Friday, July 19, 2019

Pittsburgh with a Toddler

In June, we flew to Pittsburgh for an extended weekend (sort of between a long weekend and a week!) to visit with Dan's family and friends.  It was Kenny's first trip to Pittsburgh, and honestly he was at the perfect age to visit the city!  We flew on a direct Southwest flight, like we've done with Kenny before, and he was pretty good.  We are definitely at the age now where even though he can fly for free, it's getting difficult/uncomfortable if he doesn't have his own seat.  So I'm seeing more road trips (or buying him a seat) in our future, especially now that I'm the proud owner of a minivan!

We rented a car upon arrival, because it was the most convenient way for us to get around, especially now that our extended family has grown and requires more carseats.  That meant we had some flexibility to take Kenny to the Children's Museum in Pittsburgh.  As an added bonus, the museum was offering free admission for Veterans, and with Kenny being under 2, he was also free admission.



Kenny absolutely loved the museum!  They had exhibits with Curious George and Eric Carle (he loves The Hungry Caterpillar) that he really enjoyed exploring.  It was fun to see him get hands-on in an environment designed for little ones.




On the top floor, there is a water play area.  Hindsight, I'd have packed Kenny swimming clothes or strips him down to shorts, because he got DRENCHED.  But he was enjoying it to the max, and I was glad we did that activity last, because he was not happy we had to leave.



We also got to visit the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, a place Dan loved as a kid!  We were lucky again because the zoo had free admission for veterans for the summer, so it was another free excursion for us, along with a big group of family and friends.

Kenny loved the warthogs!

Sidenote:  I was saddened to learn that the zoo was no longer AZA accredited, as we make an effort to support those zoos and aquariums that are.  But this was a fairly recent change due to disputes over elephant handling.  They do have ZAA accreditation (a much newer and smaller organization), and I believe Pittsburgh's a high quality facility, but I know that means it cannot participate in some of the species survival programs and grants that AZA zoos have.





The Pittsburgh Zoo is hilly, but it has plenty of shaded areas and an air-conditioned aquarium to give you relief from the heat.  I didn't love the parking situation, as it's a gravelly hike to the gates, and you have to take an elevator (with stroller) or escalator to get to the exhibits.  But overall, there are tons of animals and lots to see, so much you might not get to all of it in one visit if you have little ones.  I liked the elephants and lions the best, I think.  There were also newborn leopard cubs to see!



I'd love to take Kenny to the Carnegie Museums on a future visit, as I haven't been since Dan and I were dating.  We also didn't get to visit the most kid-friendly area of the zoo, so maybe on another trip we could head to that first.  It was a hot day, and all of the kids (and adults) were just worn out from the hills and heat.  I've also heard Idlewild has a Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood area of the amusement park.

Overall, it was my favorite trip to Pittsburgh yet.  We had a lot of time to relax and let Kenny enjoy being around his cousins, uncles, aunt, and Nana, friends, dogs, etc.   And we also were able to show him some pretty cool places to go too.

Pittsburgh has a ton to do for families of toddlers!
We're lucky to always have an excuse to go back.

Kenny's cousin-dog, Taco

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Staying in a Pod Hotel: Washington, D.C.

On the same trip that I visited Fredericksburg, I also did something pretty interesting... I stayed at a pod hotel!  The Pod DC Hotel, specifically.  Located in Chinatown, it is very close to Metro Center where our large DAR events are located, and not too far from our headquarters itself.  Since I was traveling in for just a quick trip, I decided to give it a go because the price was really good. ($124-154/night for a full-size bed.  The bunkbed room was cheaper, but I was staying alone.)

Super cool hotel digs!

This wasn't a space-age pod hotel, where you sleep in like a spaceship capsule.  The Pod DC is a micro-hotel with stripped down rooms that offer the bare essentials but have really great amenities and social spaces.  I was a little nervous, given it was a new concept to me.  I was also still pumping, so I needed a fridge.  I contacted the hotel in advance, and they had a little medical fridge sent to my room that served my needs.  (During the day, I had them store milk for me in their walk-in freezer.)

Pano of the room, which had a tiny but nice bathroom!

Overall, the room was clean, efficient, and had everything I needed.  The Wifi was good, and I was surprised by the size of the TV!  The bed was comfy, the bathroom was clean and modern (tiny!) but good for the trip.  There was also a small safe, and they had so much thoughtful storage, shelves, and hooks.

But the best parts about the Pod aren't the rooms, because you're just there to sleep.  The common areas (diner, whiskey bar, gym access, etc.) are super chic, and a ton of people were hanging there who weren't even staying at the hotel.  In addition, it's on the edge of Chinatown near Metro Center, so lots of restaurants, shops, and more.  Just a block to Walgreens, Starbucks, you name it!

I also found the staff to be SO HELPFUL.  They were so helpful knowing I was pumping and traveling, and they solved all issues very quickly.



If I were staying in DC on my own again and needed to be near the National Mall and things, and the prices were lower than Airbnb and traditional hotels, I'd definitely stay at a Pod again.  It's not kid-friendly because of the space constraints and lack of bathtub, but for a budget-conscious adult or couple, it would do the trick!

After all, you spend your day away from your room anyways, in places like the beautiful DAR Headquarters!  Had to include a few insider photos...

The eagle lectern has been used by multiple Presidents


Would you stay at a hotel like the Pod DC?

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Fredericksburg: Washington Family Sites

Last last year, I was in D.C. for a DAR meeting, and I'd hoped to attend the annual Christmas open house.  But then President George H.W. Bush passed away, so the event was cancelled as the government was shut down.  I was disappointed but understanding... and then three wonderful DAR friends whisked me off to Fredericksburg, Virginia, to visit some historic sites!

Ferry Farm

Our first stop was George Washington's boyhood home, known as Ferry Farm.  There is a replica of his home on the site, overlooking the river, and you could just imagine what life must have been like for his widowed mother managing the family estate and 276 acres on her own until her children were grown.  The site is supported by the state and local DAR chapters.



Fittingly, we paid tribute to Mary, Mother of Washington, by visiting the Mary Washington Monument.  The Mary Washington Monument is the only monument in the United States erected to a woman by women. The DAR's first resolution in 1890 was a pledge to complete a memorial monument to Mary Washington, and it was one of two organizations to support it.  DAR members contributed nearly three-fourths of the $11,000 raised for the project.  It felt very fitting as a DAR member to visit this site!



Mary Washington's monument is near to Kenmore, a historic plantation owned by her daughter Betty Washington Lewis and husband Fielding Lewis.  I had no idea the financial and personal sacrifices this well-to-do couple made towards the American Revolution!  You can't take photos inside the house, but it was worth touring!  It's known for the decorative plaster work on its ceilings.  It wasn't known as Kenmore until the 1800s, named by its new owners, but the name stuck over time.  The site is, you guessed it, also supported by local DAR chapters!  It was pretty cool to go around and get a DAR discount because of the contributions made over the years by our members.

Kenmore

Model showing Kenmore in relation to the town

On our way out of town, we did two quick stops to see the exteriors of the Mary Washington House and the Lewis Store.  The gardener for the house was actually outside as we approached, and she allowed us a peek into the back garden and told us a bit about the history.  Mary Washington spent her last seventeen years in the house, which sits walking distance from Kenmore.  If I ever come back I'll have to revisit!


The Fielding Lewis Store was built by the father of Fielding Lewis, and it was just down the street from Kenmore and Mary Washington's house.  It was a general store.



I was truly blessed to have three wonderful DAR members take me on this awesome tour of Fredericksburg sites related to the family of George Washington!  I'll never forget it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

National Museum of African American History & Culture











During personal time on a work trip to Washington, D.C., I had the privilege of visiting the National Museum of African American Heritage & Culture. I’ve taken some time to consider what to write about my experience, because I did not want to appropriate or claim a single piece of it as my own. It is not mine, and it’s an undeniable part of our history and culture as Americans. And I wanted to tell my friends, you. must. go.

It is one of the most moving museums I’ve seen in the world in my lifetime. I spent hours there yet couldn’t see everything or read every word. I cried. I smiled. And I honestly left feeling exhausted.

I started with history, and I was taken underground in one of the biggest elevators I have ever seen. I made my way up three floors covering centuries of history, learning how the economies of so many countries and the outcomes of so many wars were built and won on the backs and lives of so many black and enslaved Americans. I paid my respects at the Emmett Till Memorial, wondering if as the mother of a son I could ever be so brave as Mamie, especially as violence and racism have not ended even today. As you walk up through the history floors, you begin to see more light from above. The highest floors covering culture feel brightest, filled with optimism and pride.

I listened, and I tried to understand. I appreciated it the best I could.

If I had to pick a word that describes this museum, I would choose resilience. And if you’re ever in D.C., you absolutely need to see it.

(originally written for and posted to my personal Facebook profile)

Monday, May 20, 2019

Chattanooga for Families

Chattanooga is one of my favorite places in Tennessee, quite possibly the South in general.  It feels like this cool combo of Asheville and Cincinnati, a city that is outdoorsy and unique and friendly.  There's good food and drink, friendly people, and vibrant neighborhoods to explore.  It was one of our fav places to go before we had Kenny, so we decided to head back for a weekend with him as a family getaway.

Walnut St. Bridge


The downside to our visit is that it was a rainy weekend, but we still enjoyed ourselves.  We chose a hotel downtown, knowing that we would be walking distance to so many places.  The downtown area has plenty of sidewalks!  We took a walk across the Walnut St. Bridge, the world's longest pedestrian bridge, until the rain made us take a break.

But the #1 reason we wanted to bring Kenny to Chattanooga was the world-class AZA-certified Tennessee Aquarium.  It's one of our favorite aquariums, and we visited during Chatt trips in 2014 and 2017.  Kenny loves the fish tank at daycare, and so we figured it would be a good time to take him.  He LOVED it.

The sea turtle was going by and doubled back to check out Kenny!




The aquarium is perfect for families.  We took our stroller, but Kenny could stand and look at some of the exhibits on his own.  You can take the elevator to the top and then work your way down, with automatic doors and ramps.  Since it is divided into two buildings (River and Ocean Journeys), we decided to do one building before lunch/naptime and another after.  Your tickets allow you to come back in if you leave!  This is where staying at a hotel nearby came in handy.  The box office opens 30 minutes before the aquarium does, so I went ahead and bought our tickets (there is a discount for Veterans) before heading back to the hotel to help get Kenny ready.  It was nice to be able to visit restaurants nearby and hit the hotel for naptime to make the most of a full day at the aquarium.  We had so much fun!




I think it's obvious that places like the aquarium are family-friendly, but Chattanooga also has a lot of dining options.  One thing I miss about life pre-kid is those foodie dinner dates we used to have.  Public House was one of the restaurants on my list from years ago that I wanted to visit, but I wasn't sure it was feasible with a toddler.  Then I learned they have a three-course kids menu, so they had to be welcoming to families, right?  I made a reservation on the earlier side (I find people are more friendly if you are eating with kids at 5 or 6, because non-kid people tend to eat later) and we braved it.  It was a great experience for all of us, as Dan and I could enjoy cocktails and delicious food in a setting we normally wouldn't take Kenny.  They even validate parking, y'all.

We also ate at Beast + Barrel, Mellow Mushroom, and Milk & Honey, all of which were accommodating of Kenny.  Milk & Honey didn't have a kids menu, and it was very small, but they had the first-ever high top highchairs I've ever soon!

Public House Chattanooga

Years ago, Dan and I decided that we would try to visit only AZA-certified zoos and aquariums.  Would you believe that Chattanooga has TWO such places to visit?  The Chattanooga Zoo is very small, so small that it might be overlooked as a place to go if you're not local.   But if you've got a toddler, it's absolutely perfect!  It wasn't crowded, parking was ample and close by, and the prices are low.  (In fact, for Veterans admission is FREE!)  Kenny loved running around the zoo, and they had some great exhibits.




Petting Zoo



Because it wasn't insanely crowded, we really felt we could let Kenny explore and walk on his own, which was perfect to wear him out before our car ride home.  The zoo is also expanding to add giraffes and lions in the future, so we wouldn't hesitate to take him back!


Chattanooga just has so much to offer.  If we'd had more time, we would have loved to stop by the Creative Discovery Museum or the Hunter Museum of American Art.  

We love Chattanooga, and it's a great place for families!


Monday, May 6, 2019

Boston, Massachusetts

I took a work trip to Boston for three nights, and it was probably the longest stretch of time I've spent in what is truly a very cool city.

Flying over the city, walking near my hotel

My conference was at the Westin in Copley Square, a beautiful hotel that has restaurants and shops and a skywalk to the nearby mall.  I loved the mixture of historic and modern architecture in the area.

Copley Square area

On my first afternoon/evening, I walked to The Salty Pig for lunch.  I had their Salty Pig pizza with salted pork, pale ale caramel, and arugula, but subbed tomato sauce for the mustard... so good!  Then I walked to Flour Bakery + Cafe at the behest of my cousin's reco and grabbed a sticky bun.  In the evening, I connected with some college classmates in Southie for a nice night in.  (I was fortunate to have friends and family to connect with each evening I was there!)


The second night, I took the T to Fenway to meet my cousin for dinner at Wahlburgers!  I had the BBQ Bacon burger with white cheddar, bacon, housemade BBQ sauce & avocado spread (I skipped the jalapeƱos), and it was delicious.  The tater tots were also awesome.  It was a really good burger spot, and the decorations were very Boston and Wahlburg (movie posters everywhere) at the same time.

Wahlburgers

I also got to see my friend Lindsey on my trip to Boston!  I've been wanting a Louis Vuitton Neverfull for years now (yes, I'm basic, deal with it) and since Linds has her own collection, I figured it would be fun to shop together.  I chose a "damier ebene" canvas with the "rose ballerine" interior color.  Our salesgirl Athena truly made it a magical experience for this first-timer.  Is it normal or practical to spend so much on a handbag?  Probably not.  But if that's what you want in order to reward yourself for a milestone, I say there's no time like the present!



We finished the night with Italian food at Sorellina, where I had a delicious meatless bolognese (the Impossible Foods stuff!) and dessert so good that we didn't take pictures of it.  We had a slumber party at the hotel that night before I had to leave early in the morning.



I love Boston, and I need to spend more time there.  I want to explore more historic landmarks, the architecture, the food...  so much!  I could spend a week there and still leave things undone.

Do you have any Boston recommendations in case I go back?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Nashville Food Tour

Sometimes it's fun to play tourist in your own local area.  That's exactly what I did for a work event with coworkers!  We took a private food tour with Dabble Studio in Germantown and explored a multiple neighborhoods and types of Nashville classic fare.


We started off with hot chicken at the Listening Room Cafe, which moved to SoBro (South of Broadway neighborhood) a couple of years ago.  It's a great music venue, and the food was food too!  I've heard it's the kind of place serious music listeners visit, i.e. don't talk while the music is playing.



Our next stop was East Nashville, to get a bushwacker at 3 Crow Bar.  The bushwacker is the unofficial cocktail of Nashville, but I'd never had one before this tour.  I know, I know... I've lived here for seven years, what gives?  I'd heard that is was like an adult Frosty, and I'm not a chocolate person. But it's a delicious boozy milkshake that everyone should try at least once, and the liquor sneaks up on your fast.



Also in East Nashville, we had a sampler of hot dogs (and soda!) at I Dream of Weenie, probably one of the most Instagrammed spots on that side of town.  I loved the Cheerwine, which is such a Southern thing.




And it wouldn't be Nashville if we didn't stop at a mural for a photo opp!  Seriously, the number of murals in Nashville is insane.  I once did a post about visiting a bunch with my friend B, but now there are so many more... I love Kristin Luna's post about them with so many I haven't visited.

It wouldn't be a Nashville tourist

I had to leave the tour before the final two stops, because I had to get home to pick up Kenny at daycare.  But after I left, they hit up one of the best BBQ joints in town (Martin's Bar-B-Que in Belmont) and got dessert at Colts Chocolates in the Gulch.  Talk about a great way to spend an afternoon!

I'd definitely recommend you check out a food tour if you're coming to Nashville; this one hits so many different neighborhoods (they give you history and trivia along the way) and is a great way to enjoy a taste of Music City.
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