Summer Thriving with Toddlers Series: Creating Your Outing List!

I have always had the largest love for summer vacation. Being a teacher there are few things that hit quite as right for me as knowing that I have the entire summer off with our kids to experience all of the best things in our local area. Stay at Home Moms–you have all of my wonder and amazement. I do the job for three full time months a year and am constantly reminded how badass you are on the daily.

Before I had kids of my own I was friends with some coworkers who loaded up their kids and went on an adventure I immediately decided that when we had kids, that would be me. I’ve taken their get-up-and-get-gone mentality and added in some Leonard family specific parameters and it’s completely changed my summer parenting game.

I attribute this to the fact we aren’t EVER wallowing around the house or the backyard “bored”. There’s always something exciting to do, and we have set some very clear outing expectations that our kids have to follow. You can check out that blog post on behavior expectations that work for our family here. (Coming next week!) My kids have spent the morning exploring and having a great time, which means they normally take AMAZING afternoon naps that allow me to recharge my batteries, prep afternoon activities and meals, get caught up on housework or lesson planning for the fall, and then we are all ready to have a great afternoon.

Do you have a friend who has kids close in age with yours? We normally spend at least three of our days with my best friend and her daughter who is two years older than Virginia and it makes our adventures even more fun! We’ve also ended up noticing lots of the same moms and kiddos at some of our favorite spots, so we are hoping to be able to link up with those Mamas and their kiddos this summer for some play groups! You’ll actually see our BFFs in most of our pictures and posts this summer. Everything’s more fun with a pal!

My rules for an amazing summer outing schedule? So simple!

  1. We go and do something outside of the house every single day.
  2. We only skip a nap when it’s absolutely unavoidable, and only a few times MAX per summer. (We’ve gone two whole summers without missing naps, it’s totally possible!)
  3. We only do ONE outing weekly that cost money. I’m a frugal fun QUEEN, and I’ll take you with me.
  4. We prepare the night before to make the day of smooth sailing.

Often enough I hear from fellow moms who feel overwhelmed or don’t know where to start, and I have BEEN THERE. Literally getting started and committed to taking your kids out of the house is the hardest part. Pre-Rona we had a lot more local happenings that were completely free and so fun. FINALLY we are starting to see some restrictions being lifted thanks to vaccination rates in our area, which is opening up so many great kid friendly resources!

How to Make Your Summer Outing List

I always start with the free program offerings in our local area.

Call your local public libraries.

Call your local movie theater–ours always offers already released cartoon films for free in the summer!

Ask your local Board of Education what programs are available to the public.

Check out local government organizations to see if they are sponsoring events for kids in your area.

Ask local mom groups on Facebook for their favorite summer activities!

From magicians in the town square to bug hunts in the park, I’m sure that you have something similar where you are, or within a reasonable driving distance.

Once you’ve checked all of the scheduled events/programming that are free to the public, I suggest making a list of the best playgrounds. Sometimes a small change in scenery like new equipment makes a fun and easy morning trip! I like to sprinkle playground days into our schedule about once a week.

What local hikes, bike paths, or manageable water locations are near you? If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times that we have so many cool places locally available to us in the panhandle of West Virginia, but what’s close to you? New hiking trails, stroller friendly bike paths, public stream access–these are some of my kids FAVORITE summer outing days.

Once I’m finished with absolutely all of the free outings I can wring from my May-teacher-tired-brain I like to start listing all of the “pay to play” locations and activities near us. I’ve found that most of those types of locations are indoor activities, which is really great for rainy days or instances where the heat index is just too hot for our youngest to cope and we need to be inside. Some of these locations that you likely have regardless of your location are: indoor playgrounds, pottery painting, trampoline parks, science museums, aquariums, petting zoos, movies at the cinema, children’s museums, tea service at a tea room, art classes, nature centers…the list could go on forever!

I like to make two “master lists” with all of my findings. One for free fun, and one for pay-to-play. I then sit down on Sunday night, look at the weather forecast for the week and my calendar and plug away. Having a plan of what we are going to do and when we plan to head there makes everything so much easier and stress free.

Ready for part 2? Click here to see how I prep for summer outings with my kiddos as well as how we structure our summer days otherwise.

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Reading the Romances

Why is it that when I tell people I’m reading a romance novel I get one of two responses? The first, and my personal favorite, is that of the person asking how it rates compared to a current “mainstream” romance like Fifty Shades, Bridgerton, or Outlander. The other is a scoff with an insulting comment. It has always seemed to me that people either adore reading romances, or think they’re totally worthless and insulting to consider in a TBR pile.

But guess what? Romance is easily the bestselling genre in the fiction umbrella by a WIDE margin. However, the level of ridiculous and insulting opinion pieces in the book-i-verse astound me. Many avid readers seem to completely discredit this predominantly female lead (in both reading and writing) genre.

I remember the first time that I read what would be considered a “New Adult Romance” novel. I was in college, and Fifty Shades of Grey had just taken over every housewife and college girl’s reading list that year. I was home from college and spending an afternoon with my husband’s family. “You HAVE to read Fifty Shades.” proclaimed my husband’s Aunt. “You remind me so much of the main character. She loves to read, she is assertive…I just think you would love it.” I distinctly recall thinking about what I had heard of the series to that point and being absolutely smacked with embarrassment thinking of what my future family must have thought I was “into”. In my mind a book like that would have no plot line, little character development, and be a flat out sex-fest. I wasn’t remotely interested in reading the series but after a bit more research and review scouring I thought I’d give it a try. Please recall, that at the time the YouTube video of Gilbert Gottfried reading the cult classic was taking over the internet. So…my interest was peaked and she lent me her finished copy of Fifty Shades. Somewhat reluctantly I started the series, and was surprised that I finished the trilogy within the weekend. I blame this partly on the fact I was a MASSIVE Twilight fan, and immediately I was making connections to the cross referenced fan-fiction element. Combining that with my love of suspense and book-thrill-seeking it was a banger. Once an English major, always an English major…right?

The following semester when I returned to university a course was offered titled, “Reading the Romances” and *immediately* I signed up to join. Reflecting on the last decade or so of my reading life, I can attest that this course really set the trajectory for my lifelong love of reading romance novels. We read historical romance (like the Bridgerton series), Fifty Shades, Austen, and just about everything in between. It was easily the most fun I had in college in terms of elective lit classes. Lead by a female badass professor and filled with my girlfriends who were the MOST fun to discuss the mechanics of writing romance and commonalities amongst the genre together it was just so perfect. I’ve continued to read contemporary novels, thrillers, best sellers, and just about everything in between because I genuinely love to read just about every single genre/sub genre that exists. The one thing that I read the most, though? Romances. As I’ve gotten older I’ve ventured into the different tropes of romances and built up quite the “collection” of virtual favorites and recently began sharing my recommendations with friends.

So why is it, that if I read a romance novel 10/1 for reading other styles of literature are they the least recommended type of novels I share? Ugh! It’s because I’ve always thought that there was a stigma attached to reading something raunchy or “trashy romance”. That feeling often becomes even more cemented when the most common style of commentary I get on my most read and enjoyed genre is “How, as someone who is such a feminist, and someone who loves actual literature, can you stand to read that trash?” To which I love to sassily respond that by assuming a romantic story can’t empower women or feature strong female characters is dismissive and the larger issue. But what changed in my hesitancy to share the genre? Freaking Bridgerton popping onto Netflix. All of a sudden I had friends asking to borrow my Bridgerton series, begging me to review for them which novels were the best to continue on with after they finished the A-H sibling series. Netflix really did us all a favor by cracking open the genre to readers that wouldn’t have considered it valid otherwise.

So buckle up, because over the next few months I’m bringing you alllll the reviews (and maybe even a book Facebook group dedicated to book talks!) for my favorites. Everything from mafia, historical, contemporary, thriller, paranormal, erotic, regency, suspense, reverse harem, western, gang, inspirational….all the book boyfriends are coming your way. I’ve.Got.You.Girl.