Dag Sinterklaas

For the fourth time since we left New Zealand, we were paid a visit by Sinterklaas...
For the fourth time since we left New Zealand, we were paid a visit by Sinterklaas…
Empty shoes, half eaten cookies, beer all gone, carrots vanished and a sock monkey? Did he interrupt the visitors??
empty shoes, half eaten cookies, beer all gone, carrots vanished and Sock Monkey? Did he interrupt the visitors??
As it was Friday morning the girls had to get to school so they were only allowed to dip into their stockings...
As it was Friday morning the girls had to get to school so they were only allowed to dip into their stockings…
Little Miss Matched socks! They spell out ATTITUDE!
Little Miss Matched socks! They spell out ATTITUDE!
Dag Sinterklaas lets us have an early Christmas - no way we wanted to be taking gifts all the way to New Zealand just to bring them home again.
Dag Sinterklaas lets us have an early Christmas – no way we wanted to be taking gifts all the way to New Zealand just to bring them home again.
After a long day of waiting, when Richard came in the door we popped the cork on the bubbles and the celebration began...
After a long day of waiting, the girls were so happy to see Richard came in the door. We popped the cork on the bubbles and the celebration began…
We were also celebrating the end of my first paper and the grade I'd managed to pull off...Richard surprised me with these...
we were also celebrating the end of my first paper and the grade I’d managed to pull off…Richard surprised me with these…
Here we go! She had to be quick...ballet and hip hop to go to...
Here we go! She had to be quick…ballet and hip hop to go to…
check out my new cardigan...
check out my new cardigan…
I'm looking pretty flash too...
I’m looking pretty flash too…
graphic novels are extremely popular reading material in our house at the moment...
graphic novels are extremely popular reading material in our house at the moment…
just the thing for an upcoming long plane ride...
just the thing for an upcoming long plane ride…
Sinterklaas even put a picture of me on it!
Sinterklaas even put a picture of me on it!
Stylish teapot and cups for me...from Amsterdam...
Stylish teapot and cups for me…from Amsterdam…
just the thing for summer in Aotearoa :)
just the thing for summer in Aotearoa 🙂
Happy with his new watch...
Happy with his new watch…
Is there anyone there...hello.hello..lost in their techno world!
Is there anyone there…hello.hello..lost in their techno world!
We dined on Richard's delicious homemade pizza...washed down with a few more bubbles!
We dined on Richard’s delicious homemade pizza…washed down with a few more bubbles!

We had big plans for this weekend but the weather is looking increasingly dodgy so it may just be time to hunker down at home and perhaps start packing those suitcases?

We’ve had a lovely evening…feeling very blessed to be able to celebrate as our little family today and soon celebrate again with our wider whanau back home in New Zealand.

Happy Sinterklaas!
Happy Sinterklaas!

I love you…a bushel and a peck…

We had grand plans on Saturday to head into DC and attend the Library of Congress National Book Festival. It sounded wonderful – loads of great author talks, books signings, heaps for the kids – but by Friday afternoon we were all exhausted and Richard had to fly to Belgium late Saturday so I made an executive decision to skip it. We should have at least two more chances to experience the festival before we leave the US, so we opted for a quieter day at home which we hoped would culminate in victory on the water in San Francisco! Ha – those plans were foiled.

Instead we made a visit to one of our local markets – Marker-Miller Orchards – to do a wee bit of apple picking.

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At Marker-Miller you can pick your own fruit, take a wagon ride and sit on a rocking chair on the porch whilst the kids run around in the play area. It’s always busy and a quick glance at the licence plates in the car park tell you that people come from many other states to load up on fresh fruit and vegetables, and the baked goods, cider and preserves you can buy in the shop. It reminds me a lot of living in Hastings and going with Mum to get our produce from one of the numerous orchards not far from where we lived.

Play time!
Play time!
The much coveted rocking chairs on the porch. People hover behind them waiting to pounce when one is vacant.
The much coveted rocking chairs on the porch. People hover behind them waiting to pounce when one is vacant.
Practising for my old age :)
Practising for my old age 🙂

Picking apples in the US requires the use of technical vocabulary – specifically the words bushel and peck. Bushels and pecks are measures of volume, with a peck being equivalent to 2 gallons and a bushel being equivalent to 4 pecks or 8 gallons. So if you ever wondered just what the “peck” Peter Piper was picking, now you know!

Peter Piper and his peck!
Peter Piper and his peck!
Richard making the big decision - peck sized bag or bushel sized?
Richard making the big decision – peck sized bag or bushel sized?
Olive Piper picking her peck!
Olive Piper picking her peck!
Edie Piper eating hers!
Edie Piper eating hers!

When the girls were very little we used to visit the library at least once a week and we’d always come home with kids music CDs. Our library had a great selection and the wonderful Dan Zanes was one of our favourites. We loved to sing along to his rendition of a song called Bushel and a Peck – we had no idea what those two words meant but we loved belting it out – especially the “doodle oodle oodle” bit!

Bushel and a Peck was written in the early 1950’s and was introduced in the musical Guys and Dolls. Here’s the hugely popular Doris Day version…

Right I’m off to do something with a bushel load of apples! They may be hurled at the television later this afternoon!!

Take care everyone. Missing you all and sending lots of love xxx

A side trip to Sperryville.

After the success of our trip to White Oak Canyon, we decided to return to the Sperryville area for one last little getaway before the return to school. We also decided to throw a key piece of American History into the mix by starting our weekend with a visit to Monticello – the plantation owned by Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence.

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By all accounts TJ, as he has come to be known in our house, was a man of great intelligence and a wide array of interests, and this was reflected in the glimpse we got into his self designed home. We took what was called the “family friendly” tour which was aimed at children and which we all loved – although Richard and I did have to laugh at how quickly our two kiwi girls were calling out the answers to the guide’s American history questions!

Monticello
Monticello

Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the house but it was filled with interesting artifacts, inventions and design that demonstrated Jefferson’s interest in farming, architecture, food, mechanical innovations and his great love – books.

TJ's vege patch.
TJ’s vege patch.

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TJ's final resting place.
TJ’s final resting place.

From Monticello we drove to Cardinal Springs, a farm located just outside of Sperryville. We stayed in a very cute apartment on the top of a newly built barn. The girls were in heaven. Goats, chickens, cats and dogs all roaming around freely; horses and mules to stroke and talk to through the fence; and a pond complete with canoe, paddle boat and fishing rods.

The barn at Cardinal Springs.
The barn at Cardinal Springs.
Making friends with the locals.
Making friends with the locals.
Yours truly getting my canoe on!
Yours truly getting my canoe on!
Waiting for us at the door when we woke on Saturday :)
Waiting for us at the door when we woke on Saturday 🙂
The girls took every opportunity to be with the animals.
The girls took every opportunity to be with the animals.

Olive and Edie would have stayed on the farm all day, but we did manage to drag them to the nearby town of Washington to do a bit of exploring. Also known as “Little Washington”, this tiny town of about 150 inhabitants is the oldest of the 28 towns and villages in the US that go by the name of Washington. The town site was surveyed by George Washington himself in 1749.

The first official Washington!
The first official Washington!
Lots of quaint old buildings to look at here.
Lots of quaint old buildings to look at here.

The other reason Little Washington is a destination spot for visitors, is the Inn at Little Washington – a luxury hotel and restaurant which has been rated as one of the top ten restaurants in the world. Richard and I have made a pact that we must do a grownups only dinner here before we leave the US.

The Inn at Little Washington.
The Inn at Little Washington.

Saturday afternoon was spent down at the pond. I managed to finish another book, whilst the girls took out the canoe and paddle boat – all by themselves! They had a blast. Richard fired up the fishing rods and almost managed to hook a catfish. Unfortunately his trusty assistant, namely me, was far too preoccupied with getting a photo rather than getting the fish in the net so it was very much a case of the one that got away 😦

Paddler girls in action.
Paddler girls in action.
Land that fish!
Land that fish!
The one that got away!
The one that got away!

Despite the rain on Sunday morning the girls were up and out of bed as soon as they could and had a great time helping the farm worker feed all the animals and do a spot of grooming. We dined on a late breakfast of farm fresh eggs and then headed back home to prepare for the big first day of school ahead.

I’m typing this on Thursday and so far all is good. Both girls are very happy with their class and teachers. Couldn’t have asked for a better start to the year. Poor old Richard missed all the excitement as he’s been away all week – just a few places…Chicago, Wisconsin, San Francisco and Vancouver…there will be some very tired people in our house come Saturday morning!

Hope you are all well. We miss you and send all our love xxx

Bloomin’ Marvellous

Apple Blossom 2013 kicked off for Richard and I last Wednesday morning at the Bloomin’ Business Lunch, held in a big tent on a parking lot out the back of our local hospital. We were there as guests of  the Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission – something of a mouthful but as you can probably guess they support and advise new business ventures in the area. Richard could only stay for an hour which left me holding the fort for Taura. Fortunately no one asked me any curly questions about ultra rapid concentration or emerging snack markets in Asia, so I could relax and enjoy my lunch and the presentation by Tim League, founder of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. He was a great speaker and the story of how he started his business was very interesting, but the thing I liked the most about Tim League was his oh so subtle and uber cool apple blossom outfit – slightly minty green, 1970’s cut suit with coordinating pastel pink shirt and interesting green tie. Very much the outfit for someone in the movie biz.

Nice suit Mr League! He's being interviewed by the head of the business school at Shenandoah University - one Miles Davis!
Nice suit Mr League! He’s being interviewed by the head of the business school at Shenandoah University – one Miles Davis!

Thursday night saw us all heading over to the Apple Blossom Carnival which the girls absolutely loved. We ate awful fried food and spun around on a few rides then dragged the girls off home to bed.

Edie and I snapped this view of the carnival as we took a ride on the ferris wheel.
Edie and I snapped this view of the carnival as we took a ride on the ferris wheel.
"Mmmm - what shall we do next?"
“Mmmm – what shall we do next?”
We resisted the urge to try one out - and I thought Scotland was bad with its deep fried Mars Bars!
We resisted the urge to try one out – and I thought Scotland was bad with its deep fried Mars Bars!

Friday was a big Apple Blossom day for us with the coronation of Queen Shenandoah and the kids Bloomin’ mile run. The girls and I got ourselves suitably pink and green and joined a packed crowd at John Handley High School to take in the coronation. It was incredibly formal and English and  pink and I was expecting to hear the theme song from the Tiwghlight Zone at any moment! Olive and Edie loved it and I later learned that a couple of English kings were crowned at Winchester cathedral in England which is one of the reasons why a coronation is reenacted as part of the festival.

This really was the highlight of the show for the girls: Olive's good friend W holding the Queen's train and looking very dapper!
This really was the highlight of the show for the girls: Olive’s good friend W holding the Queen’s train and looking very dapper!
All hail Queen Shenandoah.
All hail Queen Shenandoah.

At the conclusion of the ceremony we were treated to a performance by the Handley High School Glee club and it was just like on tv – I half expected Rachel and Finn to emerge from the back and start belting out Don’t Stop Believing!

Lots of jazz hands!
Lots of jazz hands and surprisingly lots of young men.

I got in the usher’s bad books by leaving before everything was finished – apparently noone was supposed to exit before the queen, but after all that processing and crowning and knighting, this little colonial had had enough. It was very strange to watch such an overtly royal display in a country that fought so hard to become independent of a monarchy.

We switched our attention to the Bloomin’ Mile which was conveniently located in the grounds of the high school. It was huge – over 1300 children aged between 6 and 14 raced around the one mile course with the fastest boy finishing in 5:03 and the fastest girl in 5:53.

Olive and her first official race bib. Ever the fashionista you will note the requested side ponytail.
Olive and her first official race bib. Ever the fashionista you will note the requested side ponytail.

Richard and I were thrilled Olive was taking part but were a little unsure as to how she would get on. She had been doing a little extension class at school called Run 4 Fun but at no time had they ever actually completed a one mile circuit. She ran a one kilometre race in Belgium and found that pretty challenging even with Richard running alongside her, and had refused all our offers to go out for a few practice runs with Mum and Dad. We talked lots about how great it was that she was taking part and that it would be okay to walk if she needed, but all our well meaning words were met with slight eye rolls and “yes I know Mum!”. So it was me who was a bundle of nerves as she lined up with the other 6 and 7 year old girls. She dashed off when the horn blew and I proceeded to start chatting to my neighbour, not expecting Olive to emerge for a good while. But then out of the corner of me eye I caught a glimpse of the side ponytail and there she was sprinting for the finish line whilst I stood there with my mouth hanging open – fortunately I had the good sense to give the camera to Richard or we would have had no pictures.

Storming to the finish line - 9 minutes and 7 seconds and no stopping at all!
Storming to the finish line – 9 minutes and 7 seconds and no stopping at all!
One of the many proud Mums in Winchester on Friday.
One of the many proud Mums in Winchester on Friday.

After I had dried my tears we joined our neighbours at the home of one of their friends to watch the Firefighter’s Parade. This was a collection of vintage fire trucks, interspersed with the marching bands from the surrounding middle and high schools, and all the celebrities who had been invited to the festival.

Refuelling with pizza and cotton candy. Most houses along the parade route set up chairs ouf front from which to view the parade.
Refuelling with pizza and cotton candy. Most houses along the parade route set up chairs ouf front from which to view the parade.
A very Addams family looking fire vehicle.
A very Addams family looking fire vehicle.
Marching band from Daniel Morgan Middle School.
Marching band from Daniel Morgan Middle School.
Washington Street is a beautiful tree lined road with many grand old homes. Here are the grand marshals of the Firefighter's Parade - Jep and Jessica from the hugely popular Duck Dynasty reality tv show.
Washington Street is a beautiful tree lined road with many grand old homes. Here are the grand marshals of the Firefighter’s Parade – Jep and Jessica from the hugely popular Duck Dynasty reality tv show.

When the sun went down Richard took the girls back down to the high school for the fireworks display. Old Nana Croad stayed home and went to bed – am finding being outside in the sun for long periods of time really exhausting and not great for my sinuses which have decided they are a teeny bit allergic to all the Winchester blooms!

Richard was up early Saturday morning to take part in the Apple Blossom 10k race. Unfortunately the chilli dog he ate at the parade the previous evening did not have the desired carbo loading effect so he didn’t do as well as he would have liked – for him that means a time of 47:39 – 224th place in a field close to 1500 runners. Pretty poor effort really!!! Plus on the official results he was recorded as being 58 years of age!

We decided to bike into the city to watch Saturday afternoon’s grand feature parade. It was great to back on my bike – even though the terrain in Winchester has somewhat more of a gradient than the lowlands of Antwerp. We got lots of looks and friendly comments – Olive biked the whole way there and back, showing no signs of tiredness from her race the day before.

All ready for the big parade - Richard's new office in the background.
All ready for the big parade – Richard’s new office in the background.

The parade consisted of princesses, queens, marching bands, beauty queens, tractors, beauty queens, military, beauty queens, community floats, beauty queens, steam engines, beauty queens, a few celebrities…and did I mention the beauty queens?!!

Queenie!
Queenie!
Cotton candy, stars and stripes...my little kiwi is turning American!
Cotton candy, stars and stripes…my little kiwi is turning American!
Pink, pink and yet more pink.
Pink, pink and yet more pink.

We headed home after almost three hours  – the parade was still going – but Edie had called time on the proceedings and we were all quite happy to disappear home. On Sunday we spent a couple of hours at a family fun day held in one of our local parks – food, face painting, craft stalls and classic cars.

What have they done to those apples?!
What have they done to those apples?!
The finest local cuisine was on offer.
The finest local cuisine was on offer.
No sign of Michael J. Fox but his car was there.
No sign of Michael J. Fox but his car was there.

By Sunday evening we were all exhausted and completed bloomed out. Now that we have pretty much experienced everything the Bloom has to offer, next year we can be a bit more selective about what we do or maybe we’ll just go away for a long weekend! Somehow I don’t think that will go down well with Olive and Edie 🙂

There are a bloomin’ ridiculous number of Apple Blossom photos if you click on the Flickr link and I have done captions for all of them. Just in case you need to see a few more beauty queens!

Take care everyone. Missing you all and sending our love xxx

Giving Thanks

In November of 1621 an autumn harvest feast was held at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrim Colonists and the native Wampanoag people sat down together to celebrate the good harvest.

When the Pilgrims first arrived in the New World they endured many hardships, including a cold and snowy winter. After meeting the Native American, Squanto, and learning from him how to cultivate maize and other crops, the Pilgrims’ situation improved enormously. That Spring and Summer the Pilgrims worked the land, and learned how to fish, get sap from the maple trees and catch the turkeys that ran wild in the forest. When fall came, the harvest was bountiful and so the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag joined together at a special feast to give thanks for their crops and for the survival skills they had learned. This first Thanksgiving celebration lasted for three days and was attended by 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.

Our first Thanksgiving celebration was spent at the home of one of our new neighbours, and their extended family. We enjoyed an incredibly warm welcome, lots of interesting conversation and, of course, all the traditional Thanksgiving food: turkey, cranberry sauce, squash, cornbread stuffing (which is actually referred to in the south as dressing), pecan pie and pumpkin pie.

Rather than taking along a typically New Zealand dish, I decided to stick with the traditional flavours of Thanksgiving in the United States. Our offering, once again thanks to Martha Stewart, was sweet potato cupcakes topped with mini marshmallows and candied pecans.

Our neighbour is an associate professor at Shenadoah University’s Conservatory of Music. The music programme at Shenandoah is highly regarded and students come from all around the United States and the rest of the world to pursue their studies. One of these students, who is in his final year of Doctoral study, was also sharing in our neighbours’ hospitality. After our meal we were lucky enough to hear him play.

It was a very special evening – one where we got to experience the true meaning and spirit of the Thanksgiving Holiday. My thoughts throughout much of the day were with our families in New Zealand and Australia. We do not have a similar celebration in New Zealand, and I think we are missing out. At no time do we come together as family and friends solely to focus on being thankful. Some would argue that Christmas is the time that we do this in New Zealand, but what I preferred about Thanksgiving was the absence of all the hype, consumerism and stress that unfortunately goes hand in hand with Christmas.

I am thankful that we, the Croad pilgrims, had such an enjoyable first Thanksgiving, and that we have wonderful neighbours who made sure that we got to share in what makes this such an important celebration in the United States. Perhaps it is a tradition we will adopt and carry with us, wherever we end up!

Trick or treat

Like pumpkin carving, the practice of trick or treating can be traced back to the Samhain festivals of Ireland and Scotland.In addition to carving turnips to ward off harmful fairies and spirits, people wore costumes to disguise themselves from the spirits. This tradition became known as Guising or Mumming. Often people went from door to door in their disguises, to collect food for the Samhain feast.

Finding the right attire for guising was the subject of much discussion and thought in our house almost as soon as we arrived in early October. The girls pored over the hundreds of costumes for sale on Target’s website and after much debate and discussion they settled on the two gorgeous creatures below…

Olive aka Frankie Stein from the Monster High series.
Edie aka Bloom from the Winx Fairies series. She was not happy with me when I insisted on the leggings and long sleeves underneath!

At about 6:30pm we joined our neighbours and began our march around the neighbourhood…well actually it was more of a sprint. The girls were so excited that they dashed from house to house, got their candy, blurted out a quick thank you and then dashed onto the next place. As I watched them I was struck by the thought that they had no idea why they were doing what they were. They are all too familiar with the visible traditions of Halloween but completely clueless when it comes to the history. I vowed to myself to make sure that next year we will do some talking about just why everyone dresses up, carves pumpkins and goes from house to house.

Hitting up Dad for our first treats.

I had planned to take many more photos but I was somewhat shaken up after Edie, in her furious attempt to keep up with Olive and M, tripped and fell head over heels down a set of concrete steps. Despite the fact she was sobbing and sporting a blood nose nothing could stop her from seeing out the rest of the night and, as it was the one night when a bit of blood on one’s costume  is almost the dress code, we valiantly continued. (After watching Olive pass out a few days earlier after having an immunisation at the doctor’s office, Edie’s tumble was just about the last straw! I very much wanted to run home crying to Mum!)

Some of the decorations we saw on our travels.
We saw a few of these!

We straggled in the door just after 8pm with very heavy pumpkins. Richard’s night had been on the quiet side. The doorbell had rung about twenty times and now we were left with all the candy I had bought in an effort not to be the clueless new nieghbours who ran out of candy.

Fortunately Olive had a wonderful idea – statistics with candy!

The girls diligently sorted every piece and then the next day we made a tally chart. And then the next day after that I put everything in a box and hid it!!
A few American classics in there.

As we tucked the girls into bed that night they were already asking when it would be Halloween again – I suspect we will still be eating this year’s candy haul when next Halloween rolls around.

Trick or treat!

PS I’ve finally added photos from our Summer holiday to my Flickr account. Click on the link and you can see what we got up to in Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Dubrovnik, Trieste and Engelburg.

Croadworks ahead!

If you’ve stumbled across this page – welcome. I’m in the process of creating a new blog about our family’s move to Winchester, VA in August 2012. Check back then to start sharing our adventures.