Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Boston Children's Museum

Before our trip to Boston, I'm not sure that visiting a children's museum would rank very high on my list of things to do while on vacation. Don't get me wrong--I love a good children's museum. Visiting the Children's Museum of Indianapolis is one of my favorite day trips with the arrow. And we adore Kidscommons here in Columbus, Indiana as a great mid-week or bad weather boredom buster. But when I'm traveling, I prefer to see and do something completely unique to that locale, something we can't do where we live.
Boston Children's Museum
But after three busy days seeing some of the sights in Boston, most of which were probably more appealing to 30-somethings than 2-year-olds, we wanted to spend our last day doing something that the arrow would really enjoy. By now the high temps had me ruling out anything outdoors, and so we retreated to the cool and kid-focused Boston Children's Museum.

Here are some of my favorite aspects of the Boston Children's Museum:
  • There was a real focus on everyday life in many of the exhibits. Sounds boring, right? Not to a toddler who has often watched his mom brush her hair but never had the chance to do it himself. (That's a mannequin, not me. Do you really think I'd let him come at me with a hair dryer?)
  • Boston Black exhibit at Boston Children's Museum
  • It was actually pretty relaxing. The first area we visited was called PlaySpace, and it was ideal for families with babies and toddlers. There were plenty of benches and seating for adults to sit and watch their little ones play, as well as an entire padded area just for little crawlers. Because many of the exhibits throughout the museum are nearly completely enclosed, we didn't have to do much chasing or hand-holding: something we had done A LOT of in the days prior. We also parked our stroller in the museum lobby, and didn't find a need for it for the entire visit. We were ALL happy to get a break from the stroller!
  • PlaySpace at the Boston Children's Museum
  • Since I now have traveling with two on the brain, I was particularly pleased to see an enclosed kitchen/relaxation area for those families with babies (also in the PlaySpace area). There were rocking chairs perfect for nursing, a microwave to heat up food, a high chair, etc. I can imagine more than one mom has breathed a sigh of relief when she saw this amenity.
  • Kitchen in the PlaySpace exhibit
  • The arrow had a chance to explore interests. He has been really into musical instruments lately, something that as parents we want to encourage. Yet we don't have room in our budget (or in our house) to purchase gobs and gobs of new toys. At the Boston Children's Museum, he could bang on things like this amazing steel drum and test out other unique musical sounds throughout the museum. There were also exhibits focused on water, sand, construction equipment, etc. (In other words, pick any of the typical toddler/preschooler delights, and you'll likely find an area perfect for that child.)
  • Boston Black exhibit at the Boston Children's Museum
  • There was a strong educational focus. The arrow starts preschool this fall (more on that to come), so we made sure to stop by the Countdown to Kindergarten exhibit so he could get a sense of what a classroom looks like. To our surprise, this was by far his favorite exhibit in the museum. He loved going to the different stations and seeing what he could try.
Countdown to Kindergarten exhibit at the Boston Children's Museum
The Boston Children's Museum probably isn't for everyone. It's geared toward younger kids. I would guess children 7 or older might not find much here to hold their attention for very long. (Trust me, as a mom of a 2-year-old, I'm not complaining about this. There are many other attractions in Boston that would be perfect for older kids, so I was thankful for a toddler/preschooler paradise.) I was also hoping to pick up a unique toy or souvenir for the arrow in the gift shop as a memento from Boston (we had managed to avoid any such purchase thus far into the trip), but I found the offerings disappointing.

I did appreciate the food choices for lunch, though. The museum has an area for brown-baggers, an attached Au Bon Pain, and the famous giant Hood milk bottle just outside the front door in the warmer months. After many meals on this trip that consisted of french fries and a few bites of hot dog, it was great to visit the Au Bon Pain and get the arrow something healthy to fuel him until dinner.

All in all, we found the Boston Children's Museum to be a great spot for a few hours of arrow-focused fun. I learned on this trip that visiting a big city can be taxing on a young traveler--in and out of a stroller, waiting in lines, lots of commotion, etc. I think I'll incorporate children's museum visits into future travel plans as a good option for when energy and patience (parents and toddlers') begins to wane.

If You Visit:
The Boston Children's Museum
308 Congress Street, Boston (Nearest T stops are South Station and Courthouse Station)
Cost is $12 for all visitors over the age of 1. (Babies are free.)
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and closes at 9 p.m. on Fridays.

This post is a part of Mondays are for Dreaming at The Mother of All Trips. We're dreaming of more children's museum fun in the future: in Boston, near home, and around the world! What are your favorite children's museums?

PS: If you want to know more about how we filled five days in Boston with a toddler, see my Boston Trip Report. Or you might be interested in my tips for visiting a children's museum.

Disclosure: While HomeAway covered many of our travel expenses for our trip to Boston, we paid for our admission to the Boston Children's Museum and all opinions are my own.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Georges Island: Tips and Photos

When I was doing some research on all there is to see and do in Boston after winning the HomeAway BlogAway contest, I knew we'd be visiting on a very crowded holiday weekend (July 4). I was hoping to find a few off-the-beaten path activities that might be a little more quiet than the typical Boston attractions. A ferry boat ride out to Georges Island, one of the Boston Harbor Islands, was a great option. (Do you see any people in the photo above? Ahhh...) We spent a fantastic morning there, which proved to be a good strategy for escaping both the crowds and the heat.

Our adventures started with a ferry boat ride. Georges Island is 7 miles from downtown Boston, which translates into a 20-minute boat ride. The ride itself is a real highlight of a trip out to the island. You get spectacular views of the skyline, the harbor is fairly gentle (I still got a little seasick, but I'm a big wuss), and the breezes were a welcome relief from the pounding sun. The arrow thought riding a big boat was tons of fun.

Insider Tips:
  • You can purchase your ferry tickets in advance at the kiosk along Long Wharf North, near Quincy Market. I recommend doing so. Our ride out to the island was absolutely full, standing room only.
  • Take the 9 a.m. ferry out. It's the first one, and you'll feel like you have the island all to yourself. Be sure to get in line by 8:50 a.m. if you want a seat on the boat. Otherwise, you'll probably have to stand. (If that's an early wake-up call for you, there's a Starbucks in the Marriott hotel just near the wharf. Don't ask me how I know this.)
  • It will become very clear as you board the ferry that Boston locals head out to the island for a picnic, while out-of-towners visit to sightsee. You'll see folks carrying on coolers, grills, etc., with intentions to spend the whole day there.

Our first stop was the information area on the island to pick up a brochure so we could guide ourselves around Fort Warren, which dominates the island. Fort Warren was used as a jail for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. If an old jail can be both spooky and beautiful, then this place was. The arrow thought it was great fun to run through the empty old rooms. If you have boys, they'll love all the canons on display.

Insider Tips:
  • There are signs all over Fort Warren describing the various aspects of the building, life on the island, etc. It's fascinating stuff, and full of information that even kids would find interesting. Keep an eye out for those.
  • Climb to the top. You're free to roam all over the Fort, including climbing the stairs up to the top. Here you'll have gorgeous views of the harbor, perfect for pictures.
We ended our visit by letting the arrow run around the playground (designed to resemble the fort itself!) He didn't want to leave but luckily another fun boat ride awaited him.

If You Visit:
Georges Island
Accessible via the Boston's Best Cruises ferry boat system
Roundtrip tickets cost $12 (children 3 and under are free but must have a ticket). Visiting the island itself is free.
The first ferry departs downtown Boston at 9 a.m., and then every hour on the hour. The last ferry leaves Georges Island to return to Boston at 5:30 p.m. during the week and 6:30 p.m. on weekends (summer schedule).

Insider Tips:
  • If you're visiting with young kids and don't plan to have lunch there, I would plan to spend about an hour on the island. Otherwise, the rangers suggest 2 hours for a visit.
  • There is a snack shop on the island if you don't pack your own picnic. It wasn't open before we departed (at 10:30 a.m.) but the menu looked good!
  • Our biggest struggle was whether or not to bring our stroller. In the end, I'm glad we brought it. It was nice to just push the arrow to and from Fort Warren's grounds from the ferry dock. Otherwise, he walked or was carried during most of our time touring the Fort.
  • My one complaint? There was no diaper changing table (that I could find). We managed, but it sure would have been nice. And considering the many young kids we saw on the island, I doubt I'm alone in this need.
This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.

Disclosure: While HomeAway covered many of our travel expenses for our trip to Boston, we paid for our trip to Georges Island and all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Carnival of Cities for 27 July 2011

Welcome to the Carnival of Cities blog carnival, where we tour the world in a single post, via submissions from a variety of different blogs, all about any aspect of one, single city (or fair-sized town). I am honored to host this great carnival for the first time. I welcome all of you to Arrows Sent Forth, where I blog about adventures my family takes around home and around the country. I'm glad you're here!

This is the July 27 edition. The previous edition was hosted on July 13 by the Perceptive Travel Blog and the August 10 edition will be at Edutech Musings. Please submit your (ONE, non-spammy) blog post to the next edition of the Carnival of Cities using the carnival submission form.

Cities in Europe

Barentsburg, Russia Anne-Sophie Redisch presents Barentsburg Highlights at Sophie's World, saying, "Barentsburg is the last remaining Russian settlement in the Arctic."

East London, England Sheila Scarborough presents What Gives a Place Buzz and Attracts Creative People? at Sheila's Guide to the Good Stuff, with a post describing "how the tech start-up culture and TechHub are revitalizing the Shoreditch section of East London."

Germany Laura Burnett presents The Germany I Saw at Living the Clever Life with a post about "a view of small town northern Germany not shown in guide books."

Rome, Italy Jennifer Miner presents Best Gelato Shops in Rome, Italy at The Vacation Gals, saying "All gelato tastes great when it's 95 degrees out in Italy, but these three best (and one worst!) gelato shops in Rome are worthy of note. We did a lot of "research" during our summer vacation there."

Cities in the Americas

Boston, Massachusetts, USA I present Trip Report: Boston here at Arrows Sent Forth with a post about "how we spent 5 days in Boston with a toddler."

Detroit, Michigan, USA Dominique King presents Visiting Metro Detroit's Cranbrook Gardens at Midwest Guest, saying, "Cranbrook's 40 acres of gardens surrounding an Albert Kahn-designed manor home are part of a 319-acre National Historic Landmark campus filled with cultural, architectural and educational gems."

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA Eileen Ludwig presents Water Taxi Fort Lauderdale Venice of America Pirate Republic Stop12 at Freelance Tourist Travel Tips, saying that the "best way to see and tour Fort Lauderdale is on the Water Taxi. Get on and off at different stops. Shop, eat, go to Hollywood, and during the winter go to South Beach without having to worry about parking fees everywhere. Show your water taxi ticket and get discounts at several restaurants listed in their brochure or on their website."

Glen Williams, Ontario, Canada Guylaine presents Glen Williams Ontario: Extreme Makeover of a Former Factory Delights All at Ontario-Travel-Secrets Blog, saying that Glen Williams is "one of Southern Ontario's best-kept secrets."

Kiawah Island, South Carolina, USA Shelley Morgan presents Watch Out for Alligators at Ready, Set, Travel! saying "I write about home exchange vacations. This blog is about an exchange we made in the South Carolina resort community of Kiawah Island, just outside of Charleston."

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA Mary Jo Manzanares presents Small Plates Delight at Julian Serrano at ARIA Las Vegas at Traveling with MJ saying "Las Vegas has become a city for foodies, and this restaurant is just one example."

Mountain View, California, USA Byteful Travel presents 7 Key Sights to See at the Googleplex (Google Headquarters) saying, "Do you know what the most visited website on the planet is? I’ll give you one guess. Hint: I was able to visit its headquarters in Mountain View, CA. If you guessed "Google", then you get a virtual Kewpie doll* (complete with tiny wings!) When we arrived at Google's headquarters on that gorgeous Thursday afternoon, we weren’t sure what to expect, and we certainly had no idea that we were going to see a T-Rex, or have a small run-in with Google security…"

Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada Zhu presents Niagara Falls, Ontario posted at Correr Es Mi Destino, saying, "It was gorgeous on Sunday and we drove to Niagara Falls. It was my fourth visit there (last time was in the middle of the winter) and definitely a busy time of the year for the region."

Staten Island, New York, USA Nicole Rivera presents The Chinese Scholar's Garden [Staten Island, New York] at Rivera Runs Through It, saying that this post is a "sneak peek at one of Staten Island, New York's hidden gems, The Chinese Scholar's Garden."

Cities in Asia

Tokyo, Japan AsianUrbanist presents Transforming Public Spaces in Asia at with a post about "a trip to Japan and reflection on the transformations of public spaces with Tokyo Midtown Mall as an example."

What a wonderful tour of the world. That concludes this Carnival edition. Thanks for visiting.

If you would like to host a future Carnival edition on your blog please contact Sheila Scarborough at Sheila “at” sheilascarborough “dot” com. I can now attest that hosting is easy and fun! (Who wouldn't want a sneak peak at all these great travel posts?!) Spots to host are available in September and October.

Past posts and future hosts can be found on the blog carnival index page.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A day at Spring Mill State Park

Last weekend, despite the 90+ degree weather, we decided summer was passing us by too quickly and we had far too many things left on our summer bucket list. Off we went to Spring Mill State Park in Mitchell, Indiana. We had originally intended to camp here back in the spring, and in hindsight, I sure wish I had felt up to it. A day just wasn't enough time here. (I wrote about the many activities at Spring Mill for Visit Indiana.)

Our first stop was the Pioneer Village. I'll be honest, I was expecting a cheesy take on life in the 1800s. I was so wrong. Not only are the buildings original and genuine, but the setting along the flowing creek is so picturesque.

The most interesting stop among many at the Pioneer Village is the Grist Mill. It is still fully operational and can grind up to 500 lbs of corn meal in an hour. Be sure to catch a demo from the miller, it's a real highlight of a visit to the village.

Insider Tip: If you have a toddler, sit toward the back during the demo. He/she can play with the old-fashioned toys that are set up without disturbing the rest of the group (i.e., mom and dad) who are listening to the demo. The arrow was particularly taken with the checkers.

We spent another hour or so wandering in and out of buildings, like the schoolhouse, tavern and apothecary. Many are staffed with interpreters in full dress. You'll come away from a visit with a much better understanding of pioneer life in rural Indiana.

Because lately my life revolves around food, our next stop was lunch. We ate at the park's restaurant found inside the Spring Mill Inn. A down-home, feel-good country buffet. I was partial to the dessert table, full of homemade pies, cobblers and pastries. So was the arrow, who immediately claimed the chocolate cupcake you see below. My husband was licking his fingers over their homemade fried chicken.

Insider Tip: The restaurant was busy and we made it there just before 30-minute waits started. You could just pick up take-out from the buffet, or pack a picnic to bring to the park and not let lunch slow you down too much. There was also a concession stand near the Pioneer Village parking lot.

While ordinarily we would never leave a state park without sampling a few hiking trails, did I mention it was 90 degrees (oh, and I'm 20 weeks pregnant)? Needless to say, we hit the pool instead. No pictures... 2-year-olds, pools, and digital cameras don't mix.

Before we knew it, it was well into the afternoon and the arrow was practically begging us for a nap. My husband and I took the country roads home while he snoozed and dreamed of return visits to Spring Mill.

Insider Tip: Mitchell, Indiana is the birthplace of astronaut Gus Grissom. On our next visit to Spring Mill, I want to spend some time at the Grissom Memorial found in the park.

In the next few weeks, I'll be writing about making corn cakes with the freshly-ground corn meal I purchased in the Pioneer Village. (I told you everything revolves around food these days!)

If You Visit:
Spring Mill State Park
3333 State Road 60 East, Mitchell, IN
Pioneer Village is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission to the park is $5 per car for Indiana residents. Pool admission was $2 per person (the arrow was free).
Insider Tip: If you're spending a weekend in the area, add caves to your itinerary. I wrote about the Indiana Cave Trail for Visit Indiana. All three of these caves are within an hour's drive of Spring Mill. There is also a cave you can tour inside the park itself, but children younger than 3 are not allowed. (Just another reason we'll have to come back again!)

This post is a part of Mondays are for Dreaming at The Mother of All Trips.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Then and Now: In Pictures

Last week, the arrow and I returned to two of our favorite outings from last summer, and the difference in his abilities, interest, and interaction with the world in just the past year amazed me. He's gone from basically being in our arms or in the stroller to getting his hands on just about everything. And he'll do it all by himself, thank you very much.

Indianapolis Museum of Art's 100 Acres

100 Acres is a fantastic outdoor art and nature park on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It's also a toddler paradise. (I wrote about it for Visit Indiana this week.) In 2010, exploring Los Carpinteros' whimsical sculpture Free Basket looked a little something like this:

In 2011, he owned the court.

In 2010, I don't think he even noticed Atelier Van Lieshout's enormous Funky Bones. The plane flying overhead was far more interesting.

In 2011, I had to pry him off of this chain of benches that form a giant skeleton.

Insider Tip: 100 Acres is a great spot for a toddler playdate in Indy and a great alternative to playgrounds. Moms and dads can talk as you walk from sculpture to sculpture and even while the kids play at each "stop." A lot of it (but not all) is in the shade. Great spot for a picnic lunch, too. More tips from my original post about 100 Acres here.
Bartholomew County Fair

July is the month that most of Indiana's county fairs take place, in anticipation of the Indiana State Fair in early August. In 2010, we visited the Bartholomew County Fair on a quiet weekend morning. The arrow loved seeing all the animals. He was oblivious to the dozens of carnival rides beckoning him just a few yards away.

In 2011, he wanted to ride everything.

In 2010, fair food was a foreign concept. In 2011, he stole his mom's ice cream cone.

(Didn't you know the double hat look is the summer's hottest trend? The arrow thinks so.)

Summer is a great time to explore new places. On Monday, I'll post about a visit to a new-to-us state park. But it's also a great time for traditions, places you visit year after year. These are two of our favorites. What destinations do you make sure to return to each year?

In case you missed my other "then and now" post from Monday, you can see some cute video of the arrow here (you'll also learn his real name!). And one more plug for my new Facebook page... you can keep up with Arrows Sent Forth by liking us over there.

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My 7 Links: A Look Back at Arrows Sent Forth

It's perfect timing that My 7 Links is all the rage right now among travel bloggers, since this is the 1-year anniversary of Arrows Sent Forth. My 7 Links is a project organized by Tripbase that is designed to "create a bank of blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again." I've really enjoyed reading what other bloggers have shared on their blogs for the last week or so. Below are the particular categories that participants must follow. Thanks to Wandering Off (one of my absolute favorite blogs), who nominated me to participate.

My Most Beautiful Post:
"Togetherness" from September 30, 2010. I barely wrote a complete sentence for this post, because I think the picture speaks for itself. I could stare at this photo, of the two people I love most in the world doing what I most love to do, all day long. The photo was taken on the beach of Warren Dunes State Park in southwest Michigan at sunset.

My Most Popular Post:
Visiting the Florida Aquarium from April 3, 2011. Apparently lots of people are looking for info on this great destination in Tampa, Florida. I'm glad it's so popular, because I think the post full of great tips for a more successful visit to the aquarium.

My Most Controversial Post:
Going Places Strollers Never Will from October 3, 2010. I don't write controversial posts (or at least I haven't yet). But I did participate in a link-up to shed light on the many benefits of baby-wearing at a time when some were calling for the ban of all baby carriers and slings. While the arrow has graduated from baby-wearing these days, I'm still a huge fan of quality products that make family travel so much easier. And I'll be back to baby-wearing in just a few months!

My niece is now the queen of the backpack carrier.
My Most Helpful Post:
Things I Learned While Camping with a Toddler from September 28, 2010. While I see young kids all over campgrounds, I have found limited resources on the internet and around the blogosphere from families with first-hand knowledge of camping as a family. While I'm certainly no expert, I hope the tips I shared in this post will make another family's trip easier (or perhaps even motivate a hesitant parent to get out there for the first time for a night under the stars!)

A Post Whose Success Surprised Me:
Experiencing Egypt at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis from February 7, 2011. This is my second most popular post. Perhaps it got a lot of attention because I posted it so soon after the chaos began in Egypt. But I'm still surprised, because of all the amazing exhibits at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, this is one that I don't often hear visitors talking about. In fact, on the day we visited, it was nearly empty. I think a lot of families pass it by. Maybe by sharing the fun we had, that will change for a few people.

A Post I Feel Didn't Get the Attention It Deserved:
Falls of the Ohio State Park from March 16, 2011. Maybe I did a lousy job of describing how unique and beautiful this place is. Maybe my pictures didn't do it justice. But this state park in southern Indiana really is amazing, and I didn't get much of a response to this post. (I have a theory that if these fossil beds were found along the coasts, it would be an incredibly popular tourist attraction. But don't get me started on how Midwestern gems like this often get ignored... Instead, I'll just to choose to celebrate getting to enjoy places like this in peace and quiet.)

The Post I'm Most Proud Of:
Trip Report: South Haven, Michigan from July 19, 2010. I don't even suggest you click over to this post unless you're planning a trip to South Haven. There's really nothing special about it, other than it marks the moment that I finally started this blog after kicking around the idea of doing so for several months. I wasn't sure I wanted to put myself out there on the web, sharing my thoughts, ideas, pictures and memories. But blogging has been such a fun adventure for me: it has lead to a part-time job with Visit Indiana, an almost-free trip to Boston, and even affects how I cook in my kitchen. (Let's not discuss it's affect on the cleanliness of my house, however.) It all started with this very first post.

Hope you enjoyed this look back. Now it's my turn to nominate five of my favorite bloggers to join in the fun. (Ladies, this is sort of like a chain letter, so feel free to ignore if you're not interested or have already been nominated.)

Midwest Guest
Amy's Food Flights
Suitcases and Sippy Cups
Go Big or Go Home
Go Explore Nature

Monday, July 18, 2011

Then And Now: In Video

This week marks the first birthday of Arrows Sent Forth. (Go ahead, have a cupcake!) It's hard to believe I've been working on this blog for a year now. (I also can't believe how embarassing some of my first posts were... ) So much about our lives have changed since then, and since the beginning of our family travels. I'll be indulging in a bit of reminiscing here this week.

I'm a terrible videographer and if our video camera even gets packed to come with us on vacation, it's a miracle. I tend to only shoot video around home, because I hate having one more thing to lug around while we're out and about. But I did get some footage of the arrow on our first vacation--a long weekend in South Haven, Michigan. And you're in luck... these were the days before the blog began, so the arrow's name is revealed in this video! (In case you miss it, it starts with B and rhymes with pen!)

Jumping in South Haven

I hope that didn't make you seasick. He sure was cute, though! The arrow has moved on to sitting at the dining room table and coloring to keep himself occupied (although I'm sure he'd love to get a few minutes in that jumper now!) I had to shoot some video for HomeAway while we were in Boston, so here's a taste of what the arrow is like at 2, not six months. (And you'll notice we don't actually call him in "the arrow" in real life!)

Breakfast in Boston

Apparently the arrow is much more interested in hamming it up for the camera than his father is.

I know we have so many more adventures and traveling ahead of us (and soon, two arrows to film!) I hope you'll keep reading, commenting, and getting to know our family better in Year 2 of Arrows Sent Forth. We've had lots of fun getting to know so many of you.

I'll have another "then and now" post to share on Friday. It won't involve terribly unprofessional video (you can thank me later). And tomorrow I'll be participating in the My 7 Links Project that Tripbase has put together.

For now, I'll leave you with a bit of housekeeping. It only took me a year, but I finally started a Facebook page for Arrows Sent Forth. If you're looking for an easy way to keep up with us, feel free to "like us" over there.

This post is a part of Mondays are for Dreaming at The Mother of All Trips.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Street Performance in Christopher Columbus Park

I haven't written much about the arrow's temperament. In many ways he's a typical 2-year-old: loves to throw the occasional tantrum but also knows when to turn on the cute. He can be somewhat serious and focused, but has the cutest belly laugh. He's also be a bit shy and reserved in public, although if you get him comfortable, he'll talk your ear off.

While many kids would love an opportunity to be the center of attention during a street performance, the arrow needed to warm up to the idea. I loved watching him slowly come out of his shell and join in the fun of creating large bubbles with this very kind (and patient) street performer in Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park in Boston.

Is he talking to me? Can't we just watch?

Dad, I'll let you do it.

Let me get a little closer.

Ooh, can I pop them?

Ok, I'll do it if Dad helps me.

Having so much fun I didn't even realize Dad left!

Just another reason to travel with you kids: you never know when they might surprise you. And they're always making new discoveries.

This won't be the last you'll hear about Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park in Boston... it's a great haven for families visiting the city with young kids who need to stretch their legs! You can also read a summary of our five days in Boston with a two-year-old here.

Be sure to stop by next week. It's Arrows Sent Forth's first birthday, and I'll be doing a little "then and now" reminiscing!

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Review: Around Boston with Kids

My husband has often commented that he thinks I enjoy planning our trips more than actually going on them. He's wrong, but he has a point. I think it's fun to dig in to a new location in advance, learn about its attractions and what makes it special. While I certainly don't plan our vacations down to the minute, I like to have a general sense of some things we might do once we get there, what attractions might be good to do in one day together, and some restaurants we might want to check out.

But when it came time to plan our trip to Boston, I was still pretty under the weather until just a few weeks before leaving. That left me with not as much planning time as I'm used to having. While the trusty internet provided some general ideas, I was searching for a more comprehensive source, and something that might be geared toward kids. Fortunately, my local library had a copy of Around Boston with Kids by Lisa Oppenheimer.* It's from Fodor's, a popular publisher of travel guidebooks.

Around Boston with Kids, 2nd edition, by Lisa Oppenheimer
The version my library had was from 2003. So I definitely still needed the web to confirm admission prices (ooh, it would have been nice if the prices from 2003 were still valid!), hours and such. (An Amazon search shows that a 3rd edition was published in 2007.)

What I loved about Around Boston with Kids:
  • There were an abundance of ideas (a total of 68) and they ranged from the typical (aquariums and children's museums) to unique (arboretums and art parks).
  • While all the attractions listed are kid-friendly, they're not all kid-exclusive. The inclusion of George's Island is a great example--it's actually more geared toward adult visitors, but kids have a blast running around the grounds of Fort Warren and playing on the small playground. I share this approach to traveling planning since becoming a mom. I don't think travel should completely revolve around the arrow. I think he can have fun at places adults find interesting, too. And he usually does.
  • For each attraction listed, the author provides at least one or two kid-friendly restaurants nearby. Sometimes when traveling with a toddler, our biggest challenge is figuring out where to eat on the fly. We visited one of her recommendations and it was spot on--not only was it a great place to take the arrow, but the adults had some wonderul food as well.
  • The attractions are listed and described in alphabetical order, making them easy to find if you know what you're looking for. But the book also contains some general groups and listings in the back that make sorting our your ideas much easier. Categories included the usual "Free Activities" and "Rainy Day Ideas," along with lists for specific interests like "Sports" and "Animals." I really liked her ideas for "Tiniest Tots" and "Tire Them Out." You can also search by neighborhood, which was helpful when we made a somewhat spur of the moment trek out to Cambridge.
  • I especially appreciated the inclusion of specific age recommendations. As the parents of a toddler, we often find that just because a place is listed as "great for families," it's not so great for our family. What a 10-year-old enjoys has very little to do with what a 2-year-old likes. And vice versa.
  • If you're renting a car during your visit to Boston, she includes lots of ideas outside the city as well.
Since my far-fetched dream is to someday write a family travel guidebook of my own, I can't help but point out what I might do differently.

What I'd Improve:
  • I wish the author had included a few sample itineraries. It would have helped me to formulate how I might combine some of the attractions in one day.
  • Along that note, a map with each attraction marked by number would have been helpful, to get a sense of what was near what. (I read a review of the 2007 version* which praised the maps found in it... so I bet they worked that issue out in the newer version.)
  • The inclusion of each attraction's nearest T stop or public transporation directions would also have been of great help and saved me a little time in additional research.
  • I'm always a bit dismayed when I see national chain restaurants recommended in a guidebook. Am I the only one who prefers to eat in local establishments when traveling? (Or frankly, even when not!) The author didn't include many chains, but there were a few listed. Just a little personal pet peeve of mine.
If you're planning a trip to Boston with kids, I'd definitely seek out Around Boston with Kids* (even if you can only get your hands on a 2003 version*). A quick search on the web suggested that Fodor's has also published similar guides for San Francisco, Washington DC and New York.* If you're a little more 21st century, Amy at Pit Stops For Kids wrote the Ultimate Boston with Kids Guide... Lots of great suggestions here.

What are you favorite go-to guidebooks when trip planning? Or am I the only old school enough to still be cracking open books and visiting the library?

This post is a part of Works-For-Me Wednesday at We Are That Family.

*Links to my Amazon Affiliate account. A small portion of any sales made through this link will come back to support this blog, but this does not in any way increase the cost of purchase for you.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Trip Report: Boston

I'm excited to share how we spent our five days in Boston. It was definitely our most ambitious family travel experience to-date, and our first big city adventure with a 2-year-old. We managed to pack in a lot of fun, but also tried to keep our son happy with naps and bedtimes. While it may have meant we didn't get to do everything we would have liked, it was a good strategy when tackling a very crowded place on a hot holiday weekend with a toddler.

Day 1: Arrival in Boston

Dinner on the patio at Bella Luna in Jamaica Plain
We departed Indianapolis around noon, and arrived at Logan around 2:30. The arrow managed to sneak in a quick nap on the flight, so he was ready to ride the "train, train, train!" when we landed. (We had prepped him very well for the many T rides we'd be taking in advance of the trip!) We hopped a free shuttle bus from Logan to the Airport T station, and from there headed out to our HomeAway rental property in Jamaica Plain, a great neighborhood just outside of downtown Boston (that we soon learned the locals call JP).

We were greeted warmly by our property owners (who live on the second floor of the house), and sent on our way toward City Feed and Supply for some basic groceries. It's a cute, organic grocery store and the walk there allowed us to get a sense of the neighborhood. We loved it--diverse, safe, artsy and walkable.

By 5 p.m., my brother-in-law and his fiancee arrived from Iowa to join us for the rest of the trip, and we were all famished. So we headed to Bella Luna, a hip pizza place just a 2-minute walk from our house. Is there anything better than pizza on a sunny patio to kick off your first day of vacation?

Day 2: Walking Downtown Boston and Harvard

Swan boat rides in Boston Common
We were up and ready to tackle the city today, and the weather cooperated with temperatures in the low 80s and sun (it would turn out to be the coolest day of our trip). We headed straight for the Swan Boat Rides at Boston Common, and after our 15-minute ride in the boat, we walked more of the beautiful park. Then we picked up the Freedom Trail and walked along, slowly meandering our way toward Quincy Market. (Along the route, we were greeted by a couple of different performances from historical reenactors. We saw Red Coats and a Minute Men but managed to avoid getting caught in a battle between them!) We grabbed an early lunch at the Salty Dog Seafood Grill, and then explored a bit more of the market. From there, we decided it was best to let the arrow stretch his legs at the Christopher Columbus Park. This location proved to be one of our favorites in the entire city, mostly because it was so close to many attractions, but we could let the arrow run free and be a 2-year-old for a few minutes here and there. We stopped in a few times throughout our trip. (Read about a fun street performance we participated in at Christopher Columbus Park here.)

By now the arrow was worn out, so we headed back to Jamaica Plain for a nap. Later that afternoon, everyone met back in Cambridge for dinner at the Border Cafe, followed by a romp through Harvard's campus and ice cream in Harvard Square. What a great first full day!

Day 3: Celebrating the 4th at Georges Island

Our family enjoying Fort Warren on Georges Island
This was July 4, and we decided to escape some of the crowds that were already gathering for fireworks and festivities in downtown Boston by hopping on a ferry headed toward Georges Island. This is one of the Boston Harbor Islands, a network of 34 islands and peninsulas in the Boston Harbor. The ferry ride itself is only about 20 minutes and offers great views of the Boston skyline. After we arrived on the island, we picked up a map and began exploring Fort Warren, which is mostly known for housing Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. While you'll quickly realize you're in a prison-like atmosphere, it's natural surroundings out on the water make it a beautiful spot to spend an hour or two. And its history is pretty fascinating as well.

After the ferry ride back to Boston, we walked to the North End and had lunch at a little Irish pub. Then our group split--the arrow and I headed back for a nap, while the rest of the gang took in a Red Sox game at Fenway. That evening, the baseball group was worn out and sunburn, so I picked up take-out at Canary Square in Jamaica Plain for an easy dinner at home.

Day 4: Boston Children's Museum
Playing at the Boston Children's Museum
This was our last full day in Boston, and since the arrow had been such a trooper for our first few days, we wanted to end on a very kid-centric note. So we headed to the Boston Children's Museum, where he spent a few hours exploring the many exhibits (several of which cater specifically to toddlers--love that!). After a quick lunch near the museum, we headed back to Jamaica Plain. Following his nap, we spent some time at the Southwest Corridor Park, a portion of which was just outside the front door of our rental house. Then we headed to dinner at Doyle's, a famous pub that was featured in several movies, such as Mystic River. (This was one of our only regrets of the trip--the food and service were very average, and we didn't even recognize the place.)

Day 5: Goodbye Boston

Unfortunately, this day entailed only a very early wake-up call and a ride on the T back to Logan for our flight home.

So what did we miss? Plenty! Fortunately, my husband and I had been to Boston just a few years earlier, where we did the Freedom Trail in great detail, the JFK Museum, and long walks around MIT and Harvard. But on this trip, I would have really liked to make it to Mike's Pastry in the North End for cannolis. And on our last night, we should have walked toward Jamaica Pond for dinner instead of settling on Doyle. Certainly, I would have loved to experience the July 4 fireworks and Boston Pops concert, but everything I read and everyone I talked to suggested that it's just not very manageable with a 2-year-old.

I have a lot more on my to-see list in Boston, like the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the Arnold Arboretum, the Franklin Park Zoo and the New England Aquarium. But that's why there's always "next time."

I have so much more to share about our trip, so stay tuned. For advice on planning your own trip to Boston with kids, check out my review of the guidebook Around Boston with Kids.

This post is a part of Mondays are for Dreaming at The Mother of All Trips.

Disclosure: As the winner of HomeAway's recent blogging contest, HomeAway paid $2,000 of our travel expenses to Boston. For us, this meant they covered all of our lodging costs and a portion of our flight costs. We paid all other expenses. All opinions expressed about the trip, the contest and HomeAway are entirely my own and I was not asked to share a particular point of view.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Beautiful Boston

I have rarely traveled on the 4th of July holiday. With fireworks, cookouts and parades, there's usually too much fun to be had around home to be motivated enough to leave. When I learned that I won HomeAway's BlogAway competition a few months ago, I was really excited to spend this very patriotic holiday in Boston. It is a city so infused with patriotism that it is infectious. I can happily report that it did not disappoint.

So while I didn't partake in my usual backyard cookout or fireworks show, I'll never forget this holiday. I spent much of it watching my son run wild on the very ground that centuries earlier our nation's forefathers were taking the very steps that made our independence possible. (Besides, the delicious lobster roll I ate that day beats any hot dog I've ever had!)

Next week, I'll be posting our Boston Trip Report so that you can get a sense of how we spent our time. And there are many more posts to come about our trip... as soon as I "free" myself of the mountain of post-vacation laundry! If you're interested in info on visiting Boston with a 2-year-old, check out Devon's post at Trekaroo. It is fascinating that both our families managed to fill three fun days without doing hardly any of the same things!

This post is a part of Capture the Everyday at Adventuroo. The theme this week is celebrate freedom. I am also linking up with I Should Be Folding Laundry's You Capture this week, where the theme is patriotism.

Disclosure: As the winner of HomeAway's recent blogging contest, HomeAway paid $2,000 of our travel expenses to Boston. For us, this meant they covered all of our lodging costs and a portion of our flight costs. We paid all other expenses. All opinions expressed about the trip, the contest and HomeAway are entirely my own and I was not asked to express a particular point of view.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July From Where It All Began!

I just wanted to write a quick message to wish everyone a fun holiday. We are spending it where it all began for America, and we are reminded of the sacrifice of all who have served nearly every time we turn the corner in this great city. It really is an amazing place to spend July 4.

We have had so much fun exploring. Highlights include swan boat rides in Boston Common, playing at the Rose Kennedy Park just past Quincy Market, and a great morning out on Georges Island. And there's still more to come!

I can't wait to share all our fun adventures. Many, many thanks to those of you who voted in HomeAway's BlogAway contest to make this trip possible. And special thanks to HomeAway! More details to come!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad