Friday, July 31, 2009

Tredegar Iron Works

We drive down to North Carolina from Maryland a lot. This summer I thought it was time to start exploring the city we've driven through about a thousand times: Richmond, Virginia! The first place we decided to try was part of Richmond National Battlefield Park and called Tredegar Iron Works. Unfortunately, HORRIBLE summer beach traffic limited our first visit to a mere 45 minutes. We barely had time to flip through the Junior Ranger booklets before they were closing the place. SO. We stopped again on the way home :)

The booklets have great scavenger hunts in them - with pictures of things to find, great for my non-and-new readers. One of them I really liked because there was a picture for the kids to find and then they had to match the picture with a word that went with it. There was a picture of a big sword with a spur attached to it, and after reading about it in the museum you found out it went with the word "Calvary," another one was a picture of some old-fashioned sun glasses and they went with the word "sharpshooter." Who knew? Xavey was VERY interested in that one :)

There are maps and guns and models and cannons and movies to watch. The vistor's center is really well done and the grounds are fun to explore. After finishing their booklets, Sheely wanted to turn them in to the ranger, who gave them REAL patches!! She was so excited and let's be honest, so was I :) Then we went outside and had a good explore around the grounds. We saw the old company store (now just storing a bunch of stuff - aren't those shelves crazy-old looking! The sun was so bright I had to hold my hand up to the window to get any kind of picture of them at all :)The kids looked through the viewfinder and fussed about taking turns:Seriously, that picture of Preston giving me the hand just slays me, how true-to-life that one is :)

Xavey wanted to look at everything - old railroad tracks, cannons, gigantic heavy chains - he's an explorer like his mama.Before we left we got a picture taken with Abraham Lincoln (he's VERY hot, in that southern heat, by the way - and can you see that I had to give my melting daughter my sunglasses to get her to be a good sport outside??) The inscription in the back says "To Bind Up the Nation's Wounds." Apparently it's from his second inaugural address. Did you know that Lincoln visited Richmond? With his son Tad? You can read about it here :) That's his son that he's sitting next to in the statue. I love that.
I feel like we got some good Civil War info, some iron-working info, some Abraham Linocln info, and a look around a really historical spot. We've already got plans for what we'll go see next :)

Summer Adventure #5 (Watson Park)

Watson Park. That's the name of the park that I've seen in the Parks & Rec class schedule that looked like a whole lotta fun.

Yesterday, it was a GORGEOUS day -- in the low-80s, clear, with a breeze -- and so, on a whim (since I was looking at a day full of a whole lotta nothing), I got the girls and we drove out there. It's not as far as I thought it'd be either -- in fact, it's a 119-acre park hidden in the middle of town.

Who knew?

I knew enough to grab some cash because some of the activities there cost money. They decided on the pony rides, and then the paddle boats.

Only the younger three went on the pony rides; M wanted to save her money for the paddle boats... and yeah, it's a pathetic little operation, but they had fun anyway.

The paddle boats were more worth the money. Except that I found out that a paddle boat is incredible difficult to paddle when it's loaded down with two little kids, and I'm the only one paddling.

Let's just say that my legs hurt afterward!

In addition to fishing (no swimming, though), and picnic places, a train ride and miniature golf, there was a nice playground, where we spent a while... until enough people got injured and/or hungry and it was time to go home.

Yes, I know she should have been a gymnast.

It was fun, though. We'll have to go back and try some of the other things sometime.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Living Planet Aquarium

OK, this was bad. Not the aquarium's fault at all though. If I were to pin the blame on any one person, it would my own self. I'm the one driving the jeep and deciding when and where to stop it and let everyone out, after all. :o) This outing was squeezed between some other events. I was in the area and needed to have something fun for the kids for a couple of hours and this seemed to be the best option, since otherwise we would have been roasting at a public park. So I parked the jeep and we all got out.

Eight dollars for me (ouch, for how small the place is!) and six dollars for my five-year-old. Two and under are free. Though I've little experience with aquariums, it is clear that this one is a work in progress. Still, I thought they had some neat things to offer.

LOVED the jellyfish area. I could stare at those for a long time and Zach thought the fish themselves were changing colors, though really it was probably a cool light bulb nearby. I just loved looking into those dark waters and watching those beautiful glowing things.

LIKED the octopus. The thing was all suctioned to the side of glass, and it was kindof ew, gross, wow, weird, amazing, gonna gag, all at the same time.

LIKED the 100-yr-old lobster. I wondered a little if the poor guy is just ready to be done already. Very big, the biggest lobster I've ever seen.

HATED that fifteen minutes upon arriving, things went sour at the stingray petting area. For the kids sake, I reached my two fingers in to touch the slimy back of the passing sting ray. Ben enjoyed watching them only and standing up on the rock step he was right at level to peek in at them. Then one began oozing its way up the side and showed its slimy pink alarming face to Ben. He let out a yelp/scream/cry as he backed away. I felt so bad for him, it scared me too! Then things turned into full-on crying, which woke up Sean. Then the rest of the time felt lame and rushed and involved my fussy infant and a freaked out preschooler.

LIKED that I had a moment to re-group a little in the sunken pirate ship -- an area with some wood puzzles and where they host birthday parties if you like.

LOVED the shark tank. Remembering the good times when I kayaked over leopard sharks not long ago. This was Zach's favorite part and no one felt too scared when we were looking at things safely on the other side of the glass.

LIKED the huge starfish. My kids had never seen anything like it, and I hadn't since being on the Oregon coast eight years ago.

LOVED the south america exhibit. My children enjoyed the buttons on the wall that made different frog sounds and I liked the mini crocodilian creatures. This spotted stingray was small and almost cute.

LIKED the Utah waters section. We saw four different types of trout, which wasn't too thrilling to be honest. But what do you expect when you go see an aquarium in the middle of the desert? At this part my kids really liked the boat turned play area, where they could sit in a driver's seat and watch a movie that made them feel they were really on a ride.

This is a different boat, just a cute little picture spot where I didn't get a very cute little picture. But both kids are looking at the camera, and that's very good.

HATED that they make you exit right past the gift shop. It just wasn't my day to add that icing on the cake.

I think we'll go back. Someday, when they're bigger and better. The aquarium, my kids, or both. :o)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hudson Highlands Nature Museum

Well this was supposed to be fun. It looked like fun. This museum has "Discovery Quests" on the weekends where you buy these guidebooks and then go on some marked trails and fill in the book and stuff. There are four trails, Pond Quest, Field Quest, Woodland Quest, and Hiking Quest. Super fun right? Well not if one of your kids happens to be Mary in a really really bad mood. Okay, it wasn't completely horrible...but kind of. Emma was really sweet and patient, she didn't fuss once about walking. She said it was hot but she didn't say it in a fussy drama voice so wahoo.

We chose the Field Quest because this huge group just went on the pond one and it was pretty crowded over there. I guess the first mistake was completely mine...I misread the map right at the beginning and actually took us on the wrong trail (in my defense the red flag I was supposed to find really was marking the wrong trail). But I figured it out quick and we retraced our steps. We did see some cool flowers and stuff. Once we were on the right trail I thought things would get better. Mary had already been doing some pretty significant fussing at me. The thing is, they didn't get better. At all.

The trail was only 1/2 mile on completely flat ground. It was pretty much a big path someone had mowed through a field. The guidebook was alright...some of the things were fun like circling different plants we can see and listening for sounds. The "Quest" part is filling in these rhymes and then doing a word puzzle at the end. Half of these rhymes Emma could not get at ALL. And some of them weren't even rhymes. So that was a little lame. But some of the activities were good. And I would like to do the other ones sans Mary completely hating me. Don't let her cute smile fool you in some of these pictures...they all involved some sort of bribe (she's holding marshmallows in the one of her by herself). Mostly I carried her on the trail and the girl is HEAVY. Solid little thing. On the way home we played "What was your favorite part of our outing?" And Emma said she liked finding the flowers and doing the rhymes. Mary said, "You have to help me...I can't remember."

There is also another part of this museum with exhibits, it is about 1/2 a mile away and at this point it was get home. But I'd like to go try that too.

This was on the wrong trail...but Emma didn't mind. She was trailblazing for us.

Please note the look of joy on Mary's face here...this was her face for almost the whole time

Please notice the marshmallow bribe

This was about 2 minutes after we got one had cried yet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mount Rushmore

I got to visit Mt. Rushmore last month, in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota.

I had always thought it a little kooky that someone had decided to carve some of our most revered presidents into the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. On this trip, I found out who carved it (Gutzon Borglum), why he did it, and that it's not really kooky at all. And, by the way, the mountain was called Mt. Rushmore before anyone ever thought of turning it into a sculpture.

It was the idea of Doane Robinson, the founder of the South Dakota state historical society. Through support from Peter Norbeck, a U.S senator, it was eventually determined that it would be made a monument to our country, much like the Washington Monument or Lincoln Monument, except carved from a mountain. Gutzon Borglum and his crew blasted their way through the granite to carve the 4 presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

There was also to be a Hall of Records, because Borglum felt that a monument to our country should hold the history of our country. Alas, it was never completed (it was to be a stone vault behind the peak). But, there are now many interpretive exhibits at the memorial, recording the history of the monument, the history of our country, and the history of the presidents that grace the mountain.

When I arrived, I thought it was just a carved mountain. When I left, I saw it as a monument to the greatness that is my country: The United States of America. I really liked this quote about Mt. Rushmore from the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum:

"I want, somewhere in America on or near the Rockies, the backbone of the Continent, so far removed from succeeding, selfish, coveting civilizations, a few feet of stone that bears witness, carries, the likenesses, the dates, a word or two of the great things we accomplished as a Nation, placed so high it won't pay to pull down for lesser purposes.

Hence, let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and the rain alone shall wear them away."

It was really a great place to visit.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Blueberries: Farmed and Wild

The playgroup that we have been attending for a few years went on a field trip to pick blueberries, which was perfect for us since it was on my summer activities list. It was a beautiful day in late June (I'm a bit behind on my blogging, I know). We went to Butlers Orchard in Damascus, Maryland.

We got to take a tractor ride to and from the fields.

Blueberry bushes at the farm.

Sydney and Drew both ate plenty of blueberries right off of the bushes. They tasted great, and they were cheaper per pound than Costco or the grocery stores, so we really loaded up. That night, we made blueberry crisp for dessert. It was great to do it with friends, and we got to play at a playground and eat snacks after we picked.

A few days earlier, I had a very rare 2 hours to myself while Drew and Sydney were at a playdate and the baby spent some time with Andy. I decided to go hike the Billy Goat Trail which is a part of Great Falls national park in Potomac MD. I didn't take many pictures as I was semi-rushed to get some errands run before picking up the kids, but I hope to get back there soon and do a better job. I did shot some photos of this nice waterfall just off of the trail, and while there, I saw some blueberries growing in some soil mixed in among the rocks. Normally, I do not eat wild berries in case of poisoning, but with these I was sure what they were. They were small, but they were the best berries that I have ever had-- super sweet. To wrap it up, I recommend picking some fruit this summer. It is fun and delicious!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

I LOVE going on new adventures. When I explore new places and learn new things, I feel like I am living my life to it's fullest. I live in the Washington D.C. area, so even with my somewhat limited budget this summer, there is plenty of fun to be had. As a mother of 3 small kids, I have great little friends to bring along for most or all of these adventures.

Here is my list of some of the things that I want to do this summer:

-fruit picking
-Concert on the steps of the Capital Building (Washington D.C.)
-Plum Point (on the Chesapeake Bay)
-Climbing to the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (Buxton, North Carolina)
-Crabbing on the Chesapeake
-National Building Museam (Washington D.C.)
-Explore the bike trail near my house
-Play frisbee golf
-Camping on the Chesapeake
-Pirate Adventure
-Hike the Billy Goat Trail (Great Falls, MD)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Crayola Factory and National Canal Museum in Easton, PA

It turns out that the 4 hour round trip drive was completely worth it to go to the Crayola Factory and National Canal Museum in Easton, Pennsylvania. I was worried about not getting there until the afternoon (Emma has morning swimming lessons, another story altogether) because the web site mentioned being super crowded in the afternoons in July and August. Yeah. And it was, in fact, super crowded. So much so that at first I almost felt claustrophobic.

The deal is this. There are arts and crafts projects EVERYWERE Here is a list of what we did:
*Coloring pages at the massive circular crayon table
*Seahorse puppets
*Fish prints (a Japanese art technique apparently)
*Color Wonder
*Crayon Rubbing
*Play with Model Magic clay
*Watch a bit of crayon making
*Paint a ceramic-y type fish (it wasn't exactly ceramic but it was a 4 inch three dimensional fish with tables full of water colors
*Sidewalk chalk
*Play in the little kids area
*Use these little tokens (part of your admission) to get a marker and a 4 count box of crayons
*Write on a plexi-glass wall with markers that wash off (I think they are actually called window markers)

Mary's tracing her hand here...she LOVES tracing her hands

You get this bag when you go in to put your stuff in and each girl had a full bag by the time we left. They had a blast. The more things cleared out the easier it was to relax and let them just hang out at the different stations without feeling like you had to hurry up and move so someone else could try. And this was just at the Crayola part.

Upstairs was the National Canal Museum. Apparently the only one in the country. It was super cool, very hands on. There was this massive replica of a canal with boats the kids could float along it and actually work the locks on the canals and stuff. Emma was a huge fan and we did that twice. There was also a big boat to play in, a tiller to try, a mule to harness (full size but obviously fake) laundry to wash in the washtub and all kinds of other stuff. Then there was yet another floor full of building toys: Legos, Lincoln Logs, cardboard bricks, etc. There was also a water table and a sort of sand type table but with something other than sand. We spent four hours between the Factory and the Museum. We ate McDonalds right there on site and I have to say that I quite liked the massive Crayola gift shop.

This is the canal replica, you can't feel the size of it from this measley picture

Emma was massively thrilled that the boat was named after her

When we were leaving Emma said, "Mom, that was so fun!" And so wahoo for me. Mary only yelled at me once so I'm calling it a thumbs up from her too. It's 10.00 a person for ages 3 and up so it can get pricey if you have a big family but I feel for sure like I got my 10.00 worth - a massive bag full of crafts and four hours of happy children.

Treehouse Childrens Museum

New Summer Adventure #1

Man, it was hard to get out the door for this one -- for reasons I can't remember -- but I'm so glad to be, in my new mother-of-three status, feeling ready for at least a bit of adventuring.

Sean's first impressions. Ha!

Technically, this was not my first time at this museum. I went when it was more like a little hole in the wall a few blocks away from where it now stands. I'd been looking forward to visiting the new location, and though I did go in early June, it was one of my off days. So I went again, and this time, I have lots of good to say. I have determined that the worst place to try and get pictures of kids looking at the camera is in a childrens' museum. Still I tried. :o)

Stuff we liked:

**Parking is nice and close, and there seemed to be plenty. This museum is right by the Ogden temple, in the up and coming nice downtown part of Ogden.
**You pay for your child when they begin walking, which I think is perfect. It bugs when a childrens' museum charges for a one-year-old who is just going to be chillin' in the stroller the whole time.
**They have a cheaper toddler time, which is I believe from 10-noon on Mondays. This includes some extra goofy story time which we caught when we went in June. Part of this story time included a 65-ish woman at the keyboard with songs like "If You're Happy and You Know It," and I imagined that she had been doing it and loving it for years and years. I think she even accompanied the story time with dramatic music when appropriate. And that, to me, is some serious piano talent.
**This museum has a huge tree in the middle of the building, you can go up the tunnel/stairs to the upper floors. They have a slick rock slide for going part of the way down, but this is currently cardboarded off for some reason.

Stuff we didn't like:

**Much of the parking, I think it may just be the parking closest to the entrance, is for only two hours. So they expect you to drag your kids out of the museum to move your car and then come back in? That sounds fun.
**No strollers allowed on the museum floor, which yes is probably the status quo at places like these. Luckily, this time I came prepared with the Bjorn. Still, after the three hours we were there, I was exhausted.


**One of the first places we stopped in was made up of little houses representing different countries. My kids liked Africa. There was a straw-roofed house to take apart and put back together. And Ben thorougly enjoyed the flatbed safari truck. He was very sad that he couldn't take it with us to the next exhibit.

This little showcase, about the size of a shoebox, was a part of the Japan house. I stared at it for a long time, all the tiny detailed pieces were neat.
The Great Britain house had a tea party set up, as well as lots of books and information on Beatrix Potter. Wish I could have stayed and browsed but my boys were SO moving on. :o)
**Upstairs there was a very cool exhibit coming soon of "Be the Hero of your Own Story." I loved this area, even though it wasn't quite done. Huge books, complete with classic titles on the spines, made up the desks and partitions, they were stacked for the stage. I wish I'd have gotten a picture but my camera was dying.
**Ongoing activities at the art garden. They had these cute little pre-teens there to greet the children and get them started (accompanying grownup still had to be there too). We made these yankee doodle caps, that you staple together, complete with a feather on back. Ten minutes later I was wishing I would have just stapled them to my diaper bag, since I was the one carrying them most of the time. :o)
**OH, the music area. We spent a good amount of time here. I am finding that it is nigh impossible to get a good picture of my Ben without a flashed over-exposed face. He just moves too quick, always a blur.

Ben's favorite were these drums.

Yankee Doodle Zach liked the wall-mounted marimbas.
**The "castle" area is SO much fun! They have some turret tower scenery, treasure chests filled with dress ups for kids of all sizes, a curtained stage for life-size acting out, as well as a little puppet theatre to the side.

Since my boys really like Robin Hood right now, they loved these castle building pieces, complete with horses and knights to liven things up.

Here is the stage. I think it was at this point where my Sean was getting fussy and I gave up trying to get any decent pictures with my dying camera.
**I love these huge floor maps so much.

There is one of Utah and one of the U.S.A. The kids can press a button to hear trivia questions, and they stand on the state or county that is being referred to. Too mature an activity for my boys now, but perfect for older kids who visit the museum.

A funny thing about this day was that I was going to meet my sister-in-law there, she also with a newborn (and her own three older kids, AND two she babysits). We did meet. As we were passing each other while chasing kids across a lobby area. :o) So my visions of chatting with a friend while my kids were entertained were not fulfilled. Ah well, I think we'll go back again sometime and I think she will too.

Bottom line... I think this is a winner place to visit. I want to say that the feel there is a type of old-fashioned imagination-building that should never be extinguished. Lots of emphasis on telling stories, on creating a place to pretend in for awhile. I loved it.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Summer Adventures Challenge: Living Sea Aquarium and Museum of Ancient Life

by Cami

Ok, so I've decided to NOT post the Thanksgiving Point Gardens until I have more fun pictures. We'll be going all summer since we got a pass, so I'll leave that til later.

I WILL however, try to catch up on the other places we have been that I haven't posted about. First one:


So, it was small. You have to understand, "my" aquarium is the National Aquarium in Baltimore. So it was hard to just kind of drive around some little back roads in Salt Lake until we came upon what looks to be an old grocery store turned aquarium.

Having said that, it was cheap to get in, and JUST the right size for my family. Sure, I had a great time in the Baltimore aquarium, but would my little baby and my boys who tend to run off? It's just right for a quick afternoon with the cousins. And it was cheap enough that I felt pretty good about donating some dollars to get some penguins.

There are other bonuses. I never lost my kids--even wandering Janey. So I could sort of relax and let the kids wander where they might. There were LOTS of hands-on exhibits, and Jeffy, yes, my sensory dysfunctional child, reached right on in and TOUCHED a sting ray. More than once. And these were no ordinary sting rays. When you put your hand in or above the water, they will JUMP OUT AT YOU, to give you easier access, I guess. Very friendly sting rays my son touched. And then he moved on to the star fish and other smaller sea creatures. Very big step for my boy.

We went to a live animal show, which I was really quite worried about. Janey doesn't sit still and Ethan is terrified of any living non-human thing. So, I tried to position us in such a way that Ethan would not freak out, but so I could stand up with Janey. It's true, Ethan sort of screamed and moved 3 rows back every time they brought out something new. Birds, snakes, tarantulas, etc. But we made it through and he might have thought it was a little cool. Jeffy surprised us all again by actually TOUCHING the snake afterward. Seriously.

They also had a great little walk-through exhibit about Utah's natural habitat and whatnot, and though I'm pretty sure none of it actually soaked into my boys' brains, they enjoyed playing on the boat!

And then, of course, there are other cool exhibits (GIANT OCTOPUS!), fun little reefs to crawl around in, an aquarium you can look at from both sides so as to pretend you are IN it, and puzzles to do. So, it is kid friendly, and very fun. It was a good experience over all, and it's always fun to be with the clan.

So, I'd for sure do it again, and I'm sure the kids would too, without getting too bored. It's a keeper.


This is part of Thanksgiving Point, and since we bought a pass for ALL the properties, we can go to this anytime we want. It's the only thing that is truly open all year, so it really makes it worth it. I was worried, at first, that it was a one-time kind of place, but I am happy to say I was completely wrong. We could go here every couple weeks all year and be just fine.

First of all, it is the LARGEST dinosaur museum in the entire world. ENTIRE WORLD people. And it is literally 5 minutes from my house. I figured, when I heard that, that the other museums just must be pretty small, but no, they could be big and still be trumped by this awesome museum. It was practically a maze. There were so many exhibits, I feel like we barely scratched the surface.

How do I explain it? There are lots of dinosaurs. They are all over. Some of them you can stand under the feet on one floor, then walk up the next and be under the head. There are hallways made to look like the dark of space with stars (which Ethan refused to go in), and actual rooms where you can watch them work on the bones, and excavation tools you can look at, and fossils you can touch, and all sorts of scientificy things.

Then there are toys and puzzles and computers. There are rubbings. There are build-a-dino velcro walls and models. There are mosaics you can draw part of.

But most of all, there is . . . The sand and water room.

That's right, there is a room with a giant tub of sand with a constant stream of water coming from several different fountains. It is a sort of ellipse which you can stand around, or crawl under and go to the middle (which has a raised floor for shorter folk). Kids are building dams. Kids are making rivers. Kids (mine) are burying as many dinosaur figurines in as much sand as they possibly can. It is a Build Destroy Build sort of game that went on for probably 30 minutes before I dragged them away. Janey splashed a bit as well. And the provided smocks make it so the kids don't get TOO wet.

After we were washed off, I wandered around to get out and went the wrong way, because we didn't go out the door Jeffy had seen from the outside, so we snuck back in the exit and found the room full of sand. This, the kids went into barefoot, grabbed a few paintbrushes, and began to dig up life-sized dinosaurs. I was tired by then and made them come out after only a few bones. (Janey was sick and tired of the whole place by then.) But I got them out with promises that we could come back as many times as we wanted, and that made them happy.

There is also an IMAX 3D movie, but I am afraid that may be too much for the kids right now. I think maybe Jake will just take Jeffy sometime. But that also costs extra. But there were also other "free" exhibits that the kids really want to check out, so there is plenty to do that we haven't done.

So, all in all, these outings (which are things I NEVER would have done sans husband in the past, and which I braved ALL on my very own), have been so great and fun. I definitely recommend both to any locals or visitors to the area. If you come, give me a call, I can get you in to TP half price!