Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Top Ten Activities To Do With Kids In/Around Boston

As you all have probably guessed by now, my family loves a good adventure and we are fond of exploring the great-unknown.  We, sadly, are not a family with unlimited time or financial resources, so we tend to do most of our adventuring close to home and our trips tend to be of the day variety.  In the 13+ years that we've lived in Massachusetts, our family has explored many a Boston-area museum and historical site.  

You might say that we've done it all.

(except I still have a long list of places to go and things to do)

I've even got the blog posts to prove it.

Recently, I was asked which places / activities The Family Elliot enjoyed the most, and which ones I would recommend to other families of similar time/means.

It took me a while, but I've managed to assemble a list.  I present to you, 

My Top 10 List of Places To Go and Things To Do (with children) When Visiting The Boston-Area

(In no particular order and without further ado)

1.  Magic Wings (I've included links to previous blog posts about each place/ activity) 

Magic Wings in South Deerfield, MA is perhaps just a tad outside of the Boston area.  Okay, it's pretty darn far, but the trip is worth the effort.  Magic Wings is the grand-poo-bah of butterfly sanctuaries.  If butterfly sanctuaries were a beauty pageant, Magic Wings would be crowned Grand Supreme.  It's warm, its gorgeous and there are more butterflies per square foot than should be allowed by nature.  There is just no way on earth that you could leave Magic Wings in a bad mood.  Take my word for it.

2.  The Coolidge Reservation:

Looking for a short but lovely nature walk?  Looking for a chance to breathe in the sea air while admiring a stunning ocean view?  Looking for a place to spread out a picnic blanket and have an outdoor meal?  Looking for a physical activity that is just long enough for adults to feel like they stretched their legs, but not long enough for the children to start complaining that they are tired?  Look no further than The Coolidge Reservation in Manchester, MA.  This place has it all:  a lovely stroll by a lovely pond, a short board-walk area which offers ample opportunities to push your sisters off into small streams, a Great Lawn for games, trees and rocks to climb, and a gorgeous ocean to admire.  The Coolidge Reservation is always a pleasure.

3.  Canobie Lake Park:

Canobie Lake Park is not in Massachusetts, but I'd still consider it a viable option for someone visiting the Boston area.  Get there when the park opens and plan to spend the entire day.  You will be amazed by the cleanliness of the park, the considerate / helpful employees, the death-defying rides, the beautiful lake and the all-around good, old-fashioned summer fun found at Canobie.

4.  The Boston Public Gardens

Boston's answer to New York's Central Park, The Public Gardens is a fun and beautiful place to visit.  Read the book, Make Way For Ducklings, before you go, and your children will get a kick out of meeting Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings and riding the famous swan boats.  It's so quintessentially Boston that you will probably lose your ability to pronounce your "R's" when you step through the Garden Gates.

5.  Skyline Playground:

We Elliots have a few favorite Massachusetts playgrounds, but Skyline, in Arlington, is perhaps the most loved of them all.  The Elliot Children love that Skyline has two long, steep slides carved into it's mountain side, a tire swing and climbing structures-galore.  The Elliot Adults love that Skyline has a spectacular view of Boston and ample benches to sit and relax.  

6.  Boston-Area Beaches:

(Cranes Beach, Ipswich)

Massachusetts has wonderful beaches.  Two of our favorites are Cranes Beach, in Ipswich and...

Good Harbor, in Gloucester.

Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall... it's doesn't matter when you go.  The beaches are gorgeous, the views are pretty and the sun shines brightly (Unless it is raining.  Or snowing.  Or the fog has come in.  You know what they say about New England weather?  If you don't like it, wait five minutes and it will change.)

7.  The Harvard Museum of Natural History:

The Harvard Museum of Natural History is the best museum you've never heard of.  It has an enormous collection of taxidermied animals and there are bones, fossils and rock specimens galore.  The museum is also home to an amazing collection of blown-glass flowers and some pretty impressive gemstones.  We've been to this museum at least five times and we haven't grown tired of it yet... and that's saying something, indeed.

8.  Spectacle Island:

To get to this Boston Harbor Island, you have to take a short ferry ride, which is an adventure in itself.  Once you're on the island, you will be amazed at the vast quantities of sea glass, old, broken pottery and historical artifacts just lying on the rocky shore waiting to be discovered.  You literally can not walk a step without finding a treasure.  The only catch?  All items have to be left on the island - either in the island museum or on the beach itself.  Leaving treasures behind might be hard for some little children, but the rest of us get enough pleasure from knowing that the things we have found will be displayed, in the main building, for everyone after us to enjoy.  

Oh.  And you can hike, enjoy a meal and swim in iffy-Boston-Harbor water, too, if you're interested in those kind of things.

9.  A Whale Watch Trip: 

Hmm.  That wasn't the photo I thought I was importing there.  And I'm too tired now to find a better one.  It's fuzzy, but that's a whale tail, you are looking at.  Or maybe a whale back.  Oh dear.  

Leaving almost constantly from the Harbor in Gloucester, are a number of Whale Watching Excursion trips.  They are usually half-day excursions and there is almost always a scientist on board to tell you what to look for and help you spot the whales.  We've only done one Whale Watch trip and we only saw two whales, but it was amazing and worth the effort.  

10.  The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:

Just writing the words "Museum of Fine Arts, Boston" makes me break out into a Modern Lovers Song.  Sing it with me:

"If I were to walk through the Museum of fine arts in Boston
Well first I'd go to the room where they keep the Cezanne
But if I had by my side a girlfriend
then I could look through the paintings
I could look right through them
because I'd have found something that I understand
I understand a girl friend
that's a girl
that's 'g' 'i' 'r' 'l' 'f' 'r' 'e' 'n'
that's a girl friend baby,
that's somethin that I understand"

Ah, that Jonathan Richman.  He's something else, isn't he?

Anyway, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is a wonderful place for children.  For a grand art museum, the MFA is very kid-friendly and you can spend hours there, wandering the galleries admiring the vast collection of art.  During MA school vacation weeks, children get free admission to the museum and the staff set up art and craft stations where visiting children can explore different artistic mediums up close and personal.

So that's it - my Top Ten Best Activities for Children In/Around Boston.

I definitely could have included more family-friendly, fun Boston activities, but this Top Ten List took longer than I ever imagined and I'm way too tired.

I've been inspired, though.  Maybe my Top 10 List Part 2, will follow another day.

And while I'm at it, maybe the top 10 Worst Activities / Places To Avoid With Children in Boston List is a good idea, too.

I could probably do that list fairly easily.

I hope this is helpful.  Enjoy!

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Academy Awards

Welcome to the 85th Annual Academy Awards!

We celebrated in style, with our own formal attire and our own red carpet.

The first to arrive was Georgia:

Georgia was wearing vintage Calvin Klein with jewels "borrowed" from (and perhaps never returned to) her Auntie Elizabeth and Great-Granny Ruth.

 Georgia showed off her outfit from every angle and allowed the paparazzi a good long time to take their photos.

Next to arrive was Josephine:

Josephine was wearing a vintage dress (worn to my friend, Tara's wedding) and vintage shoes (part of my bridesmaid outfit at my friend's Nara's wedding).  Her jewelry was also from the House of Great-Granny Ruth.

Josie twirled.

And posed...

she, too, allowed ample time for photographers to get their shots:

but at last she blew a kiss to the crowd and went inside the theater:

Next it was my turn:

I arrived on the red carpet and waved to all my fans:

I spun around to show off my very-professional up-do:

I paused one last time...

before I joined my peers in the theater.

There was a great deal of merriment inside the auditorium.

The nominees caught up on each other's lives and schmoozed with directors and agents:

Like all the other actors and actresses, we waited for the Academy Awards to begin, while watching the red carpet action on the overhead monitors:

We waited and hoped that Seth McFarlane wouldn't tease us too badly during his opening monologue:

And we showed off our borrowed jewels to our friends in the audience.

(Just another quick look at my up-do.  I'm really proud of my handiwork.  I've never had hair-do success before!)

Waiting for the show to begin made us anxious and impatient:

It was time to head to the lobby for some cocktails:

Or fruit juice, if you were so inclined:

Eventually, the ceremony began and once our categories had come and gone, we drowned our sorrows in some good old-fashioned junk food.  

It's only fair after a week of starving ourselves and drinking those vile juice cleanses, that we got a treat:

Chocolate chip cookie dough brownies hit the spot.

We may not have won a gold statue this time, but there's always next year. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Mystic Aquarium

On Thursday, I took the children on a road trip to Mystic, Connecticut and the famous Mystic Aquarium.

The Aquarium did not disappoint!

It was a freezing cold day, but we lingered by the Beluga tank for quite a while and interacted with the friendliest beluga whale I've ever met.

Then we went inside to see the seahorses, jelly fish, sharks and other fish / crustaceans.

They even had a beautiful (sleepy) chameleon to observe:

The Mystic Aquarium is fairly small, but there is a lot to see.  Although it was school vacation week in Massachusetts, it obviously wasn't school vacation week in Connecticut - we shared the aquarium with many school field-trip groups and their chaperones.

I'm not saying it was crowded - there was plenty of room for us all.

Especially at the star-attraction - the Sting Ray Touching Tank:

Petting sting rays was definitely a high-light of the journey - for the kids, I mean.  It was 30 degrees outside and only slightly warmer in that outside tent and I had no interest in sticking my arm into cold water.

My personal high-light came after the sting ray tank.  Once everyone had dried off and disinfected, we moved into the next building and found ourselves in the Titanic Exhibit.

The exhibit is designed to feel as if you have entered the submarine that explored the sunken Titanic.  It's a dark room with mechanical instruments and faux escape hatches hanging on the walls.  Inside, there were these amazing computer activity tables where one could play games, explore the floor-plan of the ship, watch footage of the debris field and of the lead explorer explaining what his team found.

These computer tables were amazing - even if it took me more than a few minutes to figure them out.  

The children also thought the compute tables were amazing and fun - and it should be noted that the children had the entire system figured out in about 2 seconds.  Sigh.

The Exhibit also included an eerie floating floor plan that allowed the children to see how survival rates depended on where you were on the ship when it hit the iceberg.  I took a photo of Henry and Georgia exploring this feature, but sadly, my flash made the floor plan disappear!

I absolutely love a museum exhibit that engages children in such a positive way.  The computer tables at the beginning caught Henry, Georgia & Josie's interest and provided a great summary of the story.  The rest of the exhibit - the wall hangings, the artifacts, the floating ship plan -  gave the children a real sense of the scope of the tragedy.  The museum designers did a fabulous job of explaining how class and gender affected each person's chance of survival.  We were all amazed to read that there was an officer on either side of the ship, helping people into lifeboats.  One officer took the captain's "women and children first" proclamation literally and refused to allow any men onto the lifeboats.  He released half-filled boats into the water.  On the opposite side of the boat, the officer put available women and children in the lifeboats and then filled remaining seats with men.  The lack of a coherent emergency plan created a disaster.  

And, it should be noted, that the fact that all four of us read that wall-hanging and then discussed the implications of these two different actions, is fairly impressive in it's own right.  Not all museum literature is written in a way that is fascinating for people of all age groups.  Whomever was responsible for the exhibit text, deserves an award (and a raise).  I love a good educational moment.

After we finished with the Titanic Exhibit, we went back outside to say hello to the penguins and the sea lions.

It was so incredibly cold.

We basically raced by each tank and did a quick wave.



After the aquarium, I brought the kids to Bravo Bravo in Mystic for lunch.  

And afterward, we walked along the main shopping street and enjoyed the sunshine and sea air.

There's nothing like a good road-trip.

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