a fun, free resource for DC area families

Snowshoe’s FreeFall Festival: Great Getaway Sept. 26-28

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This looks fun: Snowshoes’s FreeFall Festival

A weekend (sans kids) of live music, yoga and enjoying the beautiful outdoors of Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia sounds pretty darn heavenly. Just a few hours drive from the DC area, attendees can see headliners Michael Franti with Spearhead and Slightly Stoopid, G. Love and the Special Sauce, as well as many other musical acts.

The musical stages provide guests with 180-degree sunset and fall foliage views, guaranteed to deliver dramatic evening and daytime backdrops to the festivities.

There is also a special group yoga session with Franti playing an acoustic set, while yogis lead the poses, as well as other opportunities for yoga and wellness/fitness activities. 

Along with the concerts and yoga-ing, the FreeFall weekend event will bring downhill and cross-country mountain bike races, a mountaintop brew fest celebration with a vast assortment of the nation’s finest craft beers and local BBQ, a Dock Dogs competition, a mountain bike movie premiere and a Saturday night fireworks display above the resort’s village. Guests can also participate in the Lifestyle Camp, which includes outdoor adventure activities and sporting events.

The 2014 FreeFall Festival is open to the public, and will be the perfect weekend to take in the fall colors in West Virginia’s beautiful mountains.

Mountain views, live music, yoga and beer. This sounds like my own personal paradise. Call the grandparents to take the kids and get your tickets!

Tickets are now on sale. For a single-day ticket if purchased prior to September 15 the price will be $25, $35 if purchased after September 15. Tickets are $40 for the two-day event if purchased prior to September 15, $60 if purchased after September 15. Two-day ticket purchases made before September 15 will also include a free single day adult lift ticket valid from opening day of the winter ski and snowboard season to December 25, 2014.

A wide range of lodging options including first-time ever tent camping on the slopes at Snowshoe will be available.

For more information about this great getaway, visit the Snowshoe FreeFall Fest site.

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7 Marvel Universe LIVE! Surprises

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My kids and I had a blast at the opening night of Marvel Universe LIVE! at the Verizon Center. The show was packed with surprises. But this post contains NO SPOILERS. There were many twists and unexpected thrills that I will not give away, because you should truly take your kids to see it.  Here are simply the cool factor surprises that made this arena show stand out in live family entertainment.

7. Pyrotechnics – There were more blasts of light, fire and seemingly-real explosions in the arena than I would expect in a two-act show. The kids were stunned.

6. Acrobatics - The actors were top-notch acrobats and gymnasts, executing flips and twists that seemed animated.

5. Motorcycle stunts – Loads of motorcross stunts were an added bonus. I mean, who doesn’t love a growling Wolverine or a saluting Captain America…but now imagine them while popping wheels and catching air.

4. Wire work – We never saw Spider-Man on Broadway, but he and other heroes soared overhead, even while upside down in the classic Spidey squat.

3. Exciting storyline – My son Charlie was impressed by the story, and a book-obsessed 10 year old is a tough crowd. Basically Loki, Thor’s brother and bad guy, wants the Cosmic Cube, the “one ring to rule them all” in the Marvel Universe. It is now in three pieces and some superheroes are in peril, so the entire Marvel catalog and SHIELD team must band together save the world.

2. One liners - One of my favorite elements of action movies is a well-delivered, snarky or clever quip. I have never heard so many of them packed into two hours.

1. Fight sequences – Multi-person martial arts fights scenes featured fabulous choreography. Eve and I were particularly amused by Black Widow’s opening scene as she fights off five guys while talking on a cell phone. She was channeling some serious Scarlett Johansson.

And the bonus, biggest surprise of all:

Silent children – My often restless children were completely engaged throughout and did not pester me for shaved ice or nachos or squabble with each other. (Well, not while the show was in progress.)

We recommend! Tickets are available to this weekend’s shows.

WASHINGTON, DC
Verizon Center | September 4-7
Remaining show times:
Friday, September 5 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, September 6 at 11:00 AM, 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM
Sunday, September 7 at 1:00 PM and 5:00 PM
Get tickets

FAIRFAX, VA
Patriot Center | September 12-21
Show times:
Friday, September 12 at 7:00 PM
Saturday, September 13 at 11:00 AM, 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM
Sunday, September 14 at 1:00 PM and 5:00 PM
Friday, September 19 at 7:00 PM
Saturday, September 20 at 11:00 AM, 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM
Sunday, September 21 at 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM
Get tickets

Tickets can also be purchased at all Ticketmaster outlets, by phone at 800-745-3000, via www.ticketmaster.com, and at the Verizon Center and Patriot Center box offices.

All Ticket prices start at $35.00. Ticket pricing is subject to change based on market demand.

Disclosure: My family and I received media passes and an invitation to a pre-event celebration. No additional or monetary compensation received.

Light the Night Walks in the DC Area

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My family and friends’ lives have been changed by cancer, including leukemia and blood cancers, as I know so many of your lives have been, too. We feel helpless. We call for more research. We donate to funds and participate in events that raise money for patient services and the search for a cure. We yearn for a world in which cancer does not take lives before they have been fully lived.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) the Light the Night Walk is one way that we can work to end cancer.

I had the honor of meeting three young children who were in remission from leukemia (they are pictured above.) They volunteered to appear with me on the WUSA9-TV morning news broadcast to both model back to school clothing and urge local families to come out to the Washington, DC area’s autumn Light the Night Walk events.

Additionally, my dear friend Kristin walks in the DC event each year in honor of her father, a man I was blessed to meet many times, who lost his battle with leukemia. I am proud to support her walk each year, knowing it helps her grieving process as well as raises important funds for blood cancer research.

If these families who have fought on the front lines of the cancer battle believe in the LLS Light the Night Walk, then I believe in it, too.

This fall, let’s walk to the end of cancer by joining the LLS Light The Night Walk to shine a light on finding cures and providing access to treatments for blood cancer patients.

Child patients especially need our support. Leukemia is the most common cancer in children and adolescents less than 20 years old. For kids battling cancer, the journey back to a healthy life can be a long one. For these kids, returning to school means additional challenges, such as keeping up with schoolwork.

This year, Sylvan Learning is partnering with LLS through Light The Night with a commitment to raise $250,000 and to donate more than 12,000 hours of free tutoring services in nearly 200 communities nationwide to help young blood cancer patients and their families with the transition back to school.

Here are local LLS Light the Night Walk that can use our participation!

Park Place in Annapolis – September 27

Rockville Town Square – October 11

Howard County Maple Lawn Fulton, MD – October 11

Reston Town Center – October 17

Washington DC Freedom Plaza – October 18

Camden Yards Baltimore – October 25

Register with your family at the links above for the LLS Light the Night Walk nearest you!

I am a compensated ambassador for the Light the Night campaign. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Favorite Classes for Kids in Montgomery County Maryland

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Here are some of my family’s favorite classes in the area.

Music Together Montgomery
The first class my first child and I ever took! Children from baby to age 5 take classes with their parent or caregiver in Music Together’s beautiful, research-based musical instruction approach. Music Together classes are a great way for parents and caregivers to nurture their children’s natural enthusiasm for music and movement, regardless of their own musical ability. I particularly recommend two classes taught by friend and fellow mother Kristin Gruen; her classes will be held on Thursday mornings at Elite Dance Studio in Silver Spring.  There are also classes held at the Round House Education Center in downtown Silver Spring, Dance Exchange in Takoma Park, Garrett Park Town Hall, the JCC in Rockville and more. Check out the class schedules for fall.

Montgomery County Park and Recreation Classes
Swimming. Dance. Mini gym. Art. Soccer. Nature programs. My children have been loving, enjoying and thriving in the Montgomery County Parks and Rec class offerings since 2004. It amazes me how reasonable and top-quality are the opportunities offered for local families! Registration has opened and there are so many great extracurriculars to choose from.

Wheaton Park Stables
The stables near Brookside Gardens offers horseback riding classes for all children, including private lessons for children and adults with special needs. The new fall session begins September 13. Sessions tailored to individual rider’s interests, goals, and needs. A warm and friendly environment where everyone can enjoy the wonderful world of horses. For more information or to schedule your session, contact Carla at csr55@verizon.net.

Rockville Montgomery Swim Club
If your child had a fabulous time swimming in your summer pool or club meets, consider enrolling him or her in a year-round swimming program. My kids love RMSC and improve every single time they enter the pool to train with their top-rate instructors. Before my children were ready for RMSC however, they improved their stroke technique and endurance with the SwiMontgomery program offered through Montgomery County Recreation.

C&O Family Chess Center
Learning chess has opened up my son Charlie’s mind to new horizons in math and logical learning. He has also made great friends and learned a past time and skill he will relish for the rest of his life. If your school offers a chess club hosted by C&O, SIGN YOUR CHILD UP. IF they do not, check out the other chess instruction options as well as the Saturday Chess Club meet ups at Lakeforest Mall.

Maryland Youth Ballet
MYB is known to be one of the finest schools of classical ballet in the region. It offers classes for dancers of all ages and abilities (such as my daughter Eve, who adored the “real ballet school” feel of her classes when she was a preschooler and kindergartener) and it also serves as a training ground professional dance hopefuls.

Metropolitan Ballet Theatre and Academy 
Now located in Gaithersburg, MBT offers professional instruction to students age 2 through adult. Although some students aspire to dance careers, MBT accepts all who are interested, regardless of physical limitations or future aspirations, including an adaptive ballet program for those students with developmental or physical disabilities. MBT trains dancers in ballet, jazz, modern, tap and hip hop through The Academy with dance studios in Gaithersburg, MD and gives academy students the opportunity to perform in professional performances alongside professional artists. Check out the current schedule of classes.

Elite Dance Studio
My girls are currently perfecting their pliés, shuffles and chassés at Elite. Located in Colesville in the Cloverly Towne Center, Elite offers dance training for children aged preschool through high school in ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop and lyrical. There are also adult dance and Zumba classes. We like this place so much that I even drive around with one of those circle magnets on my car. That is love, I tell ya.

What is YOUR favorite place for kids’ classes? Leave your recs in the comments! 

Note: Although MYB and MBT are advertisers, all opinions are completely mine, this post is not part of our contract and all class enrollments in the programs mentioned are paid in full by my family. 

GIVEAWAY: FROZEN Disney on Ice in Fairfax, VA

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Disney on Ice Brings FROZEN to the Rink

We are big, huge, massive fans of Disney on Ice at our house. We are also in the midst of a full-blown, unbelievable Frozen obsession (it has been going strong since Thanksgiving.) I know we are not alone.

So it is pretty exciting that Disney on Ice is bringing Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, Sven and the gang to the Patriot Center in Fairfax October 22 – 27.

Here is a video sneak peek.

Tickets are on sale now for all 12 shows.

Date and Time of Performances at the Patriot Center on the George Mason University campus in Fairfax:

  • Wednesday, October 22nd @ 7:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, October 23rd @ 7:00 p.m.
  • Friday, October 24th @ 10:30 a.m. 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, October 25th @ 10:30 a.m. 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, October 26th @ 10:30 a.m. 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
  • Monday, October 27th @ 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are available at Ticketmaster online and phone 1-800-745-3000.

I also am so honored to get to giveaway FOUR tickets to one lucky winner for the Monday night October 27 show. To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Ropes Course for Kids at Terrapin Adventures in Savage Mill

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Terrapin Adventures in Savage Mill, Maryland has added a Terrapin Explorers course for kids age 5-9.

My Charlie and Eve were some of the first kids to try out the new course on opening day, and they were dazzled by the experience. Both of my kids are a little tentative when it comes to heights and risks, but the gentle, confident, plentiful staff members are with the children every step of the way. Knowing they had constant support made all the difference to Charlie and Eve, and gave them the confidence to walk tightropes, cross swinging bridges, crawl through suspended tunnels and even zip line.

The course has two levels, accessed by the decks of a wooden tree house home base. There are 22 elements for the kids to conquer.

There is a great viewing area for parents. My kids also had a great time on the outdoor climbing wall.

Children are completely and safely supported through harnesses, helmets and many safety procedures.

Matt Baker, Chief Adventure Officer at Terrapin Adventures, says, “This course adds a whole new dimension to our on-site programs. It is a new venue for parties and just plain outdoor fun to challenge your youngsters. Children can gain confidence, get exercise and soar through the air.”

While kids enjoy the course, packages are available so parents can climb the tower right next door and still be in sight of their children. Older siblings can always tackle the adult zipline, ropes course, giant swing or climbing tower.

Birthday parties are available.

Recommend!

 

Marvel Universe LIVE! Coming to DC and Fairfax

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Marvel Universe Live! Arrives in D.C. Area Sept. 4 – 21
Performances featuring your favorite Marvel characters at both the Verizon Center and Patriot Center

Marvel Universe LIVE! is an action-packed entertainment show for families featuring the most Marvel characters ever assembled in one production. The show is flying into the nation’s capital with performances at the Verizon Center starting September 4 and at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia starting September 12 through September 21.

Favorite Marvel Super Heroes including Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, Wolverine and more will flex their poweres in this comic extravaganza that brings both heroes and villains to life. There are special effects, stunts and never before seen story in this family-friendly live action adventure. Here is a video sneak peek.

Marvel Universe LIVE! is the newest and largest show ever produced by Feld Entertainment. See Marvel Universe Live! September 4-7 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC and at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia September 12-14 and 19-21. Please note that this will be the only performances of Marvel Universe Live! in the D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia area. Tickets for Marvel Universe LIVE! start at $45 and are on sale now at www.marveluniverselive.com and Ticketmaster.com .

WASHINGTON, DC
Verizon Center | September 4-7
Show times:
Thursday, September 4 at 7:30 PM
Friday, September 5 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, September 6 at 11:00 AM, 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM
Sunday, September 7 at 1:00 PM and 5:00 PM
Get tickets

FAIRFAX, VA
Patriot Center | September 12-21
Show times:
Friday, September 12 at 7:00 PM
Saturday, September 13 at 11:00 AM, 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM
Sunday, September 14 at 1:00 PM and 5:00 PM
Friday, September 19 at 7:00 PM
Saturday, September 20 at 11:00 AM, 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM
Sunday, September 21 at 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM
Get tickets

Tickets can also be purchased at all Ticketmaster outlets, by phone at 800-745-3000, via www.ticketmaster.com, and at the Verizon Center and Patriot Center box offices.

All Ticket prices start at $35.00. Ticket pricing is subject to change based on market demand.

Join Marvel fans of all ages for this once-in-a-lifetime, monumental performance. The fate of the universe depends on it!

Disclosure: My family and I will be reviewing the performance. No additional or monetary compensation received. 

GIVEAWAY: GameTruck Party (our family LOVED it!)

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GameTruck was an exciting experience for our kids and their friends

My family and I received an offer from GameTruck of Howard County to host a GameTruck party for our children and 17 of their friends. Although no one had a birthday any time soon, we thought this was an incredible way to celebrate summer.

GameTruck offers a premier party experience in an interactive, multi-player environment that accommodates 16 or more players (the GameTruck Howard County vehicle can hold 20 kids.) Totally self-powered and climate-controlled, the GameTruck trailer was outfitted with comfortable seating, six flat-screen HDTVs, and enhanced sound systems.

The parents and I LOVED how the truck offered these big gorgeous windows that lifted up to create an indoor-outdoor experience. We parents were hanging out outside the window and able to watch the kids play within. KidzBop music played on a sound system, contributing to the outdoor party feel.

Kids can choose from more than three dozen of the latest multiplayer video games and all the major video game consoles such as XBOX360, Nintendo WiiU and Playstation. GameTruck Howard County’s owner Erik Maxwell called me before the event and we discussed which games would be most appropriate for our group of kids age 6-13. We removed all rated M for Mature games and he stocked the truck with sports games like FIFA soccer, Madden Football and group games that would appeal to all ages like Super Mario Kart, JustDance and Minecraft.

game truck in action

It was ridiculously exciting seeing the big green truck pull into our driveway. As our friends drove up and walked over, their kids started jumping up and down and running towards the truck. Although I have been hosting child birthday parties for 10 years, I have never seen reactions like these.

Our party’s GameCoach was owner Erik. He or another GameTruck staff member serves as the Coach and manages each event, promoting fair, interactive play. He helped kids take turns, select games and calmly managed all the children’s wants and turns with complete patience. It was seamless. The other parents and I simply got to enjoy watching the kids play without any moderation. It was heavenly!

I wondered how interactive this party would be for the kids. However, I saw that the children were totally interacting and chatting, sitting right next to each other and enjoying their company. They were bonding and spending more time together than they would at an arcade or in a laser tag maze.

game truck dancing

I also wondered if the experience would make my kids hunger for more video games. Right now in the summer we are limiting gaming and screen time to encourage more outdoor and traditional play. We often talk about taking games out of our home completely, or only pulling our Wii console out for winter parties. But what we adored about the GameTruck experience was that it turned video gaming into a total treat. It became a special occurrence to share with friends, rather than something you do every day, alone, for hours.

And I have to admit, I know the parents, my personal adult friends, were a lot happier to drive a few blocks over to our pad and enjoy some bevies and snacks in our kitchen versus driving a ways to a party location. While the kids played in the GameTruck in the driveway, the parents had our own party alongside theirs.

No food or drink is allowed in the GameTruck, so we had refreshments inside the house. The kids drifted in and out when they needed a lemonade or a cookie boost.

GameTruck is recommended for kids age six years and up. We had several younger siblings at the party and I agree with this age assessment. Most of the kids younger than six simply wanted to watch the big kids, or play with our house LEGOS and yard toys.

The prices for GameTruck Howard County are comparable to other birthday party options: $325 for 2 hours on a week day, $375 for 2 hours on a weekend (prices always subject to change.)

I hope I am explaining adequately how utterly wonderful was our GameTruck experience. I completely, totally recommend!

To book your own GameTruck party with GameTruck of HowardCounty, just call owner and operator Erik Maxwell at 888.978.5232 or e-mail him at erik.maxwell@gametruckparty.com. You can also coordinate your party on the GameTruck website, GameTruckParty.com.

Would you like to win your very own GameTruck party — totally for free?  Here are the giveaway details!

Prize: One (1) GameTruck party.

GameTruck party must be booked for a weekday.

Winner needs to be within a designated GameTruck franchise service area. Check available See locations before entering.

GameTruck party must be redeemed by Dec 31, 2014.

Only one (1) entry per person is allowed.

Only residents of the U.S. that are 18 and older with a valid address are eligible to enter.

The awarding of the giveaway prize is the responsibility of GameTruck.

Interested in entering the GameTruck giveaway? Go here to the A Parent in Silver Spring Facebook page and leave ONE comment on the GameTruck post.

One comment per Facebook account/user.

One winner will be randomly drawn from all Facebook comments on the GameTruck Facebook post on Monday, August 25, 2014 at midnight.

Game Truck group shot

Embassy Suites for Family Travel is the Best

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When I was a kid — one of five children — my dad became the Embassy Suites hotel chain’s number one fan. For the price of a standard hotel room, a family gets two rooms, three beds, a massive cooked-to-order breakfast buffet and an evening reception with bevvies and snacks. Room to breathe, house your crew and feed them on-site without added expense? The Embassy Suites was a godsend to families when they started popping up around the U.S. in the 1980′s.

When my husband Chris and I got married in 2002, we chose the Embassy Suites Washington DC as the hotel for our out-of-town wedding guests. It was perfect for families and groups of twenty-somethings alike. Every breakfast became a morning party for our group, and every evening Manager’s Reception became the happiest of happy hours.

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But it was not until becoming a family of five that I completely understand why Dad was so gung-ho about Embassy Suites.

The roominess and two-room layout of standard rooms — every room is a suite — means Chris and I can put the kids down in one room while we watch a movie in the other, freeing us from whispering to each other at 8:30pm at night and laying there paralyzed in the dark until sleep mercifully descends. A group of five family members in an Embassy Suites room does not require an extra room charge or calling down for a roll-a-way. With two double or queen beds and a queen pull-out from the suite’s sitting room sofa, we have many options of sleeping configurations.

The kids love the hotels’ airy atrium styles with fountains, greenery, pools and activities in the centers. Getting a juice or a forbidden Coke and a plate full of goldfish and tortilla chips in the evenings, often right after checking in to the hotel after a long flight or drive, always makes the kids happy. Chris and I likewise appreciate the cold soda or cocktail, depending on the intensity of the day’s travel, and noshing with the kids.

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And the big included breakfast in the morning makes traveling so so easy. It is incredible to not have to pack breakfast items or forage in the morning for food or a family-friendly restaurant. Knowing that right downstairs is a buffet full of custom eggs, waffles, a cereal bar, pastries, juices, fruit and bottomless carafes of coffee makes me want to text my dad in all caps, “NOW I GET IT.”

I have stayed at many Embassy Suites, but most recently this summer my family and I stayed two nights at the Embassy Suites Williamsburg when we made a weekend trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. In between visiting Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens Williamsburg, we chilled out, noshed, breakfasted, swam and comfortably slept at the nearby Embassy Suites. We have stayed at several Williamsburg-area hotels in the past, and this was by far the nicest in the $130/night range (sometimes you will be able to book an Embassy Suites suite for less, other times the price will be more — depends on the date and location, of course.)

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For your family travel this summer, fall and beyond, my family and I (including my Dad, who is himself staying in an Embassy Suites right now as he moves my brother into his law school housing!), heartily recommend Embassy Suites.

Disclosure: Embassy Suites provided my family with a two-night stay in the location of my choice and a gift card for travel amenities. No additional compensation received. All opinions are mine.