Places to Go (Vacation) - Lake Katherine (Palos Heights, IL)


A walk around the lake followed by huge ice cream cones = not a bad way to spend a morning, especially when the dog walks T and P plays Katy Perry on my iphone. Oh, the joys of nature.

Happy weekend everyone!! See you next week!!

*I love this "book art" (for lack of a better term).

*I want to make this. It looks yummy (if you like bananas).

*Albert Einstein in fuzzy slippers. Seriously.

*For local folks, KidFriendly DC has a great post about a rope course adventure for kids. Check it out here.



Places to Go (Vacation) - Millennium Park (Chicago, IL)


While visiting my mom in the southwest suburbs, we decided to spend an afternoon at downtown Chicago' newish Millennium Park (the park is almost ten years old, but since I no longer live in the Windy City, it still feels new to me). Apparently toddlers love the bean. T could have spent hours playing with his reflection. Hours.


Once we manged to pull T away from the bean, we visited Target's Family Fun tent, where F hoola hooped, P played with blocks, and T took it all in. Eventually all of us starting dancing to tunes sung by a woman named Miss Lori. F has some MOVES!


Finally, at the end of the afternoon, we checked out Millennium Park's gigantic, crowded, dangerously slippery spray park. I thought the kids would love it but they couldn't adjust to the "really really cold water" (outside temps were below 80 degrees). So we packed up and headed back to suburbia. A good day.


Things to Make and Do - Roadtrip Survival Kit

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My usual solution for road trip boredom is to check out some new DVDs from Netflix and hope for the best. But as three children had to share the not-very-large backseat for over 700 miles, I figured we needed a better plan. First stop the library where I told the kids they could choose as many books and DVDs as they wanted - 10 DVDs and over 30 books later, they seemed happy enough. But how long would it last? So I also purchased the following activities for road trip survival:

F and P took turns "decorating" with this one. They really seemed to like it, though they had no desire to reuse the stickers, so it didn't last for as long as I hoped.

All three kids seemed to enjoy working on these together, I heard several cries of "let's make her look funny!!" as I drove.

F really loves this creative coloring book. I'm not sure how she managed to draw while in the car (of course, we stopped a lot, so she probably created during the breaks), but this was the biggest success of all the car activities, as she continues to bring it everywhere. The book contains several pictures with doodle suggestions - like "decorate the piggy bank"; "what can you see in the crystal ball?"; and "finish the dandelions." Fun.

A friend recommended these and they look awesome. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a place that would deliver them in time for our trip. But hopefully next vacation season we'll try them out.

I've written about car trips with this book before (click here for past post) and now that P's learning to read, we've been bringing it with us everywhere this summer. The dictionary matches THOUSANDS of pictures with thousands of words and really helps early readers learn.

We actually didn't use our travel bingo kit on this trip, but we have used it quite a bit on past car trips and we all really enjoy it (yes, even us adults). It really helps make the time fly by.

What about everyone else? Any road trip tips?


Places to Go (Vacation) - 5 Kid Road Trip - Chicago or Bust!


A few weeks ago, one of my best friends from high school flew from Denver to visit us, bringing along her incredibly chill 2 month old baby and her super nice 8 year old son. We brought then to a few of our favorite DC places - Mt Vernon, The Jefferson Memorial, The Uvar-Hazey Air and Space Museum, Spaworld, and (of course) The Arlington County Fair (not so surprisingly, the fair seemed to underwhelm them). And we drank lots of diet cube libres with peach rum (my newest beverage of choice), while the kids slip and slided and created matchbox race tracks throughout our house.

After a few days of touristing, Allison and I packed up all 5 kids (aged 2 months, 3, 5, 6, and 8) and loaded up the minivan to drive 730 miles to our hometown to visit our folks. We're brave like that (or naive).


Day 1, Mile 32 - Picking raspberries and digging for potatoes at Butler's Orchard. These kids need to work.


Day 1, Mile 72 - The C&O Canal Visitor Center in Hancock, MD. T pulled the curtains off the window and cried after the park ranger called him out for misbehavior. Good times. We then let them all loose to run. And somersault.

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Day 1, Mile 262 - A hotel with a swimming pool and a much needed bottle of wine. F wrote love notes to Ryan Lochte. Apparently, 8 hours in a car with a real boy made her decide to start crushing on celebrities. Or maybe she just wanted to make A jealous (I don't think it worked).


Day 2, Mile 282 - Great Lakes Science Center (Cleveland, OH). A pirate ship on an outside deck made T's morning. Eight year old A seemed more impressed by the flight simulators in the science section.


Day 2, Mile 730 - Grandma's House with Murphy the dog and a backyard with room to run. And run. And run.

All in all, a good trip! Though A may never sit in a middle seat again. As for my car, it looks like a tornado tore through the inside, leaving lots of sticky surfaces in its wake.


Things to Do - Grateful List (July 2012)


These lists have become more of a "best of" list than a grateful list. But then again, aren't we all grateful for those little things that make our days slightly better? And, although I don't usually mention the big stuff - our health, our family, jobs, love, etc. - I never forget how blessed we truly are. Never.

The Summer Day -

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

-Mary Oliver (1990)


*Watching HBO's Girls at Julia's House (during our power outage)
*Listening to Anne Tyler's The Amateur Marriage: A Novel
on the way to Snowshoe, WV (book on tape)
*Reading Ellen Glasgow's Virginia
*Watching the Olympics (esp. US gold metals in swimming and gymnastics)


*TJ's quick cook steel cut oats
*Watermelon mojitos for playgroup

*Spending 4th of July morning at the zoo
*Rustico spraypark all afternoon
*The end of the heat wave and a walk through Huntley Meadows
*Recording newscasts at the Newseum
*Waterflowers at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
*Ft. Meyer pool (thank you Beth!!)
*The Artisphere
*Mini-golf at the National Building Museum
*The library (we've used it A LOT this summer)

VACATIONS (Snowshoe, WV; Williamsburg, VA; Rochester, NY; Buffalo, NY; Niagara Falls, Canada; Toronto, Canada)
*P and F both touching the button at the top of the climbing wall at Snowshoe
*Grandma's "house hotel" and going to the mountains to beat the heat
*The Frontier Culture Museum
*Colonial Williamsburg (this place is amazing!!); esp. with T in his soldier hat and F in her bonnet
*Indian Echo Caverns
*Visiting Rochester's National Museum of Play with good friends
*Buffalo's Botanic Gardens (esp. the kids' garden)
*Digging for dinosaur bones at the Buffalo Zoo
*The Embassy Suites Hotel in Buffalo (huge windows, gigantic suites, made to order breakfast, nightly manager's receptions with free alcohol, and a decent pool)
*Alison and Todd tying the knot
*The girls painting birdhouses at Kitty's house
*Watching the Olympics as a family every night (esp. gymnastics and swimming)


*Friends and family giving us a place to sleep while our power was out
*T proclaiming himself "bumblebee boy"
*T saying "I miss you when i at grandma and grandpa's house. i miss you mommy."
*No training wheels for the girls and a balance bike for T
*The kids all unloading the groceries for me
*T serenading us with "baby, you're a FIREwork!!" all the time.
*Dan coming home from work and folding the laundry (despite billing 250+ a month)
*F and Dan cooking dinner together
*P and her cousin playing "very serious business"
*Drinks and dinner with Shannon and meeting our tabletop neighbors
*Sharon at Elizabeth Arden Pentagon City(BEST HAIRCUTS EVER!!!)
*My cool new wineglass from Alison (best idea ever).

The Kids' Lists

F - that I'm going to be a 1st grader, reading books, the power coming back on, Junie B Jones, vacation with grandma [Snowshoe], Cybil Lily, the climbing wall, being home from school and spending time with P again, bald eagles, family, daddy, playgroup, drawing, helping out, pools, going behind [Niagara] falls, digging for bones [at Buffalo Zoo], cake, drawing

P - my family, dollies, Sabrina, that the power came back on, sleepovers with E, my cousins, Dunkin Donuts, my American Girl doll sleeping bag [from Grandma], going to Snowshoe, the climbing wall and touching the buzzer at top, the bouncee [eurobungee], Katy Perry, Huntley Meadows, the spraypark [at Rustico], seeing frogs and deer, Julia's birthday, cake, playdates, gymnastics, riding the tagalong behind Daddy, going to the aquarium with H, dolphins, sharks, going on fun adventures, painting, making pots [out of clay], miniature golf [at the Building Museum], making scrolls [at the National Museum of Play], Sara, Niagara Falls, going on vacation, coming home from vacation, double decker buses, the castle [Casa Loma in Toronto], gymnastics, Gabby [Douglas]

T - vacation at grandma's house/hotel [Snowshoe], pink sheet, my big boy bed, sleepover with J, sleeping with sissies, my pirate ship, the beach [the lake at Snowshoe], playdates with J, cake, going to the pool, my soldier hat, Niagara Falls, double decker bus, my family



Things to Read - Three Interesting Articles from Around the Web (on busyness, pinterest, and boys who wear dresses)

(1) The Busy Trap - "Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. . . . More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter."

(2) A great article on the addictive nature of Pinterest and other "visual" blogs and tumblrs - "There’s a German word for it, of course: Sehnsucht, which translates as “addictive yearning.” This is, I think, what these sites evoke: the feeling of being addicted to longing for something; specifically being addicted to the feeling that something is missing or incomplete. The point is not the thing that is being longed for, but the feeling of longing for the thing. And that feeling is necessarily ambivalent, combining both positive and negative emotions."

. . . .

"These sites are not meant (as curation is) to make us more conscious, but less so. That might be O.K., but it also means they have a lot more in common with advertising than they do with curation. After all, advertising trains us to keep our desire always at the ready, nurturing that feeling that something is missing, then redirecting it toward a tangible product. In the end, all that pent-up yearning needs a place to go, and now it has that place online. But products are no longer the point. The feeling is the point. And now we can create that feeling for ourselves, then pass it around like a photo album of the life we think we were meant to have but don’t, the people we think we should be but aren’t."

(3) What's So Bad About A Boy Who Wants to Wear a Dress? in the NY Times. "Still, it was hard not to wonder what Alex meant when he said he felt like a “boy” or a “girl.” When he acted in stereotypically “girl” ways, was it because he liked “girl” things, so figured he must be a girl? Or did he feel in those moments “like a girl” (whatever that feels like) and then consolidate that identity by choosing toys, clothes and movements culturally ascribed to girls? Whatever the reasoning, was his obsession with particular clothes really any different than that of legions of young girls who insist on dresses even when they’re impractical? Or any different than tomboys who are averse to those same clothes?"

. . . .

"These days, flouting gender conventions extends even to baby naming: first names that were once unambiguously masculine are now given to girls. The shift, however, almost never goes the other way. That’s because girls gain status by moving into “boy” space, while boys are tainted by the slightest whiff of femininity. “There’s a lot more privilege to being a man in our society,” says Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who supports allowing children to be what she calls gender creative. “When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?” Boys are up to seven times as likely as girls to be referred to gender clinics for psychological evaluations. Sometimes the boys’ violation is as mild as wanting a Barbie for Christmas. By comparison, most girls referred to gender clinics are far more extreme in their atypicality: they want boy names, boy pronouns and, sometimes, boy bodies."


Places to Go - Jones Point Park (Alexandria, VA)


A few weeks ago, when the skies became overcast and the temperature dropped to a seemingly cool 85 degrees, the kids and I headed out to check out the new Jones Point Park in Alexandria (having heard about it through Kidfriendly DC and the new-to-us blog Preparing for Peanut). The park, located in Alexandria right off the river and under the bridge, is gorgeous. The grounds include: a few trails, piers for fishing, a beautiful lighthouse (you can't go inside), bathrooms, basketball hoops, and TWO unshaded playgrounds. Unfortunately, when we visited, I overestimated our comfort level at 85 degrees (once you factor in humidity it still felt like we live in an oven), so the kids lost interest rather quickly. Oh well, we definitely plan on returning in the fall, as this place is amazing.


*Thank you to Pocketchange for including me on its best of the web list!!

*This TV show looks good, I hope they air it in America (or I find somewhere online to watch it).

*Life in Olympic Increments.

*Pollock for kids - looks like the perfect end of summer activity.

*This site is awesome - tons of beautiful things to print (coloring pages, masks, cards, games, wall art, etc.) (link via Silly Eagle Books).



Things to Make - Decoupage Bowls


As you may remember, a few months ago we made paper mache bowls, which the kids used to store various trinkets and change. Well, as awesome as these bowls were, they've somewhat fallen apart in recent months (accidentally stepping on them didn't help matters). So, we decided to make something new to hold all of our junk.

Here's the scoop:

Materials: Small cardboard container (we used tomato boxes from Trader Joes, shoeboxes would also work), lots of stickers, old magazines, glue, and modge podge (optional)

1. Go through all your old art supplies - look for old magazines, long forgotten stickers, and other things that beg to be used.

2. Glue or stick things to your bowl. Be creative.

3. Modge Podge over the finished project - to give it a little gloss and to make sure everything stays attached.

4. Let dry overnight.

5. Use your bowl to store: hairclips, pocket change, knick knacks, etc.



Places to Go (Vacation) - Road trip to Canada, Part 5 - Toronto Islands & CN Tower


For our second full day in Toronto, we took the ferry to the lush, green, beautiful, swan-loving, Toronto Islands. Upon arrival, a huge puppet and a man on stilts beckoned us over to a free kids' play. Pretty awesome. The kids loved it.


Then we walked on over to Centreville, the islands' amusement park, where we watched the children drive cars, go on mini-roller coasters, ring the bell on a boat (over and over again), and try out various other old-school carnival-type rides. We found the place crowded and overpriced, but luckily the beautiful setting and cool weather kept us all happy. The island also has beaches and paddleboats, but we never made it past the amusement park.


After the island, Dan, T, and P pedicabbed back to the hotel, while F and I decided to walk and chat for awhile. T is now a BIG FAN of pedicabs.


At night, we elevatored up to the top of the CN Tower. The glass floor fascinated P and me, but the rest of the family didn't even want to step on it. Exhausted, we finally called it a day.
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The next day we visited ROM, lots of cool stuff there (including a wonderful children's area), but a near loss of pink sheet kept us from seeing most of it (luckily, pink sheet was found and is now safely home with us). Then we headed home as the sun sunk lower and lower in the sky.


Places to Go (Vacation) - Road trip to Canada, Part 4 - Toronto, Canada - Bus Tour & Castle


Um, Toronto is big. I knew this before visiting, but I still wasn't quite prepared for how big. And it is growing - almost every corner has a new high rise under construction. T couldn't have been happier. "look, a builder! there! look! look another one!" and on and on.

We spent our first full day in Toronto on a double decker bus tour, taking in views of the city while relaxing in the cool weather (compared to DC). Toronto has lots of cool stuff - a nude beach (though I have no desire to go to a nude beach, I like the idea of a city where nudists can exist in comfort), apparently the best sports bar in North America (we didn't get a chance to visit), tons of great shopping (yup, missed out on that too). And did I mention it wasn't 100+ degrees there?

On the bus tour we learned that Canadians are quite proud of winning the war of 1812 and almost burning down the White House (they only singed it and we white washed over the damage, hence its name). We also learned that fires in Toronto don't go well, so landmarks are scarce. And we sat in traffic a lot, because cars move slowly in Toronto.


We exited the bus to tour Casa Loma, a real life castle. Exciting. Unfortunately, the man who built this architectural wonderland in the early 1900s went bankrupt soon after construction ended, so he only lived in his dream house for a few months. Sad. Now the city owns it. We checked out the fabulous gardens then headed inside before the rain started. Sort of creepy/sort of cool to wander around a castle in a thunderstorm, especially the dank, drippy basement passageways.


We tried to wait out the storm, but eventually castle life bored us, so we ran in the rain to catch the bus back to our hotel. T fell asleep on the ride back. And everyone on the bus kept pointing at him and smiling. There is something truly wonderful about a slumbering 3 year old.


Places to Go (Vacation) - Road trip to Canada, Part 3 -Niagara Falls (the Canadian Side) & Our Arrival in Toronto

(I love that you can see the CROWDS! reflected in T's sunglasses).

It feels somehow unamerican to say that I didn't enjoy Niagara Falls (even though we visited the Canadian side) and I didn't exactly hate it (how can you hate a waterfall?) but the whole experience overwhelmed me. I expected crowds, I really did, but I didn't expect CROWDS!! - despite the fact that a 1.5 km walk exists next to the falls, almost every spot was occupied. We had to wait behind people just to see the overlook. Plus, huge, skinny hotels fill the skyline, looming behind you - ready to attack (or fall) at any moment. Canada tries to make their side pretty - lots of gardens and green space, but still everywhere you look a tourist attraction beckons - Clifton Hill, Bird Kindgom, casinos, kids' games, etc. Or unbeckons. Or makes you want to run and hide from it all. Sort of like Disneyworld without Disney.

Anyways, I was determined that our family would persevere. We would get through this and experience the falls, really experience them. Originally I had hoped on a Maid of the Mist cruise, but we parked far away and the thought of battling miles worth of crowds wore us down. So we settled for the Journey Behind the Falls (okay, I also fell for the nonexistent line). Turns out there was a line, a long line. They just snake it out of eyesight. Tricky.

Oh well, we all really enjoyed the yellow ponchos (seriously, once the kids got a free poncho, they smiled like it was Xmas) and the view really did impress (maybe not worth $40, but why dwell on details). As soon as our tour ended in yet another gift shop, we were over it all. So we ran back to the minivan and headed for Toronto. Glad to have checked one more thing off the never ending bucket list that exists in my head.


So we bought the green screen picture, I'm sort of addicted to them lately as I'm never in any other family photos.


Upon arrival in Toronto, I sat in the wonderful air-conditioned luxury of our hotel room (the Marriot Residence Inn), watching the Olympics and enjoying the peace, but after the kids started running laps around the room Dan convinced me to journey outside for awhile. We found a wonderful square where the kids jumped, ran, and chased pigeons for over an hour. Happiness.



Places to Go (Vacation) - Roadtrip to Canada, Part 2, Buffalo, NY


Buffalo suffers somewhat from a bad reputation - lots of snow, industry, population decline, etc. - but I really liked it here - large enough to entertain, while small enough to not overpower, with lots of pretty old buildings to look at and gorgeous lakefront trails. Plus, everywhere in the area is less than 30 minutes away. Seriously, whenever I had to use googlemaps, the drive time was 15-28 minutes, regardless of where we wanted to go. Sort of amazing.

Upon arrival in Buffalo, we headed over to the Botanic Gardens, which were beautiful and uncrowded. After exploring various ecosystems, I sat on bench in the shade while my kids floated boats, explored a sandbox, and created various imaginary worlds for over an hour. A really wonderful hour. We ran into our friends Jon and Laurie here (also in town for the wedding), you know you have awesome friends when you bump into them at botanic gardens instead of the mall.


Not to brag, but we rocked the scavenger hunt (which caused my kids to become really interested in horticulture, we may need to create something similar for our trips to the US Botanic Gardens).

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Um, did I mention we came to Buffalo for a wedding? The whole family gussied ourselves up for the ceremony, which F called "really beautiful, not boring at all." And P thought Alison looked like a princess, a "real one". Then we left the kids with a FANTASTIC babysitter (thanks leo!!) to party it up. I can't explain how happy I am - I love when awesome people marry each other.

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Finally a new haircut, Sharon at Elizabeth Arden is a miracle worker.

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We almost took a full family picture, but T wouldn't cooperate. Almost.


For our final day in Buffalo we explored the zoo, where I relaxed while the kids dug for dinosaur bones for most of the afternoon. (We also rode a train, a carousel, and saw various animals, especially in the supercool rainforest exhibit).

NEXT STOP - NIAGARA FALLS, CANADA!! (our passports are ready!!)


Things to Make - In the Hotel Room

For our vacation I ordered several sticker and stamp kits from Melissa and Doug (idea courtesy of the Sleepytime Gal), but they didn't arrive on time, so instead we made do with the following activities:


1. Curtain Hats. P's idea. Of course.

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2. Goddess coloring book. The bride's mom bought the girls a Goddess coloring book and they LOVED IT. Every night new goddesses were presented to me, crayoned and beautiful.

T rejected the color in the lines approach and doodled on blank paper. I always bring clipboards to keep all the paper from getting scrunched and ruined.


3. Diaries. Always a sure way to keep things quiet for awhile.

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4. Barbie Fashion Design Sketch Portfolio. We found this kit at Target and F really loved it. It comes with stencils and stickers (click here for the Amazon link).

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5. Card Making. P decided to draw herself into the wedding. And she was quite proud of her "big black heart." (????)

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6. Olympic Obstacle Courses. I don't have many pictures to demonstrate but going on vacation during the Olympics was probably my best idea ever. Every night we'd spend family time cuddled up on the couch eating popcorn and watching amazing athletes. Then the kids would come up with their own competitions - somersaults off the bed/couch ("wait! was I crooked? I don't want a deduction!"), sprints down the hall, laps in the hotel pool, etc. Good times. And I think Gabby Douglas is now equal to Katy Perry in P's worshipmeter, a definite improvement if you ask me (no offense, Katy).

How do you keep your kids entertained in a hotel room? I'd love to hear!!


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