Our Stuff Runneth Over…

SanfordandSon

If it seems like I fell off the face of the Earth, I did. Actually, I was living in a never ending episode of Sanford and Son. My home? A cluttered version of their salvage yard (And if you think that isn’t possible, it is). It’s like I’ve had an awful glimpse into a special kind of hell created just for the condemned type-A’s. They will live out eternity in a small space that is filled with stuff. Boxes of stuff. Loose stuff. All of it stacked in teetering unorganized piles that rise from the floor (not that you can see it) all the way to the ceiling (it must be up there somewhere). You can run. You can drive thousands of miles. But your stuff follows you. It happened to me. And after a few clutter free weeks of corporate housing… the stuff caught up to us. The movers skillfully filled every room of our new home with our stuff. It took hours. At the end of the day, they somehow managed to push in one more box (to their own astonishment)and another and another. Then someone shut the door and the truck drove away. Are my children in here somewhere?

And I knew it would happen!

Moving to a Northeastern city meant living in a smaller space. Good-bye elbow room. Hello charm and adventure. My husband and I were excitedly buying into a lifestyle where everything fun and interesting is just steps away (sidewalk cafes, parks, children’s museum, a working sea port, farmer’s market)… until it hit us.

At 3 AM… WHAT ABOUT ALL OF OUR STUFF?

I panicked. Where would we put our stuff? What about the kids’ stuff? What the about the stuff we’ve carried around year after year, move after move?

Then came the doubt. Maybe we should hit the suburbs or spend more, go bigger… so we have a place for all our stuff. You know, the furniture, photo albums, clothes (we don’t wear but might), five sets of dishes, deviled egg platter, blankets, curtains, eight plastic bins of sewing fabric, picture frames, knick-knacks, souvenirs, a box that contains hundreds of sea shells we collected, a set of linens for every conceivable occasion (that mostly never occur), enough vases to place four or five flower arrangements in every room, etc., etc., etc.

I had a terrible feeling. It sat heavy, deep in my belly like a nasty fast food binge.

Until I realized exactly what I was so upset about.

I was worried about a bunch of stuff. I was worried about how to put a roof over all of the stuff. I was worried about making room for the stuff. I was worried about how to keep the stuff happy. Where would I put the stuff? How would I arrange the stuff? How do I best show off the stuff? The stuff was running the show… and me.

My husband, Mike, felt the same way. And so we came to a decision: Show the stuff the door.

Box by box, pile by pile, loose thing by loose thing, we purged. With every item, we asked, “Do we need this? Could it better serve someone else?” And the truth is, we had enough extra stuff to outfit three other families. And that’s what we did. We gave most of it away.

And if this sounds crazy. You are not the only one who thinks so! Some of my friends make fun of me, saying, “at some point you are only going to have one outfit and a sleeping bag.” Other friends worried I would regret it.

The truth is I don’t regret it. I don’t miss ONE SINGLE thing. I certainly don’t miss hearing the Sanford and Son theme song play over and over again in my head. Life is simpler. Clearing out the stuff, cleared out my mind.

And that means I’m ready to get back to writing, adventuring, and sharing our journey with you! Now about this place called Vacationland

Enjoy!
Anna

P.S. We reduced our toy load by half. And the boys? They didn’t even notice. But we’ve noticed that they play with the toys they have a lot more!

Ahhhh! Home

Got Cooperation? Here’s where to find it!

Cooperation Central

Washington, D.C. – Every children’s museum needs one of these! It’s an igloo building activity. And the best part about it? Your child CANNOT build it without the help of other children. It’s impossible to do ALONE. And it’s incredible when built TOGETHER! As any mother of a preschooler knows… this concept is HUGE! (and hard to teach, as it turns out).

The last piece of the igloo

This is just one of the cool activities for children at National Museum of the American Indian.

The igloo pieces are made out of the same stuff rolling activity mats are, only lighter. Each piece is numbered and must be put together sequentially which is fantastic math exposure for budding brains.

And nothing is more fun than wrecking it as soon as you are finished!

Igloo Wrecking

So if your child needs to master cooperation, bring them here. Which makes me wonder, is there a great exhibit somewhere for dealing with sharing? Or separation anxiety? Or how to be a good friend? Or how to clean up? All of the challenges that are larger than life to our preschoolers? And can’t we put these exhibits all under one roof? Seriously! Somebody, anybody?

TODDLER TAKE-AWAYS:

  1. COOPERATION!
  2. EXERCISE, GROSS MOTOR SKILLS
  3. COGNITIVE
  4. HISTORY
  5. EXPOSURE TO NATIVE CULTURES AND PEOPLE

ENJOY!

Anna

Incredible Flying Machines

Udvar-Hazy Center

Washington, D.C. – Our trek to Maine continues with a stop I couldn’t resist: Washington, D.C.  I knew my nearly 4-year-old would love the National Air and Space Museum. The best surprise of all was when my 1-year-old’s busy brain morphed into a state of euphoric curiosity. His pointer finger was fully deployed as he ran from plane to plane grunting at strangers. And this is exactly how YOU are going to act when you set foot in the Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center. It’s an enormous hangar (and the word ‘hangar’ doesn’t come close to doing this extraordinary building justice) adjacent to Dulles International Airport.

It’s stunning. No question about it. Planes and other flying machines, parts, costumes, accoutrement are everywhere. In front of you and suspended from the ceiling. In the middle of it all, the monstrous Space Shuttle Discovery.

Rockets Activate!

Seriously, my eyes were a little misty when little ole me stood in front of that ENORMOUS space craft. Amazing. And thank you, modern technology, I pulled up Discovery’s last launch on You Tube for my explorers to watch as they stood in front of the retired shuttle. This exhibit alone was a great addition to the space foundation we started building last summer!

Discovery Time

There is one legendary aircraft after another… the Concorde, one of PanAm’s earliest passenger planes, the Enola Gay and on and on and on. There is plenty here to keep your little ones fascinated and physically engaged as well (lots of walking). I can assure you that my photographs don’t come close to showing the size of this facility.

Pan Am Airlines

An elevator takes you to the top of an observation tower that looks like an air traffic control tower. You’ll have a great view of planes coming and going from Dulles… if you can save your inner mommy from a primordial-instinct-freak-out over the cantilevered glass windows. You know, not that it happened to me or anything….

And you got to love it when the ticket price is FREE. That said prepare for sticker shock at the gift shop… and you will pay for parking as well.

TODDLER TAKE-AWAYS:

  1. STEM galore (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)
  2. Inspire a love of flying
  3. History
  4. Excercise!

PRACTICALLY SPEAKING:

FOOD: Bring your lunch! The on site cafe is a McDonald’s. Seriously, it would have been way cooler to have an old-fashioned mid-flight airplane meal tray for lunch (Early Pan-Am style, not Delta Airlines style).

BATHROOMS: Clean

APP APLERT: If you haven’t downloaded an Air Traffic Control App onto your smart phone… do so! We listen to it all the time as we watch planes come and go. There are plenty to choose from, we personally use LiveATC. We use it when pretending to fly airplanes. It’s also great fun during a thunderstorm (distracts your pumpkin from loud thunder claps) as pilots talk about how to get around the storm.

One more road trip stop to come before we arrive in Maine!

Enjoy!

Anna

Love at First Sight…underneath the South Carolina Aquarium

Love at First Sight

Charleston, South Carolina – The best part of the South Carolina Aquarium is the sea turtle hospital underneath it. For ten bucks extra at the ticket counter, they’ll give you a tour! And if you think your three-year-old is too young to get it, think again!

The window cut-outs in the tanks, give small children an optimum view and a chance to meet a recovering sea turtle.

Hello Turtle!

Those little pre-school brains will be filled to the brim with factoids about the types of turtles found along the shores of the Carolinas, what constitutes turtle food, and how to tell one type of turtle from the next.

Measuring up!

But even better? This is a chance for your children to fall in love with sea creatures they can help protect.

Sea Turtle Love

We also discovered there is an incredible network of “turtle friends” up and down the eastern seaboard who fly cold-stunned (and otherwise injured) turtles to this Charleston, South Carolina hospital.

Turtle Count

I love a morning that not only entertains us and educates but also inspires us to take care of the planet and its more vulnerable inhabitants.

Can’t visit? Flow their cool blog that details each turtle’s progress and journey back to health. Check out these fun sea turtle activities and crafts from our adventures during last summer’s Camp Mommy!

This stop is all part of the strange path we took to Maine! More to come!

Enjoy!

Anna

TODDLER TAKE-AWAYS

  1. Ignite your child’s passion for our animal friends
  2. Science: Expose those spongy brains to wildlife, habitats and veterinary medicine.
  3. Personal Responsibility – your preschooler will love learning what he/she can do (or not do) at the beach to keep sea turtles safe!
  4. Fun! Get splashed by a sea turtle… we did!

ON A PRACTICAL NOTE

  1. Pack your lunch. The aquarium’s outdoor picnic tables (just past the cafe) offer incredible views of the harbor and a working cargo wharf next door. Food selection is small so my advice is to bring your own. If you are visiting Charleston, stop by Bull Street Market (which is also located on King Street) and have them pack some sandwiches for you!
  2. Park in the parking garage and not at a meter. Parking ticket? Yes! God Bless them… Charlestonian Meter Maids could win an Olympic gold medal in the nasty sport of ticketing. Seriously.
  3. Bathrooms are clean and make it easy for little ones to wash their hands themselves. Yay!
  4. Worth noting, there is a serious energy zapping playground in the park directly across the street.

Bring your picnic basket and kids here…

Q running Sullivan's Island

Charleston, South Carolina – There are many beaches to choose from in the Charleston area. And the more you visit or the longer you live there, you find that there is something special about each one. Surfing at Folly Beach, bike paths and wide beaches at Kiawah, etc., etc.

Looking back at city of Charleston

Looking back at city of Charleston

But there is only one spot where you can have toes in the sand, and not only look back at Charleston’s harbor but also at Fort Sumter (where the Civil War began). That place is the little sliver of beach just in front of Fort Moultrie at the very far end of Sullivan’s Island.

Beach Tag at Sullivan's Island

It is the perfect spot for a picnic and chasing your children up and down the beach. That said this is where the rivers that feed the Charleston harbor dump into the ocean… so my children are not allowed to put so much as a toe in the water on this stretch. The currents are too dangerous. But travel a mile in the other direction and there are great spots for swimming (near station 21 where you can also walk to the town’s beachy fun restaurants.)

Weeeee!

But if you are looking for a picnic spot, this one cannot be beat. It’s never crowded and you might even catch a glimpse of a container ship heading to port. You’ll be close enough to it to wave to the crew as it passes by.

MOMMY BRAIN FOOD: An intriguing fact about Fort Moultrie: Edgar Allan Poe was stationed there. His stay inspired some of his earlier works.

Enjoy!

Anna

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Why you (yes, YOU) have some dear old friends in Pittsburgh!

I remember this tree!

I remember this tree!

His voice, advice, welcoming way and total acceptance will stop all 30-somethings dead in their tracks. Because, really, there is nothing like running into an old friend who knew you when YOU were a wee one. And loved you because you were you. Such an encounter awaits you at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. That special friend? Fred Rogers.

Pittsburgh is his town. His legacy lives there. The Children’s Museum gives you the chance to touch it, feel it and share some of that Fred Rogers magic with your own children.

Hi Lady Elaine!

Hi Lady Elaine!

Parts of the TV show’s set and puppets are woven throughout the museum.

X the Owl at Pittsburgh Children's Museum

Including the original Daniel Tiger who is now the animated star of PBS’s reinvention of Mister Rogers: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

Daniel Tiger at the Pittsburgh Children's Museum

If you aren’t watching this show with your children, START! Now! Calming and engaging, my 4-year-old is entranced. I feel like I learn just as much about parenting as he learns about overcoming the challenges he faces each day (sharing, disappointment, potty training, separation anxiety,etc.) PBS Mon-Fri. 11 AM

Mister Rogers Trolley

In the transportation room or garage, there is a giant Mister Rogers Red Trolley to climb on.

Worth noting, this room features a giant climbing, sliding exhibit complete with an elevator so that children of all abilities can participate. LOVE that!

The Children’s Museum is filled with other wonderful attractions, an enormous art studio where you can make prints, work with clay, paint, draw,etc.

Pittsburgh Children's Museum of Pittsburgh Art Studio

There is a climbing tower that takes munchkins all the way to the second floor.

Climbing tower pittsburgh children's museum

There is an energy busting rainbow bounce tunnel. Yes, please!

Rainbow Bounce Tunnel

A word play area, puppet theater, mechanism building center (for older more independent kids) and a toddler play area that is incredible even for the tiniest adventurers.

Gummy bear color light wheel

But the best kept secret is downstairs, under the cafe. Not only is there a stage featuring that familiar castle from the land of make-believe, but there is a real, working, independent radio station broadcasting LIVE to children everywhere. It’s called IQ Kids Radio. You can listen directly on your smart phone or computer.

And they are NOT jamming the airways full of teeny-bop bubble-gum drivel. It’s fun, intelligent music, storytelling, interviews, and factoids. Executive Director and on-air host, Larry Berger, even invited us inside. My pre-schooler slipped on some headphones and stepped up to the mic.

An Incredible Audio Workshop!

An Incredible Audio Workshop!

He sang his favorite, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” Berger quickly engaged C by playing the recording backwards, sped up chipmunk style, then with a grown-up voice and on and on. It was an awesome hands-on learning experience on how digital recording and editing works. It never occurred to me that teaching a nearly 4-year-old these concepts was even possible. It is!

Stop by the Children’s Museum when you are visiting Pittsburgh. And in the meantime, listen each Saturday morning to their fantastic line-up for your little ones. I have to say, coming out of the TV world, it is so rare to find a media outlet devoated to quality programming, committed to education, and willing to find the money to support it. RARE. RARE. And RARE. These folks are passionate about YOUR kids.

Just the way your old friend, Fred Rogers, was passionate about you.

Enjoy!

Anna

PS1: ON A PRACTICAL NOTE: The cafe serves up ambience and healthy food for lunch. The walls serve as a gallery of photographs of Fred Rogers. Delightful! Bathrooms are clean. Wipes and extra diapers at the front desk for forgetful parents (I know this because my diaper bag was full of everything but…um…diapers!)

PS2: Coming SOON to the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum… This museum is unveiling its newly renovated water play area that will include ice and snow activities, dam building and a giant water wheel. It sounds like it’s going to be very cool.

This blog post is part of a series of the rather circuitous route we took to our new home in Maine! More to come : ) Read here and here for other incredible must-see Pitt-stops in Pittsburgh!

A Thousand Tiny Reasons to put this Science Center on your Must Do List!

Carnegie Mellon Science Center Miniature Train Set-up

Attention Train Lovers! My nearly 4-year-old is crazy for trains and he has been from the moment he could first express himself with loads of Curious George like grunts.

So when we wondered to the second floor of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Science Center, we squealed with delight! And you will, too.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in miniature!

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in miniature!

This miniature model train world is an impressive 83 feet by 30 feet. All four seasons are represented and highlight different aspects of Pennsylvania life.

Miniature Fair Carnegie Science Center

The room and little world are lit to constantly drift between day time and night-time.

Carnegie Science Center Train

Every fine detail captures imaginations of old and young. But a special effort was made to put extra details and surprises at a child’s eye level.

Miniature Model Train Close-up

We spent a couple of hours watching the trains and life in this sweet little world.

Carnegie Science Center Train display

You can even blow the train whistle.

There are other fantastic exhibits and activities at the Carnegie Science Center. Frankly there’s enough to fill two days. But the train set-up is what makes this stop in our journey to Maine a special one!

Enjoy!

Anna

More of our adventures on the road to Maine to come! And if you need another reason to bring your kids to Pittsburgh (yes, seriously, yes) check out our trip to Carnegie Museum of Natural History. We LOVED it!

We are Mainers now!

Maine's Newest Explorer

We have a new place to call home: Portland, Maine!

If you’ve wondered where on earth I’ve been the last couple of weeks… well, somewhere between Charleston, South Carolina and the rocky coast of Maine! An epic road trip. Just the boys and me… with no DVD player. And some how we survived and enjoyed it! Mostly.

We took the long road, logging countless hours and adventures along the way.

Fun blogs to follow!

You can be sure that the kids and I are going to explore everything this state has to offer!

After all, this place is known as ‘Vacationland.‘ And, frankly, I could use some of that!

Anna

Future clam digger!

Picasso IS for Preschoolers!

The Cleveland Museum of Art

I’ll admit it! About half way to the Cleveland Museum of Art, I wondered if I should turn the car around and abort the adventure. With a one-year-old and three-year-old, wasn’t I asking for a day of repeating the following: ‘Be quiet!’ ‘Don’t touch!’ ‘Please don’t put your mouth on the sculpture!’ “Do I have to ask the museum where their time out chair is?’

C and the KnightBut the fact is, I am lucky to be the daughter of a talented artist. And when he said, “take the kids to see the Cleveland Museum of Art. It has one of the best collections in the country…” Well, we were on the road the next day.

And he was right about the museum. And about taking the kids.

And in the most fabulous way, I learned that Picasso is for Preschoolers! Yours are going to love it to.

Here’s why.

First of all, the only person making loud noises in every room of the place was… me. There was a major masterpiece on every wall from the likes of Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Picasso, Matisse, Degas, Cassatt, Caravaggio, Bronzino, Chuck Close, and on and on. And so as I entered each room, it went something like this: Loud Gasp! “Oh MY LORD! Crowley, that’s a Matisse! Look at that!”

Seriously it was like I was channeling “When Harry Met Sally” and with my children present! And…in Cleveland!

Now, if you happen to have flunked your art history class, don’t be intimidated. If I think Picasso is for Preschoolers, then I’m pretty sure you flunkies will feel at home, too! : ) This collection is pithy. Not a dud in the bunch.

Don't hate my photography! I cracked under the pressure of two security guards and multiple cameras!

One of the major intellectual endeavors of the 2-3 year-old-set is figuring out which shapes are which. And so when we found ourselves in front of Picasso’s Harlequin with Violin,” my little man totally related to what he saw: A person made out of shapes. The artist didn’t even bother using a circle for the head. Fantastic. Truly. It made art accessible to a 3-year-old. And he got it. The brilliance of it. The courage involved. And the fun.

This was a great time for C to put his notebook and color pencils to use! We added cubism to his vocabulary.

In the European Room, we took our lead from this great book, Can You Find It? from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The book basically transforms gallery gazing into a scavenger hunt.

So I applied that concept to most of the paintings we observed.

EXAMPLE: In Van Gogh’s The Large Plane Trees, we hunted for:

  1. a lamppost
  2. three women
  3. one basket
  4. a bucket
  5. red curtains

When surrounded by Monet’s Water Lillies and Low Tide at Pourville near Dieppe, I asked my munchkin, “Does this painting look like a photograph or an impression of something?”

He got it! An impression!

Caravaggio at the Cleveland Museum of ArtThat led to a discussion about feelings and using art to express your feelings about a place, a person, an event, etc.

You know it occurred to me when I blurted out, “Holy Cow! That has to be a Caravaggio! It just has to be. Hurry, let’s go find out.” I would never have been able to recognize a Caravaggio from across the room if my dad hadn’t begun teaching me about art since I was Crowley’s age.

Caravaggio offers such a great opportunity to talk about storytelling. How he used light to tell the most important part of his story, darkening the rest of the stage.

And an important note here about Baby Q.  If you have to toddler around who falls 50 times a day. Might as well do it in an environment this interesting and stimulating. It’s another step in building an intellectual foundation wired for exploration and curiosity.

Turns out, we had the most fun with the Old Masters. We were standing in front of a portrait by Bronzino and another by Rubens when I whispered to C under my breath, “Hey, I think these people are staring at us.” He looked up at the paintings and his eyes grew huge!

“They are looking at us!”

We even walked across the room. The eyes followed. We left the room and entered again. The eyes were still on us.

Today. Was. Magic.

A kids only art room, helps little ones explore big concepts with hands on activities!

A kids only art room, helps little ones explore big concepts with hands on activities!

PRACTICALITIES:

  1. Admission is free. Parking is not.
  2. Food- They offer a full service restaurant and sophisticated self-serve cafe. Opt for the latter if you are bringing your babes. The food was awesome. Pricey but delicious.
  3. Bathrooms- the cleanest I’ve seen.
  4. Noise – no one seemed bothered by my outburst of theirs. The security guards were helpful and amused to see children enjoying the collection.

TODDLER TAKE AWAYS:

  1. Art concepts and appreciation
  2. Art History
  3. Vocabulary Expansion
  4. Exploration of the world around us
  5. Creative inspiration
  6. Cognitive Skills

Enjoy!

Anna

Chuck Close's work shows how things can appear to be one thing up close and something else entirely from a distance.

Chuck Close’s work shows how things can appear to be one thing up close and something else entirely from a distance.

Sleds for Snow Covered Hills and Comfy Knits!

We are making the most of our long visit with winter! Building snowmen and acting the part : )

Frosty the Snowman

And sledding, too!

3 Amigos Sledding

This is what Southern people look like when they visit up North!

Inspired by this most treasured winter past-time, here’s a sewing project that brings sledding indoors. For the pants I used the Easy Fit Pants from the Scientific Seamstress. I simply added the strap and button to allow the pants to be rolled up for now and let out as Baby Q grows!

Sledding Outfit!

The sled applique embroidery design is from Planet Applique.

Quick, easy and so sweet!

Enjoy the snow… and the sewing!

Anna

P.S. There was a coordinating outfit for big brother, but to avoid being photographed, he stuck his finger up his nose. Quick thinking!

A Deep Freeze: Where Science and Decorating Collide!

Ace in the hole!

We are braving the cold with a science project that’s easy, fun and looks good enough to hang on the front door when you are finished! You can start with a nature walk or treasure hunt inside your own home.

Icy cold nature walk

You’ll put your goodies into a bunt pan and fill it with cold water.

Bunt pan with goodies from nature walk

We added a little ribbon which will allow us to hang this ices sculpture when it’s frozen.

Ready for deep freeze

If it’s cold enough, place the pan outside to freeze. If not, use your freezer.

My 3-year-old checked the pan every few hours to observe the progress.

Ice sculpture

Once frozen, the ice art will pop right out of the pan, ready for hanging!

Enjoy!

Anna

TODDLER TAKE-AWAYS:

  1. Science and nature fun
  2. Fine motor skills
  3. Analytic skills
  4. Exploration of the world around them
  5. Excercise

A Quiet Patch of Comfort

Patchwork Quilt fox trails

The big boy bed project left us lots of yummy scraps of all that wonderful Doohikey Designs fabric. This is from their Fox Trails line!

What better way to use those scraps than a patchwork quilt for Baby Q!

The first step was to prepare the scraps by cutting them into squares the same size. In some cases, I sewed scraps together to make this possible.

Detail Doohickey Designs Fox Trails Quilt

The next step was laying out the squares. This was the most challenging part of the project. It took time to make sure the fabrics were repeating in a pleasant way and not all clumped together.

I decided to break up the patch work with some orange fine-wale corduroy left over from Halloween’s past. It’s in the same color family as the orange in the prints, just a bit brighter which really worked out.

Instead of batting, I used a thick piece of double-sided flannel. This adds such a great weight to the quilt.

Finished patchwork quilt

Baby Q loves to point to the fun illustrations in this quilt like the camper, fire, mountains and fish.

If brothers ever share a room, it will be easy to coordinate.

And there is no sweeter reward for my hard work then watching my sweet little one quietly snuggled in a quilt made with so much love!

Enjoy!

Anna

However you can make it happen, GET HERE!

Pittsburgh, PA – We are on the road! As we spend some much needed Q.T. with our family in Ohio… our road trip isn’t a break from our regular adventures, rather an instigator for all sorts of new trouble!

Carnegie Museum of Natural History T-Rex

ROAR!!!!

ROAR!!!!

And so we find ourselves somewhere incredible: The Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, PA.

And let’s just get a couple of things straight right out of the gate.

I don’t know how. And I don’t know why. But if you had asked me about the top five cities I’d like to visit in America… well, I have to admit that Pittsburgh would not have been on the list. And, now that I know what I know, that omission would have been a HUGE, GINORMOUS mistake! Because, Pittsburgh is awesome. Especially if you have children. Let this be law.

They city is easy to drive. The people are friendly and helpful. And this city is packed with incredible and educational attractions for your kiddos.

Our latest adventure is but a sampling!

Large Dinosaur

The dinosaur exhibit took our breath away. These fossil specimens are spectacular. And the museum displays them beautifully in their richly detailed habitats.

Carnegie Musuem of Natural History Exploration Box

We were totally sucked into the land that time forgot. The museum uses touch screen displays and movies to bring these bones to life offering narratives, factoids and even questions that will not only blow your 3-year-old’s mind but yours too.

But there is something else that makes this museum truly special. They offer a unique approach in engaging your children. Once past the dinosaur hall, you enter a giant space that has learning nooks everywhere. But these are not displays for passive onlookers.

They have about 40 huge tackle/tool boxes. On each one is a painted animal. We chose the bobcat.

Inside was a real bobcat skull and a book about bobcats. In the raccoon box is a raccoon skin, etc. These boxes are stacked on shelves that border a large carpet flanked with benches. Child after child explored box after box. Quietly. Independently with parents looking on nearby. It was the kind of child driven exploration that is hard to find and create and yet magical when it happens.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History, exploration hall

I have to say this is really inspiring me to present some of the elements of our adventures in different ways.

A darkened hallway stocked with flashlights offers your explorer a chance to shine those bright lights into about a dozen dark windows filled with incredible habitats and ‘wild’ animals. This meant my little man had to find our for himself what was hidden in the display cases by using his flashlight and going on a scavenger hunt of sorts. VERY SMART IDEA!

That these exhibits are so interestingly (and in some cases simply) put together is no accident. It was put together through a collaboration of industrial design students, scientists, naturalists, and educators. Love it!

And, for one little explorer, the jewel in the Carnegie crown is this… a dinosaur dig.

Diggin' for Bones

Explorers are given a chisel, a brush, and safety goggles. They are taught true excavation techniques (scraping, no tapping or hammering) and set to work uncovering the bones of an Allosaurus. The model dinosaur bones are buried in a sand/wax mixture that forces the youngsters to focus and work hard, but with steady results. Brilliant.

Here’s a money-saving tip. If you are a Bank of America customer, the first weekend of every month, you can visit the museum for free. Tickets will also get you into the art museum. That said, we only made it through the first of three floors. Lots more exploring to do and luckily, I have just the right pal to show me the way!

Explorer in Action!

More to come!

TODDLER TAKE-AWAYS:

  1. Fine Motor Skills
  2. Independent learning
  3. Science, history exploration
  4. Exploring the world they live in
  5. Vocabulary, Language
  6. Fun!

Enjoying Pittsburgh,

Anna

P.S. Want to know how you can make this explorer vest for your little one, check out this post!

An Explorer Must Look the Part!

My 3-year-old and I love to imagine that he is the greatest explorer that ever there was…

Explorer in Action!

He’s got the curiosity, energy and enough questions to spark a lifetime of adventure… and now he even looks the part!

This ‘Explorer Vest’ pattern is from one of my favorite sewing books, Oliver and S: Little Things to Sew. If you read my blog regularly you may have noticed me gushing over this particular pattern/fabric/sewing maven. This is not a paid relationship. My love is true. And really she had me with her common sense, well written instructions. Not to mention the fact that her pattern pages don’t require origami expertise to return them to their envelope. And you always end up with a top-notch garment. Love. Love. Love. Check out the backpack project from her book!

To customize this project for my explorer, I made a few changes as I went along. This is a winter time project, so I added a layer of batting for warmth which worked out very well.

Explorer Vest in all its glory!

A monogram gives this vest a grown up feel which suits my little man!

Inside, is my favorite part of all… a message for my explorer!

Message for vest lining

The pockets are from a shirt my husband received as a gift a couple of years ago. It was like five sizes too big. Seriously. And though he had a disapointed look on his face while discovering his gift-gone-wrong… I didn’t! The fabric was a thick, yummy, warm, and soft flannel. I knew it would be mine… for sewing! So far I’ve made two pairs of pants and now these pockets. And there is still material left!

Explorer vest pockets

I removed this pocket in tact and sewed it right onto the vest. The other pockets are made from the instructions provided with this pattern!

The generous pocket sizes in this pattern, allow plenty of room for treasure.

This pocket across the back of the vest is a clever detail in the design!

This pocket across the back of the vest is a clever detail in the design!

In our case, we’ve filled those pockets with the kind of tools explorers need: a compass, magnifying glass, pocket microscope, and others. I found these accoutrement here at a Montessori based store, For Small Hands.

My explorer now stands a little taller and charges ahead with extra bravery. And I love it, love it, love it! That’s exactly what I was going for when I decided to move my family to Whoville. Mission accomplished.

Next up, I’ll tell you about a place where your explorer will feel right at home… on the wild frontier!

Enjoy!

Anna

Need a little post-holiday pep in your step? Done!

Charlotte, NC – Is your day-after-Christmas feeling a little day-after-ish? Here’s an idea to brighten this day… um, literally.

Lights Display at Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens

The Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont, NC (just outside of Charlotte, NC).

Even having lived in Charlotte for years, I had never visited this spot. It was while I stopped into the Matthews Police Department to learn both car seats are incorrectly installed, the policemen suggested I take the children to Daniel Stowe.

So off we went!

And I will remember that night forever. It was that good.

Jalapeno Pepper Tree of lights

The gardens are composed of more than 300 acres, 10 of which are cultivated/manicured gardens. And the best part of all? They are wrapped in thousands of lights. THOUSANDS.

Light Display at Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens

And many of the lights are designed to create flower, wisteria vines,vineyards and other flora themed displays.

Water Features Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens

The lights are woven around the fantastic water features throughout the gardens.

Light Display at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

And at the fire pit, memories to be made with s’more kits. If there is one downer to this visit – it was the price of the s’more kids around 14 bucks for enough fixin’s to make about six s’mores. GASP! You can either look at this as a way to support a non-profit or you can just bring your own marshmallows, crackers and chocolate. There are plenty of sticks around to use for roasting.

C and his G.G. roasting marshmallows

C and his G.G. roasting marshmallows

You will buy your tickets inside at the visitor pavilion. Directly behind the ticket counter is an enormous Christmas tree made up of orchids and ferns. Magnificent.

A cafe offers hot chocolate, coffee and sweet treats and a model train display to entertain you.

Model Train at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Running though acres of beautifully and artistically arranged Christmas lights was a delight for us all!

Enjoy!

Anna