Having more fun with the alphabet than I ever had playing crossword puzzles
Sometimes you have those days that are pretty wide open: no long list of chores, no big plans, maybe you’re on vacation with a light itinerary for the day. We found ourselves with such a day recently when we were on vacation, and weren’t sure how to spend it. So, just like my friends and I would do as kids, we invented a game, complete with rules and everything.
The rules were simple: do whatever we wanted, but find letters that the activities correspond to. The goal was to do stuff that touched on every letter of the alphabet. Intimidating? Nope. This didn’t require doing 26 different things, just doing stuff that involved words starting with all those letters. That meant one activity could score more than one letter. Ready, set, go!
This had the potential to be a stressful challenge that could leave us feeling over-programmed. But we started with a couple of things we definitely wanted to do, a possibility or two, and an assumption we’d find other stuff along the way. We opened up a new Note on my iPhone and marked down letters and words as we went along. If things were duplicates, we didn’t worry in the moment. We figured we’d sort stuff out later in the day and see what was left to tackle.
We wound up having a blast. It was a way to frame our day. It also led us to observe things we might have otherwise missed. And it also provided its own unique laughs. For example, when we went to visit a historical society and they didn’t show up to open their building, we declared we’d been “A… abandoned!” (Sigh.)
Conversely, when we went to a local brewery to have lunch and assess what we’d accomplished and what we had left to do, we proudly realized we could declare a trifecta, as we were drinking an “I-P-A”. We spontaneously hit a flea market, and I wound up with a $2 book by one of my favorite authors, eventually needing his N for Novel. And when we thought we wouldn’t come up with an X word, we thought about using Q for Quit. However, we’d learned earlier from a tour guide about the sappy pine trees that were pervasive in our area, and discovered that Xylem is like a tree’s artery, moving the sap through the tree. That became the final letter that gave us the win.
While we played this on a vacation day, and could start the day off before dawn watching a sunrise at the beach, it can be done anywhere. If your summer trips are over and you’re out of ideas for the kids while awaiting the start of the new school year, you can go at it the same way. If you’re a couple staying home for the weekend, it might be a way to discover some new things in your neck of the woods. Our longest activities were about an hour, from our sunrise at the ocean to a tour at an historical society (not the one that didn’t open on time). By contrast, the shortest was about five minutes as we snagged some seltzer water at the Eastham Superette.
It doesn’t really matter if you finish, just as long as you have fun in the attempt. Here are our final results, to give you an idea of how random the letters were. Start to finish, we were gone for about nine hours, making it a full day but still fine.
Wondering if this will be a source of inspiration for my own family...
Sometimes, birthdays and bigger events like Father’s Day can seem more focused on the people organizing the event, or about objects, versus something more experience-based that also caters to the person being celebrated. In general, guys tend to be happy doing stuff outdoors, playing games, and maybe having a beer or some other drink. They also will never object to a group of people telling them how wonderful they are. This can often work far better than a tie or a new grill or having to get dressed up for a fancy lunch.
So, for Father’s Day, if you were to play to the Dad of Honor, you might consider starting off with something outside. Perhaps it’s golf, which tons of guys like this. And it doesn’t have to be Pebble Beach. It can be anything from playing 18 holes as a foursome to mini golf with littler ones, or something in between (such as an “executive par 3” which is a pristine-looking golf course that isn’t as long so it can be quicker to play). Courses can also be played as nine holes instead of the full 18. Kids can enjoy driving the cart, too, and you can often rent clubs. Plus, you can always play a "best ball" format or just pick it up if need be. It's not about the score!
Some examples of places that don’t get too packed or may not even require reservations include Pirate’s Cove mini golf with locations around the region and beyond; or the executive courses at the Berlin Country Club (no reservations) or King's Way on the Cape. Or the full-sized but not too hard Ellinwood Country Club in Athol (western Massachusetts) and Waterville Valley Golf Course in the heart of the White Mountains.
Or experience a more natural version of the outdoors, with a milder day hike or renting canoes. These can be casual, but can offer great views. Mount Monadnock in Southern New Hampshire and Skinner State Park both have killer views but reasonable hikes.
Even if the special dad in your life isn’t outdoorsy, the premise still applies. He would probably get a kick out of a group hatchet throwing event, or driving souped up go karts.
As noted with Vermont Canoe & Kayak, you can take the activity to a next-level experience by pairing it with something else, such as a family-friendly opportunity for a craft drink. In some cases, “family-friendly” may mean you can bring your kids, while in others it means you’re an adult bringing your older father. So, predictably, you’d just want to double check to ensure this fits with your family.
For example, Vermont’s Boyden Valley Winery and Smuggler’s Notch Distillery are more adult-oriented. But if you finished at King's Way, Hog Island is an awesome brewery, with food, lots of games, and a great atmosphere for all ages (including teens). Or the Nashoba Valley Winery, featuring a huge orchard, and wine, beer, and spirits, is extremely accommodating of all versions of a family, making it the perfect spot if you were at the Berlin Country Club; the nearby Battle Road brewery also has games, outdoor seating, and great BBQ at a renovated mill. Sunday River Brewing has a full service restaurant and often has live music, which pairs well with a couple of hours spent on the Androscoggin River.
Lastly, don’t feel restricted to a Sunday event. Sure, it’s the official day so you’d need to at least do a little something. But it could be really minor. If Saturday allowed a day without work the next day hanging over his head, or a chance to venture farther afield on a road trip, the dad in your life would understand. If it makes for a better experience with family, then the day that it occurs isn’t nearly as important.
The point of all of this is that, as a father, I can attest that experiences mean more than material gifts, and experiences that show an understanding of what I enjoy doing are more meaningful as well. These don’t have to be elaborately constructed or expensive; they don’t require reservations made months in advance. They only require thinking about what I like, who I love, and how to combine all of those things. Those simple guidelines are all it takes to create a lasting memory.
Best of luck to you and the dad in your life!
Adding water to "dirt therapy" and seeing what happens.
Mud Season: that time of year when you can’t ski, when you want to get outdoors, but when the world hasn’t quite sprung to life yet. It’s a final tease from the weather gods, but there are a few ways you can embrace this dirtiness and actually take advantage of it that might be tough to do during the rest of the year
1. Early-season mountain biking and hiking
Listen, these are dirty sports anyway, so why not go all in? I mean, really embrace that reality? Bombing through a mud puddle and feeling the splatter on your legs, then on your back from your rear wheel can play to your inner eight-year-old. You can eye muddy spots and guess how deep they are before recklessly charging ahead to find out. “Too deep” is a totally acceptable answer! Or, some shorter hikes can help rebuild your hiking legs, and the slipperiness is sort of like a full-body workout, as you fight to stay upright. Of course, any time you do fall, it’s important to get on your feet as quickly as possible and exclaim to whomever you’re with (or no one in particular), “I’m OK! Nothing to see here!”
(Note: in this case, please be mindful and skip muddy areas if they’ll create erosion as a result. Puddles that reform instead of washing away are the ones to look for.)
2. Brush burn
It’s really the world’s best home improvement project. You have a big fire going all day long, but half the time you’re sitting in a camp chair with a beer in your hand while you improve your property’s value a smidge. Easy-peasy! Plus, there’s something entertaining about having a marginally out-of-control fire that you allegedly can control with a metal rake and a garden hose. You can make the most of it by cooking over that fire – hot dogs or s’mores, anyone? Or order pizza and tell them to look for the flames rising several feet in the air. Tip: if you can get several friends over to help, just grab a log, periodically move around, but don’t work too hard. Friends won’t realize you’re not actually doing anything and they’ll do all the hard work!
3. Volunteering for trail clean-up
cause. Sometimes, there are also planned efforts to expand trails. While the organizations may provide the clean-up tools and may also give you some snacks and hydration, it’s good to check beforehand. Town conservation departments or your favorite nonprofits may have details on their websites. NEMBA, a regional mountain biking nonprofit, often enjoys going to a pub afterwards. Whichever the case, it’s a good way to pay back for the trails you may spend the upcoming months enjoying.
4. Puddle hunting
face? No kid can, and I bet any grown-up giving this a shot can’t, either. Impossible!
(Again, a reminder to avoid puddles that will wash away and cause erosion.)
be honest, if you’re on the highway and some vehicle is nearby caked in mud, you’ll notice and probably admire it a little bit and wonder what fun they were having. Here’s your chance to be the one caked in mud.
Whatever the case, mud season is short and will pass. But rather than lamenting it, just embrace it and see what adventures and stories might spring from that. Enjoy!
Getting creative in order to build my street cred with my teenage girls
February in New England brings with it the annual challenge of being the dead of winter while also having a school vacation week. Some families cope by making plans to embrace the season and go skiing for a week. Others flee to thaw out in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. For those who stay put, it can be a challenge to come up with ideas.
This is especially true for families with preteens and teens, who aren’t going to be entertained as easily as when they were younger. To help those parents searching for ideas, we’ve assembled a few possibilities outside of the most obvious choices, such as a day trip to Boston or skiing at a more local mountain. These cover a mix of activities suitable for older kids, most of which are fine for younger ones as well.
New England was one of the founding regions of the country, and it is filled with opportunities to explore that history. This can vary from larger, hours-long places like Plimothe Plantation to perhaps stringing together smaller venues. For example, a Berkshire day trip might begin with the Norman Rockwell Museum, seeing much of the twentieth century chronicled by the famed artist. It might continue on with a visit to The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home, which allows exploration of an early women’s rights pillar and famed author. Perhaps your trip concludes with a stop at Ventfort Hall, a gilded age mansion. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is currently undergoing preservation efforts. But much of the mansion is open, and tours will help pace and inform a visit.
Larger seaports and ski country both have opportunities to put together a similar assembly of nautical, automobile, skiing, and pioneering history to at least cover an afternoon of casual learning that can generate discussion over dinner. These smaller museums are also not nearly as packed and frenetic.
However, our favorite would be exploring historic Mystic, Connecticut’s Seaport Museum. It’s a large museum, with many buildings that will provide hours of exploration. As a living museum, it is more interactive, which can facilitate learning, discussion, and allow curiosity to better engage with the history (who knew human pee was saved all day in order to clean the printing press?!?!). Exploring ships, in addition to the houses and businesses, will capture the imagination of many. In all likelihood, you’ll run out of time before you’ve fully explored this place.
For those with preteen or teen girls, you can add a twist to this. If you all watch the movie Mystic Pizza, starring an early Julia Roberts, you can have lunch at the Mystic Pizza in downtown Mystic that was the basis for the movie. With movie scenes featured on the walls and the movie running on a continuous loop, it can be a fun way to incorporate a movie parents might have seen when you were younger, while enjoying lunch in a unique way.
For those who enjoy a day spent shopping for bargains or trendy clothes, New England has plenty of great shopping malls and areas; it isn’t just restricted to Boston’s famed Newbury Street shops, Faneuil Hall, and Copley Plaza’s shops. The Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, Vermont, is always bustling with fun energy. Providence Place Mall also provides a respite from the cold, with an afternoon’s worth of wandering, browsing, and eating. But if choosing just one, we’ll head north of the outlets in Kittery, Maine, and nominate Portland, Maine’s Old Port. Although you’ll be out in the cold, with wind possibly blowing in from the harbor, you can duck into a variety of high end shops to browse trendy clothes and home décor to make bedrooms or kid caves more interesting. With so many little pubs and restaurants, there’s bound to be a quaint place to meet anyone’s dietary preference. All of the contemporary shops and restaurants are set in a historic part of town, which creates a contrast that adds to the ambiance and fun. Any purchases may create some residual fun for the rest of the vacation as kids wear their new clothes or redecorate their rooms.
February is the last month of deep winter, since March offers the occasional warm day and the start of daylight savings. So, being indoors is often preferred, but it also can lead to some cabin fever. One way to find the balancing act, especially for kids who might want to burn off some steam, is with a visit to an escape room.
Escape rooms have sprung up, with places around the region. These offer a combination of problem-solving, teamwork, and a race against the clock to figure out riddles and decipher clues. The end result is typically a one-hour chance to escape from the room, or else face some grim demise.
These escape rooms are monitored, so if your group gets stuck, there’s typically an opportunity to get a few clues along the way. But few rooms have a really high success rate, making them legitimately challenging. They often will accommodate up to six or eight people, so there is a possibility that you could get paired up with others. However, if you have a couple of families looking for something to do, then this can allow you to have the room to yourself.
Our favorite is Bota Borg, in Malden, Massachusetts. This is a departure from many escape rooms. Whereas normally you’d have an hour to solve the puzzles of an individual room, this place is fundamentally different.
Bota Borg offers a series of rooms, some that demand more intellectual problem-solving and others that are more physical. They have these rooms rated, so that you know what you’re getting yourself into. Another twist at this place is that it’s timed to be fast-paced. The “rooms” are actually two or three rooms linked together. If you can’t progress quickly enough then you get kicked out of the room and have to leave and start over.
This can turn into nearly an all-day event and is a blast - including for many parents!
If your kid is looking to make his or her bedroom more befitting a teen, or if your kid cave needs some sprucing up, turn it into a group project. It can offer an array of activities, and some are secretly redeeming.
If they’re given a budget then it will incorporate math, research, and critical thinking skills to figure out what they may do. In our hyper-consumerism world, it also may lead to some decisions involving keeping, re-purposing, or refurbishing something, such as a dresser with fresh paint and new knobs. If it’s joint space, such as a fun room, it requires the kids to negotiate and compromise.
decide up front if you have any parameters, such as a budget, parental veto rights (“no, the bedroom walls can’t be neon green”), or certain functionality (“we’re not getting a popcorn maker but skipping a couch”). But if you think these through up front, and occasionally steer your kids, this can work out fine.
While these won’t cover the vacation from start to finish, hopefully there are enough ideas here to occupy the kids’ attention and create some family bonding opportunities. Perhaps there are also some off-the-beaten path places that you discover, too? If so, please drop us a note – we’re always up for exploring new places!
Good adventures start as dreams. Enthusiasm turns them into great memories.
New England adventures can accommodate any season, any timeframe, any type of group, and any budget.