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/
Purveyor of Road Trips
Every year Nantucket bursts into life on the last weekend in April. The annual Daffodil Festival celebrates the arrival of Spring and awakening of an island largely dormant for the prior six months. With a wide array of activities, the biggest challenge is probably deciding what to do.
A fast ferry rounds the daffodil-wreathed Brant Point Lighthouse at Nantucket’s harbor entrance.
We’ve now been several times: with and without kids, and as day trips and a weekend-long stay, and all have been great experiences. Ferry tickets can book up, so we’ve made a point of reserving early. We also find the fast ferry to be a great option, especially for the return trip, since it isn’t very expensive and reduces the trip to less than half the time of the slow ferry. The one mandate is to wear yellow!
Saturday is the focal point of the festival, with a parade of antique cars decked out with daffodils and some people picking their own unique theme. The procession is lined up in the cobblestone downtown beforehand, where onlookers can inspect cars up close, chat with the parade participants, and capture some entertaining photographs. But that parade is by no means the only event of note.
Other theme-oriented processions and events center around dogs, hats, and storefront windows, all of which are decked out appropriately. All can be fun to join or just to check out. But these events are just scratching the surface of this weekend-long celebration that starts on Friday.
A variety of tours are available to choose from, including historical walks around the downtown area, to van tours of the island for island newbies and photographers, to ghost walks. Options also include nature areas, lighthouses, and spectacular sunsets. Some of the walks can be brisk, and others require reservations, so some planning is important.
There are also other types of events: flower and photography classes; historical society special events around whaling, founding families, and the Nantucket Whaling Museum’s interesting mix of exhibits and artifacts. For families with younger children, the family beach picnic is a great choice after the parade. Wine tastings can
be fun for grown-ups. Artistic movies, live music, and other events can also be fun to check out.
Many of the restaurants open at least briefly, as a way to dust off the cobwebs before May begins to see the uptick in tourists in advance of Memorial Weekend. Many stores also reopen, offering sales and a great mix of merchandise to browse. Cisco Brewers, on the far side of the island, also offers a familyfriendly atmosphere along with its beers, wine, and spirits, and live music in a great location; the shuttle running from downtown makes this easy and inexpensive to get to.
We found that staying over for the weekend allowed an opportunity to really immerse ourselves in the experience. One day can be a blast, and also exhausting by the time we’re on the return ferry. Staying near downtown provided easier access to many events, and allowed us to briefly return to our room when desired. While Nantucket can be expensive, we found reasonably priced rooms to choose from. Choosing one with a small kitchen further defrayed our costs while giving us more food options.
Aside of the official events, we also enjoyed simply strolling around downtown in the early morning fog, going for a run, sitting at a small park with an afternoon coffee as we watched a unicyclist successfully navigate the cobblestone street, and meandering through historic sites such as a cemetery where many of the island’s founding fathers are buried.
The whole island is celebratory, and after a winter of seclusion, fate seems to typically want to reward it with surprisingly good weather. However, it’s not as busy as it becomes a month later, so this is often a
good time to visit without having to fight the masses to get a table for dinner. We’ve not needed a car, which can be a real challenge anyways, opting for taxis for the limited times they’re needed.
Nantucket’s rich history, easily navigated island, and mix of events have given us some of our favorite memories each of the last few years. Its online event listing is updated up until right before the event, which also helps us map out the key activities we want to enjoy. This, along with the great vibe, make Nantucket’s Daffodil Festival a must-do springtime event to check out!