10 Jul

Camping Near Acadia National Park: Our Oceanfront Slice of Heaven

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If you are a longtime reader and podcast listener, you know that we believe Acadia National Park is RV heaven. It holds a very special place in our hearts, and no matter what, we end up back there again and again.

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Many other RVers feel the same way, and there is no shortage of campground options available when planning your stay. But again, if you are part of the RVFTA community, you know that we return to the Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA time after time.

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The real question is, what’s the draw? What makes this the place that we want to park our rig, even after touring and inspecting many other campgrounds on Mount Desert Island?

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28 Feb

RVFTA #24: An Ode to the Pop Up Camper

We are really excited about this week’s podcast episode! Our featured segment is an ode to the pop up camper. One of our listeners, Nick, wrote in to tell us exactly why the pop up camper is a PERFECT choice for many families. Nick’s 5 arguments in defense of the pop up were so spot on, we just had to build a podcast around them.

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We started out our RV journey 5 years ago by buying a pop up camper, but made the same mistake that many first time buyers do…we paid far too much and then when we wanted to upgrade to a travel trailer, we were under water. So the pop up wasn’t a long term fit for our family, but it may be for yours. Nick’s list is a perfect checklist for our listeners who are trying to decide what to buy. If you want to hear more of our thoughts on the pop up camper you can listen to one of our earliest podcasts, Pros and Cons of a Pop Up Camper.

Of course we couldn’t resist walking down memory lane and revisiting our top 5 pop up camper memories. Although our pop up caused us a lot of trouble, it was also the thing that introduced us to this amazing RV lifestyle. We are forever grateful for joy and adventure it introduced to our young family.

Speaking of pop ups, we were inspired to review the first Maine campground that we ever visited with our young boys. Camden Hills State Park is an absolute treasure and worth a visit no matter what kind of rig you are towing. You can read our original campground review here, and you can visit some of our other Midcoast Maine posts if you need a little bit of traveling inspiration:

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Camden Hills

Rockland

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We are also sharing our second walkthrough with a Jayco representative from the Atlantic City RV Show. Megan Hiland took us on a tour of a 2015 Greyhawk Class C motorhome and almost convinced us to ditch our White Hawk and jump into a coach.

All of this…and so much more on Episode 24 of RV Family Travel Atlas: An Ode to the Pop Up Camper!

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06 Dec

Giveaway!!! Win a Copy of Discover Acadia National Park, by the AMC

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06 Dec

RV Family Travel Atlas: Acadia National Park Adventure Guide

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are heading to Acadia National Park, one of our favorite summer destinations. We will give you recommendations for where to stay and what to eat. We will also tell you about the best family-friendly hikes and activities on Mount Desert Island.

Join us as we explore popular tourist attractions and also take you to the quieter side of Acadia, where we have escaped the summer crowds and found lots of local treasures.

Click on the links above to read our articles on the Jayco Journal about all of these Acadia National Park recommendations.

We have another great giveaway this week: Discover Acadia National Park, by the Appalachian Mountain Club. We used this book a ton when planning our trips, and all of the hikes that we talk about are detailed in this book. Enter to win here.

And make sure you listen to this week’s episode to find out about our ‘podcast only’ giveaway this week…

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17 Oct

RV Family Travel Atlas: 8 Tips for Campground Owners

On Episode 5 of Family Travel Atlas, we are sharing 8 tips for campground owners (whether they want them or not). We also discuss those short weekend trips and decide whether they are worth all the work. Our campground review this week takes us to Midcoast Maine, where Moorings Oceanfront RV Resort pretty much knocked our socks off.

As always, we will give you some online recommendations, and let you know what our readers (and listeners) are saying.

We really want to hear from you! If you have an opinion about any of our podcast topics, let us know in the comments below. And make sure to answer our Camping Question Friday on Facebook.

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29 Sep

Fantastic Family Activities Near Acadia National Park

We were perfectly happy to do nothing besides hike, bike, and eat lobster when we traveled to Acadia National Park before having children. But when we returned with kids, we branched out and explored a variety of other activities offered in the Bar Harbor area. Good choice on our part. There are so many great affordable family friendly activities that really celebrate the local culture of Maine. All of the following recommendations were tons of fun for the kids and very educational for the adults. Win / Win!

Timber Tina’s Great Maine Lumberjack Show

Timber Tina's Great Maine Lumberjack Show

Let’s be honest…the boys had no idea what a lumberjack was before we went to this show. As we sat in the bleachers, they eyed the chainsaws and axes with more than a little suspicion. Then the show started and they were in awe from beginning to end. Timber Tina, a former contestant on Survivor, mixes interesting lumberjack history with good ole team competition.

The boys cheered loudly for the green team, and were pretty darn excited when they won. Timber Tina brings up all the kids and gives them a lesson in cross-cut sawing, then sends them home with a certificate signed by a real life lumberjack. Ask Max and Theo about this show and you will get quite an earful. You might also get a chopping demonstration performed with their souvenir axes.

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The Mount Desert Oceanarium


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This wonderful local gem, operated for four decades by Audrey and David Mills, is a fascinating hybrid of a museum, aquarium, and preserve. Your basic tour package includes three different interactive presentations: the touch tank, the lobster museum, and the lobster hatchery. You can also upgrade your ticket and take a guided tour through the salt marches on the premises. The touch tank presentation allowed the kids to handle sea stars, sea cucumbers, and horse shoe crabs.

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During the lobster museum demonstration, Max actually got to band the claws of a lobster and place it in a trap on the boat. Pretty exciting stuff for a five year old! The oceanarium immerses visitors in the lobster culture of coastal Maine with hands on activities presented by a friendly, knowledgable staff. The playground outside the gift shop? That’s just a bonus.

Dive-In Theater with Diver Ed

Dive-In Theater with Diver Ed
There are many boat tour options near Acadia National Park, but if you’re traveling with kids, there is only one show in town. Join Diver Ed on the Starfish Enterprise for a two hour tour of Frenchman Bay that will surprise and delight the whole family. As the passengers sit comfortably on deck, Diver Ed will suit up in his scuba gear, then ask the kids to push him into the ocean so that he can search for lobsters, sea cucumbers, sea stars, and sea urchins. While Diver Ed collects these sea creatures you get to watch him and hear him on the ships’ big screen. But the best part is this—when he returns to the boat he brings all of his discoveries with him and places them in touch tanks for the kids to enjoy. While the sea creatures are colorful and amazing, the true star of the show is Diver Ed. His larger than life personality and kid-friendly humor will make this one of your all-time favorite family travel memories.

Ranger Park Programs, Acadia National Park

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When you purchase your pass to Acadia National Park you will also receive a schedule of Ranger Programs. We strongly recommend that you take a good look at this schedule and pick at least one to attend. Most of them are free, and many of them are appropriate for families with children. We chose to attend a program called Animal Tales that introduced the boys to some of Acadia’s “fuzzy, furry, and funny creatures through stories and activities.” The ranger who led this activity used puppets and silly songs to teach the kids about moose, loons, peregrine falcons, and other native species. She was also energetic and engaging. Her moose imitation was so realistic that it made Stephanie feel a bit better about not actually seeing one on our trip.
Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, and the rest of Mount Desert Island form a premiere location for a family vacation. There are excellent campgrounds, delicious options for seafood, exciting and affordable family activities, and one of our country’s most beautiful National Parks. if your family is looking for its next great adventure, then Acadia may just be the perfect place. It was for us.

11 Sep

Great Food without the Crowds: Eating and the Quiet Side of Acadia

This summer Good Morning America named Acadia National Park “America’s Favorite Place” and people from everywhere flocked to see what the fuss was all about. We found the park much more crowded compared to our previous visits, and this led us to explore some of the quieter places on the island.

If you are visiting for the first time, places like Jordan Pond House in the National Park and The Lompoc Cafe in Bar Harbor are not to be missed.

But don’t get stuck waiting in line at the crowded downtown tourist joints. Just a short drive away from Bar Harbor and the Park Loop is a world of bakeries, restaurants, cafes, and lobster shacks that will let you taste the best of Maine without the crowds. Here are some of our favorite food discoveries from the quieter side.

TheDocksider

The Docksider is a lobster pound in Northeast Harbor with an emphasize on locally sourced, organic food. Yes, the lobster and the chowder are delicious. But this quirky and unique restaurant has more to offer than the standard seafood fare. Max had been craving meatballs and we found them here. The really surprising part? They were downright delicious. If you can’t get a table, order the food to go and take it down to the harbor where you can easily find an empty picnic table with a water view.

Little Notch Bakery

Little Notch Bakery in Southwest Harbor, with a second location in Bar Harbor, has delicious pastry, bread, and pizza. We went in for a mid-afternoon snack, but ended up sampling quite a few of the treats. Then we picked out a few loaves of bread for the rest of our trip. The staff was kind and helpful, offering hospitable smiles even after one of the boys spilled an entire smoothie on a chair cushion.

The Common Good Cafe

Our favorite discovery of the whole trip was The Common Good Cafe, which serves up popovers, oatmeal, coffee, and juice 7 days a week at no charge (donations are welcomed). This local non-profit raises money to help feed struggling folks through the hard winters in Maine. Live music by local musicians, such as the 14-piece ukelele band that mesmerized us, and a wonderful space filled with toys for the little guys made this one of the most magical experiences of our trip.

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Thurston’s is a famous lobster pound that is off the beaten path in the small town of Bernard. Jeremy voted this the best lobster roll of our trip. The crab cakes were truly perfect…lots of crab, lots of flavor, not a lot of anything else. We have been here in previous years for dinner and it was quite crowded. At lunchtime, however, we had the entire screened-in dock to ourselves.

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We ate lunch at Mother’s Kitchen on our last day in Acadia. If we had discovered it earlier, we probably would have been regulars during our stay. Just down the road from the Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA, Mother’s Kitchen served classic and homey sandwiches with a twist. The Grand Banker, Lightning Strikes, and Grandpa Jack are just a few names of sandwiches made from fresh, delicious ingredients and served on crusty, perfect bread. End your meal with a cup of Crooked Porch Coffee and you should be charged up for the next hike. Hours are 10-2 pm, Monday-Friday…just as quirky as the sandwiches.

College of the Atlantic, Dining Hall

This may sound like a joke, but the best and most affordable lunch on Mount Desert Island can be found at the College of the Atlantic’s Blair Dining Hall, nicknamed “Take-a-Break” by students. All food is organic, with an emphasis on local and sustainable ingredients. Baked goods are made from scratch daily. The focus on world cuisines mean that the menu is varied and creative. After lunch, visit the admissions office and buy a t-shirt or sweatshirt for the perfect, unique souvenir. On our last trip, we showed up and found out that the cafe was closed for the week. We almost cried. But we still bought shirts.

If this trip reinforced anything we have learned from traveling, it was the importance of asking locals and other campers for recommendations. Even though this was not our first visit to Acadia National Park, we felt like we were discovering it all over again. We hope you also wander away from Bar Harbor and the Park Loop to explore the quieter side of Acadia. If you do, please let us know what you find.

09 Sep

Hiking Acadia with Kids: 5 Amazing Hikes for the Whole Family

This article originally appeared in the Jayco Journal.

With over 120 miles of hiking trails on Mount Desert Island, you could visit Acadia National Park many times over and never walk the same path twice. After three visits to Acadia (two of them with young kids in tow) we have discovered some amazing family-friendly hikes that will please both children and adults. All of these hikes encompass the best that Acadia has to offer, with sweeping ocean views, dramatic granite cliffs, and landscapes filled with cedar, birch, and spruce. 

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This easy four-mile round trip hike (also known as Ocean Path or Ocean Drive Trail) is the classic introductory hike to Acadia. Starting off at Sand Beach, the path brings you to Thunder Hole and Otter Cliffs, passing by one beautiful vista after another. There are many small turnoffs that can lead to dramatic views, and also dramatic drop offs. If you wander off the main trail, keep a close eye on your kids. There are also stretches where the path is right next to the road. Traffic can be fast and close, so hand-holding might be in order. Even though we enjoyed the scenery, this hike was crowded and usually is during the peak visiting season.

Reward yourselves after the hike with a swim at Sand Beach…just be prepared to squeal as you dive into the cold water.

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One of the more famous family-friendly hikes within the Park Loop, this trail also rewards its hikers with stunning views of Sand Beach, Otter Cliffs, and Cadillac Mountain. We enjoyed this trail with another family and all of the kids had a blast navigating the rocky terrain.  The summit offered incredible ocean panoramas as well as a safe space for snacking and enjoying the view. If you are feeling more adventurous, take the Cadillac Cliffs trail spur. We avoided this on account of young Wesley.

One local mom we met on the trail recommended parking at the Gorham Mountain Trail head, hiking to Sand Beach, and taking the Island Explorer Bus back to your car at the trail head. The promise of a fun bus ride back to the car might do wonders to motivate little hikers.

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If you want to get away from the crowds clustered around the Park Loop, drive past Southwest Harbor to the Wonderland and Ship Harbor Trails. Both of these trails can be done independently, or you can do what we did: hike out to the water on the Wonderland Trail, then head west along the rocky beach to the Ship Harbor Trail and complete a loop back to the parking lot.

Time for just one of these two trails? We think Ship Harbor is your best bet, offering lots of paths down to the tide pools and, of course, great water views. We hiked these trails on a weekend during peak season and saw only a handful of people. This is truly the quieter side of Acadia.

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We get much of our travel intel from the recommendations of other campers. A friendly hiking dad named Chris told us that the Flying Mountain Trail would be perfect for our family. He was right. This 1.5 mile loop was great fun for the boys, giving them a good challenge at the beginning with a steep ascent ending with beautiful views of the Somes Sound. The tricky descent kept them entertained, and there is a rock beach where the kids can play at the bottom. The hike ends with an easy walk via a fire road right back to the parking lot.  Awesome hike.  Thanks, Chris.

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We’ve written about the Great Head Trail before on this blog.  This was the first hike we took with the twins on our first long camping road trip years ago, so it holds a special place in our hearts.  In our opinion, it has just the right amount of challenge and offers the perfect Acadian panoramic views. There is also the added bonus of ending the hike on Sand Beach where the kids can splash and play (if they have any energy leftover).

If you have a favorite hike in Acadia National Park, kid-friendly or not, let us know in the comments below. We plan on going back when the boys are older and tackling some greater challenges!

We used the following 3 books to plan our hiking in Acadia. We strongly recommend them.

Tom St. Germain’s A Walk in the Park is the best-selling trail guide for Acadia National Park for good reason. It fits in the back of your pocket and includes maps and concise descriptions of over fifty hikes.

The AMC’s Discover Acadia National Park by Jerry and Marcy Monkman also describes the park’s best biking and paddling. It includes a pull-out discovery map, far more detailed than the free one available at the visitor center.

We also recommend Best Hikes with Kids: Vermont, New Hampshire, & Maine, published by The Mountaineers Books. We have used this book in all three states, so keep a copy in your camper when traveling in New England! 

 

07 Sep

A Perfect Day in Belfast, Maine: Exploring the MidCoast of Vacationland

This post originally appeared on The Jayco Journal. On our last trip to the MidCoast region of Maine, we explored Camden, Rockland, Lincolnville, and Boothbay. This time we ventured a bit farther north to Belfast. Boy, are we glad we did…

Over the last four years, we have had many wonderful days of camping, and a handful of perfect ones.  Our first full day of vacation in Belfast, Maine was stunning from beginning to end.  A perfect summer day if we’ve ever had one.

So here is our set of instructions for enjoying your own amazing day in Belfast, Maine.

1. Wake up early at the oceanfront Moorings RV Resort, drink in the view, and do your morning stretches.

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2. Head down to the rocky beach and do some exploring.

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3. Launch your kayak from the beach and enjoy the quiet, picturesque scenery of the Penobscot Bay. If you give your kids the camera, this will keep them entertained spotting loons, lobster traps, sailboats, and fish. Some of their pictures might even be pretty cool. Can you figure out which photo Theo took?

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4. Clean up and head into town to check out the beautiful playground at Belfast City Park.  With water views and a design that ties into the landscape, this place will be appreciated by the whole family. Chat with the very friendly local parents and you will know exactly what to do with the rest of your stay in Belfast.

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5. Eat lunch at the Belfast Co-op Cafe to experience great food and local culture. The soups, sandwiches, and quesadillas were phenomenal. With everything from pizza to hotdogs to vegan burritos, there is something on the menu for everyone.

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6. Walk off lunch by strolling along the Harbor Walk. This path takes you through working shipyards and across the bay on a wonderful footbridge.

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7. Shop Downtown Belfast where you can visit an olive oil tasting room, a gourmet cheese shop, the oldest shoe store in the country, or one of the well-curated book stores.

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8. Return to the campground, where just a short stroll up the hill will land you at one of the best restaurants in this area. Papa J’s has all of the standard fare you might be looking for on your trip to the Maine Coast—whole lobster, lobster rolls, and a long list of seafood options. However, this place also offers so much more. The steaks are perfectly seasoned and cooked, and we could eat the scallops appetizer every day for the rest of our lives. Our waitress told us that the lobster pizza is a runaway favorite. We will have to return to try it. An added bonus is that all campers get a 5% discount. Thank you very much.

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9. Take an evening walk on the beach and watch the moon rise over the bay.

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10. Pile on the layers for stories around the campfire. S’mores will work just fine, too.

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21 Aug

A Place to Play With Friends: Lincolnville, MidCoast Maine

Last time we were visiting MidCoast Maine, we stayed at Camden Hills State Park and found ourselves driving south on many days, exploring Camden, Rockland, Bath, and Boothbay. One afternoon, after a very busy day, we decided to take a drive to the north. To be honest, the boys were probably asleep in the car, and we most likely had time to kill.

However it happened, we ended up in Lincolnville which has one of those main streets that you can miss while blinking (or checking the GPS). A short stretch of sidewalk includes a few restaurants, a post office, and some shops filled with breakable items.

And also a beach. A small sand beach that almost disappears during high tide, it is the perfect place for young kids who love nothing more than splashing in chilly water without getting pummeled by waves. Three years ago we spent a lovely afternoon there and then had dinner at the lobster pound that is just a few short steps to the south of the beach.

This visit, we were staying farther north in Belfast. So we knew exactly where to go when trying to meet up with our friends from Rockland. Right smack in the middle, just a 20 minute drive for each of us, was Lincolnville.

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It is the kind of place where our five kids could play, while five adults chatted and caught up on the news of life. The kayak was easily launched, and the calm waters meant that we could let the kids mess around and practice a little bit of paddling. The adults also took their turns a bit farther out in the kayak…and yes, seals were spotted.

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At the south end of the beach, about 30 feet from where we were sitting, is McLaughlin’s Lobster Shack, with its huge green lawn, clean picnic tables, adirondack chairs, and beautiful water views.

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You will not get us to say that this is the best lobster roll in Maine. But it is very, very good. The chowder is just fine, but I’m picky right now since Wesley is on a serious chowder kick and we have ordered it at every single seafood joint in Maine, it seems. The boys devoured their fish ‘n chips, and the small bites we stole tasted extremely fresh and flavorful.

This place is not cheap, but let’s be clear about the value here. Can you put a price tag on your kids being able to run around like maniacs while you order, wait for, and eat pretty darn good lobster?

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And remember, you are all sandy and in bathing suits, sitting on towels and (how could I not mention?) drinking local beer. Yup, pay the extra couple of bucks and enjoy.

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After another swim, we dried off, changed the kids and loaded up the cars. One final conversation before pulling out led to the understanding that there was a local coffee roaster just a minute or two south on Route 1. Jeremy’s eyes lit up and off we went.

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Yes, the pounds of coffee that he bought from Green Tree Coffee & Tea have been excellent. And yes, Jeremy will most certainly be ordering some for shipping. Most likely in the cold, cold months of winter when the RV is all closed up and he is dreaming of MidCoast Maine.

 

27 Mar

Planning that Vacation? Let a State Park Surprise Your Family…

National Parks get a whole lot of attention and rightfully so. They are (across the board) breathtaking and phenomenal experiences, and one of the highlights of our national heritage.

State Parks don’t get as much exposure, but over the last four years they have become a foundational part of our family travel. In general, state parks can be more accessible and affordable, offering wonderful hiking, fishing, canoeing, and swimming without the crowds that many of the national parks attract.

Owls Head State Park, Maine

Owls Head State Park, Maine

Camden Hills State Park, Maine

Camden Hills State Park, Maine

High Point State Park, New Jersey

High Point State Park, New Jersey

Two summers ago we set off for a 16 day jaunt through New York State. I didn’t realize at the time that I was pregnant, but that fact might explain why I had done little to no preparation for our trip. I was definitely in the tired and cranky for no apparent reason stage.

We spent one of our first days in the Finger Lakes Region at Keuka Lake State Park and had an amazing time swimming and kayaking. We ended up leaving the park that day with an Empire State Pass and a plan for the rest of our trip. We would hopscotch from state park to state park until we landed at Niagara Falls.

Buttermilk Falls State Park

Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Letchworth State Park, New York

Letchworth State Park, New York

Niagara Falls State Park

Niagara Falls State Park

North / South Lake State Park

North / South Lake State Park

This was definitely an ‘aha’ moment for us as a traveling family. Most state parks charge a day-use fee, so a season pass can be a budget friendly way to plan out a vacation if you are going to be exploring a few of them in one trip. State parks also have great educational programs, so you can pair a hike with an activity and everyone is happy.

The prices vary dramatically from state to state, so you definitely have to crunch the numbers and see if they work in your favor. South Carolina has a 7-day pass option, so I am looking into that for our trip to Myrtle Beach next month. However, New Hampshire’s pass for out-of-state residents is pretty steep, so we probably won’t purchase one for our trip this summer.

We bought our New Jersey State Park Pass a few weeks ago on a sunny day in February when we were feeling hopeful about spring being right around the corner. For $50 we gained unlimited access to 50 state parks for the next year. Feels like a bargain to us.

A funny thing happens when you buy a pass to anything. You try to use it as much as possible, right? I think about a pass as a form of encouragement. Once you have it, you look for opportunities to use it. If that pushes you to explore a new park, take a guided wildflower walk, or get that kayak down to the boat launch, it is worth every penny.

We would love to hear about your favorite state park. Near or far, we will put it on our list. After all, we plan on getting there one of these days.

Think Spring.

12 Sep

The Road Not Taken: My Imagined Life as A Communist

So Diver Ed was a blast, but we got off the boat in sore need of some facilities and some grub. The boat tour departs from the College of the Atlantic–what you haven’t heard of it?–a small liberal arts school with an environmental focus in Bar Harbor, Maine.

We wandered into the Dorr Museum on campus, desperately searching for a bathroom. Instead we found the most stunning, touching taxidermy exhibit I have ever seen. Caught you off-guard on that one, right? I am dead (ha-ha) serious. The individual exhibits, all created by students, are arranged to be representative of the natural world in Maine and thus have multiple animals in scenes that are arrestingly honest. I could have spent much more time there, wandering around and saying interesting things like, “oh my god, look at that porcupine,” but unfortunately there was a swivel stool and a computer behind a curtain…a setup that made the little campers just about lose their minds with inappropriate glee.

We got out of there fast but not before asking the volunteer at the desk about nearby lunch options. She recommended the on-campus cafeteria and, I will be honest, I kind of smirked in a self-possessed kind of way. However, I have two-year olds and it was lunch time and how miserable do you want to get, really? So we ambled on over to the mess hall where every educational decision I have ever made in my life was called into question.

Honestly, if you go to Acadia and eat any meal at any other place, you are making a very silly decision. In fact, the next time we are up there we may just park the pop-up in one of their parking lots and see what happens. They focus on the use of local, organic, and sustainable food and all baked goods are made from scratch. Great, right? Now the awesome part– three adults and two children went through the line and got fajitas with fresh guacamole and arugula salad and seafood chowder for a grand total of $11.50. Say, what? It gets better. The cashier told my husband if we spend twelve dollars then we could get unlimited drinks and baked goods for free. My husband was practically throwing singles at the woman.

You know when you have those ‘what would my life be like if I had…’ moments? This was definitely one of those for me. But don’t worry–I have a plan and it centers around my very malleable children. Regardless of the fact that my boys seem most at home swinging wiffle bats at each others’ heads, I have formed the vision of future parent weekends at the College of the Atlantic. However they might feel, it would suit us very well indeed.

 

05 Sep

Diver Ed: Why doesn’t this guy have a reality show?

Most parents would acknowledge that, in terms of post-childbirth lifestyle choices, we undergo a vicious battle within our souls.  Will we be the kind of parents for whom everything changes and we just roll over, play dead, and forget that such a thing as a movie theater even exists until Scooby Doo: Revenge of the Mystery Machine is released and we take our brood there for a birthday bash at 10:30 am? Or will we be those uber-hip parents for whom absolutely nothing changes and babysitters are a dime a dozen and bar-hopping until 2 am doesn’t even phase us, much less keep us from bringing the brood to a riveting Jasper Johns’ exhibit at the Whitley Museum where they make adorable yet pointed comments about the various color choices he made throughout his different periods?

I would like to humbly suggest that my husband and I have worked really hard and perhaps succeeded at finding a comfortable middle ground. After a brief hiccup of panicked shutdown during the twins first few months in the world, we realized that blindly barreling ahead with our old lifestyle was simply not an option. If however, we could identify the sorts of activities that were really important to us and then sort of tweak them for the rugrats, we might actually end up having a good time without the resulting suffering of miserable babies.

Our boat trip with Diver Ed was a classic example of this. I got it into my head (actually my friend did but I am not pointing fingers) that I absolutely had to go whale watching while we were up in Acadia. It didn’t matter that my boys had never been on a boat before. If they got viciously sea sick I would just hold them over the edge of the boat for the four hour duration. Most of the excursion times fell within napping hours and I fantasized about them falling asleep on my shoulder while I watched whales jump out of the water in the distance. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Luckily I came across another option that fit perfectly into my philosophy of finding the happy balance of all competing family interests. Diver Ed’s Dive-In Theater. This was a relatively short two hour boat excursion that didn’t go out very far at all. After anchoring out past the islands, Diver Ed would go under the water while you watched on live feed TV and collect as many sea creatures as he could grab and stuff in his bag. Diver Ed then brought the animals on board for an educational talk and completely ridiculous comedy routine which included squirting water out of a sea cucumber’s butt onto a poor boy’s head.

The kids then got to touch and play with the lobsters, sea cucumbers, and sea stars before he tossed them back none the worse for wear (but maybe slightly traumatized in a sea creature kind of way).

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This guy’s shtick was hilarious for both the adults and kids on the boat. My boys were particularly impressed with the way he had all of the children join him on the back of the boat and push him overboard into the water.

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This has given birth to the “Diver Ed” game that the boys now play on the blue denim couch in their bedroom. One stands on the arm of the couch and the other pushes them from behind while the one diving yells about Diver Ed in the ocean, mama, Diver Ed in the ocean. This has now been going on for over a month. This guy had an impact. I didn’t know that two year olds remembered things for that long. I have adjusted my behavior accordingly.

So to all of those development execs at the Discovery Channel who read my blog: you guys are missing out. Diver Ed is gold. Go buy tickets to his show, give him a big tip, and then sign him on for a couple of seasons. You’ll thank me for the scouting report.

30 Aug

We looked at the swim and we jumped right in…(part three)

Echo Lake Beach, Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is a gift that keeps on giving. Just when you think you have the place wired you discover something new and exciting.  While perusing my handy National Park Service map one night around the campfire I noticed that there were two officially sanctioned swim spots in the park.  The first one is, of course, the glorious and always chilly Sand Beach.  But if you take a look at the eastern half of your map of M.D.I you will see a cozy little lake to the left of Somes Sound.  If you listen closely you will hear Echo Lakeinviting you in for a swim.
Echo lake is not situated off of the highly visited Park Loop Road so it is not nearly as famous as Sand Beach.  Don’t get me wrong here.  I am not trying to say we discovered some hidden gem.  The place was definitely jamming. The swim at Echo Lake was fundamentally restorative (coming as it did on the heels of the aforementioned six-mile hike).  Crystal clear and temperatures in the upper sixties.  Probably close to 15 degrees warmer than Sand Beach.  The incline was gradual and the boys were able to swim and play without giving me heart palpitations.Our trip to Echo Lake was a short one–we stayed for a few hours at the end of a busy day.  But next time we head up to Acadia this place will get our full attention.  There are hikes nearby and the beach is a nice place for a picnic.  I think I experienced another moment of pure zen-camping here.  If I close my eyes I can still hear the boys splashing and laughing.
25 Aug

Sometimes You Have to Get the Baby off Your Back: Dating in Acadia

Sometimes you just have to be open to what the universe sends your way. Last year the universe sent us some great camping buddies by way of a casual workplace acquaintance and some good ole pop-up camper chatter. A woman I had lunch with at work heard lots of stories while we were in the process of buying our new camper. These stories got passed on to her husband and, wouldn’t you know it, a few weeks later they had a pop-up and we were meeting for a weekend trip in Cape May.Fast forward one year and we are planning a two week camping adventure together. Although I am sure things don’t always work out this way, ours has been a camping match made in heaven.About 7 days into our Great Northeastern excursion, and a few days into the Acadian-induced hiking euphoria that settled over our campsites, our camper-buddy Joe suggested that each couple take turns watching the four tikes while the other couple did a strenuous, non-kid friendly hike. We decided to do the Beehive hike, since we could park the kids at Sand Beach for the whole morning while we took turns trekking up the mountain. They seemed to have plenty of fun in our absence.

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And we had what was quite possibly the best ‘adult fun’ we have had since the boys were born.
The Beehive trail takes you right up the face of a mountain that looks over Sand Beach. The views are phenomenal and the rungs and ladders can get your heart pumping.

Joe and Ashley went first, and upon their return they proclaimed the hike to be “fun” and “awesome” with “great views” and good “photo ops.”

Then we started our climb. We had the unfortunate luck to end up behind a group of young adults and their mother, none of whom seemed very suited for strenuous hiking. The poor mother was shaking and crying and proclaiming at every difficult turn that she just could not make it up to the next rock. One of the daughters had a bright red face and was quivering so badly that I actually thought, “I am going to have to call in a rescue helicopter if I want to get off this mountain.” On a trail such as this, there are very few points to pass people. We had to wait an awful long time at the edges of some pretty steep cliffs.

So here is how most of the hike went: I was in front of Jeremy and I would get to a steep precipice and would not be able to turn the corner until the other hiking party cleared out. I would stand at that steep edge, watching rocks crumble from under my feet and hear things like, “Oh my God Oh my God Oh my God I can’t do it I know I can’t do it.” The psychological toll that this took was really quite intense. At every turn I had all the time in the world to imagine the horrors that awaited me around the corner. Then I would finally get to turn the corner and…one two three points of contact and we were up to the next ledge. Really, it was not that big of a deal, but the lead-up was nerve wracking.
Jeremy took advantage of one of these moments to snap a photo:

While this was a beautiful view, I remember I spent most of my time at that spot thinking, “Don’t look down. Don’t look down…”

Finally, we found a wide enough ledge where we could pass this group. Although I felt bad to leave behind this sorry collection of souls, shaking and sitting flush against the rock while saying things like, “I don’t think I’m going to move for awhile”, the relief drowned out any tinge of guilt. We were able to complete the last quarter of the climb in sweet peace and quiet, pausing only at convenient moments to appreciate the astounding vistas.

Now that I think about it, I wonder if my face mirrored that of the hikers who encountered us in full melt-down mode on our Jordan Pond excursion. I probably did flash them that same look of pity mixed with confusion. I know I was thinking, Who the heck came up with this bright idea for the lot of you?
I sincerely hope they got down from that mountain and found the rib-tickling story to share. And I sincerely hope they made better trail decisions during the rest of their vacation.

We had a blast and enjoyed every moment of our time away from the little campers. It was the best date we had had in a long time. But of course, while we hiked, we couldn’t help but debate the age at which the boys would be able to climb the Beehive with us. The jury is still out, but we’ll let you know when the verdict is in.

 

24 Aug

Return to Bubble Pond: The Past, Present, and Future

Stephanie in Acadia National Park, 2007

It may be cliche to say it, but I don’t care.  Having kids makes everything new again.  The first time Stephanie and I went to Acadia National Park together was back in 2007.  We had an awesome trip and did a lot of hiking and biking–accompanied by a lot of relaxing.  After the bike ride that was recounted in the last post, Stephanie decided to kick back and relax on a warm rock next to Bubble Pond.  She had earned it. Before we had the boys relaxation was an option at any point in the day. Particularly on a summer vacation. It makes sense right?  You do something strenuous and then you relax and take a nap. Preferably somewhere that is quiet and beautiful. Preferably somewhere in Acadia National Park.

Flash forward four years and two boys later.  We are back in Acadia.  We have returned to Bubble Pond.  We have just finished a six mile hike.  Time to relax, right?  No. Not even friggin’ close. Time for more activity, more adventure, MORE EXPLORATION.  Max and Theo are not interested in taking a nap on a warm rock.  They just had a nap while momma, da-da, and grandma took turns pushing them in their super-hip all terrain baby stroller (The B.O.B).  Max and Theo are now interested in jumping off of warm rocks. And finding frogs.  And splashing in the water. And finding powerful, magical sticks!

Notice the feet.  They have not touched the ground yet!

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*Acadian frog.  He survived the splashing.  Barely…

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We did not hurt the frog.  I promise.
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Rocks, Water, and Sticks. What else could a boy want?

I have been to Bubble Pond twice.  It was lovely on both occasions.  During the first trip it was peaceful and relaxing.  During the second trip it was exciting and magical.  Both trips to the same place were totally different.  This is one of my favorites parts of being a father.  When we take the boys to our favorite places they become new again.  Or different.  Or deeper. Or richer.  Or maybe just better.

Onward.
23 Aug

Six Miles? No Problem! (Listen for the Laughter of the Gods)

So I was all juiced up on our first hiking experience with the boys, and the next day I was having one of those ‘Mama rocks’ moments that comes on the heels of events such as sleeping through the night for the first time since giving birth, cleaning out your basement, or getting to work on time with no visible stains on your clothing.

This particular Mama Rocks moment manifested itself in the proclamation that “Of course we can do six miles. Yesterday was a breeze. And the boys loved it. And they fell asleep in the backpacks. And…blah, blah, blah. Stop doubting and get on board, ‘cuz this train of empowerment is leaving the station!”

I had it in mind that if we stuck to the carriage roads that led around Jordan Pond and Bubble Pond that we would be just fine, since there is no really rough footing. I conveniently blocked out the fact that there are miles of stretches on those roads that are graded uphill. In retrospect I remember years ago being on those same paths riding bikes with my husband and yelling at him, “This. Is. So. Not. Fun.” He would yell back at me to get off the bike and walk. I would respond, “Then what is the &%# point of the bikes?” This exchange happened more than once if memory serves.

So the boys started out like champs running down the paths, finding perfect hiking sticks, skipping and hopping and chasing each other. But things got sketchy fast. So out came the snacks.

You know the carrot and the stick? Well we have cheddar bunnies, and they worked for a little while before even that got old. They wanted to be up. They wanted to be down. They wanted to ride on our shoulders.
We finally realized that they were just plain tired and needed to be forced into a napping position. So they got strapped in with just a wee bit of fussing, and in about 10 minutes they were out like lights.

So I can say with all honesty that the last three miles were a perfectly enjoyable experience.

But here is the truth of the matter: when you take chances with your kids, you are going to have those moments when you wonder if today’s misery will trump even your worst-case scenarios. You are three miles in and you know you have no choice but to keep going forward because it is just as long to go back. The great part is you almost always emerge with some rib-tickling stories in those circumstances. I still laugh out loud when I think of the faces on a couple of hikers witnessing the four-alarm meltdown that occurred when we forced the kids into their seats. I hope they got a laugh out of the situation, but their faces registered more pity and confusion than humor.

And here is the other truth: you never know what is waiting for you at the end. We arrived at Bubble Pond with weary legs and a picnic lunch. The boys woke up, we ate, and then we all enjoyed a perfect lazy afternoon chasing minnows and catching frogs next to the pond.

The meltdowns fade, but this remains.

 

20 Aug

How I Got My Hike Back On (or, buck up and put the baby on your back!)

I vividly remember the last hike that my husband and I did before our twin sons were born. I was about 3 months pregnant and blissfully ignorant of the fact that I was carrying two babies instead of one. I was desperately trying to be one of those pregnant warriors who pursue activities like spelunking right up until they feel the first pangs of labor and rush off to the hospital only to emerge the next day ready for a good rafting adventure.

So anyway, we did a nice six-mile hike up to Apple Pie Hill, in the Pinelands of South Jersey. It was a beautiful fall day, crisp and warm with perfect cool breezes that came at just the right moments. We spent a good deal of time that day talking about how we would still do these things with a baby: just strap ’em on the back and change diapers on a bed of leaves. It would be just as much fun, but with a dash of baby-magic thrown in. Cue pre-parental sigh.

After that day, things went downhill quickly in the activity department. A couple of months more into my twin pregnancy and I could barely make it up the stairs, much less embark on any kind of hike. And then the boys were born and activities just sort of became complicated. While we were brave enough to travel quite a bit, for some reason we shied away from any serious hiking. We found different things to do when we visited the Blue Ridge Mountains. We took a shuttle up to the wolf preserve at Lakota. We picnicked at the Delaware Water Gap instead of hiking up to High Point.

So while we have had many amazing experiences with the boys this summer, the most significant ones for me were all the times that we strapped the boys into our hiking backpacks and hit the trails. Acadia encouraged us to do this. It is one of our favorite places on the planet, and there was just no way that I was going to experience it from a car. Or from a crowded vista looking out at Thunder Hole. I wanted the real Acadia experience. I wanted to hike.

So the first hike we did in Acadia was the Great Head Trail, right off of Sand Beach. This trail is listed as ‘moderate’ and it definitely is full of rock scrambles and uneasy footings. At the risk of slipping onto the corny side of ebullient, it was the perfect thing for us to do on our first day in Acadia. My husband and I both felt so empowered and joyful at the end of that hike and I know why. We had just done something that we use to do all the time before we had kids. And it was just as much fun. But even more so. Because there was a little bit of baby-magic thrown in.

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18 Aug

Our First Time Camping Near Acadia

Bar Harbor, Maine

There are over 450 KOA’s  in North American and the Lively Little Campers have stayed in seven of them.  The Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA was our favorite of the seven.  During the first leg of our trip in Vermont we had to ask for our money back at a KOA before we even opened the camper because our site was so tiny.  During the second leg of our trip in Maine we stayed at a world class state park and we had the largest individual sites that I have ever seen.The difference between these two experiences sparked much debate around the campfire about the pros and cons of private campgrounds vs. state parks.  I stood up for the merits of KOA’s and other private campgrounds while my wife insisted that state parks were best.  She loves the beauty and privacy of a state park while I like my camping amenities.But this place was delightful from beginning to end.  It combined the best elements of a state park and a private campground.  It was naturally beautiful and had great activities and great amenities (but alas, no pool).  When we started setting up both of our pop-ups my fellow dad-camper declared, “this place is going to be special.”  He was sooo right.
There were ocean views from many parts of the campground including our two sites.  When I booked the trip back in March there were waterfront sites available with even better views–but I chose a spot one row away from the big drink.  We still had great views and I wasn’t stressed about having to fish one, or both, of the campers out of the water. Though we did have a little “accident” involving a camper’s forehead and a slippery rock. A minor injury or two seems to be part of the camping experience for our boys.  Max and Theo are perfectly capable of getting injured in a padded room.
The view from our “bedroom.”
This KOA was also very kid friendly.  The boys were able to scoot around all over the place with zero to no traffic in site.  Our after-dinner walks while the boys perfected their scooting skills were relaxing and peaceful–and the boys gained many fans along the way.   I personally love a campground that serves as its own attraction.  At the end of each day, after taking in the breathtaking beauty of Acadia, we didn’t have to leave it all behind–the campground served up its own healthy dose of picturesque views.
Many of the other campers with older kids had brought Kayaks and were launching them from right in front of their sites.  Other hardy souls were swimming right next to their sites and then warming up around their campfires.  Watching these campers really gave me some inspiration for future trips with a campsite right on the water and a kayak in the back of my pick-up.
After the boys went to bed one night we ordered fresh lobsters from a stand right on the campground and set up a candlelight dinner with our own music at an empty picnic table right on the water.  We had a delicious meal with a world class view while our boys slept safely about ten yards away.  That right there is why we love camping with kids so darn much.  We have fun with them all day, and then we kick back in full adult splendor at night without having to pay for a babysitter.
This campground even had its own little coffee shop and, on occasion, live acoustic music.  There was one miscommunication apparently, when the singer was playing at 8 in the morning instead of 8 in the evening like the flier had advertised. He didn’t draw much of an audience in the morning hours. But on another evening I had a tasty mocha while listening to some Simon and Garfunkel and Van Morrison.  About 15 to 20 other campers were also gathered around the singer and sipping their beverages.
The staff at this place was also super friendly and helpful.  We received great local wisdom from them all week long and they treated our kids like gold.  Max and Theo loved the free train ride around the campground.  The rest of us loved the super clean bathrooms and showers.
On their website this KOA brags that “sunsets are our speciality.”  Those campers weren’t kidding.  Check out these photos from our stay.  All of them were shot about 20 to 30 feet away from our campsite.
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The sunsets were magical and memorable.  But the pie was even more delicious.  Twice during our stay a local couple drove their station wagon filled with handmade pies through the campground.  We purchased the strawberry rhubarb on both of these nights and ate every last crumb from those tins.
Everything about our stay at the Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA was perfect but the price.  Our campsite was about 80 bucks a night and those delicious pies were about fifteen bucks apiece.  But while the price wasn’t perfect, you might ask, was it fair? Absolutely.  I am already saving my pennies for a return trip.  Furthermore, if that station wagon filled with pies drove down my street right now I would buy two of them.
And I wouldn’t tell anyone else that I did.
17 Aug

A State Park You Can Visit in a Dress: Owls Head, Maine

In the spirit of the New York Times Photography (see my last grouchy post), I wanted to mention a lovely morning we spent visiting the Owls Head State Park and Lighthouse.
When we left the campground that morning, I didn’t actually think we were going to be traipsing about in the great outdoors, much less climbing steep stairs and fighting off gusts of wind that wanted to lift my linen dress clear over my head and send me sailing out to sea. The loose plan was to take in a bit of ‘town’ with some shopping, a light lunch, and then maybe a swim at Sand Beach in Rockland. So when you normally leave the campground in hiking boots and shorts that have more pockets than a fisherman’s vest, it is nice to switch it up and dress like a lady.

That is unless you then happen to meet up with a friend who recommends a beautiful walk to a lighthouse just minutes out of town and it all sounds so much nicer than going into stores so you agree without hesitation before realizing you are just a wee bit inappropriately attired. Your husband however has lucked out: since he dresses the same whether attending a BBQ or a rehearsal dinner (think cargo shorts and a baseball t-shirt), he is perfectly prepared for a visit to the state park.

Well, Owls Head Lighthouse is the perfect park to visit if you happen to be wearing a dress or some other traveling finery. In fact, a scarf around the hair would probably make the experience even better. It is an easy, beautiful walk up to the lighthouse. We were able to bring up the jogging stroller since we didn’t have our backpacks with us, but the kids walked most of the way themselves.
You can’t climb to the top of the lighthouse, but the view is worth the trip up anyway. On a clear day you can see all the way to Mt. Desert Island. It was also a wonderful view of Mt. Battie, where we were staying in Camden Hills.

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We even cheated and put the Owls Head State Park Stamp in our National Park Passport. It felt a little dirty, but I couldn’t help myself. I mean, how many Passports can a girl carry around anyway? Especially in a dress…