The events of the past week have been an important wake-up call for all of us. I have been reminded that my children are a gift from the Lord and the time my husband and I have with them is precious. My prayer for my family and for yours this Christmas is that you will make time to enjoy each other, to build memories and perhaps to create new traditions.
The following ideas aren’t new, but they represent some of the many delightful ways to enjoy our community with your family. I look forward to hearing from you about your own favorites.
Ice Skating at the Lakeland Center
Ice skating runs until January 7 and is offered both during the day and in the evening. Call some other LCS families and let them know you’ll be there. This is a great opportunity to include a family you don’t know well yet and to get to know your child’s friends. Check here for times and other information: http://www.thelakelandcenter.com/x_ticketdeals/famfun.aspx
Outdoor Adventure at Circle B Bar Reserve
Pack a picnic and head for Circle B Bar Reserve. Located on the shore of Lake Hancock, the former cattle ranch preserves an area of oak hammock, freshwater marsh, hardwood swamp and lake shore. http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/recreation/areas/circlebbarreserve.html
If you have an iPad, download the species guides found here http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/recreation/species/ so you can identify the incredible diversity of life found at Circle B. You might see bird watchers from around the world. This is a great spot to take out-of-state visitors, where you can count on alligator sightings in Lake Hancock.
Downtown Lakeland Exploration
We live in one of the most beautiful communities in Florida. Spend a day exploring Downtown Lakeland and you will be convinced. Have you visited Hollis Gardens? Take a stroll on a beautiful day and enjoy the beauty, the art, and the setting on Lake Mirror. Don’t forget to take plenty of pictures of your kids. http://www.lakelandgov.net/parkrec/HollisGarden.aspx
Choose the most age-appropriate park next door to visit next—either Barnett Family Park or the adjacent Sunflower Preschool Playground. A visit to these extraordinary parks will make you grateful beyond words to live in Lakeland. Take out-of-town company with small children here and they’ll be ready to call a realtor. http://www.lakelandgov.net/parkrec/barnettfamilypark.aspx
Downtown Farmer’s Market
On a Saturday from 8-2, the downtown farmer’s market is a joy. Try the beignets. Pick up fresh vegetables and gifts from the vendors. Don’t miss Pumpernack’s, which requires a stroll down a little brick alley. The proprietor knows my kids by name. Our girls bought “vintage” roller skates here a few months ago which I could have been mine, circa 1983. http://www.downtownlakelandfl.com/farmers-curb-market/
Lights and Lessons
For many around the world, the Festival of Lessons and Carols is a special part of Christmas. With its beginnings in the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, the service is celebrated in churches around the world. For far less than the cost of a trip to the movies, you can also purchase and download the service at iTunes. Begin a new tradition of listening to the beautiful story of Redemption while you bundle up in the car, pack a travel mug of hot chocolate and enjoy a drive looking at Christmas lights.
Visit Southern Archery Outfitters, owned by LCS’s own Henderson family. They will provide you with the equipment, some brief instruction, and the opportunity for your kids to show you how it’s done. 2332 Edgewood Drive 863-450-2914 Price for an hour is 10$ for kids under sixteen and $15 for ages 16 and up.
Chick-fil-A and the Ducky Lake
How long has it been since you’ve fed the ducks with your kids? Grab a loaf of bread, stop by Chic-fil-a to pick up lunch or an early supper, and head for Lake Morton. Did you know that the first swans were a gift from Queen Elizabeth? Read about the history here: http://www.lmna.org/index.php/Pages/Swans-of-Lake-Morton.html
While you’re nearby, take a stroll over to the Lakeland Public Library to get stocked up on reading material for vacation.
Riding bikes in Lakeland is a great adventure. If you don’t have your own or want to try something new, check out BeFly Bike Tours. http://www.beflybiketours.com/packagesandpricing.html
I haven’t tried these tours yet myself, but it looks like big fun.
Experience the Most Beautiful College Campus in the Nation
Did you realize that Lakeland is a treasure-trove of architecture? None is more significant than the campus of our own Florida Southern College, which was named #1 Most Beautiful Campus in the Nation by The Princeton Review in 2012.
Take a stroll through campus, following the self-guided tour map available on campus or this online version: https://www.flsouthern.edu/fllwctr/TourIntro.htm
If you can time your visit right, the water dome is especially beautiful: Water Dome: Monday through Sunday 9:45 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. 12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
When I polled my middle schoolers, this was one of the top ranked favorites. (I’m not sure how many of them had actually camped in the backyard, but they liked the idea.) Now that the weather is cool, pick a night, stock up on s’more fixings, and experience the wild outdoors together. The only rule is that all electronics should be put far, far away, except perhaps for the app Starwalk, which identifies the constellations and 20,000+ objects in the night sky http://vitotechnology.com/star-walk.html
Read-aloud’s aren’t just for the very young. Whether your kids are three or thirteen, reading together is a great way to enjoy a shared experience. One of my favorites to read aloud is The Children’s Story Bible by Catherine F. Vos. The events of the Nativity are especially beautiful in this version.
Ask your kids to choose some of their own favorites and enjoy them together throughout the next few weeks. Add hot chocolate and the light from the Christmas tree and the experience will be even more memorable.
My prayer for your family and my own this Christmas is that we will hold each other a little tighter and be thankful for the gift of time, which is ours to give to each other.
I look forward to hearing from you about your own favorite ways to enjoy Lakeland with your family.
Mrs. Jennifer Canady serves as the Director of the RISE Institute at LCS and as a middle school science teacher. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image courtesy of digitalart/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net