Places to Go (Vacation) - Running Through the Gardens & Learning About the Past at Winterthur (Winterthur, DE)


For the most part this blog is a labor of love, but every once in awhile No Monsters In My Bed leads us to some fantastic opportunities - a basement makeover by Land of Nod; Lensbaby, Think Fun, and Pinhole Press reviews and giveaways (now expired); discount codes for fantastic art, etc. ). And now - free tickets to Winterthur, the historic du Pont estate in Delaware (yay! yay!!).

Winterthur's been on my weekend trip bucket list for awhile now, but I was a little nervous about its kid-friendly potential. Luckily, as we learned, this place is wonderful for children of all ages.



We decided to make the trek (a 2.25 hour drive) the weekend after our trip to Vermont (planned, in part, to assure that we weren't in town for the incredibly expensive Arlington County Fair carnival rides). Needless to say, the kids were less than thrilled by this decision. The car trip didn't go much better ("are we there yet?"; "where are we going again?"; "gardens are boring"; etc. etc.). Immediately upon arrival at the estate we headed to the visitor's center for our 12:30 family house tour. This made me nervous, as cranky kids plus a historic tour seems like a recipe for disaster. My feelings didn't change when we met our tour guide - an older, beautiful, incredibly well-dressed woman. And Trout kept talking/laughing/joking about poop. The combo seemed destined for embarrassment.

I'm still not sure how the guide worked her magic, but she, quite amazingly, turned the whole mood of the trip around. In other words, she was a miracle. My children laughed, they raised hands to answer questions, they even (gasp) listened. F loved the tour guide so much that she kept asking to go again, like a carnival ride. This is especially important as the house itself was rather, well, over the top.

Apparently the incredibly rich du Pont heir visited his friend (founder of the Shelburne Museum in Vermont - which we visited the previous weekend, weirdly) and became motivated to collect "decorative arts" (aka, "stuff"). So, being enormously rich, he enlisted people to buy things for him all over the world (mainly American furniture) and decided to expand his house into a 175-room museum. Eventually the house and collection became so big that the du Ponts moved out of the mansion and into another house so that they could open the museum to the public (and continue filling rooms with acquisitions). So. much. excess. Thus many of Winterthur's rooms were only moderately lived in (if at all), rather they were designed with the purpose of people like us merely looking at them, which seems somewhat absurd. Still the rooms were beautiful. And, as our guide assiduously pointed out, Winterthur houses more stuff that George Washington owned than Mt. Vernon itself (oh how the rich will buy).



After the incredibly successful house tour, we headed to the estate's "Touch It Room." Such spaces are often hit or miss with the girls now that they're "too old for little kid toys." But between the "market booth", kitchen, and fine dining room (all child sized) my kids had a blast exploring and playing.



Eventually (after much bribing), we made our way to Winterthur's Costumes of Downton Abbey exhibit. And even this proved surprisingly fun for children - with a life-sized butler bell to ring, huge TVs to watch, and strong tea to smell. Plus, a hands on history cart allowed the children to practice chores such as curling hair and arranging silverware. The cart included "collectors' cards" printed with photos of Winterthur's original staff members, plus descriptions of the tasks assigned to each one (I've always wondered what exactly a footman does).



After over 1.5 hours inside, we finally walked to Winterthur's gardens, which are worth a trip in themselves. First stop, Winterthur's amazing "Enchanted Woods" children's space. Child sized houses and chairs. Mushrooms that create fog. Statues and stones. A troll bridge. And "enchanted frog". This place is breathtaking. T was in heaven. Unfortunately the girls decided they were "too old" for such play (though they enjoyed exploring more than they'd admit, and F became somewhat obsessed with the magic mushrooms), so we meandered on.



At the visitor's center, you can check-out children's backpacks to enrich your tour of the grounds, which include: colored pencils, paper, binoculars, magnetic poetry, and more. Lately T can't stop drawing (we're still not sure what he's drawing, but oh well, at least he has fun), so we stopped several times to give T the time to create.

I could have stayed in the gardens all day, but (after about 3.5 hours since our arrival) the kids lost interest. So we headed to our hotel for the night - Newark's Embassy Suites (love the free happy hour and breakfast buffet).

A wonderful day. We can't wait to return.

If you want to plan a trip to the area, the Brandywine valley also houses Longwood Gardens (previously reviewed here) and several other child-friendly attractions (click here for a list). Dutch Wonderland and Sesame Place are also relatively close.


Places to Go (Vacation) - Vermont Etc.


Despite spending most of our time in Vermont at the cottage, we still managed to see a few of the sights . . .

(Regarding the photos above, after a 9 hour car drive, the car ferry between VT and NY feels like a vacation in itself.)


We picked blueberries at dusk (which is so so much better than in the heat of the day).


And picnicked in the fields, accompanied by live bagpipe music (random I know).


We spent a rainy morning learning about zebra mussels and frogs at Burlington's Echo Center science museum.


We walked around our "neighborhood", checking out the farms right down the driveway from our cottage.


We learned about "the old days" at the Shelburne Museum.


T had a blast "teaching" us in the Shelburne Museum's one room schoolhouse.


We spent a few days at a hotel, since the cottage was a Sunday to Sunday rental.


We also dressed for the wedding in one cramped hotel room. This was tricky.


T wanted a tie so he could look like Dan. I love these photos.


And, finally, we attended the most kid-friendly wedding ever - who doesn't love lawn games and smores? So. Much. Fun. (especially since I hate to dance).



Places to Go (Vacation) - Our Own (Happier) "Big Chill" at a Cabin in Vermont (South Hero, VT)


A few weeks ago, of one of Dan's best college friends tied the knot outside Burlington, Vermont. Rather than just stay for the ceremony, we decided to take the kids and make a vacation out of it, along with some of Dan's other college friends.

After a huge get together of Case Western alums, circa 1997, my friend Colleen said to me, "well, I guess this is my own big chill. Luckily it's a wedding and not a funeral."

I looked at her in horror. The Big Chill came out in 1983, when I was 7. I remember it as a movie about old people. Old boring people with uninteresting lives reminiscing all the time. Even at age 38, I refused to believe that this motion picture could have anything, as in ANYTHING, in common with me.

So we watched the movie. And, though particular dates are never referenced, all appearances lead to the conclusion that I am now older than the film's characters. Also, turns out that they don't have boring lives, rather they all seem moderately rich (why is everyone in movies always so haplessly wealthy as if money, like a cold, is just something one "catches"?) with glamorous jobs - a journalist, a radio talk show host, a TV star . . . They're even Michigan grads (go big blue!).

And the movie itself isn't even that boring (though it is quite random, just for the record, I am NEVER going to ask my husband to impregnate our mutual friend, call me a prude all you want). Apparently your viewpoint changes when you watch an "adult" movie as an "adult".

So I guess this was my "big chill" week, though that sounds false as I didn't actually go to college with these people (was I the Richard? Hopefully I am nothing like Richard). But despite learning that I am, by my very own definition, now an old person - we had a fantastic time. The kids all bonded, while the adults lounged and drank and played Cards Against Humanity.

Seriously, a wonderful week, turns middle age is sort of awesome.


Oh, the sunsets. Wow.


Sometimes it rains in Vermont. Apparently rain will not keep children from a kayak.


Badminton quickly morphed into the exciting game of "throw the ball over the net". The boys played for hours.


Coco made some new friends. But mostly just slept.


Want to make children happy? Buy them an island.


F likes to display her political activist side while playing Sorry (for explanation on the t-shirt, watch Blackfish for family movie night, then I (almost) guarantee that your children will want to wear one too).


An awesome kid turned 5.


But mostly importantly, did I mention the sunsets??


Things to Make - Road Trip Entertainments - Style Me Up and Unbreakable Pencils

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I haven't posted anything to make in quite awhile now. We. Must. Start. Making. Things. Even my recipes are old.

Anyways, before a long car drive, I try to buy the kids some sort of art/activity kit to keep them entertained for a few hours or so. Previously, I relied on Melissa and Doug sticker pads and doodle books, like these. But as the girls become older, less and less amuses them, making such purchases tricky.

Luckily, F picked up the above Style Me Up sketchbook from A.C. Moore (click hereto see similar products) and couldn't stop drawing. I think she enjoyed the challenge of creating a new wardrobe for a known figure, very Project Runway-esque. The books come with stickers too, for earrings and details.

We also bought one of Crayola's most recent offerings - the Colored Pencils Kit (is it me or does Crayola seem to come up with new products every 10 seconds or so?). The fact that the pencil tips don't break works wonderfully for car trips.

What about everyone else? Any other suggestions for road trip entertainment? (and, yes, in case you're wondering we've spied license plates from 21 states, though I think this game amused Dan and me more than the kids).


Things to Do - This Untamed Life - Our First Evening on the Lake in Vermont

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As I mentioned on Friday, two weeks ago we vacationed with friends in Vermont. For the first few days, we stayed in a hotel and then, on Sunday night, we checked into this beautiful cottage on Lake Champlain. The weather was iffy, but the kids couldn't wait to kayak on the lake and Dan started fishing before we unloaded the car.

Now click on over to This Untamed Life to see how everyone else photographed their evenings.


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