Fun with Kids in Charlotte, NC

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Published: 08/06/2015
As I mentioned in a previous post, we did a massive road trip this year for our summer vacation.  We're trying to take our kids to see all 50 states before they graduate, mainly because I like a challenge, but also because it keeps us seeing new places!

Two years ago we did this:
We've currently done: Virginia,  West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, California, Florida, New York, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.  That's halfway!! (PS, if any of you own summer homes in Hawaii or Alaska and want to invite us out, we are totally game.)

Do we see everything a particular state has to offer? HECK NO.  That would involve way more money and vacation time than we have.  But we do have a little fun and get the flavor of each state, plus the kids have fun ticking it off a map and doing a little workbook page about each state with its flag, flower, bird, motto, etc.

Anyhow, I thought I'd share a few things from our trip. Like this awesome picture of me imitating a mug:
It's really amazing to me that I'm not more popular. 
The first leg was down to see my cousins in Charlotte, NC.  They're the same age as my kids (second marriage), which is both weird (who wants a bossy adult cousin) and awesome (because they have so much fun with my kids).  Charlotte is a lovely area, and we enjoyed trying out a few things there:

1. Discovery Place Charlotte

We were able to take the LYNX Train to downtown Charlotte, which is about a 3 block walk to the museum.  My kids have ridden the metro enough times to not care one lick that we were taking a train, but my cousins were super duper excited to get to take "the metro".  If you use LYNX, note that tickets are sold in kiosks outside the train and you just keep them with you in case of a spot check. Prices vary for kids and adults, and you'll want to not mess up and click "round trip" on the kids tickets and "one way" on the adults like I did.  #MyBad

It wasn't cheap:
IMAX Discovery Film$10.00$9.00$5.00$5.00
Museum + IMAX Discovery Film$20.00$17.00$5.00$5.00
But the kids had a lot of fun.  If you go, be sure to check out one of the shows, we saw Rat Basketball and a liquid nitrogen show that included a giant ice cloud the kids got to run through.  They were definitely a good time.

PS, I don't understand in any of these kid themed museums why in the heck they charge more for adults.  You know what we're going to do? Sit on a bench and take iphone pictures while our kids do all the fun stuff.  That's what. It should be more for kids and a pittiance of an "observer's fee" for adults.
I digress.  If you are a WIC/EBT recipient, you can get up to six tickets for $1 each.  Bring your card (or whatever you'd use to prove this applies to you).

Rock Bottom restaurant was located just across the street from the museum, so we headed over there for lunch.  It was really tasty, I got a side of mac and cheese and a side salad.  

Because I can, people.  Because I can. 

3. Staying with friends and family is great because you can also get in a little freebie/down time.  We enjoyed hanging out at the neighborhood pool, playing games, and the kids tried to get as much time "playing minecraft together" as humanly possible when you need an adult to put a password on your ipod to get to play.  

My uncle being something of a foodie, and all of us being part German, he took us to check out the Waldhorn Restaurant.
This was amazing.  My daughter got the cheese spaetzale which was amazing, I had sauerbraten, people had roladen, blaukraut was passed around....noms.
All the noms.

If you don't normally have German food or if you've never tried it before, this would be a good place to start!!

Filial piety compels me to mention that their Black Forest Cake was not anywhere near as good as my mother's.  It's not their fault, they are simply too far away for her to bake for them nightly.

Following our two days in Charlotte, we left for Hotlanta, which will be coming at you next :) 

Beaches Near Prince William County

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Published: 07/10/2014
We had a reader request for beaches somewhere closer than VA Beach (which is about a four hour drive).  Here are our results from readers about beaches that are local to Manassas, Woodbridge, Dumfries, Dale City, Lake Ridge and Bristow (and any other city in Prince William County. Don't hate me for trying to get google to get my website to come up!)

Obviously I haven't been to all of these beaches, although I'm willing to give that a try.

You know, in the name of science.

Here's what I've got! Are we missing your favorite? Leave a comment below and add your thoughts!

If you'd like to stay under 2 hours (minus DMV traffic which cannot be helped on any given day)
Aquia Beach
"off courthouse rd.  Its secluded but its connected to the Potomac river...good fishing a beach and bathrooms! 25 mins."

Breezy Point
"1.5 hours from Manassas"

Calvert Cliffs
"In MD, about an hour and a half from Manassas. Beach, shallow water, and shark teeth fossils!"

Colonial Beach
"Only about an hour and 15 min away and a pretty decent beach.  We went there for Memorial Day and it wasn't packed.  If you follow the water down to the right of the pier area there's also all day parking for $5 as opposed to the 2 hour parking by the pier"
"Colonial Beach is like an hour and a half or so from 95 south entrance"
"1 1/2 hour sometimes only 45 minutes giving traffic but it is awesome, they have playground for kids, ice cream shops, little art shops where the kids can participate and for the adults there is the river boat casino and the best part, you rent golf carts to drive around the town. My kids love it there and on the 4th of July there is a firework show"
"Yes!! Colonial beach is only an hour and a half from Woodbridge! Best local places to eat, too!"
"We went to Colonial Beach last 4th of July. My 4 boys loved it!
"To those of you who went to Colonial, I found it very rocky and almost unmanageable.  Was I just in the wrong places?"
(Not copying this comment, but suffice it to say someone was less than impressed with the ambiance at this beach.)

Falmouth Beach 
"Right off the highway Falmouth exit...30 mins. Have grassy area a beach and a couple of grills...they also give out life jackets to the kids!"
"We go to River Beaches, not quite the coast. Not fancy, but the kids love it.  Free parking, 30 mins from Dale City"

Half Moon Beach 
"Past Strasburg" (Google maps says 1.5 hours from Manassas)

Lake Arrowhead Beach
"In Luray VA you have Lake Arrowhead Beach, very nice and cost very low"

"Leesylvania has two tiny beaches.  Woodbridge/Dumfries area."

North Beach 
"I have heard good things about North Beach, MD but I have never personally been.  Google says it takes about 1 hour 15 min from Montclair.
"North Beach is okay, but it's a pay beach"
"No waves to worry about for the little ones.  Cute shops and a nice boardwalk."

Rappahannock Beach
"Off Rt 1. Quiet, safe, good for kids. 20 minutes from Dumfries"

Sandy Point
"Never been, but looking into Sandy Point"

Shenandoah River
"Second best for us, least crowded every time we've gone is Shenandoah River at the Shenandoah State Park.  About an hour drive."

Westmoreland State Park
"Only 90 minutes away and a nice beach"

If you think 2+ Hours is local (or worth the drive, but either way, I'm separating them out)

Bethany Beach
"Delaware. 3 to 3.5 hours. We have done day trips. They are long days, but so worth it."

Chincoteague Island/Assteague Beach
"I am a single mom and I love taking my 7 year old daughter to Chincoteague every August.  "Is that where the horses are?" is the top question I get.  Yes, but there is way more.  It is 3.5-4 hours east of us and only 30 minutes south of Ocean City. There are plenty of hotels and it is a top family vacation destination in the area.  We also like to camp there as well for only $30 a night tent camping.  The beach is really nice and has lifeguards.  Assateague beach is a notion park so there are no board walks, just shower and parking.  There is a small fee for the beach because it is a park.
"We loved Chincoteague"

Fenwick Island
"About 2.5 hours away and super family friendly. It's right next to Ocean city but removed from the crazy college crowd."

Dewey Beach
"DE, and it's beautiful and not too far, but not great for families.  Bethany, just a few minutes away is much better."

Ocean City 
"I load the kids up at 5am and head to OCMD.  It's before the traffic rush so we can be there by 8, even with a bathroom break.  Spend all day and load up the sleepy kids back into the car around 7 and they wake up in their beds.  It's a drive, but not awful."

Ocean View
"We just moved here from Norfolk.  VA Beach is cool for ocean beaches but I have small kids and we always like the Ocean View beaches in Norfolk better because the waves are smaller and the beaches are less crowded.  On a good day it's 2.5 hours from here, but it's more like 3-3.5 hours."

Outer Banks
"31/2 to 4 HRS"

In addition to reader suggestions, here are a few from the Washington Post.

Hylton Planetarium

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Published: 12/13/2013
While the Hylton Planetarium isn't my typical Friday non-profit/charity, they do only operate based on community involvement and attendance.  New shows run between $10,000 and $20,000 a pop, and that money comes from groups coming in.  We had an awesome time, so I'm sharing today :) If you have a child who attends PWCS, they'll benefit from the awesome planetarium at some point, too! 

We had the chance to take a field trip to the Irene V.Hylton Planetarium at Hylton High School this past week, and it was so much fun!

As part of our memory work curriculum, we are learning astronomy facts this year.  My kids have memorized the parts of the sun, the planets, types of stars, phases of the moon, types of other objects in our solar system, and the names of US space missions.  Our group decided to do the Planetarium as our culminating trip, although I know another group did it as their introduction. 

The planetarium offers several different programs that homeschool groups, moms groups, retirement communities, girl scout/boy scout troops, or just a bunch of people who are super into astronomy can choose from.  We selected a program for grades 3-7 called “Earth, Moon, Sun”, which could have probably included a little more technical information for our group of kids, but they absolutely loved everything about it, especially the coyote “scientist” who kept blundering things up.  They spent a lot of time laughing and definitely liked the presentation of the material in such a 360 format.  I enjoyed the fact that they wove in some mythology and talked about how much our understanding has changed over the years.  I thought it was very well done.

Other programs are available for various age groups.  When you email the director, Anthony Kilgore, to set up your program, he can help you select for your group. 

As for details, you’ll need a minimum of 30 people, and the facility can accommodate a maximum of 60.  Shows are $10 per person, and for groups they ask that you give one cash payment or write one check.

The show was really fun.  The program isn’t anything like I remember- when I was little and you went to the planetarium, there was a giant “ball” that projected stars onto the ceiling and then the attendant would point things out with a red laser pointer.  Now, the presentations are more like movies projected on a dome, but they’re still very cool and the kids like the presentation of the material in such a fun format.

At the end of our program, the director Mr. Kilgore, who is fun and engaging with students, took our extra time to show us one song from his current holiday laser program which was amazing.  First, he explained to us that there are only three lasers in the planetarium, a red, a green, and a blue.  However, using a complex series of mirrors, he’s able to turn those three lasers into an incredible show of light coordinated to music.  The kids were in absolute awe, and I thought they  might absolutely lose their minds when at the end of the song it started “snowing” in the planetarium. 

If you’d like to catch a laser show, there are public performances each week during December:
Friday, December 6th/13th/20th 2013
6:00pm - Laser Holidays
7:30pm - Star of Bethlehem
9:00pm - Laser Holidays

You can purchase tickets at the planetarium Monday-Friday 7:30am-4pm, or in person if there are seats left the night of the show.  Bring $10 per person, exact change, and be sure to arrive 10 minutes prior to showtime and use the restroom before you go in! Once the doors lock, you can’t get in, although you can leave- but that means if you walk out to use the restroom, you’re not going to see the rest of the show, so prepare accordingly!

We really enjoyed our field trip, and it would be an awesome way to earn an astronomy badge, or to enjoy a fun trip for any group (did I mention that we took a group of kids to the planetarium for my oldest son’s 7thbirthday? We did.  And we schlepped all the way to the David Brown Planetarium in Arlington(!) and it wasn’t nearly as nice as Hylton’s, which is right in our backyard.  I don’t remember what made us have to go to Brown, I think Hylton was already booked the night we needed to do his birthday party, but just for comparison’s sake, Hylton has a nicer interior and equipment, as far as I can tell!

For more information about the Hylton Planetarium, or to book your group or event, please contact Director Anthony Kilgore, via email or at 703-580-4000. 

Someone pointed out that I forgot my funny disclaimer!! My bad!!  I was not compensated or remunerated in any way for this post.  I didn't snag a discount for being awesome, either, although that's never happened so I'm not sure why it would start now.  All opinions are my own based on our experience. Your experiences may vary, and PwcMoms is not responsible for your kids trying to turn your basement into a laser show, or the crick in your neck from looking up at the show for an hour.  Try stretching first.

Culpeper Harvest Days Farm Tour: October 5&6, 2013

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Published: 09/29/2013

A free, self-guided event much like the PWC Farm Tour.  Check it out online and find a list of farms and locations you can choose from. 

Great Country Farms Cider Festival September 14&15, 2013

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Published: 09/07/2013

Celebrate the Apple Harvest & Tractor Corn Maize Grand Opening!

Bluemont, VA – Enjoy the early fall harvest at Great Country Farms Cider Festival September 14 & 15.  Apples are available for U-Pick and the whole family can enjoy tastings of fresh pressed cider and sparkling cider blends including peach, cherry and raspberry with bottles available to take home for the holidays. Adults can purchase samples of locally made apple wine from Corcoran Vineyards, hard cider and more! All ages can explore the Tractor themed Corn Maize which is sized to be especially inviting to younger children. The weekend includes live music, arts, crafts, and clown entertainment from noon – 3pm both days.

The whole family can appreciate the hard work involved with farming the old fashioned way when they take a turn cranking the wheel on the Farm’s antique cider press! The Farm is celebrating its 20th Year anniversary with extra special events to be announced throughout the autumn season. Pre-picked produce is available in the Farm Market and homemade Cider donuts, Kettle Korn, along with apple dumplings, apple pie and other seasonal treats are served in the Roosteraunt.

Cider Festival details:
September 14 & 15 from 9am-6pm
$10/child & $12/adult admission includes cider tastings from 11am – 3pm
Farm Members, Military ID holders and kids 2 and under are FREE
Contact Jaclyn Jenkins 540-554-2073

The Big Dig: Great Country Farms

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Published: 08/22/2013

Come with an empty stomach to The Big Dig on Saturday, August 31st & Sunday, Sept 1st at Great Country Farms.  Celebrate the end of summer with pancakes, potatoes, trucks and tractors as the Farm hands get into the dirt. The taste and texture of fresh potatoes is completely different from typical grocery store products that are often a year old. Kids can experience first-hand how to search for spuds by digging in our potato fields. If the weather permits, Farmer Mark’s tractor will rip a row and turn over fresh taters for easier picking. The Farm Market carries pre-picked farm produce including tomatoes, fruits, and other veggies along with locally produced meat and dairy products.

The day starts with pancakes hot off the griddle piled high and topped with delicious fruit syrups, juice and coffee. The All-You-Can Eat Pancake Breakfast runs till 11:30am and is included with admission.  The hayride will take you to the fields so you can dig potatoes and visit other U-Pick areas. The Farm posts updates of produce availability on its social media pages as weather conditions affect each crop differently.

Kids can romp all over the five acre playground and visit with the friendly farm animals or do some catch & release fishing. Picnic around our featured tractors and antique truck and take behind the wheel photos of all the family members. Leashed dogs are welcome and can run free in our off leash areas. The Roosteraunt is open from 9am-4pm.

The Big Dig event details:
$10/child & $12/adult includes Pancake Breakfast until 11:30am
Saturday, Aug 31st and Sunday, Sept. 1st 9am-6pm
Contact Jaclyn Jenkins 540-554-2073     

Business Review: Ticonderoga Farms

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Published: 08/20/2013
Most of the "fun farms" in Northern Virginia are in Loudon County and they take some time for me to get to from my side of Prince William.  However, while Ticonderoga Farms' address may be Chantilly, and while my friend from  Aldie told me it was "just a few minutes from her" (I consider Aldie to be the dark side of the moon from where we live!) it's actually just about 5 minutes from Manassas Battlefield, which is awesome!  Here's how that works:
Where A= Manassas Battlefield Park, B= Ticonderoga Farms and C=Aldie, VA

That's about the extent of the math you're gonna find here on PwcMoms.  It's not even that math-y, but I used equals signs, so we're gonna count it. 

I found Ticonderoga Farms to be really enjoyable.  I liked that it's shaded, I liked that it's not as crowded as some of the more well-known farms, and I think that it had a lot of good options for playing, especially for younger kids in the age Preschool-Grade 1 age range.  Let's take a photo tour, shall we?

There's a pond with a wiggly bridge over the top, which my boys loved.  If you stop in the middle and look hard into the water, there are little teeny tiny sunfish! This was, apparently, a HUGE deal. We looked at the tiny fish for a good five minutes.

 There are a few cutouts for you to take your picture on, and they were in the process of "Fall-ing" up the hayride space so it'd be ready for pumpkin season and Halloween.  I think the hayride will be very fun for those visiting in the fall.

There are a few antique firetrucks for kids to climb all over, and my daughter thought this was probably the most fun she'd ever had.  Watch for any nuts or bolts, but older kids will enjoy climbing up on top and younger kids will like "driving" the truck for a minute.

 Swings! And Trees! And Chickens running around!
One of the play structures- note that there's shade involved.  We also ate lunch on one of the picnic tables in the shade.  For my kids, this doesn't matter as much, but for me, who gets a sunburn on a cloudy day wearing SPF 80, it's a big deal :)  It looked like there was a snack bar that's probably open during festival weekends, but we packed our lunch and enjoyed a picnic.
 There are, of course, the requisite slides on a hill and there's a giant inflated pillow, for lack of a better word, that the kids can bounce around on.  Your socks will get dirty, but if it's too warm out and you go without them, the plastic can be a little warm on tiny toes, so I'd bring an old pair of socks, even if your kids are rocking the crocks.
 You know, as much as anyone can "rock" crocks.

We had a fun time and spent over three hours playing outside.  This is much more "farmy" than some of the farms you might think of, but we liked that, because it wasn't as crowded.  I think my oldest son might be getting slightly too old for places like this to be "cool" for him, but he did play nicely with his siblings, and he had fun looking at the fish and jumping on the pillow.

One note- there is a bamboo maze that is a serious maze.  I think my boys would've spent hours in there, but if you're going with young children, note that this isn't like a corn maze where you wander in one direction and come out, it's a real maze with multiple twists and turns.  I can see that being an issue if you've got a child who's potty training ;)

Here's what some of my readers had to say about Ticonderoga Farms:
we LOVE going there! so much fun!

Go there for Easter egg hunts during spring. I like that its not as crazy as Cox Farms and family owned.

 Also been to cut our own Christmas tree couple years ago. Plan on taking baby soon at the end of 

August & we always bring smore's fixings to make smores there.

We love it there!!! Love!!!! We can spend a whole day there.

We go every week because its where i pick up my CSA my daughter loves it there!!

 Ticonderoga Farms offers:
* Summer Harvest Festival, Spring Easter Festival, Fall Pumpkin Festival, and a Winter Festival
* A community garden for those who'd like to grow their own produce but don't have space
* A Farm Market  including organic eggs, local honey, produce, figs, and bamboo
* Fig groves and a fig festival
And more.  The farm is also working on a botanic garden, which, from what we could see from the road, looks amazing!

Admission depends on the time of year, but for summer is $8.95/person, and hours are 10am-5pm, all week long.  Field trips, group rates, and corporate/family parties are available.

Disclaimer: PwcMoms was provided with free admission in return for providing a review.  All opinions are our own. All information is accurate to the best of our knowledge as of the date of publishing, but events/dates/times/offerings may change over time. Please see Ticonderoga Farms website for updated information and offerings. 

Ohio: Coco Key

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Published: 07/30/2013
If you're trying to knock states off your list, you can get a few done in just a few minutes if you stay in Cincinnati.
Bam.  Three states! My mom and I actually visited this same area when we went to hang out with some great friends of our family who were staying at the Ronald McDonald House while their daughter had some very extensive surgery.  There's a great aquarium, a zoo they apparently enjoyed, and there's some really really good ice cream.  There's also White Castle, which I personally will leave to Harold and Kumar because, well, I think it's gross.  I'm sure many of you will disagree, but this is my website and I get to make outrageous claims about fast food institutions.  So there.

This time, we came to Cincinnati straight from the Creation Museum in Kentucky.  We figured that after a hard day museum-ing (and sitting in the car on the way from West Virginia following the STRANGEST Google Maps directions ever) the kids would enjoy something active.  Enter, our hotel.

(Photo Credit: Coco Key) 
We stayed at the Crown Plaza Cincinnati North, which is attached to a Coco Key Resort.  I originally found this hotel on Groupon, and while I couldn't get a stay the night we needed, I did get our park passes from Groupon.  (Travel Tip: Check the deal sites for the city you're visiting! You might score a great deal!).  I got a deal for 4, which was perfect because people who aren't swimming don't pay, and I am not water-slide material right now.  After checking in, we ran the kids over since they would only have a few hours before the waterpark closed for the night.  There's the large slides, which go outside the building before dumping the rider back inside, a larger play structure surrounded by a lazy river with a giant bucket that dumps water at regular intervals, a lazy river, and a smaller play structure for younger kids.  There's also an arcade.  Life jackets are available, and there's also a bar and food available for purchase in the waterpark area.  
(Photo Credit: Coco Key)

The kids had a really great time, and older children will be able to enjoy this waterpark without too much worry about their swimming ability (all my children are swimmers, but you wouldn't have to be to have fun here).  My mom noted that the steps were kind of grody- that waterpark lots of people feeling.  Everyone had fun and we stayed until the park closed, which was about two and a half hours, and my kids probably would've stayed longer.  Well worth the money for them to get out their energy and play like crazy! 

Tickets are $25 at the door, but do check online, both at deal sites and on the Coco Key page, as right now they're running a special for half-price tickets when you purchase online. 

Since we didn't feed the kids dinner so they could play as long as possible, we took them to dinner after showers at 10pm.  

In case you didn't know it, I'm running for mother of the year.

We decided to try Cincinnati Chili.  Not my favorite, either- it's got cinnamon in it and while I'm a fan of cinnamon in my savory food (see: Lebanese Taverna's Chicken Fatteh, which I make a mean at-home version of) the kids liked it and everyone was a huge fan of Pleasant Ridge Chili, especially their Gravy Fries.  These sound horrible- they're fries with cheddar cheese and house-made gravy on top.

They're so freakin good.  Terrible for you, but good.  This little diner-style restaurant was hopping, too! We left around 11:30 (they're open until 4:30) and every bench in the place was packed!  Definitely a great Yelp find :) 

So that was Ohio, we had a fun time and stayed up way too late! 

Official Count: 4 States Down, 47 States To Go
(Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio)

Disclaimer: We got a great deal on Priceline on our Hotel and a Groupon for Coco Key, but nobody paid me, solicited my opinion, or gave us anything, and as usual, all opinions are my own. 

Kentucky: The Creation Museum

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Published: 07/27/2013
After we left West Virginia, we headed through Pennsylvania and Ohio into Kentucky, where we checked out the Creation Museum.  We homeschool, and I teach my kids multiple theories of creation, including the Big Bang, Evolution, and Creationism, offering them background and research on each one, so I was excited to bring them to check out this museum.  The Creation Museum is a gorgeous facility and focuses on Young Earth Creationism, or the idea that a literal interpretation of the Bible makes the Earth about 6,000 years old.  I realize that this post might not be for everyone, so if it's not for you, no need to start a fight, just move on to the next post.  Deal?
A lot of the museum was what I was expecting, there were beautiful exhibits showing diversity of species, there were some great exhibits detailing the differences between Natural Selection and Evolution, and there were a few great panels talking about the potential problems with radio-carbon dating as evidence of the age of the Earth.
There were some excellent collections of species diversity, and the kids really liked the displays with the insects.

When you enter the museum, there is a display on Lucy, and then there is a tunnel showing some modern issues that have arisen because of a lack of adherence to Biblical morals (they're mostly magazine covers with news stories about school shootings, etc).  After that, there is a room with some church history, and eventually you walk through a version of the Garden of Eden and a replica of Noah's Ark.

Many of the rooms feature animatronic people or animals, which are really neat.  Several of the characters will talk to you and let you ask preselected questions off a touch-screen in front of them, which the kids really enjoyed.
After you exit these portions of the museum, you enter into more exhibits detailing the differences between Creationism and Big Bang/Evolution, which was where most of the apologetics I was hoping we'd see were located.
Unfortunately, I had pretty much lost my kids at that point.  They did okay in the first room with images depicting problems we have in the world (see picture above) although the younger two found it slightly scary.  However, there's a room you walk through after the fall in the garden with video footage being projected onto the walls, and as far as I could tell, there wasn't really a way around it.  When we walked through, it was images of concentration camp victims and wars, and my two youngest were overwhelmed by it.  It would be really great if there was some kind of warning about what you were walking into, or an optional route for parents whose children might be particularly sensitive to strong images. If I had it to do over again, I would have taken my children though backwards, so we started with the exhibits on bugs, dinosaurs, and rocks, and then worked my way back, and skipped the images room and gone back to the beginning.
Photo Credit: Creation Museum

The Creation Museum has more than just the museum, although it was hot the day we went, so we opted to stay with just the indoor activities.  There's a beautiful botanical garden, a petting zoo, camel rides, a zip line, a planetarium, and frequent workshops and events for all ages.  There are also several movies that take place both as part of the tour and throughout the day, which are posted in the day's schedule.  You could easily spend an entire day here and have a lot of fun, both inside and out.  The entire museum facility is beautifully done and meticulously maintained.  Tickets are $29.95 for adults, $23.95 for seniors, $15.95 for children ages 5-12, and 5 and under are free.  Adults get $5 off on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and all tickets are valid for two days.  The planetarium is an additional fee. There are some special promotions, as well, with Mothers free on Mother's Day, Fathers free on Father's Day, everyone free on Christmas Eve Day, and Veterans free on Veteran's Day, Independence Day, and Memorial Day.

Wether your children would enjoy seeing familiar stories brought to life, or your older children would benefit from the apologetics, this museum is very well done, with the exception of the two rooms I mentioned being too much for younger children.  There were lots of younger children at the museum the day we went who didn't seem bothered, though, so it may have just been us.

Disclaimer: We were provided with tickets to attend the museum, but all opinions are my own.

West Virginia

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Published: 07/24/2013
So, I have this crazy idea.  Typically my best ideas are my crazy ones.  I want to take my kids to all 50 United States before they graduate.  This was all inspired by a Pinterest find, a quilt made of state t-shirts.  That's what I want to send them off to college with.  Riley, my oldest, is 9, so I have to shake a leg.  
Over this last week, my mom was attending a family reunion in Wisconsin, and wanted to take the kids.  Originally, my dad was going to go, but he ended up being unable to attend, so I decided that I would go since it was going to be a massive drive for one adult alone.  I couldn't drive, but I could help with the kids, so we packed up and off we went.  Our first stop was West Virginia.  Not much of a drive, but it got us started.  My godmother lives in West Virginia, so we were excited to have a visit with her!  Originally, we were hoping to go with River Riders on a tube trip down the river.  We've used them before for White Water Rafting, but right now, tubing is way more my speed- especially with the munchkins! Unfortunately, the recent rain made the water level too high, and they were only allowing ages 12+ on the water.  Boo.
 Aunt Beth, my godmother, took us to JayDee's Family Fun Center (2332 Henshaw Road, Inwood, WV) to go to their indoor "Nature Center".  I wasn't really sure what to expect, but it was awesome!  For $5 admission, we really got a great deal!  The Nature Center is really more of a children's museum and it's got several rooms, each with a theme.  There was wind and water, which had hoses and a water table to play with and explore, see above.
 In another room, there were minerals and rocks, another had rainbows and mirrors that distorted your view so show the power of light, still another room had oceans, there was a farm you could "plant" and "pick", and there were animals and bugs displayed, too!
 The final room had live animals, including birds and lizards.  Two of the birds will even talk to you.  The kids had an amazing time, and every room had hands-on components.  It was a great deal for a clean, well-kept children's museum! I know they called it a nature center, and I can see that title, but it was really very children's museum-esque and we would actually drive out again to go- maybe as a homeschool field trip later this year!
 One of the reasons I never would have expected such a great experience was that JayDee's is really like an extreme House of Mouse (you know what I'm talking about!!).  When you first walk in, you're inside an arcade and there's a cafe selling pizza and other food.
 Outside the back door, there's a waterpark.  Slides, a splash zone, and lots of people having fun! Also out the back door, there's putt-putt golf, a batting cage, and a small train that will take you up to a "mine" so you can pan for gemstones.  My middle child, Logan, is a nut for gemstones and keeps a collection, so I ponied up for the large $9 bags of gemstones and dirt and away we went.  The Nature Center closes earlier than the rest of the facility, so we had to be done there in only an hour, and could have easily spent two or three there.
After a train ride through the parking lot, the kids got to "pan for gold", shaking their gemstone bags into the screen-lined boxes and then lowering them into the water. We've done this before at Cox Farms, but the kids LOVE it, and are always so excited to get to do it, anyway.

After JayDees, we headed to check out Despicable Me 2, which I think I already mentioned on Facebook was a HUGE win with my kids.  Savannah is 5 and she enjoyed it, but not as much as Logan (7) and Riley (9) who were almost rolling in the aisles.  Even the three adults really enjoyed the storyline, which has a bit of a love story to it.  Definite win!

Official Count: 2 States Down, 48 States To Go
(Virginia, West Virginia)

Disclaimer: I was not compensated or provided with anything in return for this review, I'm just sharing my own opinions and experience.  Yours may vary, but if it does, I hope it's because it's way more awesome than I'm sharing.

Father's Day Fish-N-Putt 2013

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Published: 06/03/2013
Father’s Day Fish-n-Putt at Great Country Farms June 15 & 16
Bluemont, VA – Dad deserves some downtime so plan to celebrate all of his hard work with a day on the farm. The annual Father’s Day Putt Putt and Fish-a-Rama Competition  provides just the right amount of fun and challenge. Competitors for Saturday’s Putt Putt Golf Championship are welcome to arrive early to warm up for the 11am Tee Time. Sunday features the catch and release fishing contests. The pond is stocked with catfish, bass, and blue gill and no licenses are required. Prizes are on the line for the largest fish hooked and the most fish caught during the power hour. Bring your own pole and gear to fish (no drag hooks). GCF has worms for purchase in the country store. The fun continues on the five acre farm style playground featuring the Giant Jumping Pillow, Triple Threat slide, corn bin, animal barnyard and more. Dogs are welcome to hang out with the family on their leash or run free in the Off Leash Dog Zone. The Roosteraunt is open for lunch featuring burgers and dogs while fresh produce is available in the farm market along with locally raised meats & dairy products. Moms are welcomed too!
Weekend Event Details:
$8/child & $10/adult/Under 2 and military with ID FREE
Saturday Putt Putt Competition
9:00am-10:00am Check in at admission
11:00am- Tee Time
One Father & One Child per team. The first 36 Teams that sign up get to compete.
Please email with the Fathers Name, Child's Name & Age, and Cell Phone #.
Sunday Catch & Release Fishing
9:00am-2:00pm- Largest Fish Caught
1:00pm-2:00pm- Power Hour, Most Fish Caught
Bring your own fishing gear; GCF sell worms in the store.

Move Your Feet for the Planet at the National Children’s Museum this April

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Published: 03/31/2013

Programming will celebrate both a healthy Earth and healthy bodies
Photo credit, Micaela Williamson

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD (March 21, 2013) – Honoring two of its core content areas, the National Children’s Museum will celebrate health and well-being and the environment through programs dedicated to movement, dance, reusing resources and helping others . All programs will take place at the National Children’s Museum at 151 St. George Blvd. at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Md.

TOMS Sole Party: One Day Without Shoes
Saturday, April 13-Sunday, April 14, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
By partnering with TOMS to host One Day Without Shoes, the Museum will increase awareness of the health issues facing children who do not have access to shoes around the world. Museum visitors will have an opportunity to experience what it feels like to walk without shoes on various terrains and contribute their thoughts on how to make a difference to our NCM/TOMS pledge wall.

Free Family Night sponsored by GEICO

Friday, April 19, 5-8 p.m.
Enjoy free admission to the museum as well as hands-on activities and interactive play in the NCM theatre and exhibit areas. April’s Free Family Night will include programs that celebrate Earth Day. Please visit for more information on the free tickets and special programs.

Earth Day Artwork
Friday, April 19-Tuesday, April 30, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Visitors can celebrate Earth Day and the Earth’s resources by creating one-of-a-kind artwork from recyclable materials. All activities will take place in the Center for Learning and Innovation. Additional programs and activities may be announced at a later date.

Guest performer: Princess Mhoon Dance Institute
Saturday, April 20, 11 a.m.
Families can get their groove on with a special performance and dance class as part of the Princess Mhoon Dance Institute’s youth outreach program. Princess Mhoon’s dance programs help children discover how to use dance to better understand themselves and the world in which they live. This performance will take place in the NCM theatre and is included in the cost of admission.

Guest performer: Ballet Petite
Sunday, April 21, 1 p.m.
Experience the magic of ballet with a performance from Ballet Petite’s youth dancers. The event will take place in the NCM theatre and is included in the cost of admission.

Global Youth Service Day with Maddie’s Blankets
Saturday, April 27, noon-4 p.m.
The National Children’s Museum will celebrate Global Youth Service Day through a partnership with Maddie’s Blankets, an organization dedicated to improving conditions for rescue animals. Families will have an opportunity to design and decorate small quilts, which Maddie’s Blankets will donate to shelters and other organizations serving animals in temporary homes. Available as supplies last.

Activities in the Center for Learning and Innovation
Nature serves as the inspiration behind April’s activities in the Center for Learning and Innovation. Visitors ages 3 and under will enjoy a sensory garden and nature table; explorations of the wonders of the ocean; and storytimes featuring Lois Elhert’s Planting a Rainbow, Todd Parr’s The Peace Book, and Jan Peck’s Way Down Deep in the Deep Blue Sea.
Photo Credit, Micaela Williamson

Visitors can purchase online tickets to the Museum for every day of the week. If tickets sell out online, tickets for that day and time slot may still be available for purchase in-person at the NCM box office. For more information, visitors may go, email or call the museum’s main number at 301.392.2400.

The museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. between Labor Day and Memorial Day. During the summer months, the museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Standard admission is $10 per child or adult and $8 for seniors ages 65 and up. There is no cost of admission for infants 12 months or younger.

# # #

About National Children’s Museum
The National Children’s Museum (NCM) is a world-class cultural and educational center ( that inspires children to care about and improve the world. NCM opened in Dec. 2012 at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Md. After operating as a “museum without walls” for several years, the Museum is now Greater Washington’s premier family attraction and the only national museum dedicated especially to children and their families and caregivers. NCM was designated by Congress in 2003 and was founded in 1974 as the Capital Children’s Museum.

Field Trip- Arlington House Black History Month Events

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Published: 02/10/2013
Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial, presents
Black History Month at Arlington House
Join us as we celebrate the experience of African Americans at Arlington House!

African American History Tours
Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 1 PM
Park Rangers will provide a tour of the African American experience at Arlington House and in its historic slave quarters.  Explore where the enslaved people of Arlington House worked, lived and persevered through their oppression.  Learn about their bondage to one of Virginia's first families, their lifestyles, and how they gained their freedom.

Faith and Freedom Sundays
February 3, 10, 17 at 2 PM
On select Sundays in February, local black churches will share the significance of their history in the greater Arlington area through discussion and music.  These churches have roots to Freedman's Village, a settlement for freed people on the Arlington estate and what today is the Arlington National Cemetery.
These activities are free to the public.  For more information, please e-mail  or call: 703-235-1530.
Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial is a unit of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

February 2013 at the National Children's Museum

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Published: 02/03/2013

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD (Jan. 23, 2013) – Throughout the month of February, the National Children’s Museum (NCM) will feature innovative programming that aims to introduce children to different forms of music and dance.

Unless otherwise noted, all programs will take place at the National Children’s Museum at 151 St. George Blvd. at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Md. Tickets are available at the NCM box office and can also be purchased online in advance for weekend visits and days when attendance will be at capacity. If timed entry tickets are sold out online, tickets may still be available for purchase in person in advance for the next available admission time. For more information, visitors may go to, email or call the museum’s main number at 301.392.2400.

Free Family Night sponsored by GEICO
Friday, Feb. 15, 5-6:30 p.m., 6:30-8 p.m.
Families can enjoy free admission to the museum as well as hands-on activities and interactive play in the NCM theatre and exhibit areas. February’s Free Family Night will celebrate Festival of Nations. Please note: Families can attend one of two 90-minute shifts from either 5-6:30 p.m. or 6:30-8 p.m. Free tickets will be available on a first-come, first-served basis at the NCM box office beginning at 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15. The museum will close for half an hour at 4:30 p.m. to give staff time to prepare for the event. 

Guest Performance: Cantaré’s ¡Mucha Música!
Saturday, Feb. 16, 11-11:30 a.m. and 1-1:30 p.m.
Celebrate Festival of Nations Week with Cantaré's ¡Mucha Música!, a 30-minute musical journey to Latin America. Each exciting, interactive performance will introduce families to the musical heritage of the Caribbean, Central and South America, Cantaré performs songs in Spanish and Portuguese and shares the music's cultural and historical background. Sharing in the same mission of the museum’s Our Worldexhibit, ¡Mucha Música! highlights cultural differences while also communicating the rich fusion that results when diverse traditions come together. Both performances will take place in the NCM Theatre; no separate tickets are required.

Guest Performance: Green Golly & Her Golden Flute
Monday, Feb. 18, 11-11:30 a.m. and 1-1:30 p.m.
This child-friendly introduction to classical music, created and performed by Keith Torgan and Barbara Siesel, inspires children to listen actively and imagine creatively. Based on the story of Rapunzel, Green Golly & Her Golden Flute tells the story of a girl who finds musical inspiration every day life. Both performances will take place in the NCM Theatre; no separate tickets are required.

NCM Celebrates Presidents’ Day
Monday, Feb. 18, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Events will take place throughout the day)
Visitors can learn about the rich history of the U.S. presidency and what it takes to hold one of the most important jobs in the country. Families can explore the Museum’s large library of presidential-themed books, create artwork from presidential shapes and household objects and write biographies about their favorite presidents.

In addition to its monthly programming, the museum will also begin offering field trip programs on Tuesday, Feb. 12. Field trips are available Tuesday-Friday from 10-11:30 a.m. and
11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.  Admission is $8 per child and $10 per adult, with one adult receiving free admission for every five children. For reservations or more information, educators can contact or 301.392.2450.

The National Children's Museum has served more than 30,000 visitors since opening in December 2012. The museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. between Labor Day and Memorial Day. During the summer months, the museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Standard admission is $10 per child or adult and $8 for seniors ages 65 and up. There is no cost of admission for infants 12 months or younger.

# # #

About National Children’s Museum
The National Children’s Museum (NCM) is a world-class cultural and educational center ( that inspires children to care about and improve the world. NCM opened in Dec. 2012 at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Md. After operating as a “museum without walls” for several years, the Museum is now Greater Washington’s premier family attraction and the only national museum dedicated especially to children and their families and caregivers. NCM was designated by Congress in 2003 and was founded in 1974 as the Capital Children’s Museum.

Chick-fil-A Home Office

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Published: 12/05/2012
We were so fortunate to be able to visit the Chick-fil-A Home Office in Atlanta, Georgia yesterday as part of the "VIP of Chick-fil-A" promotion run by local restaurants here in the DC metro area.   I'm not a great flyer, so two flights in one day was pushing it, but I am really glad that I went and I actually did pretty well on the flight coming back, so maybe I just need to travel more.  (Note to husband.)

Chick-fil-A of Woodbridge was our sponsoring restaurant, and they were so incredible to us.  We had a congratulatory dinner (you can read about it here), and since the owners were unable to travel with us, they sent a car from Elite Limo USA, which was great.  Our daughter thought for sure that they were going to pick us up in the catering van (the one you see parked at the restaurant that's cow-spotted) and was SO excited for us to get to ride "with the chicken nuggets" that we haven't told her yet that we had a lovely SUV instead :)
My "plus one" is pretty awesome
Our flight left out of Reagan Airport, and it was short- about an hour and twenty minutes or so.  There were a bunch of winners and restaurant owners (or "operators" in CFA speak) on our flight, with about 130 total people on the trip when we all met up in Atlanta.  We had such a great time meeting new people and watching the operators tease each other.  While we were in Atlanta, they kept stressing the family atmosphere they try to create for their employees, operators, and customers, and you could definitely see that! Whether it was trying to convince a stewardess that one of the Cathy's was on our flight (he wasn't, but the operator of the La Plata store offered everyone on the flight an original sandwich to make up for it!) or surfing on the airport shuttle, we had a really great time just traveling and enjoying the friendly atmosphere.

Once we arrived in Atlanta, there were tons of Chick-fil-A home office staff that came to greet us.  Little known fact, it is physically impossible to not smile when people are forming a human chain and ringing cow bells at you!

Especially if you and your husband joke about how you're being "herded" to the buses.

At the end of the line, the cows were there!! I promised our kids lots of cow pictures, and we did not disappoint.

The Home Office is actually amazing.  I wasn't really sure what we were in for when they told us we were going to do a tour of corporate headquarters.  Chick-fil-A's retention rate for employees is 97% at the Home Office, and they typically only lose people to illness or retirement, and you can definitely see why.  The location is like a giant park with most of the land left wooded.  There's on-site childcare provided, as well as a gym, stocked pond, running trails, a cafe that provides lunch each day, and y'all, I'd move to Atlanta tomorrow to go work there.  I am not even kidding.  You can watch a video about it if you want to, on their website.

We were also provided with lunch, and then Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A came to speak with us.  He was very charming and funny! He came in to spend a few minutes with us while we were having lunch, and when he started his speech, he got distracted by someone's plate and joked "What are you all eating? Is that pork barbeque? Someone's going to get some demerits for that!"  I sincerely hope that when I am in my 90s I'm still putting on a suit and coming to speak to people!
Not pictured: The life-size Willie Nelson that lives in the office
Dan Cathy, the COO, also came to speak with us and so did "Bubba" Cathy (who threw a giant cow, which I caught!! Thank you, not that you're reading this!).  Chick-fil-A is still family owned, and their third generation of family owners are now coming up.
We named him "Lap Child" hoping to pre-board on the way home.
After our lunch, we were able to tour the office, which is partially a museum, so there are works of art and statues all over the building, as well as a dedicated are to Truett Cathy's car collection, which includes one of the Bat Mobiles used in filming Batman forever.  My husband really loved that.

There's also an exhibit with a replica of the Dwarf House, which is where the Cathy family started their restaurant business, as well as an area dedicated to the charities that the Cathys fund through the WinShape Foundation, which offers marriage retreats, camps, foster homes, team development, college programs and more.

After our tour, we were again taken out to our buses which took us to the Dwarf House, which also has a Chick-fil-A attached, so that we could snap a few pictures and pick up a boxed dinner since we wouldn't all fit inside.  Don't worry- it was a Chick-fil-A sandwich this time- no barbeque.

We just had the most wonderful time.  It was fun and informative, and I really respect the principles that Chick-fil-A runs on.

If you're ever in Atlanta, you don't have to be a "VIP" to get a tour! Chick-fil-A Home Office Backstage Tours are offered on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 9:30am and 1pm.  Lunch is available for purchase after the 9:30am tour.  The 90 minute walking tour is for ages 6 and up.

PS- I have a Chick-fil-A giveaway for your enjoyment, too.  (Unless it's after December 7, 2012, because then the contest is closed).

I was provided with transportation to/from and around Atlanta, as well as a tour and two meals for myself and one guest as part of the "VIP of Chick-fil-A" contest.  The contest was not limited to bloggers/writers, and I was not asked to write about my experience in return for winning.  I just wanted to share with you guys.  All opinions are my own.

Guest Post: The New American Trail at the National Zoo

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Published: 09/12/2012

I wouldn’t normally venture out to the Smithsonian National Zoo on a humid Saturday at the end of summer, but this wasn’t an ordinary weekend.  After two and a half years of work, the American Trail was reopening to visitors.  Did you know that this trail has been part of the National Zoo since the late 1800’s?  And that it was originally called “Beaver Valley” before they changed the name in 2007?  Or that one of the main reasons for the renovation was that the seal and sea lion pool was leaking over 100,000 gallons of water a day despite efforts to conserve the water?  Well, if you didn’t, you just learned your new thing for the day. 
Waterfall Near the Beginning of the Trail
We started at the part of the trail closest to The Elephant Outpost (which is awesome if you haven’t seen that new addition!) and worked our way down the hill.  It was late afternoon and we were finally getting a break from the sun. As we walked along the trail we experienced several of North America’s ecosystems, including coastal upland, wet forest, eastern woodland forest and the shore. The trail ignites all of your senses as it is filled with sounds of running water, a variety of green trees and flora, tall rock walls and smells of the water.
Busy Beaver!
The first animals we saw were the two American river otters.  Their exhibit is not as large as the Asian river otters’, but it was fun to watch them swim and wrestle underwater.  Next, we saw the North American beavers. The beavers were pretty active, too!  This particular exhibit hasn’t changed that much, but you do get a great view of the beavers. One was having a snack on land while the other was busy carrying sticks and such to their dam.  My girls just loved going back and forth watching the beaver work.  Also included in their exhibit are two hooded merganser ducks, but they were sound asleep on a rock when we were there.
Photo from Smithsonian National Zoo
Adjacent to the beavers are two gray wolves (the white one is beautiful).  This species has never been exhibited before at the National Zoo.  The white one was in plain view pacing his area.  The revamped exhibit allows for visitors to see the wolves better when they are out and about.  Don’t worry about the Mexican wolves the Zoo had before on exhibit on the trail. They were part of a conservation release program.
Across from the wolves is a bald eagle.  I don’t think people realize how big this bird actually is.  I noticed that the exhibit was not enclosed as I remember it being in the past.  This is because the eagle fell from its nest when it was young and can not fly.  I like the openness of the exhibit and you can get a pretty clear view from a side viewing area.
We did not actually see the raven exhibit, but there are four of them.  One of them is a rescue. This is another species the National Zoo has never had on exhibit before. 

We didn’t intentionally save the best for last, but it worked out that way!  Of course, the big talk has been about the new seal and sea lion exhibit that was being unveiled.  I don’t know how many of you remember the old exhibit for the seals and sea lions, but it was more like a huge, white-bottomed swimming pool than a natural habitat for the creatures.  This new exhibit is totally different!  You will seriously forget you are at the zoo and will be transported to the west coast once you enter this exhibit.

Photo from Smithsonian National Zoo – sign by entrance of tide pool
As we got closer, we could hear children screaming and laughing.  I thought the seals and sea lions were swimming and that’s why everyone was so excited.  I had totally forgot about the tide pool!  My tired husband suggested we walk on by so the girls wouldn’t notice.  Granted, we had been at the zoo for a LONG time by then, but I said we should go for it.  (I am trying to do more of “living in the moment” these days.  The “old” me definitely would’ve agreed with him.)  He asked if I was sure and I said let’s get these socks and shoes off!

Photos from Smithsonian National Zoo:  Empty tide pool

The tide pool is very kid-friendly and is surrounded with model sea stars, barnacles and sea urchins – which my 3 ½ year old loved searching for and touching.  Water shoots up from numerous holes in the ground.  I almost got caught over a couple of them, which my husband found very funny. (Did I mention I was wearing a skirt?)   Every two minutes, a “tidal wave” sweeps across the area.  The water came up to my ankles.  My 3 ½ year old would rush up to where the water would come out of and my 17 month old was trying to “catch” the water spewing from the “geysers” around us. My girls love the water, so they had a blast! After we were well soaked, we headed on to the rest of the exhibit. 
Having fun!
The first seal we saw was a gray seal.  She is a retired NAVY seal whose skills were utilized during the Cold War.  (Maybe that’s why she was napping.)  She will have three friends join her in the late fall. Two harbor seals will also join the exhibit then.  This is another species that the National Zoo has not previously exhibited.
Next, we got to see four very active California sea lions (two which are rescues) and two lazy brown pelicans.  Both pelicans have wing injuries that prevent them from being released into the wild.
Trying to touch the sea lion--how precious is that?!
The underwater viewing area was filled with adults and children alike trying to get a glimpse of the sea lions swimming by.  This is a great place to just park the stroller and let the sea lions do the entertaining.  The sea lions seemed to be showing off by swimming on their backs and looking right at us as they swam by.  I could’ve sat there longer myself, but we wanted to give other people a turn.

Photos from Smithsonian National Zoo – This is the view from the seating area pictured below.  I love the natural look and feel of it.

As we walked further along the path, we saw this huge seating area where visitors can sit and watch the keeper talks, which happen twice a day.  It would be a great place for a break or just for watching the sea lions if they are on the rocks.  However, it’s not very shady.

Photo from Smithsonian National Zoo – The hidden gem of the exhibit

We were getting ready to leave the trail when I noticed another path.  I decided to go ahead to see what it was.  I saw the sign that said “stroller parking” but the kiosk was shut down for the night.  So, I peeked in the cave and boy was I taken back!  The flooring is soft and bouncy and there is a HUGE underwater viewing area.  There is no ambient lighting behind you and except for not being wet, you feel like you are under the water.  It really felt like the floor was moving.  We took advantage of the fact that we could have our strollers in there and parked the girls for a private show.  A few other people meandered through, but other than that we had the cave to ourselves. There is also a small seating area where visitors can sit and watch.
Waiting for the Sea Lions

There is also the Seal Rock Cafe on the trail, but it was closed by the time we made it by there.  The cafe serves local Chesapeake Bay seafood meals and it even has a vegetarian option.  These meals feature local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients such as shrimp and fish.  

The National Zoo did an exceptional job with the American Trail renovation.  There is so much more to it than meets the eye.  I didn't even mention how so much for the trail was done with "green" thinking in mind.  I have spent quite some time reading about the building of the train, the exhibits, and the animals themselves.  I definitely recommend that you take the family and learn more about what treasures are around us in our own country- from flora to fauna.  The American Trail is certainly an experience for the senses as well as the mind and a great field trip for the entire family!

A Few Tips
-Bring water.  I didn't do this and had to shell out $3/bottle and it wasn't even cold.  They gave scups of ice, but bottled water was hard to come by that hot, humid day!
-Be prepared to park your stroller to enter the cave
-The closest bathrooms are a three minute walk uphill.  They actually have a sign posted with the time!
- Not all parts are shaded, dress for the weather/sun appropriately. 

Angela Pounders is a transplant to Manassas Park from Arlington.  She is blessed to be a stay at home mama to two beautiful girls.  As a former teacher (as well as preschool director and Children and Family Director), she is always on the look out for fun, easy and educational things to do with her girls.  She also loves to share her ideas and is looking to start her own blog, The Master’s Daughter, by the fall.

Reviews: Potomac Overlook Park

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Published: 07/31/2012
I have mommy brain.  My mommy brain syndrome (MBS) is augmented by my technology dependence syndrome (TDS, or, in my case iTDS).  Example?  We showed up for my daughter's dermatology appointment (a 45 minute drive in traffic because while I love PWC, I'm driving to the bets possible doctor our insurance will semi-pay for) only to sit for 30 minutes before the semi-rude receptionist reminded me that I cancelled this appointment when I made an earlier one for before we left for the beach.

My MBS apparently prevented me from removing that from my iCal, so when my iAlarm went off, iGotIntheCar and iDrove to the appointment.  Hence the iTDS kicker.

Being that I am also spontaneous, and had skipped swim team practice, we opted to iMap our way over to Potomac Overlook Regional Park and check out what it had to offer before doing the same thing back down i66, err, I-66, to head to a library event back down in our neck of the woods.

Potomac Overlook is located at 2845 North Marcey Road, Arlington, Virginia.  It is absolutely gorgeous for hiking, as well as having a beautiful nature center, concerts, a solar-powered outdoor stage, roving naturalists, community gardens, and canoe trips. 

We've been to Potomac Overlook once before, and we enjoyed the well-shaded hiking, especially since with water shoes on we could enjoy keeping our feet cool in the creek/river that flows through the park.  Throwback photo evidence:

Okay, so they didn't like their water shoes.  I admit, I am that horrible parent that lets my children experience the world barefoot whenever they want and my husband isn't yelling.  I don't like shoes, either, so I get it.
 In this picture my kids are 15 months, 3, and 5.  I'm wearing sporting an awesome blue Moby Wrap.  If you don't have a Moby Wrap and you have a baby or are about to have a 2nd (3rd, 4th, 5th) baby, you should stop reading this NOW and go buy one.  I'll wait. No, they're not paying me, either.
I am also that mom that lets her kid swim in the deep pool he finds.  It was warm that day.  He had an amazing time and the water was clear so that you could see straight to the bottom.  I realize this doens't mean it was clean, but it looked like it, so there.

This time, however, we never made it that far since by the time we arrived it was already 108 degrees outside.  Walking from the parking lot to the nature center, we noticed there is a fun hike with signs for each planet placed at representative distances along the path.  They include fun facts like how much a person of a certain weight (I want to say it was 100 pounds) would weigh on each planet.  On your left hand side, you'll also see the solar-powered outdoor theatre as well as an eletctric car filling station.  Trees and rocks along this main path are also labeled for your viewing pleasure. 

By the time we arrived at the nature center, my middle child informed me that he was dying, and I informed him that the nature center is air conditioned, at which point he summoned the will power to go on the three steps to the door.  It was magical.

By the way, now that my kids are 4, 6, and 8, their lives exist soley on my iphone because I'm not good enough to carry a camera, so I hope that you enjoyed the nice, clear pictures above because now we're switching back to my typical low-quality cell phone pictures.

The nature center includes a fun mix of energy saving information along with a living bee colony, live turtles, frogs and snakes, as well as some stuffed local species, skulls, and skeletons and fossils to look at.  The upper level is mostly non-living, although there is a turtle and two snakes, and the lower level is mostly snakes and frogs, along with a children's cave area, which was fun to hang around in for a few minutes even if it wasn't very large.
 The children's area included boards to make your own "cave drawings" sounds of a cave on a phone, and space to sit and read books or play with toys.  It'd be a good place to cool off and calm down on a hot day.
 There's also a lower-level educational room, which was completely devoid of people on the day we went, but looked like it must be used for field trips and scout groups.  There were some fish in the tank as well as stuffed bird and small mammal species. 
Ooooh, something stuffed.  Fun.  My kids love anything about animals, so they thought this nature center was fantastic.  It's definitely small enough that you can do it in a morning and still have time for a hike, even if you read everything in the nature center, but I enjoy that about it.

It was after this picture that my phone died.  It was sad.  So, not pictured are the community garden, Indian-themed circular garden, or the live birds of prey that are a short walk across from the nature center.  These are previously injured owls and hawks that cannot be returned to the wild due to the extent of their inuries, and you do get a very close look at them.  The owls were especially beautiful, and, as a bonus, I found a 4 foot black snake on the trail on the way up! How fantastic!

Fine, I freaked out.  But the boys thought it was amazing.

This is a great local field trip, and we enjoyed both of our visits.  Check out Potomac Overlook Regional Park for your next hike or nature event!

Potomac Overlook Regional Park
Recommended for: Any age, really.  Lots of walking, but getting to/from the nature center is stroller-friendly.  There is a long hill that is not particularly handicap-accessible, I would talk to the park rangers about the possibility of being allowed to drive to the center itself if that's an issue for your.  Older children will enjoy the various themed areas and hiking.

Pros: Free! Lots of different interests addressed.  Live and stuffed animal species, lots of labeled plants and rocks with information on species.

Cons: Nature center is somewhat small, parking is removed from areas of interest.

Giveaway: Follow That Fiddle

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Published: 07/17/2012

Win a Family 4-pack to Follow That Fiddle! -  Thursday, July 19 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. courtesy of the Hylton Performing Arts Center! 

"Follow That Fiddle!" takes you on a journey back to the origins of the violin & fiddles of the world and forward to the electric violins of tomorrow.  NSO violinist Glenn Donnellan enthralls the audience with American fiddling, European fiddling (including the visually stunning Norwegian Hardanger fiddle) and the Chinese two-stringed fiddle (Erhu) as you learn about the globe-spanning history of fiddling and the violin.  The performance culminates with Glenn Donnellan's one-of-a-kind fiddle, the Electric Slugger®, which he created from a regulation Louisville Slugger™ baseball bat and plays at MLB games.  This engaging performance captivates students as they learn about how a violin and fiddle make their sound, watch a bow and arrow become an instrument, and how with a little electric energy, a violin can ROCK the house!

In addition to the performance, children will have the opportunity to play the Electric Slugger® during a hands-on demonstration after each performance.

For more information or to buy tickets visit:

To enter, please send an email  by clicking on the link with "Follow That Fiddle" in the subject line.  No other action is necessary.  Winner will be notified via email and Facebook on Wednesday, July 18th by 12:05pm.

Prize provided by the Hylton Performing Arts Center. is not responsible for travel or other expenses, and assumes no liability on the part of the recipient or the provider of this prize. 

Guest Post: Animal Shelter Children's Farm

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Published: 05/18/2012

Thanks to Sharon for the info on the Prince William County Animal Shelter Children's Farm!

My kids are crazy about animals.  We are always looking for something to do that involves our four-legged friends.  Today we ventured out to the Prince William County Animal ShelterChildren’s Farm.  If you are interested in taking your wee ones to this free exhibit, here are a few things you should know before you go.

First of all, it’s free.  Pretty cool, right?  The only requisite is that you call beforehand to make sure there is someone available to let you in.  Even though the website says they are only open on Thursdays, they will accommodate visitors provided they are adequately staffed.  The staff also recommends that you use discretion if it is raining.  This is a real barnyard with real dirt and your children can get really dirty if it is wet.  Heads up.

We arrived to the Animal Shelter parking lot and walked through the main entrance into the shelter building.  We asked at the main desk if we could be escorted back to the Children’s Farm and we were soon paired with a kind, young employee who walked us to the back and unlocked the gates.  As soon as the gates were unlocked, the fun began.  Two very friendly, very zealous potbelly pigs greeted us immediately: one named Chunk and the other Tootsie. We took a chance and brought a big bag of carrots in case they would let us feed the animals, and as it turns out, visitors are welcome to feed carrots and apples.  And, WOW, were we popular!  My children were able to feed carrots to the pigs, the white pony, all of the goats and the cow in the yard.  The animals were clean and well-groomed.  They appeared happy and well taken care of.

Our visit concluded when all of the carrots were eaten (a few may have been consumed by the humans in our group…) and the children had laughed themselves silly at all of the animal antics in the barnyard.  We stayed for about 20 minutes.

Bottom Line: Call ahead, dress for mud, bring treats, and have fun.

Address and Phone Number:
14807 Bristow Road
Manassas, VA 20112
Phone: 703-792-6465

Hours of Operation:
Tuesday: 11:00am-5:00pm
Wednesday: 11:00am-5:00pm
Thursday: 11:00am-5:00pm
Friday: 11:00am-5:00pm
Saturday: 10:00am-4:00pm
Sunday: 12:00pm-4:00pm
Monday: Closed

Sharon Kieffer Steele is a homeschooling mother of 5 who resides in Prince William County.  She is a freelance writer who occasionally blogs

May 19th 2012: National Kids to Parks Day

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Published: 05/14/2012
As part of the "Let's Move" initiative to raise a healthier generation of kids, the National Park Trust is hosting "National Kids to Parks Day" on May 19, 2012.  You can sign up on their website to let them know you pledge to take your kids outside and to a park on May 19th! We have some awesome park options right here in Prince William County, and they're hosting events, to boot! I've also included some surrounding parks in case you'd really like to make a day of it!

Leesylvania State Park in Woodbridge, VA will be hosting a Kids to Parks GPS hunt at 12 and 3.  The hike will be 1.3 miles and GPS units will help in your search.  Bring water and closed-toed shoes.  $3pp or $8 per family or $25 per large group.  

Occoquan Regional Park will host a Healthy Paddles Event from 10am-3pm

Rock Creek Park in DC will host a Kids to Parks Event from 10am-2pm

Mason Neck in Lorton will be offering a variety of programs.  GPS rentals will be available.  Feathers and Furst, 10-10:30am, Picnic Area Pond Patrol 11-12pm, Makin Tracks 12:30-1:30pm, Whimmy Diddles 2-2:30pm, Hiking Helpers 3-4pm.  

Lake Anna State Park in Spotsylvania (it's our favorite camping/boating spot!) will have Jack Corrigan teaching Geocaching 101.  Preregister by calling 540-854-5503.  $2/pp or $6 per family.  No park entrance fee.  9am-12pm or 1-4pm. 

Wolf Trap in Vienna (yes, it's performing arts, but it's also a park!) will have kids day from 9am-12pm. 

Also, the NPT has some great children's activities on their Buddy the Bison website.  You can check those out here. 

Even if you think your child is too young for some of these planned activities, why not get them out to a park on the 19th anyway.  Lake Ridge Park is a fun one, even for little kids, or even your neighborhood playground could do in a pinch! There's hiking trails all over PWC (the one behind Waterworks is fun!) and you can enjoy some time being active and outside with your kids! 

The White House Tour

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Published: 05/06/2012
No pictures allowed inside the WH tour- so this is our only real "tour" photo
We love history.  In fact, we love history so much that it's almost dork-con 1 at our house all the time.  We have "Story of the World" on the full 4 set CD collection and listen to it for fun.


So we definitely appreciate historical sites.  We also love living outside of DC and enjoy the museums.  We're also some of those "crazy homeschoolers", so we partake of the National Park Service's Historic Sites on a regular basis.  My kids have filled out Junior Ranger books at Constitution Hall, Appomattox Court House, the Frederick Douglass House and a few more this school year alone.

I say that all to qualify the fact that we really don't recommend the White House Tour.  I know several of you disagreed on Facebook and said that it was worth a visit because it's such an historic place or because it's on your DC bucket list, but for us, it was probably our least favorite historic tour we've been on.  Here's why:

1) Booking your tour takes some coordination.  You can't just show up at the White House and get in the tour line.  You'll need to go through your Senator or Congressman and provide a list of social security numbers for everyone in your group.  (We were actually very blessed that someone from our group did this for us.  It's a little scary to give your SSNs to someone, but she did all the leg work).  Once you submit those you'll hear 10 days to 2 weeks before your scheduled time and then need to make it work. You can't just request a particular day and be guaranteed to get it.

2) Getting there isn't really that difficult.  Metro Center is very close, or you can drive in.  There's a parking garage right by the W hotel.  They'll tell you not to drive because parking is so limited, but if you're willing to spend the $15 or so dollars to park for the next few hours, you won't have any trouble.  Free and meter parking are nearly impossible, so don't plan on that.

3) Entering the park (the White House is both a residence, a business, and a National Park Museum) can be time consuming and a bit of a hassle.  You'll go through a few check points where you'll need photo ID for everyone over 18 that EXACTLY matches the registered name.  You can be refused entry if you're late for your time (although we were about 10 minutes later than the 15 minutes early they tell you to be and had no problem).  All told we waited in line for about 40 minutes, including going one at a time through a checkpoint where a dog sniffs you (a little scary for our 4 year old), and another with a metal detector.  This was a weekday with no school holidays that I'm aware of, so if you're doing this over summer or winter breaks, plan for a longer wait time.

IMPORTANT NOTE: There are NO STROLLERS, DIAPER BAGS, PURSES, FOOD (including cheerios and baby bottles), OF ANY KIND ALLOWED.  THERE IS NO STROLLER PARKING, EITHER.  They sent a woman from our group away because she had the smallest purse you've ever seen.  You'll need to literally stash everything in your car (if you brought one) or have a member of your crew stay outside to keep everything.  If you public transited, this can be a huge hassle, since you probably needed a stroller or some "stuff" (like diapers) to make it through the rest of your visit to DC.

4) Once you're inside there's isn't actually a tour.  You signed up for a "White House Tour", you're given a tour time, but once you get there, it's all self-guided.  Each room has a small sign on the floor with 1-3 sentences about the room and a fun fact, and there are Secret Service Agents stationed in each room to answer specific questions, but there is no tour guide or small overview as there is at most historic sites in the NPS.  On the main floor, you'll walk up a ramp of a few steps. There is a view of a garden, but we were not permitted to enter it.  There are a few picture frames on the walls with various themes (Presidential Pets, etc), and then you round a corner to the first 3 rooms, which are standard-sized doorways which have been roped off.  There's the Vermeil (that's Ver-may- gold plated French items), the China Room (with the China Patterns), and the library.  You can stick your head in the door and look left and right.  Across from the Vermeil Room, there's a set of stairs going up (I'm not sure if there's handicap access somewhere, but I'd assume there is).  At the top of the stairs, there are a few other rooms that you can actually enter and walk adjacent to- the East Room, Blue Room, Red Room, Green Room and State Dining Room.

All said and done, we waited 40 minutes for a tour that lasted about 5.  My 8 year old summed it up well when he said "Mommy, we could have just read the booklet and looked at pictures on the internet".  Being there in person didn't really add to the experience or knowledge base for us.

If it were me, I'd rather spend my time at one of the other DC historic sites that's less hassle and more interaction.  I totally understand the allure of going to the White House, but for us, we enjoyed it least of all the Historic Tours we've taken.

The White House Tour
Recommended for: Parties that ONLY have children old enough to walk and stand for at least an hour at a time in line, that do not require strollers or diaper bags, and can handle large crowds of people.

Pros: It's the White House.  You probably won't see the President, but it's still a neat thing to claim you did.

Cons: Requires a reservation in advance through your elected representative, no strollers or bags allowed, short tour for the wait and process. No guided tours, no presentations in each room.

Our favorite part of the tour- Milkshakes at the Potbelly across the street. 

Guest Post: Virginia Renaissance Faire

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Published: 05/02/2012

  This is a re-post of last year's review of the Virginia Renaissance Faire.  However, we have tickets again this year!! Want to go? Leave a comment below with either your favorite part about the Renaissance Faire, or if you've never been, why you'd like to go! We'll pick a winner on Friday!

Thanks again to guest blogger Gaby from Domestic Goddess Musings for sharing the Virginia Renaissance Faire, and to the Faire coordinators for sponsoring our ticket giveaway!!

Many thanks to the fabulous Kristina of PWC Moms for sending our family to the Virginia Renaissance Faire! It was a lovely day in the Lake Anna region of Virginia, so we ended up staying from 10:30-2:00 (the event runs from 10:00-5:00 each day). Each weekend the faire is open has a theme, and this weekend featured Celtic Heritage. I'm not sure what exactly was more Celtic yesterday than any other day, but we saw a lot of kilts.

The fair grounds are rather large and could have easily accommodated crowds larger than the ones we visited with. A word to the wise though: take a jogging or all-terrain stroller. The "paths" are gravelly, and the grass is uneven. Pushing our umbrella stroller around was difficult once we were having to push a larger kid while juggling the little one.

The first "thing" that happened was that our older kids (4 and 2) decided they were going to be terrified of all the Renaissance actors. It took them about an hour and/or the queen's arrival to make them enjoy interacting with the characters. My 2 y/o never really loosened up enough to talk with anyone though she did inspect their clothes closely. The actors all remained solidly in character, and by the time we left, I'd begun returning their "Good morrows" and mentally referring to the crowd as gentles instead of people.

My husband and our friends were then recruited to march in the Queen's parade. They got some basic training on how to carry their "lances" and how to march. It was pretty cool. While they did that, the kids and I listened to a bard spin tales, watched the cooks create meals in an outdoor stone oven, and enjoyed the minstrels create improvisational songs.

We watched a few skits held in the Queen's honor, and I was happily impressed that all the topics were pretty clean. No flaming lewdness or cursing. The worst subject was that of pirate drunkenness, and even then, it was poking fun at pirates, not praising them. Other acts we watched included another improv singer, a magician, and the Fool. The Fool was my favorite. He did lots of fantastic acrobatic tricks while juggling. The best one was balancing on a board on top of a rolling barrel while tossing knives around. My kids liked him hula hooping with a flaming hoop best. There was a complimentary wine tasting of the Lake Anna Winery's samples for adults. Yum! Among the things we missed were an equestrian/jousting show, an archery exhibition, and a knighting (or ordaining as a lady) of the children.

Things we enjoyed seeing but not participating in were the petting zoo (baby alpacas, goats, and sheep), watching a weaving demonstration, watching gentles try to throw axes, watching gentles try archery, and playing in the kids area. There were also tons of vendors. It was very easy to get tempted to want a fun costume item, but so many of the costume pieces for sale were uber-expensive, so the temptation passed quickly. Other vendors had jewelry, chain mail pieces, weaponry, old-fashioned wooden toys, soaps, tobacco, and alpaca wool skeins.

And finally...the food! I've only been to one other (smaller) Renaissance Faire, and the food was pretty much the same. I saw frozen chocolate covered cheesecake on a stick (drool), funnel cakes, Scottish eggs, turkey legs, ginormous sausages on a stick, and sweet potato fries as well as standard American fare of hot dogs, burgers, and Frito pies (num!). We enjoyed a turkey leg and two hot dogs for $13. While it was not nearly enough for a family of five, I had packed a very hefty lunch bag with snacks, juices, and extra waters. My husband and I finished off our 1L bottle, the kids finished their 0.5L bottles, and the baby polished her 8 oz. cup of water pretty quickly, and the weather was in the mid 80s. Drinks, of course, are where you really pay a premium. Bottled 16 oz. waters ranged from $1.00-$1.50, 12 oz. sodas were about $2.50, and lemonades were $5.00 for a largish plastic cup ($2.00 for refills).

We went to the car to snack, but I don't think there would have been a problem if we had brought the food in. When we walked back into the Faire, the kids had their apples in hand, and nobody remarked on them.

Overall, the Renaissance Faire was a great event, and I am so glad our family had the opportunity to attend. Next year, we'll take advantage of the Military History weekend over Memorial Day and get in gratis.

-Great chances for the kids senses to be stimulated (touching the weapons and looms, listening to the music, watching the shows, tasting the food, and smelling the animals) to learn about history.
-Lots of space-we weren't constantly running over feet with our stroller or losing our kids in the crowd.
-Plenty of shady spots to take a break or change a diaper in.
-The ability to go and come back in (hand stamp return method).
-Plenty of FREE parking spaces!
-FREE wine tasting!

-The actors were a little scary to the kids at first.
-Some gentles visiting the Faire felt the need to dress like serving wenches and show more skin than I wanted to see...and I am by no means a big conservative when it comes to dressing.
-If you get there after 11:30, you're probably going to be hiking to and from your car.

-It's easy to get dehydrated and over-exposed in the sun despite the lovely temperature and slight cloud cover. I was thankful I had a stash of hats in the car and sunscreen in the diaper bag. Bring lots of water and sun protection.
-Bring an all-terrain stroller so you have an easy time of pushing your tots around.
-Be aware that some female costumes will be overly revealing.

Recommendation: A great family outing. Definitely do your best to get out and support this event!

Burke Lake Park

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Published: 04/26/2012
Ah, Burke Lake Park.  This place is fully loaded with a miniature train, carousel, several playgrounds and picnic areas, mini golf, ice cream shop, water activities and more.  Burke Lake Park is located in Fairfax County, but I would call it a destination park due to its high number of activities.  The park is open from sunrise to sunset, which obviously varies during different times f the year.  The park closes to all traffic (foot/bike/car) at sunset, too, so if you're camping, you're in for the night :)

The park facilities are open weekends beginning early April through Memorial Day, except the campgrounds which open in late April.  The park itself, however, is open year round.  From Memorial Day to Labor Day the park facilities are open daily, weather permitting, and then they're open again on weekends through late October, which is also when camping ends.

The train runs on the 15 and 45, beginning at 11:15am.  The carousel runs on the hour and the half hour beginning at 11:30am.  The ice cream parlor is open 11am-4pm, and mini golf opens at 11am.  The park is free for Fairfax County Residents (so load up in your Fairfax friend's minivan).  For non-residents on weekends and holidays (it's free on weekdays) the fee is $10 for cars and vans and $40 for buses.  Picnic areas are available to rent for parties.

We've had the opportunity to enjoy Burke Lake Park on several occasions, both with friends for playtime and for camping and running.  We've even picnicked by the water, which was lovely, too.  The kids enjoyed the train and carousel (although older elementary children might find it "lame").

Says PwcDad: Camping at Burke Lake is great for younger kids because it features lots of activities and several fitness trails that are great for younger children.

Burke Lake Park
Pros: Close to Lake Ridge/Woodbridge, free on weekdays, lots to do, picnic areas have always been clean on our visits
Cons: Amenities are at a price (although low), not PWC :), if you are an iPhone addict, your reception is going to stink :)
Caution: Campers should note that you cannot leave or enter after dark, even if you have a child that decides they'd rather not camp tonight.

Business Review: Color Me Mine

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Published: 04/17/2012
Over Spring break, we had the chance to visit Color Me Mine in Fairfax.  It was free Ben and Jerry's day, and Fairfax Corner was opening their fountain and having several other events, so we met up with PwcGrammy (who's a student at George Mason- super proud of her!) and decided we'd burn some time before B&J's opened by painting pottery.  We've done this before several times at various studios and have some very precious keepsakes from going with relatives who have since passed on.  Having their handprints and my babies' handprints is a very sweet memory. 

The studio is long and narrow, and table space is not necessarily easy to come by if you go on a vacation day (I'd imagine weekends are tough, too).  I felt like their fees were slightly higher than some of the places that we've been to that charge a flat rate, as they charge a per item rate and a studio fee per person. 

They do have some fun looking events like Kids Out Nights where parents can drop their children who are 6 and older off and go spend some time in the shopping center.  There are amazing Great American restaurants in this shopping center, so it could make for an awesome date night!  They also do fundraisers and parties.

While we had a decent time, I have to say I didn't love the experience here, and I'd probably not opt to go here again if I had the option of going somewhere else.  Unlike other studios that let you get your own glaze, the attendants here give you a sample palette and you are allowed to pick 6 colors which they get for you.  You aren't allowed to get your own.  (This of course means that there is a tip jar, so you should tip your attendant on top of the studio fee for their fetching of things you could easily get yourself).  It wasn't packed to the gills when we first got there and the "don't touch the glaze" policy was really annoying as my 6yo was painting an entire vase one color.  That tablespoon of glaze? Yeah, that ran out every 4th brush full and then we found ourselves waiting for an attendant, who got pretty huffy with us by the 4th refill.  Hint: if the kid is obviously painting the entire piece a base color, why not get a second glaze container and just do that one color?

We didn't get much of an explanation, which is fine since we've done pottery before, but should have at least been offered.  When we finally got started really painting one of the staff came over and said "So, how are you going to want to pay?" in an annoyed voice.

Seriously? You need to know upfront? Why didn't you charge me before I got paint all over myself thanks to the kids?

She apparently didn't actually want me to pay, she just wanted to know I was using my Visa (it's everywhere you wanna be). We continued for about eight minutes and then another attendant came over and demanded I go sign in on their computer system.

Really? I'm here.  Does it matter?

The computer ticked me off, too.  You don't need to data collect my home address, email, home phone and cell phone for me to paint something.  At the end, it asked for me to answer some survey questions, which seemed ridiculous.

The kids still had fun, and it's possible we just caught the staff (all high school or early college aged) on an off day, but if I'm going to spend $150 on an activity, I want to leave feeling darn happy, and that just didn't happen.

Overall, I'd head somewhere else based on this experience, but if you've had a great time there, I'd love to hear about it!

Color Me Mine Fairfax:
Recommended For: Ages 5 and up.  Younger children could be taken for handprints/footprints, but you need some fine motor skills to make anything worth taking home and with items being so expensive, your younger ones are better off with a kit from Michaels.
Pros: Creative outlet, nice shopping center, pieces are keepsakes
Cons: Expensive, unfriendly/unhelpful staff, studio seemed to get hot

This is an unsolicited review.  All opinions are my own.  Your experience may vary.  

Giveaway: Medieval Times Maryland

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Published: 04/16/2012
Over Spring Break I planned activities for each day.  We were staying in town, but I still wanted to make it fun.  Each day, my oldest child would get up and drive me nuts about what we were going to do.  Here's a sample conversation:

Mom? Mom? Mom? Mommy? Momma? Mom?
Seriously? What do you want?
What are we going to do today?
You know I'm not telling you until we get in the car.  Otherwise you pester me all day about it.
Are we going to the moon?
Are we going to the lake?
Are we going to drive race cars?
Are we going to blow something up?
Are we going to meet an evil scientist and watch him blow stuff up?
Are we going to go to a castle and there'll be an EPIC BATTLE and a dragon?
Are we going...wait, what?
Yup. Castle, swords, whole deal.'re such a liar. There aren't castles here.
If you say so. 

So, when we pulled up to Medieval Times in Arundel Mills, Maryland (think 1-1.5 hours depending on traffic), oldest child was adequately impressed.  The facade on the mall actually  does look like a giant castle! (You don't get to enter via the external drawbridge, but that's okay.)

Medieval Times is a dinner and tournament experience.  When you arrive, you enter and are assigned to a knight.  You get a crown (yes, even you, mommy) in the appropriate color, and then you get to wander the "Great Hall" and see the sights while you wait for the actual dinner seating to begin.  The night we went, there was a falconer and Princess Catalina out for you to take pictures with as a family.  I'm not gonna lie, it took me a second to get over people saying "M'lord, m'lady, this way, please." with a totally straight face.

During the period while you wait before the seating, the king comes out and acknowledges birthdays, anniversaries, and other special events.  We arrived much earlier than we needed to since we didn't have a special event, but there is an open bar and the kids enjoyed the "knightings".

Once it's time to be seated, guests are invited to enter by the color of their crown.  You're seated with the other guests who will be cheering for your knight, and receive a ribbon to wave, too.  The new show, which we were able to see, starts with horses, who perform very beautifully.  There is a good bit of Fog Machine that happens during the show, as well as periods of lasers and/or darkness.  None of my children were frightened by this, though, they actually enjoyed it! The show isn't "too loud" (I know I've had several readers write to ask about volume of performances) but you are seated stadium-style, so don't plan on having conversation with anyone who isn't seated directly next to you.

The premise of the meal is that audience are guests of the king and his daughter.  To entertain his guests, he has invited a knight from each area to compete.  Then there are some exhibitions of either horsemanship or falconry and games of skill where the knights ride on horseback and compete in things like spearing rings with their lance. Winners are given flowers by the Princess, which they toss out to people in their section.

Dinner comes in kind of a strange progression of courses.  First there's tomato bisque, and then after that there's a garlic bread course.  I've never had a bread course before, but whatever, it works! The main meal is INTENSE.  There's half a chicken, 2 ribs, and potato wedges.  You should know, too, that you eat without silverware.  You get a lovely thick napkin, though, and after dessert (ours was an apple pastry) you get some excellent wet naps :) If you have children young enough, they can be a lap child.  We did this, but I would NEVER do it again.  It would totally be worth the extra ticket not to have a crown and banner in your face the entire time, and to not have little fingers in your food (lap children share a meal, which is fine because the portions are enormous, but not fine because there are little fingers in your food!) Spring for the extra ticket so that you can keep your eyes in tact!

If I wasn't sharing with a little carnivore, I would have opted for the vegetarian meal, which they do offer.  It appeared to be a grilled mushroom cap, hummus and pita and a veggie kabob and actually looked really good!  You should know about the meal that your drink options are unsweetened iced tea (sugar/artificial sweetener is provided) and Pepsi.

Holy grief, people.  I never give my children caffeine, but it was a special night and so we let them have the Pepsi.  Did you forget that caffeine is a drug? Because the car ride home reminded me of that fact.  Might be worth bothering your waiter for water for the kids! It did keep them awake through the show, though! (Not that they would've fallen asleep anyway!)

The show progresses during dinner to a man-to-man competition where the knights face off jousting and then in foot battle.  They actually joust.  This amazed me.  I hadn't figured out how they were going to fake that, and they don't.  They actually ride on horses and slam each other's shields with lances that shatter into a million pieces.  They do fight and simulate someone being cut or stabbed, but there is no blood and it is "real" enough to be interesting and exciting and "staged" enough that my youngest understood there was nothing scary.  "It's like big brothers playing swords" was her comment, and she's easily upset about things.

There is a villain who comes to try to claim Princess Catalina, and there is some ominous music.  Some of the swords shoot sparks.  We happened to think both of those things were awesome.

From the oldest PwcKid:
"It was cool because the things were actual events they did in Medieval times and they actually caught rings with the lances, too, but then they fought with them, which was better.  I liked to cheer for our knight and boo at the other knights.  You don't usually let us boo at things like baseball games, because you say it's bad manners, but the people at the tournament said that we could boo the teams that weren't part of our team, so that was good.  The food was pretty good, but they gave me too much! I would like more Pepsi.  Are you going to give me Pepsi again? I liked that a lot."

Note: The New Show is on sale for a limited time.  Also, there are matinee educational shows, but I haven't seen one. I hear they are not much different from the evening performances, but cannot speak to that with any authority.

Break it down, now:
Medieval Times
Recommended for ages 5 and up, although younger children will enjoy it, too!

Pros: Different experience, highly imaginative and engaging. Kids enjoyed the atmosphere and the food.  Fun costumes, and an overall unique and really upbeat experience!
Cons: Fog and lighting could intimidate the youngest viewers, or those who are sensitive to sensory overload.
Notes: This show includes imitations of fighting, as well as the use of animals.

We had a great time at Medieval Times, and we think you will,  too!! Enter from now through April 19th at midnight to win tickets to see the new show for yourself at Medieval Times Baltimore!

You can have 1 entry for each of the following:
1) Twitter! You can write whatever you want, but include @PwcMoms and @MedievalTimes
2) Facebook! You'll have to post here, too, but head to Medieval Times Maryland and let them know PwcMoms sent you! Your comment here stating you did this is your entry, as always.
3) Share! Tell your friends about this contest on facebook or twitter and link back to @PwcMoms and leave a comment saying you did.
4) Or just leave a comment.  I forgot this one originally, but you can always leave comments.  They're my favorite. 

Each method counts as a separate entry!  Good luck!)

Disclosure: PwcMoms was provided with tickets to attend a Medieval Times show, as well as a set of tickets to give away.  No other compensation was provided and all opinions expressed here are our own.  Your experience may vary. We're not responsible for you being lanced.  Just sayin.
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