Things to Do - Hug a Tree


As I mentioned on Tuesday, the kids and I have a "crush" (for lack of a better term) on a tree on the corner of our block. The downside being that every time T walks past the tree, he spends at least twenty minutes playing in her discarded leaves and making stick swords out of her fallen limbs. This really isn't a bad way to spend an afternoon, though I'm always nervous the house's owners will yell at us.


T rarely walks outside without a stuffed animal or a stick in his hands, usually both. He likes to slam the stick into bushes and claim that he's either making a fire or getting the bad guys. Bad guys occupy much of T's time, well until he hears a fire engine or sees people building a house. Lots of big ideas in there, just not fully fleshed out yet. So goes the mind of a toddler.


*10 creative ways to display photos and art. I love some of these ideas.

*Regine Ramseier's dandelion installation. Stunning.

*Interior design porn. Wow.


Things to Read - Chapter Books for Kids & Edward Tulane


I've been working on reading chapter books with the girls for awhile now, but (for the most part) my efforts have failed. I started with Winnie the Pooh, but P lost interest as soon as she couldn't view pictures on every page. We moved onto my favorite series of all time, Paddington Treasury (Paddington Bear), but the girls' minds seemed to be somewhere else. Finally, we struck gold with Pippi Longstocking (Puffin Modern Classics), but by this point reading aloud had begun to tire me out. I realized that what I really wanted was a book that I truly loved. If I could only find something that I didn't want to stop reading, then maybe the girls would catch onto my enthusiasm.

I scanned the shelves and found Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. I first read this book a few years ago, as an adult (though it's written for children), and the story made a huge impression on me. The book documents the adventures of a self-absorbed china rabbit named Edward Tulane who, throughout various - often sad - escapades, learns how to love. At one point in the story a young girl dies, so, I wondered, could my own kids handle such a tale? And the answer turned out to be yes. Of course, sad stories are always hard to hear. F, in particular, broke down in full-fledged sobs when the mean boys on the boat threw the little girl's rabbit overboard ("why are some boys so mean, mommy? why? I hate when boys act like that."). But she wanted to keep reading (I assured her of a happy ending). After every chapter, even with eyes full of tears, the girls kept repeating "read one more, mommy, please one more." Half way through the book, P figured out the end - "eventually the little girl in the beginning is going to find her rabbit, that's how these stories always go" (which is true), but despite her conviction regarding the book's final pages, she still didn't want me to put the book down. So we finished it in three nights, staying up past bedtime on the last night. I felt wonderful as we all turned the pages together, gripped by the words of the story. And now all three of us love the same book.

What about everyone else? Have you read any chapter books with your children? What would you recommend?


*If you're looking for children's books on fall and halloween, click here for my post from last year.

*1Q84. I can't wait.


Things to Do - New Music and a GIVEAWAY!!!


A few weeks ago, a composer in Bethesda contacted me about his new children's music CD. Truthfully, I'm not the world's biggest fan of children's music (is anyone?), every once in awhile we throw on some Rocknoceros or Laurie Berkner, but for the most part we tend to avoid the whole genre. But Sasha Bondarev's email was SO NICE, I decided to make an exception. So I downloaded the mp3s he sent me and cranked his tunes in the swaggerwagon/minivan. Upon first listen, F IMMEDIATELY asked "what IS this?" in her new big-girl kindergarten voice, which contains no hint of whether the referenced "it" is favored or disfavored. "A new kid's CD called Sand Castle" I replied. "Um, do you like it?" To which F yelled, "I LOVE IT!!" My other two children echoed her enthusiasm. All this after only one song. Sand Castle has quickly become my children's favorite music and I must admit, I like it too. There's something grand and almost showtune-like to the songs, as if I'm listening to the soundtrack of a musical that I really want to see. Sasha Bondarev's music puts me in a good mood and his lyrics are clever, especially (my favorite) the one about a pirate who doesn't want to take a bath. Dan, on the other hand, prefers the tomboy song because it seems to capture everything P - and every other supergirl - really wants to say. And both girls can't stop singing about Masha in the Rain (F loves how the music ACTUALLY sounds like raindrops). Anyways, we've all become big fans of Sand Castle. Plus I love the fact that Sasha Bondarev is a local dad doing something creative with his time (so inspiring).

If you're interested (and trust me, you SHOULD be interested), you can listen to one of Sasha Bondarev's songs for free right here (just click the link below).

Regarding the whole album, I'm helping to get the word out on a GIVEAWAY Sasha Bondarev is hosting. All you need to do is "like" Sand Castle on facebook, click here to do so. Then leave a message on Sand Castle's facebook wall (saying hi or anything you want). If you don't have a facebook account (of if you'd prefer not to use it) you can also enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. On November 9th, 5 winners will be randomly chosen to receive a free download of Sand Castle. If you don't want to wait, you can also purchase the album here a digital download is $7.62 and a CD is $10 (totally worth the money, trust me).


Things to Make - Preserving Fall Leaves

(the top leave was preserved with wax, the rest were mod podged)

Using wax to preserve fall leaves has been all over the internet lately (click here for some info), so I thought I'd try it with the kids. First off, we went on a scavenger hunt for the best leaves. A huge tree resides on the corner of our block, it's one of those things that you don't really pay much attention to most of the year, but when fall comes that tree is the BOMB. The tree's leaves always change color first and it reside on a slope, so the whole surrounding area quickly fills with fall foliage. Anyways, for our scavenger hunt we took along buckets and gathered a LARGE amount of leaves. I then melted beeswax over the stove (double-broiler fashion, using clamps to hold an old beeswax-filled tin can in the boiling water), but the wax dried fast and it was hard to submerge the whole leaf (truthfully, I think you'd need a LOT of beeswax to make this work). So we moved to plan b - mod podge. I covered the table with newspaper, gave the kids paintbrushes and asked them to paint with the podge (we used glossy, but I think matte might have looked a little better when dry). The kids had a blast, though my husband complained that the smell permeated the house throughout the night.


So what to do with the leaves? At first I left them in a bowl by the door, simple and seasonal. But then F decided we needed more decorations throughout the house (holiday decorating is not my strong suit), so we used string and wooden clothespins to create a leaf banner and hung it in our front room (along with other banner-worthy paper decorations created by F). We had a few leaves left over, which the girls chose to decorate with silver glitter pens. All in all a nice fall project. And I like that years from now we can get the leaves out and remember autumn of 2011, as cheesy as that sounds.


I couldn't get a good picture of the banner. The flash and the mirror and ugh. Plus I was pretty done with being creative by the time I picked up the camera. On the upside, it's still hanging.


Things to Do - A New Project


I've been working on a new space lately. Something simple. Last year I undertook a photo a day project (I posted some of the highlights here) and I enjoyed how it forced me to bring my camera everywhere, to capture moments that I'd normally ignore or forget. The details of life. A few weeks ago F drew a picture at school with the following caption "my picture is about a beautiful breezy day and there is a rainbow and hearts because it is a holiday" (a photo of her artwork is posted here) and it made me think about how, if you approach life right, every day contains celebrations of sorts. Mini-holidays. Unbirthdays. So I decided to create a new blog with snapshots of our daily life, three pictures a day max (I have to keep myself in check). Click here to stop by and say hi.


Things to Do - Open Up Boxes Inside Yourself


In February, after my father died a lot of friends called and asked me if I wanted to talk about it, if I needed anything. And though I appreciated their concern, I really didn't. I wanted to lock the whole thing in a box for awhile, put it away. Lately, I've been taking the box out little by little, sorting through stuff in my mind, memories and such. Baby steps. The problem is that I'm not very religious (and with that statement I just lost half my readers). Not that I have anything against religion, I just can't take the leap of faith necessary to become a believer. So when people say things like "you'll see your father again one day, in another place" I don't really believe it (no offense to those of you who do). The movie Titanic took away the little belief I have.

For those of you who have never watched Titanic - it's this incredibly cheesy love story in which a young Kate Winslet falls in love with a young Leonardo Dicaprio. Leonardo dies (of course) but Kate Winslet goes on to lead a presumably full life, with kids and grandkids. At the movie's end the audience is lead to believe that with death Kate finally returns to Leonardo. And I guess this is true romance. But I never could stop wondering - what is Kate's husband going to think about this? So he raises children with her, forges a life with her, then they get to heaven and she says "wait a minute, I don't want you. I'd rather make house with my 16 year old soule-mate?" How sad is that? So maybe in heaven such squabbles won't occur, rather we're all happy, god has a plan, etc. But what does that mean? Polygamy? Call me a prude, but I just can't get used to a polygamous heaven. Okay then maybe sex doesn't exist in heaven? Ugh, a sexless afterlife - can you imagine?

Luckily, I don't have a dead 16 year old soule-mate, but the heaven problem still plagues me. I'd reunite with my grandma, but the first thing she's say to me would be along the lines of "I can't believe you didn't baptize your kids, what were you thinking?" And my wonderful children would end up in hell, so that's a downside too. Or maybe an upside as they'd be hanging with Ghandi and I'd be getting chastised by my grandma. So confusing.

All of this is just to say that I don't really believe I'm ever going to see my dad again. I think he's gone. Really gone. Or as P would say "grandpa's soil now." And I've realized that the only way I can keep him alive is to talk about him, to try to teach my kids about him, to try as hard as I can to incorporate him into our daily lives. Which basically means digging up as many memories as I can, especially the best ones. So in the future I'll be - taking my kids to natural history museums, taking them on long bike rides, walking 10 miles just for fun, learning the names of every dog we meet, exploring all the paths in forest preserves, appreciating classical music (this one might be tough), singing loudly (and badly) in the morning, reading everything I can (this one is easy for me), playing Trivial Pursuit and Outburst. And generally just being a better person. Because I need my children to know my dad. I just need it.

Okay, enough of that, time to put the box away.


Places to Go - A Picnic at the National Arboretum (Washington D.C.)


On Columbus Day I thought it would be fun to picnic at the National Arboretum. A large field meanders through the dogwood section, with a fountain at the bottom, which seemed like the perfect place to spend an afternoon. Unfortunately, the arb is quite large and I became a little turned around, so we ended up in the magnolia field, which would have been fine had I not insisted that we keep trying to find the fountain. Nothing like dragging kids through large dewey fields insisting that "surely there's a fountain around her somewhere." Oh well, we ended up next to huge evergreen trees, where the kids ran and hid and explored while I vegged on the blanket. F called it our "secret place" and for awhile I think we all felt a sense of magic in this little corner of the world. Then more picnickers arrived, which spoiled our sense of seclusion. Then F had to go to the bathroom, thus ending our little picnic. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring some of the Arb's other nooks and crannies, it always amazes me how much there is to see there.

If you're interested, the Arb has many stroller-friendly places that are perfect for picnics, such as the koi pond and the Capitol Columns. And if you can venture without a stroller, many of the meadows are beautiful and relatively people-free (security frequently patrols, so safety (hopefully) isn't an issue). Click here for more of my past posts on the National Arb.



Things to Make - Paint Your Own Nesting Dolls


The girls love Matryoshka dolls, they've been asking for a set for quite awhile. Unfortunately most sets I found were either REALLY expensive or really cheap and flimsy looking. So when I discovered this paint-your-own set for $19 at Modern For Kids, I thought it would make the perfect gift for F's birthday. And she seemed to love it, though the dolls are still drying, so the real test will be whether she plays with them or whether they stay on the shelf. We will see.



Things to Do - Birthdays Times Ten


F's birthday falls on the same day as her paternal grandfather Bob's birthday, so this year we decided to celebrate F's 6th and Bob's 60th together in Richmond. I was a little nervous that F would expect more for her birthday - a huge party, lots of kids, etc. But she seemed thrilled about our small, family celebration. The beautiful weather allowed us to spend most of the afternoon outside, where the adults drank wine while the girls imitated random martial art moves from Yo Gabba Gabba and T tried to attack everyone with a plastic sword.


After F opened her presents we didn't spend much time with her, as she was lovestruck and swoony over her new doll- welcome to the family Sophia Margaret. Hopefully you like your new home.

Grandma Margie made F a beautiful picture of her "guardian angel." F hung it in her room as soon as we came home.

Monday Links:

*Cinemagraphs (scroll slowly, it's pretty cool) (link via Design Mom)

*It really is all about photoshop. This post has so much info my head is spinning.

*Sugar, coffee, tomatoes, etc. - At What Cost?

*Lovely pics at 111 years old.


Grateful List - September 2011

(T vacuuming, F's artwork from school "my picture is about a beautiful breezy day and there is a rainbow and hearts because it is a holiday")

1. Miss Moss's Electric Spring Mix (esp. Velvet Elvis by Alex Winston)
2. Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad
(the best book I've read this year)
3. Foley's purple mix (I have a good friend from high school that makes me wonderful mix CDs, this was his best yet)
4. The return of Modern Family (we've missed it this summer)
5. Muppets: The Green Album
6. Streaming old episodes of Coupling through Netflix before bed at night
7. Tori Amos' Night Of Hunters

8. Balsamic asparagus pasta
9. Vegetarian southern-style collard greens (via Food.com)
10. Baked ziti and summer vegetables (via Cooking Light)
11. Kale, sausage, and white beans
12. Poached asian pears with vanilla ice cream - we get so many of these from our CSA but they're too hard to really munch on so I'm glad we finally found a good way to cook them
13. Beef brisket tacos with mango bbq sauce
14. Slow cooker baked apples
15. Salsa chicken in the slow cooker (from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook (NYM Series))
16. Dan and T making breakfast together - "I make eggs mommy. i make eggs."
17, Drinks with Shannon at Founding Farmers
18. The cabbage soup diet (sometimes when you feel out of whack, this helps, as crazy as that sounds)


19. Frigits Deluxe (best toy ever, the whole family loves these)
20. T and his Melissa & Doug Cutting Food Box
(he loves this toy)
21. Bug spray (constant rain = lots of mosquitos)
22. Our new apple peeler/corer


23. Long Branch nature center in the rain with T
24. Spending mornings at the zoo with T while the girls are in school
25. Checking out all the water snakes at Huntley Meadows (seriously, there were TONS of them)
26. Apple picking at Stribling Orchard


27. P telling Dan "daddy, don't worry you'll always be my super special daddy. always. until you become soil."
28. The girls playing warrior princess (tiarra + light saber = not a bad combination)
29. T always asking "why?" and "whatcha doing?"
30. Checking out the koi pond with T and P after we drop F off at kindergarten
31. Picking F up from kindergarten and hearing all her stories about the day (ex - "Today I met a new friend, Rebecca. I think she could be a fashion designer or something because she's so stylish and fancy.")
32. Getting through F's first day of kindergarten with P ("even TV is lonely without F. I keep trying to tell her stories but she's not there.")
33. The back to school picnic at F's elementary school, it was such a pleasure to be part of such a diverse group of people.
34. T always wanting cuddles and saying "miss you!"
35. T walking all the way to preschool without a stroller
36. P's excitement about her new best friend (another P)
37. Attending Shay Cochrane's photography workshop in Charlottesville
38. Margie's "art show" for the kids (they asked her to paint certain things then watched her paint them).
39. T pushing trains around everywhere
40. F's "All About Me" book
41. P and her friend, C, building a princess castle out of magnatiles and legos
42. Exercise videos with F after school
43. My yoga teacher telling me my wheel is gorgeous (sometimes, it's the little things that make you happy)
44. T's fascination with the house they're building across the street (some days we just sit outside and watch)
45. KM's wonderful Mexican fiesta playgroup

T's List - apple juice, milk, my friends, drive cars upstairs [at preschool], daddy, cuddles, playground, tractor, hayride

P's List - my family, dollies, my bunkbed, my cousins, F, my friend L, my new friends at preschool, Sabrina

F's List - P, vacations, going to my cousins' house, watching movies, starting kindergarten, wii fit, the morning news [at school], worksheets, my new friends, princess isabella stories, cybil lily, art projects



Things to Make - 25 Things to Make With Your Kids this Fall

As I stated last week, fall makes me happy, but sometimes it rains (or maybe I should say some MONTHS it rains). What to do? Well here are some activities that will keep you and the kiddos occupied for awhile.



1. Painted Pumpkins (previously posted here) - sometimes carving is hard (and/or dangerous). So get out the paint, glitter, markers, stickers, etc. Dress those pumpkins up.

2. Leaf Rubbings (previously posted here) - F discovered this "project" last year through Special Agent Osso. Just grab a leaf, cover it with paper, and rub with crayon. Once you start you can't stop.

3. Stained Glass Pumpkins Using Tissue Paper and Liquid Starch (previously posted here) - Cut tissue paper into squares. "Paint" a sheet of wax paper with liquid starch and start attaching the squares. Continue to apply liquid starch. Soon you'll have art. Window-worthy art.

4. Princess Crowns (previously posted here) - Every autumn needs a princess and these are so easy to make. Just attach ribbon to garland and wear.

5. Nature Art (previously posted here) - I last posted on nature art in the spring but it's a fun project for all seasons. Go on a nature scavenger hunt and let the kids pick up whatever they find interesting (within reason), try picking up some stuff yourself too. Then go home, get some blank paper out, some markers, glue, and create. You never know what you'll come up with. Lately I've been thinking of how cute a little acorn family would look. Especially with those cool acorn hats.

6. More - I have a whole Pinterest file full of ideas for fall crafts, such as dipping leaves in wax to preserve their color, making candles out of clementines and olive oil, ghosts made with liquid starch and cheesecloth, and more. Click here to check it out.



7. Teepees and Headbands (previously posted here) - A really easy craft and a great way to introduce native american history and culture into your house.

8. A Pueblo Village (previously posted here) - A wonderful all-day craft project. Start with some old boxes, layer them on top of each other. Use playdough or clay (homemade or store bought) to make pots and furniture. Then decorate the outside of the houses with natural materials found in your yard. Build ladders out of sticks or construction paper. Make paper dolls to go in the house.

9. Story Sticks (previously posted here) - The Pima Indians of Arizona kept records of things that had happened in their lives on story sticks. We imitated the Pima by using flattened paper towel rolls to tell our stories. It was great to see the girls spin a tale using linear pictures.



10. Make Your Own Playdough Out of Kitchen Staples (previously posted here) - flour, salt, water, oil, and food coloring = an afternoon of play.

11. Goo (previously posted here) - Pour some cornstarch into a bowl and gradually add water (make sure to add the water slowly, you don't want too much) until the mixture hovers between a liquid and a solid. Play, bend, create. Messy but fascinating.

12. Bare/Blank Books (previously posted here) - Everyone wants to write the great American novel, even those who still can't spell their name. Here's their chance. If you don't have any bare books in the house, just make one using folded white paper and a stapler.

13. Make A Butcher Paper Town (previously posted here) - Use blocks, trucks, dolls, and other toys to build and then draw in the streets, rivers, etc on the paper.

14. Make A "Lava Lamp" (previously posted here) - Our version just used oil, food coloring and water, but if you want to jazz it up a little you could add jelllyfish (made from plastic bags) or add alka seltzer for a cool bubble effect.

15. Make Stamps out of Potatoes (previously posted here) - All you need is potato, ink/paint, and paper and you can make whatever you want (and a knife). Use your imagination.

16. Paper Dolls (previously posted here) - Draw, fold, and cut. From a sheet of paper a whole family emerges.

17. Get Out the Liquid Watercolors or Food Coloring - and make salty watercolors (so fun), marbleized paintings using shaving cream, OR marbleized painting using oil and water.

18. Handprint Puppets (previously posted here) - Trace handprints and make them into animals, try making different shapes out of your hand before you trace (for example separate your middle and pointer fingers to make a fish mouth). Can you create a jellyfish? A dinosaur? What else?

19. Dive Through the Recycling Bin - and make doll castles and musical instruments from old toilet paper and paper towel rolls.



20. Get out the Tissue Paper and make tie-dye wall hangings, flowers, or decoupaged vases.

21. Swirly Stones (previously posted here) - Rocks + melted crayon = hours of fun.



22. Apples! - We like to make baked apples and applesauce in the crockpot (previously posted here).

23. Homemade Bread - in the breadmaker (previously posted here) or zucchini bread in the oven (previously posted here).

24. Bake - We like to make Chewy Oatmeal Blondies and Grandma's Sorghum Cookies.

25.Caramelized Pumpkin Seeds - We've never made these but WOW do they look yummy (and easy). Click here for the info.


Things to Make - Sticker Scenes and Other Easy Crafts


I like doing arts and crafts with my children, hopefully you all know this by now. But some days I also like NOT doing arts and crafts with my children. And on these days, I find Oriental Trading Company's sticker scenes quite handy. The scenes usually come with a blank background page and a huge sticker set. My kids can spend hours decorating the backgrounds with the included stickers. Okay, so it's not necessarily the world's most creative activity, but the stickers makes for a great after school project when my kids need some downtime (sticker scenes also work well on playdates when kids become bored or fussy). And a special thanks to Tracie for letting me know about Oriental Trading (do they deliver to Hawaii?).


Oriental Trading Company also sells various other "easy" crafts for really cheap prices (though you have to buy in bulk, we use the extras for playdates or sometimes my kids do the same craft multiple times). For fall, their selection includes "scratch off" leaves, jeweled leaves, various stickers, and lots of other stuff. Oriental Trading Company isn't offering me any perks for giving them props (though I wish they would), I'm just a fan.


After creating with stickers for awhile the girls usually end up drawing their own pictures. Sort of cool how that works.


Things to Do - Celebrate an Antiquated Holiday


I thought these were funny. If you want more laughs, there are quite a few more good cards on the somee website (click here to check it out). Send one to someone you love.

Hope you're all having a good Monday!


*The sex offender down the street (is my son) - a sad story about young love.

*The mixed-race project.

*Indian summer light.


Things to Do - Looking Backwards and Forward

(Pictures from F's "All About Me" book - New Friend = Sarah; I like to eat = apples; Favorite toy = doll [my old cabbage patch kid, Cybil Lily]; This Year in Kindergarten = I play in the [play] kitchen).

Ever since F "adopted" my much-loved cabbage patch doll, Cybil Lily, she brings Cybil everywhere - to the park, restaurants, bike riding, etc. F asks me a lot of questions about Cybil - "What did you and Cybil do together? Did you ride down the slide with her or did she like to go on her own?" Important stuff. I know that what F's really asking is "what were you like as a kid? were you like me?" And it makes me sad that my answers are so foggy, how hard it is to remember that time.

Every day F comes home from kindergarten with a new story, often involving whether someone in her class moved from "ready to learn" to "think about it" on the class behavior chart. F lives in fear of "think about it." I told her yesterday that I spent most of kindergarten under the teacher's desk because I couldn't keep quiet (apparently I still have this problem, hence why I blog). I could tell this information shocked her and debated whether I should have kept it to myself. I questioned my purpose in telling this story. Perhaps, I guess, a desire to assure F that I remember how hard kindergarten can be.

The other day we met up with a few moms and kids from F's playgroup after school. F played for awhile, but then decided she was "too exhausted" and begged to leave. I understand how exhausted she feels after a full day of kindergarten, how tiring it must be to be "on" all day. But I so wanted to talk to my friends for a little longer, to ignore the pull of dinner and bath and stories. Just to relax. As a child, I always thought my mom brought me to the playground for me, now I realize how much of playground time is for adults as well.

After we returned home I thought about how one day, if things work out a certain way (and that's a BIG if) I will be past all this and one of my children may be faced with a similar situation - tired kid, the pull of chores, the desire to converse with friends for a little longer. Possibly - like mine - a life of playgrounds (or work and playgrounds, if they choose that route). And IF it works out a certain way, one night one of my children may call me, wanting to talk about life with children. And what will I remember? What will I have to say?


*My flickr favorites. Sometimes it's nice to just sit and look and beautiful things.

*A great talk on how your search engine may be keeping information from you (link via A Day That Is Dessert).


*1000 Poems. I wish I could read some of them.

*Tree tents.

(Pictures from F's "All About Me" book - Favorite color = pink; My family and I like to = be with each other, What I can do all by myself = get dressed).


Five Interesting Articles From Around the Web - Pre-college "grit", F. Scott's words of wisdom, Steve Jobs made my cry, Mindy Kaling made me laugh, and answers from Michael Pollan

I often write these posts a few days in advance. Regarding today's post, I added the Steve Jobs link last week, right after I saw his Stanford commencement speech, which literally blew me away. So even though I never knew Mr. Jobs, last night's news of his death really affected me. On the upside, there's something beautiful in knowing that he spent his life doing what he loved. May he rest in peace. And if you have a chance, take a few minutes and watch the video - I can assure that his words will stick with you in the years to come.

1. (An education in "grit")
What if the Secret to Success if Failure? (link via A Day That is Dessert). The New York Times published a fascinating article on education, profiling two different schools' attempts to incorporate "character" into the curriculum. The schools chose not to concentrate exclusively on "moral" character (good vs. evil stuff) but more on indicators of long-term success, one of which is "grit" - defined as "a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take." According to the article, "The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure . . . . And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything [hence they never build the tools they need to succeed].” Basically, if you want kids to succeed then you have to teach them how to deal with failure, which (oddly) makes a lot of sense to me.

2. (The wisdom of F. Scott) F Scott Fitzgerald's Guide to the Good Life - 25 Wonderful Quotes. I need to print and frame this somewhere. I think this one is my favorite - “I’m not sentimental — I’m as romantic as you are. The idea, you know, is that the sentimental person thinks things will last — the romantic person has a desperate confidence that they won’t.” ( This Side of Paradise) Or maybe this one - “‘You know, you’re a little complicated after all.’ ‘Oh no,’ she assured him hastily. ‘No, I’m not really — I’m just a — I’m just a whole lot of different simple people.” (Tender Is the Night)

3. (Mindy Kaling made me laugh) Do you watch the Office? We used to love it but I think the shark has jumped. Anyways, my absolutely favorite character is Kelly Kapoor, played by Mindy Kaling, who also writes for the show. In a recent New Yorker article, Kaling hilariously takes on the topic of romantic comedy stereotypes. Not sure if my favorite is the klutz -"despite being five feet nine and weighing a hundred and ten pounds, she is basically like a drunk buffalo who has never been a part of human society" or "The Forty-two-Year-Old Mother of the Thirty-Year-Old Male Lead." Funny. (link via Design Mom).

4. (Steve Jobs made my cry) - Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford commencement speech has been making its way around the internet lately. It made me cry. I promise it will inspire you, regardless of whether you're a mac or a PC user. And just like the New York Times article posted above, Jobs also believes the best route to success is failure. (And click here to read the text of the speech, thanks KidFriendly DC for the site!)

5. (Answers from Michael Pollan) - Okay so I think this man is amazing. But even for you non-believers, here are his answers to a few key food questions that America keeps asking. Whether you agree or not, it's nice to hear what he has to say.


42 Ideas for Places to Go as a Family This Fall

(Fall colors at the National Arboretum)

I love fall. Absolutely love. Every weekend presents something new and exciting to do, making it impossible to fit all of it in. Obviously I can't post everything, so I tried to compile a "best of" list. I divided the list into 10 categories, each with several suggestions. Hopefully this list will inspire you to love the season as much as I do. And please pass it on to anyone else who may be interested.


1. Cox Farms (Centreville, VA) (previously posted here) - Cox Farms is the biggest of the DC area Fall Festivals, we've never managed to see the whole thing in one visit. Throughout the property you'll find slides of all shapes and sizes, some of almost roller-coaster proportions. Along with the slides you'll find - live music, a petting zoo, the best hayride ever, a cornfield adventure, free apple cider (more food is available for purchase), and decorations as far as the eye can see. Truly a sight to behold. People often bring strollers, but they can be hard to navigate through the dirt paths. The festival runs daily September 24 through October 31 from 10 am to 6 pm (though it may close during inclement weather). Tickets are $15 per person on weekends and $9 per person on weekdays. Children under 2 are free. For more information click here.

2. Burke Nursery's Pumpkin Farm (Burke, VA) (previously posted here) - Burke Pumpkin Farm is best summarized as a smaller version of Cox Farm. I personally find it more toddler-friendly and easier to navigate with multiple children. Burke has tons of decorations, a haunted forest hayride, slides, a small petting zoo, and, for toddlers, they have lots of those riding machines they usually have in malls (you know the type, they sort of gyrate). The festival runs October 1 through October 31st from 9 am to 9 pm (so you can take the kids after school). Tickets are $9 on weekdays and $12 on weekends. Children under 2 are free. Click here for more information.

3. Great Country Farms (Bluemont, VA) (previously posted here) - We are BIG fans of Great Country Farms and their fall festival sounds amazing (as of now, we still haven't been). Take a hayride to the fields and pick your own pumpkin straight off the vine (pumpkins cost $0.59/lb). On weekends a pumpkin princess arrives along with a Pumpkin munching dinosaur and pig races. The farm always has tons of great activities for children - a giant jumping pillow, tons of slides, a corn crib, rope swings, animals, and more. The festival runs daily from September 24 through October 31 from 9 am to 6 pm. Weekend admission is $10 for children and $12 for adults. Weekday admission is $8 for children and $10 for adults. Children 2 and under are free. Click here for more information.

4. Clark's Elioak Farm (Ellicott City, MD) (previously posted here) - As one of my friends phrased it, "it's sort of like an old mini-golf course but with no golf," which means that kids love it. Clark's has it all - slides, a really great petting zoo, an enchanted forest maze, and more. The pumpkin patch opened on September 24 and stays open until November 6 with pumpkin chunkin.' Each fall weekend the farm hosts a different series of special events. Clark's is open daily from 10 to 5 pm. Admission is $5 per person. Infants under 12 months are free. For more information click here.

5. Claude Moore Colonial Farm's Market Fair (McLean, VA) - (previously posted here) - The Claude Moore Colonial Farm only hosts three market fairs a year and I HIGHLY suggest checking one out. A market fair is like a small, toned-down renaissance festival with lots of activities for adults and children - cheap beer, wonderful food, puppet shows, fencing demonstrations, an "art" corner, a children's games area, three legged races, etc. Truly wonderful. This autumn's market fair takes place on October 15 and 16 from 11 am to 4:30. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children 3-12 (and worth every dime). Click here for more information.

6. Maryland Renaissance Festival (Crownsville, MD) - If the Market Fair listed above seems too small for you and you really want to immerse yourself in old-school "history" (I use the term history lightly), then a trip to Maryland's Renaissance Festival may be in order. We haven't been in years, but the festival has lots to occupy children, including knight demonstrations and a pirate ship playground. Not-So-SAHM has a great review here. The Festival runs on weekends through October 23rd. Tickets are $19 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $9 for children 7-15. Admission is free for children 6 and under. Subscription packages are available. Click here for more information.

7. Gulf Branch Nature Center Fall Heritage Festival (Arlington, VA) - On October 15 from 1 pm to 5 pm "step back into history and try your hand at lots of old time games and crafts - from making candles to pressing cider." The festival cost $5 per person (children under 3 are free), $20 max per family. No registration required. For more information click here.

8. Mt Vernon's Fall Harvest Family Days (Alexandria, VA) - This event on October 22 and 23 from 9 am to 5 pm includes a straw bale maze, wagon rides, 18th century dancing demos, and early-American games. Potomac sightseeing cruises are half-priced during the festivities. Regular admission prices apply - adult admission is $16 (an annual pass is only $25) and children aged 6-11 cost $7. Children under 6 are free. Click here for more info.

9. More - KidFriendly DC has the scoop on even more fall festivals in the area. Click here to check it out.

10. Even More - Washington Post has a list of the ten best pumpkin patches in the DC area (with a map). Click here to check it out.


11. Stribling Orchard (Markham, Va) (click here for past post) - A sixth generation orchard with twelve different varieties of apples, picnic areas, farm animals, and lovely mountain views. On weekends the bbque is great. Plus they sell pumpkins. The orchard is open through November from 9 am to 5 pm (closed Mondays). Click here for more information.

12. More KidFriendly DC has a huge list on great family places for apple picking. Click here to check it out.


13. The Water Taxi from Alexandria to National Harbor (Alexandria, VA) (previously posted here) - One of our favorite lazy day adventures. The boats are clean and beautiful and once we arrive at National Harbor we have Elevation Burger, Ben & Jerry's, and the Awakening Statue to entertain us all morning. When we get tired, we just jump back on the boat. Tickets for adults are $16 round trip, Tickets for children are $10 round trip. Children under 2 are free. Click here for the schedule and more information.

14. Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake (Annapolis, MD) (previously posted here) - Ahoy matie!! Who doesn't love a good pirate cruise? Find buried treasure, shoot down Pirate Pete with water cannons, drink pirate juice. The ships sails on weekends until Halloween. Tickets sell out fast so reserve your seat ahead of time. Click here for more information.

15. Pontoon Boat Rides on the Potomac (Washington DC) - Spend 45 minutes relaxing and checking out the monuments. Cruises depart from Washington Harbor in Georgetown every half hour from 11:30 to 6:30 pm. Goldstar usually has weekday tickets for 50% off.

16. Mount Vernon by Water Cruise (Alexandria, VA) - See the Potomac by water then tour Mt Vernon for the day. This cruise runs Tuesday through Sunday and departs from both the Alexandria dock and National Harbor. Tickets are $40 for adults and $20 for children 6-11 (younger children are free), which includes admission to the President's historic estate. On weekends, the boat departs from the Alexandria harbor at 10:30 and returns at 5:30 pm. Click here for more information.


17. Rustico Octoberfest (Alexandria, VA) - On October 15 from noon to 5 pm sample up to 50 beers (from $4 to $7 each) and eat some schnitzel while your kids partake in children's activities (past years have included bouncy castles). Click here for more info.

18. More Octoberfests - The Washington Post has a great list of all the best festivities going on in the DC area. Click here to check it out.


19. Gulf Branch & Long Branch Campfires (Arlington, VA) - On various weekends throughout October and November, Gulf Branch and Long Branch Nature Centers host family friendly campfires, which include a nature talk on subjects ranging from reptiles to cottontails. The fee is $5 per person, $20 max per family. You must register ahead of time. Download the Fall 2001 Snag for more information, click here to access the download.

20. Or buy a fire pit and make your own campfire. How fun does this look?


21. Boo at the Zoo (Washington DC) - On October 21 - 23 the National Zoo stays open late (from 5:30 to 8:30) so kids can trick or treat at more than 40 treat stations. Tickets are $20 per person for zoo members and $30 for non-members. All adults and children over 2 need tickets. Make sure to buy tickets ahead of time as they frequently sell out. Click here for more information.

22. Air & Scare at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (Chantilly, Va) - On Saturday, October 29 from 2 - 8 pm kids can trick or treat indoors in the Air and Space Museum. The event also includes "creepy crafts, spooky science experiments" and other activities, including a tot zone for little kids. Admission is free, but parking is $15 until 7 pm. Click here for more info.

23. The Greenbelt Maryland Pumpkin Walk and Carving Festival (Greenbelt, MD) - This looks awesome. On Friday October 28 you can carve a pumpkin at Greenbelt's Roosevelt Center, which provides live music as part of the experience. Then on Saturday October 29, you can walk through the Northway Fields and view all of the lit pumpkins. A pre-dark walk occurs for young children from 5:30 to 6 and the nighttime walk begins at dark. The nighttime walk is not "haunted" or frightening. Bring good shoes and a flashlight. Free apple cider and hot chocolate are provided. Click here for more information (please note that this isn't technically a trick or treat event, but I didn't want to create a new category).

24. More - KidFriendly DC has the scoop on 16 other special Halloween festivities. Click here to check it out.


25. Riverbend Park (Great Falls, VA) (previously posted here) - A great place to fish, check out some trails, and nature explore. Riverbend Park is rarely crowded and the fishing area is close to the parking lot. You can rent rowboats and fishing rods at the park, a fishing license is required if you're 16 or over. For more information, click here.

26. Burke Lake Park (Springfield, VA) - Burke lake has a marina (located through the park) and an alternative entrance (which is free) with small handicap accessible docks. My husband loves it here and sometimes we take the whole family and spend an afternoon fishing on the lake. Click here for additional information about the marina.

27. Hains Point (Washington DC) - I always see people fishing here but I can't find any info on the details. Anyways, the park has bathrooms and a playground and lots of room to run. It's a great place for a picnic as well. Click here for some generic info.


28. The American Indian Museum (Washington D.C) - imagINATIONS activity center just opened at the American Indian Museum. So you can teach your children about native americans (just in time for Thanskgiving) and then go eat at the museum's wonderful Mitsitam cafe. Click here for more information.

29. Degas' Dancers a the Phillips Collection (Washington D.C.) - Most (though certainly not all) little girls love ballerinas, so why not take them to see Degas' dancers? The exhibit runs from October 1, 2001 to January 8, 2012 and features 30 artworks. Click here for the info.

30. Big Apple Circus (Sterling, VA) - Dan and I took the kids to the Big Apple Circus last time it came to town. We bought last row tickets two hours before the show and yet we could see everything to the detail. Even 1 year old T was amazed. One of our best family adventures ever. If you want to read more and see pictures, the Meanest Mama has a great review, click here to check it out. The show is in DC from September 22 to October 10. Tickets range from $15 to $49 each and are worth every penny. Children under 3 are free if they sit on the lap of a paid adult. Click here for more info.

31. The National Geographic Museum (Washington DC) - The museum has two new exhibits for the fall - one on "animal grossology" and one on "gross but true" science. Sounds great for kids. Click here for more information or click here to read a Not-So-SAHM's review of the exhibit (info courtesy of KidFriendly DC).

32. More - KidFriendly DC has the scoop on ALL of DC's fall family friendly entertainment options. Click here to check it out.


33. Gray Line's Hop on Hop Off Double Decker Bus Tour (Washington D.C.) (click here for previous post) - What better way to see the fall leaves then to drive under them? This is a great way to tour the city, especially on a nice fall day. Full price 24 hour tickets cost $35 for adults and $18 for kids 4-12 (under 4 are free). Two day passes cost $40 for adults and $20 for kids. During the week, Goldstar frequently sells adult tickets at 50% off.

34. Mt Vernon (Alexandria, VA) (previously posted here) - All the old trees surrounding the estate look beautiful in the fall. Plus the back lawn is a great place to run under the leaves. The property also has a sit down restaurant and a cafeteria. It's open from 9 am to 5 pm through October (in November it only stays open until 4 pm). Children under 6 are free. Adult admission is $16 (an annual pass is only $25) and children aged 6-11 cost $7. Click here for more info.

35. The National Arboretum (Washington DC) (previously posts here) - If you want to see leaves of all types, this is the place to go. The Arb is bigger than Central Park and beautiful to look at. We especially love to take in the views from the Capitol Columns (pictured at the top of this post). The arb is free and open every day from 8 to 4:30. Bring a picnic and prepare to spend the day, there's so much to see. Click here for more info.

36. Great Falls (either the VA or MD side) (the MD side was previously posted here) - In both MD and VA the foliage and views are breathtaking. The perfect place to spend an afternoon. Click here for more info on the VA side. Click here for more info on the MD side.

37. The National Zoo (Washington DC) (previously posted here) - Fall is a wonderful time to visit the zoo, crowds are (usually) lacking and the animals are very active due to the lower temperatures (we went last week and spent most of the morning watching the lion cubs frolic and the gibbons sing). Plus, the surrounding landscaping is breathtaking. Admission is free (but parking is paid) and open everyday through October from 10am to 6 pm (in November the zoo is only open until 4:30 pm). Click here for more info.


38. Long Branch (Arlington, VA) (previously posted here) - We spend a lot of time here. The nature center has a great kids' room with a playhouse, dinosaurs, books, puzzles, and blocks; plus the usual fare of snakes, rodents, etc. Next to the nature center a lovely trail passes a creek and leads to a playground. A perfect place to look for signs of fall. Longbranch is open Tuesday through Friday 10 am to 5 pm and Saturday noon to 5 pm. They also offer great nature classes for children. Click here for more information.

39. Hidden Pond (Springfield, VA) (previously posted here) - We love the beautiful trail around the pond and the small, but well-stocked nature center, full of puzzles, animals, binoculars, and great views. An on-site playground makes it a great all-day destination. Both the girls love Hidden Pond so much that they chose to have their birthday parties there last year (click here to see pics). The nature center is open 9 am to 5 pm during the fall. It is closed on Tuesdays. Click here for more information.

40. Huntley Meadows (Alexandria, VA) (previously posted here) - Wetlands in the middle of the suburbs with a beautiful boardwalk trail. What's not to love? Each visit we discover something new. The nature center is open 9 am to 5 pm through November. It is closed on Tuesday. Click here for more information.

41. Patuxent Research Center (Laurel, MD) (previously posted here) - This nature center is HUGE. Plus, the area has beautiful trails, with ponds and boardwalks. Tram rides are offered on weekends. Click here for more information.

42. More - The Natural Capital has a map of 18 nature centers in the DC area. Click here to check it out.


Things to Make - Apples, Lots of Apples


As soon as we returned from Stribling Orchard, Dan and I looked at each other and said basically the same thing at the same time - "wow, that's a LOT of apples." In the orchard, it didn't seem like we had THAT many, but once the bags occupied most of our kitchen, we felt overwhelmed. So Dan hopped in the car and drove to Williams-Sonoma to purchase a corer/peeler/slicer thingy. And thus began our week of apples. Luckily, all three kids loved taking turns on the apple peeler, so our kitchen was fully-staffed. And the girls couldn't stop eating the pencil-thin strands of peel, I think they liked these better than all the apple recipes we tried.

Here's what we've made so far:

EASY APPLE CRISP (recipe include in the instruction manual for the peeler)

*5-6 cups apples (peeled, cored, and sliced)
*3/4 cup unsweetened apple juice concentrate, thawed
*2 tbs. flour
*1/2 cup rolled oats
*1/4 cup all purpose flour
*1/2 cup brown sugar
*1/4 tsp. cinnamon
*1/4 tsp. nutmeg
*1/4 cup butter

Stir together the apples, apple juice concentrate, and 1 tbs. flour. Place in a 9 x 13 baking dish.
Mix together the remaining ingredients and sprinkle over the filling. Bake at 375 degrees (190 degrees C) for 35 to 40 minutes.


SLOW COOKER APPLESAUCE (recipe from P's preschool teacher)
*8-10 apples (peeled, cored, and sliced)
*1/2 cup water
*1 teaspoon cinnamon
*1/2 cup sugar.

Cook on HIGH for 3 to 3.5 hours or until apples are falling apart.


SLOW COOKER BAKED APPLES(recipe from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook (NYM Series))

*6 large baking apples
*2/3 cup brown sugar
*1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
*2 tablespoons butter, cut into 6 small pieces
*1/2 cup apple juice

Grease the crock pot with butter. Remove apple cores leaving 1/2 inch of flesh at the bottom. Mix cinnamon and brown sugar and pack into the apple cores. Arrange apples in cooker, right side up. If necessary, stack apples on top of each other, offset the stack apples so they aren't squarely on top of each other. Place butter on each apple and sprinkle with left over cinnamon and brown sugar mix. Cook on HIGH for 2.5 to 3.5 hours, until apples are slightly soft but not mushy.

We still have about 1/4 bushel left, any recipe suggestions? I'm running out of steam.


Places to Go - Apple Picking at Stribling Orchard (Markham, VA)


Two weekends ago we loaded up the minivan and brought the family to Stribling Orchard for some apple picking (which we found via KidFriendly DC). Stribling grows twelve different varieties of apples (nine of which were in season when we visited). The orchard has beautiful mountain views and lots of parking throughout the fields. They also have a pumpkin patch and, on weekends, bbque. Luckily for us the owners left a few tractors in the fields, which entertained T for a long period of time. And we all enjoyed a nice afternoon without rain (rare as that has been these days).

(Under the Pecan Tree made matching ponytail holders for the girls. Doesn't P look adorable in her's?)

Though I love apples, I also had my own agenda for the day -I recently attended a (very helpful) photography workshop with Shay Cochrane and wanted to try out my new tricks. So Dan and the girls picked apples while I said things like "could you stand over here? No, to the right a little. Now don't move." Which summarizes my problem with photography, the more I learn the more I end up posing people, which sort of ruins the experience (though Dan's good at taking one for the team and accepting my quirks). If you look through this blog often the best days accompany the crappiest pictures because I cared more about "the moment" then "the picture" (though some days, especially when it's overcast or late in the day, good photos come easy). I always wonder when I look through Kelly Hamptons' BEAUTIFUL blog how she can possibly enjoy the moment and take photo-shoot worthy pictures all the time. How do you make sure your children's happiness occurs in the best available light? Or is it all post-processing tricks (which take A LOT of time)? So Kelly, if you ever read this (yes, I understand the chances are low), please let me know your secret.



*Rookie - a website for teenage girls. Wow, finally something that treats this genre like the intelligent people they are rather than the shopping-obsessed bimbos that marketers' portray them as. Plus, it's sort of fun for adults as well. Bravo Tabitha. Bravo!

*I CAN'T STOP listening to this song.

*Five lovely images. The first one is my favorite.

*Lottie Davies' travel series. Wow. Just wow.

*This budget house makeover is one of the best I've ever seen.


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