Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Vacation | Spring Break in Washington DC (+ a little film...)

We just returned from a wonderful 5 day trip to DC for spring break.  It was my first visit to our nation's capital and at first I was a bit worried that I hadn't scheduled a full week stay, but it turns out that 5 days was just right for us.  We did everything we wanted to (plus a few extras) and didn't return completely exhausted.   Thanks to many helpful tips and recommendations from all of you through Instagram (THANK YOU!), I was able to navigate our trip and loosely plan our daily itinerary beforehand which made a big difference, especially during the busy spring break season in Washington. Since it might be helpful for others planning future trips, I will give a run down of how we spent our time and and any advice I picked up along the way.... 

Let's start with transportation... We flew instead of driving. I just really, really hate long car rides.  Since we found reasonable airline rates, it was an easy decision.  This allowed us to arrive late on Friday morning, giving us an almost full day to explore.  We did a LOT of walking and took short cab rides when necessary.  We also rented a car for one day to go to Old Town Alexandria and Mount Vernon.  Many suggested using the Metro, but we never did, though I hear it is easy to navigate.

On our first day we went to the International Spy Museum downtown.  A HUGE hit with my boys!  A mix of real spy gadgets, covert operations, and history with a good dose of Hollywood thrown in.  There were interactive exhibits, like crawling through an air duct to eavesdrop on Nixon and comparing your hang time to James Bond on a bar while wind and shakes threatened to make you lose your grip.  Right up any child's alley.  Ok, so I crawled in the duct and hung on the bar too... :) There is a special spy training mission for adults and children over 12.  Since Charlie couldn't participate, we skipped this, but it looked like it would have been an awesome experience.  Something to save for next time..  Afterwards we walked to the White House and a lot of the monuments...Washington Monument, WWII Memorial, Lincoln, Vietnam War Memorial and Korean War Memorial.  My boys didn't have any trouble with all the walking, allowing us to get a lot in.  One evening Jimmy took Andrew back to walk the entire National Mall and see it all lit up (too late for Charlie - we stayed back at the hotel and had a dance party before bed..) and they made the trek to the Jefferson Memorial - which was their favorite.

Day 2 we toured the Capitol Building (A must! We got tickets in advance through our Congressman.  They are free.)  It was slightly disappointing that the iconic rotunda was covered in scaffolding for cleaning and repairs, but still a very majestic and impressive building.  The history (and architecture and art)  pretty much take your breathe away.  It is a guided tour but not too long for little people.  Afterwards we went over to the Library of Congress (connected to the Capitol Building).  It is a MUST SEE.  Unbelievable.  Probably the prettiest building we saw in DC.  We didn't have time to explore each room, but I did enjoy the botanical room (probably has a proper term that I'm not using).  I tried to be mindful of when the boys had reached their limit of looking at historical relics and artifacts and more than once we moved along a little quicker than we would have if we were visiting alone.

After touring the Capitol Building and the Library of Congress we went to the Hotel Washington's  rooftop restaurant for a long, late lunch, (it's a pretty hip place for drinks in the evening), with amazing views of the White House and Washington Monument.  Long lunches at nice restaurants were definitely the way to break up our days.  It was nice to have a glass of wine, warm up (we had some very chilly days) and enjoy some good food after lots of walking.  It helped us recharge for the rest of the day too.  Also, we didn't run into any wait times either, which we likely would have if we went to the same places for dinner.  Dinners were quick and easy and sometimes just eaten back at the hotel.  (We stayed in the Foggy Bottom area, nice, but I think I would have preferred staying downtown.)

After lunch we headed to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. This is the one activity that I felt was boring for Charlie.  He is too young to understand the historical significance, plus we had to wait in line for about 45 minutes outside before we got in.  If the wait is long and you have young children, I would say skip this one or try come back on a weekday or non peak time. 

^^ The cherry blossoms are late this year because of such a long and cold winter.  We only saw a few just on the cusp of all their glory.  In about two weeks they should be at their peak! ^^

Day 3 we rented a car and left early to drive to Mt. Vernon (my favorite part of the trip).  The drive is beautiful, about 20 minutes, along the water.  We got there just after they opened and spent about 3-4
hours touring the grounds, mansion and museums (excellent and very well done museums!!).  Afterwards, we went into Old Town Alexandria for lunch and a little shopping.  We ended up sitting on a step outside a coffee and wine bar and enjoying the glorious weather for well over an hour.  Charlie was in heaven playing with his Revolutionary War soldiers that he picked up at Mt. Vernon.  It was battle after battle for the rest of the trip.  Ten dollars very well spent!

It was perfect to break up the trip with a day away from all the DC museums, tour buses, and crowds.  I strategically planned this outing for the day when it was forecast to be the nicest weather.  You are outside for the bulk of the time so it would be tough on a rainy or too cold day.  The grounds are just gorgeous!

Day 4 we went to Ford's Theater (another favorite of our boys), you need to go in advance to buy tickets, which include a play in Ford's Theater and tour of the home where Lincoln died, plus access to a very extensive museum that our boys went through too quickly...  We also went to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving that morning to get tour tickets.  They go fast.  Get there right when it opens if you want your pick of tour times.  We got there at 9:30 (they open at 8:30) and only the 6:00 PM tickets were still available, which worked fine for our day but we had to juggle some things around.  Next to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving is the Holocaust Museum, which we skipped based on reviews for young children.  Andrew would have been old enough to see it, but not Charlie.  We had lunch at the Hamilton (another great spot!) and toured the Museum of American History (free, a Smithsonian  museum) for about an hour - it wasn't my favorite and it was super crowded.  Instead we spent a lot of time at the almost deserted White House Visitor's Center - another free museum full of White House artifacts and stories.  It was a nice surprise!  Things like, the day to day schedules for former presidents and first ladies, pictures and details of birthday celebrations and Christmas parties, china, furniture, art work from different presidents, favorite foods, weddings at the White House, etc.  Sort of a glimpse at the ordinary, everyday ins and outs of the White House and the people that have lived there.  The sorts of little nuggets I just love.  Again, we let the boys run around and get some energy out before we headed back the the Bureau of Printing and Engraving for our evening tour.  Another favorite activity for the boys.  Definitely recommend a visit!! Seeing a pallet stacked with 65 million dollars is just crazy!

On our last day we splurged on a fancy breakfast at Founding Farmers (every other morning we grabbed the complimentary one at the hotel). Founding Farmers came highly recommended from Jimmy, who's eaten there when traveling for business and from many of you.  It was walking distance from our hotel, so I was kind of wishing we eaten there another morning as well. The beignets are a must, as is the leek and potato hash and pork sausage, oh and their pancakes!  I have their cookbook and I'm totally inspired to use it a bit more after eating there.  Dinner sounds really good too!!  We spent the afternoon at the National Zoo (also free) and seeing the Pandas was another highlight of the trip, though I just hate that they keep them separated.  Apparently pandas prefer to be isolated in the wild too.  I worried that they were a bit lonely and bored.  The zoo is close to the National Cathedral, so we hopped over there afterwards.  It wasn't on our list but it was such a spectacular sight, we couldn't pass the chance to visit.  The admission price is a bit steep and children have to pay too.  Just a warning.  We learned that there is a Darth Vader carved into the roof.  Andrew. my Star Wars loving child, thought that was just the coolest. :) Just a block away from the cathedral is 2 Amy's, another highly recommended spot to eat.  Serving traditional Neapolitan style pizza - certified by the Italian government as authentic no less! We stopped there for lunch and yes, amazing.  Between breakfast and lunch that day I felt like I consumed enough food for an entire week.  Totally worth every bite.

^^ Charlie couldn't leave without a stuffed Panda!^^

Annnnnd if all those pics and recap weren't enough, here is a little film.  (filmed using an iphone, edited in iMovie)  Thanks for letting me share.  Such a great trip and such great ages to take our children. 


Monday, March 23, 2015

Easter Basket Inspiration

I took advantage of the boys being in school this morning to put their Easter baskets together.  I have said in prior years that I like to keep the baskets pretty simple, we just don't have the space for more plastic toys and knick-knacks, so I try to treat them to something small and fun that they've had their eye on, a few sweets, and usually a book.  I bought this one for Charlie this year and I can't wait to read it with him - it looks sooo sweet.  Since their baskets aren't filled to the brim, I do like to package everything up in a pretty way to make it even more special.  Truthfully, I probably get more joy out of the packaging + presentation than they do, but that's ok.  Here are my basket packaging essentials this year...

Easter basket from Williams Sonoma//dot paper from Target// bunny tags//kraft bags//bunny stamp on muslin bag from Michaels last year//ribbon on spool - vintage//ribbon on packages 

^^ To make the bags I typed a regular document in Pages (you can do the same in Word) and then found an bunny image online and dragged it into my file.  I googled "vintage bunny drawing" for my search.  I thought he was rather handsome for boy Easter baskets and he went well with the other bunny tags.  I printed on the bag exactly the same as I would a sheet of paper.  I was worried it would jam up the printer because this was my first attempt printing on a bag, but it went through without any trouble.  The paper source bags are very thin and designed to run through the printer, I'm not sure all treat bags would work as well.  I put a big chocolate bunny inside the kraft bag and chocolate eggs inside the muslin bag.^^

^^ here is the basket all packaged up. (the natural colored grass is also from Williams Sonoma)  I wrapped it up in clear cellophane, tied it with lots of the green vintage ribbon and another bunny tag! ;)^^

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Fashion | The Classic Trench (When Burberry Isn't an Option)

Well.... I said to myself a while back that I wasn't going to do any more fashion posts.  They are by far my least favorite to write, the most awkward to photograph (oh, hello neighbors!  Just me standing in my driveway while my husband takes photos of me.  I mean, really.) and just all around not the best.  But.... I felt this find was worth sharing, so here goes... (fashion bloggers, how do you do it?!)

I tend to only add a few new clothing items each season to my closet.  I really try to find pieces that will have some longevity, at least those that are more than $50.  Every spring and fall, for the last several years, I've been on the hunt for the perfect classic trench coat.  Not too short, not too long, fitted but still roomy enough to layer over a sweater, just the right color and so on and so forth.  Yes, I'd love a Burberry and no, it's not in my budget.  I've tried a number of more reasonably priced designers and sadly I typically end up swimming in the coat and humming the theme song from Inspector Gadget. Until this spring, thanks to J.Crew.  (This is not a sponsored post.)

I ordered the J.Crew Factory Trench and the J.Crew Icon (the name alone made me hopeful) Trench and then compared.  There is about a $150 difference in price between the two coats.  After receiving them, I still couldn't make up my mind.  Having Jimmy take pictures sealed the deal and I knew right away which one would stay in my closet.  (Cue the awkward photo session...)

^^I know you are scrolling up about right now because you don't see a difference, right?  Well, there are a few minor differences.  The collar on the Factory Trench is a bit rounded and has tiny pleats in back so it needs to stay down, the Icon Trench has a pop-able, straighter collar, which I prefer.  The Factory Trench color is a bit warmer versus the Icon Trench.  The buttons are a different color and the Factory Trench has the slightest flare versus the very straight lines here.  They are identical in length, hitting high thigh for me, the ideal length because it looks equally good with a dress as it does with jeans or pants.^^

They are both really pretty coats.  If I'd only ordered one I would have been super happy with the cut and fit for the price, but after comparing the two, I actually found the Factory Trench to be more flattering on me.  Mostly, I prefer the color.  So there you have it.  Why I waited this long to try J. Crew for a trench coat, I don't know.  Add the perfect classic trench to my wardrobe, check. :)

(For reference, I'm 5'7", wearing a size 0 in both jackets.  The cut in the shoulders is very narrow and small across the chest.  I probably could/should have gone up a size, but feared it wouldn't be as fitted.  I'm wearing it with a thin sweater and still found it very comfortable, any thicker though, and it would have been snug in the shoulders. If in doubt, size up one from your usual J.Crew sizing.)