On Sunday night before Labor Day,
Sam and I sat up talking about what we could do the following day to make the most of our time together.
The problem is that it's just so HOT from June through September that any outdoor activities besides water activities have little appeal. We hemmed and hawed for a while, and finally decided to visit Village Creek State Park in Arkansas.
It had been on my list of things to do for some time now, but I had never taken the plunge to get us there.
The website had very little specific information, but what little it had was very promising...
-super cheap tandem kayak and canoe rentals (as in, $15 for 5 hours!)
-30+ miles of bike trails
-a swimming beach
-darling cabins, remodeled this year (with fireplaces and kitchens!) for just $90/night
-a visitor's center and plenty of free nature activities for kids
-and it's only about an hour and a half from our home!
We decided that if we just went to spend the morning there, we could check out all it had to offer and be better equipped to make plans for an overnight camping stay later on.
So the next morning we packed up the car and headed out for a day at the lake.
When we arrived, we decided I would go into the visitor's center and ask about the boat rentals. I hopped out of the car, a BYU baseball hat on my head, and took about 10 steps when I saw another family group and it looked like one of the girls was wearing a BYU T-shirt. I kept walking, trying to discreetly shoot glances their way to see if it was true, and I thought I heard them muttering "BYU" to each other as they stole equally indiscreet glances toward me.
Finally the dad shouted out, "Go Cougars!!" and I instantly turned around in my tracks and ran over to talk to them, calling out, "I thought that was a BYU shirt!" They live a few miles from us, and it was so funny to me that the very first people I encountered were fellow Utah/BYU friends.
And of course we share a mutual friend...even with over 16 million members, it never seems to take long in our church to find a random connection.
Eventually we decided to rent two tandem kayaks and a canoe. There were strict rules about only allowing three people in the canoe, even if two of them were babies/toddlers. We weren't sure how things would go out on the lake, but Sam took the little ones on a canoe, Talmage and Wesley took a kayak, and I took a kayak with Lincoln and we gave it our best shot.
With all the warnings about deadly snakes in southern waters (water moccasins!), I was sure to ask in the Visitor's Center whether there were any hazards we should watch out for.
"Oh no, we've never had anyone bitten by a snake," the kind employee told me confidently.
"We occasionally see one swimming across the water, but we've never had any problems. Just make sure you keep your boats away from the trees so they don't drop down onto you."
I was greatly reassured by her confidence, so we all enjoyed paddling the boats around...even Sam, who had to paddle the canoe with just one oar WHILE holding Benson and keeping Maxwell in check. He adamantly refused to let me take a turn with them, but he assured me that he had fun in spite of the challenge.
The park has two lakes, and we had been told that the other lake had the swimming beach, so we didn't bother putting the boys' swimming suits on for our boating excursion.
But to our surprise, there was a small swimming area in this lake as well!
Everyone was pretty well roasted after about 30 minutes of paddling around and the kids were very enthused about the idea of swimming, so Sam and I looked at each other, shrugged, and let them play in the water fully clothed, leaving their life jackets on from boating.
Sam was highly amused when a little boy, rather like Huckleberry Finn, sized up our kids and said in his cute Southern drawl,
"Why ya got life jackets on? Dontcha know how ta swim?? It's fine!! Ah drownded out there twice last week!"
In spite of their bulky life jackets and heavy clothes, the boys were extremely happy in the water and were greatly refreshed when we told them it was time to head back to the dock.
Because their feet were wet, we didn't bother putting shoes and socks back on the boys.
As we got back into our boats, we realized the seats had gotten INSANELY hot in the sun and we were scrambling around for something, anything to sit on to protect us from the heat! We finally made it back to the dock, only to realize that there was no employee to help maneuver each boat into its assigned slot. I had a hold of Talmage and Wesley's kayak and was trying to tow/direct/push them into their spot from my kayak while meanwhile Sam was standing with one foot on the dock and one foot in the canoe while holding both Maxwell and Benson! He had tried to set them on the dock, but it was way too hot for their bare feet and, because the canoe was balanced somewhat precariously on a launching mechanism, he had no way to set them down to get their things out of the canoe and help them with their shoes!
We were quite the sight to behold!
Eventually another visitor saw our plight and took pity on us. He helped a bit with the boats and I was able to take the little ones from Sam while he finished putting the boats where they needed to be and tracking down all our wet belongings.
The end was a little stressful, but in spite of the craziness, by the time we got to the car we decided it had been a really fun adventure overall.
We drove around the park a little more and I checked out the bigger swim area to get a feel for things, and then we headed home.
We were only home for about 30 minutes before we headed out to meet up with another family for a fun Labor Day pizza party! Their home backs up to the woods on the edge of the golf course, and the boys had the time of their lives playing with their friends on the trampoline, swinging on the swings hooked up to the trees, running/jumping in the sprinkler, and having a water balloon fight with hundreds of water balloons. We ate yummy pizza and enjoyed homemade ice cream, too.
This family is assigned to the other congregation in our town, but the dad works with Sam.
On one of his first days of work, one of Sam's colleagues said,
"So how many kids did you say you have? And you're expecting another, right? There's a guy here who is also from Utah and he has like six kids! I should introduce you!"
It turned out that he grew up just a few miles from Sam! It was so funny for him to instantly find a connection at work.
They stand out just a little (ha!) with their large families in their scientific, predominantly foreign work environment.
All in all, it was an awesome way to spend our holiday together.
And when all was said and done, we managed to end it with only one tick (on Maxwell).
I'm proud to report that I've (mostly) gotten over my fear of ticks and very calmly extracted it.
Now that we have had such a great conclusion to Summer, it would be great if the heat index would stop hovering right around 100 degrees every day.
Fall will be here soon, right?!?