The surprising kid-wonderland of Fort Wayne, Indiana

June 5, 2012 at 8:29 am

And We’re Back!
…from an epic trip around the Midwest last week. We managed to visit all four of G’s Grandmothers (two regular and two Great, I’ll let them decide who’s who), a plethora of other relatives, my college roommate and her adorable daughter, and even my little brother at his beautiful house in Chicago.

The purpose of this trip, though, was to visit Mark’s parents at their home just east of Fort Wayne, Indiana. This was G’s first trip to their house, and I was a little afraid that we were going to have trouble entertaining our little toddler. He’s an outdoorsy kid, and I was not expecting to be able to keep up our usual level of Colorado adventure!

But, I was (very happily) wrong! Even in a town surrounded by a sea of corn, you can find great outdoors adventures. Here are our favorites from last week!

G climbs the little ladders at Taylor's Dream Playground

Tayler’s Dream – A Boundless Playground

Playground are always an easy way to spend the afternoon outside, especially with G. He does pretty well for a 1-and-a-half year old, and loves running up ramps, flying down slides, playing with knobs and levers, and going “whee!” in the baby swings. In the last year, we have all become playground aficionados, and we know a good one when we see (and stomp on) it.

The playground at Kreager Park just east of Fort Wayne was AMAZING. This is Indiana’s first “Boundless Playground” which means it is entirely wheel-chair and handicap accessible. From their website: “Boundless Playgrounds is the leading nonprofit developer of truly inclusive playgrounds where children of all abilities gain the important developmental and physical benefits of unstructured play.”

Aero-glider love

This amazing play structure has an incredible story behind it as well. It is the result of tireless fundraising and work over three years by a young girl named Taylor Reuille. She raised over $10,000 herself, and then helped pull in corporate sponsorship for a grand total of $1.5 Million dollars to build this beautiful playground.

The playground has three main areas (or “Pods”, named Alpha Pod, Beta Pod, and Gamma Pod) each with a different target age range and type of play. G really enjoyed the slides and ramps on Alpha Pod (for ages 2-5 years), the big slides and Aero Glider on the Gamma Pod (ages 5-12 years) and spent nearly a half an hour squealing with joy on the springy seesaw in the Beta Pod (all ages). The park is capped by an awesome splash and sprinkler park that was great on a really hot Indiana afternoon.

A great day for some water fun!

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo

I had heard about this zoo before, and based on my experience with other Children’s Zoos (i.e., the small kid’s section of most large zoos), I was expecting this to be more like just a small petting zoo in a downtown park. Boy was I wrong!

At the Zoo

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is an entire, huge, zoo completely devoted to children! Every ride and exhibit is geared towards learning, with lower easy-to-read signs, bright colors and great interactive areas. We started at the huge “Africa” section with all of the savanna birds and animals, and a neat pavilion where kids can feed giraffes! Next up was the “Australia” area, where G played in a splash fountain for half an hour, and we toured a beautiful aquarium.

Playing in the fountain at the Zoo

By this time, G was nearing his nap threshold, so we cruised through “Indoniesia” (where there are at least 20 types of monkeys hanging around) and got him a spin on the “Endangered Animal” carousel! This was probably the highlight of the trip. He loved every second of it, and Mark had to peal the poor kid of his Sloth Bear kicking and screaming at the end of the ride.

The Endangered Species Carousel

We tried to get to the huge “Indiana Family Farm” area on our way out, but G passed out in his stroller before the first cow, so we headed home without even getting a chance to see about half the zoo! I’m sure we’ll be back soon, though.

One thing to note, the Children’s Zoo is deceptively expensive. Adult admission is $13.50 a person, and kids are $8.50 each at age 2. Then there’s plenty of nickel-and-diming inside. You can expect to pay $1-$2 for most rides and activities, there are expensive snack food and restaurants scattered around, and, of course, some very awesome gift shops.

Gentle touch!

The Botanical Conservatory

When Mark’s mom suggested going to the Botanical Conservatory one day, I was like “Really? We want to take an energetic toddler to the Botanical Gardens?!?” Every botanical garden I’ve ever been to has been full of old people, weddings, and, well, plants. But, we went with it, and again I found myself pleasantly surprised by the kid-friendly-ness of Fort Wayne.

Our main goal was the Butterflies of Malaysia exhibit. This is a traveling show presenting butterflies and flowers specifically for interaction. You go into the tent full of butterflies and watch as they flutter from flower to flower or land on your mother-in-law’s head.

Butterflies and Babies

I was not sure how our rambunctious toddler would like this, but he ended up enjoying it thoroughly. We had some discussion and examples of “gentle touch” and then he did really well with a one-finger poke of the butterflies instead of the dreaded fist-full grab that has left so many bugs squished and lifeless at home.

From there, we explored the rest of the greenhouses and discovered some wonderful exhibits. Between each greenhouse is a kid’s play area, full of information and interactive exhibits about plants, bugs, and biospheres. There was a huge butterfly pillow, a talking tree, and a 100ft long tunnel “root” culminating in a fun little slide.

Gentle touch on the flowers too!

Even the gardens themselves were interesting for G. He “ooooooh’d” at the big waterfall in the jungle house, and threw mulch in the swirling river. He poked creosote bushes, gathered rocks, and climbed up and down wood stairs in the desert house.

In the end…

By the end of the week, I felt like I had just taken my kid on a world-wide outdoor adventure! We had petted giraffes in Africa, touched butterflies in Malaysia, and bounded over playgrounds in the middle of an Indiana corn field. That’s about as great as a vacation can get!

Fun at the Botanic Conservatory

A Little Ozark Lovin’

March 25, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Airfare to St Louis is pretty cheep these days. And I gotta say, it is really nice to have grandparents around for a little break now and then. So, I invested $150 and flew a kicking and screaming toddler back to Missouri (thank God it’s a short flight) for a week with my family in a cabin at Montauk State Park.

Grandpa and G throwing rocks in the river

My parents have come down to this state park with their big group of friends every spring for probably more than 15 years now. They rent out a 4-plex of cabins, drink lots of Missouri wine, hang out, play games, laugh a lot, and, of course, go fishing. Because that’s what Montauk is all about – fly fishing for big, beautiful, rainbow trout.

Fishing the current river

I never got into fly fishing. Even though I’d travel each spring to these rivers, I always found the act of fishing stressful. In these clear waters, you can SEE the trout. You can see your fly land right in front of them. You can see them look up at your fly, look at you, stick out their tongue and swim away. I always found the judgmental and dismissive nature of trout difficult to handle. So, I let them be caught by those who are clearly better at it than me.

Jim's heavy stringer!

When I was a kid, I used to wander the woods, bored out of my brains and desperate for some kind of adventure. There was a hill I’d hike every day to get enough cell signal to call my boyfriend. Another one where I found a USGS marker on the summit. I found an old deer skeleton in a ravine with my friend Amy one year. I’d poke sticks down in the bubbling sand springs. Show my friend Matt how to catch crawdads (you have to pick them up with your fingers behind the pincers so they don’t get ya). Or poke through little limestone cliffs above the river looking for caves and bats.

Trees in bloom

While doing all of this, my mom was usually back in the cabin, cleaning, drying waders, cooking dinner and drinking wine. This year, I was invited to participate in the activities of the adult women. And, now that I am a mom myself, I spent a great weekend cooking paleo food, flee-market shopping with the ladies, making my first basket, and drinking lots of wine!

The Licking Exchange

My basket and glass of wine (for scale)

G had a great time as well. He threw rocks in the river, played on the playground, visited the trout hatchery, took about a million walks, and found out that yellow dandelion flowers give him hives. We’ve been home for two weeks now, and he still comes up to me every hour or so and says “Wan go WALK!”

It ended up being a beautiful weekend in Missouri. Much better than last spring when a tornado hit the airport right before we were supposed to head home. On the flight back to Denver, I gave G a little more Benadryl (for his hives!) and he was a much better traveler. I actually hope we get to do this again next year!

The Magic House

December 28, 2011 at 7:00 pm

When I was little, there was an amazing place I loved to visit. A giant old mansion, full of hidden passages, a three-story spiral slide and crazy science experiments! We knew it simply as “The Magic House.” And it was one of the first and still one of the best hands-on science museums I have ever been to.

This awesome place is still around, only it’s been expanded and grown for the last 25 years, and is now known as The Magic House – The St. Louis Children’s Museum. We managed to fly out and visit the grandparents in St Louis for a few days after Christmas, and now that G is old enough to run around, I thought he might enjoy a trip to the Magic House.

And he did!

G is still pretty young for a lot of the exhibits and activities at the Magic House. But they have added a special small area for toddlers, so we spent an hour exploring the little ball pits, the tiny habitrail-like play set, the little kitchen rooms, and the big mirrors, knobs, buttons and blinking lights in the Baby Zone.

G loved an area where kids play in a long series of water-filled sinks. I was happy to have a change of clothes in his diaper bag. Another spot had a room full of light switches that he could turn on and off. There were exhibits with huge, weird musical instruments that he wanted to explore, and a pioneer-based play area where he spent half an hour finding fake potatoes in the sand and carrying them up to random people.

It was really fun seeing G get out and explore the Magic House, in much the same way I did as a kid. It will be even better when he’s old enough to really enjoy most of the activities! Though, after seeing this face, I’m not sure anything could be better than a ball pit and a giant mirror!

Have you had a chance to share a special place with friends or family this year? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!