Monday, January 30, 2012

My Favorite Things #3

Do you need a reason to justify a smartphone?  I've got an amazing one. Please allow me to introduce my new favorite thing.  It's an app called, "WAZE".   Yowzer, this app rocks!!  Waze's tagline is "Outsmarting traffic, together" and boy, does it ever!  Driving just got better. 

Waze is a form of social media.  The more users logged in and using this app, the better off everyone on the road will be.  I turn it on when I get in the car and the gps tracks my route.  Just by having the application running while I am driving around, automatically I am alerted to many things...if police are nearby (hidden or visible), traffic is light, moderate, heavy or fast the traffic is moving, if any accidents or broken down cars on my route up ahead, as well as any construction or other obstacles.  It is simply amazing.  And get this, as I was driving on 395 about 2 weeks ago, my phone spoke to me and said a car was stopped on the right side of the road as I was approaching it.  And sure enough, there it was.  Another time, I was alerted to a red light camera at one of the intersections I travel through frequently.

If my car is moving much less than the speed limit, the app will start to track a red line behind my waze symbol and alert the other drivers nearby how slow I am moving.  Therefore, if another route is able to be taken, drivers can take advantage of this information and benefit.

One of the neater aspects of Waze is that it will let you know who else is on the road that is using this app too.  You can see the little waze symbols moving around on the app's map.  And when you see something to report, it takes all of 2 clicks to report.  Super-duper easy. 

There are many other things this app can do...navigate, ping other waze drivers, create or join local driving groups, etc.  But I simply adore it for the real-time picture it gives me on what lies on the road ahead. 

Waze.  It's free.  Help become a bigger part of something so awesome.  Download it today.

Oh yeah, an unlimited data plan would be very helpful when running this app.  Obviously.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A funny little conversation

Ian's first grade class took a field trip to the Udvar Hazy Museum a few weeks ago.  I get a bit nervous knowing Ian (at the tender age of 6), is off on his own doing a field trip.  The teacher/parent to kid ratio is not in my favor.  I could easily see a situation where the group moves on ahead and Ian is still contemplating the speed of light vs the speed of a jet plane and gets left behind.  If I could put a sticker on Ian's back with the following:  "If  lost, please call my mom at xxx-xxx-xxxx", I would.  But I have feeling the chances of Ian getting made fun of is quite high and I use all my will power from doing so.  So, I do the next best thing and drill my cell phone number into Ian's memory.  Ian long ago learned the home phone number, but in all likelihood, it's the cell phone that will have a better chance of reaching us.  Unfortunately, my cell phone has a 202 area code, so this means it is another 3 digits he has to learn.  Every time I randomly asked Ian to tell me my phone number, he'd get it all confused and start mixing in the home phone's digits.  Oy!  Just in the nick of time, Ian managed to say my cell phone number correctly 3 times in a row.  I could breathe a sigh of relief and focus on my next concern.  His Winter coat.

Again, I easily pictured another scenario where there are over 100 kids (all four 1st grade classes went on this field trip) who take off their winter jackets and put them in a big pile upon entering the museum.  How in world Ian's coat make it back to Ian?  It would be so easy for another kid to accidentally pick it up. Almost all these blue boys coats look alike. And who knows what this mysterious kid would do to the coat once he realizes it isn't his?

Very quietly, I took a sharpie and wrote Ian's name in it and our phone number on the little name-tag label they put in kid's clothes. I never told Ian I did this and figured that the coat now had a chance of coming back to its rightful owner if it got misplaced. 

At dinner, Ian was telling us about his day and all the cool things he saw at the museum.  Once I was able to start asking questions, we had the following conversation -

Me:  Ian, I am curious, what did you do with your coat at the museum?

Ian:  Plan A was for Mrs. S. to look around and find the kid that had the biggest backpack.  Evan won that game.  We were going to take the back pack and put our coats in it when we got to the museum.

Me:  Oh, that's cool.

Ian:  But we didn't do Plan A.  We did Plan B. 

Me:  What was Plan B?

Ian:  Plan B was to put our coats on our seat on the bus.  We had to sit in the same exact spot going back to school and this way we would know where our seat was.

Me:  Wasn't it cold getting off the bus and walking to the doors of the museum without your jacket on?

Ian:  Yes!!  We were shivering!!!  I wish we went with Plan C.

Me:  What was Plan C?

Ian:  Plan C should've been that you could wear your coat if you wanted, leave it on the bus if you didn't.  We took Evan's back pack anyway and never used it!  Mrs. S. just carried it around empty.  What a waste.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Get out the candles

On this day 37 years ago, life as I knew it changed forever.  I was no longer the 'baby'.  No longer an only child.  My mom and dad decided I was not enough and that another baby girl was needed to join our family.

And with that, Lori Ellen Mazer was born.  My world changed big-time.  I can't imagine not having a sibling to grow-up with.  Someone who totally gets me, understands everything we went through, and will stand by my side no matter what.  Lori is one of my biggest cheerleaders and has always managed to be there.

Thanksgiving 2002 - Bailey eyeing the snacks big-time!
One of my most favorite memories happened in 2002, when Lori was attending Grad school and living in Paris was part of the course requirements.   A few months prior to November, I had decided to host Thanksgiving dinner in my condo in Arlington.  The family was flying in from Florida, instead of me going down there.  In a strange twist of events, I had met Jeff at the end of October and just one month into our new relationship, he was going to now meet my family the day after Thanksgiving.  Around 10:00pm Wednesday night, I get a knock on my door.  It was my sister Lori standing at my doorstep!  She planned to surprise everyone and join us for Thanksgiving dinner.  Wow!  No one expected her to fly in from France.  She even took a cab from the airport rather than ruin the surprise and have me come get her.  Lori did not want to miss having the holiday with the family.  She not only got to experience me cooking a Thanksgiving dinner, but also got to meet Jeff, that visit.

Another stand-out memory was shortly after Ian's birth.  Jeff and I had to figure out who would get guardianship of the kid(s) should G-d forbid something happen to both of us. It was important to us that Ian, any future siblings, and whatever pets we had at the time remain as a unit and not be split up.  When we approached Lori with our intention of asking her if she is up to this great responsibility, without hesitation, she replied, "yes".  Lori even volunteered more info to say she would uproot her life and move to the Fairfax area so the kid(s) wouldn't have to change schools or leave their friends.  She then even added, she would make it a point that the kid(s) would continue to have a very strong connection to all their relatives on both sides of the family (Jeff and mine).  We knew instantly we made the right choice picking Lori.  Although, we hope to never find out how amazing a guardian she would be.

When I got married, I made Lori my Maid of Honor.  I didn't realize how seriously she took her job until later in the evening, when the reception was in full swing and I looked down and saw blood oozing out of my open-toe shoes. Someone with high heeled-shoes must've stepped on my toes.  Due to the excitement of the evening, I didn't even realize it until I looked down and saw the blood.  I quickly grabbed my sister and lifted up my dress to show her.  Lori went into action and pulled me into the bride's room.  She retrieved her bag and pulled out a first-aid kit.  I was blown-away impressed and told her so.  She said she took being Maid of Honor serious and did research on what she should have on stand-by if necessary.  I had no idea Lori had a small suitcase of stuff ready for any type of emergency. 

That's me on the left and Lori on the right. 
It didn't take long for Lori to get taller.
 Growing up, Lori and I fought like cats and dogs. Some of our fights are the stuff from which legends are made and will still be brought up from time to time when the family gathers.  One in particular was The Olive Garden incident where cake was thrown from one of us to the other across the table, all the while hair pulling and screaming occurred.  I am 100% positive when I tell you this, I was in the right and Lori was wrong.

Heck, we can still go at it like nobody's business.  But there is no one, and I mean no one, that can talk bad about my sister.  And while our fighting is intense, it is over and forgotten just as quickly as it began.  I know I can count on my sister - from picking me up at the airport at midnight (an hour drive away), to making sure she is fully stocked with gluten-free foods when I come to visit, to giving me an honest answer if something looks good.  It doesn't get much better than this.

I love my sister dearly and wish her a year filled with much love, laughter, and happiness.  She deserves the best.  Happy birthday Lori.  You rock!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Without missing a beat.

Yet again I am amazed by Ian and his aptitude for math.  The other day I told Ian I was signing him up for swimming lessons.  He asked when they will start.  I replied, "Saturday, February 4th".  Without hesitation or pause in conversation, Ian instantly says, "So, in 17 days." 

Within seconds, Ian was able to determine what day of the month we were in, have in his head how many days there are in January, do the math to figure out how many days are left until February and add the remaining days in February until the swim lessons start.  Wow.  It took me longer (much longer) to figure out he was right.

Seriously impressive.  Yep, that's my boy. :)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Our New Normal

The wind has shifted at Casa del Toppall.  My Toppall team and I now live in a universe where Jeff leaves for work a good 30 minutes earlier (almost guaranteed before the kids wake-up) and comes home at least an hour later, if not more, at the end of the day.  Three days last week, it was either as the kids were going to bed or after.

Jeff has been assigned to a new client (which is a good thing) and our lives has shifted to an existence we are not used fully used to yet.  His commute now brings him North of Union Station.  After reviewing all the commuting options (driving, metro, slug, VRE), Jeff determined his best bet is to take VRE in to the city and walk the few blocks to his office.  We are so fortunate to live about a mile from the VRE lot, but this means Jeff now leaves and returns when the VRE runs, which is every 30 minutes.  Again, not a problem, just something new and different to get used to.

This universe also has Jeff wearing a suit and tie to work.  This required some serious shopping to update his wardrobe and fulfill the dress requirements. 

My world of counting on Jeff to walk through the door each day by 5:30pm has ended.  For the last 6 1/2 years, I would hand the kids over to him and become "off duty" so to speak as a mom.  Jeff would bathe the kids, play with them for an hour or so after dinner, read them their bedtime stories, and sing Sam her songs. 

I am adjusting slowly, so is Jeff.  Not getting to see his kids as much as he used to is very hard on him.  We will value our time more as a family now on the weekends.  And I will be planning dinner playdates during the week more to fill up the day. 

In a world where the economy and job market is shaky at best, I thank G-d that Jeff is employed with a great company, making a decent salary, doing a job he enjoys.  We will get used to our new normal and be just fine.

Friday, January 20, 2012


I joke that I love to read, but only books that have electricity in it and use of cell phones.  This generally is the same for my tastes in movies. The more current and closer to modern day, the better.  Anything that is a period piece is not for me.  So you can imagine my surprise to find out how much I enjoyed the movie, "The Artist". 

This film had everything going against it in my opinion...silent movie, black/white and oh yeah, covering the time period of 1927 to 1932.  But you know what?  I loved it and couldn't get enough.  It was so well done and kept me entertained from beginning to end.

I was very impressed how the musical score was paired perfectly with every scene. The director really captured the feeling of what you were watching.  And despite not hearing the actors talk, their facial expressions were amazing and made you enjoy seeing what was happening on the big screen.

I love movies.  And there is nothing better than seeing a really great movie and leaving the theatre smiling from ear to ear. 

A very funny moment kicked off the movie watching experience:

I went to the movies with one of my preschool mom friends, Anna.  Right as the movie was beginning, the theatre went completely silent. The music hadn't started yet and you could hear a pin drop.  Of course, this is the moment that I let loose a very loud belch.  Oh my!  I am not one to belch, so this surprised me too.  hehehehee.  Anna and I started giggling and couldn't stop.  Hearing her laugh, made me laugh harder.  I really needed the music start playing NOW!  Fortunately once the movie got underway, I was able to pull it together and keep any further belching from occuring.  :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I've got news.  It's somewhat big.  You might want to make sure you are seated for this.

I got a job.  Yes, that's right.  A job that does not involve being a parent to small children, although I am still doing that full-time too.  A job that pays money.  Not a lot, but its a start.  Each dollar I make is more than I made before, right?

Here's the specifics:  I work part-time when Sam is in school.  It's about 10 hours per week. It's for a "mostly" retired gentleman who needs help with secretarial, clerical, errand-type stuff.  The hourly pay is ridiculously low (I actually pay a babysitter a good $6 more an hour than what I am getting), but it is filling up some of the time I have when both kids are in school.  I've made it explicitly clear that when there is no school, a Federal holiday, a Jewish holiday that closes the preschool or any kind of inclement weather that keeps the school being opened, I am not able to work.  Furthermore, if the kids are sick and not in school, I can't work.  Basically, if Ian or Sam is at home with me, than I am not working.  Since flexibility in having this kind of schedule is the most important thing, I really can't be demanding when it comes to the hourly wage.

So the guy I work for is a real piece of work.  He is 75 years old and a hot mess.  Calling him unorganized is an insult to a word that clearly is spelled the same way each time.  The first hour each time we meet is spent going over these lists he keeps.  Literally, we spend an hour discussing the "top priority", "#1", "#2,", "#3" items on everything that needs to be done.  These lists are scattered about on 5 to 10 different legal pads.  All written in his chicken-scrawl handwriting.   After working for him for 2 days this past week, I have come to the following conclusions:

1. He has a very hard time keeping anyone in this position for very long.  I can totally understand why.  My head is spinning from having even 3 hours of contact with him.

2. A lot of what he wants done is busy work -- for example, call and find out what how many miles he has on United; Call Tom and ask him how to get the # of missed calls off his phone display, Look up some of his old girlfriends, post an ad on Craigslist for an exercise buddy, etc.  I am never given enough information to make these tasks easy, like an account number for his United Miles or a user name/password for sites he wants me to get account info off of.  And when you ask him for his social security #, he will give you the last 4 digits, 3 different ways.  Boy, does that make you sound professional and legit to the company representative on the other end of the phone. 

3. There is a LOT of duplication.  Oy!  Everywhere you turn is more and more of the same papers he had someone copy for him.  For example, he is going to Vegas this coming week for some business thing and he has his electronic confirmation from United printed out 10 times in the same folder.  Each confirmation page has different various notes written on it.

4. There are never any #1 or #2 priorities.  Everything is either Top Priority or a #3. 

5.  He only wants to know what I wasn't able to get to, not what I did get to.  So basically he screws himself out any kind of update on the stuff I did do.   This bugs me to no end!  I need to let him know how the Top Priority stuff turned out.  And if I don't last in this job, he'll just ask the next person to do the same stuff over again.

6. He wears hearing aids in both ears.  However, he doesn't like keeping the hearing aids in.  When he keeps saying "What?" to me, I raise my voice to compensate for his lack of hearing.  On Wednesday, I was pretty much yelling at him and he asked me if I was hard of hearing.  Oh my!

I am not sure this is the right job for me.  Is it normal to have on the tip of my tongue, at any given moment, "I'm sorry, I don't think this is working out."?  I keep trying to view it as a challenge, but really, who needs this kind of headache day in and day out?  I am now starting to wish for Jewish holidays.  hahahaha!

The main thing that keeps me going back is Jeff.  It's hard to explain, but even though the money coming in is not enough to even cover what we spend in gas each month, the idea that I am even trying is worth so much more to him.  So I will stick it out and do my best.

After reading what I just wrote, I am now wondering if this guy might be suffering from a form of dementia.  hmmm. Stay tuned. This is going to be interesting.  :)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tissues at the ready

Hello, I'd like to introduce myself.  My name is Robyn and I've turned into a sap.  I am not sure exactly when my ability to tear up at the drop of a hat started, but I am going to blame motherhood.

Ian is not naturally athletic.  It's ok, neither are his mom and dad.  Whatever accomplishments Ian made on the soccer field came more from his abundance of enthusiasm and pure luck, than any kind of skill.  Getting Ian into gymnastics turned out to be a great outlet for someone who needs to progress at his own pace and will not be compared to others in a team setting, keeping count of goals, passes or assists.  It's a great solo sport, but you still feel like you are part of a bigger thing.  Watching Ian even try at gymnastics has me beaming brighter than a flashlight.

The gymnastics building is set-up that the parents sit on the 2nd floor and watch the action going on down below, on the first floor.  I try to get there early so that Sam and I can get seats right up front.  It's hard for me to not watch every exercise, tumble, swing from the rings, pummel horse and hand stand Ian attempts.  When I see Ian turn his body upside down and keep it perfectly straight, hanging from the rings, I want to stand up and yell, "WAY TO GO IAN!!!!  YOU DID IT!!!!"  Or, when Ian is attempting hand stands and he manages to keep his body in the air for 5 seconds, my breath is taken away and I start to tear up. I know how hard Ian tries and really gives it his all.

I am sure the other mothers around me think I am completely nuts.  They are busy reading their books, chatting with the other moms, helping siblings with homework or working on their laptops.  Sometimes I've been known to say excitedly, "He did it!!"  Or, "Wow!  Look at him, Sam!  Ian's is doing it!!!"  Even possibly, "Way to go Ian" has come out of my mouth from time to time to no one in particular.  Sam, by the way, is busy watching a movie on the iPad and could really not be bothered to watch her brother.

There was this one mother, who has 3 boys all taking gymnastics at the same time as Ian, who answered back to me one time, "Yes, I saw Ian do it too!".  I guess she felt sorry for me and wanted to know I wasn't alone. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sam's new thing

I recently bought a case of gum from Costco. 

This is the conversation that took place in the car:

Sam (seeing the gum in the car):  Can I have some gum?
Me:  You know how to chew gum?
Sam:  Sure.
Me:  When was the last time you had gum (I had never given her piece a before).
Sam:  It's been a long time.
Me:  You like gum?
Sam:  I LOVE gum.
Me:   Ok.  Here you go.  Just remember, you don't swallow it,  You only chew it.
Sam:  I KNOW!!

Now every time we are in the car, Sam asks for a piece of a gum.  I still can't get over the images of seeing her chew it.  It somehow ages her and matures Sam beyond her years.  She has gone from being my little 3 year-old girl who still needs me for some many things to a Big Girl who can now chew gum.  It is wild!

When Sam was 1.5 years old, I gave up drinking soda because Sam was developing a taste for diet coke and would always reach for my glass when we were at restaurants.  Ian never once wanted to drink soda or chew gum.   Just goes to show you how different these kids are.   At 6 1/2 years, Ian has never had any gum or soda and Sam now has about 2 packs of gum under her belt.  She is definitely one that you need to watch.  Very closely.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Heard and Observed XXXII

After the Toppall Hanukkah party:

Sam:  My cheeks hurt.

Me:  Why?  What happened to your cheeks?

Sam:  From all the kisses.


During one of our long drives in the car over Winter Break, Sam tried very hard to engage Jeff in conversation.

Sam:  Daddy, look at the houses on the side of the road.  Do you think there are many?

Jeff:   Yes.  There are lots.

Sam:  Daddy, are the Redskins winning?


Every time we walk outside after the sun has set, Sam looks up at the sky and says, "Look, it's pitch blue out!"


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mission Accomplished!

As previously reported last year, Bring on the Latkes!, I was determined to get a good group shot of everyone at the Krantz/Toppall Family Hanukkah party this year.  I succeeded!  You can clearly see everyone, all faces are in view, everybody is front & center and other than Sam, we are all smiling.  Woo-hoo!!  I am very pleased with the results.  And believe it or not, this year's picture actually added 2 extra people in it.  Ami's fiance, Aviva and Hava's baby, Aliza.

December 2011


December 2010

The bar has been set high.  I hope I can deliver picture perfect results like this every year.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

2 More Mouths to Feed

Meet the newest members of the Toppall family!  It isn't the 4 legged variety I was hoping for.  Actually, this kind of family member has no legs, but it will hopefully serve the purpose I hope for which it is intended.

Having fish is supposed to be calming and relaxing. And I am hoping that by giving Sam something to take care of, and focus some of her attention on, it will mellow her out a little.  This is definitely something Sam needs.  

Grandma and Grandpa Toppall got Sam a very cool 10 gallon aquarium (trimmed in pink no less!).  It came with everything but the fish and water.  Once we got back from our trip to Philadelphia, we set up the tank and made a trip to the pet store to purchase some fish.  These are the 2 little guys Sam picked out.  She named them "Bubbly" and "Bubbly".  Sort of like, "Darryl" and "Darryl".

It's quite cute that when Sam leaves her room, she turns to her fish and says, "Good-bye fish".  The first night she had them in her room, she must've decided they were in need of a late-night snack, because we found  fish food all over her floor.  Oy!  Note to self:  Keep fish food out of her reach.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Toppall's Travels - Part 3


Best thing we ever did was give the kids their own bed to sleep in.  Sam was super excited to have a rollaway bed and Ian was able to rotate around in his own bed all he wanted.  It also helped that by the time the kids went to sleep on Wednesday night, they were beyond exhausted.  In fact by 7:30am the next morning, Jeff had to wake up both kids so we could get out of the hotel by 8:30am and on the road to our next destination.  When does that ever happen - waking up both kids?!?!  Wow.

The drive to Easton, PA, where the Crayola Factory is located, was an easy 1.5 hour drive from Philly.  Ever since I saw an episode of  "John and Kate plus 8" a few years ago, I've wanted to check this place out.  I have to say that it appeared much bigger on TV than in reality.  We got there soon after they opened and before the majority of the crowd of kids and adults appeared.

The Crayola Factory is a very hands-on kind of place.  There was a 25 minute demonstration on how crayons and markers are made.  We learned a cool tip on how to bring back to life a dried-out marker.  Just hold the marker sideways, put it under running water for about 20 seconds.  Put the cap back on and let the marker sit for a day or two.  Voila!  It should work perfectly again. 

The rest of the place is a series of rooms where you can go and do various crafts, using all kids of Crayola products.  There was a room where you can take markers and color on the walls.  There was a room where you could use sculpting clay and create different objects.  A big sized room that had a chalkboard type floor and lots of chalk to draw.  Jeff and Ian walked through an exhibit that let him create a picture out of melted wax.  Also, there were stations where you could get your picture taken and it would become part of a coloring sheet (princess, cars, spiderman, etc) that got printed out.

I liked this place!  The kids had a great time too.  It didn't really start to get crowded until closer to 11:00am.  There were plenty of rooms to go to, that even at its busiest, it wasn't that bad.  And of course, there were samples handed out of crayons, markers and sculpting clay.

This is the picture Ian made out of melted wax.

Directly upstairs was the National Canal Museum. It is worth the time to visit since you are already in the same building.  It is all geared towards kids and they had a good time watching their boats go through a model-sized canal.   Plus, they were also able to pretend steering a ship and other hands-on activities. 

We spent a good 4 hours at the Crayola Factory and National Canal Museum and this was including lunch.  We got back in the car and headed home.  This is one of those places that we don't need to go back to, but it is nice to cross it off the list.  It took a little less than 4 hours to drive back to Burke.  It was a full 4 days and I knew we were all looking forward to getting back home and taking it easy the rest of our Winter Break.


I loved that we did this trip.  Jeff and I already discussed going again in a few years and what we would do differently.  We would go back to The Franklin Institute and give this as many hours as the kids wanted.  If Sam is still on the young side for doing this museum, Jeff could take her back to The Please Touch Museum while Ian did The Franklin Institute.  I also never got the chance to do Betsy Ross' house or the Liberty Bell with Ian, so we would have to make sure time was scheduled for this.  Lastly, if Ian is old enough, I would love to take him to The Constitution Museum.  This is my most favorite musuem ever and I can't wait to show it to him.  And of course, we'd have to make sure we had lunch at the Reading Terminal. 

It was key getting to all these places as soon as they opened.  In each place, we'd have a good 2 hours before the crowds got nutsy.  Or, another option is to go when the kids are in school and let them miss a day or two.  I am a big believer that an education can happen anywhere, doesn't have to necessarily be at school. 

Once we got everything unpacked and the kids in bed for the night, Jeff looked at me and said, "it was a lovely trip."  Awesome!  I am now giddy with planning power and already thinking where we will go next.  :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Toppall's Travels - Part 2


The sun was shining on Wednesday morning and it was going to be a great day!  Unfortunately,we were starting the day off with 4 very sleep-deprived people.  OMG!  Never again.  We learned our lesson and from now one, it is a suite all the way.  It can be a one bedroom suite, just as long as it offers a door and a pull-out sofa bed.  And oh yeah, enough space for a rollaway bed.  The kids definitely each need their own bed.  And Jeff and I learned the hard way that sleeping with each kid is not an option.  As Jeff put it, he got kicked in the chin twice and that's just the places he can mention out loud.  At one point (it was 12:52am), I looked over and Saw Jeff actually lift Sam up in the air and rotate her body completely around to get her straight again.  Not fun.  Not fun at all.  And Ian complained to me that he didn't have enough room in the bed I was sharing with him.  Not sure how that was possible as I was hugging the edge the whole time hoping to not fall off.  But I guess when you sleep like this, you do require lots of space.

A girl with her iPad and a cool view of Philadelphia.

We pulled ourselves together, made a very important decision to get a rollaway bed in the room for Sam.  Let Ian have his own bed and for Jeff & I to share one that night, in the hopes we can finally get some sleep.

On to The Please Touch Museum.  OH MY GAWD!!  I absolutely love this place.  If I could move in and make this my home, I would in a heartbeat.  It was fantastic.  It was big, airy, clean, and shiny.  There were tons for the kids to see, do and play with.  One of the most fantastic things about this place was no matter where you were, what room you were in, there was something for each age group we had with us (a young 2 year old, 3 1/2 year olds, and 6 1/2 year olds) to be entertained and fascinated by.  We could easily spend the better part of an hour in each wing and no one got bored. 

This museum is so incredibly well designed.  It's spectacular and fun and innovative.  I think the parents liked it just as much as the kids.  I know I did.

After more than 4 fun-filled hours at The Please Touch Museum, we called it a day and headed out. We decided that Ian and I would go visit the Franklin Institute and Jeff and Sam would head back to the hotel for some downtime. 

To my delight, Jen and Ethan joined us.  This was the only place we didn't get tickets in advance (wasn't entirely sure which day we'd go or who would go) and had to stand in line for an hour.  And then we decided to do a planetarium show right away and stood in that line for an additional 25 minutes.  Crazy!!  The boys did wonderfully despite not having seen anything besides a line for the first 1.5 hours.   The planetarium show we picked was called "The Wildest Weather".  We thought it was going to be a cool display about hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis and such.  However, in reality, it was about the weather conditions found on different planets.  In retrospect, this was something we could've easily skipped. 

Once we made it around the rest of the Franklin Institute we found a very cool museum, perfect for the boys to explore, interact and learn from.  Each room revealed another lesson about science, whether it be the body, electricity, chemistry, trains, sports or more, it was incredibly well done. 

We did the infamous walk through the human heart.  I couldn't believe that it didn't come with a big disclaimer that you can't be wider than the width of a super model to fit through the chambers of the heart.  Wow, it was very narrow.  Fortunately I made it through ok, but I can imagine that many people wider than me have gotten stuck and wasn't able to easily get out.  It's a one-way direction through the heart, so if you are at all claustrophobic or a little on the obese side you are in big trouble! 

We tried to take our time through the museum, but it was so big and there was so much to see.  Once we finally made it to the top floor, we had about 30 minutes left before leaving to meet the family for dinner.  Serendipitously we ended up walking in to a live show/demonstration called "This is Chemistry".  This was going to eat up the next 25 minutes, but we figured why not and let's go for it.  We made a decision to stay another 15 minutes after the show let out and leave later than planned. 

"This is Chemistry" was AWESOME!!  The woman who did the demonstrations was lively, funny, and engaging.  She did a great job explaining elements, atoms and what happens when you mix different gasses and liquids together.   She asked for volunteers and got the kids in the act.  She pointed to Ian and said, "You in the gray shirt".  Ian, with his hand held high in the air, looked down first to see what he was wearing before jumping out of his seat and heading to the stage.  It was very funny.

Ian on the stage for the "This is Chemistry" show

With about 15 minutes left, we quickly explored the rest of the top floor and discovered a seriously cool area with all kinds of sports simulators.  The boys could've easily spent a few hours here.  Unfortunately, it was just enough time for them to do one or two machines and then we had to go.

The Franklin Institute is definitely something we will make a return visit.  And when we do come back, we will get there when it opens and stay for as long as the kids want to.  It was a good thing we didn't take the little ones as there wasn't as much for them to do. 

I was really hoping that dinner would be at the Reading Terminal.  I love that place!   However, we met up with everyone at 5:30pm and quickly realized that all the market vendors were closing down.  Apparently Reading Terminal is more of a lunch type place.  We will plan accordingly next visit.  We ended up eating at Chili's, just down the block.  They were able to seat the 9 of us at one table, with no wait.  Bonus! 

Stay tuned for Toppall's Travel's - Part 3.  Our last day traveling and seeing the sights.  Was our new sleep configuration a success?  And more importantly, are we all still talking to each other?    These questions and more answered in the next installment.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Toppall's Travels

My Toppall team and I hit the road at the end of December 2011.  I wanted to make good use of the kids' Winter Break from school and Jeff's vacation time he had built up at work.  I thought it would be fun to see a few things up in the Pennsylvania area.  There were some hits and misses, but overall, a good time was had by all. 


Monday, December 26 - the Toppall Hanukkah party at Jeff's parents house in Baltimore.  Spent the night there to get a jump start for our trip on Tuesday.

Tuesday, December 27 - Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ, and dinner with my aunt and uncle in Cherry Hill, NJ

Wednesday, December 28 - Please Touch Museum in the morning, Franklin Institute in the afternoon - both in Philadelphia.

Thursday, December 29 - Crayola Factory in Easton, PA.

We got very fortunate and one our favorite families to hang out with was available to travel with us.  Plus, my cousin Leslie and her family, who lives in Connecticut, was able to join us for our Tuesday's activities.  So this was almost a guarantee of a good time because the kids would have someone to do everything with.


Traffic was not an issue and we made it to the Aquarium quickly.  I have to say visiting the aquarium was the only thing I would change in our trip. The kids had fun, but I was a bit disappointed. In years past, I had been to the Baltimore Aquarium and was completely blown away by how fantastic this place was.  Everyone has raved about the Aquarium in Camden and I was expecting something equally as great.  However, I found the building to be closed-in, unable to handle the size of the crowd, and just not as spectacular as I had built the place up to be in my head.  Granted, the rain outside may not have helped and this kept us from watching the Seal show.  Who knows?  That could've changed my mind completely about the place.  If I had not been to the aquarium in Baltimore, this one in Camden may have stood a better chance. 

The name of the the cafe was called "Feeding Frenzy" and this was very appropriate.  It was crazy!  I still can't believe we managed to get 3 tables near each other to sit our crowd of 6 adults and 7 kids.

After the Aquarium, we drove to Philly and checked in to our hotel (after a quick stop at my favorite Gluten-Free bakery to pick up some treats).  My sister hooked us up with her guest rewards program profile at the Downtown Marriott, next to the Convention Center.  It was a great location.  The four of us had never stayed all in one room before.  We usually make sure we get a Residence Inn type room and have a door in between the living room and bedroom.  This gives us lots more room and more sleeping options.  This trip was going to be the first time we had to sleep with the kids in the same bed, same room.  Were we setting ourselves up for disaster?  Time would soon tell.

Tuesday night we drove in to Cherry Hill and met up with my Aunt, Uncle, cousin Leslie and her family for dinner.  My Aunt and Uncle took us to a favorite Italian restaurant, Pasta Pomodoro, that has an amazing gluten-free menu.  It was a very yummy dinner and before we knew it, we were driving back into Philly in blinding rain to the hotel.  Good thing I was driving!

Stay tuned for Toppall's Travels:  Part 2 -- Did we make the right decision in our hotel choice?  Did anyone get a good night of sleep?  Was the Please Touch Museum going to disappoint too?  Was this whole trip going to be a let down?   These questions and more answered in part 2.