Free Admission to Over 1,000 Museums – This Saturday

Are you looking for something fun to do this Saturday?  If you live near one of over 1,000 museums across the country that is participating in Smithsonian’s Museum Day Live! (and chances are you do), you have the opportunity to check out a great nearby museum for free.  Go online here to check out which museums are participating and to obtain your free tickets.  Keep in mind that you have to obtain your tickets in advance online and that there is a limit of two tickets per person.  This is a great opportunity to visit that museum you’ve always thought of checking out, but that never quite made the cut when you planned your excursions.

We’ll be headed to Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vermont this Saturday.  Museum Day Live! happens to coincide with the connected Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park’s Forest Festival, so I’m sure it will be a full day.  We’ve already spent two days exploring the National Historic Park (and Van has a junior ranger badge to prove it), so we’ll spend more time at the farm and museum and are very grateful to have the opportunity to visit this great museum at no cost.

Will you be headed to one of these museums this Saturday?  If so, where will you be exploring?  Let us know in the comments if it’s a museum you’d recommend to others.

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What Do Truth or Consequences, a Veterans’ Home, and a Classic Car Show Have in Common?

You may think that because my posting hiatus began while I was posting about our time in New Mexico that I was not a huge fan of the state.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  We loved so many things about New Mexico, chiefly the food, the people, and the gorgeous landscapes.

After leaving Silver City,we took a circuitous route to Las Cruces so that we could check out the interestingly named, Truth or Consequences.  For those not familiar with the history of how the town received its unique moniker, the town of Hot Springs renamed itself in response to a marketing ploy by the game show, Truth or Consequences.  Given its location, I was expecting a sleepy little town.  Instead of just a quick trip through the decidedly awake town, we stayed for the day and took part in the local (and very popular) car show at the local VA home.  My vote went to a sublime cherry red pickup from days long ago (surprise, surprise), while Van was very attracted to the many, many Mustangs.

We eventually pried ourselves away from the festivities and headed south to one of the nicest places we stayed on this trip, a Days Inn in Las Cruces.  As we pulled up to the hotel, Van started pointing and saying “Idaho, Idaho.”  We went back through our memory banks and realized that we had only stayed at one Days Inn on this trip before Las Cruces.  And it was, in fact, in Idaho.  Twin Falls, to be exact.  What a memory this kid has!

We spent one full day in Las Cruces soaking up all the culture we could at the excellent New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.  If you’re ever down in Las Cruces, it’s a must see.  Highlights included a private demonstration of separating milk from cream, watching the process of making a nail from start to finish, a history of New Mexico license plates, and a stunning photography exhibit on Pie Town.  The two most interesting facts I learned that day?  That the state actually had to add USA to its license plate at one point because too many people in the rest of the US didn’t realize that New Mexico is actually part of the US.  Write this down as reason number 56,323 that travel is important.  And secondly, that nails were so valuable before mass production that some settlers would burn down their houses before moving so that they could take the nails with them.  After seeing the process of making just one nail, I have a much greater appreciation for the many modern conveniences that allow most Americans (ourselves and just about everyone we know included) to lead such luxurious lives.

Las Cruces Farm and Ranch Museum

New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum,   Las Cruces

Fur Trappers, Mexican Food, and Waterfalls: Welcome to the Willamette Valley

Making Friends in Portland

Making Friends in Portland

Van has turned in to a ham.  You take out the camera and he immediately starts making his “smiley” face, which in reality is a cross between a smile and a grimace.  In fact, you don’t even need to take out the camera for him to start posing with that camera-ready grin on his face.  When we were exploring a beautiful rose garden in Portland, Oregon, he pranced around the bushes and hedges, posing every few minutes and directing me to take out the camera.  One hand on hip, the other resting on a bush or touching a flower, and a smile plastered on his mug.  But he’s a twenty-first century boy.  His favorite part is running up to you after you’ve shot off a few photos so that he can see the photos you just captured.  Instant gratification, indeed.

Instead of tons of photos of the gorgeous Willamette Valley, we have tons of Van.  You’ll just have to take my word for it that the Willamette Valley is absolutely one of the most beautiful spots in this great country.  Were it not for the mild winters, it would definitely be on our short list.  We loved, loved, loved it!

Van the Ham

Van the Ham

Our first discovery was the amazing Mexican food to be had in Woodburn, Oregon.  Apparently the town is known for having outlet shopping (we saw the shops from afar), but much, much better than that is the main street a few miles to the east that is chock full of Mexican restaurants and grocers.  Seriously excellent and authentic food.  If you’re looking for Tex-Mex, this is not the place.  It was so good we ate it two nights in a row.  If you find yourself anywhere near Woodburn, you owe it to yourself to check out Luis’s Tacqueria or one of the other gems that line the main street.

Then we realized that our nifty museum memberships could get us in to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum for free.  Along with a personal tour of a B-17!  We spent a long, fun day checking out all of the planes (including the Spruce Goose) and catching up on the history of the space program.  Alan didn’t need any catching up, but it was a great refresher for me.

When we weren’t eating yummy food or touring planes, we spent our time outdoors amidst beautiful farmland and waterfalls.  We camped for several nights at Champoeg State Park where we were entranced by the disc golf players and their professional looking gear.  No casual players here!  But even better was the small museum and historical farm.  Van couldn’t get enough of the smell of the hops.  Future homebrewer?  A mother can dream…

Van Testing the Hops

Van Testing the Hops

At the Rogue Brewery Hop Farm

At the Rogue Brewery Hop Farm

But the best part of Champoeg was the fur trapper rendezvous that we happened upon. Actually, Van was personally invited by two fur trappers in traditional French-Canadian trapper clothes the night before (must have been the smile he flashed them).  We walked two miles to get there, some of it through some pouring rain, but it was well worth it.  We had an up close and personal look at fur trapping, homemade birch bark canoes, dutch oven cooking over an open flame, and guns used by the fur trappers.  We spent a long time speaking with each of the folks at the rendezvous and came away with a much greater appreciation for this part of our history.

Once we said our goodbyes (only temporarily) to the Willamette Valley, we headed up to the Columbia River Gorge for a few days of exploring.  It rained – a lot – which means we didn’t take very many photos.  But we did see the gorgeous Multnomah Falls in an uncharacteristic break in the rain.  We also spent a cozy afternoon wandering around the Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood and taking a detailed tour from the resident park ranger.  My favorite was curling up in front of the roaring fireplace to dry ourselves out.  But oh how I longed to stay at the lodge and write in my journal at a desk tucked into a nook in the main room.

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

We left the area thinking that the Willamette Valley would make a wonderful home. Unfortunately, not for us.  Finding a place that felt so right but for its mild winters reinforced to me just how important snow (and lots of it) is to us.   The mild winters knocked it off of our short list, but if you’re one of the more sane among us, perhaps it should be on yours.

Tour de Smithies: Olympia Style

Sarah and Me in Olympia

Sarah and Me in Olympia

The Boys!  Elliot, Emerson, and Van

The Boys! Elliot, Emerson, and Van

Rolling into Olympia, Washington, we continued our pattern of staying with friends from my days at Smith College.  Anyone who knows me even slightly knows how much I absolutely loved Smith and how much I love my friends from Smith.  Apparently, the love doesn’t go one way.  Our incredibly generous friends Sarah and Scott (and their lovely and energetic sons, Emerson and Elliot) invited us to stay for an extended period.  They hosted us for a record eight nights.  Yes, you read that right – EIGHT nights!  They should be sainted.

Love these peeps!

Love these peeps!

It was so incredibly wonderful to have a bed to sleep in, a shower to use, access to laundry facilities, and to not have to worry about the weather.  But more than that, Sarah and Scott are a walking party.  Literally.  We haven’t socialized that much since…I can’t even remember!  We attended a total of four parties that week – and Sarah and Scott attended two additional parties (for a wedding) – so we were seriously not keeping up.  It was such a fantastic change of pace.  But, even better, I got to spend some excellent quality time with a wonderful friend who I haven’t seen in ages and her equally awesome husband.  And Van had the chance to play with the big boys and all of their exciting toys.  I think he was most excited by having a table to sit at that was just his size.  Mental note for when we no longer live out of a tent.

Festivities in Olympia

Festivities in Olympia

Between the parties, we had the chance to check out a bunch of different places in the area.  We hit up the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge and the Farmers’ Market with our friends, and when they were busy at work, we headed to Gig Harbor, Bremerton, Bainbridge Island, the Bainbridge Island Japanese-American Exclusion Memorial, the Foulweather Bluff Preserve at the northern end of the Kitsap Peninsula, and the Olympia Hands-On Children’s Museum.

We also spent a day in Seattle exploring and were lucky enough to meet up with Sarah in the afternoon so she could show us around.  On our very last day in Olympia, Sarah, Scott, and the boys accompanied us Staircase in Olympic National Park.  We took our second hike of the trip with friends (the first with another Smithie and her son, Rebekah and Rhyer), and had our very first campsite visitors.  So fun!  It reminded me just how great it is to camp with friends.  Something I hope to do lots of in the future.  Any takers?!?!

Note the bench we found on our hike – we joked that it was a casualty of the sequester.

Bench in Staircase, Olympic National Park

Bench in Staircase, Olympic National Park

Thank you Scott, Sarah, Emerson, and Elliot for an absolutely wonderful week.  We miss you all already.  Please come visit wherever we wind up settling down!!!

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Van and Elliot

Van and Elliot

The Bottling Process: Traveling with a Toddler (part 1)

Over the past several months, several of you have asked me for more details about the logistics of our travels.  This is the second post in an ongoing series about how we travel.  If there’s something you want to know more about, feel free to leave me a comment and perhaps it will be a topic for a future Bottling Process post.

When I read about other folks traveling around the country like us, most of them don’t have children.  Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of families on the road (just check out www.familiesontheroad.com for a taste), but it seems the vast majority are traveling either before having children or after their children are grown and have flown the coop.  And sometimes I get jealous when I read about all of the exciting things these childless travelers are getting to experience.  Traveling with a child, a toddler no less, changes things.  But for all of the things that we’re missing out on, we gain so much by experiencing this journey with a two-year old child full of wonder and silliness (even with his unending poo and periodic tantrums).  Here are a few things that have made living on the road with a toddler a little easier and a lot more fun:

  • Giving him a job at the campsite.  We inadvertently stumbled into the best tactic for giving us the time to set up the campsite while Van is not underfoot and also not getting into trouble. At one of our earliest camping spots on this trip, we asked Van to collect sticks and put them in the fire ring. Little did we know that he’d be such a committed gatherer that he’d amass a serious amount of wood for our fire. And he keeps doing it – every single night we camp – without being asked. He’s busy, we can set up the tent and make dinner, and we can have a nice fire after dinner. It’s a win, win, win!
  • Membership to a science or children’s museum.  When my mother was asking for birthday gift suggestions for Van, knowing that we’d be traveling and not wanting to get him something large or unnecessary for our travels, I suggested that she get him (and us) a membership to a children’s or science museum.  Many science and children’s museums provide reciprocity at other museums around the country, allowing members to get in for half price or even for free.  Since we are not going to be in one place this year, there was not an obvious museum at which we should become members.  I did some research and found a museum (The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery in Dayton, Ohio) that not only provided reciprocity for one of these types of museums, it provided reciprocity at over 300 science and technology museums, almost 200 children’s museums, and almost 200 zoos and aquariums.  Amazing!  We’ve had the opportunity to visit the Explorium in Lexington, Kentucky, the Adventure Science Center in Nashville, Tennessee, the Children’s Museum of Denver, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  And we have a long list of museums we’re excited to check out in the months to come.  In addition to giving us the opportunity to visit a number of museums of interest to us at a reduced cost or for free, visiting these types of museums is great for rainy days, hot and humid days, or days when Van desperately needs some kid time after too many activities that are more exciting to his mommy and daddy.
Water Fun at the Explorium in Lexington, Kentucky

Water Fun at the Explorium in Lexington, Kentucky

  • Libraries.  I am a huge fan of libraries – I worked at a library all through high school, we’ve planned this journey largely from library books, and we regularly frequented our local library before we began traveling.  But, as great as libraries are for local residents, they are just as great (if not better) for traveling families.  Van LOVES books, but we can’t bring too many with us given our lack of space.  Solution? Regular trips to the library!  But, not only do many libraries have a great selection of children’s books, more and more libraries also have a play area stocked with different toys – puppets, blocks, magnets, coloring pages and crayons, kitchens, play theaters, you name it!  And while Van’s busy playing and reading, we can check our email and our update the blog thanks to free wi-fi in many (but not all) libraries.  And you can’t take the clean bathrooms and running water for granted, either.
  • Making our own meals.  I imagine most folks traveling the country on a long-term basis make most of their own meals for cost and comfort reasons, but there are additional benefits when it comes to traveling with kids.  Kids can only sit still for so long and so often.  By making most of our meals on the road, in addition to minimizing cost, we minimize the time Van is stuck in a high chair at a restaurant and save those times for local places we’re itching to try (like hot chicken in Nashville or bbq in Memphis).  We’ve yet to eat out for breakfast and we rarely eat out for dinner.  That tends to happen when it’s been a long day, it’s getting late, and we’re famished, usually with no groceries to our name.  While we also make the vast majority of lunches (picnics across America should be our trip’s tagline), lunch is our meal of choice to go out.  When we’re not eating out for lunch (which is most of the time) we also get to see a different side of a place, since we typically eat our picnic lunch in a town square or other downtown green space when we’re not out on a trail.  Since he spends a bit more time in the car, this additional outdoor time is always welcome and lunch almost always concludes with time to explore. Plus, if you haven’t noticed, kids’ menus pretty much stink.  Seriously stink.  It’s a rare day when we order off of it.  He’s still got a small enough tummy that he can usually just share with us, or we’ll order him a small plate of something similar to what we’re eating.  I refuse to order him chicken strips and fries every single time we take him to a restaurant.  Once in a while, fine.  But why is every single kids’ menu the exact same, no matter where you go?  But I digress…  Even though we’re on a long-term trip, I’ve found that making most of our own meals is a great money and time saver on shorter trips, as well.  However, ignore this advice if you travel to Charleston, South Carolina, in which case you should eat out at least four times a day, every day, and mail me your leftovers.
Our trusty camp stove, the source of most of our yummy dinners

Our trusty camp stove, the source of most of our yummy dinners

No, this is not what I mean by picnic, cheerios do not make a meal (said no child, ever)

No, this is not what I mean by picnic, cheerios do not make a meal (said no child, ever)