Thursday, August 25, 2016

Three Days in Boston with Kids

Life is Good: we're exploring!

We just got back from a wonderfully fun trip to Boston and Cape Ann in Massachusetts and Portland, Maine. We spent a couple of days in each place and it was one of the most diverse trips we've ever taken. Boston was urban (duh) and full of both history, facts/information, & sea life. Cape Ann was relaxed with gorgeous surroundings, beautiful sunsets, and diverse beaches. Portland, Maine had great lighthouses and super diverse beaches. And yes, we had lobster every place we went! : )

Prior to our trip, I pinned lots of articles to my Pinterest account about traveling with kids in New England. I wish I had been able to read everything. Instead, I skimmed. And honestly, most of the Boston articles said the same thing:

1. Walk the Freedom Trail

It's about 3 miles long, so you may or may not walk the whole way. We enjoyed doing this one morning. We started out early so that we could see as much as we wanted but not feel rushed. We saw lots of buildings and statues and people dressed in costumes to look like Paul Revere. Our kids (21 mths, 5, and 8) are not quite old enough to grasp the depth of the Freedom Trail, but they still enjoyed the hustle & bustle of the city. We saw where the first school took place. It was in a church and there were booths like what you would see in a restaurant where children must have studied. We talked about what it might have been like to be a child at that time as well as what it must have felt like to have a King tell you where you had to go to church or that you had to give him most of your money but that you couldn't weigh in on any decisions about where you lived (taxation without representation, don't you know!).

When we got home, we watched the Schoolhouse Rock video about what was going on in Boston way back when. 

2. Go to the New England Aquarium

This attraction was skipped on a lot of the articles that I skimmed. Or maybe I skipped it? ; ) My friend, Mekea, mentioned this to me, noting the four-floor fish tank in the middle of the building and I'm so glad that she did. It was something that a toddler, preschooler, AND an elementary-aged child could enjoy (plus their mama!). We saw a red octopus exhibit, sea lions playing, sea turtles swimming, hammerhead sharks, cuttlefish, and tons of other fish. We even found Dory! Or a fish that looked like her, at least. We pet stingrays for what, quite possibly, was an hour. We have a membership to the aquarium at the MOA, so I almost skipped this. I'm so glad I didn't.

3. Go on a Tour of Boston

Lots of articles suggested historical tours. And if our children were all in elementary school or older, we would have. We love that kind of stuff! And as it is, our 5- and 8-year olds enjoy learning about presidents and important people in history, but I just didn't think any of the tours I read about in pamphlets at our hotel could keep their interest. We chose to go on a DUCK tour and it was a great way to see the city as well as what surrounds the Charles River.

Our driver, excuse me, "Captain" was fun and informative. He even let our kids "drive" the DUCK while we were in the river!

The DUCK tour put our Littlest One to sleep, but don't take that as a bad review. It was nap time, after all. ; )

4. Check out Faneuil Hall

Part of the Freedom Trail, this is also a marketplace with cute shops, touristy shops, restaurants (our kids LOVED the quesadillas and chicken soft tacos at Zuma!) (Thanks for keeping them safe from good allergies!), and activities like ping pong as well as performance artists. One afternoon, we hung out and watched some ping pong action as a teenage boy and his dad set up the son's amp & guitar. Then, we listed to the boy sing "How to Save a Life". After he was done, both the Big Kid and the Little Kid walked over to him, spontaneously. The Big Kid told him, "Wow, you really play the guitar well." and the Little Kid said, "That was some really good singing you did!" The boy hung his head sheepishly as he thanked them. What I noticed more than the performance was his dad. His dad fretted around, almost sweating, setting up the amp and the mic and making sure everything was just right for his son. Then, when the son started to sing, the dad moved around to three different places, as if to make sure the sound was just so from all angles. Then, finally, he listened. And he grinned. And when the small crowd clapped for his son, he smiled the sweetest smile of pride & contentment. I wonder if people without children of their own would understand all of the emotions that dad was feeling? I got it. I understood. I wanted so much to go up to the dad and congratulate him. But I saw how he delighted in hearing my kids praise his son. And that was enough.

5. Enjoy the Boston Common

We could have spent a few days at this place! So gorgeous! We had a picnic here one evening (yes, there were lobster rolls involved) because it was just too pretty to leave. It is kind of amazing to think that all of that lush greenery and flowers with a sweet little pond is smack dab in the midst of such a cultured, booming, zooming city. We loved the little bridge and the Make Way for Duckings statues (have you read the book?)

The Big Kid & Little Kid had a lot of fun posing with the statues. As always, getting a great pic of all three of our kids together, since one is a wiggly toddler, was...challenging.

Sure, I could have shown you the cute pic, but this one was much funnier! Gotta keep it real! : )

We tried to ride in a swan boat a couple of times but they only run 10AM-5PM. Ugh. The marketing consultant in me thinks that they could sell a whole lot more tickets if they were open until 8 PM!

6. Go to the Children's Museum

We didn't do this, though almost every Boston with Kids article encourages it. We have a wonderful Children's Museum here in MN and we've been members in the past. We didn't want to spend our short vacation hours doing something that we could do (similarly) at home.

7. Go see Harvard, The Museum of Contemporary Art, The Science Museum, John Hancock Tower, John F. Kennedy Museum, Listen to music in the Boston Common on Friday afternoons

Harvard: another time, maybe when our kids are older, just not worth giving up part of our 72 hours this trip. 
Art Museum: would have been great if it were rainy outside, but we opted for outside adventures, Same goes for the Science Museum, though we do have an awesome Science Museum of Minnesota. Hancock Tower: we just didn't have enough time.
JFK: was something that sounded fun to our 8-year old but we will do it when all of our kids can enjoy it.
Boston Common at lunchtime: we just ended up being in different parts of the city at that time of day.

8. See the Boston Harbor/Navy Yard

We walked around this area at some point each day. We had a great picnic dinner (on a patio) one night, too. On the morning we were supposed to get our rental car and leave for Cape Ann, we checked the weather and discovered that it was going to be raining off & on all morning there. We had planned to go whale watching on the cape, so instead, we went to the harbor and boarded a boat to leave from Boston instead. It was cloudy and misted on us a little bit while we sailed to the whale sanctuary, but the weather was definitely better from that port. And the whales! Oh, my. We saw 10 or 12 (maybe more) sets of 5-8 whales at a time. They were very close to our boat. One set of three whales came right up to our boat and then swam under it and appeared on the other side of the boat to greet those watchers! It was really exciting for all of us. We saw Minke and Humpback whales. It was cool to be close enough to see the humps (large bumps) on the whales backs. We loved our tour with Boston Harbor Cruises, which is a partner with the New England Aquarium. The naturalists on the boat had lots of great info to share. The most fascinating detail to me was that every whale has a different pattern on the back side of its fin. And that makes them identifiable to the naturalists.

I wanted so much to get a "tail" photo. This was the best I could do while holding a very wiggly toddler (is that a book title?) in one arm.

At one point, it just wasn't safe for me to hold the wiggly toddler on the boat deck, so we went inside the boat with the Little Kid. We still had some great whale watching.

What we didn't get to do that we will put on our Boston to-do list for next time:

1. Check out the USS Constitution and museum

The ship was in dry dock for repairs when we were there. You can still see it out of the water, but we chose not to because of time. Boston is so rich in history and culture that you could spend a couple of weeks traveling as a tourist. We did have a picnic dinner at Boston Harbor and talked about the Boston Tea Party. Our 5-year old found that to be especially hilarious to think of a bunch of tea being dumped into the harbor. A big thanks to Legal Seafoods for being so careful preparing our children's meals and avoiding anything that would give them an allergic reaction. Our 8-year old declared that he only wanted "lobster for the entire trip" and somehow, we managed it!

2. Go to the Puppet Showplace puppet theater.

Our vacation to New England was a result of my husband having a presentation in Boston. Initially, I thought I would have a couple of days without him in Boston, so knowing that it might be a lot of tote three kids around an unusual place by myself, I planned a couple of "easier" experiences into our trip. But as it turned out, we were only without Grant for a half day. Yay for us! But because of it, we skipped the (super cool-sounding, puppets & marionettes made out of cardboard boxes, oh, how creative!) puppet show. Next time!

3. See the Mapparium

Ohmygosh! This looks soooooo coooool! But we simply ran out of time.

4. Take the Train

I really thought our kids would enjoy this! But each time it was time to ride the train, it was also close, okay let's be real, past bedtime and my husband (ugh, the voice of reason) convinced me that we should just take an Uber or a cab home. He was right (don't tell him that I said that!) but I do regret that we didn't do it once for kicks.

5. Check out the Frogpond at Boston Common 

We were all set to check out the spray pool at the Frogpond until our DUCK tour driver made a comment slash joke about all of the kids in the city peeing in the pool and the bacteria sample located in that one spot in Boston and I was out. I tried my best to tell myself that he was joking but the germaphobe in me just could not get over it! We did something else fun instead. : /

6. Go to a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park

The Red Sox weren't playing at home while we were there. We were all pretty bummed. Another reason to go back another summer!

7. Linger around Newbury Street and check out some local art.

We have a toddler. It just wasn't the right timing for that. We did that before and we will do it again. But not this trip.

8. Minuteman Park

Not many articles included Minuteman Park, but we will surely check it out next time!

9. Take a Water Taxi 

Three days just wasn't enough time for this great city! ; )

Here's another post about a "Hidden Boston". It's totally random. And totally fun! If you are spending a week in Boston with kids, check out this post for the top kid attractions and a discount on them.  

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Jackson Pollock, Mondrian, and Lichtenstein art lessons for toddlers & preschoolers

Life is Good: we're making more art!

I have two cameras (plus my phone)--the one I use all of the time and my "back-up camera". I just downloaded pics from my back-up and found a bunch of pics from our modern art exploration a couple of summers ago! (Can you say "A mother of three has a to do list a mile long and this was at the bottom of the totem pole"?)

I can't wait to explore these art lessons again with my kids now. It will be fun to see what the Big Kid does with it all now that he is a little older.  And if the Little Kid's work is similar to the Big Kid's when he was his age. And of course, I love the idea of letting the Littlest One explore. He lovvvvvves a glue stick!

It seems like yesterday that the Big Kid was obsessed with Picasso. So I introduced Jackson Pollock to him because Pollock, like Picasso, was an art revolutionary. In fact, Pollock credited Picasso as an influence as did many other modern artists. Pollock went against what critics and buyers and what everyone else thought was "art" and made art that made him happy and feel fulfilled. I love using Picasso and Pollock as examples of being true to yourself. The notion feels less abstract (pardon the pun) when you are able to show beautiful, vibrant art pieces as the result. Pollock's art was much more intentional than the work shows to the pedestrian viewer.

So of course, if you are going to learn about Pollock, you have to THROW PAINT! We tried lots of styles of paint throwing. From different distances, with different sized brushes. Try throwing some art and you just might see why Pollock was having so much fun!

In the same vein as paint throwing, we also tried squirting paint using these plastic containers and these containers as well as "spraying" paint (1/3 water, 2/3 paint) in these containers.

It's been a while since I watched it, but I remember that the movie, "Pollock" was good. I think it was "sad and moving" good. Not "happily ever after/uplifting/funny" good at all. You can find it on Netflix.

In our quest to examine modern art, projects for a toddler and a preschooler inspired by Mondrian seemed like a home run. Mondrian used primary colored geometrics plus black and white to create what was a revolution in art. Here are some examples:

So we decided to make some Mondrian-inspired pieces, too. It is a simple exploration of shape and color. Just cut up pieces of red, blue, and yellow paper and some strips of black, get out a larger piece of white paper and some glue stick and start experimenting! In many ways, it is like putting a puzzle piece together. I have always intended to make a felt version of this, but alas, never took the time. It would be a great travel toy.

Here's what the big kid came up with...

And little brother decided to make his more abstract...

Another favorite modern artist of mine is Lichtenstein. He, too was influenced by the great artists like Picasso and Van Gogh. I showed my two little people photos of Van Gogh's "The Bedroom". We talked about the style and the colors and the subject matter. Then, I showed them Lichtenstein's "Bedroom at Arles". Again, we talked about style and color, but this time we also talked about the difference between the styles and why the artists might have made the choices they did. We talked about "being inspired by" something versus copying something. I, personally, am okay with letting older kids recreate art for the expanding of skills and technique. I try to encourage older children to be influenced or inspired, but to still do their own version. I do not feel good about having kids under 5 imitate someone else's work (famous artist, teacher, parent, etc) because I think it sends the wrong message about creativity and sets up an expectation for perfection. I believe this pursuit of perfection is responsible for unhealthy attitudes about art in adults and in children. In my opinion, if you keep your art projects (for adults or children) about experimentation, exploration, and the process, you will have happier, healthier art experiences. These art experiences will then (hopefully) set a foundation for confidence (in art and in lots of other realms) and creative problem solving in the future. Again, emphasis of PROCESS of art making and exploring not the PRODUCT that you end up with.

My little dudes really loved the Lichtenstein work. It is so cartoony and joyful, why wouldn't they? The Big Kid really wanted to make his own bedroom art piece, so we looked at each example and talked about what we liked best in each one. He preferred Lichtenstein's version, mostly due to the graphic quality (though it was articulated to me differently). He decided to make his own bedroom using markers.

And the Little Kid made his own masterpiece with markers, too.
I just love it! Do you see the big face? And the smaller person in orange? And the angel flying in the top corner? And the other one at the bottom? Do you see the wind turbines? The giraffe? What else do you see? Art is everywhere! You just have to keep your eyes open for it!

“I believe arts education in music, theater, dance, and the visual arts is one of the most creative ways we have to find the gold that is buried just beneath the surface. They (children) have an enthusiasm for life, a spark of creativity, and vivid imaginations that need training – training that prepares them to become confident young men and women.”

Richard W. Riley, Former US Secretary of Education

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Birthday Signs

Life is Good: we have great memories 

When I posted about our Little Kid's recent birthday party and the party decor, some of you wrote me to inquire about our family's HAPPY sign. 

Whenever we have a special day---holiday, birthday/anniversary, milestone, whatever, we put out the "Happy" sign. It's actually the door from my grandparents' washhouse at their former farm. On a trip to visit my Grandma (who had left the farm and moved into town), we stopped at the farm and my dad helped me "grab" a few things to have a mementos. The farm had been sitting for a while and clearly, no one else wanted anything from it. But when I saw that chippy door, I knew I needed it. 

I had so many memories of my Grandma coming in and out of that door. They had not used it for their laundry since before I was born, but she did still use it as a pantry of sorts for her canning. I also remembered my Granddad going in and out of that door with kittens swarming his feet. Those kittens would almost trip as he emerged from that door. There were always a hoard of little ferrel kittens on the farm and my Granddad loved to serve them warm milk. He would gently pet them and talk to him in his sweet voice as they ate. Granddad was a wheat farmer, a cattle rancher, and a hunter. He knew the value of animals to his family's bank account and dinner table. But those kittens held his heart. 

I dragged that door to Atlanta and on to a storage unit in Minneapolis, then to a condo in MN and on to our Pleasant house. I had thoughts to add nails to it and hang photos on it, but it never felt quite right. I was nervous to add holes to it that I might "ruin" it.

Soon after we moved to our current home, I was thinking about our Little One's upcoming first birthday and the idea just popped into my head. Add some letters to it and use it as party decor. And if I put something fairly general on it, I could use it for everyone's birthday. The more I thought about it, I knew that choosing the right word would mean that I could use it more often. "HAPPY" seemed just right. I thought I would need to go to a home store to get the letters, but then I happened to see some at Target one day and they were exactly the right size and simple in style. 

I love the sign so much that I really want to use it inside our house all year round. However, it is chippy with aged paint and there are rough places, a rusted handle, and broken wood all over it. It is certainly not kid-friendly for a family with three under 8. So it lives in storage until a HAPPY occasion. Which is pretty often around here! : )

And the little green sawhorse with the "FIVE!" sign? I was walking into a repurpose home & garden decor store in Linden Hills right before we moved out of our Pleasant house and saw it on a pile of some other, cuter things. I didn't know what I was going to do with it, but I knew that I had to have it.

After we moved into our new house and I unpacked the sawhorse, my first thought was to hang a picture frame from it (with my three favorite kids' photo!) and stick it on top of a highboy we have in our main room. But when I placed it there, it just didn't feel right. After some sleuthing on the inter webs, I found a shaped chalkboard. I drilled a couple of holes in it and attached it with some ribbon from the packaging of our new Pottery Barn bedding and there it was...the sidekick to our HAPPY sign!

I often look at that HAPPY sign and have to wonder what my grandparents would think. I think my Granddad would say something gracious, polite, and diplomatic along the lines of "to each, their own". I think my Grandma would giggle and comment on my creativity. I think they both would be happy that I wanted something that reminded me of them to be near me and part of my own family's traditions and life. 

Oh, how I loved my grandparents. I thank God that I was blessed to know them. And to have their blood running through my veins. They were amazing examples and loving grandparents. It all goes way beyond what words can say. And I am grateful for that. And HAPPY!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Kid's Birthday Pizza Party Decor

Life is Good: there's pizza everywhere!

If you managed through my post about the Little Kid's 5th birthday pizza party, then you know that it was a teensy long. Lots of fun was going on! 

The Little Kid was specific. He wanted everything to be GREEN. So here's what I did for decor:

As always, our front porch was adorned with our happy sign. I added our little chalkboard sign with a FIVE! and my homemade garland draped across the front.

Inside, Happy Birthday banners were draped all around. We used balloon tape to make a giant green "5" out of balloons.

Okay, our Little Kid thought it was an "S" for "have a super birthday!" Whatevs!

It was raining outside (which ruined our obstacle course fun) but these garlands still looked cheerful. And GREEN!

The party table was draped with GREEN gingham from Joann Fabrics and adorned with the paper chef hats I made, the goody bag chef aprons, and arts & crafts materials to make puppets, door hangers, and other masterpieces.

I used my outdoor melamine plates plus some paper goods. Of course, all green, green, GREEN!

On the long wall in our dining room, I hung a piece of white butcher paper with "Pizzeria T's" written on it and lines through it as if window panels plus green and white tablecloths to create a faux restaurant window with curtains.

I covered our buffet with green tablecloths, too. It was really cute to see the reactions of the kids to the "restaurant window". They all asked, "How did you do that?" (And a couple of them asked, "WHY did you do that?" I wanted to tell them it was because I am nutty about birthday parties, but instead, I just told them "for fun".)

I made a pizza slice pennant garland for the kitchen. I cut out triangles of tan felt (crust) and then yellow felt "cheese", green felt green peppers and olives, red felt pepperoni circles, and white felt mushrooms.

I hot glued everything together and draped it across my kitchen cabinets for a fun backdrop to pizza making.

Then I went to Target and discovered this...

And then I WANTED TO SCREAMMMMMMMM! When I mentioned to Grant later that night that I was so annoyed that I didn't discover the Target banner sooner and save myself some time making one, our Little Kid said, "Don't worry, mommy. Yours is better. Yours is made with a secret ingredient. LOVE."

And after all, this is why I do all of this silly stuff. It's for the kids. For the moment. For the memory. Every mom is different (and I celebrate that, truly.). These kids' of ours will hopefully look back and remember that their mom enjoyed making their birthdays special in her own crazy way. Or rather, making their lives special in her own crazy way. And that her secret ingredient was always "LOVE".