Not what you want to come home to

I was in Phoenix, Arizona at a very unique museum out in the desert devoted entirely to the world of music from every continent. They were having a show of musical instruments that I would term Hollywood memorabilia. They had guitars from famous rock and roll stars. It was quite a rare collection and well worth the long drive to get there. They certainly had to go to a lot of trouble to amass these treasures. The shapes and colors were phenomenal. They looked like works of art. It was not the typical museum I visit but rather was quite special.

Since I had gone all this way, I decided to view the museum’s entire contents which took hours. After all, you don’t find yourself out in the middle of nowhere in Phoenix just any day. I would place the museum in the top ten in the world and recommend it highly. I was gone a day for surveying the musical holds of the museum and another for driving. I hesitated to head home so soon but I had had a very good time.

After a long drive, I expected to kick back and relax in the pool immediately to unwind. You have to concentrate so hard when you are driving. You need to clear your head. I had images of the cool, clear water all the way home in the car. When I got to the house, I unloaded my stuff and proceeded to put everything away. It was all taking time away from my impending swim. No matter. I would be cool and comfortable in no time. Or so I thought. When I changed my clothes and grabbed a nice soft terry towel, I was more than ready. But it was not to be. To my great surprise and chagrin something had gotten stuck in the pool filter of the above ground pool while I was on the museum trip and this thing, whatever it was, had damaged the filter.

It appeared not to be operating or making its usual motor-like noise. The pool was full of tiny debris: the sort of stuff that falls off the yard trees and makes the water less than appetizing. Emergency call to the pool man! He was not available. I begged and pleaded. I would die if I didn’t get my swim. It was a warm day and I was so looking forward to cooling off and reviving myself. He promised to come the next day, which he did. Okay, I would have to delay my pleasure. After extracting the embedded tree branch from the filter, he tried to resurrect the less than perfect device to no avail. He had to go out a buy a new one. All this took a very long time. It was nightfall before I was in the water, but alas, I was there now.

Hotel Perks

I love travelling to the various museums of the world. You never will run out if you visit one every day and never duplicate. If you expand your interests, you might learn quite a few new things. You don’t have to stick to the traditional. There are thousands from the great city museums like London, New York, and Paris to the smallest towns in the country. They house every kind of treasure from art and artifacts to military and automobile history memorabilia. You can find doll house museums, electronic invention museums, or farm equipment from yore. There is something for everyone no matter what your interest. It can be very arcane. If it is books, there are libraries. If it is plants, there are arboretums. A museum can be a loose term for any collection of items in a given category. You name it, it has a museum.

When you travel to get to your favorite museums, you get to experience a variety of hotels. Some of them are pretty basic but others have nice amenities.

One of the fun things about travelling to various museums is all the hotels (and amenities) you get to experience. Some of my favorite hotels have hot tubs. Somehow after having enjoyed them so often, it has become a bit of a priority for me. It isn’t enough to have a swimming pool. I crave the hot swirling water that only the Hottest Tubs can serve up. I love the jet sprays and steam. Who doesn’t love to relax after a day on your feet in a museum. It makes it seem like a real vacation. A hot tub is quiet as kids are usually in the pool. It can be temperature controlled just the way you like it. If you are lucky they will have bar service outside near the tub so you can enjoy a glass of wine. I like to listen to music on my cell phone although I have been known to accidentally drop it in the water. I will leave it to the hotel to supply some background music. Most hotels let you use the hot tub all day long into the late evening so you can soak your weary bones just before bed. I find it the perfect panacea for whatever ails you. Plus, you never know who you will meet in the tub. Perhaps another museum lover like me and we can share experiences. You can get some tips from hearing what people like. In Phoenix, I was surprised that I had missed the music museum way out in the desert. It had displays of every period of music history with visible instruments of the period and tapes of them in use. They also had instruments from around the world. This was one of the best tip offs I had in a very long time. It is not to be missed. If I hadn’t been in the hot tub, I wouldn’t have found out. The next day I was back to recount my adventure and encourage others to partake on their own.

Lazy Day

Don’t get me wrong. I love traveling most anywhere to visit various museums, but there is a time to take a breather and kick back. You have to relax, recharge, and get ready to roll once again. There is always another museum you haven’t yet visited. We all have our different ways of resting. When I am in a nice hotel and have seen the museums nearby, I can take an afternoon off and lounge by the hotel pool. I stay in modest hotels, but they all have a pool or two and usually they are nicely landscaped and attractive. I have witnessed more than one palm tree swaying in the wind. My family can sit with me and chat or enjoy the water. When they are off and doing their own thing, I grab a pool lounge float from the hotel equipment stand and relax while I am in the water. I like the really big pools where there is a lot of room to cover. I chose a large inflatable so I could lie down and look at the sky. It was a hot summer day and the blue above was breathtaking.

Most inflatable lounge floats are too small for my taste and are mainly designed for kids. If you want to dangle your feet in the water, it’s fine. I like to put a towel down and stretch out to my full length and I am not short. Just spare me the splashing kids who are enjoying themselves with too much glee. I have been tipped over while in such hotel pools more than once to my chagrin. I will have to get rid of the towel I think. You can’t get mad because this is what kids do. It is kind of cute to see them having so much fun together. From time to time kids ask me if they can ride on the lounge float and I always say yes. I want to be a good sport after all. You just have to make it clear that you want it back as some kids will hog it for the whole day. I politely say that there are more floats on the equipment stand so go get your own. The kids just don’t want to get out of the water even for a second. The stand is a bit far away and they don’t want to hurt their little feet walking on the hot pool decking.

I do travel a lot so some hotels are modest and don’t have a pool. Some have a pool but no equipment stand. I sometimes take my inflatable lounge float with me folded into a small package that fits in a carrying case. You have to be ready to make your own fun no matter the circumstances. Every trip and every hotel is different. One thing they have in common is a quiet place to rest. You are on your feet a lot in museums so it feels so good to lie down.

Starting Our Summer Museum Tour Off Right!

The David family is on the move. Our route has been plotted, reservations made, the car loaded up. This year we are tackling some East Coast museums, like the Constitution Museum and the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. We’re keeping it kind of low-key and close to home this summer. Granted, that was not our first pick for how we were going to spend the summer. Originally we were going to go to Hawaii but then Felicia’s mom got sick. We decided it would be better to stay reasonably local just in case we needed to come back right away. We haven’t totally put aside Hawaii, though. I really want to see the USS Arizona Memorial, and I know the kids want to go somewhere “normal” like their friends, which I think is kind of funny because I know they both want to go to the Polynesian Cultural Center. We might go in the winter over break, or we might just wait and do it next year; it’s going to depend on Felicia’s mom.

Anyway, because we budgeted for a whole lot of airfare we never purchased, and to kind of ease the downer of the Hawaii trip being postponed (we’ve been careful not to say cancelled in front of the kids), we are staying at a nicer standard of hotels than we normally do. It isn’t a tropical island paradise, true, but it is something. I’ve told the kids to enjoy this now because it likely won’t happen ever again. And they certainly are taking advantage of the situation, let me tell you. Marcus and Tonya are already at the hotel pool and we’ve only been here an hour. Felicia always goes straight into the bathroom to check out all those little samples of shampoo and soaps they put out for guests. This time, she called me in there to show me what looked like a thermostat on the wall. We played with it a little and discovered that the floor has a radiant heat system. I had no idea that it was a real thing that you can do with a bathroom floor but apparently you can. The tile was pleasantly warm pretty quickly, a nice offset to the incredibly low room temperature. Marcus likes to set the a/c to practically freezing in hotels because I can’t complain like I do at home about electricity bills. Once she figured out that the floor was its own sort of tropical paradise, Felicia kicked me out of the bathroom and decided she was going to take a bath. I think I’ve created a monster with this luxury hotel thing. I don’t think she’s ever coming out of that bathroom again.

With the whole gang off doing their thing, I thought I’d take a minute to write up a post and take advantage of the hotel’s free wifi. Next, I plan on grabbing the room service menu and having a bit of a feast. It was a long drive thanks to an accident, and I’m pretty hungry.

A Small Health Scare

No one likes to be told they have an illness, not even asthma. It’s not heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, so in the grander scheme of things it is something that can be controlled with medicine before it becomes life threatening. It is a small health scare given that it isn’t fatal, but it is still an ailment that is undesirable and that has a distinct impact on one’s well-being and overall health. It is not a time to panic, however. There is a lot you can do. You can live in the parts of the world that do not aggravate the condition, you can vacuum and dust your home frequently, and last but not least you can install a portable air purifier in the living room where the family resides a good part of the time. If you have an open floor plan, the best air purifiers for asthma sufferers will reach the bedrooms and kitchen. No doubt it will handle the dining room that is adjacent to the family room as well. Airborne pollen and allergens will be a thing of the past as you start to breathe easier during the day and at night. You will want to run the appliance 24/7 for best coverage. Those with asthma know how important it is to reduce respiratory irritants.

Most asthma sufferers are quite conversant with the operation of an air purifier and know how to select just the right one. There are many quality brands from Kenmore, Honeywell, Holmes, Dyson, Oreck, Allen to Germ Guardian and Hunter. What you don’t want is a machine that emits ozone as a normal part of its process. Air-purifier models with an electrostatic precipitator remove pollutant particles by charging them as they pass through and collecting them on an oppositely charged metal plate or filter. In the process, they produce some ozone as a byproduct. While ozone in the upper atmosphere protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, ground-level ozone is an irritant that can worsen asthma and compromise your ability to fight respiratory infections. Thus it must be avoided at all costs. Air purifiers that emit even small amounts of ozone are a poor choice if someone in your household has pulmonary problems or allergy symptoms.

This being said you can opt for a carbon or HEPA filter in a portable air purifier model. If your home has forced-air heating, you might want to opt for a whole-house model built into your HVAC system. However, built-ins can be expensive to buy, and they must be installed professionally in the ductwork of your heating system and most need to be wired into your home’s electrical system. If an allergy sufferer lives in the home, it is a small price to pay for his or her health.

An air purifier is therefore a major decision that must be made quickly as soon as the victim receives an asthma diagnosis. The person who purchases the unit has a large role in facilitating recovery. Keep that in mind when looking at specifications and prices.

National Firearms Museum Visit

There isn’t a museum I don’t want to visit. Just ask me. Each one has its special features and more than a reason or two to explore. My family is usually on board with any choice I make and we have toured some of the best in the country over the years. It is our favorite vacation pastime. Recently, we had the opportunity to make the rounds of the National Firearms Museum. It has fifteen galleries and over 2,700 guns exhibited in 15,000 square feet so you can spend more than a few hours there. It is under the auspices of the National Rifle Association and is located in Fairfax, Virginia.

Whether or not you own a firearm, you will enjoy the regular fare as well as the special exhibitions such as Hollywood Guns featuring weapons used in movies and on TV for over 80 years. Yes, Dirty Harry is included! Overall, the museum places weapons within history and the American experience. The galleries are organized according to eras such as the stockade fort at Jamestown. The full-scale dioramas including a 19th century riflemaker’s shop are irresistible and a must see. You can also view a WWI trench on the Western front and a town square that has been shelled out during WWII. It’s a great way for kids to learn about the past as it is brought to life. In fact, it is a great way for adults to absorb information.

Guns are meant to secure freedom and independence, but you don’t even have to get into politics to enjoy the museum. You can stick with the utilitarian side of things as firearms are used for exploration, hunting, competition, and recreational sports. In addition, with the Robert E. Petersen Gallery, the National Firearms Museum has what has been called “the finest single room of guns anywhere in the world.”  Fabulous masterpieces of engraving are on display including British shotguns and double rifles.

Interestingly enough, holsters are also on exhibit. What’s a gun without one! This is especially true for the characters in movies. Maybe you don’t remember what a particular cowboy or gangster wore, but you can find out. The Beretta pistol used by Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon had a specific place on his person. Then of course there is the gun wielded by Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Some gunslingers show the weapon as a deterrent and others enjoy a concealed carry holster. It all depends on the circumstance and element of surprise.

While there are no guided tours to clue you in on these details, there are pamphlets and self-tours available. Descriptions of items on display are also helpful and it is vital to take the time to read them. Plus, if you go to the website you can get a brief history of firearms and information on the American West. Guns can be a colorful subject indeed and can transcend the realm of crime and protection. The birth of the modern revolver is quite fascinating.

Including the Kids

Museum-going is a family hobby for us here at the House of David

Museum-going is a family hobby for us here at the House of David.  But how did we get the kids involved, and how do we keep them interested?

First, I have to say, we have good kids. Probably Felicia deserves all the credit there. They’re naturally curious and have a broad range of interests. I think being dragged to museums from a very young age probably had something to do with it.

When they were babies, it didn’t matter where we went. The goal was usually to get out of the house. While you have to lug a lot of stuff along with you, babies are incredibly portable. They’ll occasionally get loud and it can echo in a large gallery (Marcus has tested the acoustics in more than one building), but if you plan ahead, you should be fine with a stroller or carrier (check the museum’s policy on strollers first, many don’t allow them) and one heavily stocked diaper bag.

As they get a little older and can toddle around, adjust your excursions accordingly. Let them run around outside beforehand to burn off some energy, and plan to do it again immediately upon leaving—BEFORE you get in the car or board that train. And bring food. Trust me on that one, especially if you have a ways to go or if you think you’ll hit traffic. Give them firm expectations for their behavior. Be prepared to leave or have consequences if those expectations aren’t met. My biggest piece of advice, though, is to know your audience. If your kid is a definitely a toucher, don’t go places where there are priceless antiques with just a rope—or even worse, nothing—around them. Take them to a children’s museum where it is OK to touch stuff. If they’re into space, or dinosaurs, or whatever, I promise there’s a museum for that. If they aren’t into anything you can work with, go to the library and ask a librarian for a popular kid’s book that you CAN work with. Although, in my experience, no kid can resist dinosaurs or space. Or bugs. Yuck.

Once they’re past the “stop touching everything!” phase, you can start to go back to the nice places. But it’s still important to include their interests when thinking of somewhere to go. Ask them. I’ve been to fashion exhibits, television museums, and seen more sports memorabilia than I care to remember. But the KIDS look forward to going, and that’s really the cool thing. They get excited. Now they do the research themselves to look for new places to go, which I really love. We take turns choosing, so everyone feels like they have a say. If you can’t do that, I highly recommend taking a vote. Anything you can do to make them feel like they’re part of the decision making process, and that their opinion matters, will go a long way. And if you can make it a competition, that helps, too. We’ve played games where we split into two teams and try to find the most interesting, or boring, or silly, item in a museum and then see what each has come up with. Winner gets to pick where we go for dinner.

Make it fun, and it can be a hobby for years to come.

My Favorite Place to Go


If I had to pick a museum that is my very favorite, I have to say, I’m biased. I’d pick my hometown Museum of Natural History. I don’t know, maybe it’s from having gone there as a kid, or maybe it is because it is just a train ride away, but I could go there every day and not get bored. You’ve got that stunning building with its amazing architecture, the incredible view of the park, and oh, the treasures housed within!

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with one thing: dinosaurs. When you walk into that gorgeous rotunda and see the giant Barosaurus, oh, it’s knock-your-socks-off awesome. You just know you’re in for something special. There might be bigger and better exhibits elsewhere (I’m looking at you, Wyoming Dinosaur Center, but I didn’t see that until after we had kids) but I’m loyal to my first love.  They revamped the 4th floor when the kids were small and it’s even more amazing now. The saber tooth cat is my absolute favorite. It’s amazing to think, with all these animals that have evolved for precision or camouflage or something, there was this big goofy looking idiot out there with those giant teeth. I’m laughing just thinking about it.

Now I love to go there and check out the Rose Center, which Tonya got me hooked on. Because who doesn’t want to know what they would weigh throughout the universe (besides my wife, I mean)? That’s just cool. And they put all this mind-boggling information out there in such a smart and interesting way. It’s a surefire kids into outer space. In other words, it’s not your run of the mill science fair solar system model. Everything is done to scale and awesomely done.

The wife has dragged me to the hall of gems enough times that it’s become one of my favorites, too. We got to see the Hope Diamond there once when it was travelling.  Wow. And the Star of India, which is just amazing.My wife’s favorite stone is an emerald, and we stare at the Patricia and wonder what we’d turn it into if I could buy it for her. I can’t even imagine how much it would cost!

And Marcus? Well, he loves the big blue whale (and what trip to the Museum of Natural History is complete without a visit to the whale?) and all the great ocean life dioramas.  His favorite is the sperm whale and giant squid. We used to make up stories about that diorama, what was happening and who we thought was going to win. The stories were never the same twice.

That’s why I like it there so much. There’s something for all of us, and I’ve got special memories there with each member of my family. I can walk through there by myself, or with any combination of my family, and have a great day. I call that a major win.

Education and Fun: It is Possible!

Kids don’t want to get dragged somewhere on a weekend or over the summer to learn anything. That’s so uncool (or lame,or whatever word the kids are using now. If I ask, they’ll just make fun of me.) Yet we manage to take our kids to 4-6 museums a year without death threats or bribery.


I’d like to say it is through my great parenting skills or because my kids respect me enough to do what I say, but if I’m being honest, it’s probably neither of those things (maybe if my wife were writing this, that would be more believable). The truth is that the kids WANT to go these places, because we don’t really make it about the education aspect. We try to make it more about whatever interests the kids have, because you’d be surprised at how much they retain when it is something they want to learn.

For example, Marcus was learning about the first moon landing. So we took a trip to the National Air and Space Museum, where he got to see a testing version of a lunar module. Pretty cool stuff. For months afterward, it was like living with a tiny rocket scientist. It felt like he remembered the entire tour. When Tonya couldn’t figure out the difference between seals and sea lions, we went to the New York Aquarium to find out (this was before I knew that google has the answer to everything, although I still prefer to figure it out myself). Turns out, sea lions are the ones who walk and have visible ears, while seals crawl on their bellies and you can’t see any ear flaps. I know this because I just went and asked Tonya; she’s remembered it since that day when she asked one of the aquarium staff. When the kids were learning about the witch trials, we piled into the car and got thoroughly creeped out in Salem, Massachusetts. But again, it’s something the kids never forgot.I mean, really, there’s a guy who got PRESSED to death. That’s pretty memorable. They learned about ancient Egypt in school and were shocked to discover that there’s a pyramid right here in New York City; it’s at the MoMA. They still love visiting it.

That’s the stuff I’m talking about. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or anything, and we’ve never made the kids write reports about what they saw when they got home (although I am kicking myself a little about that, it might have actually been kind of fun to do. I doubt the kids would see it that way, though. How about you give it a try and let me know how it goes?)Just find something that sparks their imagination a little and they’ll take it from there. Or, better yet, find something they’re struggling to understand and find something relating to THAT. It might just be the missing piece to get it all to click in their heads.

For the cost of the price of admission, that’s a pretty great deal, and it’s one I’ll take every time!

Documenting the Journey

We go to a lot of museums. I like to be able to remember what trip was what exhibit, so I started keeping a scrapbook.  My wife is big into digital scrapbooking, and those look nice, but when I started (before digital photography was a thing, so basically when dinosaurs roamed the earth!),I used those sticky archive pages inside of a binder (organized by year) and it’s just worked for me. So I keep doing it. There is something to be said for an actual physically printed photograph.  I mean, I love technology, especially digital cameras (this coming from a guy who used to develop his own photographs just for fun) but I can put my museum map or the admission ticket or something in with a few pictures of Marcus and Tonya in front of their favorite discoveries at each place.  It’s nice to be able to go back over the trips, especially when Marcus says things like, “Dad, where was that creepy place with the Soap Lady?”  I can go pull out the page with him from the Mutter.  Now, my wife would say she’s got all her photos digitally saved on the computer and tagged (she’s a brave and determined woman, scanning in old photos whenever she’s bored on a weekend), so it would take few keystrokes and she’d get it faster than me with my old school index—the kids have timed us like a race; the one time I won, Felicia’s computer crashed.

My index binder isn’t anything special. Just paper where I list each year, and all the places we went in that year.  It’s amazing to see it all written out like that.   All the places we’ve gone and things we’ve seen.  Then I know which book it’s in.  Simple, right?

I’ve had friends who travel around the world and put a pin in a map whenever they go somewhere new.  I know others that make photobooks every year, and that works for them.  I’ve got my binders.  My wife does all kinds of fancy stuff with the computer.  But the point is that these memories are displayed or documented in some way.  That’s the important thing.  To have something that says, “I was there. I saw something meaningful.”  That’s why we take the kids to these museums in the first place.

Especially as I get older, my memory isn’t quite what it used to be. I write this stuff down and even after I’m gone, Marcus and Tonya are going to have all this to look back on.  They’ll remember all those ridiculous places we dragged them (like the Wax Museum we went to in the early 90s in Lancaster, PA, that scared Tonya half to death, I don’t think she’s ever fully gotten over it) because the pictures will be right there in those binders everyone makes so much fun of me for. But somewhere there’s a physical record of it. I highly recommend it. Not just because by now I’d be confused about which place was what if I didn’t, but it’s just cool to see how the kids have gotten older and how we’ve gone from the children’s museums to the dinosaur exhibits and butterfly gardens to sculpture gardens and civil war museums.  It’s like our life story. It’s definitely worth documenting.

What about you? What’s your favorite way to document a trip?

How to Plan a Museum Adventure

I’ve had people ask me how we plan these museum trips and it’s easier than you think. It’s not like planning a trip to Disney where you have to schedule every second. My advice is to start one of three ways:

1) Is there something you care about or are interested in? Say you have a miniature train hobby.  Type “miniature train museum” into your favorite search bar and you’ll be amazed at how many places come up. Pick one that is a distance you’re willing to go, and plan your trip.  Or if there’s a history buff in the family (like the wife, so now every fourth trip we’re at some battlefield museum or famous dead person’s house looking at their historically important desk or something), think of a significant event in the time period you’re interested in. I bet if you do some digging, you’ll find a museum for that, too.  If you have a favorite artist, see if there’s a collection of their work somewhere.  Give it a try, see what you can come up with.

2) Another option, and this is the one that I personally like, is to find a place on the map you’re interested in going. It could be ANYWHERE.  One time when it was my turn, I was eating an orange every day for lunch, so I got the brilliant idea that we were going to West Orange, New Jersey.  Now that place isn’t all that far from us, but I’d never been there and didn’t really know what it has to offer. But I typed “West Orange, NJ Museums” into the yahoo bar and that’s how we ended up at the Montclair Art Museum staring at an Edward Hopper painting.  How awesome is that? I did this even before the internet, too, where I’d just pick somewhere on the map, and me and Felicia would just head there. Let me tell you: there isn’t a lot in Bullpit, IL, other than some nice people. But I did learn some stuff about the Great Frog Infestation of 1875. You can’t beat that (or live it down. I lost my pick for two years over that one)!

3) The last way requires the least amount of planning. If you’ve heard of a museum (we watch a lot of the History Channel, so this happens regularly at our house) and you think it might be a great place to visit, write down the name. Go look it up and see how far it is. If it’s a distance you’re willing to go, great. If not, think about what struck you as interesting about it and see if there’s something similar closer to you.

A few other bits of advice: first, if you’re travelling during the summer, getting advance tickets to any special events that you want to do is smart. Same with hotels. There might be a festival or some other event going on at the same time that can affect room availability.  Make reservations if you can, on the route you’re taking if necessary but definitely at your destination.  Second, have a bit of a backup plan. Some places will take days to really look through, others a couple of hours. You’ll feel pretty dumb if you load up the car and kids, drive for hours and hours to get to a video arcade museum only to find out it’s really just some guy’s basement with a couple of vintage machines. Have options in the area, or know where to find them. Those pamphlets in hotel lobbies are your friends. Grab a few on your way to check in. Or if you stay at those fancy hotels, ask the concierge what’s worth doing. Lastly, know before you go: plan your costs. Some places have expensive admissions. Some don’t have any. Others only ask for a donation. Some places, if you actually read the sign, say “suggested price” which means you can pay whatever you want to pay. This is true. So it’s in your best interest to figure it out beforehand.