Places to Go - Christmas at Mt Vernon (Alexandria, VA)


A few weeks ago, Dan and I took the kids to Christmas at Mt. Vernon, a small, seasonal celebration that continues daily through January 6th (including Christmas Day). The festivities feature: old-fashioned chocolate making, a camel (apparently George brought one in for Christmas 1787), gingerbread mansions, and a house tour which includes the usually-closed 3rd floor (where Martha lived after George's death).

The best part about Mt. Vernon's Christmas celebration was the opportunity to tour Mt. Vernon (both house and grounds) without crowds. Our house tour group consisted of only eight people (including all five of us) so even the kids had the opportunity to ask questions and look around (usually tall adults make it hard for them to see). Plus, the empty back lawn gave us the opportunity to run and roll down hills, all while checking out amazing views of the Potomac. A great day outside. If you're interested general admission (which includes the Christmas festivities) is $15 for adults and $7 for kids 6-11 (children under 6 are free). If you live in the area, season passes only cost $25 for adults and $10 for kids. The estate is open every day from 9 am to 4 pm.

Whatever your plans, have a great holiday everyone!!


*A baby boom in Nagorno-Karabakh. Six kids = lots of government money.

*I've never read Middlemarch but Even Cleveland posted the following inspiring quote from the book - "for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you or me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs"

*A glass beach, money trees, and a solar-powered printer that prints glass from sand.

*The Hermitage, St. Petersburg. Beautiful. I would love to visit someday.

*Top 10 Everything of 2011. I love these lists. Randomness and all.


T's obsession with fire continues. Hopefully in the future, he'll lean toward becoming a fireman rather than arsonist.


I tried so hard to get a picture of all three by the trees. Oh well, two out of three isn't bad (unless this was an exam, then I would receive a failing grade).


The back lawn is an adventure all in itself.


Places to Go - Wassail at Claude Moore Colonial Farm (McLean, VA)


The tradition of wassailing goes back to ancient times, in which farmers gathered to encourage fruit trees to produce in the following year. In order to wassail, one must serenade, toast, and beat the trees in order to scare off evil spirits. As T happens to be a MAGNIFICENT tree beater (he truly is an "old soul") our whole family couldn't wait to attend Claude Moore Colonial Farm's annual wassail celebration. We've frequently visited the farm for their tri-annual market fair celebrations (click here for my review), but this was our first time wassailing our way through 1771. Though the wassail festivities were much smaller in scope than those of the market fairs, we had a really nice time singing, storytelling, drinking hot cider, eating cookies, and playing hoop & stick (some games never get old). Unfortunately, the orchard trees are still too young to beat (sadness!), so they let us beat the fencing instead (which really isn't the same, fence beating being so beneath the scope of T's abilities).

Honestly it felt wonderful to celebrate the season OUTSIDE, cold air and all. Plus, right now a Christmas without plastic of any kind seems sort of amazing. Can you imagine? No big presents, just drinks with neighbors and family accompanied by running through the fields all afternoon? What a beautiful concept.


Sometimes the "storyteller" picks your daughter up and pretends she's a donkey. Part of you feels insulted that your daughter has been called a donkey, then you realize that she's having the time of her life and you get over yourself.


The kids' cousin now has his own ipad touch and he takes pictures of EVERYTHING. i (of course) find this adorable. especially when he asks the other kids to pose. he probably took better pictures then me. though of course he didn't have the difficult task of informing a toddler that tree beating was off for the year. He also didn't have the difficult task of keeping the toddler out of the bonfire.


Things to Make - Christmas Cookies

The key is apparently mass quantities of butter.


One of these days I'll buy a rolling pin. Hopefully.

Do you Pinterest? On one hand, Pinterest may be the most addictive site ever. You can lose hours, if not days. In the world of Pinterest, all thoughts/ideas/recipes/wonder becomes reduced to a single picture, epitomizing the idea that the outside really matters (not only are we judging books by their covers, most of the time we're not even bothering to read the book). And some days the whole Pinterest ideology seems so daunting. It doesn't matter if you're the best cook in the world, if you can't style food then forget it. And when it comes to children Pinterest creates a world in which everyone's offspring spend their days smiling in mini-Boden while their mom makes sandwiches beautiful enough to hang in an art gallery as they play with aromatic homemade playdough. Don't get me wrong, I'm not mocking perfect parenting. At all. I aspire. Boy do I aspire (to what? I'm not sure, but that's a whole other post). I recently photographed homemade soap against a white background, I have no room to judge (and, yes, my photos were pinned!! yay me!!).

Anyways, I've written before about how I can't make cookies. And browsing through the perfect cookies on Pinterest only discouraged me more. So, while shopping at Trader Joes, I picked up a box of Christmas Cookie mix, packaged with sprinkles and frosting. We had so much fun that I've already purchased another - incredibly yummy - box. F might even have a future in baking. So I know this is a lame post. No family recipe. No new insights. Even the pics are just okay. Totally unpinterestable. But I'm okay with that. Because parenting isn't about perfection, it's about showing up. Even with a premade mix.

(And yes, if you're wondering, I borrowed that whole "parenting is showing up" line from Modern Family, my current source for words of wisdom, along with and Pinterest, of course.)


The girls work well together, despite the fact that F's so serious and P's so not.


T woke up in time to sprinkle. Trust me, they taste MUCH better than they look.


Things to Do - Grateful List (November 2011)


1. Anthology magazine (it keeps getting better)
2. Hot jazz Saturday night on NPR (like a date night in PJs)
3. Weekends with Chopin on the stereo all day
4. New music - Frightened Rabbit's The Winter of Mixed Drink, Real Estates' Days, Beirut's The Rip Tide, and everything by The Tallest Man in the World
5. Rough Faced Girl at Synetic Theater
6. Flickr's Habit group (so much inspiration)
7. Family movie night with popcorn (Annie, ET, and The Great Muppet Caper)


8. Dan's pork chops (he's mastered the chop)
9. Roasted brussel sprouts with apples and bacon
10. Magic sauce on baked potatoes
11. Sweetfrog


12. Teddy bear tea at the Pentagon City Ritz
13. Picking our own kale and swiss chard at Great Country Farms
14. It's Academic Night at F's elementary school (hieroglyphics, multi-national paper dolls, and the "tree game")
15. Beautiful warm weather for P's birthday party at Hidden Pond Nature Center (35 kids is a lot of kids)
16. A day at the zoo with Auntie Laurie (esp. watching the orangutan play computer games and checking out the monkeys in Amazonia's trees)
17. Making mud pies and visiting Chinatown at the new Playseum in DC (two thumbs up!!)
18. Julia's wedding reception on the third floor of Crystal City Brewpub (the adults drank beer, the kids partied in the bouncee bounce, and all the TVs played Rio - so fun)

19. Our new comforter and shower curtain
20. A stocked wine rack and mulling spices
21. The Magnetic Doll House and listening to F make up stories about all the dolls
22. Playshapes

23. Travel Bingo(so much fun)
24. Bombay Hook at dusk
25. Delaware Agricultural Museum (esp. feeding the chickens and walking around the outside village)
26. Indoor hotel pools


27. F reading everything in site (and then some)
28. A clean kitchen floor (you can't beat it)
29. Free stickers at Trader Joes (endless entertainment)
30. P's "snuggle huggles", full of backrubs to help me nap
31. "Mommy, I love you and loving is sort of like best friends, except you can't be my best friend because you're my mommy and we live in the same house. but you're SORT OF like a best friend" - P
32. T "fixing" our house while wearing his construction worker outfit
33. The kids' backyard "fort" (a blanket over the patio table)
34. P always standing on her head on the couch
35. Dan and F playing soccer in the backyard
36. C's birthday card for P ("P is allergic to peanuts and cats and it is her birthday")
37. Haircuts for all the kids (I can finally see P's face again)
38. P's drawings of monsters and aliens
39. Jesse and Amie's Thanksgiving feast
40. Kid-friendly waiters (they make all the difference)

F's List
- soccer after school, making presents for my friends, birthdays, my family, nature, the play [Rough-Faced Girl at Synetic Theater], our class fieldtrip to the planetarium & riding the bus, Xmas is coming, home, my new paper doll baby, NOT that I'm clumsy, family movie night, school, spending Thanksgiving with our cousins, my locket [from Grandma T]

P's List
- my family, my friends, dollies, playdates, the play [Rough-Faced Girl at Synetic Theater], my birthday, my cousin sleeping over, my new babydoll, dessert

T's List
- dada, dada cuddles, "you", good guys, bad guys, hayride [at Great Country Farms], tractors, "my construction worker" [costume], sissies [sisters]



Places to Go - Santa Train (Walkersville, MD)


For her daughter's 3rd birthday party one of my friends rented out the caboose of the Walkersville Southern Railroad's Santa Train. The caboose contains two heightened seating platforms, with beautiful 365 degree views, that the kids loved climbing on and exploring. It also has several seats on the groundlevel, along with tables. Between checking out the scenery, visiting with Santa, and climbing on the platforms - all of the kids, whose ages spanned from almost 1 to 6, had a great time riding the train through the countryside. The total ride lasts about 1.5 hours. On the downside, the train does not contain bathrooms.

The Walkersville railroad station resides outside Fredrick, MD - about 1.25 hours from the Arlington/DC area. The Santa train sell out, so if you're interested make sure to plan ahead. In the summer, the railroad offers historic open-air excursions through the countryside. Sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon.


Whenever P sees Santa she parks herself in his lap until he eventually has to, kindly, find a way to remove her. And she tells him everything she thinks about. And I mean EVERYTHING. The Walkersville Santa seemed a little tired, who can blame him? Xmas exhausts us all. It's a marathon, not a sprint.


The bigger kids loved climbing on the platforms, while the younger kids most enjoyed looking out the windows.


T couldn't blow up the balloon. But wow did he try. Towards the end of the ride, I planted myself on one of the platforms, the 365 degree views were phenomenal. Diesel engines and a day in the country - you can't beat it.


Things to Make - Candycane Soap


One of my friends surpasses Martha Stewart in her craftiness. She told me about making candy cane soap for an easy Xmas gift and I decided to try it. Once I purchased the materials the process was super easy with beautiful results. The idea of adding real candy canes came from this blog.

Here's the scoop:

You will need:

(1) a block of clear glycerin (such as clear glycerin block)

(2) a block of white glycerin (such as white glycerin block)

(3) peppermint essential oil (such as Peppermint)

(4) red food coloring or soap dye (such as Soap Dye)

(5) a mold to pour the hot glycerin into, I used small cake pans

(6) crushed candy canes (optional)

Heat the glycerin in the microwave for about 40 seconds. Continue to heat in 20 second intervals until melted. Mix red dye/food coloring with the clear glycerin. Add a few drops of the peppermint essential oil. Pour melted white glycerin into the mold or cake pan. Let sit for about two minutes, until the layer seems somewhat set. Then add a layer of the red-dyed glycerin. Continue to alternate layers every few minutes until you fill the mold. For added decoration, sprinkle crushed candy canes on the top layer. Once the brick of soap dries, remove from the mold and cut into bars.

Easy peasy. On the downside, my kids keep asking to eat it.

(Note - After a few days, the candy cane coding started to melt/look a little odd, so in the future I'll probably leave that step out).


Things to Do - Playshapes


We can't stop playshaping. I think the magic stems from their ability to operate both two dimensionally and three dimensionally, they also work really well with different age groups (including the mid-30s).

What are your family's favorite toys?

DON'T FORGET - YOU HAVE UNTIL 8 PM TONIGHT TO ENTER MY GIVEAWAY FOR LAND OF NOD'S RAINY DAY KIT (click here for the post). We haven't had many entries so chances of wining are quite high - either comment on the original post by listing your email and favorite rainy day activity OR "like" No Monsters In My Bed on facebook and leave a message on my facebook wall.




Places to Go (Vacation) - Delaware Agricultural Museum (Dover, DE)


As I posted yesterday, two weekends ago our family took an overnight "vacation" to Dover, DE. After exploring Bombay Hook Wildlife Refuge, we dined and swam at Dover's Hilton Garden Inn (a really great hotel for a low price, with suites for families). And in the morning, we visited the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village. This place was truly amazing - the museum's back lawn contains a huge "living history" area, which includes a mill, an old farmhouse, a schoolhouse, a church, a general store, a barber shop, and more. All full of things for kids to look at and explore. They even let us feed the chickens. The inside of the museum is impressive as well with a kids' playroom, a fake milking cow, airplanes on the ceiling, tractors, and one of Delaware's first log cabins. Seriously, it's HUGE. And almost nobody else was there. One of the workers told us that the museum used to have pigs, but they had to sell them due to budgetary problems. Apparently the museum does not receive state funding and has fallen on hard times lately, which is sad as we all had a wonderful morning exploring the many links between present and past. If you're interested, admission is $6 for adults and $3 for kids 3-12. The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 am to 3 pm.

Apparently, Dover DE is famous for a large casino and racetrack, but if you ask me Dover's real charm lies in its less publicized attractions. A great weekend destination.


The village backs onto a lake, making the scenery especially beautiful.


Always fun to wonder who owned this stuff previously. And try to imagine their hopes, dreams, and ambitions.


The kids gravitated to the old church and one-room schoolhouse. F played teacher for quite awhile, pausing every few minutes to discipline an imaginary child.


*Looking for a way to help out a worthy charity this holiday season? Check out Arlington's Alternative Gift Fair. The fair takes place this Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Trinity Presbyterian Church, 5533 N. 16th St. What a great idea.

*Love this loft.

*Snow glamping. Maybe one day. Also, I just love the word glamping. I keep trying to fit it into everyday conversation, but considering I've never glamped it's hard to bring up regularly.


Places to Go (Vacation) - Bombay Hook Wildlife Preserve (Dover, DE)


On Fridays, the Washington Post's weekend section publishes an "Escapes" column, which is full of wonderful mini-vacations within a few hours of the city. A few weeks ago they wrote about Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Dover, Delaware (click here for the article). According to the Post, during the month of November "the skies, marshes, and ponds are alive with thousands of birds." Further, the park contains a 12-mile driving trail with several short (under a mile) hikes located off the road, which sounded perfect for a family with kids.

After a 2.25 hour drive, we arrived at the refuge close to dusk. And it was breathtaking - boardwalks, watch towers, piers, and lack of crowds made us all happy. The sky looked phenomenal while the kids ran and explored and scared all the birds away. Perfect.



Things to Make - Land of Nod's Rainy Day Art Kit and GIVEAWAY!!!


I was pretty psyched when Land of Nod sent us their Rainy Day Art Kit to review, as it includes SO MANY projects - two "felt friends" to sew, two tissue paper art projects, a needlepoint kit, and animal molds with play clay. F insisted we wait until an actual rainy day to open the box (she's very literal). When the first rainy day finally arrived we had the girls' cousin, C, over for a playdate; this made me a little nervous as all the projects come in packs of two, but I figured that the box included enough projects that we could make it work. F and C quickly gravitated to the tissue paper art, which was wonderful - lots of fun with little adult supervision. But P decided she wanted to try the needlepoint kit. Um, I can't sew. At all. Zip. Zilch. Nada. So we tried to learn together and it was a mess. F tried too. No success. Luckily, the "felt friends" project saved the day. On the downside, I had to help P sew her dog, as she struggled with finding the holes and keeping the stitching consistent. On the upside, this was P's favorite art project ever. She carries her new "homemade" doll ("pinkie pie") with her everywhere, explaining to everyone that she made it herself.

Finally, all three kids decided to spend thirty minutes or so sculpting animals with the play clay and cut out shapes. When I looked at the clock a whole hour and a half had gone by since we opened the box. A great morning. Even if we couldn't master the sewing.

All in all I think this is a really wonderful project box, with 1-2 kids it could last a whole day. If you want to win one for your family please either (1) like me on facebook and leave a message on my facebook wall saying hi OR (2) leave a message in the comments section listing your favorite winter activity with kids, MAKE SURE TO include your email address in parentheses at the end of the message (so I can contact you). The contest ends at 8 pm eastern time on Monday December 12. Winners will be chosen on December 13th via random drawing (T picks names out of a bowl).



Things to Do - A Year of Loss

june19 (31 of 48)

After a long battle with bladder cancer, Dan's grandfather passed away last week, at the age of 91. When Dan was about seven years old, his grandparents moved to a secluded area of Tennessee, so Dan didn't see them regularly while growing up. I only met Dan's grandparents three times - at our engagement party, at our wedding, and a year ago at their 60th wedding anniversary celebration. Luckily, the children road-tripped with us to their anniversary celebration, so all four generations had a chance to spend some time together. This makes me happy, as I still have vague memories of my own great grandmother, who died before I entered kindergarten.

In World War II the children's great grandfather navigated fighter planes in the Pacific. Dan has childhood memories of asking his grandfather to tell stories about that time, but he preferred not to speak about it. Finally, one day a few years ago Dan's grandfather talked about the night their instruments went out and they couldn't determine their position (his planes flew at night using the first plane-based radars). They only had so long before before running out of gas, but since they didn't know their own location they could not land. They flew through the night using the radio to ask anyone who could hear them to confirm their position, but protocol prohibited everyone else from communicating with them, since it would reveal their location. Luckily, someone eventually broke the rules. Thus allowing Dan's grandfather to live a full life - with three children, seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. So many of the blessings in my life are partially due to an anonymous soldier or sailor somewhere in the Pacific. Amazing how the world works.

I think about that story a lot. I want to believe, as I'm sure we ALL want to believe, that somehow death in your sleep at 91 is easier than meeting your end by falling through the night in your twenties. I guess that's what we have to believe in a way. But wow, it is all so short after all, isn't it?

When we told the girls about their great grandfather's death, P, of course, quickly asked "why do all my grandfathers keep dying? why does everyone keep getting cancer? I hope nothing happens to Grandpa Bob, I would miss him so much." Two dead grandfathers in a year weighs heavily, even on a five year old. But at least the one remaining grandfather loves them and spends time with them, taking joy in being an active part of our lives. And for this we are all truly blessed.

And I will spend the days wondering what other stories great grandfather had to tell us. Wishing I would have taken time to talk with him more. But I had a crawling baby and bouncy preschoolers to tend to, and, truthfully, I could never think of anything to say. It's not easy to unlock the mysteries of a life.


Things to Do - Slowing Down


A few weeks ago T insisted we take a walk around the block. For no particular reason. It took an hour as we stopped to: watch construction workers build and/or destroy houses, jump in every leaf pile along the road, collect sticks, hit sticks against tree trunks (I have no idea why, but this is T's favorite activity), pretend a long branch was a hose squirting me with water (according to T, I got "really really wet"), pick up leaves, and hide behind bushes. After three kids, this is the part of parenting that I feel I'm becoming better at - dwelling on the details. Not always saying "it's time to move along" (like I ALWAYS said to the girls). And I can't help but wonder how things will change in the years ahead. I suppose the the children will keep getting faster and more hurried, while I'll continually become better at slowing things down. How odd this seems.

My dad used to drive me back and forth from college. The drive took five hours and my father would insist that we stop at a rest stop so he could smoke a cigarette. SLOWLY smoke a cigarette, while we watched the cars on the road. We rarely talked during these times and some days the waiting drove me CRAZY. I just wanted to be "there", I saw no point in prolonging the trip. I thought about this a lot watching T attack trees. I wanted to call my dad and say "I get it now." But of course, I was too late. I guess this is the problem with parenting, the timing between generations is always off. Of course, this is the benefit too. It's how we learn and grow and continually adjust.


Six Interesting Articles From Around the Web (the new domesticity movement, artistic inspiration, toilet training, female partners, the year's best cookbooks, and punching boys)

1. (The New Domesticity Movement) Emily Matchar's article on "the new domesticity" movement questions whether the back to basics ideology is "fun, empowering, or a step back for American women?" As summarized by Matchar "[w]omen like me are enjoying domestic projects again in large part because they’re no longer a duty but a choice. But how many moral and environmental claims can we assign to domestic work before it starts to feel, once more, like an obligation? If history is any lesson, my just-for-fun jar of jam could turn into my daughter’s chore." Interesting.

2. (Artistic Inspiration) The Secret Life of the Overlooked - Autumn De Wilde's fantastic article about finding artistic inspiration throughout your neighborhood. According to De Wilde "I’m writing this to remind you that you will never know your city. You will develop patterns, and like a well-behaved racehorse you will go round and round your designated track, but I want you to look sideways and upside down. I want you to find the secret life of the landscape of your city." A great look into the mind of a photographer (accompanied by lots of pictures), I think I'll reference this article often in the years to come.

3. (Toilet Training)
Public Toilets vs. Newly Potty Trained Boys and Girls (via Crappy Pictures) - If you have children, you must read this. It is funny and oh so true. I think I may keep T in diapers forever.

4. (Female Partners)
But I Do Have a Law Degree dares to ask the question - why are so many female partners mean? Has anyone else noticed this trend? Does it occur in all industries? Who would you rather work for - a woman or a man? (I'll just throw it out there that I happen to know some really amazing female partners).

5. (Cookbooks)
The Year's Best Cookbooks according to the New York Times. Just reading this list made me hungry. What to buy first?

6. (Punching Boys) - This article disturbed me somewhat - if a little boy says something offensive to your daughter is violence an acceptable answer? Remember we are talking about children here. But would the answer change if adults were involved? Can we teach our children not to tolerate certain behaviors without encouraging them to "punch a boy in the privates?"


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