Favorite Places

Last week Phil and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary.  Just like we do every year during the warmer months, we had taken a few days and blocked them off as camping days, choosing our anniversary week to go somewhere.  Well, since money has been tight (there’s been Phil’s new truck, a new well pump and pressure tank, among other things), we haven’t gone camping at all this year, a fact which has dismayed Phil and the kids.  We will still be making our annual pilgrimage to Deerfield Fair, don’t you fret.

In any case, Phil has still taken some of those days off even.  For some of them, we’ve done little inexpensive “staycations,” doing something special but staying close to home.  Last week, we took advantage of our Mystic Aquarium membership (thanks, Gram!) and then had lunch in the village.  Normally, we like to walk around the village and do a bit of shopping, but we didn’t want to spend the entire day there, and I figured it would be easier on our wallets, anyway.  We were delighted to notice some fruit trees just outside the restaurant where we had lunch!  The kids had fun climbing the tree and, since there were no signs or people telling us otherwise, we happily picked some apples to munch on and extra to bring home.  I’ve told Phil a few times that when cities and towns buy shrubs and trees to fix up public areas, they should pick something that will bear fruit so people can pick free food!

Since we were just down the street from Mystic Seaport, we decided to stop by and get information about admission, exhibits, and so forth.  The kids loved the giant anchor out front, and we browsed one of the gift shops.  We’ll go back another day when we have more time and money to spend!  It will be neat since the visit will coincide with the kids learning about early-American history, and experiential learning is always the best (in my opinion).

Mystic collage

A couple days later, I suggested we do another one of our favorite things: picnic and walking at Beavertail (coincidentally, this is where Phil proposed).  We have since discovered that breakfast picnics are the best there – not as much to pack, it’s still relatively cool and not crowded when we’re done, and we still have time and energy to do something else afterwards.  I packed homemade banana bread and cranberry honey we bought in Mystic and afterwards we burnt some calories hopping along the rocks and checking out the water.  We’ve been talking about tide pools in science, so it was neat for the kids to be able to study them up close – the seaweed, tiny crabs hiding, snail shells, etc.

Beavertail collage

On the way back home, we spontaneously stopped at a local glassblower’s shop.  Whenever we pass we say that we’d love to go there, wonder when they’re open, yadda yadda… and this time around the open flag happened to be flying in the breeze.  It was amazing – watching them work, asking them questions, browsing their selection of beautiful, fragile-looking glass items and telling the kids over and over “don’t touch, don’t touch!”

It’s always so nice to spend time with my family… the whole family, not just the kiddos and me.  Everything works so much better when Daddy is home!  The luxury of a whole day spent together is few and far between, so I cherish those moments while I can.  I will admit that it was all bittersweet, being very conscious of the fact that “the last time I was here…” I was pregnant and thinking how our family would be growing and smiling to myself knowing I harbored a special secret growing inside of me… *sigh*  But God – or life, whatever – had other plans.

Camping in Mystic, CT

It was so much fun using our new camper last year and we couldn’t wait to go again, so we got an early start this time around.  To coincide with Phil’s work schedule we take two-day trips to nearby campgrounds.  Since we’re already familiar with Mystic Village in CT, we decided to stay in the area and take the kiddos to Mystic Aquarium.

You win some, you lose some, and we were not impressed with Seaport Campground.  When a campground calls itself a “resort,” you expect a little more than an empty pool, $2 mini golf and a dumping station that wasn’t working.  At least it wasn’t expensive, and since we spent most of our time offgrounds it wasn’t much of an issue.  There was a small playground for the kiddos (always their favorite part) and we did break out the kites when it got windy.

We talked about the trip quite a bit before we went.  The aquarium itself is expensive and though we pack most of our food we knew we were getting lunch in the village so we wanted to be realistic about the cost.  At the last minute I remembered that my local library has a discount pass for the aquarium so that scored us some savings, and imagine our surprise when we found out Phil was able to get in free with his fire department ID!  Since Josiah is under three years old we only paid a discount rate for Gwen and me.  And you know what else?  Tickets to the aquarium are good for the next two days!  Just come back, have them validated, and you can get in for free!  Guess what we did two days in a row? 

Seeing a beluga whale swim right in front of you is an awesome experience, and watching your kids stare in amazement is even better.  While one of the belugas was making its rounds in front of the glass, it opened its mouth at a group of kiddos, eliciting some excited squeals. 


We got quite a bit of sun and exercise walking around, seeing the animals, picking our favorites. 


Around lunchtime we had our hands stamped so we could get back in later then walked across the street to the village. 

Our favorite spot to get lunch is at Mango’s Wood Fired Pizza Co., where we get The Bootlegger pizza – sooo good!  And with the 10% discount coupon that you can print from the village website (good at many of the stores), it’s pretty reasonable!

A trip to the village isn’t complete with stopping at Bestemors, where they sell all sorts of Danish and Scandinavian goodies.  I’m half Danish, so it’s a treat to find a store like this.  I almost always get some international licorice for my father or something to put away for one of my parents. 

Another must was a trip to Franklin’s General Store for some fudge.  Even though we don’t eat white sugar these days we still like to get a couple pieces.  In the past we’ve been able to get a couple small pieces in different kinds, and this year I was kind of miffed when the lady behind the counter told us we had to buy it in the big, premade slices.  You would think they would want to accomodate their customers in any way; we made it last, but since I didn’t really want that much fudge to begin with I’m not sure we’ll be buying it again.

There’s a duck pond with ducks everywhere, and it was funny to see the males fighting over the females.  By the afternoon, they seemed to have paired off and were sitting contentedly.  The next day while wandering around the village again, we found a nest of eggs under one of the park benches.


One of my favorite exhibits at the aquarium is the Ray Touch Pool.  There’s a small pool with a bunch of sting rays swimming around and you place your hand at the surface of the water; as they swim around they come up to your hand so you can touch them.  I could stand there for hours! 

Sometimes they’re not feeling social and stay near the bottom, but oftentimes they come right up to the surface and your hand glides along their soft, almost velvety bodies – so cool! 


This year I also got to touch the small sharks in the Shark Encounters exhibit.  They’re not big and scary like your typical shark so I wasn’t nervous, and though I expected them to be soft like the sting rays they felt hard and spiny. 

The kids didn’t want to touch them, though they did want to splash their hands in the water. :)

One of the last things we did before heading home is visiting the Children’s Museum of Southeastern CT.  It wasn’t very big and the exhibits were relatively simple, but we were entertained for a good couple of hours.  One side of the museum consisted of different pretend areas – a big boat with fishing rods and fishermen gear, a shopping center with food, ice cream cart, an Egyptian pyramid, a Mexican restaurant, etc. 


The other side was a bit more educational and science-oriented with a microscope, mirrors, musical instruments, and various experiments. 

Outside there were bubble wands, a tree house, a dirt pile with pipes and shovels, and Phil’s favorite: a zip line.  Now he wants to put one in our yard!


We were technically finished with preschool the week before we left, but I always try to pack something educational in case we have time.  I found these aquariun scavenger hunt printables that the kids checked off when we got back to the camper, and I put together a little booklet for each of us to write or draw in.  Yes, even one for Mommy and Daddy!  They’re supposed to be used for alphabet books, and there’s a cover page for each letter of the alphabet, but I just used the letters for our names.  I figure we’ll pack them on each of our camping trips just for something fun to do, then add it to our keepsakes at the end of the year. 


One of the last Bible activities in the ABCJLM curriculum is The Wordless Book, so I used some of Homeschool Printable’s resources and used them along with some coordinating pom poms.  The kiddos love anything with pom poms! 


Every time we go on a camping trip we think of things to improve the experience.  After last year we added some hooks on the wall by the camper door so we’re not always throwing our jackets on the chair just inside.  And since the bathroom door is right near the front we thought it best to hang a curtain across the doorway; it gives us more room to change or help the kiddos use the bathroom without worrying about giving others a free show. 

You can see the curtain just behind me.

This year, we finally bought a dish drainer for the kitchen and Phil is going to rig some outdoor speakers so we can listen to music around the campfire while the kids are sleeping. 

(Daddy was telling a scary ghost story)

Last year we ended the season with a trip to Pine Acres Family Camping Resort.  It was technically closed for the season, but we thoroughly enjoyed the grounds and the family-run operation and are eager to go again this year while it’s up and running.  Every time I plan and pack for a trip I forget about all the ideas I’ve been bookmarking, so this time around I want to make sure I remember to try a couple new recipes, like hobo packets, campurritos and campfire cones.  And since I discovered that my natural marshmallows freeze well and make great s’mores, I’ll have to make those ahead of time.  Also on my to-do list are some roadtrip or sleepover pillowcases for the kiddos.

The day before we left for Mystic I did manage to whip up some washcloth travel pouches after seeing a similar idea on Pinterest.  I used a couple washcloths I already had – one for Phil and me, one for the kiddos – and used them to store our toothbrushes and toothpaste.  I really like these!  I’m thinking of making a few more as gifts.


Do you go camping?  I’d love to hear about some of your favorite spots to visit, as well as how other people rough it – including recipes and what to do to pass the time without technology (you can only play so many games of Candyland!).

*See my camping Pinterest board for inspiration.