Wondering if this will be a source of inspiration for my own family...
Sometimes, birthdays and bigger events like Father’s Day can seem more focused on the people organizing the event, or about objects, versus something more experience-based that also caters to the person being celebrated. In general, guys tend to be happy doing stuff outdoors, playing games, and maybe having a beer or some other drink. They also will never object to a group of people telling them how wonderful they are. This can often work far better than a tie or a new grill or having to get dressed up for a fancy lunch.
So, for Father’s Day, if you were to play to the Dad of Honor, you might consider starting off with something outside. Perhaps it’s golf, which tons of guys like this. And it doesn’t have to be Pebble Beach. It can be anything from playing 18 holes as a foursome to mini golf with littler ones, or something in between (such as an “executive par 3” which is a pristine-looking golf course that isn’t as long so it can be quicker to play). Courses can also be played as nine holes instead of the full 18. Kids can enjoy driving the cart, too, and you can often rent clubs. Plus, you can always play a "best ball" format or just pick it up if need be. It's not about the score!
Some examples of places that don’t get too packed or may not even require reservations include Pirate’s Cove mini golf with locations around the region and beyond; or the executive courses at the Berlin Country Club (no reservations) or King's Way on the Cape. Or the full-sized but not too hard Ellinwood Country Club in Athol (western Massachusetts) and Waterville Valley Golf Course in the heart of the White Mountains.
Or experience a more natural version of the outdoors, with a milder day hike or renting canoes. These can be casual, but can offer great views. Mount Monadnock in Southern New Hampshire and Skinner State Park both have killer views but reasonable hikes.
Even if the special dad in your life isn’t outdoorsy, the premise still applies. He would probably get a kick out of a group hatchet throwing event, or driving souped up go karts.
As noted with Vermont Canoe & Kayak, you can take the activity to a next-level experience by pairing it with something else, such as a family-friendly opportunity for a craft drink. In some cases, “family-friendly” may mean you can bring your kids, while in others it means you’re an adult bringing your older father. So, predictably, you’d just want to double check to ensure this fits with your family.
For example, Vermont’s Boyden Valley Winery and Smuggler’s Notch Distillery are more adult-oriented. But if you finished at King's Way, Hog Island is an awesome brewery, with food, lots of games, and a great atmosphere for all ages (including teens). Or the Nashoba Valley Winery, featuring a huge orchard, and wine, beer, and spirits, is extremely accommodating of all versions of a family, making it the perfect spot if you were at the Berlin Country Club; the nearby Battle Road brewery also has games, outdoor seating, and great BBQ at a renovated mill. Sunday River Brewing has a full service restaurant and often has live music, which pairs well with a couple of hours spent on the Androscoggin River.
Lastly, don’t feel restricted to a Sunday event. Sure, it’s the official day so you’d need to at least do a little something. But it could be really minor. If Saturday allowed a day without work the next day hanging over his head, or a chance to venture farther afield on a road trip, the dad in your life would understand. If it makes for a better experience with family, then the day that it occurs isn’t nearly as important.
The point of all of this is that, as a father, I can attest that experiences mean more than material gifts, and experiences that show an understanding of what I enjoy doing are more meaningful as well. These don’t have to be elaborately constructed or expensive; they don’t require reservations made months in advance. They only require thinking about what I like, who I love, and how to combine all of those things. Those simple guidelines are all it takes to create a lasting memory.
Best of luck to you and the dad in your life!
Adding water to "dirt therapy" and seeing what happens.
Mud Season: that time of year when you can’t ski, when you want to get outdoors, but when the world hasn’t quite sprung to life yet. It’s a final tease from the weather gods, but there are a few ways you can embrace this dirtiness and actually take advantage of it that might be tough to do during the rest of the year
1. Early-season mountain biking and hiking
Listen, these are dirty sports anyway, so why not go all in? I mean, really embrace that reality? Bombing through a mud puddle and feeling the splatter on your legs, then on your back from your rear wheel can play to your inner eight-year-old. You can eye muddy spots and guess how deep they are before recklessly charging ahead to find out. “Too deep” is a totally acceptable answer! Or, some shorter hikes can help rebuild your hiking legs, and the slipperiness is sort of like a full-body workout, as you fight to stay upright. Of course, any time you do fall, it’s important to get on your feet as quickly as possible and exclaim to whomever you’re with (or no one in particular), “I’m OK! Nothing to see here!”
(Note: in this case, please be mindful and skip muddy areas if they’ll create erosion as a result. Puddles that reform instead of washing away are the ones to look for.)
2. Brush burn
It’s really the world’s best home improvement project. You have a big fire going all day long, but half the time you’re sitting in a camp chair with a beer in your hand while you improve your property’s value a smidge. Easy-peasy! Plus, there’s something entertaining about having a marginally out-of-control fire that you allegedly can control with a metal rake and a garden hose. You can make the most of it by cooking over that fire – hot dogs or s’mores, anyone? Or order pizza and tell them to look for the flames rising several feet in the air. Tip: if you can get several friends over to help, just grab a log, periodically move around, but don’t work too hard. Friends won’t realize you’re not actually doing anything and they’ll do all the hard work!
3. Volunteering for trail clean-up
cause. Sometimes, there are also planned efforts to expand trails. While the organizations may provide the clean-up tools and may also give you some snacks and hydration, it’s good to check beforehand. Town conservation departments or your favorite nonprofits may have details on their websites. NEMBA, a regional mountain biking nonprofit, often enjoys going to a pub afterwards. Whichever the case, it’s a good way to pay back for the trails you may spend the upcoming months enjoying.
4. Puddle hunting
face? No kid can, and I bet any grown-up giving this a shot can’t, either. Impossible!
(Again, a reminder to avoid puddles that will wash away and cause erosion.)
be honest, if you’re on the highway and some vehicle is nearby caked in mud, you’ll notice and probably admire it a little bit and wonder what fun they were having. Here’s your chance to be the one caked in mud.
Whatever the case, mud season is short and will pass. But rather than lamenting it, just embrace it and see what adventures and stories might spring from that. Enjoy!
Getting creative in order to build my street cred with my teenage girls
February in New England brings with it the annual challenge of being the dead of winter while also having a school vacation week. Some families cope by making plans to embrace the season and go skiing for a week. Others flee to thaw out in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. For those who stay put, it can be a challenge to come up with ideas.
This is especially true for families with preteens and teens, who aren’t going to be entertained as easily as when they were younger. To help those parents searching for ideas, we’ve assembled a few possibilities outside of the most obvious choices, such as a day trip to Boston or skiing at a more local mountain. These cover a mix of activities suitable for older kids, most of which are fine for younger ones as well.
New England was one of the founding regions of the country, and it is filled with opportunities to explore that history. This can vary from larger, hours-long places like Plimothe Plantation to perhaps stringing together smaller venues. For example, a Berkshire day trip might begin with the Norman Rockwell Museum, seeing much of the twentieth century chronicled by the famed artist. It might continue on with a visit to The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home, which allows exploration of an early women’s rights pillar and famed author. Perhaps your trip concludes with a stop at Ventfort Hall, a gilded age mansion. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is currently undergoing preservation efforts. But much of the mansion is open, and tours will help pace and inform a visit.
Larger seaports and ski country both have opportunities to put together a similar assembly of nautical, automobile, skiing, and pioneering history to at least cover an afternoon of casual learning that can generate discussion over dinner. These smaller museums are also not nearly as packed and frenetic.
However, our favorite would be exploring historic Mystic, Connecticut’s Seaport Museum. It’s a large museum, with many buildings that will provide hours of exploration. As a living museum, it is more interactive, which can facilitate learning, discussion, and allow curiosity to better engage with the history (who knew human pee was saved all day in order to clean the printing press?!?!). Exploring ships, in addition to the houses and businesses, will capture the imagination of many. In all likelihood, you’ll run out of time before you’ve fully explored this place.
For those with preteen or teen girls, you can add a twist to this. If you all watch the movie Mystic Pizza, starring an early Julia Roberts, you can have lunch at the Mystic Pizza in downtown Mystic that was the basis for the movie. With movie scenes featured on the walls and the movie running on a continuous loop, it can be a fun way to incorporate a movie parents might have seen when you were younger, while enjoying lunch in a unique way.
For those who enjoy a day spent shopping for bargains or trendy clothes, New England has plenty of great shopping malls and areas; it isn’t just restricted to Boston’s famed Newbury Street shops, Faneuil Hall, and Copley Plaza’s shops. The Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, Vermont, is always bustling with fun energy. Providence Place Mall also provides a respite from the cold, with an afternoon’s worth of wandering, browsing, and eating. But if choosing just one, we’ll head north of the outlets in Kittery, Maine, and nominate Portland, Maine’s Old Port. Although you’ll be out in the cold, with wind possibly blowing in from the harbor, you can duck into a variety of high end shops to browse trendy clothes and home décor to make bedrooms or kid caves more interesting. With so many little pubs and restaurants, there’s bound to be a quaint place to meet anyone’s dietary preference. All of the contemporary shops and restaurants are set in a historic part of town, which creates a contrast that adds to the ambiance and fun. Any purchases may create some residual fun for the rest of the vacation as kids wear their new clothes or redecorate their rooms.
February is the last month of deep winter, since March offers the occasional warm day and the start of daylight savings. So, being indoors is often preferred, but it also can lead to some cabin fever. One way to find the balancing act, especially for kids who might want to burn off some steam, is with a visit to an escape room.
Escape rooms have sprung up, with places around the region. These offer a combination of problem-solving, teamwork, and a race against the clock to figure out riddles and decipher clues. The end result is typically a one-hour chance to escape from the room, or else face some grim demise.
These escape rooms are monitored, so if your group gets stuck, there’s typically an opportunity to get a few clues along the way. But few rooms have a really high success rate, making them legitimately challenging. They often will accommodate up to six or eight people, so there is a possibility that you could get paired up with others. However, if you have a couple of families looking for something to do, then this can allow you to have the room to yourself.
Our favorite is Bota Borg, in Malden, Massachusetts. This is a departure from many escape rooms. Whereas normally you’d have an hour to solve the puzzles of an individual room, this place is fundamentally different.
Bota Borg offers a series of rooms, some that demand more intellectual problem-solving and others that are more physical. They have these rooms rated, so that you know what you’re getting yourself into. Another twist at this place is that it’s timed to be fast-paced. The “rooms” are actually two or three rooms linked together. If you can’t progress quickly enough then you get kicked out of the room and have to leave and start over.
This can turn into nearly an all-day event and is a blast - including for many parents!
If your kid is looking to make his or her bedroom more befitting a teen, or if your kid cave needs some sprucing up, turn it into a group project. It can offer an array of activities, and some are secretly redeeming.
If they’re given a budget then it will incorporate math, research, and critical thinking skills to figure out what they may do. In our hyper-consumerism world, it also may lead to some decisions involving keeping, re-purposing, or refurbishing something, such as a dresser with fresh paint and new knobs. If it’s joint space, such as a fun room, it requires the kids to negotiate and compromise.
decide up front if you have any parameters, such as a budget, parental veto rights (“no, the bedroom walls can’t be neon green”), or certain functionality (“we’re not getting a popcorn maker but skipping a couch”). But if you think these through up front, and occasionally steer your kids, this can work out fine.
While these won’t cover the vacation from start to finish, hopefully there are enough ideas here to occupy the kids’ attention and create some family bonding opportunities. Perhaps there are also some off-the-beaten path places that you discover, too? If so, please drop us a note – we’re always up for exploring new places!
Finding new ways to keep things fresh.
Often, when you think of Cape Cod, you think of sandy beaches, vibrant restaurants, and other fun attractions, often filled with enthusiastic vacationers. While these are a lot of fun, they often come at a price that can add up, from $20 or more just to park at the beach, to admission to museums, to a pricy meal at a romantic restaurant or for a family. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
As fun as those activities are, we recently challenged ourselves with a goal of an inexpensive day trip on the Cape. The rules were simple: we each start with $25. Gas doesn’t count, nor do groceries, since we’d consume those even if sitting on our couch. Everything else comes out of that piggy bank. With only minimal research, we quickly found far more activities than we could squeeze into an action-packed day.
After leaving the other customers to continue admiring the display cases, we headed on to the Coast Guard Station in Eastham, one of the areas at the Cape Cod National Seashore. With an ever-rotating series of events, today celebrated Guglielmo Marconi, a Nobel-prize-winning inventor renowned for his work on wireless radio, including his transmission to Europe a century ago. On this International Marconi Day, wireless operators from around the world seek to establish as many connections with each other as possible. Coast Guard Station’s original transmission back in 1901 and the scarcity of people transmitting from this spot on the international grid makes this location highly sought after.
I’d worried that this might be boring, but discovered a niche activity with a passionate crowd and a long history. In this age of iPhones and amazing technology, it provided an interesting contrast to see how much more dependable this century-old system is. Instead of listening to a tedious presentation, we found ourselves enjoying the activity and spontaneously helping keep track of contacts from all corners of the globe. All this was at a cost of… nothing. $0 parking, $0 admission. Total cost so far: $1.
We decided to spend with reckless abandon, stopping at Orleans’ Hog Island Brewery, near the elbow of the Cape. This family-friendly brewery features indoor and outdoor games and seating, with cornhole sets outside, and ping pong tables, foosball, and other games inside. Hog Island also features guest beers in addition to its own creations, and offers a menu, which not all breweries do. We each grabbed a cold, craft beer and a gourmet hot dog to enjoy, as we processed our day’s events and watched families and friends playing all around us. After an hour, we settled up, which came to a whopping $12 after tax and tip, leaving us at $19 total.
Since we still had daylight left on a fantastic spring day, and with so many seasonal places reopening, we added one last stop where our day started: Dennis village. A couple buildings down from the Underground Bakery is Smuggler’s Ice Cream, offering delicious homemade ice cream. Indoor and outdoor seating makes it easy to linger, and to either cool off in the air conditioning or take in the atmosphere if outside. Either way, you’ll find yourself surrounded by smiling customers of all ages. After tip, this $5 treat brought our day to an end at $24.
Sadly, our day was done. But as we returned home, we realized this was an eye-opener. This challenge forced us to try new things. In doing so, we found so much more going on, from the passionate people to the varied activities. This was despite running out of time for some things we’d earmarked: whale sighting and education at another point on the National Seashore; a guided nature walk; and an earth day event featuring local artists and writers, just to name a few.
Oftentimes, we think of our community as a single, common group of neighbors. As this day showed, we live amidst a series of communities, all layered on top of each other. This creates an extremely vibrant and ever-evolving region that offers boundless opportunities to discover – and rediscover – ways to make the most of our days here… regardless of the budget you may have.
Extremely Helpful Links:
Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce: https://www.capecodchamber.org/events
Cape Cod Online: http://capecodonline.com/things-to-do/
Massachusetts Native, Philly Raised, Pats Fan
We love road trips! While exploring New England tops our list, it is always fun to explore someplace new.
What is funny about this trip is that Philadelphia is a familiar place to me, having been raised in the Philly suburbs from second grade through high school, but I had an opportunity to visit it with Jay and a new lens as a tourist.
Philadelphia often gets bad-mouthed among the Northeast cities and, I think, there is something of an inferiority complex. It’s the “City of Brotherly Love”, but plays little brother to the big behemoth to the North, New York City. It’s super historic but its civics lessons and American culture are often overshadowed by Boston and Washington, D.C. In recent years, Philadelphia has been investing a lot into revamping its cultural sites and they have done a fantastic job within the city’s historic district.
We stayed in the “Old City” section of town in the historic Penn’s View hotel. The room was comfortable and charming, with lovely hardwood floors, an exposed brick wall, and an inviting Jacuzzi tub. The hotel is well known for its restaurant, Panorama, which has over 120 wines on tap and over 150 wines offered, making it the Guinness Book of World Records holder for being the world’s largest “wine preservation and dispensing system". It is located right near Penn’s landing, a cool outdoor attraction that is ideal to visit in the summer. Renowned restaurants of all types of cuisine are just a few short blocks up Market Street and nearby side streets. The tourist attractions lie just beyond the fun and festive area, about five blocks away.
We sauntered up Market Street Saturday morning to meet my family at the Constitution Center. Along the way, we passed by the historic buildings and porticos where Philadelphia’s most famous citizen, Benjamin Franklin, lived and conducted business.
Brother Dave reserved tickets for the Constitution Center’s program, which cost $29 for adults and provided joint admission to the center and the Museum of the American Revolution. The program at the Constitution Center is an excellent foundation for understanding and celebrating the founding of our country. What I appreciated most is that they do a superb job at recognizing and reminding us that the United States is a work in progress: that the original founding still left many groups disenfranchised, but that Civil Rights causes and legislation over the years has broadened and expanded those foundational rights. The program is just the right length (a three and four year old sat through it just fine). When you exit the program, there is an exhibit hall to peruse and to learn more.
A little later, we walked across Independence Mall, stopping in at the Visitor’s Center, bumping into the esteemed Mr. Franklin along the way. We walked towards Independence Hall, which is a free 30 minute exhibit running at :15 and :45 past the hour, and you normally need a ticket (available at the Visitor’s Center). January and February are the exception, being slow and you do not need one. The lines at both Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell were long and we were traveling with 5 kids under the age of 10, so we skipped them, and continued toward the Museum of the American Revolution.
The Museum of the American Revolution begins with a short 15 minute video that provides essential and helpful background and context about the American Revolution, if you, like me, have forgotten a bit of your high school history class. After the video, we toured a winding exhibit that walked you through the major events of the Revolution. Helpfully, the museum’s literature offers a “Cliff Notes” guide, pointing out the most important aspects that you should not miss if you are short on time (or are traveling with 5 children under the age of 10). Currently, the museum also has a special exhibit by a Revolutionary-era watercolor artist, which they paired with a hands-on encampment exhibit for the kids, who could dress up like soldiers and play for a little while while their parents took in the more cerebral paintings.
We had a blast in Philadelphia and only scratched the surface of what the city has to offer. We will be back to explore additional attractions and have our sights set on the Benjamin Franklin Museum and the National Museum of Jewish American History, among others.
It is particularly noteworthy that we recently traveled beyond our New England comfort zone right when the Patriots are preparing to take on the Eagles in Super Bowl LII. Although I brought my Pats fan shirt, I wore it proudly, but only within the safety of my parents’ New Jersey home.
Although I have a new found appreciation for the town in which I grew up, I still remain a loyal Pats fan. Go Pats!
Sonny's Cheesesteaks: www.sonnyscheesesteaks.com
Philadelphia Cheesesteak Guide: visitphilly.com/articles/philadelphia/top-10-spots-for-authentic-philly-cheesesteaks/
Philadelphia Magazine: www.phillymag.com/
Old City: www.oldcitydistrict.org/
Penn's Landing: www.visitphilly.com.outdoor-activities/philadelphia/penns-landing/
Penn's View Hotel and Panorama: pennsviewhotel.com/
Independence Visitor Center: www.phlvisitorcenter.com/