Monday, January 18, 2010

Easton and the Crayola Factory (and Canal Museum)

Today’s visit was to Easton, Pennsylvania. It’s an intriguing town, with hilly streets, narrow houses and buildings that reflect a rich history. But it’s also clearly down on its luck. It seemed like a good 50% of the storefronts downtown were empty, there were lots of “for sale” sales, and evidence of neglect. The people seemed sad and downtrodden, as though they’d been through a rough time lately. We hadn’t been out of the car for two minutes before a toothless man approached us, asking for change.

In this unlikely place is a fun and unique destination for kids, the Crayola Factory and the attached Canal Museum. Admission includes both attractions. While most seem to go for the Crayola Factory, the Canal Museum is fantastic – very interactive and child oriented. If I had it to do over again, I might have started at the Canal Museum first, then let my son run himself to the point of exhaustion at Crayola. Go on a weekday if you can and try to get there early. When it gets crowded, the need to manage your child among so many others reduces the fun factor.

I can’t say there is a lot to learn at Crayola, certainly not compared to the nearby Davinci. It’s basically a big test center for a wide variety of Crayola products. But it’s bright, friendly and there are lots of artistic opportunities. It was nice for River to be able to run from one project to another and for the parents to not have to clean anything up. I got to see what interested him most (the glow-in-the-dark coloring), which of course led me to the Crayola store to buy him the glow-in-the-dark color pad. At least I knew he’d like it before I bought it.

The Canal Museum does have some good educational elements. Especially the exhibit on the 2nd floor (also a good place to get to early, before a line forms), where each child is given a plastic boat and helped to guide it along a canal and through the locks. The third floor is less hectic than the others and it has several activities that appeal to young children. The opportunity to place panels that guide a boat through a maze is especially fun and thoughtful. This is a smaller, more controlled space, and more relaxing for kids and parents.

For lunch, there is a McDonalds on the premises and a Subway nearby. For more adult food we went to the River Grill, about a block away. They get a lot of Crayola Factory visitors and were very accommodating to kids.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lessons learned from the second day of road trip with toddler

1. Places where kids can run around and touch stuff are priceless.

2. A good nap at the normal time makes things much easier.

3. It’s very easy to fall into an all white-carb all the time diet. Pretzels, pancakes, bread? OK, whatever keeps you happy.

4. My tolerance for Barney music is fairly high (at least compared with my husband’s). But it is not infinite.

5. I have pretty high expectations for a toddler (friends said they didn’t take their toddler out to dinner for four years). Perhaps I should be happy that I can take him out to dinner and not sweat it if he doesn’t behave perfectly.

6. The small moments – jumping together on the bed, singing the ABCs together in the car, exploring a particularly intriguing science exhibit together – are the most special.

The changing definition of what makes a good hotel

I’m sitting on the hard floor of the hotel bathroom waiting for River to take his nap. I’ve been here for well over an hour and it’s just recently become quiet. So I’m hoping he has fallen asleep and will thus be in a good enough mood for us to be able to enjoy dinner with friends tonight. When I was young and poor and adventurous, my idea of a good hotel was someplace really cheap and reasonably safe. If there was free breakfast, that was a bonus. I didn’t care so much about location as I only came to the hotel to crash. I was exploring the rest of the day. When I dated Mark long-distance and we had to meet up in countries located halfway between us, I started to value a little more of the romantic element, as well as privacy. Now, a Jacuzzi was a bonus. Mark wants central location, so I started to get used to being able to walk from the hotel and easily get to all of the local attractions. Now, traveling with a toddler, I’d say location is definitely key. There is a lot more freedom if one is able to walk out the door and see and do things, rather than have to bundle the kid into a car. Now, the big bonus is either an extra room, or a situation in which I can feel safe leaving him alone in the room and hanging out in a pleasant lobby. If neither of those are possible, than a bathroom or a closet sufficiently large enough to put a travel crib in is a bonus. Since I have neither now, the entire room is River’s and I’m relegated to the bathroom floor. Oh well, as long as there is a nap and I have a little bit of quiet time, I guess I’m OK with ceramic tile.

The joy of finding a kid-friendly cafe

We’d had a long napless day. I didn’t get a chance for a real lunch and it was looking like I wouldn’t get dinner either. I didn’t think River would last through a meal.

I went into The Chocolate Café in Lititz. River seemed happy when he came across a selection of life-sized stuffed dogs.

“Are these toys?” I asked an employee, as River pulled them out.

“Yes, and we have some cars and trucks over here,” she said.

She made my day. It was OK for River to play, to roll around on the floor and to be a kid. This meant that we could actually have a meal without the struggle of keeping him in a seat and occupied for an hour.

The waitstaff didn’t seem to mind stepping over stuffed animals, cars or a mobile toddler. The fact that the food was delicious and healthy was a bonus. Thanks to those establishments that make it easier to enjoy a meal and to relax a bit by providing a space for children to be kids.

Science for kids

Today River paid his first visit to a science museum and LOVED it. We went to the DaVinci Science Center in Allentown, PA. We were the first people to arrive when the museum opened at 12, so we initially had the place to ourselves. In the preschool room, River got to put chocolate chunks into pretend cookies and count the pieces. He played with unusual shaped large soft blocks and he got to look at shells under a magnifying glass. He was thrilled to sit on a chair and to experience the backwards motion that happens when two people push their feet against each other. He saw what happens to liquid when it is spun rapidly, he learned how water erodes particles, he watched a ball react to vacuum pressure and he got a close up look at starfish and crabs. He smiled so much in the hour and a half we were there. It was one novel experience after another and he was so enthusiastic he threw a nice tantrum when it was time to leave. This is a great museum in that it’s fairly small, which allows kids to get through the whole place without being overwhelmed, and it really encourages tactile exploration and observation at the child’s pace. The friendly staff posted around the exhibits offer helpful explanations. This is a place I’d like to come back to because I think kids of various ages are able to get different things out of it. For me, it was the highlight of our weekend so far to see my toddler so happy to explore and to learn.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A visit to Lititz

Because I traveled to Lititz with a toddler, my attention span rather resembled that of a two year old. I enjoyed a close up look at many wolves at the Wolf Sanctuary, but unfortunately didn’t get to the hear much of what the tour guide said. I got to shape dough into a pretzel at Julius Sturgis Pretzel Factory, but didn’t get to finish the tour. I was able to stroll briefly through the town, buying chocolate at Wilbur, feeding the ducks at a local pond, and enjoying the great food at The Chocolate Café, but I left a lot unseen and undone.

Lititz is a charming little town with a rich history and a lot of beautiful buildings that bring the sense of history to life. I hope to be able to return here sometime, with more time and a better ability to pay attention. There is a lot to see and explore.

Taking a roadtrip with a toddler

Lessons I’m learning from day one of roadtrip with toddler:

Toddler may well be psyched to see the wolves, but he will not last beyond a small fraction of a one hour tour.

Time outs in the crib work well at home. But I am struggling with how to discipline while on the road. Especially while out in public on the road. Instead, I take in many disapproving looks when my toddler doesn’t listen to me and I spend much of the day chasing him.

Singing songs together in the car on the way to a destination is very special quality time.

If naptime doesn’t happen, you are screwed, no matter what you do.

Have a supply of water, snacks and Hot Wheels on hand, at all times.

Having a second room is a huge bonus. If that’s not available, a B&B with an attractive lobby is a good substitute.

Free homebaked goods, hot beverages and a Jacuzzi can soothe the stresses of the roughest day.

DO NOT OVERPLAN. Lower expectations. Yes, we’ll see wolves. But no, I won’t be able to actually listen to anything the tour guide says. Many people have pressed me to slow down my pace in the past. Perhaps my toddler will finally force me to change.

It’s a lot of work, it’s tough to not have somebody to hand responsibility over for a little while here and there, but I’m grateful for my buddy and glad to be creating memories with him.