard to find, but that’s what the old fashioned metal spiles need.


(Aside: there are lots of different spiles, taps, lines, and collection vessels available on Amazon.com. For two spiles we used sand buckets, for one a plastic drinking jug – just need something to catch the sap)

I used my cordless power drill to drill into the bark. You’re supposed to do it between a big root and the first big branch, because that’s where the sap will flow the strongest. I kinda just drilled in where it was convenient to stand. The hole is supposed to be 1-2 inches and angled slightly upwards. I think I got that more or less.

I cleaned to drill dust out of the hole and was pretty much amazed that sap started leaking out immediately. I guess I got there just at the right time. Stuck the hook over the spile and hammered the whole thing into the hole. Attached the bucket and lid, and then waited.

The sap flowed at different rates over the next few days. A couple of days it filled the whole 2 gallon bucket, on others 1/4 or 1/2 a gallon. The sap flow is super dependent on the air temperature. For the sap to flow well, it needs freezing temperatures at night, and about 40 deg F during the day. There seems to be some wiggle room. I just checked the bucket a couple of times a day (mostly because I was curious about what was going on).

Turning Sap into Syrup

So maple sap only has a slight sweet taste (that’s me drinking it straight from the pot). It looks and tastes like water otherwise. If you collect it in the morning and some of the sap has frozen, that is the BEST! The ice is mostly water, the sweet part gets concentrated in the part that hasn’t frozen.

Then I filtered all the sap through a cheese cloth into a giant pot and boiled it. A lot. It’s a huge reduction and quite steamy.  I’m trying to work out how to do it in the crockpot, so I don’t have the gas stove going so much.

The books say to reduce the sap until it looks like syrup – light brown-ish, slightly sticky. And if you want to get precise, you can use a thermometer and hygrometer. I have a candy thermometer so I used that to heat the syrup to about 215degF. I also took some of it higher to make maple candy – mixed success there, though all was delicious (just some was too soft, and some too hard).

I then poured the boiling hot syrup into clean mason jars and sealed them up. They seem sterile and nothing has grown in the first batch, which has been at room temperature for over a week.

Things I learned: sap is yummy, and there is a lot of it. Maple syrup is much yummier but more precious that platinum. You just need a way to make a hole in a tree and a way to catch the copious amounts of sap.

And here are some photos of me making maple syrup:

Groundhog Day is underappreciated!

We think Groundhog Day can tend to be a bit forgotten and neglected as far as holidays go.  And it involves the types of things we at Playground Hunt are very into:  the outdoors, animals, seasons, weather, and more…

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Here are some ideas on ways to acknowledge it this year:

This is the official website for the holiday.  It has links to a great Weather Discovery Center, information on history, tourism, lesson plans, and more.

Here is a Punxsutawney based souvenir shop where you can pick up everything from mugs and hats to slippers and golf balls.  And, er, bags of chocolate posing as groundhog poop!

There are actually dozens of great Groundhog Day books out there for kids. Ask your local librarian!  But one of our favorites is The Groundhog Day Book of Facts and Fun by Wendie Old, which is just a nice overview of the holiday and the animal in a kid-friendly format.  Gretchen Groundhog, It’s Your Day by Abby Levine is another favorite, in which she bucks convention and saves the day.

Take some time to learn about groundhogs themselves (also known as woodchucks) and include some other North American wildlife in your studies while you’re at it.  The National Weather Service website has a special section for kids, to learn more about weather and the seasons.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can invite some friends over for some celebrations!

–If your kids are old enough, play the Groundhog Day movie.  Once will probably do.  But then you can play this really awesome song called I Hog the Ground by Steven Drozd from the Flaming Lips and Stephen Burns from Blues Clues.

–Make Porcupine Balls (yes, I know they are called porcupine balls but they kind of look like curled up groundhogs) or make Dirt Worm Cups or just serve any hearty mid-winter comfort food.  Decorate cookies and give half a winter theme and half a spring theme and guests can choose their favorite and make bets on what the groundhog will predict.

If it is sunny, go outside and play shadow tag.  If not, stay inside and play “Pin the Shadow on the Groundhog”.

We have lots of fun in the snow–but let’s face it–by the end of winter, many people are missing spring.  If you are all starting to get a bit tired of it all, make a pinata representing winter (like a snowman shaped one, for example, but be creative) and beat the stuffing (well, candy) out if it to release your frustrations and get some treats!

Bridget as a baby, dreaming of spring.

Bridget as a baby, dreaming of spring.

We used to host an adult version but admittedly never adapted it for kids, but we’re not ruling that out!  While it did break up the cabin fever, we remembered there are other party excuses this month to break up the tedium as well–Mardi Gras, Superbowl, Chinese New Year…so while we are always sure to do well acknowledging Groundhog Day, we might pick yet another “forgotten” holiday to throw a bash around.   April Fool’s?  Daylight Savings Time? May Day? Flag Day? The solstices?  What would you pick?  Let’s hear your ideas!

 

Playground Hunt Treasure Hunt

Printable Fall Treasure Hunt

Someone requested a fall treasure hunt (after some prodding on Facebook). So here it is: my first printable treasure hunt for roughly 3 to 5 year old preschoolers for FALL STROLLS. Please let me know what you think and what other kind of treasure hunt I could make. They take a couple of hours to get pictures, resize, make look pretty, etc. So I don’t want to make them just willy-nilly. FallTreasureHunt - links to pdf file

Enjoy! And let me know what you think – and join us on Facebook if you haven’t already – thanks!

FallTreasureHunt FallTreasureHunt - links to pdf file

Log bridge crossing

Camping in Maine

We (Alex, Jen, Mama Angelika, and Bella the dog) went for a 7 day camping trip to Maine. This post is a cross between telling the stories, writing down the suggestions for making it work as a resource, and memos to myself for what to do different for the next time.

Driving

Google said it would take just under 4 hours to get from our house to the campground. It took 5 1/2 with pee stop, snack stop, pee stop, ice-cream stop, pee stop. That’s a long time for two active kids to sit, so I had prepped heavily with a lap table, picture books, coloring books, treasure hunt, and audio books.

The car tables I got were the Star Kids Snack and Play Travel Tray - which just sits on their lap and buckles around the back of the car seat. I loaded up the pockets on either side with drink bottle, snacks, crayons, and small coloring book.

The audio books I had with me were Bad Jelly The WitchandMagic Tree House Collection: Books 1-8on CD on loan from the Library. Alex in particular was very interested by the Tree House books and listened to the whole lot over the week.

Hint: I also found lots of audio books that could be borrowed for 2 weeks through the online loan system that lets you download files to your media player.

The drive went really quite well. The trickiest part was getting everyone to agree they had everything packed. Bella the dog had the front passenger seat and tried to lie down – often pushing the gear stick from D to N. I initiated a pit-stop every time they got restless, which is a change from other travels where I tried to make it to a certain place before stopping. Here I just figured that the main goal was to keep everyone happy – even if it took us an hour longer.

Campground

Several friends had recommended Searsport Shores Ocean Campground as a child-friendly, fun place to take young children. The more I read on their website, the more excited I got – they were writing about their goats, organic gardens, resident artists, and activities on the beach.

Wobbly bridges at the playground

Wobbly bridges at the playground

And it was even better than I had hoped for. There was a huge playground they had built themselves, and which was therefore interesting. There was a really nice play room with a cozy book corner (if you can call that many shelves a corner) with good books, a fireplace, and a shop for ice-cream (and various fiber arts and camping supplies).

The bathrooms were spotless, there were free hot showers, and even a handicapped stall, which is good for wrestling kids into the shower. There are also lots of washing machines and dryers. Turns out this is very useful if your theoretically potty-trained 3 year old has an accident and pees in her sleeping bag. Sigh.

The campground also has lots of gardens full of interesting plants for eating and dyeing. There are lots of sculptures, wood carvings, and little treasures to discover in the forests. And an amazing art studio occupied by a rotating cast of artists-in-residence.

Campsite

I chose a campsite where we could also park. The campground has sites where you have to walk a couple of hundred feet from car to campsite, but this seemed like a lot of hassle with little kids. Our campsite was shaded and all round really lovely. It had several trees where we built Fairy Houses, a fire pit (wood for sale at office), and a water faucet 10 yards away. The toilets ended up being a little bit too far for us. Next time we’ll get a closer site, and with electricity so I can recharge my phone.

Good things I brought for the campsite:

  • potty – even though both Alex and Jen are totally potty trained, sometimes we still get the “I have to go potty NOOOOWWWWWW!” and then it was good to have only a couple of feet to go. I have the Kalencom 2-in-1 Potette Plus, Blue with disposable inserts.
  • 10 different flashlights – variety is the spice of life here, apparently
  • 100 glow sticks – each kid got 4-6 glow sticks each night as a night light
  • wet wipes for when the kids refused to get washed in the shower
  • bikes – Alex tore up the campground riding back and forth and we managed to get to places (bathroom) without spending 30 minutes trying to drag dragging feet.

Arts

Turns out the Searsport Shores Ocean Campground has artists that stay there for a whole week and provide activities for the whole family in the custom Studio.

Check out the schedule for this year:

Week of: Artist in Residence Activities
June 23-29 Tom Cote Wood carving and whittling
June 30-July 6 TBA Ocean learning adventures
July 7-13 Barbara Andrus Weaving a Shorefront structure from twigs and driftwood
July 14-20 Blake Henderickson Wood Block Buffet
July 21-27 Susan Tobey White & Jeannie Painting, drawing and seeing
July 28- Aug 3 Ellen Mason Playing with Dyes and Yarn and Fabric
Aug 4-10 Steven Scheurer Chain Maille, Macramé & Caricatures
Aug 11-17 Maryly Mathewman Seaside Quilting and Color play for all ages
Aug 18-24 TBA
Aug 25-31 TBA
September 1-8 Fiber College 4 days of amazing fiber classes, demos, vendors and happiness

Pretty awesome!!!

Dyeing with EllenWe got there halfway through Ellen Mason‘s week, but she had us promptly dyeing, stitching, cutting, etc, although she also does a lot of knitting and designs patterns. She was super fun and engaging and both kids looked forward to going back to the studio – sometimes we went twice a day :-)

Next artist-in-residence was Steven Scheurer, a.k.a. Santa. He looks like Santa, and does a lot of volunteer work and charity stuff as Santa, and as an all-round nice guy taught us how to make survival bracelets and chain mail. This was a bit above Alex and Jen, but I (and all the older kids) had a great time making bracelets and dog collars.

Beach

The campground has it’s own private beach, and they ran several activities during our time there: seining – catching little fish with a net for the kids to look at and crab hunting  (for an invasive species) were the ones we made it to. They put a lot of emphasis on conservation and the ecology of the beach and made it fun and education for all.

Tide pools

Tide pools

It’s a rocky beach with a pretty big tide difference. That meant that at low tide we could find lots of different shells, look at the rock pools, wade around looking for green crabs, and chase the occasional little fish in clear cold water. It’s not a sandy swimming beach and Alex and Jen asked for one of those a couple of times before they got used to the rocks and being interested in the animals there.

Another blog post will follow about what the camping experience meant to us personally, but meanwhile here are some pictures:

Camping Activities for 3-5 year old Kids

More camping preparation is underway and here is the list of activities I will be bringing along. We’ve done several of these before, but some are new to us, so I’ll report back to what worked.

My philosophy is to be prepared with a large arsenal of games, since my children often deem the lovingly prepared activities as not very exciting ;-) So here is my first stab at keeping them busy and happy. I’m also adding pins to my camping board at http://pinterest.com/angelikapaul/camping/

  1. Scavenger Hunt (use these bingo cards? http://www.makingfriends.com/scouts/camping_bingo1.htm
  2. Fairy Houses (collect nuts, leaves, rocks, twigs to entice a fairy to live in your house) – check out this book for inspiration! Fairy Houses Book
  3. Fort (build a people-sized shelter against a tree or rock)
  4. Obstacle Course ( round the table, three jumping jacks, across the log, sing a song,…)
  5. Follow bugs
  6. Charades (what animal am I,…)
  7. Make flower jewelry (crowns or bracelets)
  8. Coloring books
  9. Ball Games (Soccer, throwing, baseball with a random stick?,…)
  10. Frisbee (a current favorite)
  11. make up stories (my kids love stories about themselves ;-) )
  12. shadow puppet show (at night in tent)
  13. Bean bag toss (ziplock bags with a scoop of dirt, throw onto plates or dig out hollows in sand)
  14. Collect treasures (special rocks, leaves,…)
  15. build a mud/sand castle
  16. make rock cairns
  17. make rock, leaf, or twig art
  18. blow bubbles
  19. nature rubbings (leaves, bark,..)
  20. card games
  21. I-spy
  22. dam building
  23. ???

Bring:

  • magnifying glass
  • binoculars
  • ball
  • frisbee
  • coloring books
  • crayons
  • markers
  • paper
  • string
  • scissors/pocket knife
  • balloons
  • books
  • flashlights
  • little shovels/beach toys
  • tupperware container (bug house or treasure box)
  • deck of cards

That should do it, right?

Rope climbers on big kid structure

Endicott Park

We joined a Meetup.com meetup at Endicott Park in Danvers. We’d never been, but it is only 15 minutes from our home in Stoneham, and it was great fun. It’s run by the town of Danvers: http://www.endicottpark.com/

Located in northeast Massachusetts, in the Town of Danvers, Endicott Park encompasses 165 acres, and is home to some of the most unique and varied recreational land on the North Shore.

The park’s varied landscape includes pastoral views, historic farm buildings, orchards, woodlands, and marshes, with a network of trails and gravel roads for stress free and stroller friendly exploration of the park.

Entrance fee to the park is $1 for residents and $3 for non-residents during the weekend. Free during the week, but they are looking for donations to purchase a new climbing rock for the playground. And I always support people who want to improve a playground ;-) (For my playground project see http://RebuildingRounds.org)

Anyway, the playground area is fully fenced, has lots of benches, lots of shade trees, and lots of space with grass. There are two areas, one for the 2-5 year old set, one for the 5-12 year old set. Both are well designed, usable, and FUN! There are lots of swings, thought the ones with the infant seats and the big kid seats are at opposite sides of the playground. There are NO TRASH BARRELS since this is a carry in – carry out facility. Bring a plastic bag.

There are restrooms, some farm animals, some strolling trails, and lots of meadows and trees for frolicking.

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Kayaking on Spot Pond

We did a spontaneous kayaking expedition in June – here are some pictures and info, because it was so easy, simple, enjoyable and a huge success for us.

One afternoon we just drove over to Spot Pond Boating (website here) and asked to rent a kayak. No booking required. They fitted us with lifejackets and had us in a double kayak in about 15 minutes. It was $20 for an hour on the lake and the staff were super helpful, safety conscious, and friendly.