Dinosaur Land.

You know that Salvador Dalí painting with the melting clocks?

Dinosaur Land in The Middle of Nowhere, Virginia is exactly like that. But with dinosaurs. Non-melting dinosaurs.

This place is amazing. I am a HUGE FAN. But it is clearly not, like, a research institution. Drive eighty miles east to the Smithsonian for that kind of dinosaur experience. Dinosaur Land’s target audience is obviously children. Or maybe Collectors of Odd Experiences. The dinosaurs are made of fiberglass that looks like paper maché. There are even little dinosaur families with dinosaur babies. But then there are BATTLE SCENES and dinosaurs eating other dinosaurs. WHAT. WHY.

Babystar said that one of the dinosaurs was sleeping. I went along with her version of events.

This place is an hour and a half away from D.C. in decent SAHM traffic. It is definitely worth a visit if you live within two hours of Dinosaur Land, because you won’t find many other places like this in your life. Admission is $5 for ages 2-10 and $6 for ages 11 and up. (I paid $22 for two adults and two toddlers. Then my friend bought the girls dinosaurs on the way out.)

Side note: my most favorite non-child-related SAHM perk is the LACK OF RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC. Highly recommend. Four stars.

Dinosaur Land is NOT worth a visit if you are simply visiting Washington D.C. for the monuments and museums. Dinosaur Land is a novel roadside attraction. Imagine that you live in the country and the old dude on the corner has a bunch of dinosaur statues in his backyard. Dinosaur Land is exactly like that. And approximately that size.

Oh, plus there is a giant King Kong and you can climb in his hand for a picture. And there is a giant shark that you can play in. BUT DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING ELSE.

If you do make the trek, take a friend. The drive is long and it helps if you can sing along to some 90s music on the way.

Also, take a picnic lunch even though you may NOT eat in Dinosaur Land. (Dinosaur Land is really big on rules.) Head west on Route 277 and there is a really cool park about five minutes away. Sherando Park has about a million picnic tables including a few shorty tables that are perfect for toddlers. There is a small playground that is toddler appropriate (but doesn’t have the baby swings). And just a short walk across the gravel road, there is a really cool FREAKING GIANT play structure that will give parents of toddlers a mini heart attack. But it DOES have baby swings. It also has a smaller toddler size play structure but why would any self-respecting two-year-old want to play on that when they can climb to the top of the world and almost fall but not fall and — oh, sorry. Everything’s ok.

Sherando Playground

Adults: make the climb and slide down the highest slide at Sherando Park. It is NO JOKE. Do it. You’re welcome.

We stopped at an adorable farmer’s stand on the way home and I bought a giant cookie for Babystar and a tomato that she poked her thumb into because toddlers love experiments. And a soda. ($4.25.)

RAISING BABYSTAR: $22,749.39

 

 

Riding in Cars with Toddlers.

I recently took a road trip with my toddler. Just me and the two-year-old.


I was cocky. I was so prepared. I was writing a blog post in my head as I pulled out of the parking lot. It was all about how TOTALLY EASY traveling with toddlers could be as long as you were prepared.

Turns out all you really need is a whole bunch of extra clothes and a lot of patience.

I pulled over three times before I left Virginia. I live in Arlington, which is the very TOP of Virginia. The first two times were because she ‘dropped’ something important, like a particular Care Bear or Little Pony. The third time was because she Exorcist-style puked all over herself and I had to clean her and her car seat on the side of the road. Then, fourteen miles later (but finally in a different state), she hurled again.

And I thought I had overpacked.

I stopped at the first place I could find. We changed her clothes and washed up in the Waffle House bathroom. I doubt Babystar was the first person to clean puke in that Waffle House bathroom and I doubt she will be the last. She is likely the cutest.

We walked around outside for some fresh air before we went inside and found a booth. ($10 for both of us, with tip.) My toddler ordered a piece of toast. Babystar is 85 years old, y’all.

When we finally got back in the car, she fell asleep almost immediately. We had been gone over two hours and we were about thirty-five miles from home.

So. Extra clothes and extra time. That’s mostly all you need when traveling with toddlers. I feel like I totally should have known that.

Instead, I prepared by packing an entire backpack full of fun activities (to puke on).


I brought along our beloved Melissa and Doug Water Wow ‘Art Show’ book plus two more that I bought for the trip. ($9.98) I also brought two Melissa and Doug Color Blast books, which are the ‘magic’ marker books. They only color on the paper in the book. They totally rock, but she didn’t play with them until we got to Pennsylvania. (Then they were awesome for sharing with her cousins so yay?)

I packed a super swag backpack. Inside were a few of her favorite books, a new pack of crayons from my back-to-school haul, two blank Dr. Suess tiny notepads from the Target dollar aisle, a cool generic Magnadoodle that I found for five bucks at Target, an awesome new ‘Nature’ sticker book ($6.99), and some stuffed friends for when she dropped the ones that started the voyage in her car seat. Babystar’s car seat is directly behind my seat, so I planned to just hand her fun new toys as she got bored.

I also filled and packed all three of her water bottles. I gave her one but planned to pass her the others if she emptied or dropped it.

I did not plan on the puke.

No one ever plans on the puke.

All of my preparation was totally useful for the forty-eight minutes of the trip that she was awake and feeling happy and well.

These minutes were not consecutive.

But. We made it. On the way home, I took her to a playground after our hotel breakfast (free!). We visited a train museum (free!). We waited until midday to get on the road, and it kind of worked.


She didn’t get sick right away. She played in the car seat with her bears and books and toys for a couple of hours. My magic backpack was a total hit! She then slept for a long time. And then she got sick when she woke up. We cleaned her up and spent ninety minutes at a Chick-fil-A ($10.55) that was about forty-five minutes from home. I wasn’t that mad. Babystar was a trooper.

All she ever wanted after puking was a clean shirt.

Travel tip: Pack a super cool fun backpack if you want. But mostly, pack extra clothes. And extra time.

MAYDAY MAYDAY: Does anyone have kids that are prone to carsickness? What helps?
RAISING BABYSTAR: $21,233.93

 

I Can’t Drive 95.

Actually, I can. I DID drive SO FAR down Interstate 95 and then back all in about a week, with a few days of visiting family squished in between.

For those of you following along in your hymnals (Instagram), you know that I drove to Florida last week.

Here are a few facts that you might not know about me.

  1. I hate Florida. (I know. I’m like the only one. I love the beach. I like sunshine. I even like armadillos. But I freaking hate Florida and I don’t know why. I like people in Florida. I like places in Florida. I love oranges. But I get all itchy in that state and it’s only partially to do with all the bugs.)
  2. I hate road trips. (I fantasize about driving across country in a VW camper van or up the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible. But, to me, interstate highway driving is hell. I’m pretty sure if I am ever assigned to my own specific hell, it will be an eternal I-95. For those of you lucky enough to be unfamiliar with I-95, imagine a highway stretched to forever with sporadic surprise traffic and the only thing to look at are trees and billboards for either strip clubs or churches or fireworks or the less-racist-than-when-I-was-a-kid but still sketchy South of the Border, which is a themed motel on the border between North and South Carolina with a giant sombrero for a symbol and a cartoon named Pedro as a mascot. You feel me?)
  3. I love thunderstorms. (Florida did not disappoint. One entire day of my three day visit was spent stuck inside my parent’s house watching the rain pour out of the sky as it only can in Florida. Babystar was also fascinated so this is perhaps an inherited trait. But we were still stuck inside the house. So.)

The reason I drove to Florida instead of flying was wonderful (to me). My sweet firstborn son decided to move in and go to a local college so he will be here for at least a year. We needed to pick up some of his things. Yay for having my son around! Yay for my child making fiscally smart decisions! Yay for cleaning out a room for him! (Ok — two out of three, I guess.)

Babystar was along for the ride and she was an EXCELLENT PATIENT OMG WONDERFUL passenger. She had an older sister or brother riding next to her at all times, which helped immensely. I dropped off the Teenager in Florida with her dad for a longer visit, so Big Brother had to ride in the back next to the baby the entire way home. He deserves some type of award, but all I got him was some crap McDonald’s french fries.

SPEAKING OF McDONALD’S: I am obsessed with their french fries. I find it odd and kind of gross and suspicious that they are not vegetarian, but I love them anyway. I craved them when pregnant with Babystar, although I normally stay out of McDonald’s. HOWEVER, their kid’s meals are on point. For $2.99*, you get a burger or nuggets (which I eat for even more savings becuase Babystar is not that interested in meat), a very small (in a good way) sleeve of fries, AND your choice of (PEELED!) apple slices or yogurt. And a toy! Right now they are handing out cute mini stuffed animals and Babystar happily played with them for almost an hour combined. (THAT IS LIKE TWO YEARS IN TODDLER TIME.) All of the other fast food joints make you choose fries or a healthy choice but McDonald’s knows what is up and gives both. Because what kid will be happy without fries? (I know, probably lots of perfect babies have never had french fries but Babystar is not at all perfect. Homegirl looooves french fries.)

We had a lot of fun in Florida. I drove over an hour with two toddlers (my nephew is three and my sister is in fancy Aveda Insitute school) to Bay & Bee, which I ADORE. When I visited Florida last March, my sister and I took three toddlers there and everyone’s first visit was free! Amazing. They recently sent us both an email offer for a free drop-in class. Woot! So I used that to go play again for free. I have given these people zero dollars. (Well, that’s not true. I made my firstborn drive there last year for the Tula Coast Shine because they happened to stock on a day he was already flying to visit and I love that thing!) But I have given them zero dollars for the kids to play in their awesome Montessori/Waldorf inspired play room for a combined six hours and I really think they should charge me next time. But it’s totally cool if they don’t. I tried to get the toddlers excited about the Spanish Language Story Time class offered that afternoon, but they just wanted to play. Fair enough.


Bay & Bee is sort of like our beloved Nook in Arlington, but on steroids. The play space is much bigger, yet it still manages to feel calm even with twenty Tinys running around everywhere. There are so many great toys to discover, and there is even a giant freaking Cedarworks play stucture in the middle of the playspace, yet it does not feel crowded AT ALL. I understand that real estate in Florida costs less than in Arlington, Virginia, but I am still totally jelly of the mamas that get to chill there on the reg. (And membership is less expensive than my beloved Nook, and I get it, but ugh don’t talk about it.) They also have a retail shop with all of my favorite crunchy toy and feeding and teething brands AND baby carriers that you can try on and then so many more in stock for sale. OMG, y’all. If you visit Jacksonville, Florida with a toddler or a crawler or a baby in your belly, go there.

Also do yourself a favor and check out Moon Babies in Fleming Island. QUICK WARNING: if you click on that link, their webiste will come up and start playing kid’s music. So maybe don’t do it if you are reading this next to a sleeping baby. Or if you hate kid’s music. However, the children’s resale shop is totally worth a visit. I bought eight pairs of skorts and shorts one pair of pajamas for Babystar for $31.57 with tax. She is totally set for summer and they are way cute. I found two pairs of shorts with pockets so maybe she will stop putting toys and crayons ‘in her pockets’ but really down her pants. (Toddler logic, y’all.) Plus recycling!


We also visited Clarke House Park in Orange Park. I had to google the name of that playground, because we always just called it the ‘Castle Park.’ The playground looks like a castle. It was built back in the 1990’s, so it was practically brand new when my two (now officially technically omg!!) adult children were babies. We had many fun afternoons and birthday parties at the Castle Park, though it’s showing it’s age a little. The Teenager and I took the toddlers there last week on the Teenager’s eighteenth birthday. It was coincidental but still quite poignant but I managed not to cry about it so good job me.


I would have driven down to pick up College Boy’s things whether Babystar existed in this world or not, so the gas and road snacks are not on her tab. BUT. We had to break up the trip in both directions because sweet Babystar has the patience and attention span of a toddler (shocking, I know), so we took two days to drive each direction. I would not have done that if not for her. So I have to add $121.30 and $145.95 to her tally. I packed a small cooler with fruit and chicken and let her just share from our three plates when we stopped for dinner the first night mainly because I didn’t want to keep track of her food costs on the way down. Talk about a lazy blogger.

I did eventually buy her some food and diapers during the trip. YOU GUYS MY BABY IS NOW IN SIZE 5 DIAPERS. She leaked through her diapers on the way down and I thought it was becuase I was a terrible mommy and I wasn’t changing her enough. Nope. She is ready for SIZE 5. That is the LAST SIZE in some brands of diapers. (I have noticed a Size 6 in others.) And she’s talking about pottys. Crap (literally). I hate potty training.

  • watermelon $4.25
  • mandarin oranges $4.99
  • Seventh Generation diapers $7.99
  • Publix brand diapers $7.99
  • McDonald’s kids meal $2.99
  • Chick-fil-A grilled cheese with fruit kids meal + small fries $3.48
  • Texas Roudhouse kids meal $1.99 on Kid’s Night
  • Chick-fil-A kids meal $3.25
  • blueberries $2.79
  • bananas $0.89
  • generic multigrain O’s $1.79
  • Aldi Penguin ‘goldfish’ crackers $1.49
  • Aldi Little Journey diapers $4.99
  • Aldi Little Journey wipes $3.49 for a 3-pack
  • McDonald’s kids meal $2.99
  • McDonald’s kids meal $3.68 (*The one at exit 97 in NC only offers one side so I had to pay extra to get fries AND apples. Bruh.)

MAYDAY MAYDAY: Does anyone have any potty training tips? It’s been so long and all I remember is that I did not enjoy it at all and there was a lot of bribery and power struggles involved. I really want to avoid all of that this go round. What worked for you?

RAISING BABYSTAR: $17,767.29

 

 

 

VCU and Melissa and Doug and Lucy.

Last Saturday was ‘Admitted Students Day’ at VCU in Richmond, and the Teenager is one of those admitted students. We woke up before the sun to drive down and check out the school. The Teenager has big decisions coming soon, but shhhhh, she doesn’t like to talk about it.

(Side note: Since I have been paying attention, I have noticed that literally every adult asks every college senior they meet if they know where they plan to go to college. Poor kids.)

So, we went to VCU. VCU is cool. Babystar hung out in the Tula for most of the walking tour bits. We all got free lunch at Chick-fil-A (thanks, VCU!) but had to pay $2.88 extra for Babystar. Pretty good deal.

(OMG, Babystar accidentally drank some of my husband’s lemonade instead of her water and then got obsessed. She cannot say ‘lemonade’ but she tries and it sounds like ‘ell-mell-mleh’ and her tongue literally turns upside down in her mouth and it is my new favorite thing. #favoritethings)

After college-ing it up, we did a 180 and went to the Children’s Museum of Richmond to let the toddler run out her wiggles. That place rocks, btw! There are a bunch of different areas all sponsored by local (or regional, I guess) businesses. There was a tiny Wegman’s play grocery store and a kid-sized play Silver Diner and a cool water table area and a tv studio and a stage and a reading room and a separate giant toddler area and and and we didn’t even have time to see everything. Legit cool. If the Teenager decides on VCU, we will definitely buy a family membership there. (No pressure, Teenager.) $30 after AAA discount plus a carousel ride.

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On the way out (we only left because they closed), I bought Babystar some cool Melissa and  Doug activity books. Except they aren’t really books. I bought some paint with water activities and reusable sticker scenes. They were $4.49 each, totaling $24.13 with tax. So far we have played with the puffy barn scene stickers and she is OBSESSED. We also did one of the Paint with Water pages and it was a huge hit. (I did one too — it’s super fun!)

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We were completely exhausted, but still hungry, and we can never leave Richmond without stopping at our favorite restaurant, Lucy’s. This is not the kind of place that has a kid’s menu, and it’s not really for kids. I mean, there’s no strippers or anything, but also their single high chair is from, like, 1973. (But luckily, they let us come eat anyway.) Thank you, Jason Lucy, for making a super yummy grilled cheese sandwich for Babystar. She totally ate one bite and lots of french fries. ($5.) And she loves the homemade ice cream on homemade cookie sandwiches. And omg so do I. ($3.)

The sun was setting as we finished dinner and headed home. So pretty.

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RAISING BABYSTAR: $15,615.20

 

To Grandma’s House We Went.

I used to love Thanksgiving, back in the last millennium when I was but a wee little one. Thanksgiving meant a break from school, lots of cousins, and extra desserts. It was the beginning of the holiday season. My dad had a big family all close together, so I remember folding tables for MILES that stretched through doorways into adjoining rooms. We kids were running and tumbling everywhere, or more often banished upstairs or outside (depending on the weather), where we got into all kinds of mischief. Ouija boards and naked Barbie dolls feature prominently in my childhood memories.

But now. Everyone has moved away or passed away or simply doesn’t hang out together anymore. My husband is an only child. I live pretty far from most of my family. Air travel is so damn expensive this week. We used to have a LOVELY lonely Hard Candy Christmas type of Thanksgiving with just us and the cats, with the two older children at their dad’s house and the Babystar not yet existing. WHY does having a baby come with certain holiday expectations? My in-laws moved to Myrtle Beach about five minutes before I got pregnant with Babystar (or I doubt they would have made the move). And so we tortured the teenager and the toddler on Interstate 95 last week.

I despise I-95. Fuck that road. The actual visit was lovely, though.

We did break up the trip on the way down because the baby cannot stand more than five hours in the car. Total, all day. After that begins the screamy times. Also, it cannot be dark. Also, someone must hold her hand at all times. Also, people must be singing. People she actually KNOWS, not people from the radio. Dance music isn’t fun unless we can actually dance. DUH, MOM.

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So anyway, that $136.53 at the Hampton Inn is on Babystar’s tab. We could have driven straight through without her along.

Once we arrived, Myrtle Beach was a whirlwind of food and shopping. I wasn’t mad at all. My MIL is a very good cook, even though she always pretends not to be very hungry while she passing me the gravy. Or the butter. Or the cupcakes and ice cream with peanut butter cups on top. Of both.

And that woman is FIRE at the mall. Do you remember that episode of Gilmore Girls where Lorelei and Rory run into Emily at the mall and everyone there knows her? And they know all about Lorelei and Rory too, just by association? It was like that, if Emily Gilmore was much nicer. The teenager and I just watched in awe. I am not even kidding. The dude at the Cinnabon kiosk had her coffee ready when she walked by. One lady at a department store recognized her immediately and told her all about the sales on the ceramic pumpkins that she has had her eye on for two months. A lady in the shoe department knew that the Teenager was a gymnast without being told, and had been thinking about the perfect boots for her since before the Teenager even knew that she was getting boots. A different lady at a different department store gave me hella free samples including actual travel sizes with my Kiehl’s purchase because I was with Emily Gilmore my MIL. I straight up asked her (out of MIL’s hearing) if she was being so nice because I was with MIL, and she looked me straight in the eyes, smiled, and gave a single nod. I buy Kiehl’s at home all the time and they maybe give me two samples of lotion. If I ask nicely.

We did pop out to the outlets once on our own and while the Teenager and I were standing in line, my sweet husband distracted the baby by going to look at the ‘dogs’ at the weird outlet mall kiosk. $13 later, we owned one of those yippy beasts.

We also took a walk one day and found ourselves at a playground and then at Barnes & Noble where we spent way too much time (and money) in the children’s section. We brought home three board books and one story book for $45.32. Yes, they probably would have been less on Amazon, but it feels good to support a brick & mortar book store. I never would have said that about a chain bookstore even ten years ago, but now even the chains are dying. RIP Borders.

Another day, we went down to the boardwalk for a bit. The sand was cold but the ocean was beautiful. We watched the sun set and then Babystar got excited about all the lights. She had fun running around the arcades pushing blinking buttons and getting some wiggles out. And I bought her a $5 piece of crap light up thingy that she IMMEDIATELY bashed against the boardwalk until it broke. It still lit up for another two hours or so. It is in the trash now.

The WORST part of the trip was that it would have been considered rude to binge watch the new Gilmore Girls and the Teenager is so busy during the school week and we will have to wait over a week to see what is up with Rory and Lorelei. We have cleared Sunday evening’s schedule and now I just have to avoid spoilers. I’m scared, y’all. I might google in a moment of weakness. Like a 4am insomnia moment of weakness. Please keep me in your prayers.

The ride home was straight through, though broken up by fast food play places and one actual restaurant. We had snacks from South Carolina and the food on our plates and the ever present mama milk so the only cost to feed her was the $3 cookie I bought her at the fancy grown-up restaurant to eat while we ate our actual dinner. Judge me, I don’t care. I was hungry and desperate. I do not recommend this at all but it TOTALLY works in an actual meltdown-avoidance-emergency.

RAISING BABYSTAR: $13,485.59