The Philadelphia Outsider
Discovering Philadelphia from the Outside In

More than 80 campers were lined up in the shade outside the National Constitution Center wearing matching red t-shirts. I spotted them right away and knew that my little happy camper was standing there among them anxiously awaiting his chance to see a set of George Washington’s original false teeth.  As I joined the rowdy group, I was given a cheerful “chaperone” sticker. It was my Soldier Boy’s first trip to the NCC and I wanted to be there for it. 

I have visited the NCC many times since moving to Philadelphia last fall. I’ve been as a tourist who wants to know more about the Constitution. I’ve been as a freelancer working with the NCC’s marketing department.  Whether I’m there for fun or for work, I always discover something new about the Constitution and our country.  And each each time I go, I’m reminded that my knowledge of “We the People” is, in a word, inadequate.  This was to be my first visit with the Soldier Boy – my nine year old American history buff – and I was determined to learn alongside him and experience the NCC from his perspective. 

We made our way into the NCC’s feature exhibition for summer, Discover the Real George Washington.  The children immediately crowded around the glass display of Mount Vernon. Side Note: Even in miniature, Mount Vernon is majestic. I could tell the boys were excited because their voices grew louder (in spite of being reminded to use “inside voices”). Not a one could help but touch the glass (in spite of being told not to — repeatedly). And in that moment, I remembered why I don’t volunteer to chaperone field trips anymore.

Meandering through the exhibition, I tried to keep my kid close so we could examine each display.  It wasn’t easy with that many campers swarming the halls and I know we missed some good things. But GW’s dentures did not disappoint.  They were fascinating and gross. We studied them as long as we could, carefully considering what it must have felt like to wear such a contraption in our mouths. After much discussion, we decided to be thankful for modern dentistry.

Next stop was the Kimmel Theater for Freedom Rising, a multimedia presentation highlighting themes of the Constitution.  We found our seats in the round theater and watched with wide eyes as the show revealed the compelling impact the Constitution has had on our nation – past and present.  Side Note: Grab a tissue on the way in because Freedom Rising will make your eyes well up with tears and your heart swell with pride.  Want a sneak peek? View a trailer of Freedom Rising.

The Core Exhibition was next. Again, the kids were swarming the touch screens and interactive displays.  My personal favorite was the American National Tree, which celebrates 100 Americans who have shaped the nation’s history.  The Boy and I looked for faces we knew and learned about the ones we didn’t.  Side Note: Each year the NCC adds a new profile.  The next one will be added during the Constitution Day Celebration on September 16, 2011.

When we stepped into the hallowed space of Signers’ Hall, the crazy campers had no reverence for it.  Fortunately, the NCC staff were used to it and shared an insane amount of information about the lifelike bronze statues of the original signers of (and the three who refused to sign) the Constitution. The Boy signed a copy of it himself under GW’s watchful eye.

We separated from the group and discovered one more opportunity to enjoy our time at the NCC with the Giant Board Game in the Grand Hall Lobby.  The Boy became the game piece and was asked a number of questions about the Constitution and American history.  He answered every question correctly and won!  Tired –and happy we got to see the teeth – we left the NCC knowing we’d return again soon.

The NCC has a robust daily program calendar and hosts a many special events throughout the year.  In the lobby, Delegates’ Café serves an affordable lunch with a nice menu and you can dine there any time without touring the NCC.  I’m a fan of the Maple Chicken Sandwich. The Newspaper Man likes the garden salad (and it’s under $4!).

Ending Soon: Discover the Real George Washington is open through this Sunday, September 5, 2011.  And the kids free summer promotion ends that day as well. So if you don’t have plans this weekend, now is the time to take the family down for gander at GW’s false teeth.

Save the Date: The Constitution Day Celebration is coming up on September 16, 2011 (Constitution Day is actually the 17th).  Witness a Naturalization Ceremony, watch the American Tree Induction Ceremony (with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor) or play Who Wants to Be a BILL-ionaire to celebrate the 224th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.

Location: On Independence Mall

525 Arch Street

Philadelphia, PA 19106

Only Blocks from Independence Hall

Summer Hours:

Sunday to Wednesday: 9:30-5:00

Thursday: 9:30-8:00      

Friday: 9:30-5:00

Saturday: 9:30-6:00       

Parking: The NCC has a parking garage that can be entered from Race Street.  If it’s early enough, I circle the block to search for street parking on Arch Street right in front of Ben Franklin’s final resting place at the Christ Church Cemetery.  It’s a bit more affordable than the garage, but the time limit is three hours so plan accordingly. 

 

So … um, yeah … this is a bit awkward.  As you probably haven’t noticed, I haven’t been around here in a while. 

There’s no real excuse for it, but I’m going to make one anyway. 

I was busy.

Last time I posted, things were chugging along fine at The 502.  Spring was in the air and the little league baseball season was about to commence.  All that snow was a fading memory. 

Then the landlord called. 

See, he wanted to put The 502 on the market before summer.  The concept was all fine and good except for three things:  

1)      Our lease lasted until September

2)      We still had three+ months before school ended

3)      We were so crammed into the place anyone coming by to see it wouldn’t really be able to see it.

Still, this was our chance to leave The 502 behind and get comfortable in a more permanent place.  So we set forth on finding another new residence.  In a matter of weeks, we found our place and moved.  Again.  And for the second time in 18 months, we chose to move back to the city – this time to Philadelphia (last time to Birmingham).  

We’re living in Chestnut Hill to be specific.  We’re so happy with our new ‘hood (yeah, we liked Narberth too, but it wasn’t going to work for us long term).  We live one block from the train station and half a block from the shopping on Germantown Avenue.  Our street is packed with families.  We feel at home.  I guess city neighborhoods just suit us better.

The decision to move into town came with complications.  Soldier Boy had to finish out the school year and was already playing baseball in Lower Merion. Miss Sassafras was still enrolled in daycare in Narberth and taking swim lessons at Friends Central.  I was juggling three clients.  Hey, I’m not complaining.  But I was BUSY.

I was making two round trips (sometimes three) from Chestnut Hill to Narberth to deliver and retrieve the kids from school / sports.  I did it for almost two months.  It was pretty miserable and reminded me to appreciate the fact that most days my commute is about 15 footsteps from my bed.  Once school ended, the summer camp routine began – schedules, day trips, supplies, etc.

To say the last few months have been intense is an understatement. Heck, the last five years have been intense.  And even though my office (and some other rooms) are still stacked with moving boxes, there’s a certain tranquility creeping in these days. 

Maybe it’s there because we won’t have the rug pulled out from under us in Chestnut Hill like we did at The 502. 

I think it has more to do with moving from the outside in.  Hello Philly.  It’s good to call you home.

If you would not be forgotten,

As soon as you are dead and rotten,

Either write things worthy reading,

Or do things worth the writing.

                                                    ~Benjamin Franklin

305 years old and your words are still meaningful, inspiring and relevant.  I am humbled by your overwhelming contributions to our country and the world. 

Happy Birthday to you big guy!

And hello again friends!

It’s good to be back to blogging. I took a short break for the holidays – and after feeling a little burned out after 12 Days : 12 Ways : 2 Buy Local.  The research, the writing, the shopping.  It took a lot out of me.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the experience of getting to know many of Philadelphia’s best locally owned businesses.  By the end of it, I just needed a little breather.  Now I’m back, feeling refreshed and ready to kick off the New Year.

But before I look forward to 2011, I want take one long last look around at 2010.  The year we said goodbye to the South and planted ourselves in Philadelphia for a long haul.  2010 was what I can only deem a “learning year” for me.  Every year is, but 2010 stretched my capacity more than most.  I learned a lot about myself, my ever-evolving personal interests, my emotional stamina (in some cases, lack thereof), my limitations and my talents.

After the chaos and mental drainage that comes with moving cross-country in less than six weeks, these final days of 2010 are starting to feel somewhat “settled”.  We’ve put down roots. We’re making new friends. We’re getting to know our new city.  Discovering all that Philadelphia has to offer residents, tourists and resident-tourists (like me) has been such an adventure and I’m so thrilled it will continue in 2011.  We’ve done a lot of wonderful things so far (Please Touch Museum, Independence Seaport Museum, Washington Crossing Reenactment, and more), but there is much still left to see and do.  (I’m so excited about Fourth of July in Philly.)

Anyway, reflecting the big changes of 2010, here are 10 things I learned this year:

  1. No amount of Ajax, Clorox, Windex or Blistex can get 25 years worth of grime off the vinyl tile floor at The 502 (our temporary new home).
  2. Living in a house that you can’t possibly get clean is really good for your social life… until winter hits.
  3. Southern hospitality does exist North of the Mason-Dixon line. I have found it everywhere from Narberth to the South Philly. Thank you kind strangers for proving stereotypes don’t always ring true.
  4. It is possible to feel at home in a neighborhood you’ve only lived in for three months (even if it is in the suburbs – and even in spite of the items at the top of this list).
  5. The men in my life, the newspaper man and soldier boy, may not be true outdoorsmen, but they know how to rough it.  Those early days at The 502, pre-furniture-delivery, were pretty bleak.  Yet, these guys never complained!
  6. Newfound friendships can have as profound an effect on you as the old ones.   Even if their ‘facetime’ is interrupted by a long distance relocation, they can still be a stable kickstand when you need it.   (You know who you are!)
  7. There’s not enough money in the budget to satisfy my desire to “see and do” in Philadelphia.  Must get to work on changing that in 2011!
  8. When my mother’s voice comes out of my mouth it’s not necessarily a reason to cringe anymore.  (Sorry Sarge, I’m hearing you a lot these days thanks to Miss Sass!)
  9. Learning how far your family will go to help you is humbling.  No amount of thanks can show them the volume of gratitude I have to them (and for them).
  10. I’m going to like it in Philadelphia.  I already do.

That’s really just the tip of the iceberg. I could probably do 20 more posts of sorting things I learned by category – Parenting, Moving, Traveling, Renting, Wifing, Friendship, Philadelphia, Winter Fashion, etc. etc. etc.  Heck, I may have just drafted my editorial calendar for the next month.  What did you learn in 2010?

And now welcome 2011! I hope you’re arriving health, happiness and prosperity to everyone who follows The Philadelphia Outsider!  Happy New Year!

A few weeks ago (in the middle of the 12 Days : 12 Ways : 2 Buy Local series), US Airways Magazine named Philadelphia the #1 Best City for Getting Into the Holiday Spirit.

I couldn’t agree more (though admittedly I’ve only been in one of the other top 15 cities during the holidays – London, which was indeed beautifully festive).

The joyful happenings around town are so plentiful, I’m left thinking, “Where can I get that cloning technology so I can go to everything. Experience everything.”

In the past month we’ve done our best to participate in the city-wide celebration. We endured a very cold lighting of the City Hall Christmas Tree (and consequently Christmas Village). The Narberth Dickens Festival, where the streets were transformed into 18th century London, was such a fun way to spend a winter afternoon with family.  And dear old Santa Claus at Center City Macy’s was worth the wait and oh so sweet to my little ones.

Soldier Boy and Miss Sassafras @ Philadelphia City Hall Tree Lighting

Sadly, our timing was off to see the light show in the Grand Court, but we might make it down there one last time before the lights dim for the season.

Speaking of little ones, my kids have delighted in several quintessential Christmas-in-Philly experiences, including the Reading Terminal Market Holiday Railroad, the Comcast Holiday Spectacular show at Comcast Center and countless other opportunities to celebrate this special time of year.

Yes. I’m aware these kinds of things happen in cities and towns all over America, but this year for me … I don’t know … they hold a unique merriment. Possibly because it’s all new to me and I’m eager to establish our own uniquely-Philadelphia family traditions.

Everyday I cringe at the possibility of missing the next interesting event. Last weekend’s big misses were the Running of the Santas (and I know the boy would have loved seeing that) and the Independence Seaport Museum Lighted Boat Parade.  Much as I would have liked to go, my family just needed the down time.  (Really, I needed it!)

But I’m making a list. And next year, I’ll check it twice to make sure we get to see all the things we missed this time around.

Who knows, I may try to pack in a few more festivities in these last days of December.  Philly Parents Circle just published a list of holiday happenings we might have to do before year-end.

Where will I find you celebrating?

Weather permitting, we’re taking the kids downtown to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade tomorrow morning.   I just got the details over at uwishunu.com, including a little history lesson about the parade. 

I’m sure the locals already know this, but Philadelphia’s TG Parade is the oldest in the country.  This is its 91st year, predating the Macy’s TG Parade in New York by four years.  I love that.  I don’t know why.

The Macy’s parade has always been the soundtrack to my Thanksgiving morning.  But I’ve never been to it … or any other TG parade for that matter.  It’s my first… and my kids’ first as well. 

I’m working on our Parade Plan now… where we’ll watch, what to bring, how to get there, etc.  VisitPhilly.com has a great parade guide for newcomers like me.  Looking at the route below, I have a feeling we’ll have to get there early to find a good spot at Eakins Oval.

We’ll see you there if it doesn’t rain on our parade.

Image courtesy of VisitPhilly.com

Cat. Bird. Seat.

We spotted this cool character catting around the Woodside Park: Dentzel Carousel at the Please Touch Museum.  I’m afraid her little friend is about to become tender vittles. 

You know what they say … A bird in the mouth is worth two in the bush.

I was making my regular visit to uwishunu.com to check out weekend happenings, when I found a downloadable guide to the Philly food scene. 

Produced by Philly Homegrown and Where Philadelphia, the guide includes all kinds of great information about what to eat and where to eat it –and so much more!

Yes, this little handbook is going to keep my tummy busy for months to come. 

Download it at uwishunu.com

And bon appétit!

On a recent October morning, when it became evident the nice weather would soon be gone, I layered Miss Sassafras in warm clothes and loaded her into the car for a visit to SMITH Kid’s Play Place in Fairmount Park near Center City Philadelphia.   

I had heard about this historic playground on a much warmer October day from a mom I met at the Candy Cane City playground in Narberth.  With a little research, I quickly discovered that the SMITH Playhouse is a historic building from the 19th century – and I knew right away that it was a must see.  

SMITH was built by Richard and Sarah Smith, a prominent Philadelphia family, in memorial of their son, Stanfield Smith.  Opened in 1899, it was designed to provide children 10 and under from diverse backgrounds with free and accessible one-of-a kind play experiences that meet their physical, behavioral, and developmental needs. Learn more about the history of SMITH here. 

The actual Playhouse is an enormous mansion (24,000 square feet) with three levels of play for children ages 5 and under.   Miss Sassafras and I entered on the main floor and made a donation to the collection box in anticipation of the wonderful things to come.  We were not disappointed.    

The main level has several wooden play structures children can climb on including a train, bridge and airplane.  After playing conductor for more than her fair share of time, I took Miss Sass up the wavy staircase to the upper level, where we discovered a large toy room, a library and a building blocks room.   There was already a toddler playgroup upstairs when we arrived and the room was very noisy, which is to be expected.  Still, Miss Sass felt a little overwhelmed so we kept our visit upstairs short and quickly made our way to the less populated lower level.  

Sidebar: Every Tuesday is Family Day at SMITH.  There are NO playgroups or field trips scheduled on Tuesdays.  Next time, we’ll go on a Tuesday.  

Back to the Main Topic of Interest:  The lower level of the Playhouse is home to Smithville, a play town and roadway where little ones can hop a train, drive a car, observe traffic laws or, in the case of Miss Sassafras, interfere with traffic patterns.  One moving violation and a few tears later, we made our way outside to visit the incredible outdoor playground.  

 

We were fortunate to be there on one of the final days the playground was open.  (The outdoor area is closed November 1st through March 31st.)  Miss Sassafras started in the tot lot by testing every piece of play equipment available to her –and there are more than 20!  I thought there might be a shakedown over the ladybug rocker, but she was so excited about the playground I was able redirect her when another child wouldn’t relinquish the bug.

Next, we went on the Giant Wooden Slide, which was originally erected in 1905. The slide was restored in 2005 through a significant contribution from Ida Newman, who played at SMITH as a child in the 1920’s.  The slide was dedicated in memory of her daughter, Ann Newman.  Legend has it Mrs. Newman, aged 92 at the time, was the inaugural slider when it reopened.   

It took some coaxing to get Miss Sass to go on the slide.  But she was hooked after one speedy ride seated upon a large burlap potato sack.  Together.  Side-by-side. Alone.  Together.  Again.  Again.  Again.  I lost count of how many times we went down.  Who knew 39 feet of shiny polished maple could bring so much joy?  Just see for yourself:    

Get Ready!

Get Set!

GO!!!!!!!!!

Miss Sass would have been happy sliding for hours, but there were more areas of the outdoor playground to explore. Swings. Pirate ships. Rocking boats. Net climbers. Tire swings. There was too much fun for one three year old to have.  We both left there tuckered out but ready to return soon.    

And it will be soon… The “Awesome Autumn” is happening on November 20, 2010 from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.  Children under 5 are invited to join The Junior League of Philadelphia for a fun-filled day creating fall-themed crafts.  Sure sounds like fun and it’s free!   

SMITH also hosts several FREE monthly events.  On the first Wednesday of each month, take your preschooler to Storytime in the Playhouse at 10:30 a.m.  On the third Friday of the month, your child can do Crafts in the Playhouse 10:30-12.  Remember, only children under 5 in the Playhouse.   

SMITH is located above Kelly Drive near the intersection of 33rd and Oxford in East Fairmount Park.  Admissions are free (donations can be made at the door) and SMITH requests that you adhere to the age requirements.  Children under 5 are allowed in the Playhouse.  Children under 10 can take advantage of the outdoor playground.      

Playhouse Hours: Open Tuesday thru Sunday for children 5 and under   

Year Round: 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.   

Playground Hours: Open Tuesday thru Sunday for children 10 and under   

April – October:  10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.   

Last Weekend of June – last weekend of August: 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (Saturdays and Sundays Only)   

Restoration of the Playhouse’s interior is scheduled to be ongoing until December 23, 2010.  I encourage you to check their website for related closings.      

Even though it is located in Fairmount Park, SMITH is funded primarily by the generosity of patrons and the countless volunteers who donate their time to keep admission free.  You can contribute when you visit SMITH or by going here.  Interested in volunteering?  Click here.      

For further information visit www.smithkidsplayplace.org  or call 215-765-4325.