I love Ren Fest. Make that, love love LOVE it. No, I’m not one of the hardcore who dresses up and speaks in the vernacular (though I am considering going in garb this year), but I love mingling among them, admiring their elaborate period attire, listening to the delightful sound of their antiquated dialect, and watching them portray life as it was in the 16th century.
Then there’s the faire itself, which abounds with activity and entertainment that appeals to a range of ages and sensibilities. In my opinion, one can’t not like Ren Fest. (Yes, I feel so strongly about it that I used the double negative.) And for the record, my kids are just as enchanted by the medieval magic.
Anyone who’s been reading my blog for awhile likely knows this already. I’ve written about Ren Fest several times over the years and have recommended it in Weekend Round-Ups even more. So, for background on this must-go event, see this post and this one. And for a peek at what to expect and tips on making the most of the experience, see this one recapping a visit there last year.
Here’s the best part: The 2013 Maryland Renaissance Festival begins THIS weekend, August 24-25, and it will run every weekend through October 20. It’s open rain or shine from 10am – 7pm. Admission from August 24 – September 17 is $17/adults, $15/seniors, $8/ages 7-15, free for 6 and under. From September 21 – October 20, it’s $22/adults, $19/seniors, $10/ages 7-15.
*Some dates to note:
– This weekend, August 24-25 is Children’s Weekend, when all kids ages 11 and under get in for FREE!
– September 7-8 is Pirate Weekend when all are encouraged to dress in their pirate best, and you can enjoy the music of The Pyrates Royale, The Rambling Sailors, and more.
– September 21-22 is a Scottish Celebration.
– October 5-6 is an Irish Celebration.
– October 19-20 is a Jousting Competition.
A ship of shirts is the centerpiece of the Hall of States
I didn’t waste any time getting over to the Kennedy Center for Nordic Cool 2013, the month-long festival celebrating the cultures of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Greenland, and nearby islands. Many of the exhibits opened to the public yesterday, and some of the offerings for children — a LEGO play space and mobile games — sounded especially fun, so Sasha and I headed over straight from school to be there for day one.
I knew that there would be many exhibits on display beyond those designed just for kids. (There actually will be 750 performances, exhibits, talks, demos, and more over the next month.) What I didn’t expect was just how cool the exhibits would be, nor just how many of them kids would find interesting, too. What was intended to be an afternoon of LEGO and game play, turned out to be an experience full of art, discovery, and fun — all of it free. Here’s a look at some of it…
The play space is easily a highlight for little kids, with LEGO Duplo tables and bricks especially for children ages 1-5. And there’s more for older kids, too: iPads loaded with games created by Nordic developers are available throughout the area offering guests a chance to try them (including Angry Birds, created by the Finnish company Rovio Entertainment). LEGO murals on the walls and a couple of sculptures are also fun to check out.
The art starts outdoors, where several wooden elk sculptures created by an artist from the Aland Islands have been erected. These lofty structures are used as hunting towers and environmental art to make the landscape fun and alive.
We encountered one of the most breathtaking works as soon as we walked into the Hall of States. A “boat” made of men’s oxford shirts (which we were told came from over 1,000 people in DC) spans much of the space. You have to see it from every angle, including from inside between the two ends, to truly appreciate it in its entirety.
In order to reach the LEGO play space upstairs, you have to walk through a few other interesting exhibits, including a showcase of Nordic design and its relationship to nature, technology, and heritage. Furniture, kayaks, a bike with child bucket in front, and other products are on display in the Northern Atrium Foyer. In the next room, decorated to look like a snowy landscape, mannequins don fashions by Nordic designers.
Beyond that is the “New-Nordic Architecture and Identity” exhibit, where five dwellings built by Nordic architects are on display. You can actually walk into and through a few of them, which was a thrill for Sasha. One even had small meandering hallways, kind of like a little maze. Dioramas by different artists from all over the Nordic region line the perimeters of the exhibit, showcasing cultural personalities from the various countries.
An entire room is dedicated to Iceland’s waterfalls, which are disappearing throughout the country, with an installation that strikes the senses. Large images of cascades slide out from a big steel frame. When you pull one out, the audio recorded as the photograph was taken plays, too, so you can hear the waterfall’s sounds. I have to warn: It’s loud and frightened Sasha, but I found it rather spectacular.
Large plywood sculptures dominate the Hall of Nations. Plywood was apparently invented in Sweden, however, these structures were created by a Norwegian architectural firm.
There are even more exhibits in the Grand Foyer — colorful glass birds dangling in windows and a display about the Nobel Prize. And there’s one you don’t even have to be at the venue to see: Northern Lights. Every night from 5:30-11pm, the facade of the Kennedy Center will be illuminated to recreate the effect of the aurora borelias — wow!
And these are just the exhibits. There are numerous other ways to experience Nordic Cool 2013 — music, theatre, and dance performances; food tastings and demos; forums; workshops; and more. You can view the schedules for all of them and purchase tickets on the website.
I love Ren Fest. But if you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you already knew that. Every fall, I express my fervor for the medieval time trip through dedicated posts and weekly recommendations to go during its seasonal run. We made our first visit of the season there this past weekend, and I say first because we’ll definitely be going back for more merriment. You can get more background on Ren Fest (and my love for it) here and here. And you can view some scenes from this year’s faire at Revel Grove below. And be sure to scroll all the way down for logistics and tips. Huzzah!
Where it all starts (and ends…this was shot on the way out)
The charming grounds of Revel Grove are a delight in itself
Getting medieval on that turkey leg
Fantastic jousting action!
Buy wear for the faire while you’re there
Little ones love the pony rides and parents love the cost: free!
Just a guy shoving a sword down his throat into his stomach
Hands-on in the House of Reptiles
Sasha enamored by bubbles, Owen by the bubble lady
Renaissance band jam
Good times in the Boars Head Tavern
The Maryland Renaissance Festival takes place at Revels Grove in Crownesville, Md, running every weekend through October 21 from 10am – 7pm. Admission is $17/ages 16 and up, $8/ages 7-15 thru September 16, then $22/ages 16 and up, $10/ages 7-15 from September 22 – October 21. Free for ages 6 and under.
When you go:
– Bring a stroller or carrier for little ones, as there’s a lot of walking. I recommend a stroller that navigates over dirt paths easily.
– Get a map and schedule on your way in to help you navigate and plan your day
– If there’s show you really want to see, get to the stage a few minutes ahead of time to get good seats so the kids have a good view.
– You might encounter less crowds on Sunday, when many folks are watching football
– Plan to spend on extras like food, games, and fun for kids (all reasonably priced but it can add up)
– Let the kids dress up! Princesses, knights, fairies, pirates will fit right in.
Words from an expert on the history of video games
It’s not very often these days that I can impress my kids. When your 6-year-old son giggles and asks, “Is that how you really dance?” you know your Cool Mom-ness is starting to dwindle. But something occurred a few days ago that I’m pretty sure boosted my cred again: They saw me play Pac-Man.
And it wasn’t on a small game system or even an arcade machine with just the two of them looking on; a large digital video of the game was projected onto a wall with a bunch of people standing around watching. I chomped my way through the maze fluidly, with Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde in close chase until I ate the big blinking pellet, then quickly hunted down the blue ghosts and ate them, too. This happened several times over. And when my turn was through, Owen looked up at me, his eyes wide with awe.
“Mom, you are really good at Pac-Man,” he said, “I think you are the best one here.” And with that, my coolness was (kind of) restored.
This watershed moment happened at The Art of Video Games exhibit in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Exploring the forty-year revolution of video games as art, several installations offer opportunities for visitors to actually play video games, both old school and modern ones.
Where the magic happened
Demo-ing the Secret of Monkey Island
The exhibit has been open for a few months, and we finally went to check it out over Labor Day weekend. Along with the room full of games to demo, there is another large room dedicated to game systems, displaying the consoles, videos, and images of a variety of games from past and present. You can listen to audio recordings giving background on all of them. And while they are meant to focus on the artistic elements of the games, I got a kick out of just showing Owen and Sasha the Atari and Intellevision, the first video game systems I played as a kid.
Some of the more modern games
Blast from the past
In another room — the first one you walk through, actually — you can view sketches of video game art and early packaging. You can also view three videos on a wall of people’s faces as they play video games, meant to show their emotions and expressions as they play. To be honest, we kind of breezed through the whole room once we realized there were games to play just ahead.
The exhibit has had mixed reviews (one of the reasons we took so long to get there), mostly questioning its relevance in the art world. But I think it’s worth checking out — if not to show your kids some of the games from your childhood, then to possibly let them see just how cool you can be. 🙂
The Art of Video Games is at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th & F Streets NW) through September 30. Museum hours are 11:30am – 7pm. Admission is free.
All geared up with walking sticks for the 300-meter “trek” to the park’s Nature Center
It’s a small blogging world around here. And I experienced it firsthand on a visit to Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington a couple of weeks ago. I got the idea to go there from No Monsters in My Bed when a friend and I were looking for a new place to take our little ones to play outside on a nice day. Then, upon our arrival at the playground right next to the small parking area, I saw some familiar faces, adorable little ones that I recognized from Not-So-SAHM. It turned out their mom, Rebecca, and I both ended up at the park on the recommendation of Darcy (who writes No Monsters). What can I say… great minds think alike. 😉
Not only was it neat to run into one of my blogging compadres, it was also helpful — she had been there a while and gave me the lowdown on what to see and do at the park (read her review here), which included trail hikes and the Nature Center. Since the kids were already immersed in playground action, we hung out there before venturing further.
The playground is pretty simple — a small area containing a log tree house with a small climbing wall, a steep and fast slide, and a double slide; picnic tables; and a couple of random exercise apparatus — but it kept the kids entertained for quite awhile.
We finally convinced the kids to move on by asking them if they wanted to see some animals; we knew from talking to Rebecca that there were live (and alive-looking) creatures on exhibit at the Nature Center, just a 300-meter walk down the road from the playground.
Once inside, the kids immediately stopped to ogle an exhibit (not live) near the entrance. From there, we headed downstairs to see the turtles and snakes in terrariums before entering the Kids Cave, a small room full of hands-on nature-related activities.
Checking out an exhibit at the Potomac Overlook Park Nature Center
Hello, Mr. Snake
Kids in the Cave
When we left the Nature Center, we saw a sign for the live bird exhibit, so we walked up a short path to see a couple of owls and a hawk. A park ranger explained they had been rescued, but their injuries prevented them from being released back into the wild, so they’re now permanent residents of the park.
Wishing for pizza lunch!
By that time, we were all hungry and decided to head to nearby Italian Store (one of our all-time family faves!) and save a hike for another visit.
There definitely will be one, as Potomac Overlook is one to put on the go-to list for an easy and free outing, both outdoors and in.
Potomac Overlook Regional Park is located at 2845 N. Marcey Road in Arlington (directions here). Hours are 10am – 5pm Tuesday – Saturday, and 1–5pm Sunday, closed on Monday.