10 Tips for Your First Cub Scout Camping Trip

Animal Jam: An Introduction

Shaking Things Up at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum

Maybe it’s because I’m solidly in my forties. Maybe it’s because I feel too acutely the never-ending draw of devices that shine and allow me to zone out in utterly unproductive ways. Maybe it’s because I’ve read too much Wordsworth this year. Probably, it’s a little bit of everything.

I keep experiencing moments during which I notice a wistful pang of wonder that I’ve been missing…or maybe not that I’m missing the wonder so much as the opportunities to feel it. We all, the whole family, get busy with being busy and we don’t take the time to appreciate the pleasant little simplicities of life. Sure, we’re learning a lot and we’re experiencing a lot and we’re seeing a lot. But where is the pure delight?

Wooden figures at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.
Wooden figure shakers.

Yesterday the moment came in the most unexpected way, as is usually the case with these sparks. Visiting some family friends who were vacationing for the week in Gatlinburg, TN, we ended up with some time to kill between the “big” activities of shopping the Arts and Crafts Community Loop and taking in the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. I had stumbled across a spot that seemed mildly interesting, so we took a chance and stopped in to see the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.

The only museum of its kind (aside from its sister museum in Spain), this spot is absolutely fascinating, if you’re attuned to the possibilities for being fascinated. Here we have the most basic of kitchen and dining tools: the humble salt and pepper shakers. They’re everywhere, right? Even the most rudimentary kitchen will have them. We see them so often that we don’t even see them.

Row after row of shakers at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
Row after row of shakers.

Not at this museum. You can’t help but see them, all 20,000 pairs. Shelf after shelf, line after line, row after row of shakers. The experience is a veritable assault (ahem) on the eyes! Peppered throughout are sets of every shape and size, every color, from throughout history and from across the globe. From cutesy, to kitschy, to macabre; from dainty, to massive, to downright bizarre. The collection reaches meta-collection levels. You’ll see three or four shelves of cattle-themed shakers, then turn around and spot several sets fashioned after playing cards.

Shakers of all colors and sizes at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.
Shakers of all colors and sizes.

I was struck all at once by several ideas, the most lucid being the notion that this collection is as close as you’ll get to a truly common denominator. I know that not everyone uses salt and pepper, but the use of spice in some shape or another is pretty much part of the human condition. We crave flavor; we seek it out; we develop entire cultures in pursuit of it.

And what, after all, is that moment of delight that I’ve been missing? Just a little spice, a dash of mental salt to enrich the flavor of my life, a pinch of existential pepper to remind me to savor my wonderfully rich life.

So, dear reader, we come at last to this admonition. If ever you get the chance, get off the beaten path in Gatlinburg and visit the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum. Take a break from the grind of life and shake things up a bit.

A panorama of shakers at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.
A panorama of shakers.

Another Visit to Ripley’s Aquarium

We went back to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies recently. We’ve been before and have enjoyed it every time, but I’ve come to expect a law of diminishing returns effect for places that we’ve seen more than once. Not so. The whole place has seemed fresh each time that we’ve toured the tanks.

Plenty to see on the lower floor.
Plenty to see on the lower floor.
The kids enjoyed the fish manicure.
The kids enjoyed the fish manicure.

The regularly rotating special exhibits helps a lot with the re-visit factor. This time around you can learn all about swarms: animal behavior in groups. The focus of the feature extends well beyond the fish world, with an installation of leaf-cutter ants, one of mice, and one of halloween crabs. The real draw, though, is the fish manicure. While a knowledgeable staff member educated us on the behavior of the fish, a school of the little critters nibbled gently on our hands, cleaning the dead skin material from our calloused digits. A spa experience at the aquarium! The kids loved it, too.

We just happened to see the same staff member at the horseshoe crab exhibit. I had always considered myself pretty well versed in horseshoe crab lore, but he told us quite a bit that I had never heard, like their number of eyes (did you know that the tail acts as a photoreceptor and so qualifies as an eye?) and the fact that they must move their legs to eat. He had the entire area engaged with a perfect combination of knowledge and ability to talk to everyone without patronizing the kiddos.

Learning a little about horseshoe crabs.
Learning a little about horseshoe crabs.

The best part, as always, was the moving sidewalk under the big tank. It inches you forward at just the right pace to see all the denizens of the deep. If you want to take a longer look, you simply step off and linger until you’re ready to move again. The whole experience is quite relaxing at the same time that you’re moving through a heavy-traffic attraction in Gatlinburg. I left feeling almost refreshed.

Contemplating the fish as we glide through the tunnel.
Contemplating the fish as we glide through the tunnel.

We’ll definitely be back, especially as a part of our science studies in the coming year. What a great combination of playing and learning.

Audrey and Finnian might take up residence in the tanks.
Audrey and Finnian might take up residence in the tanks.

 

 

Creative Inspiration at The Muse

The Muse
http://www.themuseknoxville.com/
516 N Beaman St, Knoxville, TN 37914
(865) 594-1494
http://www.themuseknoxville.com/membership

Our family has been visiting The Muse (formerly Discovery Center) in Knoxville, Tennessee, for many years and it has never been more fun that it was this week. A bright and vibrant place crawling with campers made all the exhibits look even that much more fun. Musical notes and laughter filled the air.

Spin spin spin spin spin
Spin spin spin spin spin
Exploring sound at the whisper disc.
Exploring sound at the whisper disc.

This time we visited with neighborhood friends and that always makes a visit to a local venue more fun. About 20 percent of the inside space is dedicated to toddlers, but since we visited in the afternoon (naptime), our big kids enjoyed exploring the wavy funhouse mirrors and puppet theater areas.

When you visit The Muse, you’ll immediately understand the connection to their namesake.

In Greek mythology, there were Muses who ruled over the arts and sciences and offered inspiration.

Inspired by the Muse of Fashion
Inspired by the Muse of Fashion.

“There were nine Muses according to Hesiod, protecting a different art and being symbolised with a different item; Calliope (epic poetry – writing tablet), Clio (history – scroll), Euterpe (lyric poetry – aulos, a Greek flute), Thalia (comedy and pastoral poetry – comic mask), Melpomene (tragedy – tragic mask), Terpsichore (dance – lyre), Erato (love poetry – cithara, a Greek type of lyre), Polyhymnia (sacred poetry – veil), and Urania (astronomy – globe and compass). On the other hand, Varro mentions that only three Muses exist: Melete (practice), Mneme (memory) and Aoide (song).” www.GreekMythology.com

Our kids are old enough (ranging in ages 8 to 12) to explore on their own and since this hands-on museum is basically a big open room, the moms were able to sit and visit while still being able to monitor where everyone was in the play space. There’s a giant rocket ship

Enthralled by the floating scarf fan
Enthralled by the floating scarf fan.

complete with control panel, a book nook area, a floating scarf fan, a puppet theater, glow in the dark toys, wavy fun-house mirrors, LEGO car race tracks, microscopes, musical instruments, giant foam building blocks and a scrap materials art table.

Since there are several planetarium movies, this venue is worth a repeat visit. The younger your child is, the more you can take advantage of repeat visits to the play spaces while older children will benefit from the interesting staff-led programs and events.

Activities and exhibits prompted our kids ask engaging questions like how, why and what if. The question that rose in my mind was, why didn’t we have a place like this when I was a kid?

Lifting is easier with pulley power.
Lifting is easier with pulley power.

Gilbert Family Fun

Welcome to our idea of fun, which always means prioritizing family time and usually means learning something new. Our content is  family-friendly and never intended to offend.

Mischief and strife come to play when there’s not enough creativity and exercise in our day! So, we try to take advantage of every single day and celebrate every special holiday with our own family traditions and we hope this website will provide content that lives up to conservative family values.

Meet the Gilberts

Scott, driven by ideals and integrity, believes in always reading the directions first, unless he already knows how to do something because he has seen it done on TV once. Because he takes the academic approach, his efforts have a high success rate.

Molly balances a hopelessly romantic vision for what family life could be with the down to earth practical approach that eliminates projects that require too much clean up effort. However, sometimes creativity is a little messy and you just have to decide which is more important that day.

Audrey, 10, is never happier than when she has an art box full of paintbrushes, colored paper, paints, markers, crayons, colored pencils and permission to create. Quick to figure out computer programs, games and apps, she also has a nice appreciation of science and technology.

Finnian, 8, is tenderhearted, caring and full of energy, just like a little boy should be.  Full of imagination and big dreams, he loves anything you can put together or take apart: Legos, Hero Factory, Tinker Toys, tools, and robots.

How to Get a Cow Horse in Minecraft

A Prequel to Making a Fairy Horse, explained by Finnian

To make a cow horse you must be using the Mo Creatures mod.

  1. Get a white horse.
  2. Get a dark brown horse.
  3. Breed the white horse and dark brown horse to make a mega patches horse.
  4. Breed the new mega patches horse with the white horse to make a big patches horse.
  5. Get a black horse.
  6. Breed the big patches horse with the black horse to make a small patches horse.
  7. Breed the small patches horse with the black horse to make a leopard spots horse.
  8. Breed the leopard spots horse with the black horse to make a cow horse!

6 Tips for How to Plan a Successful Family Trip to Biltmore Estate

1) Eat a Good Breakfast

iphone Biltmore Spring MG 441In our case, this meant starting the fun early by stopping for donuts on the way out of town. We pretend that this gets us down the road faster, but really it just satisfies our sweet tooth. Knowing my tendency to get grumpy when the sugary high wears off, I ordered the sausage, egg and cheese croissant which at least gave me some longer lasting protein energy. To keep the kids from getting too sour, we fed them a snack in the Biltmore Estate parking lot after our 2-hour drive from Knoxville, TN, to Asheville, NC.

2) Joint and Individual Car Activities

Audrey taking a break during the car ride. Photo by Molly Gilbert
Audrey taking a break during the car ride.
Photo by Molly Gilbert

Gone are the days of just looking out the window. We travel by interstate so much that the kids have already seen what there is to see and if something is particularly amazing – like the heavy clouds over the mountains, then it’s our job as the front seat riders with the best view to tell them when to look up. I am a heavy packer, even on a daytrip. I like to have choices, so I make sure the kids have lots of choices too. If one thing runs out of battery or infringes on someone else’s space, then at least we have back up entertainment. Finally now that the kids are 8 and 10, everyone packed their own activity bags, but there were some “suggested” items (mandatory), such as colored pencils or crayons, a small pocket size notebook, digital cameras, electronic devices and headphones. Scott downloaded a book on tape, Jeeves and Wooster, for the whole family to listen to during the car ride. The kids played on their iPad and Kindle, but they also listened to the story which got us in the mindset for the scenery we were about to tour.

3) Water Bottles and Picnic Meals

Reusable water bottles have been a life saver more than once. We fill them at our house and they are great for sipping in the car and drinking at our picnic lunches or dinners. They have also come in handy for the I’m-dying-of-thirst “request” when walking through the Walled Garden on a sunny day, and to wash down an afternoon ice cream treat. It’s easy to go to the restaurants at Biltmore Estate – so many good choices, but that can start to add up. We try to pack a picnic and lots of snacky foods. On travel days like this, my goal is to get people to eat something…anything. I am not paying close attention to the food pyramid, instead trying to focus on fun and not fighting over nutrition. However, I am not totally irresponsible. If we

have had donuts for breakfast and are planning ice cream in the afternoon, then people have to eat enough at lunch to justify the sweet treat later. It’s amazing how a few snacks and a good lunch can turn a grouchy kiddo (or mom or dad) into pleasant company. Most of the time, our picnic doesn’t eliminate meals expenses, but it does help us keep them under control. A little planning ahead makes getting out the door earlier easier. So, rather than wing it the morning of, try to swing by the grocery store or at least make a list of what to pack. More than once our picnics have been ruined because we forgot to pack a knife. Once on the Estate, we will do part of our tour (either the house or the garden) and head back to the car for lunch. If we choose to take in the house and the garden and eat lunch on-site, then we will save our picnic for the car ride home. We have this romantic idealistic notion that we will take a blanket to the hillside overlooking the house and sit and enjoy a relaxing picnic, but so far we have just eaten in the parking lot. It’s shaded and you don’t have to haul stuff very far. There are convenient trash cans and nobody complains about putting everything away. One day, we will skip the house and gardens and just go find a grassy spot. That will probably be the day we get the gumption to take the bicycles and ride the trails.

4) Do the Extras

There’s an audio tour for kids hosted by Cedric, the family dog. Everyone gets their own headset and the grown ups do the grown up tour (not hosted by the dog) and the kids do the kids tour. The tours are in pace with each other and everyone has something interesting to share. Particularly the first visit, this is a great splurge

Finnian enjoying some ice cream. Photo by Molly Gilbert
Finnian enjoying some ice cream.
Photo by Molly Gilbert

item and helps engage the kids in the history of the home. Biltmore Estate is the kind of place we want our children to be enthralled with, but let’s be honest, they have been raised on iPods, IPads and multiple non-stop channels dedicated to cartoons. The idea of the height of “fun” being learning to cross stitch, play an instrument or go for a walk to the pond is hard to push when everywhere they look they are not allowed to touch anything…not even the chess set, the ping pong table or the bowling alley. Like it even needs to be said…stop for ice cream or a sweet treat from the deli – delicious! Somehow it always magically resets everyone’s mood.

5) Give the Kids Their Own Cameras

Molly's photo of Finial taking a photo of Audrey snapping a selfie in front of a statue. Meta-photography, folks.
Molly’s photo of Finnian taking a photo of Audrey snapping a selfie in front of a statue. Meta-photography, folks.

Either hold onto your hand-me-downs when you upgrade or buy cheap or used pocket-sized digital cameras. Give them something that you are not going to have a heart attack about if it does get lost, then your comments will be about how much fun they are having and not about the location of the camera. While you can’t take pictures in the Biltmore house itself, taking pictures gives the kids an activity the whole day and they capture images from a different height than a grown up. Some of our best on-location pictures come from the kids. We use their images as screensavers on their computers and print out our favorites for their bulletin boards. Plus, there are plenty of free apps that can alter the images by making them look like a watercolor painting or sketched in ink or add silly quote bubbles to them. They can also make a slideshow movie out of the images and a follow up to your trip or create a memory book using a service like Shutterfly or Snapfish. The outdoor sculptures, gardens and petting zoo at Antler Hill Village Farm make terrific photo opps even the kids can’t ignore.

6) Quit When You Are Tired

Either stop and rest or pack up the car and head home, but don’t soldier through a tour at Biltmore Estate. It’s so expansive, you will never be able to see it all in one visit. So, when the kids are in tow, it is better to go at their pace and plan a return trip than to end the day with meltdown memories.

3 Biltmore Must Sees ( A Tween View)

  1. The Conservatory because of all the beautiful flowers a really great place to have a camera.
  2. Antler Hill village because there is ice cream. I tried the chocolate in a waffle cone and loved it. There is a grassy lawn to play in, and we played with another little boy who was visiting Biltmore.
  3. The gift shops at the main house in the old stables because there is ice cream, a candy store, and a toy store.
Mmmm...chocolate
Mmmm…chocolate

9 Tween Car Ride Survival Must Haves

Advice from a 10 year-old girl

1. iPad, fully charged ( I play Minecraft, Stella Bubble Pop, CrossyRoad, Subway Surfers, Race Penguin and many more.)

2. Giant fluffy pillow ( I use a big white tiger one from Justice.)

3. Blanket to keep warm

4. Coloring supplies ( pencils, crayons, colored pencils, markers, and pens)

5. Blank paper pad or notebook

6. Fully charged iPod and headphones

7. Book ( I am reading the Flower Power series and highly recommend it.)

8. Camera

9. A bag to put it all in ( I prefer a cute little monster bag or backpack  purse.)