The blog for inspired travel with children

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Joy of Being Prepared

The Globe-trotter Centenary 33" Extra-deep Suitcase with Wheels from J. Crew

Now, isn't this a pretty suitcase?  I've never seen one like it on the baggage carousel - clearly I'm not passing through the right airports.

I thought of this suitcase while reading a New York Times article on Preppers - those industrious folk who plan and plan and plan - just in case disaster strikes.  And let's be honest - disaster has always struck at some point. The article explained what a "bug-out bag" is. It's a bag filled with all the essentials for a safe getaway from wherever you happen to be - dried food, a variety of tools, clean socks, etc.

I am no Prepper, although I try to be at least a little prepared for emergencies. However, I like imagining what I'd put into a bug-out bag were I to create one. Some good dark chocolate is the first thing that springs to mind (don't worry, I'll bring enough for everyone!). Perhaps a bag of almonds. Definitely a bag of legos. A deck of playing cards and a baseball. A tube of red lipstick and some pretty underwear to keep my spirits up. A bag filled with purely utilitarian items, while practical, would depress me - I would need some special things - some beautiful things, with personal meaning - to keep me going, were civilization to collapse around me and my family.

What would your bag look like?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Visiting Museums with Children - Making it Work!

Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa

Art museums and children are a tricky combination.  We want our children to be exposed to great art, but museums don't always feel like the best place for this introduction - they are typically large, quiet, dignified places, often with crowds and lines.  Not exactly child-friendly oases filled with tolerance, paper towels, and cookies.  However, taking your kids to art museums can be very doable, provided you prepare carefully.

Here are some things that have worked for us, in no particular order.  The common theme -as always with kids - is: be flexible!

1. Don't expect transcendence.

Don't expect instant reverence for art; do cultivate a playful attitude towards art.  Look for art with interesting details that will appeal to your child's particular interests - try to spot all the animals in those 19th century european paintings for example, or imagine the feats of engineering required to produce that huge contemporary sculpture.

2. Minimize your financial investment.

Many museums have days or time periods when it is free to visit the museum.  I find it a lot easier to walk out of a museum after a mere 10 minutes (it happens!) if I haven't paid $30 or so to get in.  I figure I've seen at least one or two great pieces of art - and there's always next time!

Profiterole by Claes Oldenburg

3. Scope out the food options beforehand.

Find out ahead of time whether the museum has a decent cafe, or whether it's close to a good picnic spot.  Also find out whether you can leave the museum and return a little later - you may be able to step out of the museum for a quick snack or treat, and then return to see more.

Susumu Shingu Sculpture at the Hakone Open-Air Museum in Japan

4. Consider the taste of your audience.

Just as you have your own tastes, so does your child.  If you suspect that they may not have the patience for room after room of Old Masters, consider a sculpture garden instead - or the 20th century design museum, or the Naval History museum, even if there's less "art" to be seen.  Better to find something that will grab your child's attention a little bit (and give them some breathing room), than to turn them off the museum-going experience entirely.

5. Tag Team

This isn't always possible, but when you have two or more adults in your party, take turns with the kids.  This gives each adult at least a bit of quiet alone time with the art.

Louisiana Museum Children's Wing (in Denmark)

6. Look for museums with special facilities for children.

Many museums offer some sort of activity or experience tailored for children, and some even have special rooms or wings dedicated to children's art-making.  We had a fabuous experience at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, which has an entire wing dedicated to children - it's a particularly thoughtful and inspiring place.  Check in advance if activities are offered at particular times, and plan your visit around them if possible.

The Rodin Museum in Paris

7. Think Small

Smaller museums often have smaller lines, fewer crowds, and are just smaller in scale.  It's also easier to make a quick escape if things suddenly get loud or messy! It may also be easier to visit several smaller museums during a trip than one grand one - meaning that your child is exposed to more art (as well as a wider variety of art).

8. Figure it out before you go.  

Before you leave on your trip, do some research. Find out what museums are in the area, when they are open (and when they are free, if applicable), whether they have facilities for children, whether they have a cafe, etc.  Decide what your options are before you go is much easier than figuring it out on the fly. 

9. Get into the creative spirit yourselves

Before your trip, make some art similar to the type you plan to introduce them to - make sure your kids have some recent experience in painting, sculpture, mixed-media, etc - it will help them relate more immediately to the work.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Olive Us Shows Us How to Visit a French Bakery

Do you know DesignMom and her wonderful blog and video series?  DesignMom (aka Gabrielle Blair) and her family of eight live in the French countryside and her blog is filled daily with beautiful design ideas and inspiration.  I am especially a fan of her posts on what it is like to live in France.  And while it's not a travel blog per se, the family makes frequent jaunts to other European destinations (most recently Venice) - of course her readers get to follow along!

DesignMom, together with her family, has also created a charming video series called Olive Us, all about family life.  This particular one is my favorite - it's the most delightful (and mouth-watering) cross-cultural lesson ever:

I'm ready to pack my bags, aren't you?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Marquette, Michigan: New Year's Eve Up North

Late afternoon on Lake Superior

We never get a white Christmas here in Texas.  But oh, do we love snow - so we decided to head north for New Year's Eve - really far north!  We spent just over a week in Marquette, Michigan, visiting with family - it's a lovely small town right on the shore of Lake Superior. Historically Marquette was  a mining town (and it still is), but is now more of a college town with a healthy downtown and plenty to do for kids and parents (whatever the season).

For starters, there is just so much natural beauty here - witness Presque Isle Park.  This serene wooded peninsula juts out into Lake Superior and is closed to cars in the winter, making it a great place for walks with fantastic views. In the summer you can ride your bicycle all the way out to the park along the paved path that hugs the shoreline. There are beaches and playgrounds along the way - we stopped at one icy beach and "skated" on the big ice puddles on the sand...

Strange beauty - sandy icicles 

There is also a bit of industrial beauty - on the short drive out to the park, we passed the enormous Ore Dock, with a train perched high above us, loading iron ore onto a huge ship. These incredibly long ships move slowly in and out of the harbor all day.

For the past several years, the Upper Peninsula Children's Museum has hosted a New Year's Eve party (with a deejay, cookies, and cider) for children and their parents. "Midnight" happens around 7:30 pm, out in the courtyard, with a countdown, a ball drop, and lots of cheering and noise-making when the ball hits bottom and starts flashing wildly. This is one of the most delightful and creative children's museums I've seen - so many fun and stimulating (and very much hands-on) exhibits are packed into this rambling upstairs space, it's inspiring.

The Ball Drop at the Upper Peninsula Children's Museum

The Head (those eyes can open from the inside) in the Body Exhibit

One corner of the Model Train

The Radio Station (broadcast to speakers located elsewhere in the Museum)

Mere steps (I'd say about three) from the Children's Museum is the unexpectedly wonderful Marquette Baking Company.  I did not expect to find top-notch bread and pastry in this neck of the woods (and I'm picky about bread), but here it is - their croissants are just so good! The Marquette Food Coop is also right next door (though soon moving into larger quarters a few blocks away) - it's my favorite place to pick up organic snacks, groceries, and whatever I forget from home (toothpaste, etc.).

The Marquette Baking Co.

One day, weary of throwing snowballs, we stopped by the NMU Superior Dome - the largest wooden dome in the world!  It's a truly impressive structure, and is free and open to the public.  My son ran races and generally got his ya-yas out just running around on the turf.

The NMU Superior Dome

The Peter White Library is another good place to go when you need to get out, but the weather isn't cooperating. The airy children's room takes up almost half of the basement level (it's light-filled thanks to the many windows and skylights), and includes a large play area stocked with toys and games, in addition to an impressive collection of books.

Sadly, the Marquette County History Museum was closed for maintenance this year - when we visited last year, we got to see their exhibits on local Native American history and culture (we hoped to get another look at their Wigwam), natural history, and Upper Peninsula culture. The Maritime Museum was also closed (for the season).  In summer, it's a fascinating place to learn about Lake Superior history. The Maritime Museum is a short walk along the lake from Lower Harbor Park and offers guided tours of the adjacent lighthouse.

The Maritime Museum

As for restaurants, nothing is too fancy, and there are many child-friendly options  - we ate pizza at Vango's, and had a pretty good health-conscious lunch at the Sweet Water Cafe.  For a nice dinner out, try the Vierling downtown (and order the whitefish!).

The Vierling, in the heart of downtown Marquette