Monday, July 22, 2013

A Family of 5 Paints "en plein air" at The Florence Griswold Museum,OldLyme, CT

Today was the last day of my vacation and the first bearable day of the week, weather-wise. Boy, has it been hot and humid! So we thought it would be the perfect day for the zoo - we have a pass after all. But in true Family of 5 fashion we did not leave the house until 1:45 - with over an hours drive in traffic ahead of us and the zoo closing at 4:00, we quickly changed gears.

Getting off the HWY in Old Lyme we headed to the Florence Griswold Museum (where we also have an annual pass, although it's not expensive, in fact kids are free). Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered that on Sundays you can paint "en plein air" which means in the open air. My girls love painting so this  type of activity fits us just fine. 

It was easy. We checked in at the front desk then walked to the building known as The Barn. Inside we were each given a canvas on a clipboard, a bucket of water and brushes to share, and a pallet of paint - just the primary colors plus white, which is even better, as the kids have more fun mixing their own. 

Now all we needed to do was pick a spot to sit down. Do we choose a spot near the deliciously vibrant gardens buzzing with bumblebees and butterflies, or do we settle in the meadow, under the tall oak tree? We quickly spotted four adirondack chairs in the shade by the river. The girls skipped excitedly towards them and I followed with my paint pallet and bucket of brushes sloshing at my side. My husband followed with Grayson in the stroller. The boys were happy to sit this activity out and just enjoy the outdoors as we girls let our creative juices flow (or in Addy's case, let all the colors flow together!)

It didn't take long for the pallet of paint to become a rainbow of greens, oranges, browns - everything but the primaries!  Next time I will get a pallet for each of us.

The three of us finished up our paintings and my oldest moved on to building a fairy house (which she has been into since last fall, when we visited the Museum during their fairy house exhibit).

 We checked out the menu for Cafe Flo, but it was a little pricey and not the kind of food my kids tolerate. Thank goodness I packed enough snacks to hold us over until dinner. With the fairy house completed, we headed, first returning the brushes and very muddy pallet to the barn. I can only speak for myself when I say I left there much more relaxed and satisfied then I would have if we had driven through traffic only to rush around the zoo and then drive home in more traffic, but I imagine the rest of the family felt the same. Best of all, it was quality, creative time together, and it was something we had not done before. I encourage you to step out of the ordinary day trip experience, and see what fun an afternoon "en plain air" can be.

Seat with a view - Jaidyn age 7 and Addy age 3

A serene scene
Paintings of the river: Artists from left to right: Addy, age 3, mine, and Jaidyn, age 7

Three years later, we paint again. 
This time Grayson joins in.
Addy's colors aren't all mixed together this time. 
My oldest helps out carrying the "sloshing buckets of water."
What says relaxation like a swan swimming by. 
Smocks provided, but not worn. 
3 year old Grayson's colors flowed freely. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT

It's been awhile since I have visited the aquarium. It is pricey initially, but we broke down and bought the annual family membership last week. I think 3 visits and it pays for itself. It really is educational for kids and adults alike. Even the baby was mesmerized by all the colorful fish swimming in the huge tanks. It had been renovated since our last visit, and there is now a "jelly room." All different shapes and sizes of jellies floating mindlessly in the tanks. You remember I told you it was educational for adults too? Well I learned that jellies are not fish, so not to call them "jelly fish." Also that they are indeed mindless because they have no brain. Point made.

Okay, off of jellies and onto... Beluga whales! what can I say? They are simply stunning. I always want to do the Beluga encounter every time I go. I think it would be a nice birthday present to myself. As you walk to the next exhibit you can sing the song "Baby Beluga" with your kids - if you remember it from your baby music classes so long ago, that is.

From whales we walked down the path to the outside sea lions and one harbor seal. You will not leave the aquarium without knowing the difference between the two.
On a hot day (like the day we happened to go on) all the fat frogs (or toads, those I did not learn how to tell apart) are out sunning themselves on lily pads. It was fun for the 3 and 7 year old to try to spot as many as they could.

Onto arguably the most charming habitat - the penguins. They are too cute! Both of my daughters learned to do the "penguin waddle" from coming to Mystic at a young age. I always think that this would be a good "animal encounter" gift to give them - you guessed it - for their birthday.

They have several "touch tanks" that are really quite awesome. The outside sting ray touch pool is great for the slightly older kids, perhaps 5 and up. They need to be able to reach in and not be tempted to splash, which scares the poor creatures away. Part of the new renovations I noticed inside was the new shark and ray touch tank. My 7 year old waited patiently for 30 minutes near the end of the day in order to get  another touch, and another. Again, her arm was almost too short to get the most out of the exhibit.

The sea lion show is cute (although I prefer the show at the Sydney Zoo in Australia - very entertaining - but if you're having a "Staycation" in Connecticut, Sydney really doesn't count, no matter how you define it!) So do watch the sea lion show. And then venture into the Titanic room, where kids can push buttons and stand at the model hull of the Titanic and do the "Jack I'm flying" pose from the movie. Save two bucks and skip the 4D Sponge Bob movie. Younger kids don't keep the 3D glasses on and it squirts water at you, causing babies to cry.

A few tips for when you go:
1. Save some moolah and pack a lunch. There are outside tables and benches throughout the outdoor exhibits, so you can dine while watching Belugas. You can buy lunch there, but adding food to the the cost of admission would make this a not-so-budget-friendly day.
2. Check your local library to see if you can check out an aquarium pass, even with a slight discount, to help buffer the cost.
3. Last but not least, I would really try to go during the week. Mystic and surrounding area is popular in the summer with tourists, but I've been there in early spring and practically felt like I owned the place.

As much as it costs, I would definitely add this to your summer day trip destinations. The money helps the aquarium with its high overhead costs and with their many sea lion rescuing efforts. Enjoy!!!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Summer Day at Uncas Lake, Old Lyme, CT

I have debated telling you about my favorite summer watering hole. A hidden gem, little known to most locals, and too much trouble for most visitors to be bothered.

Marked by a small brown state park sign, you could easily miss it. If you're driving up 156, away from Old Lyme Town Center, you will eventually pass a small brown sign for Nehantic State Forest. There is a boat symbol and picnic table symbol on the sign. Oops, you blinked and passed right by it! If you get to the cows, you've gone too far. Turn around at the cows. Go back. Turn down the dirt and gravel road. Yes, your car can make it. But I hope you didn't just wash it because its about to get very dusty. Bumpity bump bump. My kids like to let out a long "ahhhh" that comes out "ah-ah-ah." You get the picture. I think its about two miles. Don't turn down the first road that has a picture of a boat ramp - unless you brought your boat - in that case take this way. No motor boats allowed though. We took our kayak a couple of times and saw all parts of the lake we don't normally, as well as turtles and frogs on lily pads. Super fun for kids of all ages.

 So now you've come to the picnic table sign. Turn down here and park your dirty car. Walk towards lake. Set down your stuff. Enter lake. Ahhhhh! Now that's refreshing. The lake is shaded by trees in the late afternoon and most of the "crowds" have already gone. During the week the lake is your private hide-away. Maybe a few others are there, enjoying this best kept secret as well. If I had any blog followers, these other secret keepers would be mad at me for spoiling it.

There is no sand and if you have sensitive toes you might want to consider wearing water shoes. Stand for a long time in one place and little fish come up and nibble on your toes. That is, if you aren't surrounded by your 3 splashing children.

I've seen a woman swim across it. Someday I would like to do this too. Perhaps she was training for a tri-athelon. More likely then not she was just swimming for pleasure.

There are charcoal grills and picnic tables, as well as rustic out houses, so you can come for the day if you wish, although we usually just go for an hour or two in the late afternoon. You can bring goggles for the kids, air mattresses or other water floatie things. You can even bring your dog.

When you are finally ready to leave, and make it back down that bumpy road again, its fun to turn back towards those cows, and let the kids read the names on their ear tags. I don't know about yours, but my kids love all animals, and its not everyday they get to see a cow. My oldest daughter still remembers the names of them from the first time we read them off to her. Of course there are new cows now, but I tell her that Bella and Princess are in the other field.

To finally end your pleasure, its a special treat to go to Old Lyme ice cream shop, on your way home. Or any ice cream shop. Or you can save twenty bucks and just have ice cream at home, which is what we usually do. I should have mentioned that this Lake is free. No state park pass required.

So I hope you do this once this summer, on your staycation. I know this special place will be a part of my kids' summer memories. Just don't tell anyone else about it ;-)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Not The First Place You Think To Bring Your Kids

Ok, so technically a staycation means you stay home and not in a hotel. I get that. But I'm including "close to home" and "family friendly" as well as "budget" into the definition of that term. Especially since it is coming up as mis-spelled, validating that "staycation" is a made up word and I can define as I wish.

Our most recent staycation was spent at Mohegan Sun Casino. Its close to home. We were given three free nights, making it "budget friendly" for us. You may not get three free nights and an upgrade to a suite. But it doesn't hurt to ask for it. If you live in the area of Uncasville, CT. and you visit the casino from time to time, get a players card, get a host and see what they can do for you. You may end up with a free vacation. You may not get anything. But like all hotels, they want to fill up their rooms, so  going there during the week, when there is not a big event going on, you can sometimes get rooms for a very good price. Disclaimer: I do not recommend this staycation to you if you have a problem gambling, there are other places where your family will have more fun with you. We did not gamble at all, enjoying the other amenities instead.

 Everyone keeps asking us, "did you take the kids?" Yes, we took the kids. And we did not use the babysitting service (although we checked it out and it seemed quite secure). We had a relaxing and fun stay where we spent quality time with all three of our kids. It is not the first place you would think to go if you have a family trip planned, but "family friendly" is what it can be. I packed a bag of food: a loaf of bread, PB & Nutella (part of the food pyramid in our household), a dozen banana muffins, apple sauces, soda, beer & wine - you know, the typical stuff. We saved a ton by asking for a (free) fridge in our room and eating breakfast in there. The kids ate PB & Nutella for lunch and my husband and I ordered wraps and we all ate by the pool. The potted palms gave it a sub-tropical feel, and it wasn't over-crowed with screaming kids or rowdy teens. But there were some kids, just enough to make me feel like I wasn't the only parent bringing her kids to a casino and giving my kids someone else to play with. We went to ben & Jerry's for ice-cream and brought pizza to our room. There was a youth dance competition going on and we watched that. Free entertainment and the girls loved it. The last day we were there we gave the girls each $10 to use in the arcade. One of them hit the jackpot of 1000 tickets and they each left with a toy (Not a $10, toy, mind you, but it was still fun).

Staycationing with your kids is so rewarding. You will never staycation the same way you did before you had kids, but you enjoy things from their point of view. You don't have the added drama of a long car ride/plane ride, or the hustle-busstle "must-see-everything" feeling that you get from a trip away at a theme park or other coveted family hot spot. You get more time to bond with them and get to know them. And really, kids like to just keep things simple. A day playing with their mommy or daddy is something they do not normally get. And my kids can't get enough of it.

Enjoy your next staycation. Think outside the rectangular box that we call a suitcase. Then tell me about it so I might try it too!