Charleston - Boneyard Beach

One of the highlights of our trip was a boat trip out to Capers Island and Boneyard Beach.  The beach got its name from the large pieces of driftwood lying on the shore that look like the bones of some long forgotten prehistoric animal. 

The trip out to the island winds through tidal creeks where we saw dolphins, egrets, and osprey while we learned about the unique eco-system that exists in these waters. 

Our guide was fantastic and was a huge part of what made the trip so great.  A former school teacher, he took a real interest in the kids and explained everything clearly without dumbing it down.  He even stopped along the way and hauled in some crab traps, showing us both the difference between male and female and between the species that co-exist here on the ocean floor.

Once you arrive on the island, you are free to wander around on your own.  We walked along the shore playing in the waves and scaling the larger pieces of driftwood.

When it was time to return to the mainland, we did so reluctantly with a few treasures in hand.  Jack was thrilled to get the chance to pilot the boat part of the way home while Ava took the time to relax and grab a little nap.

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Day Trip to Dutchess County

Dutchess County is one of my favorite getaways in the Hudson Valley.  There is something here for everyone:  historical homes, great farm stands, apple and pumpkin picking in the fall, and nice restaurants and shopping.  On our last visit we started at the Vanderbilt Mansion Historic Site in Hyde Park.  Built as a country home during the Gilded Age, this site is much smaller than other Vanderbilt homes open to the public, which makes it very manageable for touring with kids.  The house can only be toured with a guide but it is a relatively quick tour, lasting only about 45 minutes.  

The mansion's location on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River is it's best asset.  You can come out and just explore the grounds without paying an admission fee and there is a paved trail which leads to FDR;s home next door.

If you visit, be sure to spend some time in the museum's bookstore.  There are some great books for adults and children and a really nice collection of items that would be perfect as a gift or a memento to take home.  

For lunch, Rhinebeck is always a good option.  There is a variety of places to eat but our favorite is Bread Alone.  On the weekends they offer both breakfast and lunch options but everything is delicious.  We've tried lots of things on their menu and have never been disappointed.  

Also in Rhinebeck are some shops that aren't to be missed.  Every time I go in Hammertown Barn, I want to completely redecorate our entire house, all with things purchased here.  Right next door is Oblong Books & Music, where we usually spend a good deal of time browsing.  They have a fantastic selection of children's books and I usually pick up something for myself as well.  Finally, no small town is complete without a general store and Rhinebeck's does not disappoint.  The AL Stickle Variety store has a vast array of items for sale including children's games and toys, crafting supplies, yarn and knitting supplies, and kitchenwares just to name a few.  

This is a great day if you are in the NYC area and don't mind driving a bit.  The area is gorgeous in all seasons and most sites are open year round.  I am planning a trip back in the fall to pick some apples and pumpkins and to take in an air show at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome.

West Point

In early January, we went to West Point to watch a basketball game and visit the West Point Museum.  This is a great wintery day activity and it is a quick drive from Northern NJ/NYC.  The tickets are only $10 each, are almost always available (even at the last minute) and the kids love the atmosphere of a college game.  There is one game left in the season this weekend but if basketball isn't your thing, there are still a few hockey games on the schedule and in the spring, baseball starts up. 

We were lucky to get tickets to the Army-Navy game, which was almost completely sold out.  It was great as all the cadets were there to cheer on their team as well as quite a few midshipmen and it made the game that much more exciting.  One tip if you go, allow plenty of time to get through the security checkpoint at the entrance of the Academy as we did not and missed the first half!

After the game, we went over to the Museum located next to the Visitor's Center.  Admission is free and it takes about 2-3 hours to go through it.  This was our second visit but there is so much to see we found things we had missed on our previous trip.  There are fantastically detailed dioramas detailing famous battles throughout history (Jack's favorite part), a kid's scavenger hunt you can pick up in the gift shop, and uniforms from every era of the American military from the Revolution to the present. 

On the way home we stopped for an early dinner at The Burger Loft in New City.  The restaurant grinds its own beef daily so not surprisingly the burgers were delicious as were the fish tacos, fries and shakes.  In fact, everything was so good we all agreed we would willingly drive the 1 hour round-trip from our house just to eat here again.

Decorating a Gingerbread House

I've never been able to get it together enough to bake and construct a gingerbread house at home so I love any opportunity to turn up and decorate a pre-constructed house.  There are a few places nearby that offer this option and Chef Central is one that comes to mind.  When we were in Brooklyn, we discovered the Gingerbread Decorating workshop at the Church Street School in Tribeca (it is a fundraiser for the school) and went for several years until we moved out to NJ.  We decided to give it a try again this year and everyone was so glad we did.  You start out with a large house and a pot of icing for each child:

The candy shown on the plate is just the tip of the candyberg.  Elves come out constantly offering up more candy:  M&M's, Skittles, gummy rings, gummy penguins, marshmallows (big and small) and the list goes on and on.  Be prepared as more than a few pieces wind up in mouths rather than on the house!

If the kids are a little older like ours, you can sit back, hum along to the live piano player playing holiday tunes and enjoy a coffee.  Smaller kids will obviously need more hands-on help but even then the whole event is very low-key and a refreshing break from the holiday chaos.  

Once the house is completed and all the requisite pictures have been taken, they wrap it up nicely for you to transport home.  We spent about 1 1/2 hours here and then headed off for lunch and our yearly picture with Santa at ABC.

Pictures from our first time:

Percy Jackson at the Met

Jack recently read all of the Percy Jackson series and was enthralled with Greek mythology.  For those who are unaware, Percy Jackson is a tween living in Manhattan who learns that he is half-god, as his father is Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, and various adventures ensue.  Since the series begins at the Met, I thought it would be a good chance to sneak in some art under the guise of walking in Percy's steps.  Upon further investigation, I found that the Met was one step ahead of me and had an art adventure designed around Percy Jackson.  (For those who are not into Percy Jackson, there are many more art adventures available including Arms and Armor, Shall We Dance, and Young in America.)  All adventures can be downloaded before you leave home or you can get a copy at the information desk in the main foyer once you arrive.  As part of the adventure there are 8 cards which highlight with quotes from the book why the piece has been selected to be part of the tour.  There are also questions that make you look at each piece a little closer and a little longer to find things that you might have missed at first glance.  The tour takes about 1-2 hours but once we were there we lingered to look at more of the amazing Greek and Roman Art collection on display (as I had hoped we would).

We have found these types of museum trips to be perfect for our family as we can enjoy a little of the museum while still keeping the kids entertained and not overwhelming them.  Two to three hours (for a non-kid-centric museum) seem to be about the maximum we can do at this point so this works really well.  The Met's website is very helpful when planning a visit with kids offering the aforementioned art adventures, suggested itineraries and lots of guided family activities and tours.

The cafes at the Met are generally very good and offer a wide variety of choices but we wanted to head out and grab a bite nearby.  We always have a great meal at Le Pain Quotidien.  They have great lunch and light dinner options and the best Belgian waffle I have ever tasted.  Luke's Lobster is only a short walk from the museum although there isn't a lot of family-friendly seating available.  If the weather is nice you could always picnic in the park and there is a fantastic playground located conveniently right across the street from the museum, the Ancient Playground.  

  Photo by Central Park NYC

Photo by Central Park NYC