This is an idea I think I would have written off as cheesy not too long ago, but since I saw the Mommy Business Cards at Many Little Blessings, I’ve run into about six situations where they’d come in handy. Today, after telling, and respelling, my email address to a carpenter, I finally sat down and printed up a sheet of them (I picked Molly). So now I’m telling all of you. It may be very Suburban Mom of me, but it’s also awfully useful.
Another visit from the Nap Fairy today. This time she had even more of a sense of humor.
I realize you all probably don’t want three weeks of road trip blow-by-blow, so I’m going to try to wrap it up today. First off, I’ve got to say that if you want an ego boost, you should take your children to a retirement community. We couldn’t walk ten feet without having people go completely nutbar, exclaiming, “They’re so beautiful!!” (though the “aren’t you too young to live here?” joke got stale pretty fast). Sometimes they’d talk about us like we weren’t even there (“Aren’t they beautiful?” “I know! Look at those eyes!”) at which point I’d bat my eyes and curtsy (just kidding).
Anyway. We went to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum. Both fun, but both also kind of overwhelming after the smaller venues of Dinosaur State Park and the Camden Aquarium. I think we each had a separate meltdown at some point. Highlight for the kids: the metro ride. There was a brush fire next to the tracks on the way back, which certainly heightened the excitement.
It was all-but-impossible to take good photos in the dark Natural History Museum, but here’s a shot from Air and Space:
Our only other stops were to pursue the Great American Pasttime of shopping and go to Trader Joe’s and Ikea. Being in Trader Joe’s actually made me kind of angry. WHY exactly is there no Trader Joe’s in Portland? It makes no sense. What with the whole huge abandoned Wild Oats and all? Everything is so cheap and delicious in Trader Joe’s (organic apples for 69 cents a pound!), and they gave the boys free oranges and animal crackers (ideal shopping snack: oranges and animal crackers) and free balloons. Trader Joe! Come to Portland! Why do you hate us?
I could have spent the whole day in Ikea (does this make me a bad person?). We went with the intention of getting some Poang chairs for our back porch (back poarch?) but decided our car was way too full and at some point we’ll have to go to the Ikea in Massachusetts to get them. While we were Poanging, I suddenly realized I didn’t see the boys anywhere. I hopped up, only to find them 20 feet away:
On the way back we drove all in one day, with a too-long-but-yummy stop at Rein’s Deli. For your final shot I’ll give you comfy sleepy Zu, who doesn’t show up in many photos because she’s always strapped to the front of me.
Of course Zuzu was wide awake and eating mail. And of course Eli fell out of the chair about three minutes after I took the photo.
After stopping for the night in Cranbury, New Jersey (motto: Farmland, with Random Office Parks in Between!), we wanted something to do in the morning before completing our way to Maryland. I did something I’ve never done before, and picked up a bunch of pamphlets from the tourist pamphlet rack in the hotel lobby (pamphlet rack motto: Come All Ye Tired Rubes Too Stupid to Make a Plan, and Spend Your Dollars with Us!). It was there we learned about the Adventure Aquarium in Camden. I only had to see the part about it being shark-focused to know it was the stop for us. Our GPS really didn’t want us to go to Camden (“Perhaps I can take you over this bridge to Philadelphia?” Luckily the kindly toll taker let us go through without paying and turn around), but we got there relatively easily. What a great stop! Not to sound like I didn’t enjoy the family visit, but I think the aquarium was my favorite part of the whole trip. Also good for puzzling about the kids and their phobias. Eli was totally freaked out about seeing the sharks in the tank, and Henry was all but licking the glass to get closer (though he was very concerned when he saw a diver in with the fish: “He should NOT be in there!”). But when we got to the open “Pet a Shark” tank, Henry totally flipped and almost ran away. We couldn’t convince him that they wouldn’t have an open pit of dangerous sharks and then invite small children to stick their hands in. Eli, meanwhile, announced, “I’m touchin’ a shark” and waltzed over to the side to plunge his hand into the water. I’ve stopped trying to keep track of this stuff.
The first stop on our road trip to Maryland was Dinosaur State Park, which is south of Hartford, Connecticut. In 1966, builders who were excavating for a building discovered thousands of dinosaur tracks. Instead of building the building, they smartly enclosed the tracks under a geodesic dome, and the State Park is underneath.
Dinosaur State Park was the perfect stop for about twelve reasons. It’s about three minutes off of the highway, and it’s pretty small, so it’s not like you’re going to get lost there all day, exploring. There’s a 15-minute claymation movie, and then the dino displays are small and low-key. It’s really all about seeing all those dinosaur tracks right there in front of you, walking across the floor. Very cool. Eli got majorly freaked out by all the dinosaur roaring in the background, but Dino State Park scores big points for having a quiet, sunny little craft room off of the main exhibit hall. Eli, Zuzu and I escaped into there while Dave and Henry explored the tracks some more. The craft room had all kinds of random things: hissing cockroaches, lizards, puzzles, toys, fossils, and make-your-own-bookmark crafts (and more!). One hour, two $3 pteradactyls, and we were back on our way.
So last week, while you were all reading up on a week’s worth (more or less) of book recommendations, the five of us at World of Julie were packed into the car and driving down to Maryland and back, to visit Dave’s parents. I have a lot to tell about it, and will probably spend the whole week posting about this and that. I have to say, the kids were complete angels the whole time. Shockingly. They were clearly just holding it in because Eli got a cold the second we got back, and Henry had a World Class Tantrum at a birthday party the next day. But that’s ok.
So first: the car trip. Dave had the brilliant idea two days before we left that we should get a GPS. On Anne’s recommendation, I ran out and got a Garmin Nuvi (we got the 255). Um, how exactly did we live without a GPS? Seriously. We are total map people, so it was totally enthralling to have this map with a little car that showed us where we were, and also told us where to eat and sleep, and what fun activities to do. I never ever would have found the secret special unmarked bagel place in New Jersey on the morning of Day Two without the GPS (really: it was an awesome bagel place, with no sign saying what it was, more or less in the middle of a corn field). Though I am sure we are some kind of special breed of people who manage to get lost even with the GPS. One problem was that Dave didn’t totally trust it. Another problem was when we pulled off in New Jersey to find a place to stay for the night, and I made the mistake of calling the hotel on the way, only to find out it was sold out. So then we were in Newark. What is it about Newark? How many times have I inexplicably found myself pulled off the Turnpike and lost in Newark (well, ok: twice). Listen to me: if you have to stop for food or gas or sleep, drive past Newark and go to the next town. Our GPS was so upset with us for being lost in Newark. It kept trying to get us to just turn around. At one point it actually said, “Turn down this alley!” Which led us to fantasize about the various GPS voices having a little more personality. Or better accents, like a New York accent, or cockney. And saying things like, “What is wrong with you people? I said to TURN AROUND!” One oddity was the fact that the British man voice, Stewart, told us street names, while the American woman voice, Samantha, did not. But we couldn’t really understand Stewart because his deep rumbly voice was sort of at the same frequency as the highway noise. But still. I am in love with the GPS.
I got a few Road Trip Surprises (that is, things to keep the boys occupied) to make the ride bearable. As well as a ridiculous amount of food. First, we went to the art supply store and stocked up on pads of paper, colored pencils, crayons, and stickers. Those seriously lasted us about 3 hours. Eli got trains and trucks, Henry got circus and dalmations. The next Road Trip Surprise I unleashed were two Discovery Channel View-masters. It turns out View-masters have evolved significantly since 1976. These had amazing pictures and sound. And a voice telling you facts about what you are looking at, which unfortunately was exactly the same as the GPS voice we were using, and let me tell you how alarming it is to think your GPS is suddenly saying, “Tyrannosaurus Rex means Tyrant Lizard.”
So the next hour or so the boys looked like this:
So I was able to save my final Road Trip Surprise for the trip back: travel Doodle Pros. We have a full-size one at home, so I wasn’t sure how much they’d care about the travel ones, but Henry especially spent a lot of spirited time with his.
The other car ride lifesaver was the fact that I went to the library beforehand and got as many books on tape as I could carry. The ones that totally saved us were Runaway Ralph (a whole chapter book!), John Henry, Big Bad Bruce, and Duffy and the Devil. The last two especially were listened to again and again, and I would recommend then as regular (i.e., non-audio) books, especially Duffy and the Devil. I also got Pete Seeger’s Abiyoyo (And Other Songs and Stories for Children) which we played for the final four hours of the trip. The kids are already huge huge huge Pete Seeger fans, but I’m definitely going to have to get this on CD for at home. There’s a song about sweeping, one of Eli’s favorite pasttimes, and one called “Sam the Whaler” which now has Henry singing lonesome and beautiful whaling songs all the livelong day.
I have a thing for rhyming books, I have a thing for silliness, and I have a thing for lush, colorful illustrations. Trout, Trout, Trout has all three. (I also have a thing for graphic, blocky, brightly-colored illustrations and Ernest-Shepard-style pencil drawings, but those are for another day.) When Henry added Trout, Trout, Trout to the pile in the library, I casually tried to move it to the reject pile. Honestly, it looked kind of annoying. I mean, I like to eat fish, but I really don’t care that much about them in their natural environment. But in the end we brought it home and you know what? I love it. It’s hilarious. This is the basic plot: fish fish fish fish fish. Which is to say, there is no plot. What there is is a kind of alternative cheerleading chant, listing fish, and illustrations that are so animated they look like they are about to start moving. Who knew? I like a book about fish.
Ed Emberley’s Make a World by Ed Emberley
This book might be Henry’s most essential book, his desert island book. Sometime last year (I think it was when we were doing a massive decluttering/rearranging of space in anticipation of Zuzu’s birth), I ran across my childhood copy of this book, and I knew Henry would love it. His adoration was immediate and fierce. He may, in fact, be addicted to this book, because if he can’t find it he starts to panic and his breathing becomes rapid and shallow and he looks around wild eyed, saying, “Where’s Make a World? I can’t find it!” and starts flinging things hither and thon.
The book is pretty much what it says: it gives you all the skills you need to make a world, that is, to draw almost anything you might want to draw, from furniture to animals to vehicles and people and flags. I suppose you could make the argument that it shows kids too much by showing them a particular way to draw, but I know it has opened up legions of drawing possibilities for Henry. At first he definitely did draw things just as the book showed him, but now he uses it much more the way it was intended. He’ll draw, say, a castle as shown in the book, and then add all manner of Henry embellishments. I’d recommend this book just from a parental standpoint, for the amount of time it has given me while Henry is deeply absorbed in drawing a world. But I mostly have to recommend this from a kid standpoint as well, seeing how Henry deeply, deeply, loves and needs this book.
Half of an Elephant by Gusti
If one were to give, say, The Missing Piece to a prospective suitor in an attempt to say, “Maybe we should get together,” one might give Half of an Elephant to a significant other as a passive-aggressive way of saying, “I think we should take a break.” The basic plot is that the world inexplicably splits in two, and an elephant (as well as a number of other unlucky animals) happens to be standing on the fault line during the split, and the front half ends up on one world, while the back half is on the other. They try to team up with the other halves of some different animals, but that doesn’t go very well. In the end, the world ends up whole, and the elephant halves find each other, but realize that there can be some advantages to being separate.
A very bizarre story, but for some reason the kids aren’t bothered by it and seem to just think it’s quirky and interesting (which it certainly is). But the best part about this book is the way it’s illustrated: each picture is made up of found objects, mostly of the hardware store variety, so that an animal might be made out of an old wooden ruler and some rusty washers and a spring. It’s an extremely inventive and intriguing style, and one that is fairly inspiring to young artists, I think. Definitely worth checking out.