On Saturday we visited the Lichterman Nature Center, which we'd only been able to briefly see on our last trip. It's a really beautiful little nature preserve. Everything was SO green and gorgeous. It was pretty hot and I think Nico was still tired from the previous day, so we didn't get to stay quite as long as I'd hoped, but it was still a nice visit. Plus everyone indulged me and we got a picture of the four of us on the same little red bridge that served as the site of one of my favorite family pictures last time we went. It's fun to look at them side-by-side -- the first one taken the month before I got pregnant with Elliott and the second with him perched on my hip, completing our little family. Nico enjoyed the animal displays in the Backyard Wildlife Center. (In a proud moment for me, he excitedly identified their tarantula and then said, "It's just like the one you brought to my school!"). Elliott had a blast toddling up and down the elevated boardwalk behind the wildlife center, and I might've literally gone "Squee!" when I found a tiny praying mantis on the bench where we stopped for the kids to have a snack. Once we decided we'd had enough of the heat, we had Gus's Famous Fried Chicken for lunch (it really was delicious), then Nie & I took the kids to the pool while MB and BoMB shopped for supplies to make pizza for a late dinner.
On Sunday we went to Shelby Farms Park, a 4500-acre park within the city limits. It was very nice, though I didn't totally love it as a destination this time simply because it was really hot that day and there wasn't much of anything for Elliott to do at his age / in the heat. We walked a bit and looked for (but did not find) a geocache. If it had been cooler and I'd felt okay about carrying Elliott in his Beco, I would've been happy to hike longer. The trails were neat and other than the humidity, it was enjoyable. I was worried about cooking him, though, and had him in his non-rugged light stroller, so we ended up having to turn back from the woodsy trail we initially tried. The playground there was ridiculously cool, and I definitely want to go again when the kids are a little bigger. Nico played for a while in the sandpit "nest," and finally had to be called away so that we could go eat at the amazing Central BBQ, as the rest of us were hot, tired, and hungry. We hadn't initially planned on going straight from the park to dinner, so I had to make an emergency stop at Kroger for milk, yogurt, and a bottle for Elliott, but he was a rock star that evening. After slurping down a few baby food pouches, he allowed me to placate him with constant application of Cheerios and bits of bread plus an empty paper towel tube to wave around. He danced to Creedence Clearwater Revival in his high chair and the father of a family of teenagers sitting next to us complimented us on his behavior as we were leaving. GOLD STAR, TODDLER.
We waited until Monday to visit the zoo, and that was the best idea we had all week. The weather was overcast and therefore a bit cooler, plus it was not crowded at ALL. It's a really great zoo, and we were there from 11:00 AM or so until they closed. The boys had a joint meltdown about an hour after we arrived and I briefly feared the day was going to be a bust, but then we realized they were just hangry. After stopping for the lunch we packed, the day was saved. Hurrah!
On Tuesday, our last full day, we went to the Memphis Botanic Garden. We made a quick trip through the Prehistoric Plant Trail, fed the koi, and then went to My Big Backyard. I truly wish we'd packed a lunch so we could've stayed for a few more hours. The kids would've happily spent much longer in the big treehouse, the playhouses, and the wading creek. It's a shame we don't have a similar place to visit in our hometown, because we'd be there all the time. So much fun!
We decided to drive back Wednesday afternoon so that MB could have the whole day Thursday to relax before heading back to work Friday. Plus Nico's five-week Kindermusik class started Thursday afternoon and it was too expensive to risk missing a session. Nie and I took the kids to the pool again Wednesday morning, hoping to wear them out a little for the long drive. We had a really nice time and it was hard to leave to meet BoMB for lunch so that he could see the boys one last time. After lunch we packed the car and hit the road. The drive back went even better than the drive down - we only stopped once for lunch, and the kids were fantastic pretty much the whole time. Ponies for everyone! Truly, I am practically aglow with the thought of all the cool places we can take these kids since they are such great travelers. It was such a wonderful trip and I had a blast just hanging out with my little dudes and enjoying their company. We're already planning to make a return trip in two years, right after Nie finishes her PhD, but I'm (not so) secretly hoping we can afford to go next year, too. Without getting too precious, I'm so very grateful that we had a superb vacation / road trip experience with our very young kids; that we had such a nice time overall; for family who are also beloved friends. It's a grand old world!