Places to Go - The Best Museum Membership EVER

Over the years, we've purchased various museum memberships, most of which have been relatively good investments. But our Maryland Science Center membership has paid for itself at least 5x over. First of all, we love the MD Science Center (click here to read our review) and we try to make it there a few times a year. But, most importantly, the membership grants free access to all ASTC (Association of Science-Technology Centers) museums, of which there are HUNDREDS in the US alone (click here to see the full list). So whenever we plan a road trip or a vacation, I'll search the list for places to stretch our legs (and brains) for a few hours.

When we drive to Chicago, we often stop at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Center (the Children's museum is also included in the ASTC) and/or The Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland (the Cleveland Museum of Natural History is also free for ASTC members). Once we arrive in Chicago, six museums are now free to us (just in the city center alone). Admission at several of these museums is somewhat costly (for example, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry now costs $27 for an adult ticket and $18 for a child - that's over $100 for our whole family to spend one day at the museum). Luckily, a membership to MD Science Center only costs $150 for a family of five ($125 for a family of four). If you travel, this is the deal of a lifetime (sorry, this post is starting to sound really cheesy).

This summer, we decided to check out two new ASTC museums. On our way to Indianapolis, we stopped at the COSI Center in Columbus, OH (which was HUGE). And on our way to Smith Mountain Lake, we spent a few wonderful hours at Charleston, WV's Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences. Plus, every summer we frequent the Science Museum of VA while visiting Dan's parent's in Richmond. Posted below are some of the highlights.


COSI CENTER (Columbus, OH)
- This place was HUGE (Parents Magazine rates it as one of the "10 Best Science Centers", along with the MD Science Center). Upon arrival, a "petting zoo" of construction vehicles amused T to no end (there's nothing like "driving" a digger after a seven hour car ride). Once inside, the water exhibit rivaled anything that we've seen at Disney (with dark scenic lighting, eerie music, and huge Greek gods looming overhead). In the outdoor courtyard we used a lever to lift an old car. We also played with lasers, hung out in a (small) submarine, and sat on an astronaut's toilet. All before we hit up the kids' room. On the downside, many of the exhibits seemed (in my eyes) a little more flashy than educational, but whatever, we had fun.


Our favorite exhibit in the COSI center was, by far, "Progress." You begin by walking down a street set in the late 1800s. The kids checked out a carriage and the old post office, which was fun, but not that different from other "old days" streets we've toured before. BUT THEN, the next part of the exhibit shows the same street in 1962, complete with Spam window displays and an appliance store full of old tvs. My kids loved it. You can also hula hoop and/or "record" a TV broadcast.


THE CLAY CENTER (Charleston, WV)
- Compared to Columbus's COSI Center, the Clay Center was much smaller in scale. But, in a way, I liked this better - the Clay Center was not quite as overwhelming and the experiments all did a wonderful job demonstrating key concepts without being too flashy. T and P had a great time manning the controls of a space shuttle, whereas F liked figuring out how to program a fountain. Plus, we all couldn't stop playing a Hollywood Squares interactive game about the human body (Funny Bone is pictured above) and learning how lengthy our large intestine really is (seriously, it goes forever). Plus the water area had all these funny props (old boots, a colander, etc.) for making fountains.


- This visit we only stayed for about an hour and a half, so we didn't have time to check out several of the exhibits. But we did learn how the museum teaches rats to play basketball (pretty cool). We also liked exploring our fitness levels in the museum's new Boost exhibit (where you can "test" your flexibility, memory, and strength). And, the kids always enjoy checking out the Imagination Playground Set and the giant bubble maker.


Things to Do - Grateful List (August 2013)

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* Watching No (wonderful movie)
* Reading Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity
* Reading The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls: A Novel
* Attending Peter Coffins' Here & There at the Hirshhorn (esp. his light projections in the museum's basement)
* Listening to Alabama Shake's Boys and Girls
* Watching the Place Beyond the Pines (still not sure what to make of this movie)
* Rereading The Great Gatsby (amazing how much of this book was lost on high school me)
* Bedtime Math with the kids
* Reading New Yorker articles on forgery and auto-immune disease (August 26, 2013)

* CSA dinners on weekends then nights at the playground
* Scissor salsa and walnut basil bean dip (from Arcadia Farm camp)
* Homemade blackberry ice cream with fresh picked blackberries
* Dark and stormies (thank you, Allegra!)

* T at the Mt Vernon kids' room with the soldier toys, "ATTACK!! ATTACK!!"; "Mom, can you please rebuild the cabin? They need to knock it down again."
* Laser tag with T and J at Adventure Park USA
* The playground at dusk/dark
* Golden Books and the American Table at the Smithsonian Museum of American History
* Watching ET with T and Dan outside at Penrose Square
* Picking our own potatoes at Great Country Farms

* The girls riding their razor scooters everywhere (including the ramp at the grocery store)

* Homemade charades
* "Can everyone please stop being mean to pink sheet?" - T
* "Dad, why do they call them white people [in the Little House books], do they always wear white shirts or something?" - T
* P building railroad tracks for T
* The girls sorting groceries for me
* T saying, "Can I ask a question?" over and over again
* "I'm not a little kid, I'm a big kid. I'm 4." - T
* "I have a question, is a husband a type of dad?" - T
* A rainy day at home - books on the couch, sharpie T shirts, homemade playdough
* "I believe in God and Santa" [long pause] "and MAYBE the easter bunny." - T
* F - "T, Fireman Sam is a bad influence on you. Firefighting isn't easy, firefighters die every day, they actually die."/ T - " I don't want to be a firefighter who dies, I'm going to be a firefighter like Sam."
* The Shahs visiting for Labor Day weekend

VACATIONS [a weekend in Snowshoe, WV; Indianapolis with Grandma T; Smith Mountain Lake with Dan's family]
* "Do you know what's a bummer about hotel rooms, mom? No space in your room to cartwheel." - P
* A great day at the lake after a rainy/cold morning [Snowshoe, WV] with Julia and Tracie
* COSI's streets of yesteryear exhibit [Columbus, OH]
* James' Turrell's grey square and Do-Ho Suh's floor of people [Indianapolis Art Museum]
* Free breakfast and dinner (plus a pool) at the Homewood Suites at the Crossing [Indianapolis]
* The Indianapolis Art Museum's Art and Nature park [esp. a Flock of Signs]
* The Indianapolis Art Museums's Star Studios (I wish all art museums had a space like this)
* T in the civil war camp [Connor Prairie, Indianapolis]
* F making pendants [Connor Prairie, Indianpolis]
* A whole day with no complaining at Connor Prairie (the kids LOVED that place)
* Watching Project Runway with my mom and the kids
* The Egypt exhibit and becoming an Avatar at the Indianapolis Children's museum
* Playing in the river at Holiday Park [Indianapolis]
* Dinner on the Deck with live music at Turning Point Creamery [Indianapolis], I LOVED this place
* The magnet wheel and fountain dancing at the Clay Center [Charleston, WV]
* Seeing 10+ deer on the drive to our rental house in Smith Mountain Lake, VA
* T on the boat and the rest of the kids swimming in the lake [Smith Mountain Lake, VA]
* Floating on the lake and watching the clouds [Smith Mountain Lake, VA]
* Dominion at night, stars, and marshmallows [Smith Mountain Lake, VA]
* Dan catching a HUGE bass on the morning of his birthday ["T, did you help dad catch that huge fish?" "No mom, I'm so proud, he did it all by himself."]
* Everyone arting with Grandma M [Smith Mountain Lake, VA]


F - my family, being tall enough to ride Wildkratt [at Adventure Park USA], a great day at the amusement park, a nice to house to live in and food to eat, friends sleeping over, staying up late, drawing, that we have everything we need actually a little more than we need, a great vacation at Snowshoe, seeing Harry Potter's cape [at the Smithsonian Museum of American History], my cousins, grandma's house, going to the children's museum [Indianapolis], watching Project Runway with Grandma T, having a roommate [Grandma T], the telegraph [at Connor's Prairie], making my silver pendant necklace [at Connor's Prairie], moving up to a new level in my piano books, the river [at Holiday Park, Indianapolis], the place we went for dinner [Trader's Point Creamery, Indianapolis], the lake with my cousins and grandparents [Smith Mountain Lake], jumping in the lake from the rope, the house we're renting [on Smith Mountain Lake], Hannah and her parents visiting, picking potatoes with Hannah and M [Great Country Farms], an all day playdate with M

P - going to the amusement park [Adventure Park USA], a nice house to live in and food to eat, playing with my friend E at Snowshoe, going to the County Fair, I have a huge list and I'm too tired to say it, my new fan [she bought it herself at the Indianapolis Museum of Art], calling daddy [from Indianapolis], going to Connor Prairie, my new Barbie, Project Runway, my family

T - playing laser tag [at Adventure Park USA], my family, a nice house to live in and food to eat, sleepovers, Great Country Farms, staying up late, going to museums, Snowshoe, riding the ski lift, the cool museum [Indianapolis Museum of Art], Murphy, my new gun, meeting new friends at Traders Point Creamery

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Things to Do - Magformers


I don't write about toys often on this blog. Mainly because I think of toys as an annoyance to be dealt with rather than a cause for celebration. But every once in awhile a winner comes along. I originally bought T the Magformers XL Cruisers Construction Set for Xmas (yeah, I know a long time ago). And, despite a few pathetic attempts by me to build stuff with him, they sat on the shelf for a good six months or so. Well, until one day I looked down (probably while typing this blog) and realized that my living room was dominated by magnetic car pieces. After this, the magformers never seemed to stay on the shelf for long.

Up until now, T's never been much of a "toy" kid. He prefers dress up and random imaginary games using household objects (often household objects that I would prefer remain solely in my own possession), but he loves making cars with this set. Actually cars might be too narrow of a word, I'll go with "random vehicles with wheels." Perhaps it's the whole magnet thing (all three kids still like magnatiles). Anyways, the magformers have made our afternoons so much more fun - we build, we destroy, we rebuild (okay, so actually T rebuilds while I read a book on the couch). I love these things (actually I love them so much that we now own the Magformers Power Construction Set because every kid needs a crane).

(Oh, full disclosure, I use Amazon affiliate links on this blog (which make me a few dollars a month at most), but I've never met the magformers people nor have they ever given me anything for free. Not to say i wouldn't take some swag if offered, though such offers are few and far between).


Things to Make - Suminagashi Marbleized Paper (which sounds fancier than it is)


This summer, my mother-in-law bought a suminagashi marbling kit (similar to this one, which only costs $13.50) and all the grandkids couldn't stop using it.

This activity is so simple that even T didn't need much help (though be careful, the dyes stain). All you have to do is add a few drops of the suminagashi (what a word) paint to a pan of water, then swirl the paint with a chopstick or barbeque skewer. Dip a sheet of watercolor paper into the water and the results are absolutely gorgeous. When you want to make a new design you don't even need to change the water in the pan, instead just use a strip of newspaper to soak up the old colors. Easy peasy.

Of course, now I need to figure out what to do with over 50 sheets of marbled paper. Make greeting cards? Wrap very small presents?

I think this would be a great activity with a large group of kids, as you're pretty much guaranteed beautiful results and the set-up isn't very complicated.

If you don't want to invest in the suminagashi dye, we've also marbled with:
* Shaving cream and water colors AND
* Oil and water colors

(both of which are messy, but also very fun).

HAPPY TUESDAY!! What have you been making lately? I'd love to hear.



Things to Do - Cherish This Day (A New Project)


I have a new project I'm pretty excited about - Cherish This Day.

A few months ago, I participated in Ginger Unzueta's Everyday Beauty class through Bloom Forum. Since the class ended former students stayed in touch through a facebook group. And now 33 of us (including myself) have created a new blog. Just photos. We're planning on biweekly posts.

I couldn't be more honored (and excited) to be included with such a wonderful group of artists.

Click here to check us all out.



Things to Do - Random Links

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* The NATIONAL BUILDING MUSEUM'S Big Build is this SATURDAY. Last year we had a blast, click here to read about it.

* I forgot my phone. So so true.

* These are cool. Just trust me.

* As we know, I can't stop cooking Gwyneth's recipes, her quinoa/brown rice lunch bowls taste fantastic (and they're so easy to make).

* I absolutely love this picture (actually the whole blog is pretty amazing).

* The 25 Most Memorable Moments in TV History. I think I need to watch Roots.

* Broccoli lawns.

* I love when people make bookworms laugh. Especially those of us who love good children's books.

* "Moreing" - an art movement focused on excess.

* Wonderful and inspiring photos of famous artists who are now in their 80s - "What I find the most interesting is that the reason for creating has changed . . . . As a young artist I was, like many artists, ambitious. Now, in my 80s, I feel more relaxed about it. I want to present things that really speak to the authentic me rather than what’s popular in the art world or what the trends are or whether it can sell. All of those things seem to have fallen away."

* Bonnie Bryant. I can't stop looking at these.

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P wanted a photo of herself looking "sassy." So she went through months and months of my online files, this was the only picture that met her criteria.



Things to Read and Do - Q & A a Day - 1,095 Conversations With Your Kid

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I wanted Besty France's Q & A a Day for Kids: A Three-Year Journal for a few months now, but I was nervous that the kids wouldn't want to participate as we already have the biyearly interviews and I take A LOT of pictures. Fortunately, I bought the book despite my doubts and I couldn't be happier.

The questions run the gamut from silly ("What bugs do you like?") to introspective ("Are you a leader or a follower?") and my kids often answer in hilarious ways. We started about a month ago and so far I really enjoy recording the conversations provoked by these questions (or at least trying to record such conversations). I can't wait to see how everyone's answers change over the next three years.

Anyways, it only takes a few minutes a day and the resulting journal will hopefully capture their changing personalities.

France also sells a similar journal for adults - Q and A a Day: 5-Year Journal, which I'm debating purchasing as well.


Things to Do - 12 in 12 (September)

This month the 12th fell on Thursday of an already hectic week. The kids had recently returned to school, which caused me to become (oddly) sentimental about how fast they're growing up (basically I was a hot mess). So to cheer me up, on Tuesday we adopted a super cute little puppy from Alexandria Animal Shelter - Odessa, a boxer/hound mix. (In full disclosure, Coco becomes anxious when alone so we've debated adopting another dog for awhile now).

Odessa is literally the cutest thing ever, but we're still adjusting to her crazy sharp little puppy teeth (luckily, she potty trained herself in a record amount of time).

By Thursday, I was tired and the random 95 degree heat didn't make anything easier. So we planned on a pretty lazy day. I worried that we wouldn't have enough pictures for a decent post, but somehow I ended up with some good shots - which is why I love this project, it truly forces you to see the beauty in seemingly boring days.

For some more 12 on 12 wonderfulness, don't forget to check out Not-So-SAHM and Where the Watermelon Grow. Please consider joining in with us next month, we'd love to see your everydays.

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7:00 am - Puppies wake up early, but she sure is cute.

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8:30 am - Walk to grade school. We're slowly adjusting to two leashes. (F now owns an "I love nerds" lunchbox, which has become her most prized possession - "I heard nerds are really smart. Who wouldn't want to be really smart?")

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1:30 pm - Playdate at T's friends house. This kid has a real treehouse, with a ceiling fan and furniture. It's amazing. (By the way, regarding the huge time gap, while all the kids were in school I went to the gym and completed some errands (like finally upgrading from a first generation iphone)).

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2:00 pm - Baby in the baby pool (all of the older kids opted to stay in the treehouse with their "treasure map"). By the way, did I mention that it's over 90 degrees outside? Wowsers.

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3:00 pm - Walking home from the playdate.

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3:45 pm - The puppy is a huge hit at grade school pick up. HUGE HIT!!

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3:50 pm - P lost a tooth during school. This is great news because loose teeth really gross me out.

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5:00 pm - We planned on taking F to martial arts, but an afternoon thunderstorm made us lazy. So I let the kids watch Project Runway on the computer while I cooked dinner (ever since watching PR with my mom in Indianapolis, the girls are OBSESSED with this show. T tries to understand it, but he ends up pretty bored most episodes).

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6:30 pm - After the rain dog walk before bath time.

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11:00 pm - The final crowd from our monthly neighborhood moms' wine night. A lot of women left earlier but we kept going.


Things to Do - The End of Summer (2013)

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For some reason, the end of summer seems to always call for a summary post. Unlike the three other seasons, summer needs a conclusion. And I have to say, this year, I am somewhat sad to see the hot, lazy days come to an end (unlike last summer, which completely overwhelmed me). I usually am really frugal when it comes to camps (which really are SO expensive), but this July the girls and T attended three weeks of various camps, most of which they loved. And the structured days really did bring a sense of serenity to our lives, though I feel somewhat guilty about not being able to create such an atmosphere on my own. Then vacationing and lounging in August created the togetherness that I love about the that time of year (though I completely failed my at-home work out attempts and managed to gain 7 pounds).

Unlike previous years, this summer we didn't have a bucket list, except for F's random goals printing above, all but one of which we accomplished (we never did make it to a baseball game, as it's really expensive to bring all the kids, who ignore most of the game as they spend the night eyeing the cotton candy man making his way throughout the bleachers). But even without a list, we managed to see and do quite a bit.

In so many ways parenting really is getting easier - just the fact that I can now take all three kids to a museum and trust (perhaps naively) that they won't purposefully attack the art. But I guess every positive comes with some sense of loss - because seeing little T bounce his way into the last year of preschool last week made me into a big emotional mom mess. After almost 8 years of parenting, it's official, they're not babies anymore. None of them. And despite the fact that I gladly disposed of all the old diaper bags, as with strollers and naps and all the other large and time consuming commitments of the early years, I'm feeling oddly sentimental. Perhaps because all my children are so close in age, it just seemed to happen so fast. A blur of tantrums and toys that make annoyingly loud noises and shoes the size of playing cards. And so much neediness. But now they can all dress themselves and feed themselves and homework themselves and bathe themselves, which makes me so so happy. But, honestly, a little sad too.

So we adopted a puppy. I'll post some pics on Wednesday.

Happy Monday everyone!


Places to Go - Language All Stars - SPONSORED POST


Despite four years of high school french, I've never really learned how to speak another language. When we travel I always wish that I could at least pick up a few words or phrases, but I'm horribly tone deaf and tend to mispronounce even the simplest of words. Ideally speaking a foreign tongue is something best learned as a child, when you're more attune to the variances between sounds and syllables. For those of you hoping to have bilingual (or even trilingual) children, Language All Stars sounds like a great program.

During classes, Language All Stars uses play-driven techniques to teach children your choice of 5 different languages (Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Mandarin). By utilizing a high-energy, FunImmersion® method of instruction, students learn through games, art projects, music and more. There are 7 locations in the DC/NoVA/MD area. It was voted "Best Foreign Language Instruction for Kids" by, Washington Family Magazine readers.

If you're curious, Language Stars is currently in the midst of enrolling for the 2013/2014 Academic Year. In an effort to raise awareness, they are hosting a $100 Language Stars Gift Certificate and a Little Pim Gift Set (click here to enter the giveaway). They also have a One Free Class trial for all interested parents/students.

Click here to check out the website and learn about available classes.

(Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)


Places to go (Vacation) - Fishing and Floating at Smith Mountain Lake (Moneta, VA)


After spending a week with my mom in Indianapolis, we drove straight to southern Virginia to vacation with Dan's family at Smith Mountain Lake (we rented this house). After an awesome but exhausting week of museums and attractions, we enjoyed doing nothing for a few days. I even read a whole New Yorker (as in cover to cover).

During the day, Dan and T fished while I floated in the water with my mother in law and sister in law. Growing up in the Midwest, I spent most of my childhood summers visiting one lake or another and I almost forgot how thrilling it feels to jump off a pier - nose plugged, bracing for the cold waters below. Smith Mountain Lake was gorgeous (deer everywhere) but also dark and very deep, so within mere centimeters the water temps dropped considerably, perfect for floating. At night we enjoyed stars, smores, glasses of wine and hard-battled games of Dominion on the deck.

Happy Friday everyone! Next week, no more vacation posts next week as everyone is (finally) back at school.


* Dan caught a huge bass on the morning of his birthday, which really made the whole day.

* Monopoly is now played with credit cards. I find this so odd.


P and her cousin are only 1 month apart in age and personality wise they are totally in sync. Cousin twins.


Things to Read - Eight Interesting Articles From Around the Web (on having it all, rainforests, the benefits of junk food, Facebook, life in the 80s, and two completely different Nazi Germany experiences)

1. You Can't Have It All But You Can Have Cake - "Having it all seems to breed wanting more. And since we can’t have it all because it is statistically impossible, and since there is no such thing as more than all, the whole notion seems, I’m sorry to say, depressingly American."

2. How much would you pay to save Ecuador's rainforest? Apparently, not enough.

3. Helen Hayward's My Children, My Life - "So why did I become a traditional mother, rather than the modern mother for which my feminist education — and nearly 20 years of working in publishing, higher education and psychotherapy in London — groomed me? Why did I risk being consumed by a role that might leave me high and dry, a cuttlefish at high tide? In part, I rather unexpectedly enjoyed being needed. Equally unexpectedly, I found being around my children very creative, far more than I’d been led to expect. Caring for them — loving them unreservedly and creating a way of life out of this love — has been a revelation to me. Least fashionably of all, I realised that my marriage might not survive if I didn’t bend, and that bending like a reed was far better than breaking something good. Family life has expressed a deep part of myself that was there, as a potential, well before I had children.

Being at home with my children has given me an imaginative space in which to rethink every aspect of my life, in a way that the pressures of my previous life simply didn’t allow. Just as I had to get to know my children in every mood under the sun before I really understood them, so being around them has led me to know myself better. Yes, these past 16 years have marked a hiatus in my career. But they’ve also been a precious opportunity. I’m now much clearer about what I care about. I now know what I love enough to pursue. Perhaps, I say to myself, I had to let go of the old me before a new me — wiser, older and flawed — came out of the shadows."

4. Can junk food end obesity? An interesting critique against Pollanites (i.e. worshipers of Michael Pollan, which I sometimes am). "Junk food is bad for you because it’s full of fat and problem carbs. But will switching to wholesome foods free us from this scourge? It could in theory, but in practice, it’s hard to see how. Even putting aside for a moment the serious questions about whether wholesome foods could be made accessible to the obese public, and whether the obese would be willing to eat them, we have a more immediate stumbling block: many of the foods served up and even glorified by the wholesome-food movement are themselves chock full of fat and problem carbs.

Some wholesome foodies openly celebrate fat and problem carbs, insisting that the lack of processing magically renders them healthy. In singing the praises of clotted cream and lard-loaded cookies, for instance, a recent Wall Street Journal article by Ron Rosenbaum explained that “eating basic, earthy, fatty foods isn’t just a supreme experience of the senses—it can actually be good for you,” and that it’s “too easy to conflate eating fatty food with eating industrial, oil-fried junk food.” That’s right, we wouldn’t want to make the same mistake that all the cells in our bodies make.
Pollan himself makes it clear in his writing that he has little problem with fat—as long as it’s not in food “your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize.”

Television food shows routinely feature revered chefs tossing around references to healthy eating, “wellness,” and farm-fresh ingredients, all the while spooning lard, cream, and sugar over everything in sight."

5. Does Facebook make us happy or unhappy? The experts all seem to disagree. According to this New Yorker article - “What makes it complicated is that Facebook is for lots of different things—and different people use it for different subsets of those things. Not only that, but they are also changing things, because of people themselves changing,” said Gosling. A 2010 study from Carnegie Mellon found that, when people engaged in direct interaction with others—that is, posting on walls, messaging, or “liking” something—their feelings of bonding and general social capital increased, while their sense of loneliness decreased. But when participants simply consumed a lot of content passively, Facebook had the opposite effect, lowering their feelings of connection and increasing their sense of loneliness." So hurry up and post something!!

6. A family still living in 1986, mullets and all - "the cost of living is reduced when you're not paying for cable and Internet and data plans. "It’s way cheaper," Blair says. Plus, "everybody just gives me stuff."

7. For something positive read about this amazing woman, who saved over 2500 Jewish children in Nazi Germany (Why have I never heard of Irena Sendler before? She should have posters in every classroom around the world.)

"When the Germans finally caught her, the Roman Catholic social worker had managed to save 2,500 Jewish babies and toddlers from deportation to the concentration camps. She had spirited them out of the heavily-guarded Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, and hidden their identities in two glass jars buried under an apple tree in her neighbour's garden.

She was beaten, tortured and sentenced to death by the Gestapo - who even announced her execution. But Irena survived, her spirit unbroken, her secrets untold. She died last week, in her modest Warsaw apartment, aged 98. What a woman she was. For once, the term "heroine" is no exaggeration, though such plaudits did not sit easily with her. She said: "I was brought up to believe that a person must be rescued when drowning, regardless of religion and nationality. "The term 'heroine' irritates me greatly. The opposite is true. I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so little."

8. For a completely different perspective on the horrors of the Holocaust, the Washington Times magazine published a thought-provoking interview with Bridgette Hoiss, a Northern Virginia resident whose father "designed and built Auschwitz from an old army barracks in Poland to a killing machine capable of murdering 2,000 people an hour."

“And your father, how do you remember him?” I ask.

“He was the nicest man in the world,” she says. “He was very good to us.” She remembers them eating together, playing in the garden, and reading the story of Hansel and Gretel.

Brigitte is convinced that her father was a sensitive man and had guessed that he was involved with something bad. “I’m sure he was sad inside,” she recalls. “It is just a feeling. The way he was at home, the way he was with us, sometimes he looked sad when he came back from work.”

Brigitte struggles to reconcile her father’s dual nature. “There must have been two sides to him. The one that I knew and then another. ...”

When I ask how he could be the “nicest man in the world” if he was responsible for the deaths, she says: “He had to do it. His family was threatened. We were threatened if he didn’t. And he was one of many in the SS. There were others as well who would do it if he didn’t.”


Places to Go (Vacation) - Indianapolis, Part III - Getting our Feet Wet at Holiday Park and Farm to Table Dining at Traders Point Creamery


When we vacation with my mom she usually brings her dog, Murphy, with us. So for the last day of our trip, I tried to plan a dog-friendly outing. Holliday Park ended up being the perfect place for both canines and kids. The park contains huge old ruins and statues, taken from a torn down building in NYC. A gigantic playground and pretty fun nature center are also on site. But our favorite part of the park was the small, but beautiful trail network which lead us to the White River. We all spent the morning with our shoes off playing in the water.

For dinner, a good friend recommended Traders Point Creamery's Dinner on the Deck, which turned out to be the absolute perfect place to take kids on a Friday night (thank you, Cathi!). Live music - the duet took requests as varied as the Hokey Pokey to the Grateful Dead. Farm fresh buffet style food. Cows in the background. A wonderful way to end our week. T met two little girls and they ran in circles. Around and around again. While F sketched at our table and P alternated between siblings.

The next morning, we loaded the mini-van up and drove 9 hours to another vacation destination - a cottage on Smith Mountain Lake with Dan's family. I love summer.



Places to Go (Vacation) - Indianapolis, Part II - Recreating History at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park


We spent our second day in Indianapolis at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park. I was a little nervous that the kids wouldn't show must interest, as we seem to have gone to A LOT of these places in the last few years (Claude Moore Colonial Farm, Colonial Williamsburg, the Frontier Culture Museum, Mt. Vernon, Sauder Village, etc.) and we've all become susceptible to "old days" fatigue. But turns out Conner Prairie is basically the Disney World of History Parks (complete with a huge hot air balloon you can ride in for $15 a person). We arrived shortly after the park opened for the day and closed the place out (well, they sort of had to kick us out, but that's how you know it's been a good day). We also had the place practically to ourselves. At first this made me nervous for the Park's future, but then I learned that regional schools had already started classes (thus, the next day, the Children's Museum also lacked crowds). Turns out that the end of July is a great time to vacation when you're from Arlington, VA (where the school year begins after Labor Day).

The visitor's center has an awesome exhibit on fans and electricity, which my children could have experimented with all day (the workers did a fantastic job at demonstrating several key concepts). Eventually I had to use my "mommy voice" to convince everyone that there was more to see.

The homestead and prairie town weren't that different from other such "villages" we've encountered, but the weather was perfect (which really does make all the difference) and the kids could pet the animals, so everyone ran and ran. Plus, the kids seemed fascinated by the "inn", especially the concept of sharing a room with stranger.

Eventually we made our way over to Connner's newest exhibit - the 1863 Civil War Journey, which was like nothing I've encountered before. In the general store, we stood by as sound effects, movies, and moving objects created the illusion of a town under siege. The whole experience was incredibly immersive - Disney style - the kids showed both fear and fascination. T immediately enlisted to join the fight and save the town (which basically meant that he spent over 15 minutes hanging out in the soldiers' tents and examining every item over and over again). Luckily, a play area (complete with water canyons) was next to the tents, otherwise T never would have left.

Last summer, after Williamsburg, T went through a Revolutionary War obsession. He is still appalled that people routinely travel to England - "but they're bad guys, mom. really bad." At least an ocean separates us from Great Britain. So, as you can imagine, trying to explain the Civil War was tricky, especially as we vacationed in Indianapolis with Grandma from Chicago (and I remain a midwesterner at heart), but we live in Virginia. Ugh. In the gift store we went with the Union costume (there's always a costume), but as we drove through West Virginia on our way to Smith Mountain Lake I begged him not to wear it (lots of pick up trucks with Confederate Flags everywhere you look). History is hard.

Eventually we made our way to the Indian Camp, where P basically camped out in the teepee (that girl loves a teepee), F made silver pendants (for an extra fee), and T played lawn games. And we ended the day in the air-conditioned Discovery Station, where the kids manned a general store and made a farm fresh dinner (with fake food) while my mom and I almost fell asleep on the couch.

All in all, a fantastic place to visit. Admission is $15 adults and $10 youth 2-12. Click here for more info.


Finally, some good pics of me and the kids! Thank you mom!


The little soldier.


F loved the pendant making.


Places to Go (Vacation) - Indianapolis, Part I - Jumping on Sculptures and Creating our Own Masterpieces at the Indianapolis Museum of Art


My mom lives in the Chicago suburbs and we live half-way across the country in Arlington, VA. In order to bridge the gap, approximately once a year we vacation with my mom in a midwestern city located between our respective homes. Last year, we had a wonderful time exploring Cleveland, OH (click here to read about it). This summer, we chose Indianapolis, IN, which was all sorts of awesome.

We kicked off our sightseeing adventures by spending a day at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which has a rather large sculpture garden as well as a huge art & nature park. When the kids saw the sculpture pictured above, they decided it looked "like a mom." And then they proceeded to hang all over her.


The museum's grounds include a huge mansion surrounded by formal gardens.


My favorite part of touring the grounds was running all over the art and nature park. We especially loved reading our way through Kim Beck's A Flock of Signs and jumping all over Atelier Van Lieshout's Funky Bones sculpture. And T couldn't stop asking us about the lake's mysterious "pirate boat".


Eventually, exhausted and hot, we decided to check out the inside of the museum. But first we drank several ounces of lemonade in the cafeteria.


The IMA's fourth floor contained some fun, interactive kid-friendly contemporary art (unfortunately we couldn't take pictures). James Turrell's grey square looked like a boring painting, until we stuck our hands through it and discovered a window of fog. Magic. And Do-Ho Suh's Floor allowed us to walk all over thousands (millions?) of little plastic figures all raising their hands to hold up the glass beneath our feet.


For our final stop, we checked out the museum's Star Studio - full of various art supplies, some toys, and ipads for the kids to create with. I wish all art museums had a similar space for children. On weekends, the Star Studio hosts even more activities.


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