Here’s a quick art journal illustration of a figure swimming. I was challenging myself to use a medium I have not used in ages and nothing but that medium so I opened up my bag of watercolour pencils and got to work. This was done super-quickly – definitely no more than 15 minutes – as a stress-buster. I was just promoted (yay!) and I have SO much to do before the beginning of the school year so I was in one of those flaps where my To Do list was so extensive that I could not properly focus on any one task in order to complete it and check it off the list. I decided to take a break at my art table and it did the trick: I was much more focused and efficient when I returned to my crazily long list. Anyway, the concept of relaxing gave me my subject because one of the things I find most relaxing to do is just float around in water. I used to love actually swimming lengths in the pool, never competitively, just for exercise and fun, but nowadays all I really want to do in the water is float around on my back and stare at the sky like a much less adorable otter.
I have always loved words. As a kid, I loved to just flip the dictionary open to a random page and read all of the words, their definitions, and the etymology. I was fascinated about why each word was chosen to represent what it did, why some words had so many different meanings, and just the sound of different words. I used to enjoy the challenge of trying to deploy more obscure or at least unusual words into conversations. In doing so, I increased my vocabulary. Years later, as a High School English teacher, I used to encourage my students to do the same thing when they had idle time. I have never lost my love for words and my enjoyment of the richness of the English language with all its mongrel origins.
Therefore, I knew I was in a tricky spot when this week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to incorporate a word and its definition in an art journal page. Impossible! How on earth could I ever choose a single, solitary word? By the time I actually had some free time for art, I had arrived at my solution: I was not going to visually represent one word; I was going to visually represent my love of all words. I, therefore, covered an art journal page in dictionary pages (from a discarded, library reject dictionary, worry ye not) and then drew my doodle version of me swimming among the words, an endless sea of vocabulary for me to explore, float through and enjoy.
We had started our second day in Baltimore so early that we found we were leaving the city before noon. We, therefore, decided to do something spontaneous as we drove through Northern Maryland and head to the Chesapeake.
We first stopped in Havre de Grace. I have driven past the small city several times before but have never actually been in. It looked quaint and picturesque, the type of place that would be pleasant for a stroll. We went straight to the Concord Point Lighthouse, which is sited where the Chesapeake meets the Susquehanna. During the War of 1812, the British attacked the city and, during that attack, Lieutenant John O’Neill manned the cannon single-handed in order to defend the town. Injured and captured, the story goes that his 16 year old daughter rowed out to the British vessel and plead for her father’s release. She was succesful and her father was released and the British Admiral awarded her bravery with an expensive snuffbox. When the lighthouse was built in the late 1820s, O’Neill and his family were made its hereditary keepers as an expression of gratitude. The granite lighthouse is 26 feet high with the lantern bringing it to 36 feet. Although we could not go inside, apparently it is a rope ladder that allows people to ascend through a trapdoor to the lantern. The keepers did not have to be accommodated within the lighthouse itself as there was a separate dwelling nearby.
After our visit to the lighthouse, the boys were keen for a dip in the water. We, therefore, headed to a town named North East – which also looked very pleasant – and Elk Neck State Park. The kids immediately donned their swimming gear and rushed down to the shore. The beach was rough, scrubby, and pebbly but the kids said that it turned to finer sand once they were further out in the water. The incline into the water was gentle and the kids could get really quite far out while standing. Beaches are not my thing but the kids had a blast swimming, splashing, and floating around. It was a good way to burn off their energy before the rest of the journey home.
After spending a big chunk of the day in the dark vaults of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we all needed some fresh air and to burn off some energy. We were driving from Cleveland to Toledo so decided to take a more coastal route. Skirting the shore of Lake Erie, we decided to pull over and go for a paddle and swim. The beach we chose was called Lakeview and was somewhere in Lorain County.
This was mine and the kids’ first experience of any of the Great Lakes. I had obviously read about how huge they were and looked at them on maps but in the same way I could not truly appreciate the scale of the Grand Canyon until I saw it for myself I could not appreciate the vastness of the Great Lakes until I was standing on the shore looking at them. Had I not known any better, I could have sworn I was standing on the edge of a sea. In fact, I kept tripping up over my words and referring to the lake as the sea. It even had waves. Fresh water but with waves.
Mr Pict and I chose just to paddle but the boys changed into their beach clobber and dived straight into the water. I do love that we have reached the stage in our parenting careers where all of our children can swim so that we can keep an eye on them, of course, but also relax when around water and not have to hover over them. The area they were allowed to swim in was actually very shallow so even the 7 year old with his short legs could still touch the bottom on his tip toes towards the outer edge of the swim area. The kids had a whale of a time playing in the water and on the sand but their excitement peaked when they found a dead fish floating in the water. That was when I remembered the warning of the Lorax. It had seemingly come to pass that Lake Erie was too polluted for the fish. Maybe it was time to get the kids out of the water before they sprouted extra eyeballs.
We drove along the coastal road through some moribund places and some charming towns like Vermilion and then at Sandusky Mr Pict and I decided to take a detour onto the Marblehead peninsula to the north so that I could see a lake lighthouse. Mr Pict and the kids do not find lighthouses interesting but I have a mild obsession with them (one that could become a major obsession if I didn’t keep it at bay) so Mr Pict was happy to both undertake the detour and distract the kids so that they were not aware that we had gone off the road to Toledo.
The Marblehead Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in continuous use on the American side of the Great Lakes. There are a lot of clauses in that sentence but basically I felt it was important for me to visit the lighthouse. In operation since 1822, the lighthouse has been operated by 15 lighthouse keepers, including two women, and transitioned from whale oil to kerosene to electricity. It would have been very interesting to see inside. Sadly, however, it was closed on the day of our visit so I could not go into the lighthouse, just circle around its exterior. My two youngest sons accompanied me and enjoyed playing on the rocks and clambering over huge chunks of driftwood. We also witnessed a couple marrying on the shore, my kids no doubt appearing in the background of their wedding photos, and found the skeleton of a bird. Such is life.
Memorial Day weekend seems to be the traditional starting point for all things summer in these parts – outdoor swimming pools open, people crank up their barbecues, people start wearing less clothing, sunglasses are donned – and this Memorial weekend was a scorcher, a welcome dose of sunshine and heat after such a dreich (dreary) Spring. We Picts decided this was the perfect opportunity to go an explore another of Pennsylvania’s state park so we headed towards the mountains and to Locust Lake State Park.
The area had been deforested in the 19th Century because of mining and lumber operations in the area. It was reclaimed in the 20th Century as an area for fishing and I assume has particularly recovered since it became a state park in the 1960s. Now there are trails through woodland, camp sites, and a decent sized central lake where people can boat and swim in designated areas. It was this latter activity that the boys were especially looking forward to – especially after a long drive in a warm car.
Our first stop off was at a play area in the woods. After being stuck in the car for quite some time, the boys had energy to burn off so the climbing frame was perfect. The youngest two practiced their simian skills on the monkey bars and then they copied their ten year old brother in trying to find a route climbing over the frame rather than using it how it should be used. There were points where they freaked themselves out a bit by getting stuck but they persevered and found a way up, over, and down on their own. Good confidence building stuff.
A hop, skip and a jump through a wooded glade brought us out onto a stretch of the lake shore that had a beach. This was not a sandy beach, however. It was more like coarse grit. It was not entirely pleasant underfoot but then again I am not the best judge since I generally loathe sand of any kind. The Pictlings certainly did not mind the gritty sand at all and were soon paddling in the water and enjoying how cool it was. The area roped off and designated for swimming is pretty shallow so the water had actually been nicely warmed by the sun. That way it was cool but not chilly. Perfect swimming temperature actually. Now that all four of my boys are good swimmers, it is a much more pleasant experience to take them somewhere like this. Mr Pict and I can just sit back and relax while watching them swim and splash and play rather than feeling like we are in a constant state of high alert, reading to spring into Baywatch mode at any instant. The kids had a wonderful time swimming back and forth in the water.
Once they had finally had enough of the water, we decided to take the (very) easy trail around the circumference of the lake so they could dry out and we could all stretch our legs before getting back in the car and heading home. They did their usual thing of complaining and moaning about how boring the walk would be and then absolutely loving it and not wanting to leave. My kids are pretty feral – you might have noticed – so within reason we let them go bare foot and get off the beaten track. They, therefore, turned what might have been a brief stroll into a miniature adventure assault course. There were some outdoor exercise equipment staging posts that they incorporated into their wanderings but mainly it was about balancing along fallen trunks and wading through burns and shallow creeks. We didn’t encounter any wildlife beyond that which we find in our own garden (squirrels, chipmunks, and birds) but they did find some freshly hatched gloriously blue robin eggs to study.
We had a really lovely day out. We have not had much time for whole family activities in recent months as there have been so many commitments and schedule clashes and such like to contend with. We, therefore, really welcomed some uninterrupted time as a family of six, especially since there was no phone reception. Locust Lake was a charming spot and we will definitely need to return some time, maybe in late summer.
I have never been on vacation for Christmas before. We have been away from home for Christmas plenty of times. In fact, back home in Scotland that was our norm as we would travel to spend time with either set of grandparents over Christmas and often New Year too. However, spending Christmas in a family home is not the same as spending Christmas in a holiday home. Mr Pict’s parents, having arrived in Florida a few days before us, had done a power of work making the place look not only more domestic and homely but also festive and fun. On Christmas morning, therefore, there were stockings at the end of the boys’ beds and presents waiting under the tree just as if they had been either at home or in their grandparents’ homes. Despite the paucity of equipment in the kitchen, my mother-in-law also managed the feat of pulling together a complete and completely delicious traditional Christmas dinner.
What was not traditional at all was that the boys spent a large chunk of Christmas Day swimming in an outdoor pool. Neither the boys or I have ever experienced a warm Christmas so that was novel enough but to be able to splash around in a swimming pool was fantastic fun for them. Indeed, they had such a great time with the pool over the course of our visit that our 7 year old learned how to swim to the bottom of the pool and our 5 year old learned how to swim without arm bands or a pool noodle. All four kids being able to swim was a Santa gift for we parents.
A few days later, they also enjoyed the novel experience of night swimming. The pool was heated so they were able to swim and splash around in the dark. They seemed to think that swimming in the dark – supervised, of course – made it extra exciting.
That is how treasured memories are made.
We had another dumping on snow over the weekend and we also had four young boys who needed to burn off some surplus energy. Badly. So Mr Pict had a brainwave and researched indoor fun swimming pools in the area. He took “in the area” to include New Jersey and so it was that we found ourselves crossing the frozen Delaware and arriving in New Jersey to visit the Coco Keys Water Resort.
The word “resort” and the fact it is housed in a hotel complex had created the impression that the water park would be large enough to keep the kids occupied for a long time and have a variety of activities to keep them entertained. The only ticketing option was a Day Pass so that too had given us the distinct idea that we would all be kept very busy there. As we descended the stairs, however, and caught a glimpse of the “resort” Mr Pict and I were already disappointed. Instead of the large space we had envisaged, the whole water area was approximately the same size as your average town fun pool.
The town we moved here from in Scotland had a community swimming pool, a fantastic resource given that the population was only a little over 2000 people. It was just a swimming pool with no flumes or rapids or wave machine but it was a great facility and was an affordable indoor leisure activity. Both my parents and my in-laws, however, lived near fun pools – the type that have slides, flumes, rapids and wave machines – which we could go to when visiting them. Although a little more pricey than our local pool, these places always provided great value for money as the kids would stay long enough to be thoroughly pruned and worn out from swimming and sliding. So, based on these past experiences, we had high expectations of a place that categorised itself as a “resort”. It did not meet our expectations. And some.
First off, even with $5 shaved off each ticket by booking online in advance, this was not a cheap day out. I, therefore, very much resented having to pay an additional non-refundable $5 for a tiny locker in which to store our valuables. The rest of our items – clothes, shoes and towels – had to just be left sitting on one of the chairs that edged the “resort”. The changing rooms were also bizarre in that there were only four cubicles in each of the male and female changing rooms and the privacy of each cubicle was provided only by a diaphanous gauze curtain. This instantly gave me flashbacks to the anxiety and horror of swimming lessons at the municipal pool in the town where I grew up, where curtains that were too narrow for the cubicle would be whipped aside by cruel bullies. As a family, we have become accustomed to co-ed changing rooms (something that is pretty critical when you are a family containing both genders) with proper doors with proper locks. This was like a throwback to a bygone era. Furthermore, the changing rooms were pretty clean and tidy when we were getting ready to enter the pool area but were in a disgusting state when we went back to get dried and dressed with towels borrowed from the hotel complex dumped all over the floor and all manner of grotty run off working its way along the grouting of the tiled floor. I don’t expect to pay so much to be made to feel as if I am contracting a bacterial disease by being there.
The resort is organised into different areas. My little’uns liked the Parrot Perch which was a large climbing frame with slides set in a shallow paddling pool. As they clambered around it, jets of water would go off and a bucket of water would tip and drench everyone waiting their turn for the slides. Our four year old in particular had a blast since he was able to go up and down independently and hurtle down both the open slide and the enclosed twisty tube slide. I am glad he was willing and able to go up and down the climbing frame himself because it was torture on my feet. Three words: wet scramble nets. Now I don’t know about you but I never did train as an eighteenth century sailor so my feet are not conditioned to cope well with the texture of rough, wet rope. Smaller feet supporting a smaller weight did not seem to mind it. The smallest Pict might have a career as a Powder Monkey to fall back on.
Mr Pict and the older boys went on the large flumes which they declared to be “awesome”. They came down them in either single or double inflatable tubes – shaped like an O or shaped like an 8 depending on whether you were fluming solo or with a chum – and had a choice of a dark tube slide or one with light. The first few times they did it were no hassle at all but towards the end of our time there, mid-afternoon, people seemed to be getting very pushy and impatient. My ten year old and six year old were queuing for ages for a double tube while adults just pushed past them and snatched tubes from their grasp. Yes, adults. It was only resolved by me pushing into the queue to help them out. Members of staff were meanwhile happy to blow whistles at anyone whose feet touched a step into the exit pool for tube exchange but were completely uninterested in maintaining order. They then experienced yet more queue jumping while waiting their turn to come down a flume.
The three older boys had fun on the lillypad area, a pool containing floating green platforms that they had to negotiate in order to get from one side to the other without falling in aided by a rope net above their heads for balance. My 8 year old decided that was his favourite activity.
The area we spent most time in was the Coconut Grove Lazy River, essentially a loop of gently moving water that pushed you along while you float in a large inflatable ring. The reason we spent most of our time in that area was two-fold: a) there was deep enough water that you could actually start to feel warm and b) queuing for a ring took an age. I am sure the idea had been that people would do a circuit, maybe even two, and then they would pass their tube on to the person who was next in the line. That is not, however, how it was working this weekend. Instead it was a free for all as people scrambled for rings as they became available. Strangely enough small kids didn’t stand a chance in this melee while muscle-bound brutes always seemed to be up front and centre when it came to grabbing a turn. I actually witnessed one skirmish in which an adult man literally plopped a child out of a ring because he reckoned he was next in line. It was like a human soup of moral turpitude at times.
Then there was the general discomfort of being in a building where the water was tepid at best and the water wicked off our skin in frigid air temperatures. As there were no swimming pools and most of the water was very shallow, we found ourselves trying to get warm by sitting in some of the shallow water just to be moved on by cross lifeguards who informed us we had to either be “queuing or doing”. I also saw lifeguards telling parents off for letting their toddlers play with the jets of water that were shooting up from the floor. What other purpose were those jets there to serve than to entertain small people? Two areas that did have a decent depth of water were the jacuzzi and the Slam Dunk area. The latter was a small pool set aside for playing hoop shooting games and had been comandeered by competitive young adults; the former was designated for adult use only and, even had I been able to briefly nip away from the kids, I was not sure it was sensible to go and get properly warm in the jacuzzi just to re-emerge into the chill air again.
So the upshot was that we spent nearly three hours there and the kids had a fun time, though they did lament the lack of pools to just swim and splash around in. Our kids, however, do not have the comprehension required to make value for money judgements whereas Mr Pict and I do and deemed the whole thing to have been a bit of a rip-off and certainly not a trip we would repeat not just any time soon but ever.
Much better value for money was the late lunch that followed at a nearby Bob Evans. Mr Pict has a nostalgic fondness for Bob Evans. I have actually only eaten in one once: my first ever restaurant breakfast in America was in a Bob Evans in Frederick, Maryland, in the Summer of 1995 as we travelled to Gettysburg and the meal was so vast I did not have to eat for another 24 hours. The children had never eaten in a Bob Evans at all, of course, so Mr Pict decided to introduce them to it. The food was good, the kids portions were generous, especially given how cheap they were, and the service was very good. A much better experience all round then being jostled for an inflatable ring.