Archive for the ‘Take the Kids’ Category

The Stoogeum: Laughter as Panacea

September 9, 2012

It’s the laughter that gets you the first time you visit the Stoogeum near Ambler. Giggles aren’t an everyday occurrence in your average museum, but they have them in spades at this office-park shrine to Larry, Curly, and Moe. It seems like every knucklehead…er, visitor…in the Stoogeum is chuckling over something, whether it’s the comedy sketches playing on TVs on every floor, the vintage pinball machine, or the wall of comic strips, from Nancy to Calvin and Hobbes, that make reference to TV’s eye-poking comic geniuses.

Whether you’re a fan of or not, this is museum-going at its finest and funniest. It’s way more than someone’s dusty collection of shot glasses and vanity license plates. Founder Gary Lassin, a lifelong Stooges fan, also happened to marry the granddaughter of Larry Fine’s brother (Local trivia: Larry was born Louis Feinberg near 3rd and South Streets and was the only Stooge from Philadelphia.) The amazing collection includes signed Columbia Pictures contracts (showing how their salaries rose from $200 to $1,500 a week in the 1930s); TV and movie props, like the flying submarine tank from The Three Stooges in Orbit; and a marketing empire as savvy as the Walt Disney Co. (cereal boxes, Colorforms, thimbles, toilet paper, and much more). There’s a state-of-the-art screening room playing Stooges shorts all day and interactive “Stoogeology 101” screens that urge you to “poke Curly in the eye” to get started.

You’ll probably come away with a better understanding of Shemp Howard (who replaced his brother Curly in the 1940s) and of the fact that the Stooges were men struggling with real issues when they weren’t throwing pies at each other.

But most likely of all, you’ll leave with a belly aching from laughing so much.

The Stoogeum is open the following Saturdays in 2012: Oct. 6, Nov. 17 and Dec. 22. It’s free, it’s about a 30-minute drive from Philadelphia, and kids are welcome (my 7-year-old loved it).

Mini-golf at Franklin Square

August 24, 2012

When the kids are about to wig out from Birthplace of our Nation overload, Franklin Square is where you want to go. An easy walk from Independence Hall and Constitution Center, it was transformed in 2006 from a neglected open lot into a kid-friendly oasis with a carousel, playground, hamburger kiosk and vintage marble fountain. Best of all, it has the most interesting miniature golf course around — one whose designer obviously knew how to showcase the city’s best features. All 18 holes are Philly-themed: there’s Old City, the Museum of Art, the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin bridge, and even the LOVE statue. At $9 a game for adults ($7 for seniors and kids), it’s no bargain, but it’s a fun break amid all the heavy history lessons swirling around it. Mini-golf and carousel are open daily through September, then they scale back to Friday through Sunday in October.

Best festival name ever: Roasting Ears of Corn

August 18, 2012

Allentown’s Museum of Indian Culture hosts the Roasting Ears of Corn Festival this weekend (Aug. 18 and 19). The name alone makes me want to go, but check out all the neat activities they have lined up: tomahawk throwing, drumming demonstrations, fire dancing, quill making and culinary booths serving up all kinds of things you won’t find in your local food court: fry bread, buffalo stew, Indian tacos and corn soup. A kid’s activity area features Navajo sand art, dream catchers, cornhusk dolls and other Native American arts and crafts. The event, Pennsylvania’s oldest American Indian Pow-wow, is in its 32nd year, so its organizers must know what they are doing. The museum itself is closed during th festival, but the event just might intrigue you enough to come back and learn more about the Lenape and other American Indian tribes. Admission is $5-$7; kids 7 and under are free.

Keeping cool at the Turkey Hill Experience

July 9, 2012

If you can’t be near the ocean or floating in a pool during this insanely hot summer, air-conditioned indoor entertainment is the next best thing. The Turkey Hill Experience near Lancaster does a decent job of keeping all ages happy, whatever the temperature hits outside. Located in a huge former silk mill just off Route 30 in Columbia, PA, it’s part indoor playground and part window into the world of ice cream-making. Kids can milk mechanical cows and free dive into a rainbow ball pit. Teens can learn about homogenization and pasteurization, create their own ice cream flavor, then make a commercial about it. And grown-ups can help themselves to plentiful samples of ice cream and iced tea and sneak off to the blast freezer when noise levels get too high. When I was there, Eagles Touchdown Sundae was one of eight showcase flavors; more recently, they were serving up Chocolate Whoopie Pie ice cream. I dare you not to try it.

There has been some griping about the $11.50 entrance fee, but discount coupons can usually be found at local grocery stores or via two-for-one Internet deals. If I lived within an hour’s drive of Columbia, I would consider buying a year’s pass for $30. My 3- and 7-year-old visited last summer and they still talk about the experience. Highlights: the old-time milk truck, the indoor slide, and that big rainbow ball pit. This summer, I’m sure the blast freezer would also make the list.

A charming Poconos detour

July 3, 2012

The bad news is Route 209 is closed between two of the state’s nicest waterfall parks. The good news is there’s a detour that will drop you straight into Milford, one of the loveliest towns in the Pocono Mountains. If you are heading north on 209 from Stroudsburg, turn left at Rt. 739, then right at Milford Road and follow it 2 miles into town. Here is where Hamptons-like sophistication meets natural Poconos beauty. Park anywhere on the street and just start wandering.

There are serious antiques stores, a restored theater, preserved Victorian-era homes, and a fascinating little history museum featuring the blood-stained American flag that cradled President Lincoln’s head after he was shot. Food and beverage options include a breakfast-all-day diner, an 1800s tap room, a salumeria straight out of Little Italy, and an elegant dining room modeled after the famous Delmonico’s of New York.

All this almost makes up for the challenges of getting to those waterfalls. The nearby Childs Falls are closed through 2012, but there is a free shuttle bus from Rt. 739 that will take you to Dingman’s Ferry and drop you near the boardwalk trail. Details are here. There is also a driving detour to Raymondskill Falls via Milford Road. Route 209 is expected to reopen in the fall, hopefully before the leaves start to turn.

PA’s amusement parks

June 7, 2012

Roller coaster fanatics, take heed: an amusement park veteran decided to test out rides in the state’s top fun parks and write about it in the Los Angeles Times. It’s a great article, and brings back fond (if terrified) memories of Hershey Park’s Sooperdooperlooper and the wonderful (and apparently hard-to-find) Whip at Dorney Park. The writer, of course, fell in love with Knoebels in Elysburg — an old-fashioned fun park and campground that should be on everyone’s “places to visit before I die” list.

Organic oasis near Kutztown

May 20, 2012

This is not your basic manicured garden tour. A visit to the Rodale Experimental Farm is a fascinating, sometimes muddy and bug-laden, window into a working sustainable organic farm.

Hats are a must. Boots are good idea.

Here’s the backstory: In 1947, a man named J.I. Rodale started the Soil and Health Foundation on his small farm near Kutztown to promote his theory that healthy soil, not chemical fertilizer, is the basis for growing healthy food. Five decades and one publishing empire later, these 333 acres near Kutztown are home to a research farm and educational center that is open to the public for $5 self-guided tours and workshops on composting, soil biology, and other topics.

Tours start in an old red schoolhouse, where books on gardening and cooking and locally made honey and jams are for sale. From here, the sometimes-paved paths wind past wide garden beds, compost windrows, bank barns, owl hollows, and patchwork-quilt fields of corn, alfalfa, wheat, and soybeans. In summer, an unfathomable number of bugs and butterflies – plus the occasional herd of cows — will cross your path. I have yet to take one of the $12 Saturday guided tours, but I hear they are thorough and inspiring.

A tip: Don’t rely on your car’s GPS to find this farm. Map it out or call for specific directions before you leave. It’s not exactly on the beaten path, though it isn’t far from two great refreshment stops: Premise Maid Candies for ice cream and Brenda’s Eatery (15380 Kutztown Rd.) for Pennsylvania Dutch cooking.