Thursday, August 29, 2013

Gardens, Boats, and Mail (more Smithsonians and the National Botanical Garden with young kids)

Last week, we planned our day in the city around Brian's birthday, taking him out to eat in Alexandria for lunch.  Some of the food was pretty good, but a full-blown tantrum from Theo because the Greek restaurant did not have lemonade kind of ruined the meal for us.  It was so unexpected too.  There used to be a time when we were very leery to take the kids to restaurants, but they are both at great stages right now and I never dreamed he'd act the way he did.  I think he may have just been very dehydrated after spending all morning outside.  And once he got a huge lemonade from the bakery across the street, he was perfect the rest of the day.  On the bright side, I really liked that bakery, and hope to check out Bittersweet again soon.  Without a hysterical three year old.

But the rest of the day was great!

In the morning we finally got over to the United States Botanical Garden.  I have never really spent much time at gardens or conservatories, but have realized in the last year what a great place these are to take kids.  We spent the whole morning identifying colors, counting petals, and discussing the different ecosystems the plants (and animals) live in.  And got some fresh air and exercise at the same time-a great morning.

Some Logistics:  We parked at a 2 hour meter this time on 3rd street right when the gardens would open (10am).  Hats and sunscreen are a must when visiting here, as there is a lot to see outdoors as well as in.  The whole place was pretty stroller accessible (lots of automatic doors, one of my new favorite things), and though there weren't family bathrooms there were very clean, roomy ones.  There were several comfy chairs and couches throughout that would make great nursing stations.    The garden also offers tours and some experiences designed for kids (check the calendar on the website).  We visited for about 1.5-2 hours at a pretty quick pace.

 Theo decided this one was a dinosaur plant.

We originally went because I'd read there was a children's garden.  This section was pretty small, but there was a wooden house to play in, a tunnel (of trees) to go through, and tools to use.  So my three year old was happy.  It is a good stop between looking at all the other exhibits, or at the end of the visit to give the kids some play time.

I thought it might be fun to make some kind of scavenger hunt when Theo is older for finding all of the plants that provide food.  There were so many different kinds of food trees and plants, which were a real learning experience since Theo didn't realize many of those foods grew like that.

He also didn't realize mama and dada used to live in the desert where sites like these organ pipe cacti were common.

The last area we went through was the photo gallery at the end, which Theodore thought looked like a living room.  It was pretty cozy, and cool, and just a few steps away from the Capitol Building.  Such a relaxing respite from the hustle and bustle of the area.
There really were so many amazing flowers that didn't even look real.
And we even found some Chrysanthemum on the way out.

Proof that I was here too (so hard to get any pictures with mama):
Since we had a little more than half an hour left on our meter, we went into the National Museum of the American Indian which is right next to the gardens.  I have only been to this one a couple times before, and was surprised and excited to see signs about an interactive area for kids and families when I walked in.  We hustled up to the third floor and found the imagiNATIONS Activity Center.

In the entryway to the museum, Theo had been drawn immediately to the different boats on display, and I was happy to see that we could continue on this topic in the activity center.  I feel learning experiences do come most naturally for him when he is interested and can make connections to other things.  And we keep the topic narrow.  So we focused on the differences between kayaks and canoes.  In addition to seeing the real ones on display in the lobby, Theo then got to explore two play ones in the activity center.  And the interpretive cart topic was even focused on these boats.  There were also many other things to explore:  basket weaving, different types of American Indian homes, and boarding.  There was a make-and-take craft area and even a small reading room.  Basically, a great place for pre-k to school age kids.  This museum has a great family guide available on their website at

Finally, we ended the day by heading over near Union Station (Theo loved this grand train station) to the National Postal Museum.   This is a beautiful old building.

 I have dabbled in collecting some stamps in the past and have always loved getting and sending mail, so this museum holds  a lot of interest for me.  Though not the most little kid friendly of the museum, Theo was still very interested in the different modes of transportation that mail has used, from carriage to train to semi. 

We also got to review the ABCs in the Alphabetilately exhibit.

And the last exhibit was actually the best in terms of interaction for school age kids.  They can pretend to sort packages, use the zip code machine, scan with scanners, and hand cancel their own postcard.

We'll have to go back for a visit, since they have a new gallery opening in September!

And we ended the day by celebrating Brian's 31st birthday with some great cake!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Summer (Romaine) Salads

I love a good salad bar.  I always have.  Recently, we decided to go ahead and get a Costco membership due to its proximity to us, and due to the amount of fruit (Eli), bread (Theo), and cheese (both) my children are consuming.  I feel like they are already eating me out of house and home.  I'm not sure how I'll ever be able to keep enough food around when they are teenagers.

The Costco membership is why we often have 6 huge romaine hearts in our fridge.  Just about every time we come back from the store.  I've been finishing summer up by eating a salad just about every day for lunch, so we decided to try out buying the lettuce in bulk.  I'm committed to not letting any food go bad and I'm having some fun switching things up so I don't get tired of the same old salad every day.

Maybe these will be inspirational to others who find themselves in the same too-much-Romaine situation.

Avocado and Walnut Salad: Idea and Dressing here.
Grilled salad:  Idea and Dressing Here.

Friday, August 23, 2013

3 months old (or 3 1/2 years, actually)

So always hearing your brother's age described in months has led you to get a little confused.  Lately, you've been saying you are three months old instead of years.  But today, you are officially 3 and a half years old.  It was a pretty rainy, dreary day, but you still had fun running around the house, playing with your new mail truck, "training" Cori, and keeping your brother out of stuff.

You are at your cutest age for sure.  I thought I would try to come up with 42 things about you since you are 42 months old.  Let's see how this goes:

1.  You say the silliest things, like, "That is a mystery!"  "I probably need a little help."  And always, "Why?"  It is almost impossible to get through a book with you now (or a movie) because you ask a million questions about each picture you see.

2.  You "notice" many things now too.

3.  You've recently renewed your interested in your doll (Elizabeth) and stuffed animals.

4.  Napping is starting to happen much more infrequently.  You actually pretended to be asleep recently so you could go shopping with mama instead of to the park with daddy (it didn't work, but was still pretty cute).

5.  You want me to put James, Gordon, and Henry on the grocery list.  And probably Duck and Diesel too.

6.  You want to be a builder when you grow up.  You really would like to build Cori a dog house now.  The front should be blue, and the back green.

7.  You love a good hand stamp.  Or a sticker.  You'd cover yourself in them if we let you.

8.  One of your favorite times of the week is when the garbage man comes.  You can't believe they get to ride on the back of the truck like they do, and you sit outside on the step and watch as they collect our whole street.  At the grocery store you now like to ride on the cart like the garbage man.

9.  We are starting to get you to understand a little bit about money.  You normally hand the money to the sellers at the farmer's market, and you understand that daddy goes to work to get money.

10.  You get very excited for children's sermons or children's churches at the new churches we've been trying.  You run back to us and tell us what you learned (even if we could hear it).  We cross our fingers that you're not going to start talking or ask a million questions right in the middle of the message.

11.  You love Lucky Charms.  You eat all the marshmallows first, and save the cereal pieces for last.  Sometimes you put them in the fridge to eat later.

12.  You LOVE to be "the winner".  You're not a good listener, but it you get the chance to be the winner you will do anything we ask.  You have won:  getting in the car first, getting dressed first, going to the bathroom first, getting in the bathtub first, getting in bed at night, and picking up toys. Pretty much anything we need you to do.

13.  You still can't really make S, J, R, Th, Ch, or Sh sounds.  Which can makes it hard for people to understand when you say your name is Theo.

14.  You think "Boom" is a verb.  For example, "I am going to boom with this hammer!"

15.  You love to help daddy with his tools.  Putting up all the pictures in the new house is very exciting for you.

16.  Whenever Eli is asleep in the car, you hiss "SSSSHHHHH, you must be quiet" in as loud a whisper as possible.

17.  You are always careful.  Our recent trip to the ER for a concussion would prove that statement wrong, but every time we remind you to be careful you automatically respond with, "I'm always careful!"

18.  You sometimes want to be a grown up.

19.  Cracking eggs scares you.  You will crack them, but never will break them into the bowl for me.

20.  You are starting to get a little picky with your food.  For breakfast you like cereal, toast, or eggs.  For lunch you prefer a peanut butter and jam sandwich, but will take pasta.  For dinner you get whatever we are having, but a lot of time you won't eat much of it.  You do like helping blend up smoothies for your brother, so now you're getting a lot of fruit smoothies (fruit you otherwise won't bother with).  

21.  You are pretty good at puzzles.  You have done several 24 piece puzzles on your own.  We probably need to get bigger ones to see how far you can go.

22.  You are very excited to start nursery school soon.  It is just a quick walk across the street (and past the construction site).

23.  When walking on the sidewalk, you are probably better than most adults at listening to the pedestrian crosswalk signals.  You love to push the button to get the white crossing symbol to appear.

24.  You still think you can change a stop light if you blow on it.

25.  You recently learned that your pets will eventually die, and are very sad about that.  You LOVE Cori.  (I'm not sure you'd notice though if Kiki was gone.)

26.  You are very proud of your little brother.  You tell everyone you meet about him.

27.  We've been making plenty of boats from boxes recently.  You will push Eli around in his.

28.  You are good at watering the plants, though sometimes you get a little overdone and the whole yard gets sprayed.

29.  You typically eat breakfast out on the patio.

30.  One of your favorite new activities is playing with your tiny construction vehicles in a small box I filled with rocks.  It keeps you entertained for a long time.

31.  You still need help getting dressed.  We really need to work on this with you.

32.  You often call dada "Daddy-O".

33.  I just asked you to tell me something about you.  You said:  "Well, I'm pretty crazy.  And pretty bad too.  I'm bad whenever I hit my baby.  I do hit my baby sometimes."  (Baby=Eli)

34.  Then I asked you for something nice about yourself, and you said:  "Well, I, I can make a hammock."

35.  You seem very random at times, but everything you say or do has a connection to something else (a book, what you saw on Sesame Street, something that happened at the museum the day before).

36.  Your favorite shows are Sesame Street (Grover 2.0), Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, and Word World.  Mainly because these are the only ones I really let you watch right now.  We don't have cable again, so PBS is about all you see.

37.  Almost anything can be solved by a cowboy band-aide.

And the easy ones.

38.  You have dark brown hair (never has lightened in the summer).

39.  You have beautiful dark brown eyes.

40.  You are 46 pounds.

41.  You are 40 inches tall.

42.  And you are loved, greatly. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sampling Smithsonians (with young kids, pre-schooler and baby)

Last week we decided to focus our weekly day-in-the-city on checking out some of the museums and areas around the National Mall.  Now, I've been to the National Mall several times with various configurations of people:  in 8th grade as a student by charter bus, with Brian several times as a couple, with my girlfriends and our moms, with my family and newborn Theo, with my family and a two-year old nephew, and finally twice as a teacher with 8th grade students.  I have arrived by bus, van, car, or metro.  The choice of museums and speed of the visit really depends on who you are with.

So yesterday, while taking the two boys by myself on a mild end of summer day, I chose to just sample a couple of the specific exhibits in two of the museums, and in the middle of that take in some of the outside activities.

Nothing opens until 10am around the National Mall.  I had planned to visit the botanical gardens nearby earlier, since we were there by 9 after dropping Brian off for work, but even this wasn't open yet.  So, once we finally found a metered parking spot, we took our time finishing up breakfast and waiting for the museums to open.  I'd like to give some tips about parking here, but I still haven't figured out the best way.  There are parking spots all around the perimeter of the National Mall.  The signs around them say no parking from 1-10am, and then 3 hour limits after that.   However, these were almost completely packed by 9:30am, and I was too chicken to park there before 10 (in the future I will chance it), so I took a metered spot on 7th St (where most of the food trucks park, fyi), and then moved spots around noon.  The shorter streets that go through the mall have different amount of hourly parking, ranging from 1-3 hours.  It really is best to just take the metro in, but I wasn't sure how Theo would do with all the walking and I didn't want to chance it.  He ended up doing pretty well.

So, without further background, some activities for 4-5 good hours on the National Mall with a three year old and an almost one year old on their level.

1st Stop:  The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum for their Flights of Fancy story time.
Walking there, we took some time to walk the outside scale model of the solar system (since we were early) and talk about the planets.  Theo was very interested in learning about other places.  Then we back tracked to the ramp entrance on the west of the building, since we had the single stroller.

Once inside, we grabbed a map, and Theo selected some exhibits based on the pictures.  We went through the open-air "America by Air" exhibit, touching and touring an airplane model and talking about flying on them.  

Then, we headed up the elevator to the "Apollo to the Moon" exhibit, where Theodore could have spent all day just at the Lunar Roving Module display, where they had the actual devices and tools used on the missions to the moon, as well as diagrams of these items.  Theodore was very interested in "what" and "how" and "why" everything was used for.  He is still saying he wants to build a plane to take his dog (and now his brother) to the moon, so tools are a big obsession right now.

Finally, we headed to the "Pioneers of Flight" gallery, checked out the airplanes, learned about Amelia Earhart, and talked about why someone would use an air balloon.  As story time approached (11:00), we headed to the carpet to play with some toy airplanes for a while and settle in.  The book today was "Moon Plane," so Miss Ann of the museum used her models to discuss the difference between airplanes and spaceships, and then started in on the story.  Theo was enthralled with this, and enjoyed the book as well.  Afterwards, he did a rubbing of a boot print on mars, and some rubbings of planes from some plates she had.  He also got to check out more tools in her display case, ones that would be used to fix planes.  He loved this of course.

Other exhibits to try:  "How Things Fly" is a hands-on type of exhibit for kids to learn about lift, drag, and thrust.  The planetarium show:  One World, One Sky:  Big Bird's Big Adventure is free every Friday, Sunday, and the first Saturday of each month at 10:30 am.  (Theo saw this at age 1 1/2 and loved it.)

2nd Stop:  The National Gallery of Arts Sculpture Garden for the funky house sculpture.
On our way to the next exhibit, we decided to walk through the National Gallery of Arts Sculpture Garden.  It is a beautiful place (with just a few stairs), with a cafe and fountain (ice skating rink in the winter) in the middle.  Some kids did slip off their shoes and wade in the fountain, but we just threw a lucky penny in and moved on.

3rd Stop:  Riding the Carousel
We decided to try out this carousel, and delighted to find that it actually gives you a nice long ride at a quick pace.  Tickets were $3.50 (yes, parent helpers must have a ticket for kids under 42 inches), except for anyone under 1 year, which meant Eli was free.  I was able to stand between the two and was surprised how well Eli held on.  He really loved it.  After this, we found a spot on the lawn under one of the many trees and had our late picnic lunch and I nursed Eli.  It was very relaxing, other than the sparrows that Theo had to keep chasing off. 

4th Stop:  Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History for its discovery room
I wanted to take a look at the hands-on discovery room I had read about in this museum, so we headed in here.  Like the other museums on the mall, we had to go through a bag-check at the door.  This one was done by hand, while the Air and Space one uses a machine.  Both say no food or drinks, but they didn't say anything about the kids snacks and drinks that I had in mine.  This one also did not have a ramp entrance on the mall side, but does have one if you go around the back of the building.  Theo chose the ocean exhibit, and almost immediately asked where Nemo was, and we then found some clownfish in their aquarium tank.  Through the back of this exhibit is the discovery room we came for.  It is a really neat place, though of course it was a little overcrowded as many of the areas on the mall were on a nice summer day.  Theo jumped between inspecting the items with a magnifying glass, microscope, and binoculoars.  Eli liked the feeling the different shells in the texture bags, and we even slowed down and read a story in their reading nook area.  All in all, a nice room for this age kids, but not much more than a 30-45 minute stop.  We then headed upstairs to the Insect Zoo, to check out the real insect exhibit they had there.  Theo said "eww" a lot.  I think he has picked that up from me.

And since our second parking meter was about to expire, we called it a day on the mall and headed out to wait on Brian to be done with work.  Definitely an enjoyable, cheap, educational day with my two little ones in the middle of the hustle and bustle of one of the countries biggest tourist attractions.