Places to Go - The No Monsters 2014 Summer Bucket List - 77 Places to Go with Your Kids This Summer!!!

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It seemed time for a BIG list, one may say a bursting list. The "goal" if you choose to play along is to check off at least one activity from each category. Because other than 2 weeks of camp, our summer is wide open and there's just so MUCH TO EXPLORE!! So please, follow along with us, checking off categories as you go.

[Note - As my children become older, many of the activities I blog about are now geared towards older children. For those of you with preschool aged kids, this list from 2 years ago, might have more age appropriate activities (though, of course, the 2014 list still contains many ventures that the whole family can enjoy.]

1. Riverbend Park to Great Falls (McLean, VA) - Kidfriendly DC recently posted about this fantastic waterfront hike, which is approximately 4 miles there and back. Click here for the details. FREE!!
2. Turkey Run Loop (McLean, VA) - We really enjoy this short hike right on the Potomac River, especially because it involves a few stream crossings. Nothing like wet kids. Click here for our past post. FREE!!
3. Donaldson Run (Arlington, VA) - We visit Potomac Overlook Park all the time, usually to play at the playground and hang in the nature center, but a few weeks ago a friend mentioned an amazing hike that's right past the garden. The hike follows the stream and has a few river crossings. It eventually loops around and ends just down the hill from the parking lot. My kids LOVED this hike (and became very very muddy). Click here to see the map (you take the Brown Creeper Connector trail from Potomac Overlook to the Donaldson Run trail). FREE!!
4. Theodore Roosevelt Island (Washington D.C.) - Check out one REALLY large statute, feed the ducks, see wetlands, walk on a boardwalk, play in the fountains - all while you walk in a circle. A fantastic place. Plus it's relatively STROLLER FRIENDLY. Click here for our past post. FREE!!
5. Burke Lake Park (Fairfax Station, VA) - The American Hiking society considers this 4.7 mile lake-side walk one of the 10 best fitness trails in the nation. While you're there you can fish, play disc golf, ride a miniature train, and/or take a spin on the carousel. Click here for more info.
6. Mason Neck State Park (Lorton, VA) - This has been on my list of places to go for some time now - there's a lake (with a small, nonswimmable beach) and lots of forest to explore. Click here for more info. FREE!!
7. Prince William Forest Park (Triangle, VA) - Another great place with tons of trails that we need to check out (it's also rumored to have wonderful campgrounds). The 7.5 mile Pyrite Mine loop looks awesome. Click here for more info about the park.
8. Shenandoah National Park - It's pathetic how few times we've visited Shenandoah, but this summer is going to change all that. Click here for a trail map of the northern portion of the park.
9. MORE - The Hiking Along blog has tons of great suggestions on where to hike and camp locally with children.

10. The Washington Monument (Washington D.C.) - After YEARS of construction (and beautiful lighted scaffolding that I really loved), the monument is BACK IN ACTION. Click here to reserve your tickets.
11. Hop on Hop Off Double Decker Bus Tour (Washington D.C.) - I took the kids on one of these three years ago and every summer since then they've asked to go again. Parking in DC is such a pain (especially in the summer), so this is a great way to see the city you love and remember why you moved here (despite the crazy high real estate prices). Click here for our past post.
12. DC Ducks (Washington D.C.) - Okay, so I've never done one of these, but it's totally bucket list worthy. A bus that becomes a boat is sort of awe-inspiring. Plus, if you live within 50 miles of DC, you receive a FREE ticket for each adult ticket purchased. Pretty nifty. Click here for more info.
13. Spend a day at the Smithsonian Museums (Washington D.C.) - They're free. And you live here. And, if you're like us, you always plan on going, but then do something else instead. So this summer just do it. Leave the house at 9:30 am and spend all day on the mall. You know you want to. Click here for more info. (And don't forget, many of the museums stay open past 7 pm during the summer). Also, this year's Folklife festival runs from June 25- June 29 and July 2-6. The 2014 festival focuses on China and Kenya. Click here for more info. FREE!!

14. Adventure Park USA (New Market, MD) - Sort of like Chuck E. Cheese meets the County Fair (an old school roller coaster, bumper boats, awful carnival rides, play tunnels inside). The kids loved it. And unlimited laser tag is pretty awesome, even when only 4 people play. Click here and scroll down for our past post.
15. The Arlington County Fair (Arlington, VA) - Mark your calendars - August 6-10. The fair epitomizes carnival cheesiness at a high price point, but every summer my kids list it as a highlight. Click here for our past post.

16. The 1960s Exhibit at the Smithsonian American History Museum (Washington D.C.) - In celebration of the museum's 50th anniversary, they're focusing on the 1960s (which my kids consider "the old days"). Click here for more info. FREE!!
17. Claude Moore Colonial Farm (McLean, VA) - Travel back in time to 1771 and see the world a different way. I especially recommend going on the weekend of a Market Fair (previously posted here) where you'll encounter puppet shows, three-legged races, wonderful bbque, tight-rope walkers, cheap beer, and crafts galore. So much fun.
18. The National Colonial Farm (Accokeek, MD) - We've never been here, but I really want to go. The farm is a living history museum that depicts life for an ordinary tobacco planting family in the 1770s. On weekends visitors may come across people spinning, dyeing, woodworking and playing colonial games. For more information, click here. FREE!
19. Mt Vernon (Alexandria, VA) - Previously posted here. George Washington's estate is a surprisingly kid-friendly destination. Lots of room for kids to run (the grounds are HUGE) plus farm animals to observe and windows to peak in. Skip the tour and play duck-duck-goose on the lawn instead, surrounded by beautiful vistas of the Potomac. A child-friendly cafeteria is on site. And in the summer, for a small extra fee, Mt. Vernon offers 45 minutes sightseeing cruises from its dock (click here and scroll down for our past post).
20. Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum (Sterling, VA)- This place is AWESOME and beautiful. It has a children's farm exhibit, a "general store", a play henhouse and milking cow, and a farm kitchen pre-WWI - most of the exhibits are interactive, my kids spent over an hour using the apple sorter alone. A hidden treasure of DC area museums, I HIGHLY suggest a visit. Click here for more information.
21. Baltimore Museum of Industry (Baltimore, MD) - We first visited here last year and I've already bought a Living Social deal to go again this summer - old printing presses and soda fountains combined with ships and tons of kid-friendly stuff to explore. My kids LOVE this place (plus parking is free and on-site), click here to read our past post.
22. Rosehill Manor & Children's Museum (Fredrick, MD) - We've never been before, so I'll rely on the the internet for info - "The 43-acre park includes a Children's Museum, Carriage Museum, and Farm Museum that focus on 19th century life. Children are able to play with early American toys and learn about tools of the era. The Park also offers annual spring and fall festivals featuring home style foods, steam engine demonstrations, farm animals, hay rides, music, antique tractor pulls, and much more. . . . Daily history tours are led by costumed Museum Interpreters who are trained in educational, historical, and age-appropriate information." Click here for the website and hours.

23. Calvert Cliffs State Park (Lusby, MD) - I've wanted to go here for over a year now. The park is located approximately 1.25 hours from DC (by car) and once you arrive there is a 1.8 mile walk/hike to the beach. According to the website, "fossil hunting, swimming, sunbathing and an open play space are common reasons people visit the beach. No lifeguard is present and swimming is at your own risk. This beach is located near the Calvert Cliffs." Click here for more info. FREE!!
24. North Beach, MD - 1 hour and you're at the ocean, you can't beat that equation. Click here for more info.
25. Cunningham Falls State Park (Thurmont, MD) - Swim in a lake. Or camp. Or both. Cunningham is only about an 1.25 hour from DC. Click here for our past post. And click here for more info.
26. Breezy Point Beach and Campgrounds (Chesapeake Beach, MD) - This place looks beautiful, plus I've heard the camping is top notch. Click here for more info.

27. The Adventure Park at Sandy Springs (Sandy Spring, MD) - We LOVE this place. The park has zipline/climbing courses for children as young as 5 years old. Plus, their new Monkey Grove offers tree-climbing courses for preschool children. Click here for more info.
28. Ariel Adventure at Harpers Ferry (Harpers Ferry, WV) - We've never been here, but I'm hoping to go. Children must be at least 7 to participate. Click here for more info.
29. Beauvoir Playground at the National Cathedral (Washington D.C.) - If you want to practice on a smaller zipline before trying the real thing, the National Cathedral is rumored to have one of the best playgrounds in the area, including a zipline. Plus, it looks absolutely gorgeous, click here for more info. FREE!

30. Ultrazone Laser Tag (Falls Church, VA) - There is something so enjoyable about losing yourself in a maze for 15 minutes or so. Especially when you must also protect home base. Click here for more information.
31. Rebounderz(Sterling, VA) - We've never been here, but I've heard great things. The whole family can bounce together on gigantic trampolines equipped with walls (to bounce off of) and foam pits. The price is steep $15.95 per person, per hour, but it looks like fun (click here to check out the Meanest Mama's review). If you tire of jumping, Rebounderz also has a video arcade, free wifi, and a snack bar. Click here to visit their website.
32. Sportrock Climbing Center (Alexandria, VA) - According to their website, "Climbing is the perfect sport for kids! It increases self-confidence, teaches trust and builds stronger, healthier bodies. Sportrock offers climbing programs for kids of all ages and abilities in a safe environment- including Birthday Parties." Click here for prices and additional info.
33. Ice Skating at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex (Arlington, VA) - Sometimes it feels good to put on a jacket and stocking hat during the hot days of summer, esp. as you glide in circles. Click here for more info and for open skate times.
34. MORE - Click here for our list of 57 Inside Places to take your kids in the DC area.

35. Great Country Farms (Bluemont, VA) - This is our go-to summer adventure - farm animals, a huge jumping pillow, tons of slides, and ALWAYS some sort of fruit or vegetable to pick. Really just an awesome place. Click here for our past post.
36. MORE - Click here for Kidfriendly DC's fabulous list of other you pick places in the area.

37. Huntley Meadows (Alexandria, VA) - A stroller-friendly walk in the woods that ends at a boardwalk through wetlands. Look for birds, frogs, turtles, muskrats, ducks, geese, heron and more. One of our favorite places in the area. Great for kids, adults, birders, photographers, and all lovers of nature. Click here to read about our previous scavenger hunt there. FREE!
38. Winkler Botanical Preserve (Alexandria, VA) - We visited for the first time this fall and since then I've wanted to go back. There's a hobbit hole (where kids can find a "hidden" underground room), a lake, a waterfall and a lot of great places to walk and explore (plus it's not too large so if the kids get tired, the car isn't far away). Click here for more info. FREE!!
39. The National Arboretum (Washington D.C.) - Previously posted here. The arb is truly Washington's hidden treasure, bigger than NYC's Central Park you can spend a whole day here and not see everything. We're still exploring all the nooks and crannies. Grab a map and look around, you'll have a blast. I especially recommend a trip to the Capitol Columns and the nature play space (part of the Washington Youth Garden, previously posted here). FREE!
40. Meadowlark Gardens (Vienna, VA) - Previously posted here. A beautiful gazebo overlooks the lake and a wonderful children's garden includes a life-size tea set and sandbox. Stroller-friendly trails and sculptures surround the property. Walk through a forest. Check out the geese. Feed the fish. Smell the flowers. Gorgeous. Though be warned - the property resides on a large hill with the visitors center at top, so the walk back to the car can be a haul for small children. For more information, click here.
41. MORE - The Nature Capital has a list of all the DC area's nature centers, click here to check it out (we're partial to Long Branch, where my kids can spend HOURS a the center and on the trail).


42. The National Zoo's Amazonia (Washington D.C.) - I love the National Zoo in summer - the lack of crowds combined with the misters make for a wonderful outing. And my favorite exhibit is probably Amazonia - huge fish plus little monkeys equals a winning combination. Click here for our past post. FREE!!
43. The National Aquarium (Baltimore, MD) - The top floor of the Baltimore Aquarium houses a huge rainforest (very similar to Amazonia), pretty cool. Plus their new Blacktip Reef exhibit looks awesome. Click here for more info.


44. Penrose Square (Arlington, VA) - As a South Arlington mom who LOVES the new Columbia Pike (revitalize! revitalize!) I'm pretty excited for outdoor movies EVERY SATURDAY NIGHT - grab some of Menchie's frozen yogurt or pizza from Red Rocks or dessert from Society Fair and bring a lawn chair because this is all sorts of awesome. Click here for more info (and check the list carefully, only some of the movies are kidfriendly). FREE!!
45. MORE - Click here for a huge list of all the outdoor summer movies in the DC area (and, really, the list is quite huge).

46. The Smithsonian Natural History's Q?rius Exhibit (Washington D.C) - This new exhibit (intended for teens and tweens, but loved by all ages) contains microscopes, lots of curiosity filled drawers, and several other hands on experiments. Click here for more info. FREE!!
47. The Maryland Science Center (Baltimore, MD) - There's always something interactive going on at this science museum - from digging for fossils to making clouds. Great for kids of all ages. Click here for our past post.

48. Dumbarton Oaks (Washington D.C.) - My kids love it here - the gardens, the pool, the old-school 1920s style elegance. So much beauty. Click here to read our past post.
49. The Mansion on O Street (Washington D.C.) - On a rainy (or hot) day this is the perfect place to explore - hidden doors and knick knacks/treasures everywhere you look. I've never seen anything else like it. Click here to read our review.
50. Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens (Washington D.C.) - We've never visited, but I've wanted to go for years. Who doesn't want to spend some time in fancy houses and beautiful gardens? The estate's kid-friendly French festival occurs this year (2014) on Saturday, July 12 - the perfect reason to visit. Click here for more info.

51. Rustico Spraypark/Fountain (Arlington, VA) - I love beer. My children love water. Combine these two passions and we can all have a wonderful family evening outdoors. I especially love Rustico's cheap and yummy children's menu. Click here for the past post. FREE!!
52. Penrose Square Splashpark/ Water Feature (Arlington, VA) - Who doesn't love Menchies? Or some wonderful sweets from Society Fair? Or pizza/pasta at Red Rocks? Have your meal outside while the kids run through the water. Wonderful. Click here for our past post. FREE!!

53. Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library (Wilmington, DE) - This place has been on my bucket list for over a year now. The gardens look amazing, esp. the Enchanted Woods (which I know my kids will love). The mansion offers a special family tour, perfect for kids like mine (who might become a little antsy on adult-orientated tours). There's even a "touch it room" (LOVE!). But best of all, this summer you can see the COSTUMES OF DOWNTON ABBEY at Winterthur. We. need. to. go. now. Click here for the info. And while you're in the area, don't forget to check out the huge and beautiful Longwood Gardens, click here for our past posts.
54. Harpers Ferry, WV - Every year we plan on visiting here, but somehow we never find the time. This summer we need to finally make the trek - I really want to meander through the historic town and check out some of the nearby hikes. Click here for more info.
55. Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay (Cambridge, MD) - I've had two friends (who don't know each other) tell me that this hotel makes for the perfect weekend family getaway - pools, a beach, golf, spa, Hyatt's own wildlife refuge, etc. I want to go, like now. Click here for the info.
56. Snowshoe, WV - Everyone always thinks of Snowshoe as a ski destination, but it makes for a great summer trip as well - take the lift down to the lake and play on the beach for awhile. Or go for a hike/geocache. Or eurobungee to the sound of live music. Click here to see why we love Snowshoe.
57. Camping on Assateague Island National Seashore (Berlin, MD) - We had so much fun that we all want to go again. Click here to read about our last trip.
58. Long Island Gold Coast Mansions (New York) - Last year we channeled our inner Gatsby by visiting Coe Hall, which was gorgeous (click here for the post). Sweet Fine Day has reviews of several of the other estates as well, click here to learn more.
59. Great Wolf Lodge (Williamsburg, VA) - We visited this winter (click here to read our review) and since then my kids have begged constantly to return. The hotel opens an outdoor pool for the summer months, while the indoor waterpark stays open as well. While you're in Williamsburg you can check out the colonial town (click here to read about our past adventures there) or visit Busch Gardens.
60. NYC - Catch a Broadway show, check out Central Park zoo, walk the High Line, cruise to Ellis Island and/or Governors Island, visit MOMA, and/or play at South Street Seaport's Imagination Playground, the city is FULL of fun stuff to do. Click here to see some of our past adventures.
61. Philadelphia, PA - See the Liberty Bell, lose yourself in the Magic Gardens, visit an art or science museum, play in a birds' nest at Morris Arboretum, pretend you are Alice lost in Wonderland at the Please Touch Museum - there's just so much to do. Click here to see some of our past adventures.

62. The National Zoo (Washington D.C.) - Giant panda cub Bao Bao is now on exhibit and the lions cubs are learning how to swim. Click here for more info. FREE!!
63. Great Country Farms (Bluemont, VA) - There are always some baby animals at Great Country Farms (esp. the bunnies, we love the bunnies). Click here to access their website.
64. Frying Pan Park (Herndon, VA) - Click here to see the birthing schedule. FREE!!

65. Barrel Oak Winery (Delaplane, VA) - We've never been here, but Wine Enthusiast Magazine named this the top family-friendly winery in the world (yay!!) beating out wineries in CA and France. According to the article, "Little ones are greeted with juice boxes, and fun photographs of dogs adorn the tasting room walls. Parents can sip the 2010 Bowhaus White, a gold medal winner of the 2010 Indy International Wine Competition, on one of their picnic tables as kids roam the hilly landscape." Sounds too good to be true. Click here to read the Washington Post article. And click here to go to the winery's website.
66. MORE - Novadog has a list of the area's dog-friendly wineries (most of which are kid-friendly too). Click here to check it out.

67. Cassat/Degas and Andrew Wyeth at the National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.) - The National Gallery is hosting two excellent temporary exhibitions this summer. If these alone aren't reason enough to go, then don't forget the gelato bar and lighted tunnel in the basement corridor. Add in the sculpture garden and fountains and you have an awesome kid-day on your hands. Plus, their Stories in Art program (for kids 4-7) continues this summer with a tour of Italy. Click here for more info. FREE!!
68. Fermata at the Artisphere (Arlington, VA) - Why not spend an afternoon chilling on beanbags and listening to "sound art"? After all, kids LOVE beanbags. Click here for the Wash Post review. FREE!!
69. Modern American Realism at the Smithsonian American Art Museum & American Cool at the National Portrait Gallery (Washington D.C.) - First of all, this exhibit looks awesome (click here for the info). But if you need more reason to go, we also love the huge indoor courtyard and the colorful modern art collection on the museum's top floor. The museum often hosts family days during the summer (click here to see some upcoming events). The American Art museum shares a building with the Portrait Gallery, where you can check out the fantastic American Cool exhibit (click here to read our review). FREE!!
70. Artscape (Baltimore, MD) - The nation's largest free art festival occurs July 18-20 in Baltimore. Seriously this is HUGE and the website makes it seem like a blast. Click here for more info. FREE!!
71. The Visionary Art Museum (Baltimore, MD) - This place has tons of stuff kids will love - including a welcome mat made out of toothbrushes, the 1000 pound braball, a flatulence machine, kinetic sculptures behind glass (press a button and watch it move), old Mardi Gras floats, a life-sized chess set, a totem pole of sixties' icons, and the best museum store ever. An outdoor sculpture contains an actual wooden "castle" and other fun things to explore. Click here for information on timing and pricing.

72. Arlington Public Libraries (Arlington, VA) - Every year the Arlington library system hosts a fantastic children's summer program, filled with reading incentives and events. Unfortunately, this year's schedule has not yet released, but click here to access the libraries' home page. FREE!!
73. Storyville (Rosedale, MD or Woodlawn, MD)- Baltimore libraries opened Storyville for children 0-5 in two locations, Rosedale and Woodlawn. In Storyville, they have created an incredibly well-designed mini-village, complete with a post office, grocery store, house, theatre, construction zone, and (of course) library (each area includes themed books available for check-out). ALL FOR FREE. For more information, click here. FREE!!
74. The Library of Congress National Book Festival (Washington D.C.) - The festival is August 30 of this year (2014) and full of new reads. FREE!!
75. MORE - We have some wonderful suggestions, click here to see them all.

76. DC Street Mural Cache (Washington D.C.) - We've only tried geocaching once and while my kids liked it they didn't exactly beg to go again. But last weekend I saw Rebecca (otherwise known as Not-So-SAHM) and her kids could not stop talking about all the caches they hope to check out this summer (her son seemed appalled that we didn't yet have a team geocache name). Click here to read some of Not-So-SAHM's general advice on geocaching with kids. And click here to read about the gorgeous (and fun!) DC mural cache they did. FREE!!
77. MORE - Check out the official geocache website and start exploring. Seriously, these things are everywhere. FREE!!

Need more ideas? Click here for KFDC's Summer Guide. Then hurry up and do something!

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(P at the Hirshhorn last summer).


Things to Do - Cherish This Day & Random Links

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Happy Friday everyone! Now click on over to Cherish This Day to see some crazy beautiful images.


* House on the Rock. This place looks crazy bizarre, so of course I really want to go.

* I decided to leave.

* I really want to do this with the kids this summer. t-shirts? tank tops? napkins? the world is our oyster.

* Nine women photographers of the Northeast.

* Picnic foods.

* 30 untranslatable words from other languages, illustrated. I love the concept of fernweh.

* The best commencement speeches ever. This list could take all summer to digest.

* 10 ways to make veggies taste amazing in 10 minutes.


Things to Do - 12 in 12 (May 2014)

Oh Mondays . . .

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8:40 am - Walk the girls to school. F always has a book in her hand.

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8:45 am - Drop P off on the blacktop and watch her hug a good friend. I love moments like this.

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9:15 am - T insists on bringing some random combination of toys to preschool everyday. Luckily his teacher is very accommodating.

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noon - After returning from the health club I make myself lunch. Lately I'm in love with this super easy "soup" - half a cucumber, half an avocado, half a lime, then blend. So so delicious.

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12:30 - Odessa (now nicknamed "Yappy") and I pick up T from preschool. She's quite popular there.

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1:15 pm - I catch up on some emails while T plays in the kitchen.

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2:00 pm - The grocery story with T.

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2:30 pm - New friends somehow make there way into our shopping cart.


4:15 pm - While the girls attend piano/voice lessons, I take T and his friends (our piano teacher's sons) to the Lego movie. Thus causing me to sing "Everything is Awesome" for the rest of the night.

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6:15 pm - After the movie we meet up with the girls at the playground, just missing the end of P's soccer practice.

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6:30 pm - P climbs a tree (of course). After she finally makes her way down, we start walking home for dinner (pasta - very hastily thrown together in about 20 minutes).

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8:00 pm - We manage to squeeze in an after dinner dog walk before the rain starts. Well, almost.

So that was our day, now click on over to Not-So-SAHM and Where the Watermelons Grow to learn about their Mondays.


Things to Make - Veggie Dinner Night (No, I'm not joking)

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Last week, for dinner, I decided to try something new - veggie night. At first the kids (and Dan) thought I was joking. And then they complained (even Dan). A lot. I could pretend that my motivation centered on teaching my children about good food, but, honestly, I am so sick of all the dinnertime fuss ("wait, I don't like this brand of chicken nuggets, I only like the other brand" or "I like the skinny pasta, not the fat pasta") that I decided to make something I like. And if nobody else liked it, oh well, one night spent going to bed hungry won't exactly kill them.

Then this story became truly crazy. Maybe there was a full moon. Or maybe a magic light shined on our house that night. But everyone (even my husband) LOVED veggie night. They ate everything. Not a single left-over in sight. They even asked if we could do it again. And we did.

So now this is a regular thing, eventually I'll need to vary the menu, but for now here are recipes. (I modified them slightly so everything would bake at the same temperature - 425 degrees.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER AND CHICKPEAS (adopted slightly my absolutely favorite cookbook - It's All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great)

1 14-ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed, drained and dried with a towel
1 head cauliflower, outer leaves removed and cut into bite-sized florets

1. Toss the chickpeas and cauliflower with 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
2. Roast at 425 degrees for approximately 45 minutes.

MUSTARD SAUCE (my kids didn't eat the sauce, but I LOVE it)

1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon seeded mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil

Whisk the mustards, vinegar, and olive oil together. Add in some salt and pepper for taste.


1 pound brussels sprouts, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1. Cut the brussels sprouts in half, and toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Roast 30-40 minutes at 425 degrees.

SWEET POTATO FRIES (adapted slightly from CookieandKate)

3 Sweet potatoes (with the skins on)
Corn starch. A big sprinkle's worth. (optional)
Olive oil. A couple of tablespoons or so. Enough to lightly and evenly coat the fries.

1. Cut the sweet potatoes into rectangles. Try and make all pieces a similar size.
2. Toss the uncooked fries into a mixing bowl or a plastic bag, or just onto your baking sheet. Sprinkle with cornstarch (if using) and pour in a few tablespoons of olive oil, enough to lightly coat the fries. Season with salt, pepper, and spices. I’d try to use half a teaspoon per potato or so. Mix/shake to distribute evenly (corn starch should be evenly mixed in so there are no powdery spots).
3. Arrange your fries in a single layer and don't overcrowd, otherwise they will never crisp up.
4. Bake for 15 minutes, then flip the fries so they can cook on all sides.
5. Bake for 10 to 15 more minutes, or until the fries are crispy. Don't worry if the edges are a little bit brown; they will taste more caramelized than burnt.


Things to Do - Grateful List (April 2014)

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* Watching Wolf of Wall Street
* Reading the Interestings
* Reading the Optimist's Daughter

* Tuckahoe Playground
* Cherry blossoms in full bloom (Hains Point)
* Potomac Overlook Park's Donaldson Run trail

* Cucumber/avocado soup (Actually, I love this whole detox plan)
* Jrink's jucies
* Gwyneth's spring vegetable soup

* My fitbit

VACATION (Charleston, SC)
* Arriving at the beach house (after a horrendous drive) and the kids all swimming in their clothes at sunset
* Barrier EcoTours
* Husk's punches (and a much needed date night)
* Dinner at the Obstinate Daughter (Sullivan's Island)
* The girls playing Scrabble Slam with my mom
* A whole day at Charles Towne Landing (esp. the zoo, boat, and gardens)
* Cool mornings on the beach
* F and her perfume making kit ("mom, smell this, it's a sure moneymaker.")

* T "fishing" with sticks in our backyard
* Walking everywhere (now that it's warm enough to walk)
* A great start to soccer season (P's last minute save, F's 1st game ever)
* Late night Dominion with Watson and friends; boardgames with Rachel and Scott
* Last minute playdates on a rainy Monday afternoon
* The kids carrying our puppet theater to the playground and performing
* Drinks with Linda (Kidfriendly DC), Rebecca (Not-So-SAHM), and Shannon (But I have a law degree)
* T picking wildflowers on the walk home from school (granted they were for his "poison potion", but still . . .)
* A facial and massage at Mancini de Paris
* P's recycling center field trip
* The Henry Challenge
* Molly Flanagan's Visual Storytelling Class through the Define School
* Coco surviving being hit by a car


F - my family, that everything is so great, playdates with Mika and Laney, that mom bought dinosaur egg oatmeal, that won day i won't have to live with T anymore, a week off school, going to the beach, our beach house

P - everything I love, everyone I love, the playground, gymnastics, playdates, watching Cosmos, the animals at Charles Towne Landing

T - playdates, a busy day at school tomorrow, making boats [at preschool], playdates, going to Penrose Park, going strawberry picking, going on the boat [Charles Towne Landing], bike riding with daddy, Dunkin Donuts


Things to Read - The "You Wouldn't Want to Be" Series

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ninja (6 of 6)

Lately all three of my kids are super into the "you wouldn't want to be" book series. T, in particular, can't get enough of You Wouldn't Want to Be a Pirate's Prisoner!: Horrible Things You'd Rather Not Know (You Wouldn't Want to...), which is pretty gruesome (hanging with rats in the ship's hold, tied to the deck for days at the time, disease, and (finally) being marooned on an empty island. The girls, on the other hand, keep reading You Wouldn't Want to Be an American Pioneer!: A Wilderness You'd Rather Not Tame, which tells a much more gruesome story than the Little House books.

I think kids like them because of the gore (well, of course because of the gore), but the books also contain lots of random facts and funny illustrations. The weapons, in particular, fascinate T; whereas F prefers the "handy hints" on every page that coach on the ways of survival.

I enjoy the series because the books put a personal face on history. (I've also learned that I sort of would like to be a ninja warrior, but that's a whole other story).

ninja (1 of 6)


Places to Go (Vacation) - Camping on the Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore (Berlin, MD)


Two week ago, we camped with some old and new friends at Assateague Island National Seashore. We previously visited Assateague several years ago, when the girls were toddlers (before T was born) and camped in the walk in sites, which proved tricky with little children (so. much. stuff.). So this year we reserved back-in spots at the National Park campground (click here for info, and note that the spots fill up FAST, so try and reserve a few months in advance).

I thought the water would be too cold for swimming, but assumed the kids would still enjoy open uncrowded beaches. Obviously I completely underestimated my children's need to immerse themselves in freezing ocean water. Oh well, so so much fun was had by all. Seriously, a wonderful place. Unfortunately, we didn't see any wild horses meandering through the campground, but the horse poop everywhere proved they visit frequently.

If you're interested in visiting, Assateague is about 3 hour drive from DC (it is located next to Ocean City, MD). Click here for more info.


The night slowly became colder.

sword fight

And colder . . .


And freezing.


Oh that morning light (which I rarely see because I'm a sleep-innner). T's friend spent all morning circling the tent and waiting for T to finally wake up. He even made sure everyone saved T a donut.

t wake up

Unfortunately when T woke up, he acted like this.


By 9 am everyone warmed up and the kids jumped back in the ocean.


And finally, on the drive out of the park, we saw some wild horses off the road. Wonderfulness.


Things to Read - Spring Reading (for Grown Ups)

I haven't posted about grown up books in awhile, so I figured I'd summarize some recent reads. What about everyone else? Any good suggestions for spring?

Housekeeping - I first learned of Marilynne Robinson's novel, Housekeeping, while perusing Flavorwire's list of the "new classics". Two of the compilation's contributors considered it one of the great books of the 20th century.

Housekeeping is sort of an odd novel, not much happens (despite the fact that the plot covers several years) and things seem to move slowly, or not at all. Almost like a memoir. By the end you realize that the pacing was purposeful in that conclusion seems almost hauntingly destined (how else could things have been?). Nothing truly bad happens (or does it? I can't decide) nor does anything even vaguely good happen. Life and personalities form through something along the lines of ambivalence. I can't say I loved this novel, but yet, I know it will stick with me much more than several novels I have loved. At it's heart, the story really dissects the concept of family - what it means to stay together and, also, what it means to go away.

I am the Executioner - This book of short stories has been on my Amazon wish list for years now. Seriously years. But somehow it never quite made it to the top. Anyways, now that I've finally read it, I can vouch for the fact that Parameswaran's short stories make for some fantastic (yet odd) reading.

The collection starts off with “The Infamous Bengal Ming”, in which the narrator, a tiger, accidentally murders his trainer and an infant all while trying to help. Um . . . I wasn't quite sure what to make of this, but Parameswaran's wonderful imagination and writing had me intrigued, so I kept reading. The stories run the gamut from super odd to everyday problems (a wife wonders if her life would be easier without her husband, then he chokes and dies, leaving her to contemplate if thoughts can really kill someone). All of the stories seem to mock the characters, while also empathizing with them - not an easy trick. And, really, I'm not quite sure how Parameswaran pulls it off. But wow, reading them was fun.

The Interestings - I tried to read this book three times and kept losing interest, mainly because the first chapter just isn't very good. But since I usually like Meg Wolitzer (esp. The Position), I decided to power through and soon I couldn't put the book down.

The Interestings centers on a group of friends, all artists of some sort, who meet at a creative camp for teenagers. The novel follows them throughout their lives, as one Interesting, a cartoonist, becomes uber-famous, while the narrator of the novel, Jules, comes to terms with her own artistic averageness.

Wolitzer switches the novel's timing between modern day and the past, which works well for the book, creating a sense of mystery (you know x happened, but you can't wait to find out WHY it happened). Further, this narrative also assures that the cliches of the first chapter are toned down (Wolitzer writes more believable adult characters than teenage characters). A good read.

The Optimist's Daughter - I picked this up for our trip to Charleston, mainly because I've never read Eudora Welty before and also because (cheesy as it sounds) I wanted to read a classical southern author while in the south.

Similar to Housekeeping, this is a slow read, where not much really happens. The novel centers on the days surrounding the funeral of a popular and loved judge as told through the perspective of his only child, a daughter. Perhaps because I too am an only child whose father recently died (is three years recent? it still seems recent), this novel struck something in me, especially as his daughter goes through her mother and father's old possessions and letters, trying to figure out how to process/what to do with the lives of the deceased.

A Good Fall - Ha Jin's novel, A Free Life , was one of my favorite reads over the past few years. So I've been meaning to read some of his other work for awhile now. And this story collection, which documents different Chinese immigrant experiences, did not disappoint.

The narrators vary from young to old, legal to illegal, but when combined they present a fascinating picture of what it means to be part of a society, but still not really belong.


Things to Make - Slow Cooker Chicken Mole


This is one of my favorite easy weekday dinners, esp. on evenings when the kids have sport practices that take up most of the the daylight hours. The combo of chocolate, raisins, chile peppers, and tomatoes really creates something unique and almost sophisticated (wow, this is probably the first time i've ever used the word sophisticated on this blog, which says a lot about the last few years of my life).

Slow Cooker Chicken Mole (via Martha Stewart (of course)).

* 4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 12)
* 1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes
* 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
* 2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed (i buy these in large bags at a hispanic grocery store, you keep for a LONG time)
* 1 large chipotle chile in adobo sauce
* 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
* 1/4 cup raisins
* 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
* 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
* 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* Fresh cilantro leaves, for serving

1. Season chicken thighs with salt and place in a 5-to-6-quart slow cooker. In a blender, puree tomatoes, onion, ancho and chipotle chiles, almonds, raisins, chocolate, garlic, oil, cumin, and cinnamon until smooth.

2. Add tomato mixture to slow cooker, cover, and cook on high until chicken is tender, 4 hours (or 8 hours on low). Serve chicken and sauce topped with cilantro.


Things to Do - Somersault Snacks GIVEAWAY!!

somersault (1 of 2)

somersault (2 of 2)

For our trip to Charleston, Somersault Snack Company sent some yummy snacks to keep hunger at bay while on the road. I'm by no means a health food expert, but I was pretty impressed by the nutritional info, "[s]omersaults are a good source of fiber, vitamin E and offer you the same protein as almonds, but with fewer calories and less fat." Still not convinced? Check out their snack compare chart.

As an added bonus, NONE of Somersault's offerings contain peanuts, making it a great choice for an allergy family like our's.

But most importantly, my kids really liked them. All three kids. Sort of miraculous really.

If you're interested in trying some yourself, Somersault will provide one lucky reader with a free sample pack, a lip balm and a pedometer (US residents only please). To enter, just use the rafflecopter gadet below.


a Rafflecopter giveaway


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