Climbing trees

The wonderful Kid Friendly DC blog was the source for our great adventure last weekend. Early Saturday morning we headed for Maryland – Sandy Spring, Maryland – which is home to the largest aerial forest adventure park in North America. If you are like me and was wondering just what an aerial forest adventure is, this picture might just give you a little clue…

IMG_8902

At Sandy Spring you will find 13 different rope courses of varying difficulty. The courses consist of bridges made of ropes, cable and wood, which stretch between platforms, and usually finish with a zip line descent to the ground – for those of us from kiwi land, that would be a fancy sit down flying fox.

Wheeeeeee!
Wheeeeeee!

What was great about the park is that we could all take part. Because of her age, Edie was restricted to the beginner levels but they were just thrilling enough for her.

All suited up and ready to go.
All suited up and ready to go.
Edie Kinevil in action.
Edie Kinevil in action.

Olive was able to have a go at the slightly more challenging levels on the condition that she had adult supervision. Richard had been exploring the lower level courses with her and felt she could handle a bit more so he casually suggested “why don’t you go with Olive on one of the green levels?” After having a whale of a time with Edie on the very lowly purple courses, how could I say no? Oh, how I wish I had…

this was Olive...fearlessly tackling every bridge with great composure...
this was Olive…fearlessly tackling every bridge with great composure…
loving the thrill of being high up off the ground and having no problem dealing with all the clipping into and out of the safety lines...
loving the thrill of being high up off the ground and having no problem dealing with all the clipping into and out of the safety lines…
and this was me...yes I am crying!
and this was me…yes I am crying!

Actually most of it was really fun but on one particular bridge I completely lost my nerve. Three quarters of the way across I just froze and panicked. Somehow I made it to the other side where I proceeded to give the emotional tree hugging demonstration you see above. My humiliation was further exacerbated by my seven-year old bounding onto the next bridge with cries of “hurry up Mum” and the strange looks I was getting from the pre teens waiting behind me for their turn. Not one of my most dignified moments.

There was even an aerial skateboard.
There was even an aerial skateboard.

At the next available platform I gently suggested that we might like to get down now – there were exit points dotted around each course – but this idea was of course met with a resounding “no way!” And so I had to soldier on, which in the end was a good thing – the final zip line was worth all the preceding stress.

Croad climbers in action.
Croad climbers in action.
Olive enjoying her final descent.
Olive enjoying her final descent.
Olive's official zipline photo. The course photographer pretty much followed her around. he was pretty amazed at how well she was doing as she was clearly the youngest on our particular course.
Olive’s official zip line photo. The course photographer pretty much followed her around. He was amazed at how well she did as she was clearly the youngest on our particular course.
Very happy to be back on terra firma.
Very happy to be back on terra firma.

So we can all highly recommend the Adventure Park at Sandy Spring – unless you happen to suffer from vertigo, and in that case I would advise you to steer well clear! Or hold the jackets and take photos! One thing we do recommend is arriving early – it fills up really quickly which can lead to a fair bit of waiting around between bridges.

I’ll leave you with another official pic of Miss O. We were all incredibly proud of her bravery and determination – of course now she wants to go back and get even higher – gulp!

oliverope

Take care everyone. We miss you all and send lots of love and go Team New Zealand!!

High on Baltimore

We never watched television whilst living in Belgium. Those of you who know my husband well, will know how little he thinks of the big square box in the corner of the room, and this attitude combined with the lack of anything good on anyway, meant that the only shows that saw the light of day in our house, were kids programmes in Flemish.

Kaatje en haar vriendenmega mindyKabouter Plop2

Those of you that know me well will understand that going cold turkey on tv was just not something I could buy into, so Richard and I reached the happy compromise of buying boxed sets of tv shows on DVD. It took me a while to train him up properly on the art of boxed set purchasing. First off he came home with Season Two and Three of Mad Men. “Where is Season 1?” I casually inquired, to which he replied something along the lines of “it doesn’t matter where you start”…!!!!!!!

To be honest it was mostly me who ended up watching the DVDs – the only show that Richard watched with me from start to finish was season one of The Wire, the cult cop show set in Baltimore. Described by many TV critics as being one of the greatest TV dramas of all time, The Wire soon had us both hooked. Season one focusses on the Baltimore Police Department’s attempts to bring down a drug dealing organization centred on a very grim housing estate in the part of town you would very much want to stay away from. The drug pushers would sit on a battered couch in a courtyard on the housing estate, selling drugs to everyone and taking part in the odd homicide.

the-wire

Let’s just say that whilst it was a great show, The Wire did nothing to make me want to pay a visit to Baltimore. When we found out we were moving to Winchester, just a couple of hours drive from Baltimore,  Richard and I used to joke that at least we’d know where to go to score some drugs. On one of his many trips to the US before we moved, Richard had to make a visit to Baltimore for work. I remember getting a text out of the blue back in Antwerp which read “I’ve seen the couch!” – the GPS had inadvertently sent him into the badlands of Baltimore.

So I had a curious mix of intrigue and trepidation as we drove east to Baltimore last Sunday.  Our destination was the National Aquarium – bound to be full of drug dealers and corrupt law enforcement officers!

The National Aquarium - one very cool building.
The National Aquarium – one very cool building.
So many fascinating aquatic creatures.
So many fascinating aquatic creatures.
Even dolphins! After our visit Olive declared that her new career path is marine biology.
Even dolphins! After our visit Olive declared that her new career path is marine biology.
We saw so many interesting creatures but the highlight of our day was the jellyfish.
We saw so many interesting creatures but the highlight of our day was the jellyfish.
Cassiopea or upside down jellyfish.
Cassiopea or upside down jellyfish.
Moon jellyfish.
Moon jellyfish.
Weird and beautiful all at the same time.
Weird and beautiful all at the same time.

The aquarium is situated in the waterfront area of Baltimore known as the Inner Harbour. One of America’s oldest seaports, the Inner Harbour used to be really run down and dodgy – apparently Billie Holiday used to work in a brothel there – the perfect place for Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale!

Now it is a thriving tourist area with shops, restaurants, museums and cafes – in short, a very nice place to visit – a place I’m sure we will go back to.

No couches here...
No couches here…
ore here.
or here.

So somewhat against the odds, Baltimore won me over. Actually there is a great deal in the state of Maryland to like. After exploring the aquarium we drove 26 miles south to Annapolis, the state capital and home of the US Naval Academy. Annapolis is gorgeous – situated right on the water, it’s dotted with sail boats and gorgeous old cottages. Somewhere else to return to for a more detailed exploration.

So if you are looking for something to watch or a place to visit, I can now highly recommend The Wire and Baltimore. Both a bit gritty but ultimately intriguing and entertaining. High time we checked out Season Two for a bit more Baltimore education.

If you’d like to see more photos from our aquarium visit, click on my Flickr link. And thanks for all the lovely responses and messages after my last post – they all meant a great deal 🙂 I’ve updated the booky part of the blog too if you are interested in seeing what the girls and I are reading at the moment.

Weather permitting we are off to do some hiking in the famous Skyline Drive area tomorrow – best go and dust off my walking shoes!

Take care everyone. We miss you all and send lots of love.

All at sea in St Michaels

After the war of 1812, shipbuilding declined in St Michaels, but a few decades later the town was revived by the oyster industry. By the late nineteenth century most households in St Michaels had at least one occupant engaged in oystering – tonging oysters from the nearby Miles River or working in the shucking houses that came to line the waterfront. One of these businesses came to specialise in crabmeat and devised a five level grading system for crab that is still used today.

Oyster shells on the ground in St Michaels.
Oyster shells on the ground in St Michaels.
Edie at work in the crabmeat factory.
Edie at work in the crabmeat factory.

We spent Saturday immersed in the history of St Michaels boat building and seafood industries. St Michaels is home to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, a wonderful collection of outdoor and indoor exhibits – which include a working boatyard – that really brings to life the importance both economic and social, of Chesapeake Bay.

Finding coffee was the first order of business for the day and this drive through stand delivered us the best coffee we've had since moving to the US. Just as good as a kiwi latte.
Finding coffee was the first order of business for the day and this drive through stand delivered us the best coffee we’ve had since moving to the US. Just as good as a kiwi latte.
Exploring the Hooper Strait lighthouse which was originally built in 1879.
Exploring the Hooper Strait lighthouse which was originally built in 1879.
With the big lens at the top of the lighthouse.
With the big lens at the top of the lighthouse.
Modelling suitable yacht club attire.
Modelling suitable yacht club attire.
I don't think these two would get in!
I don’t think these two would get in!
Having a go at catching crabs.
Having a go at catching crabs.
Checking out some of the restoration work taking place at the museum.
Checking out some of the restoration work taking place at the museum.
So that's what a boat's bottom looks like!
So that’s what a boat’s bottom looks like!

From the Maritime Museum we headed to the wharf and boarded The Patriot – a passenger cruise boat which takes daily tours on the Miles River. For ninety minutes we cruised along the river, admiring the stunning homes which grace the waterfront and learning interesting facts about the history of the area and the wildlife that call the river home – Olive and Edie even got to have a go at steering the boat!

All ready to set sail.
All ready to set sail.
Captain Olive...
Captain Olive…
and first mate Edie.
and first mate Edie.
A pair of osprey come to this channel marker every year to nest. Ospreys are monogamous but "vacation" separately every year. The Captain surmised that perhaps this is the secret to a lasting relationship!
A pair of osprey come to this channel marker every year to nest. Ospreys are monogamous but “vacation” separately every year. The Captain surmised that perhaps this is the secret to a lasting relationship!
An example of the grand homes that line the banks of the Miles river. The owners have four other homes and used this house for a grand total of three weekends last year!
An example of the grand homes that line the banks of the Miles river. The owners of this particular property have four other homes and used this house for a grand total of three weekends last year!

As we were coming to the end of our cruise we were treated to the most amazing sight – the Captain ordered everyone up on top of the boat with their cameras as he had spotted a deer swimming across the river. Apparently he spots deer in the river only a couple of times a year, and as this was the Patriot’s first voyage of the season he was a teeny bit excited! It would never have occurred to me that a deer would swim and the sight of the doe powering through the water was nothing short of amazing.

Bambi Phelps in action :)
Bambi Phelps in action 🙂

There are loads more pics of our trip to St Michaels if you click on the link to my Flickr photos.

As I type this we are coming to the end of Easter Sunday. It’s been a very relaxed day – the Easter Bunny hid some treats for the girls to find and we spent the morning exploring the nearby townships of Easton and Tilghman Island.

Tomorrow we are headed back home after a very relaxing getaway. This area has completely won us over and we would very much like to make a return visit.

Hope you have all had safe, happy and chocolate filled Easters. Missing you all and sending all our love xxx

The town that fooled the British.

Twenty-nine years after the War of Independence, the Americans were once again involved in a military conflict against the British Empire. The United States declared war on Britain in 1812 and the conflict lasted for 32 months. War was declared for a number of reasons – trade restrictions brought about by Britain’s ongoing war with France, British support of Native American tribes against American expansion, and possible American interest in annexing Canada.

War had been raging for over a year when, in August 1813, a British fleet moved up the Chesapeake Bay and targeted the small town of St Michaels. St Michaels was a town of shipbuilders, her citizens crafting the clippers and schooners that posed such a threat to the British Navy. Under cover of early morning darkness on August 10th, the British began their bombardment of St Michaels but ultimately they failed to destroy the shipyards or cause any substantial damage to the town.

According to a story that was recorded many years later, the citizens of St Michaels had been forewarned of the imminent attack and had evacuated most of the women, children, livestock and valuables to an area outside of the town. The commanding officer of the local militia ordered all lights in the township to be doused and called for lanterns to be hung in treetops just outside of the town. This first recorded military blackout caused the British to overshoot the town and only one dwelling was hit – a house now known as the Cannonball House. St Michael’s has been known ever since as “the town that fooled the British”.

St Michaels Church, established in 1677.
St Michaels Church, established in 1677.

We stumbled on St Michaels quite by chance when looking for potential Easter getaway locations. We knew that the Chesapeake Bay area had a reputation for being beautiful and we also wanted to go somewhere that didn’t involve hours in the car. After settling on a general area, we started browsing holiday house rentals and soon found one called the River House. The photos were enticing and the reviews by previous guests were very complimentary  – the fact that it was minutes away from a charming and carefully restored colonial town called St Michaels just added to the appeal. So on Thursday we loaded up the car, reassured Edie that the Easter Bunny would know where to find us and hit the road.

The River House-on the right. Richard took this photo early on Friday morning before heading out for his run. Such a beautiful moon.
The River House-on the right. Richard took this photo early on Friday morning before heading out for his run. Such a beautiful moon.

On route to St Michael’s we did a short detour into DC hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous cherry blossoms. We parked on the outskirts of the city and hopped on the Metro. Our destination was the Tidal Basin area, the focal point of the national Cherry Blossom Festival held every year.You may have surmised from my Facebook posts and photos that Spring has been very slow to show her face in these parts and as we walked from the Metro stop to the Jefferson Memorial we were met with a biting wind and lots of naked trees. The much admired blossoms, which normally bloom in late March, were nowhere to be seen. Despite our disappointment we felt we couldn’t leave without paying our respects to Mr Jefferson and our reward for continuing on in the cold, was the sight of one lone tree that had begun to flower.

Yay Springtime! Check out those coats and if you squint you might catch a glimpse of pink on that tree!
Yay Springtime! Check out those coats and if you squint you might catch a glimpse of pink on that tree!
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Thomas Jefferson Memorial

After the obligatory stop at Whole Foods to pick up supplies, we rolled into St Michaels late on Thursday afternoon. We were instantly charmed by the River House which sits right on a tributary of the Miles River and is decorated in a very chic French boho style. After the girls finished squealing and had settled the important debate as to who was sleeping where, we made a quick trip into St Michaels to source some extra supplies – that would be wine – and then headed home to fire up the BBQ.

View from the house early Friday morning.
View from the house early Friday morning.
Not a bad place to cook.
Not a bad place to cook.

Friday was pretty leisurely which was just what we wanted. No alarm jolted us awake in the morning; breakfast was eaten in a very relaxed manner; I taught the girls how to play Battle Ship whilst Richard snoozed after his big early morning run; the girls did yoga poses on the deck and generally made the most of being outside. River House is one of those great places with baskets of magazines in every room so in between my D4 …miss…E10…hit! conversation with the girls, I was able to sneak in a bit of glossy mag perusal.

Around lunchtime we headed into St Michaels to check out an ice cream parlour we’d spotted the night before. On the way we popped into a few of the numerous boutiques that line both sides of the main street, and sussed out where we could catch a boat for a trip on the Miles River.

Oooodles of choices in Justine's ice cream parlour.
Oooodles of choices in Justine’s ice cream parlour.
We settled on mint choc chip and rainbow sherbet - yummy!
We settled on mint choc chip and rainbow sherbet – yummy!
There are so many quaint and carefully restored old homes in St Michaels. Many are now rented out as holiday homes.
There are so many quaint and carefully restored old homes in St Michaels. Many are now rented out as holiday homes.

Back home we indulged in some more strenuous couch time whilst the girls made up elaborate games outside involving the bait trap and fishing net they found by the jetty. I roused myself enough to throw on my running gear and Richard and the girls dropped me back on the outskirts of town. Five kilometeres and about thirty three minutes later I was home to the sights and smells of steak on the BBQ and a glass of red wine with my name on it.

Dinner al fresco - coats still a necessity unfortunately.
Dinner al fresco – coats still a necessity unfortunately.

The combination of fresh air, sunshine, a couple of runs and a wee tipple had us in bed early. Our plan for Saturday – to explore the maritime history of St Michaels.

Until then, I’m off for another wee tipple!!