Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 

United States

benjaminspring2015 (4 of 15).jpg


Filtering by Tag: Around Town

March for Life

alec vanderboom

Incredible. Unbelievable. Inspiring.

Wow, my first time at March for Life--with my beloved husband and all 3 of our young children.

We rose at 4 AM to catch the free parish shuttle to the Verizon Center at 5 AM. The kids were so excited to take their first bus ride. We decamped at a super crazy, super crowded Verizon Center at 7:00 AM, a full 30 minutes before the Basketball Stadium Center opened. We needed all that time because trying to thread a group to the right entrance with a giant 3 kid stroller was a bit of a challenge.

Once we got inside, we got ushered into this amazing spot on the actual basketball court, a few rows back from the main alter. To the right was a giant slab of seminarians, the ones in NYC who got a visit from our Holy Father in April. There were also the extremely cool monks. Everything in their habit screamed 12 century, thick, course robes, giant wooden rosaries and their bizarre wool wraps instead of coats. I loved it when they pulled out cellphones to direct fellow brothers to their seats, what a contrast!

On our left was a huge section devoted to the Sisters. On the top were 30,000 high school and college students from all over the country. Around the floor stood hundreds of priests all in white at least four rows deep.

The 2009 Youth Rally and Mass started with a fun Catholic rock concert. My last concert was when I took Jon to U2 in Cleveland for his 29th birthday two weeks before we were married. It was surreal to sing my lungs out to "The Streets Have No Name" with my husband, my 3 tiny babies, hundreds of boisterous seminarians and thousands of students.

Then things quieted down with a 1/2 hour recitation of the Rosary. I thought the MC made a good point. He told all these students that it's easy to feel pumped up for God at a rock concert. Yet when the hard times come in college, when your girlfriend breaks up with you or your grandpa dies, their won't be a rock concert available. You have to get yourself immersed in the traditions of the Catholic faith that are dependable, these are the rosary and the Holy Mass. With that introduction, and the good example of hundreds of priests and religious, the rosary was quiet and deeply personal.

Then came the Holy Mass. What a transformation. After the Papal Mass, I was a little nonchalant about viewing hundreds of priest come in to Celebrate the Mass. Then this huge row of men in pointy hats entered. Honestly, there were at least 50 bishops and archbishops who attended this Mass from all over the United States. I started tearing up. I couldn't believe that all of these men fly to D.C. for one day, just to celebrate this Mass with the Catholic Youth and pray in front of the Supreme Court.

The Pope even sent an Archbishop from the Holy See. It was incredible. Every single person in a crowd of 30,000 stood up and screamed appreciation and adoration for the Holy See for a good 5 minutes. It was such an incredible act of Catholic universality to see these 20ish seminarians, these 50ish nuns and 18 year old high school seniors all shouting "We love you Papa Benedict!"

The actual Eucharist part of the Mass was handled by our Archbishop Wuerl with honor and dignity. The communion hymn was a Latin chant lead by the Mount Saint Mary's Seminarians. My own Archbishop handed me the host with such an intense, reverent gaze "THIS IS THE BODY", then I got to float away on gorgeous music for 20 minutes afterwards.

The thing that most struck me was the reverent way the hundreds of priests carried the silver bowls carrying the remaining consecrated hosts down hundreds of stadium bleacher steps. Everyone did it differently. Some carried the bowls with both arms outstretched, watching their feet carefully on each step. Some clenched the bowl tightly to the bodies on one hand and the other hand firmly held the handrail. Some reverently covered the bowl with one hand to protect the host from above. Some of less coordinated priests looked slightly panicked and held their entire abdomine under the bowl hoping to at least cushion the bowl with their own body.

Every single body position translated the same, however, "this is truly the body of Christ our King, not some plain wafer."

We finished Mass, which I have to say also carried an amazing amount of grace. My kids can usually not sit through 30 minutes of Daily Mass. Heck, my son can't sit through 10 minutes of "mat time" at pre-school. Yet here all three sat quietly in their seats from 8 AM until 12:30. We were helped so much. Some unknown, friendly parish members took turns holding Maria for 3 hours. She adored the fresh faces and novel environment. Alex started getting agitated during the rosary and mercifully fell asleep for the entire Mass. As we left, one usher waved us onto the VIP elevator because of our stroller. We ended up riding the elevator with all the bishop. One kind bishop from Rhode Island mentioned how happy he was that during the "encouragement to respond to the call for vocations, the Archbishop also included the vocation of marriage. That's such an important vocation," he said.

After our express trip past 30,000 exiting Catholics, we headed to the National Building Museum for our Parish Lunch. One more grace. This is Alex and Hannah's favorite museum of all time because of the expansive young kids play area. After being quiet church mice during Mass, they got to run around and have fun for over an hour.

At about 2, we headed to the March for Life. That was actually the only stressful part of the day. Mimi fell asleep in this weird position in her stroller, her whole body was projected 90 degrees of the giant 3 kid stroller. That meant that one parent had to push a stroller while the other carefully guarded Mimi's head from being accidentally knocked by another Marcher. I didn't get much praying down, maybe 3 Hail Mary's the whole march. We also didn't get to chat much with all the visitors to D.C. Our slow pace meant that we kept falling behind which ever fascinating conversation we had just started.

I'm happy on two counts. One, I got to see how important it is to pray for a Catholic event, even if you can't attend in person. I only got 3 Hail Mary's said during the March, but I know all of you dear readers had many more prayers going up to heaven. Second, I really hit me that I've got a prayer apostate just by living in D.C. Jon & I can go regularly to the Supreme Court building an pray for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. I hope we'll start doing that soon. It hit me as funny, that I spent most of my twenties wishing that I could argue at least one Supreme Court Case in my lifetime and idealizing those that did. Meanwhile, I hope to spend my life praying outside that same building- with far more powerful results!

Oh, I forgot to mention an incredible signal grace. Inauguration Day on Tuesday was freezing cold. My parents were so, so miserable in teen degree temperatures. Today, warm, sunny, high of 41 degrees. It was so warm that I didn't wear at coat or mittens during the March. This weekend it's supposed to return to frigid winter weather again.
It's as if Our Lady Clothed in the Sun peeked out today just to keep us company and I was so, so grateful that the antsy kids were not also freezing and miserable.

I hope you all had a lovely day of prayer. Please remember to pray for all of those excited, chaste pro-life Catholic students in the US. I meet 20,000 today and they were all lovely!

(I took pictures and video, but I'm not sure when I can get them posted. We just got a new camera, which means learning a new photo program. I'm not sure when I can get to reading the instructions. Funny photos of me and Jon puffing up a steep hill loaded down with children and excess water bottles to come, however!)

Pope Benedict says hello!

Holocaust Museum Visit II

alec vanderboom

At the Holocaust Museum last Saturday, I prayed inside a cattle car used to transport Jewish victims to Auschwitz. It was quiet inside the car and a shaft of light came in through one of the high, small windows. I stood alone in the car and prayed “Hail Mary full of grace. . .”

“She was in that cattle car back in 1940,” I thought. “Maybe no one could feel her presence, but she was in that car.”

I touched the edge of the doorway by my right shoulder and prayed again. I prayed to acknowledge our Blessed Mother’s presence.

When I was fifteen I read “Night,” in a crowded public high school English classroom with purple nubbed carpet and bad florescent lighting. My high school was designed in the 1970s when my rural county was flush with coal money. The innovative design called for “open classrooms” which simply meant “no doors.” The resulting din of voices from four English classes all having ‘discussion’ on great works of Literature usually meant that you missed half of what your teacher or fellow classmate said.

All that background noise didn’t dim the horror of our six week Holocaust unit. It didn’t diminish the horror of reading a Eli Weisel’s Nobel Prize Winning Autobiography.

I read this work in a secular classroom and it terrified me. Weisel writes about the loss of faith of seeing “God hanging dead on the gallows in front of him.” That statement didn’t fit well into my heart, but I couldn’t pour my thoughts into any concrete words. How do you argue God exists against the Holocaust?

I remember the feel of my elbows against the metal desk, and the paperback pages with the grimy cheap newsprint. I remember someone being called on to read out loud the details of life in the cattle car. I’d skipped that gruesome part in my reading at home, so this passage in the text was new to me.

“We were packed against each other in the cattle cars for three days. Mothers cried out for water. We drank our own piss to survive.”

We drank piss.

I remember how those words sealed up my throat. I felt closed in, trapped. Even in a crowded classroom, with the door less room and the din of other students, I felt trapped and alone.

“There is no way I could drink my urine,” I thought. “There is no way I would survive.” And I sat through the long remaining weeks of the Holocaust unit certain that I would never have lived through the horrors of World War II, and there were probably many similar things that I couldn’t survive.

When I’ve gone through the Holocaust Museum before, I’ve looked at things that I didn’t really want to see. I felt hatred and helplessness. I felt an unimaginable distance from those criminals who did unspeakable crimes against humanity.

Always, always there was this chasm between the Nazi SS officers and me

This time, I entered the museum with my Women of Prayer Group and a beloved parish priest and my whole visit was different.

During the bus trip downtown, we prayed the rosary together. At each joyful mystery we read a passage about charity towards our neighbor. “How I treat my neighbor is a direct link to how much I love God,” is one phrase that stays in my memory.

Our priest, who studied under Rabbis in Israel, gave a stirring lecture on the intellectual currents (Darwin, Eugenics, and Zionism) which led to the Holocaust. “This was not a simply a bunch of thugs in police uniforms. The highest levels of the intelligencia supported anti-Semitic views.)

I started praying in the middle of my priest’s introductionary lecture. I was worried he might accidentally offend our museum guide. Who was elderly, seemed agitated about seeing a priest collar and just wanted a giant group of 30 women to stop blocking the entrance to the elevators.

And while I prayed for our guide to not be offended, Our Blessed Mother sort of nudged me to also pray for his heart to be opened. So I started praying. Then something happened. Our guide’s whole body language changed. He started nodding his head, “that’s exactly right.” When my parish priest mentioned that he’s been to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, our guide broke in “Me too! I am a Holocaust survivor. What you’ve said is exactly right, priest.” Our parish priest finished up and motioned us to the elevator. The elderly guide came over and started talking excitedly to our priest in private. Just as the elevator doors were about to close, my priest slipped inside.

“Our guide is an extraordinary man. He survived one of the worse Death Marches in history at age 14.”

A Holocaust Survivor trading healing words with our parish priest. I started tearing up. I got out my Marian handkerchief out of my pocketbook and started wiping my eyes. One of my prayer friends looked at me with concern. I shrugged my shoulders, “We’re only in the elevator and already I needed to use this!” I held up my Marian handkerchief and then returned it to my coat pocket

The museum is self-paced and quiet and still. I unintentionally walked alone for most of it.

I prayed at the bunkers from Auschwitz. At the recreation of the gas chambers, I forced my eyes to stay open and prayed to Edith Stein. I prayed by the racist German school books and by the free radios distributed by the Nazi propaganda machine. I prayed by lost village names, and shoes and photos of medical torture of young children.

My scheduled lunch break came, but I kept praying. I went into the Hall of Remembrance and said a rosary for the victims and the sinners.

Then I went to lunch and ate a turkey sandwich. Some of the ladies couldn’t eat, but my stomach needed nourishment. I ate my entire lunch and then ate the part of an extra tuna sandwich.

Our parish priest wanted to go back, so a few of us went back with him. There was some confusion about whether we had permission to renter at the point where our group stopped. “You’ll need a special guide,” the women in a dark museum staff coat said.

“Okay, lets get a special guide.” I turned and walked to the volunteer table. Of course, we got our same guide. The walk back led to more friendly exchanges between this elderly survivor and my parish priest.

This time, I hung around the back of the exhibit, the part where there is a constantly moving tape of Survivor stories. A woman, Gledda, I think told about when she first knew she was liberated. Here is her story as close as I can remember it:

“I came out of the abandoned factory in Poland, where I was left with all of those dying girls. They were too weak to reach the door, so I was alone. I saw a jeep come down the hill and it had a giant star on it, instead of a swastika, so that is how I first knew that I was freed.

The jeep stopped in front of me and a man came out.

“I am Jewish,” I said. Those were my first words.

There was a long silence. At least it seemed to me, there was a terribly long silence. And then he spoke, his words betrayed his emotion. He was wearing glasses, so I couldn’t see his tears.

He said in a trembling voice “I know. I am Jewish too.”

Then he said “Lady, will you go inside with me?”

Lady? I couldn’t understand who he was talking to, so I looked behind me. It took me along time to understand he was talking to me. He called me a lady. It was the first time in six years that I was addressed that way.

Then he held open the door for me. Again, no one had done that before for us.

I followed him inside. He gave me back my dignity. This hero who fought to our ideals, he handed me back my dignity. He gave me back everything that had been lost.

And I married him! I married my hero, the first solider I saw, the first one who called me lady and held the door open for me."

What a story of love and hope. What an endnote to my trip.

We were late for our bus, so we hurried out of the exhibit. Our next stop was St. Peter’s Catholic Church, the marvelous stone building outside of the Senate Offices. We walked into this formal white marble church and celebrated Mass. We waited in the pews while Father changed into his robes for the Mass. It was a beautiful place to pray.

I thought about that last story, of how an American solider handed a woman back her dignity. A formal address and a kind gesture. That’s how a victim knew the war was over.

“That’s me, also” I thought and started crying again. (I cry a lot when I pray.) Six years in that destructive lie of premarital sex had left me in bad shape. Then along came a Catholic boy who changed the rules. He married me with honor and turned our love into a sacrament.

“He takes away the sin of the world.”

There is a new beginning for all of us.

Prayer: Blessed Mother, give us your peace. Help us lay down all our sins. Protect the innocent and crush evil with the heel of your bare foot.

Holocaust Museum Visit

alec vanderboom

Tomorrow morning my Women of Prayer group will visit the Holocaust Museum together. We are taking along Father Avelino and will celebrate Mass together at St. Peter's in Downtown D.C. I'm excited and a little nervous.

The Holocaust Museum always stirs up deep feelings for me.

I first took my daughter to the Children's Exhibit (Daniel's Story) when she was 2. I don't let my kids wander freely in this museum, but the children's area is a beautiful, sensitive and age appropriate space. My husband's Jewish last name goes back to one of the original twelve tribes of Israel. I figure it's never too soon to be teaching the "no anti-Semitism" thing to my little Benjaminites.

Hannah took her first visit in stride. "It's not fair that they didn't let the (Jewish) children eat their favorite cake" she said at the recreation of the 1930s German street exhibit as she pressed a nose against a tempting German Bakery display with a giant "No Jews Allowed" sign. The yellow stars and the Jewish ghetto life with rotten turnip soup didn't make an impression on her two year old brain. The "no buying cake" rule did.

I tried to hurry her past the concentration camp part of the exhibit, but she was affected by the dim blue lights and the barbed wire fence. "Mom, they put people in cages here like they were animals at the zoo!"

I knelt down to my 2 year old in her double stroller seat and had one of the most dramatic conversations in my life.

"Hannie, the Nazi soldiers did lock little children up in cages. They did treat them like they were animals in the zoo."

(Thankfully, the "Daniel's sister ending up as wreaths of smoke" is absent from the child friendly movie that played overhead. So I could easily skip over the most horrid part.)

"That was a great evil. But there were good people in the world at that time, like your great-grandfather George. He went over to Germany and told the Nazi's they had to stop. Great-grandpa George and our army won. They stopped the Nazis and let all the children out."

It was a simple conversation. We lived with Hannah's Great-Grandfather at the time, so she knew him well.

Sitting in that darken room, however, it just hit me what a miracle it was that my Grandfather and Hannah's Great-Grandfather fought in the Battle of Normandy, and that he survived, and came home to have my Mom in 1946. I had a glimpse of what would have happened if WWII hadn't turned out the inevitable way it had in the pages of my history textbooks.

I went home and wrote a meaningful letter of thanks to my maternal Grandfather.

On our second trip to the Holocaust Museum, Hannah was four and newly in her CCD class. As we pass through the museum on our way get a much needed lunch break, Hannah said "I know why the Nazis were bad soldiers Mom."

"Huh? I said as I pushed a stroller with a newborn and pulled 2 lagging walkers behind me.

"The Nazis listened to the clever snake, Mom. They listened to the clever snake!"

The clever snake was Hannah's name for the clever serpent which tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. She's learned this on day one of her CCD class.

I thought her statement ranked as one of the most profound insights into history.

"Why did the Holocaust happen?" Such an angst ridden question that resounds through history. "Because the soldiers listened to the clever snake."

My latest visit to the Holocaust Museum occurred on October 31, 2008, All Hallow's Eve and a few days before the Presidential Election. We stopped in downtown D.C. to stock up on free science labs from the Smokey the Bear exhibit at the National Forestry Office. This fun, interactive exhibit is next door to the Holocaust Museum.

Instead of the somber, sullen feeling from the museum's bleak exterior, in October I entered the building with an uplifted heart. I'd just started the Carmelite formation. I just learned about Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who was pulled out of her Carmelite convent by the Nazis and sent to die.

"We were here!" I kept thinking. Even in this dark, awful time, there were Catholic martyrs for the faith.

At the Daniel exhibit, my feeling of peace grew. "This must have looked like our dear Pope Benedict's house" I thought, looking around at the early 1930's boyhood German home exhibit. I kept trying to dismiss this happy feeling and instead focus on the exhibits mention of Krystalnaucht, and growing Jewish tension. Yet I felt the comfortable hands of our Pope and his dear friend Pope John Paul. These two Catholic men experienced this event. They were heartbroken about the treatment and loss of their Jewish friends. This terrible event didn't occur "outside of human history", it didn't prove that "God was dead." Instead, these external tragedy shaped the deep inner faith of two of my favorite Catholic leaders in history.

In a weird way and for the first time ever, I felt love all through the Daniel's Story exhibit instead of fear and hatred.

Then I got to the end.

The children's exhibit ends with a place of reflection where you can send a post card to the fictitious "Daniel" from Daniel's Story. Usually, the inviting velvet chairs, friendly post office box, and warm lighting are a relief.

This time I felt a strong hit of bile.

Along the walls were children and adults messages who had traveled this exhibit before me. "NEVER AGAIN!" "How could this happen?" "I wish you lived in America, Daniel. This terrible thing would never happen in America."

I stood reading these messages, five days before the Presidential Election and felt my stomach turn green with bile.

How could all of these outraged visitors miss the current connection with abortion?

Here were all these people, completely disgusted with the Holocaust and meanwhile they refuse to make the obvious parallel with disregarding the moral issue of the 21 century. These same parents were going to vote for a new President in five days.

That visit left me emotional. It left me praying my rosary for hours around the Mall afterwards. The pro-life ticket didn't win of course on November 4, which left me sad and numb for several hours.

If Our Blessed Mother were alive in Germany in 1942, she would have been packed off to a concentration camp. In America in 2009, some nosy neighbor would have advised this unwed teenage mother to have an abortion.

When my husband and I went to our local abortion mill to pray on Christmas Eve, we found it open, with the TV flickering on in the waiting room. On Christmas Eve!

The best weapon we have against evil is prayer.

Mother Theresa said that if everyone in America spent one hour in Adoration a week, abortion would end instantly. There is such a strong correlation between seeing the "hidden" Jesus in the host and seeing the 'hidden' human person in the womb.

Let us commit to ridding ourselves of "listening to the clever snake" in our own hearts this year. On January 22, the day of the March for Life, let's pray hard as a nation that the seductive lies of the clever snake get out of the hearts of our beloved countrymen as well.

Jamestown/Williamsburg Trip

alec vanderboom

My father, a college history professor, has basically started a second career as a historical tour guide. Over Thanksgiving he treated his grandchildren to a visit to Jamestown & Williamsburg.

Alex in Jamestown trying on 17th CenturyArmor

Hannah & Maria Bowling

My new method of Homeschooling Discipline

Petting the Horses


Alex at Solider School

A visit to the Royal Governor's Place

Getting Lost in the Hedge Maze

I strongly urge a visit at least to Jamestown for the Virginia crowd. It's a State Park with reasonable rates. All kids under 6 are free. You get a visit at a Native American Village, a tour of 3 17th Century Sailing Ships and a fun look into Jamestown.

March for Life, III

alec vanderboom

I stayed home Tuesday with one sick kid and one teething baby. Happily, the star photographer for Abigail's Alcove made the march.

My husband Jon at his first political rally.

Our church brought signs stating the necessity of attending adoration and saying the Divine Mercy Chaplet for the conversion of hearts on this issue.

The theme for this years march was unity on life all principles, no exceptions!
Praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3:00 PM in front of the Supreme Court
Church members walking home from the Capital Building

Happy Feast Day-St. Martin de Torres

alec vanderboom

In 4th Century France, when the "good news" of Christianity had just begun to spread among the crumbling Roman empire, a 15 year old boy was pressed into military service by his pagan father. As Roman solider, Saint Martin de Torres began to study this new faith. At age 21, Saint Martin was so moved by the plight of a cold, nearly naked beggar, that he took his beautiful cloak and cut it in half with his sword. One half Saint Martin gave to the beggar and one half he kept for himself. That night in a dream, Jesus came to him dressed in the half of the cloak Martin had given the beggar. Jesus said "what ever you do for the poorest of the poor, you do for me." Jesus also told Martin that his studying was over, it was time to take his vows to formally join the Catholic Church.

This story, which is passed down for over 1500 years, is a startling example of "charity." Charity is different from benevolence, which is defined as giving from your excess. Mother Theresa said that "charity is sharing when it hurts." It was an extremely cold day when Saint Martin meet the beggar. As a solider, he had only one cloak. Yet Saint Martin is so moved with compassion that he shares his cloak with another who has greater need of its warmth.

My family celebrated this feast day by going to Mass, donating a new men's coat to our parish's coat drive AND THEN, driving to the National Gallery to drink in this fantastic portrait of St. Martin by El Greco. (There are so many benefits to living in the Capitol City!)

El Greco's seven foot high picture is amazing to contemplate in person. St. Martin has a young mans face, gawky ears and peach fuzz on his upper lip. His eyes are downcast with long lashes. His face has such a feeling of peace, gentleness and contemplation. One hand steadies the house and the other deftly starts to tear his luxurious green cloak in half. The body of the beggar is equally amazing. Its as if, El Greco is forewarning us of Jesus' presence. The beggar's right hand is in a form of blessing and his other hand take the cloak with such simple thankfulness and honor. There is no shame in his being barefoot or naked. He takes St. Martin's cloak as easily as if it was one of our children asking us for a glass of water. (Isn't that what charity is? The act of sharing resources shouldn't be anymore complicated that giving your toddler a glass of water on a hot day).

There was so much to think about looking at this huge portrait. We were the only ones in the room--a Catholic family which prayed to St. Martin and grew closer to him in spirit while contemplating this devotional work of art. I told my husband later, "those pictures must be so lonely." El Greco's artwork originally hung in a famous chapel in Toledo, Spain. Now his work hangs in Gallery No. 28, a back room of the National Gallery which is barely visited by bored, tired tourists.

The National Gallery is open late, until 6 PM on Sundays. Jon & I are planning many more trips to stare at the Saints with our three little Catholics. What a great way to inspire a strong devotion to the Communion of Saints.

Martha Washington Tea

alec vanderboom

Hannie & I had a thrilling time at the Martha Washington Tea at Gadsby's Tavern Museumon Sunday. An expert guide, dressed as the first, first lady herself, instructed us on fashion, deportment, tea ceremonies, and dancing. Our favorite was learning how to dance the steps George Washington himself designed to the tune "Yankee Doodle Dandy." If your in Alexandria anytime, check out this amazing bit of colonial history.

(Gadsby's tarvern is a preserved historical tavern which hosted George Washington, John Adams, & Thomas Jefferson. There is a ballroom upstairs which hosts 18th dance classes and an annual Jane Austen ball. The downstairs tavern is also a restaurant with 18th food. There are "toddlers at the tavern" family time for $15 per family each month. The Martha teas are repeated every three months.)

Kids + Art

alec vanderboom

How to get a child to love art

It’s okay for kids to listen to classical music on the radio instead of the concert hall. To watch movies instead of live theater performances. Yet, if you want to truly nurture an “art-art” lover, skip the mumbo jumbo of Baby Einstein painting books. Head right to the art museum.

This is impossible you say! Just a few pointers to encourage you to branch out from the Natural History Museum to take in the Hirshhorn & National Galleries during your stay in D.C.

Babies love art museums. Put the baby in a sling and as long as you go at a gentle pace, you can stare at pictures to your hearts content. Jon and I trade off baby duty + the hand of a relatively responsible older child. The other parent gets to hold the hand of the squirmy toddler.

Kids love sculpture. There is something really cool about being able to examine a life-like thing up close. Take a long stroll through the 18th sculpture hall which you usually brush past.

Spend time in the pre-Renaissance Galleries. The focuses of these paintings are almost exclusively religious. I use this as an opportunity to quiz them on their saints & bible stories. It’s truly inspiring to see how many different versions of our Blessed “Mama Mary” can exist in the same room.

We’ve had wonderful luck at the Black Box video installation at the Hirshhorn Museum on the Mall. One video showed 99 of the Guards at Buckingham Palace march in interesting formations. Another was a ballet of trucks. (Lex’s favorite!) This month is a highlight of

Keep the visit very short with kids (under 25 minutes). It helps that in D.C. all of the Smithsonian art museums are free. When I visit art museums at other cities, we usually get a two-day pass. We plan for four hours over two days, rather than one massive time block. That way we can see what we want, without risking a toddler meltdown. We also take the kids to the Museum cafeteria for treats. That way one parent can handle three kids while the other gets some quiet gallery time.

Why go through this added hassle? It’s really beautiful to share a passion for art with your family. The kids talk about what pieces they like, and many times it surprises you. You and your spouse can take in a new painting (even if its at different times, holding the hands of different children) and you’ll have something exciting to talk about over dinner. Your family will make tired Museum Guards smile. And someday, hopefully, your kid will unconsciously feel happy and at home while staring at a new acquisition at the Louvre.

Upcoming Kennedy Center Events

alec vanderboom

Three weekends ago, we were lucky enough to hit "Circus Underground," the annual Kennedy Center Open House Arts Festival. The entire festival is a seven hour free event that brings together all kinds of family friendly preforming arts activities. It was hot, and we had a tiny baby, so our main focus was on the National Symphony Orchestra's "Petting Zoo." This was a fun event where little kids could get their hands on real instruments and receive tips from musicians. My heart melted to see Hannah play a kid size cello. Of course, Lex's favorite was the percussion table with all types of unique noise makers.

I picked up dozens of handouts. Check out a complete list of events on the Kennedy Center website. Here is the upcoming events that I've place on our calendar.
"Family Look-in Don Giovanni," 1 hour condensed version of Mozart's Opera
"Hansel & Gretel Opera Presentation," December at local libraries
"Bring Your Teddy Bear," Kid-friendly NSO concert
"The Lion King," Original Broadway Presentation

Made from Scratch: Martha Washington’s Shortbread Recipe

alec vanderboom

This original colonial shortbread recipe comes from my four year old’s “Lady Washington’s Bake Set” purchased at Mount Vernon gift shop by a generous grandmother. I made it one day when we were bored. Now it’s my favorite cookie recipe. The dough is super thick and easy for preschool kids to handle. Without any raw eggs, impatient kids can munch on the dough. The end result is so yummy that only a few lucky cookies make it until Dad returns from work. These cookies are perfect for tea time, especially topped with whipped cream & fresh strawberries.

4 cups flour
1 cup light brown sugar
1 pound of butter

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Mix flour and sugar; add butter. Place on a floured surface and pat to a 1/2 inch thickness. Cut in desired shapes with cookie cutters. Bake 20-25 minutes.


alec vanderboom

I’m currently reading a mammoth book on the civil war. Today we pull up in front of the National Building Museum. What should I spy-- but a mammoth 150 foot fresco of the union army complete with artillery, gun boats and the walking wounded limping behind on their crutches. Turns out that the bright red brick building was built in 1888 to house the Civil War Pension office. Inside is an open courtyard the size of two football fields and fascinating exhibits on the history of architecture in Washington D.C.

Also tres chic for the under six crowd. The National Building Museum’s ‘Building Zone’ is an indoor play area we nicknamed “boy heaven.” Legos the size of your foot, toy dump trucks, and a book nook filled with such exciting tales as “building a sod home on the prairie.” A must repeat visit, especially for families with young kids and design history junkie parents.