Hitting the road…

We began our farewell tour with a two day drive down the northwest coastline, heading for San Francisco. It’s a big drive, so we broke it up over two and a half days, with two nights camping out. We haven’t done a lot of camping as a family, but will spend quite a few nights on this road trip under canvas. I have to say that we got off to a pretty good start.

There were endless beautiful vistas and sights as we made our way to our first destination, Sunset Bay State Park…

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The girls had a blast racing down some of the Oregon dunes.
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We drove over another of Oregon’s unique bridges…
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arriving at Sunset Bay for…no words needed here!

The girls took the business of setting up camp very seriously, each taking on specifically assigned duties. Olive was Richard’s trusty tent setting up assistant, whilst Edie ably got all the camp mattresses inflated and installed inside the tent. I was relegated to assembling a couple of camp beds, which even I, with my thorough lack of camping nous, was able to pull off.

Once camp Croad was up and running we spent the rest of the evening enjoying the delights of Sunset Bay.

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Despite being awoken in the early hours by our nearest neighbor’s crying infant, we all managed to get a decent night’s sleep and were quickly up and back on the road for the next leg of the journey. Before continuing south, we made a quick detour to check out the seal colony you can find just north of the park. We weren’t quite sure how many seals to expect, but as soon as we opened the car doors we were hit with an overwhelming cacophony of bellows and brays…let’s just say there were quite a few seals!

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We were all very excited about our next stop – a chance to sleep amongst the giant redwoods in California’s Humboldt Redwoods State Park.ย It didn’t disappoint. Because the night was so warm, we were able to leave the fly off the tent and sleep looking up at a canopy of intertwining branches…magic.

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I’m writing this from the beach front in Tulum, Mexico. We are coming to the end of a very special week here, about which I’ll blog next. Tomorrow it’s back to San Francisco and then on to Yosemite…the adventure continues!

 

Costa Rica Roundup – Part Three

Christmas Day in Costa Rica turned out to be very quiet and relaxed. Unfortunately both Richard and Olive had upset stomachs. Olive had discovered the maracuya, a larger and slightly more sour type of passion fruit, and I suspect her tummy was telling her “enough with the maracuya!” Being the highbrow family that we are, we couldn’t get through the day without numerous references to maracuya and poohya…I always thought girls were meant to be immune to all that toilet humor!!

Oliva and Edie posing with one of the many and varied Nativity scenes we encountered during our trip.
Olive and Edie posing with one of the many and varied Nativity scenes we encountered during our trip.
Despite the dodgy tummies we did manage to make it down to Dominicalito Beach for a couple of hours...just like a real Kiwi Christmas day.
Despite the dodgy tummies we did manage to make it down to Dominicalito Beach for a couple of hours…just like a real Kiwi Christmas day.
Watching the hundreds of hermit crabs on the go was fun.
Watching the hundreds of hermit crabs on the go was fun.
Olive and her sloth. Our non stuffed animal lover instantly fell in love with this one...of course we left it behind :(
Olive and her sloth. Our non stuffed animal lover instantly fell in love with this one…of course we forgot to pack it!
Watching the sun set at Dominical beach on Christmas night. Magic.
Watching the sun set at Dominical beach on Christmas night. Magic.

On Boxing Day we went back to Ballena National Park to take a walk on the whale’s tail. It literally has the shape of a whale’s tail and is a place where humpback whales come twice a year. You can only walk on the tail when the tide is out so you have to time it right or you could get stranded.

The whale's tail from above.
The whale’s tail from above.
Our more down to earth view.
Our more down to earth view.
Once again Edie spent every possible moment in the water.
Once again Edie spent every possible moment in the water.
Our last adventure in Costa Rica was a trip to the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary.
Our last adventure in Costa Rica was a trip to the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary.
We got to meet all sorts of wildlife who had been rescued from various situations.
We got to meet all sorts of wildlife who had been rescued from various situations.
It's illegal to keep Costa Rican wildlife as pets, but many people do. When the animal is discovered it often ends up at Alturas. They also take in animals who have been injured or mistreated.
It’s illegal to keep Costa Rican wildlife as pets, but many people do. When the animal is discovered it often ends up at Alturas. They also take in animals who have been injured or mistreated.
The goal is to rehabilitat the animals and, if possible, get them back into the wild. Once released, many of the animals keep very close to the sanctuary and have been known to pop back for a visit.
The goal is to rehabilitate the animals and, if possible, get them back into the wild. Once released, many of the animals keep very close to the sanctuary and have been known to pop back for a visit.
I never thought I would describe a porcupine as cute but this wee girl was so adorable.
I never thought I would describe a porcupine as cute but this wee girl was so adorable.
Apparently these wee critters taste amazing - ugh - but as a result are very endangered.
Apparently these wee critters taste amazing – ugh – but as a result are very endangered.
Olive and Edie loved getting up close and personal with all the animals.
Olive and Edie loved getting up close and personal with all the animals.

And so the sun set on our Costa Rican adventure. Pura Vida is a phrase used a great deal in Costa Rica. Loosely translated it means the good life, living well, things are going great…perhaps even…no worries…it’s a sentiment we tried desperately to keep in mind when we arrived home late on the 29th to discover…

"Oh ?@*$!"....breathe...Pura Vida, Pura Vida, Pura Vida!
“Oh $#@*!”….breathe…Pura Vida, Pura Vida, Pura Vida!

 

Tuckered out!

We spent Memorial Day weekend in Tucker County, West Virginia, a beautiful part of the country which is known as a place to go for outdoor activities – skiing, hiking, camping, cycling, kayaking, caving, rock climbing…you get the picture! We rented a cabin at Timberlineย in the Canaan Valley, where you’ll find ski fields, zip lines and all manner of other outdoorsy things.

The focus of our weekend was getting out on our bikes and as both girls have improved so much on their bikes since our cycling adventure last Memorial Day weekend, we were keen to let them loose on one of the old rail trails. We chose the Blackwater Canyon Rail Trail, a roughly 10 mile, downhill ride, which lies on the bed of an old railway line which was built in 1888.

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It was a beautiful ride and so great to see the girls confidently maneuvering their bikes along narrow trails, over branches and rocks, and even through the odd puddle of mud. I didn’t do too badly either!

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The rail trail took up most of the morning and then we spent the afternoon taking in the local art scene in the neighbouring towns of Davis andย Thomas. As luck would have it, Memorial Day weekend was also the Tucker County ArtSpring festival, so the two small towns were full of all sorts of art and craft activities – the girls even got to try their hand at a bit of tie-dying.

The other happy coincidence about visiting Tucker County last weekend was the Blackwater Classic, a mountain bike race that both Richard and the girls could take part in. So on Sunday morning we loaded up the bikes and headed to the start line. The kids were up first and as the lead adult headed off, one very determined Olive was the first rider behind him. She hung on in there the whole way, eventually finishing up fourth – the first girl home! Edie did a great job too and both thoroughly enjoyed their first big race.

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We knew that Richard’s race would take just a wee bit longer than the kids one, so the girls and I headed back to Thomas. There we had found a fantastic cafe called Tip Top – just like a kiwi one – so we refueled with coffee, hot apple cider and cake, before taking part in more ArtSpring activities.

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After a fun couple of hours dabbling in mono and screen printing, we headed back to Davis in the hopes of seeing Richard cross the line. We were just in time…it wasn’t long before he appeared through the trees…the girls were waving and cheering…and then the front tyre on his brand new bike had a major malfunction and he came crashing to the ground, pretty much right at our feet! Fortunately the mountain biking community are a friendly and helpful lot and there was no shortage of volunteers to help him back up and across the line – phew! Olive summed up how we all were feeling, “that was really scary Mum”!

Here are some official pics of the race…

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So after a fantastic weekend we can highly recommend the Tucker County area as a great place to visit. We will definitely return here next winter to ski.

I’ve finally sorted through all my pics from Puerto Rico. If you click hereย you can check out the album I made, as well as photos from our trip to New Zealand over Christmas, which I finally got around to uploading!

On Sunday our neighbours are taking us to experience that quintessential American pastime – a game of baseball! We are off to DC to watch the Nationals – our team – play the Texas Rangers. There will most definitely be a blog post to follow – stay tuned ๐Ÿ™‚

 

 

Gettysburg

The most famous and arguably most important battle of the American Civil War, took place over three hot summer days in July 1863 around the small market town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. What began as a skirmish between General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia (the South) and the Union Army of the Potomac (the North), evolved into a three day battle involving around 160,000 Americans. It also produced one of the best known speeches in American history – The Gettysburg Address – given by President Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg, four and a half months after the guns were silenced.

(Along with the battle of Waterloo, Gettysburg is one of the most documented battles in history and I’m not going to attempt to add to that!! You can click here to read more about the battle and the key players involved.)

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After our immersion in the fun and frivolous world of chocolate, it was somewhat sobering to travel a mere forty miles and be immersed in the world of battle and bloodshed. Despite not being American or having any sort of link to the Civil War, both Richard and I found it to be a very moving and haunting place, and once again we were kicking ourselves that we never got to Ypres in Belgium, where so many Kiwi soldiers lost their lives during the first world war.

At the Gettysburg museum we watched a short film narrated by Morgan Freeman – yours truly in tears before it was even half way through – and then experienced the Gettysburg Cyclorama. Cycloramas are panoramic scenes painted onto the inside of a cylindrical platform. They are designed to make the viewer feel as if they are in the middle of a famous place or scene and the first cyclorama was opened in Edinburgh in 1787. The Gettysburg Cyclorama was painted by a French artist, Paul Phillipoteaux, and depicts Pickett’s Charge which was the climax of the battle of Gettysburg.

Philippoteaux at work on the Gettysburg cyclorama.
Philippoteaux at work on the Gettysburg cyclorama.
Scenes form the cyclorama.
Scenes from the cyclorama.

We were all keen to explore the battlefields but they are spread out over a huge area. So we hired a guide who drove us around for two hours and brought to life key moments and people involved in the battle. With a degree in Civil War History he was the perfect teacher and kept us all engrossed as we visited key sites – Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill.

Out and about with Kyle our wonderful guide. Even Olive had questions for him!
Out and about with Kyle our wonderful guide. Even Olive had questions for him!
Exploring Cemetery Hill and the National Soldier's Cemetery.
Exploring Cemetery Hill and the National Soldier’s Cemetery.
So many interesting things to experience in Gettysburg.
So many interesting things to experience in Gettysburg.

President Abraham Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg in November 1863 for the dedication of the new soldier’s cemetery. There were numerous speeches given on that day, the 19th of November, but it was Lincoln’s that became synonymous with the great battle. At around 270 words it was on the short side for a Lincoln speech but is now widely regarded as one of the greatest speeches ever made.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Abe shows up in many places around Gettysburg.
Abe shows up in many places around Gettysburg.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stop in Gettysburg and plan to go back in July when my parents come to visit and we’ll be making sure to book Kyle again so we can learn even more about this very important place.

I’m writing this after eating a delicious Mother’s Day lunch cooked for me by my wonderful husband. Wishing all those mothers out there a wonderful day…very excited and happy at the prospect of seeing my Mother in a couple of months ๐Ÿ™‚

Take care everyone xxx

 

 

Full Bloom

In the Tidal Basin area of Washington DC you will find approximately 3,750 cherry trees. In 1912, the people of Japan sent over 3,000 cherry trees to the United States as a gift of friendship. In Japan, the flowering cherry or Sakura, is held in very high esteem. It is viewed as both a symbol of the impermanency of human life, and the transformation of the Japanese culture through the ages.

Sakura in full bloom at the Tidal Basin.
Sakura in full bloom at the Tidal Basin.

A cherry blossom festival is held every year, usually timed to coincide with what is known as the peak bloom. It’s officially peak bloom when about 70% of the blossoms are open and the bloom usually lasts for several days. It’s a very hard thing to predict but peak bloom usually happens between the last week of March and the first week of April.

Joining hundreds of others in the predawn darkness to take a look at the bloom.
Joining hundreds of others in the predawn darkness to take a look at the bloom.

Naturally it’s all very weather dependent. Cool, calm weather can extend the length of the bloom whilst rain and wind can bring an abrupt halt to what is an incredibly beautiful sight. You might remember last year on our way to spend Easter in St. Michaels, we stopped in at the Tidal Basin in the hope of seeing the bloom but we were too early. Easter last year was late March and the bloom didn’t unfold until April 9th.

Blooms as far as the eye could see.
Blooms as far as the eye could see.

This year Thursday April 10th was predicted to be peak bloom kick off. Richard was inspired by some pictures of this year’s bloom taken at daybreak that he spied in the Washington Post on Thursday morning. He suggested we get up super early on Saturday morning so we could catch a glimpse of the blossoms as the sun came up. And so we did, joining hundreds of other people who’d had the same idea.

Taking in the view from the Thomas Jefferson memorial.
Taking in the view from the Thomas Jefferson memorial.
Early morning light on the Washington Monument.
Early morning light on the Washington Monument.

It was beautiful – well worth the 4:30am start! And it also made for the perfect excuse to visit our favorite (so far) DC cafe for coffee afterwards.

Bloomin' marvellous!
Bloomin’ marvellous!
Nice to be doing the touristy thing again :)
Nice to be doing the touristy thing again ๐Ÿ™‚

This week sees us doing a whole lot more of “the touristy thing”. We decided we haven’t been taking enough advantage of the travel opportunities available to us here, so in an effort to remedy that we are going to be spending Easter in…Puerto Rico!! (I get excited just typing those two words.)

No doubt I will have lots to say about that trip and oodles of photos to bore you all with, so stay tuned ๐Ÿ™‚

And just when you thought you'd seen enough...here's some more blossoms!
And just when you thought you’d seen enough…here’s some more blossoms!

 

Ice Ice Baby

We made it back safely to icy cold Virginia. As always, New Zealand, our family and friends, were hard to leave, and for the first time in all our comings and goings, Olive was very upset to be leaving ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Expat life has so many wonderful opportunities but also lots of challenges, of which the goodbyes would be the biggest!

So trying not to wallow in the post-holiday blues, we braved the cold on Sunday and made the short drive south east to Manassas. We’d heard about a skating rink housed in an outdoor pavilion – sounded like just the thing to lift our spirits.

We were the first to arrive and for a while had the rink all to ourselves.
We were the first to arrive and for a while had the rink all to ourselves.
Frosty the snowman was waiting for us.
Frosty the snowman was waiting for us.

This was our third attempt at ice skating and for Edie her first time going solo. It was heaps of fun and we enjoyed watching all the ‘professional’ skaters who turned up with their own skates. Very impressive.

Skater girls.
Skater girls.
Look at me go!
Look at me go!
Ice princess.
Ice princess.

So now it is back to reality and routine. The girls made it back to school for one day and then it was cancelled due to the extreme cold! Hopefully things will be back to normal tomorrow.

Thanks to all our family and friends for their hospitality and love. The fact that leaving is so difficult is a testament to all the wonderful relationships we have in New Zealand so in a funny way it’s positive too – well, that’s how I’m going to look at it!

Happy new year everyone! Wishing you a great year ahead!

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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