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What Happens When A Small-Town Family Visits The "World's Largest"... Whatever!

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World’s Largest Pinball Machine, Chicago, IL

Not being able to clone myself presents two major problems: A) I have to do ALL the laundry myself; and B) I can’t visit all the really cool BIG things out there I want to see. Like the world’s largest pinball machine, which anyone (other than poor ole’ clone-less me) can find at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, which just happens to be the largest science museum in the western hemisphere!


The largest science museum in the western hemisphere!

So while I make sure the kids have clean undies, I rely on generous contributors to write monthly guest posts covering what I have to miss. This month, that kind soul is Jessica at Suitcases and Sippycups. When she sent me her photos of the pinball machine, I was caught off guard, because I thought it would look like an arcade table-style game.

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BIGGISH – Wally the Stegosaurus, Pittsfield, MA

Look who we ran into this weekend! This BIG stegosaurus sits in front of the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA. We were in the Berkshires for a reunion for the PR company where Matt and I both worked – and met – way back in the Jurassic Period.


Speaking of the Jurassic Period…this is Wally the Stegosaurus, so named because this creature’s brain was the size of a walnut. A life-size replica, he’s 26 feet long, 12 feet tall, and 7 feet wide.  Since he’s made of fiberglass, he only weighs 1,200 lbs, versus a real Stegosaurus weight of 6,000 lbs.

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Maker Faire: World’s Largest DIY Festival

Maker Faire

Just the indoor exhibits...

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

We didn’t know exactly what to expect on our way to Queens, NY for the 2011 World Maker Faire NY, but we did knew that it was going to be awesome! We had spent some time on the Maker Faire website, which is chock full of videos of people making all sorts of things. The emphasis is on science and technology, and the flashy gadgetry drew in Matt and The Boy like moths to flame.

As the world’s largest DIY festival, it’s a celebration of making “stuff” with your bare hands, with an emphasis on inventing entirely new stuff, or finding a better way to create the stuff already out there!

WHY did you go there, exactly?

The World Maker Faire is an annual event in NYC, and we didn’t want to miss our opportunity to check it out. A cycle of smaller regional Maker Faires around the country begins in the spring and runs through the fall. Several are still to come in various cities through October, so check the website for dates in Phoenix, AZ; East Bay, CA; and Pittsburgh, PA. Next year, they will hopefully return to cities like Toronto, Detroit, Kansas City, and Raleigh/Durham.

Okay, what was so cool about it?

Maker Faire is like a school science fair on steroids, with over 500 exhibits in themed areas, such as robotics, “hackerspaces,” steampunk, art and crafts, and sustainability. They ranged in scope from the earnest 12-year old explaining the house sensor system he built and programmed himself, to the wildly fun Sashimi Tabernacle Choir, a Volvo covered with 250 opera-singing fish and lobster (you know the kind you normally find hanging on the wall affixed to a wood plaque?).

Sashimi Tabernacle Choir

The singing sea creatures of the Sashimi Tabernacle Choir

Over two days, there’s a packed schedule of free workshops. First on The Boy’s agenda was the one teaching how to pick a lock. In ten minutes, he was picking padlocks like Houdini with excited satisfaction! He’s been pleading with me ever since to let him try picking the bolt on our front door. (Ummmm, the answer is still “no.”)

how to pick a lock

A useful life skill

There were robots of every size, shape, and purpose, including several places to build your own. The “Young Makers” pavilion catered to the school-age set, and The Boy closed in on the LEGO table like a homing pigeon. There’s a heavy “green” message here too. At one table, the kids made art out of reused CD cases, weaving fabric bits through rubber bands encircling them.

I wasn’t sure if The Girl would be as entertained as her older brother. But she was totally on board from the moment we set foot on the GE Carousolar, the world’s only solar-powered carousel. We also climbed aboard the Bio Bus – a traveling mobile science lab – for a quick hands-on presentation about microscopes. We spent some time at the CLIF bar tent, snaring some free samples and making a hat out of recycled packaging and LOTS of stickers.


She's never met a carousel she didn't like!

In addition to the exhibits, we enjoyed two fantastic shows, including the fizzy fountain explosions of over 100 Coke Zero bottles after Mentos candies were dropped into them. The other hit was the life-sized recreation of the game Mouse Trap, based on the Rube Goldberg method of building complicated contraptions to solve simple problems. The show, which ended with a giant weight crashing into a car below, included cheeky antics by a vaudevillian cast. Check it out:


How it rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = snoozefest, 10 = add to your bucket list): [rating=9]

9!!! Maker Faire was a treat for all our senses! At once entertaining, educational, inspiring and awe-inspiring! I can’t wait to go again next year. The only drawback was the lack of food vendors for the size of the event. The vendors who were there were very good – several ethnic food trucks – but the lines were mercilessly long.

Hey YOU! Go BIG:

Maker Faire New York

The NYC location in 2011 was the New York Hall of Science

47-01 111th Street

Queens, NY 11368-2950


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World’s Largest Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, FL

Have you entered our BIG first anniversary giveaway yet? There are still a few more days to enter to win a pair of Go City Cards from Smart Destinations!

Naval aviation museumThis month, our guest post comes from Florida’s panhandle. I lived in Tallahassee in my early 20’s, and have fond memories of the beautiful beaches and…oppressive humidity. Jen from Two Kids and a Map hails from Pensacola, and apparently doesn’t suffer from humidity-induced bad hair days like I do. Lucky. She shares her family’s experiences at one of her favorite local attractions, the National Naval Aviation Museum.

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

My husband and I took our two children, ages 4 and 6, and explored the National Naval Aviation Museum, the world’s largest Naval Aviation Museum, and one of Florida’s most visited museums. It is located in Pensacola, Florida.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

I have a confession to make.  We go to the National Naval Aviation Museum at least once a month during the school year and once a week during the summer.  I knew the Naval Aviation Museum was big, but I had no idea it was the world’s largest until Traci told me it was!  The Naval Aviation Museum is a great way to get the kids out of the Florida heat while avoiding the “I’m bored” chorus!

Okay, what was so cool about it?

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Strong Musuem: World’s Largest Public Collection of Video Games


Happy Kid #1

Hey, who’s going into NYC this weekend to see the Macy’s fireworks show? It’s the world’s largest Independence Day fireworks display, with 40,000 fireworks synchronized to a 25-minute musical score! We’re gonna wait a few years before exposing The Girl to that kind of “revelry,” but if anyone goes, tell me about it!

But here’s a crowd-pleaser for all ages:

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

After we planned our May road trip to Rochester for the Lilac Festival, we read about the International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG), which has one of the world’s largest collections of electronic games, as well as the world’s largest public collection of video games. The Boy couldn’t get there fast enough. Then again, neither could Matt. Meet the Go BIG version of the apple and tree.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

I wouldn’t make a six hour drive just for an exhibit of electronic games. The ICHEG, however, is part of The Strong, a non-profit institution dedicated to the study of play. Another part of the facility is the National Museum of Play, the world’s second largest children’s museum.

So, while The Boy (and his father) got all worked up and frothy in anticipation of seeing all those bits and bytes, I was reassured that The Girl would be happy with all the toys and games at the museum.

Okay, what was so cool about it?

The actual collection is expansive, and not all of it is on view. What you do see is the permanent exhibit, eGame Revolution, within the National Museum of Play. Our first stop was to pay homage to The Brown Box, the 1968 precursor to Pong invented by Ralph Baer. The Boy and I stepped up, manned our paddles, and…waited…for…the…ball…to cross the screen. Remember when Pong was new and unbelievable and everyone wanted it? Now I can only think about how much time we wasted waiting for the ball to cross that dang screen!


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World’s Second Largest Garden Gnome, Kerhonkson, NY

Worlds largest garden gnome

Meet Chomsky!

Up until April of this year, the world’s largest garden gnome was Chomsky, the jolly, 13’ 6” bearded fellow who welcomes you at the entrance of Kelder’s Farm in Kerhonkson, NY. Another feather in our Hudson Valley cap. I’ve learned there are two taller gnomes; one in Iowa, and the other in Poland.  I’m bummed. I have to categorize this post as “Biggish,” not “Biggest.”

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

At the strike of midnight on September 30th, we begin the excited preparations for Halloween. It’s a long month of discussing, analyzing, and comparing costume choices; putting up decorations; watching Halloween TV specials (we own It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown) and reading our favorite books, most notably Jerry Seinfeld’s Halloween. Both kids can now recite the Halloween Three-Step Program by heart.

And of course, there’s the pumpkin picking. This year, we’re going to make Jack O’Lanterns, so inspired are we from going to the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze.

So this year, we went to get our pumpkins about an hour away, on Kelder’s Farm in Kerhonkson, NY.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

We’ve been there to see Chomsky once before, but it was in March when the farm stand wasn’t open. We went to get a better look at the world’s second largest garden gnome, with the added benefit of getting our pumpkins and having some fun on the farm.

Okay, what was so cool about it?

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BIGGISH: Largest Buddha in the Western Hemisphere, Carmel, NY

So, we don’t always go to see the world’s largest stuff (you knew this was coming, right?). There are many huge, gigantic, sizeable, immense, jumbo, mammoth, BIG attractions out there to love, even if they fall short of the title. That’s why we’ve created a “Biggish” category where we can share information about intriguing BIG sites which are still worth a visit.

For example…

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

Great Buddha Hall

China? Korea? Nepal? Nope. Upstate New York

Hey, we don’t limit ourselves to just the quirky, “ball of twine”- caliber attractions either! Occasionally, we have the need for some highbrow culture and enrichment. We just do it on a BIG scale.

So on a sunny but crisp fall afternoon, I took The Boy for an outing to the tranquil Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, NY, home of the largest Buddha statue in the western hemisphere. My son only had a half-day of school, and would rather have been parked in front of the Wii all afternoon. Unfortunately, he was cursed with a mother who can find a “teachable moment” at Jiffy Lube. And so, off to learn and explore…

He was eight years old at the time, and mature for his age, so I knew he would behave properly. The Girl was at daycare, and I know now that she probably would not have done well there.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

It’s true what they say about not appreciating what’s in your own backyard.  I knew that the Buddha was located in our neighboring county, but it was years before I made the (literally) 20-minute trip go see it.   It takes me longer to drive to B.J.’s to get The Girl’s Pull-Ups.

Time was of the essence, because the grounds are only open to the public April through December, and it was already November.




One of Buddha’s disciples, looking for a handout

Okay, what was so cool about it?


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“Go BIG” Geek Gear! Tips for Taking “Tech” on the Road

TRACI — Ladies; the following post is a cautionary tale about what happens when you marry the former President of the high school A/V Club.  These days, you can find my husband Matt trolling the aisles of Best Buy on a Saturday night, ogling cell phone accessories.  Apparently, yesterday was “Embrace Your Inner Geek Day.” And so Matt popped open the champagne and polished this blog post about the toys we take on our “Go BIG” trips…


MATT — So whenever we take a trip, I am tapped as the family Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that we are digitally prepared for our journey. Here’s what we bring and some tips for packing lightly but providing maximum technology…

Technology for travel

If the lights dim in your hotel room, it's probably because we're drawing power from the room next door.

Navigation & Communication:

  • Garmin Nüvi 1250 (aptly named and affectionately known by the family as “nüvi” – for directions & traffic)
      TIP: Make sure you have all the addresses for each of the locations pre-loaded, pre-printed or send an e-mail to yourself with that information and put it on your smartphone. The GPS is only as good as the address or coordinates, so know where you are going

(before you leave)

    . All of this makes for less bickering, trust me.
  • Motorola Droid + charging cable (USB cable + AC Adapter/Charger)
    Backup navigation via the Android phone:

  • Pink Blackberry 8350 Curve (Traci affectionately refers to her as “Pinkberry”) + Car charging cable
  • Red Dell Mini 9 (named “Ruby”, of course) + Laptop AC Adapter + matching Red Dell Bluetooth Travel mouse (for social media & blogging purposes)
  • MyPlace Cozy personal workstation with built-in cushion (for working on the laptop on the road) + lightweight, thin, gel mouse pad
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    World’s Largest Rubik’s Cube, Knoxville, TN

    I’m very excited to introduce our first guest blogger, my friend Fiona. She qualifies to write a post because she lives in the same “small” town as we do, and recently visited the World’s Largest Rubik’s Cube, as well as the World’s Steepest Inclined Passenger Railway (which will be featured in a future post). Not that I’m a stickler for qualifiers. I welcome any guest blogger with a BIG story to share.

    These sites are in Knoxville and Chattanooga, TN, respectively, and a LONG way from where we live. But Fiona was traveling to Baton Rouge, LA with her husband K. and son C. to visit the University of Louisiana. Background: at the tender age of ten, C. already knows he wants to attend LSU, pretty much because the school’s mascot is a tiger named “Mike.” He’s had a thing for tigers since before he could walk. His pet cats Anakin and Luke are sorry substitutes.

    Knowing about their trip, I asked Fiona if she was willing to accept a “Go BIG” assignment. Actually, I cajoled, and kinda guilted her into it. But Fiona’s game for just about anything, especially where playthings are concerned, since she used to own a toy store. (Now, she’s training for a 5K, living the Tao, and planning our next scrapbooking weekend. She’s multi-faceted, that one). I forced the address details upon her, and they were off. Good thing Knoxville was actually on the way to Baton Rouge.




    Today's talented guest blogger!

    Fiona is also the talented designer behind the delightful “Go BIG or Go Home” banner.  Want to contact her and get her mad skills working for you?  Her company is Enlightened Solutions.



    Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

    Driving to Lousiana for vacation, my husband, son and myself decided to break up the drive, and spend the night in Knoxville, TN. We stayed at the Holiday Inn, which is home to the world’s largest Rubik’s Cube.

    WHY did you go there, exactly?

    We chose Knoxville because we had never been there before, and it was about half way on the drive. (And Traci left me no choice).

    Okay, what was so cool about it?

    My husband and I are both from the era of the Cube of Rubik, so we were jazzed to see it and tickle our childhood funny bone. It’s located on the top floor of the hotel, at the entrance to the Knoxville Convention and Exhibition Center.

    World's largest Rubik's Cube

    Solved! Beat my best time, too!

    While it was fun to say we saw it, it did not live up to expectations. We hoped that this icon would have been given more respect. The Rubik’s Cube enjoyed a resurgence on its anniversary a few years ago when I owned a toy store. Seems like a missed marketing opportunity, if you ask me.

    Ask the front desk for its location, and they will answer half-heartedly. Sadly, the cube is shoved in a corner of the hotel, not plugged in, and dusty. The puzzle is in the “solved” position, and one of the levels is twisted apart from the other two, as if in mid-turn. It was, at one point, electrified into motion.

    How it rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = snoozefest, 10 = add to your bucket list) [rating=1]
    I would rate it a 1.  If you are a Rubik fan and happen to be near the hotel, stop in. Otherwise, keep on driving.

    A little background info about the place:

    The cube was a gift from the Hungarian government for the 1982 World’s Fair, which was held in Knoxville.

    It was displayed at the entrance to Hungary’s pavilion, to commemorate its invention by Hungarian architecture professor Erno Rubik in 1974.

    The cube is motorized, though presently the motor is not used. It is ten feet tall, and weighs 1,200 pounds. The panels each weigh about 300 pounds.  The central section of the cube, containing the motor which turns it, weighs about 600 pounds.

    The Rubik’s Cube is the world’s biggest-selling puzzle game, having sold in excess of 350 million units worldwide. The cube has 43 quintillion different possible configurations (that’s 43,252,003,274,489,856,000), and only one solution.

    Hey you! Go BIG:

    Holiday Inn, 525 Henley Street, Knoxville, TN, 865-522-2800

    Official Rubik’s Cube Factoids


    World's Largest Rubiks Cube

    Hungary's contribution to the world of playthings


    Knoxville Things To Do on raveable

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