Monday, May 30, 2016

Urbandale Parks Challenge: Sharon Heights Park

We've visited our 8th park in the Urbandale Parks Challenge. We drove up north past Meredith Drive to check out a neighborhood park called Sharon Heights Park. So far, it stands out as one of my favorites in Urbandale (along with Walker-Johnston Park and Walnut Creek Regional Park). 

(OK, somehow that picture came out looking like a miniature)

It's a neighborhood park, tucked back behind houses, but the trails were busy! We saw families ride by on their bikes, and elderly couples going for a stroll. Some homes didn't have fences, and they had their gardens right out beyond the borders of the park. We walked by rows of corn!

The playground was fairly typical (I don't want to make it sound too extraordinary!), but it did have one fast slide, a cool climbing wall to get from one section of the playground to another, and a line of mushrooms to climb on. There was also a tire swing in addition to standard swings.

I enjoyed all the beautiful, healthy trees growing around the park. I sat on a bench for a bit and watched the kids. It was relaxing! Then I decided I wanted to try walking across the mushrooms, just because they looked too cool to not investigate.

After I took a picture from on top of the mushrooms, the kids insisted I take their picture on the mushrooms, too.

A couple more views of the park:

Friday, May 27, 2016

Rotary Riverwalk Park and the Robert D Ray Asian Gardens

If you're looking for a chance to take in some nice views and let the kids get a chance to play, go check out the new Rotary Riverwalk Park! It's a little tricky to get at it from the west side (especially when it rains, like today, and they have some of the roads blocked off from flooding). Instead, head over to the Robert D Ray Asian Gardens on the east side of the river, which is located right by the Des Moines Botanical Gardens. It's beautiful and free to walk through. From there, the pedestrian bridge crosses over the river and ends at Rotary Riverwalk Park.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Urbandale Parks Challenge: Ashleaf Park


For the next park in our Urbandale Parks Challenge, we went to Ashleaf Park. We found another set of oversized chairs there! Apparently, the sets of chairs move from park to park. My kids love them.

I wasn't sure what happened at the playground. We found caution tape and beer cans. The tape had fallen down, but I wasn't sure if something was unsafe. So, the kids climbed on other stuff and played on the chairs.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Ashley Okland Star Playground

Today, we went to check out a new park on Des Moines' east side: Ashley Okland Star Playground. It's an all-inclusive park that's designed to be accessible. I noticed there's not a drop off to enter the playground area, and there's a ramp to get up on the equipment. There were some swings designed with a harness as well. My favorite feature was the shade on the play structure. It allowed for the kids to play a long time without getting too hot.

The park seemed fun for everyone, and it was busy this morning! Our kids spent a full hour running on equipment, climbing, and testing out the teeter-totter. There were a lot of parents on the equipment! It's possible there were kids there who needed the extra assistance. I noticed that almost every child had a parent by their side, helping them climb and go down the slide. One parent was going over ABCs with her child. So, it felt a little different to not have all the kids running around together, exploring and making friends, but it was still a fun playground.

There were two other issues I found with the park. The first is that the bathrooms were closed "until further notice" due to repeat vandalism. Second, the cars on one side of the parking lot park against a forested area. There was a lot of poison ivy growing right in front of where those cars were parked. So, keep an eye on your kids as they get in and out of the cars!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Urbandale Parks Challenge: Coronado Park

We went to our sixth park in the Urbandale Parks challenge (26 more to go!). Coronado Park is in an open area surrounded by homes. It was quiet when we arrived with no other kids, but Oliver and Jo still had a lot of fun. They enjoyed playing pirates in the big ship. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Urbandale Parks Challenge: Murphy Park

For our fifth park in the Urbandale Parks Challenge, we set out for Murphy Park. It was a little tricky to find it. To get there, just take Urbandale Avenue to 67th Street. Head north on 67th, and the street ends at the park.

Oliver's favorite thing at the park was the digger. There was also some basic playground equipment with a couple of slides, but I didn't get a picture unfortunately. There was also a type of teeter-totter, but it was designed so that it didn't really go up and down. It just bounced slightly. We thought the park was OK--nothing spectacular. There weren't any other kids there, and so Oliver & Jo got bored rather quickly. After about 15 minutes, we headed back home. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Urbandale Parks Challenge: Walnut Creek Regional Park

The drive to Walnut Creek Regional Park took a lot longer than I expected! It's way out west, but it was worth the drive. The park currently isn't listed on Google Maps, but I just tried to add it so hopefully it will be available soon. To get there, we took I-35 north to the Douglas exit, and then we drove west for probably about 4 miles. We turned right onto 155th, and the winding street changed names a few times before ending right at the playground.

The kids thought the over-sized chairs were pretty much the coolest thing. One helpful kid gave Jo a boost to get into the purple chair. Update: I learned from some other moms in Des Moines that these over-sized chairs move to various Urbandale parks! You can track where the chairs are on the Urbandale Adirondack Chairs Facebook page.

The playground was bustling with kids! There was one kid riding his "crazy car" in the basketball court, and a group of bigger kids were running around playing tag. The trail was a little busy with people going for a stroll, and a couple other parents were there with little kids. I like it when the playground is a little busy!

If you look in the background of the chair picture, you might notice something bright green in the distance. We decided to go check it out. It was a climbing structure! It's meant for bigger kids; Jo couldn't get past the first step, which was probably a good thing!

We've now made it to 4 parks in the Urbandale Park Challenge. 28 more to go!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Urbandale Parks Challenge: Walker-Johnston Park

For our third park in the Urbandale Parks Challenge, we went back to Walker-Johnston Park. I love this park! There's something to do for kids of all ages. Even the skateboard park was filled with teenagers practicing tricks and having fun. I think it's great when big kids can stay busy and challenge themselves in public parks.

On our drive over, the kids let us know that they were hungry. From the sound of it, they might have been close to starvation. Thankfully, there's a McDonald's on the way to the park. We picked up a couple Happy Meals and had a little picnic.

Supposedly, there's an area of the park filled with play houses for little kids to explore. I still haven't found it. Our kids were happy to explore the slides, which range from very small to tall & steep.

Oliver decided he'd tackle the giant metal slide. Before now, he'd always been too afraid. Almost all the kids use their shoes to slow themselves down and not go too fast, but a few of the bigger kids shot down the slide like a cannon! They were all having so much fun. I really was thrilled to see the kids have a good time and face their fears on the big slide. One kid kept approaching the slide as if he'd go down on his belly, head and arms first like Superman. Then he'd think better of it and go down on his bottom.

Walking by the skateboard park:

Here's video of the big slide:

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Passport to Your National Parks

I really wanted to get this post up in time for National Parks Week (April 16-24, 2016), but that just didn't happen for me. Summer vacation is just around the corner. I'm wrapping up final projects and starting to daydream about upcoming trips we've planned.

We're going to hit up a number of national parks this summer, and my in-laws were kind enough to send us a National Parks Pass! National Park Passes run $80 and are good for a year. They can be a great deal for people traveling to national parks and federal lands, but do your research first! Some national parks are free already, and others have low cost entry. However, there are other parks like Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand Canyon National Park which cost a $25 entry fee. Before you buy, check out prices and possibly look into other discounted passes. Senior citizens get discount passes, and families with 4th graders can apply to get a free pass!

We also picked up passports to the national parks. It's currently $9.95 to get a national parks passport, and it's $14.95 to get a national parks passport with a kids' passport companion. I'm a total dork, and I envision my kids keeping their parks passports to keep track of all the great parks and federal areas they see throughout their lives. My husband teased me a bit about that, so he didn't get his own $10 passport and is stuck sharing with me. I laid down the law!

This year's cover is a special edition because they're celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

The passport to the national parks divides the country into different regions: North Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic, National Capital, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, Rocky Mountain, Western, and Pacific Northwest. Every year, they release a set of stamps that highlights one park or historic site in each region, which you can order online or purchase from a visitor's center.

You'll also see an area for "official cancellations" in each region. Visitors can get a cancellation stamp in their national parks passport at hundreds of different national parks and historic sites. Click here to find a list, by state, of all the places you can visit to get a cancellation stamp:

The kids' companion book is a lot of fun, but it involves writing tasks and is best for school-aged children. There is a field journal section. Also, there is a section for kids to fill out a list of the mammals they see, the birds they see, and the plants & trees they see. There's also room for kids to create their own categories and lists. Finally, kids can keep track of the Junior Ranger programs they complete.

Enjoy some family and nature time this summer! I hope I helped inspire someone to check out a local or not-so-local national park or recreational area!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

May Day 2016

Happy May Day!

This is our second year making and delivering baskets of popcorn & candy to the neighbors.

Two years ago, I accidentally "caught" a neighbor delivering May baskets, and that was the first time I'd ever heard of this tradition. I decided to take the kids out to deliver baskets last year. They had a blast! 

Then Friday, Oliver came home from school talking about May Day and told me we needed to get started making baskets. We stapled paper into the shape of a cone and added a handle. This morning, we filled them with popcorn, M&Ms, and butterscotch candies. Then I coached the kids on how to properly doorbell ditch the neighbors. 

We delivered twelve baskets and got caught twice! Both times, Oliver was mad at me for not hiding like he'd instructed ;-) 

Happy May Day!