play innocent: explore more children’s museum.

explore more theater1 explore more ipad explore more painting bw

happy birthday, explore more!

happy birthday, explore more!

Copyright © 2012-14 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

play by play: explore more children’s museum.

explore more signAh, the Explore More Discovery Museum. That place to go when your kids’ energy waaaaay exceeds your own. That place where, Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9:30 to 5pm, your kids can laugh, learn, and make noise. Where you can meet up with your other parent friends and their kids for an epic play date or a super-cool birthday party. Where kids can enjoy classes and exhibits and demonstrations not offered anywhere else. Where friendly volunteers will clean up so your own house can stay a little neater for a few hours. And where run-down parents can grab a cup of coffee (yes, coffee!) and find a place to sit while their kids have at it.

Brandy and I took the four kids there a few weeks back. We’ve been going there for a long time — since the old Children’s Museum. Remember that one? It was next to the TV3 station. I loved the openness of it and the raised theater area in the back. In some ways, and maybe only because I remember how little and cute my kids were during that time, I miss that old place. But then the museum moved to its current location, next to the Massanutten Regional Library, and I must say I’ve grown to love its new incarnation even more.

The lobby is spacious and holds a beautiful round reception desk. To the right are displays that represent the many generous donors who’ve contributed to the exhibits. To the left is a large gift shop with lots of unusual and special toys. And straight ahead is that lovely tree that lights up at night.

explore more sponsor wallThe Museum is divided into eleven sections, each with a different theme and type of play, sure to entertain every child and adult who walks in. If you’re having a particularly peppy day, here are some fun things you can experience with your child:

You can play customer and mechanic in the Super Service Center. This simulated mechanic’s garage features a cute blue car, on which you can change the tires and oil, replace the muffler, and check tire pressure. There’s also a service desk with a phone and an appointment schedule. Or how about playing shopper and cashier in the Farmer’s Market? This dream of a market features lots of fruit and veggies that are always in season, never spoil, and don’t bruise when you drop them on the floor. You can even weigh your purchases, then take them to CK’s Kitchen and prepare a yummy meal. I must say, I love that kitchen and feel compelled to straighten it up every time I’m in there. I love the little velcro cookies and the play cookware, all against the backdrop of a gorgeous, very real kitchen with beautiful wooden cabinets and a nice table.

explore more mechanic explore more kitchenYou can milk a cow with your kid at Down on the Farm. She even moos! There’s a real tractor and a big red barn with a slide! And this cute chicken display with eggs. If you’ve got little ones who are still a little shaky on their little legs, you can visit Over the Meadow, a special fenced-in area for visitors 3 and under with toys and activities just their size.

You and your youngster can put on a puppet show in the Great Outdoors section, especially since you’ve got at least four arms available. Just behind it are picnic tables and snack machines when you all need a pick-me-up. One of my favorite areas is the Science Lab. Here you can look at all sorts of things under real microscopes, examine lots of animal specimens, and solve scientific puzzles. Across the way is the Friendly City TV Studio. You and your child can co-anchor the news and see yourselves on the TV. You can even do the weather in front of a green screen!

And then there’s Art Smart — a room full of art supplies, tables and chairs, easels, and even a sink and a drying rack for your creations. Why not paint portraits of each other in there?  You can take with you whatever you create. I have to confess, Art Smart is always my first destination when we go to the Museum. Not because I’m some kind of great artist or anything, but because… I like to pick the dried glue off the Elmer’s bottles <cringe>. I get some strange looks because my kids are usually somewhere else in the Museum, and there I am, kidless, this strange woman extracting massive glue boogers from the bottles. Brandy’s an art teacher, you know, and sometimes on really stressful days, I walk down to her classroom and just start picking like crazy. Okay. I’m sure that’s probably more than you wanted to know…

explore more paintingYou could let your kid operate on you in the Friendly City Health Center. This exhibit is pretty impressive with its real-life ambulance — the lights flash and everything — and real medical equipment, like crutches and knee braces. And, there’s that giant life-size version of Operation, where instead of tiny tweezers, you use these giant tongs to remove life-size bones from the patient. And you can even race each other on two stationary bikes attached to a map that lights up to show how far you’ve pedaled.

explore more ambulance explore more operationYou can entomb your child in foam blocks in the Construction Zone and then let him kick them down. Blake and Cal spent most of their visit in this area, building and knocking down and building again. They also have those really cool Keva blocks and a marble maze toy.

explore more buildingAnd finally, if you’re still not completely wiped out, you can dress up, paint each other’s faces, and put on a show in the Virginia Theater. The girls, including Brandy and me because the theater seats are super-comfy, spent a lot of time here. This exhibit has a ticket booth with money, a large makeup area with several stools and mirrors, a stage with multiple backgrounds kids can easily change because they slide on a rod like a shower curtain, a backstage area with tons of costumes, and a light and sound booth that really works. There’s a spotlight and sound effects and different tints of lights… there’s enough to do that every kid has a role.

explore more face paintexplore more theater2And, if you’re not totally exhausted and brain-fried after all that, you can sit down and play a nice game of oversized chess. There are other little things here and there, too, like Rosie the Tarantula (yes!) and a mailbox, and more. And good news on the horizon! The Museum is very close to expanding to the second floor! I’m especially excited about this because the second floor will feature some areas designed for older kids. Now would be a great time to get a membership and make a donation if you can.

Without the membership, you’re still welcome at the Museum for $6 per person. But with family memberships starting at just $95 a year, why not just join? You’ll also get access to their drop-in programs throughout the week and discounts on classes and birthday parties. For about $30 more, you can get a reciprocal membership that will get you a 50% discount at more than 200 other children’s museums in the US. You could spend the summer visiting a different Museum each week for very little cost! There are other memberships, too, for different types of families and grandparents.

If you’re still on the fence, you can visit the Museum for FREE on First Fridays downtown — the next one is in one week — March 7. I’m not sure what I would do without that place. It’s been my rainy day, snowy day, sunny day, cranky day go-to for years and years… and when I worry that my kids might “outgrow it,” I remember that I’m 41 and I still haven’t outgrown anything in that place! When you see me in there this Saturday, please say hi! I’ll be that weird lady picking the glue bottles.

explore more art room 1Copyright © 2012-14 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

city kids: a guide to summer fun in the burg.

I don’t know about you, but during the school year, I am BUSY. And my kids are busy. The end of the year arrives none too soon, but still shockingly fast, and I often find I’m… unprepared. Come Monday, June 10, I’m going to have that “oh-my-gosh-what-the-heck-am-I-gonna-do-with-the-kids-now” freak out. But this year, I’m determined to be prepared when they ask, “Mom, what are we going to do today?” So I’ve compiled this list — for myself, for you, for everyone who might find themselves in this predicament — of activities, camps and classes offered by Harrisonburg businesses and organizations to keep your kiddos busy allll summer long.

kids on a slip-n-slideSpitzer Art Center Children’s Workshops
Children ages 5 – 10 can sign up for one of many classes offered at the center. Register one week ahead for topics such as collage, drawing, water color, greeting cards, and more.

Larkin Arts Youth Summer Art Program
Kids ages 6 – 14 can attend week-long, 3-hour classes for $85. Classes include papier mache, sculpture, basket making, drawing, collage, photography, food art, painting, and a bunch of others.

larkin arts signArts Council of the Valley and Court Square Theater Summer Art Camp
These 3-hour, Monday to Friday classes cost $80 and include acting, characterization, script writing, choreography, improv, singing, dancing, poetry, filmmaking, comic creation, plus many more. Ages 6 – 15.

You Made It! also offers week-long camps, Monday to Friday for three hours, for $185. Ages 6 and up. Classes include clay, canvas painting, wheel throwing, pottery painting, fused glass, and several others.

kid in treeExplore More Children’s Museum offers 4-day classes, three hours per day, for ages 3 – 5th grade. Topics include LEGO engineering, Jedi training, Culinary Kids, Project Funway, Castles, Crowns and Catapults, Animal Adventures, and Construction Junction, to name a few.

kids hands holding LEGOSBlue Ridge Community College Learning Can Be Fun 
BRCC offers a zillion classes for grades K – 12, including art, music, dance, theater, culture, history, literature, nature, science, technology, sports and outdoor recreation. The classes run Monday – Friday for 3 hours each day, through the end of July.

James Madison University
JMU also boasts a large assortment of camps for summer kids, including baseball, softball, soccer, basketball, volleyball, lacrosse, football, fencing and field hockey. They also offer band camp, diversity studies, poetry workshops, nonviolence seminars, and STEM classes.

Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation
In addition to spending some time at one of our many city parks, like Purcell, A Dream Come True, or Hillandale, your child can enjoy swimming at Westover Pool (open Monday through Saturday noon to 7pm and Sunday 1pm to 7pm) and a variety of classes. Some of their offerings include guitar, mountain biking, water adventure, adventure sports, rock climbing, rafting/kayaking, a ton of dance classes, archery, fishing, jump rope, skate boarding, and pretty much every major sport.

child in pool child at poolMassanutten Regional Library kicks off its annual Summer Reading Games, but you have to register THIS WEEK to get the free pass to the Massanutten Water Park. Other activities include Baseball Storytimes (Turks read to kids), Crafty Kids, LEGO Club, and Stitch and Knit, plus others.

RMH Wellness Center has full- or half-day camps on a weekly basis, for kids ages 4 – 11. Kids will learn about topics like dinosaurs, medieval times, the ocean, and space, plus participate in activities like swimming, rock climbing, indoor and outdoor games, playground time, crafts, fitness, and sports.

Library signYes, summer is about relaxing and decompressing after a stressful school year, but keeping your kids active will make them healthy, blah blah blah. Really, it’ll make them SLEEP WELL at night :) So sign up for something today! Consider it an investment in the sanity of your household. You’ll all be better for it.

child asleep in carCopyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

you wish! : christmas shopping in the burg.

In hindsight we’re not sure if it was a good idea to take four kids downtown last Saturday morning to show us what they want for Christmas.

Them: “You mean we’re not actually buying anything today??”
Us: “No.”
Them: “For real?”
Us: “Yes.”
Them: “Wait, you mean ‘yes, for real’ or ‘yes, we’re buying you something?'” (hopeful expressions)
Us: “We’re not buying anything today.”
Them: “For real?”
Us: “Ugh.”

But, we did take them window shopping. And now we’re going to tell you about it and show you what the kids picked out!! We met at Earth & Tea Cafe at 10ish to get some caffeine in our veins and map out a game plan. Man, that place is so niiiiiiice. The pretty tapestries on the wall… the cute lanterns everywhere… that little “lovers’ lair” in the corner–you know, the big square cushion with a curtain all the way around it? Rowl!

earth&teacup earth&teaWhile the kids argued over where to go first, we gals started yammering about our hair… See, Danielle recently cut her bangs, Brandy’s are growing out, and I have a head full of bangs. Then Danielle showed us how she can’t stop shaking her head because she likes the way her bangs swish-swish against her forehead. She’s a bobble head. On the way to a brain injury.

We finally got our list together and headed to our first destination, the Explore More Children’s Museum, which is just down from Earth & Tea. Not only can you buy someone a year’s membership to the museum for $95, but they have a really great gift shop in the front with rare toys you don’t see at larger chain stores. Here are a few:

explore more 4 explore more 3 explore more 2 explore more 1Next, a quick stop at Ten Thousand Villages. Personally, I wanted everything in there. Cal’s favorite was the giant stack of rugs. Blake’s favorite was this instrument:

ten thousand villagesOf course, everyone was excited to get to Dragonflies Toys. They’re by the parking deck, next to Downtown Books. Pretty much all the kids want all the toys in there. In fact, we should just see about moving in. Here are their Dragonflies wishes:

It's a cell phone eraser (ha ha) and a pencil that smells like cinnamon.

It’s a cell phone eraser (ha ha) and a pencil that smells like cinnamon.

for building thangs.

for building thangs.

dragonflies 3

she’s a family gal.

dragonflies 2

To Cal, from Bree!

To Cal, from Bree!

Danielle saw something she wishes for at Shenandoah Bicycle Company:

note the bangs :)

note the bangs :)

As we walked to Larkin Arts, we couldn’t help but go into James McHone Jewelry. The kids were a little antsy in there, so we couldn’t stay long, but he’s really got a spectacular selection of unique pins and brooches, pendant, bracelet charms, and much more. Danielle and I perused all his beautiful antique jewelry, pausing briefly at a shiny case of rings… and dreaming briefly about fairytale weddings… Well, maybe it was just me. Okay, this is getting awkward.

ornaments for humans.

ornaments for humans.

Onto Larkin Arts. If you haven’t been in there, you have to go. There’s so much to see. I love the way art supplies look on the shelf. Rows and rows of paints. Boxes and boxes of oil pastels. Neatly stacked fresh, white canvases. Then down the hall is a gallery space, and further down is a classroom and several artist studios. Anyway, the kids found lots of cool gift ideas there…

larkin arts 3 larkin arts 2 larkin arts 1… and I found one of my favorite things EVER: wooden boxes! Specifically, cigar boxes. And only $5 each! I don’t know why I have such an affinity for wooden boxes, but I bought four of them without any use in mind at all.

larkin arts 4Our final stop of the day (and believe me, there were many other places we could have gone, but SOMEONE was getting cranky) (okay, it was me) was the always fun, always quirky Glen’s Fair Price Store. You can get your camera repaired there, or you can get a Halloween costume, or you can buy vintage candy or any kind of hat you can imagine or even a bag of rubber worms. They have everything. You can’t come out empty handed.

glens fair price 3

If you see her walking around with this thing, don’t touch it. It shocks your hand! Sorry we terrorized the other customers with it.

glens fair price 4

I mean, nothing beats the snake scepter.

how nice of them to offer a snack and drink!

how nice of them to offer a snack and drink!

well, this is embarrASSing.

well, this is embarrASSing.

And then we were tired and hungry. So we strolled on down to Jess’ Quick Lunch to stuff ourselves with chili dogs. With just ten shopping days left until Christmas, we hope this gives you some gift ideas for the people you love. And you give to everyone when you shop local. See you out and about!

jess quick lunchho ho hatsCopyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

come rain and come shine no. 25: first friday.

‘Twas the First Friday in June and all through the city
the stores and establishments were decorated all pretty
with artwork created by talented locals.
So I grabbed my umbrella and put on my bifocals.

The clouds rolling in at us taunted and frowned,
but they didn’t keep people from walking around.
I parked in the deck and briskly headed for one
of my favorite stores, The Yellow Button.

A rumble here, a sprinkle there would never prevent
us from hosting our first I Love My Burg/Brandy Somers Photography event.
Seeing all the photos finally printed was such a delight,
and really, for me, the best part of the night.

Brandy’s photos were hung by the stockings and dresses,
each one a testament to her camera successes.
My attention meandered for a sec, I admit…
when I saw this green frock and said, “I’ve GOT to have it.”

Sweet truffles from Zest! sat on a tray
next to iced tea, pretzel chips, and guacamol-ay.
And just as we’d hoped, just a bit after five,
the first of our customers began to arrive.

First was Sarah Murphy, who swept into the shop
carrying three naked baguettes–a strange photo op
for three modest girls in poses of debauchery…
then I ripped the bread in pieces: my kids were hungry!

Distracted by what sounded like a serious scuffle,
I had to diffuse my kids’ fight over a dropped truffle.
While Sarah and Brandy were fencing with bread,
in strolled Amy from Many Nights Ahead
with her friend Bailey, who’s a photographer, too.
I was thankful the fight scenes were finally through.

People came, people ate, people drank and got stickers.
They dressed up in outfits that were truly ridickers.
And then Brandy quickly took all of their pictures.

We saw Ellie from Zest! and Brent Levy from RISE,
with his playful wife Natalie in a crazy disguise.
Valeri managed to traverse the treacherous three feet
between Ten Thousand Villages and Miranda’s retreat…
She just really, really wanted something sweet.

Oh, and Seth Crissman–the knight in soggy armor
who retrieved wife Theresa from the front of Explore More.
He gallantly showed that chivalry exists,
sheltering from the rain his wife and two guests
and still dressing up silly with very few protests.

At seven p.m., the rain had not at all abated,
so the kids sat out back and silently waited
for me to dart through the flooded downtown
and get to the car, and drive it around
which I did, so we could see Elliott Downs.

We were wet, we were cold, and we were dog tired,
but, by golly, we were also truly inspired
by the number of dripping wet fans that we saw
Still walking through town to gaze in quiet awe,

Not caring that their wet jeans felt like wool,
or that their hair looked really uncool…
Seeing them participate no matter what
reminded us what a cool town we’ve got.

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.