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 😦 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!

Middleburg

When driving to Winchester from Dulles airport there are a couple of options – the faster but not very scenic drive on Route 7 or the slower but much nicer drive along Route 50. On my very first trip to Winchester, Richard took the Route 50 option – a drive which takes you through beautiful countryside, past stately homes, and through quaint villages such as Middleburg.

Middleburg was established in 1787 and now boasts an official population of about 700 people. It lies in the middle of what could best be described as ‘horse country’ and has in times past been referred to as the nation’s horse and hunt capital. If you are into foxhunting and steeplechasing, then Middleburg is your town. One famous couple by the names of John and Jacqueline Kennedy rented a Middleburg property as their country retreat during JFK’s presidency. Apparently it was the house at Middleburg that Jacquie considered home – not the White House.

Mrs Kennedy shows the King of Pakistan her horse.
Mrs Kennedy shows the King of Pakistan her horse.

You’ve probably gathered by now that Middleburg is historic, beautiful and charming, and as we drove through the village on our way to Winchester I said to Richard, “I think I’ll be okay if it’s like this”. He looked me in the eye and slowly said these words, “Chrissy…Winchester is not like this!”

Fortunately Middleburg is only a short drive east and over the year we’ve been in Winchester we’ve made a few trips there. Just before Christmas last year we had dinner in Middleburg’s oldest building, The Red Fox Inn, and today we ventured back for Middleburg’s annual Christmas celebration. We were keen to watch the Middleburg Hunt Club parading down the main street. (In America fox hunting is often referred to as fox chasing as most hunts do not actually kill the fox, leaving it alone once it has gone to ground or taken refuge in a hole.)

Ready to see some horses and hounds in action.
Ready to see some horses and hounds in action.
Lots of houses all dressed up for Christmas.
Lots of houses all dressed up for Christmas.
Quick stop here for doughnuts and hot chocolate.
Quick stop here for doughnuts and hot chocolate.
Best seat in the house!
Best seat in the house!

Just after 11:00am the first of the riders appeared, and with them the gang of foxhounds. Considering the streets were lined with lots of people and many dogs of all shapes and sizes, we were impressed at how focused and calm both dogs and horses were.

Not quite the hounds of the Baskervilles!
Not quite the hounds of the Baskervilles!
All the horses were immaculately groomed and their riders scrubbed up pretty well too.
All the horses were immaculately groomed and their riders scrubbed up pretty well too.
Some of the ladies even rode side saddle - complete with appropriate riding habit.
Some of the ladies even rode side saddle – complete with appropriate riding habit.
The girls were very impressed to see this young rider in the parade.
The girls were very impressed to see this young rider in the parade.
Man wielding a whip...he must be the boss!
Man wielding a whip…he must be the boss!

As I mentioned above there were dogs everywhere – all dressed up in their Christmas best. Bows, bells, wreaths, ribbons, cardigans and coats adorned just about every dog we encountered. The buildings and sidewalks too were all done up in festive attire.

"I had to wear this stupid Father Christmas Coat ruff!".
“I had to wear this stupid Father Christmas Coat ruff!”.
You could even catch a ride with these two.
You could even catch a ride with these two.
The Red Fox Inn
The Red Fox Inn
Father Christmas was there too - I'm trying to take a photo of strangers without looking like that's what I'm doing!!
Father Christmas was there too – I’m trying to take a photo of strangers without looking like that’s what I’m doing!!
One of the sidewalk decorations, made by the local Montessori school. Loving those Montessori tower decorations.
One of the sidewalk decorations, made by the local Montessori school. Loving those Montessori tower decorations.
Edie got to have a CHIPs moment.
Edie got to have a CHIPs moment.
Whilst Olive got friendly with Frosty the Snowman.
Whilst Olive got friendly with Frosty the Snowman.
He was very happy to meet her!
He was very happy to meet her!
Time for home.
Time for home.

As I type this I’m sipping on my coffee and watching the snow come down. I’m very glad that the girls got some snow before we head for warmer climes on Friday. They didn’t even stop for breakfast – snow pants, coats, hats, gloves, scarfs on and out they went. Their boogie boards are doubling as great sleds!

This will likely be my last post before we leave on Friday. I’ll have my laptop with me so look out for a post from Aotearoa – that’s kiwi speak for New Zealand 🙂

We arrive in Hawkes Bay on Sunday the 15th and then the girls and I are heading to Wellington on the 17th for a couple of days. We are making a very quick trip to see Richard’s mother in Australia from the 20th to the 22nd, and then we will be in Hawkes Bay until we leave on the 31st.

Take care everyone. So excited to know we will be seeing many of you very soon xxx

National Museum of the American Indian

We were invited into DC to have dinner with friends on Saturday night and decided to stay over and take the chance to visit another of the district’s myriad of museums. Olive has been studying Native American peoples at school and so we decided to make a trip to the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. Opened in 2004, this striking building is the first national museum to focus exclusively on Native Americans from Northern, Central and Southern America.

The National Museum of the America Indian.
The National Museum of the American Indian.
There's always fun to be had wandering amongst the museums which line the National Mall.
There’s always fun to be had wandering amongst the museums which line the National Mall.
Winter gear is a must at the moment!
Winter gear is a must at the moment!
We knew we were in the right place when we spied this chap...
We knew we were in the right place when we spied this chap…

The opening of the museum has not been without controversy, with many criticisms aimed at the lack of ‘scholarship’ in evidence and too much focus on the present day. We all found it really interesting. The building itself was stunning; the exhibitions were varied and informative; and there was a great hands on area for kids. What struck me was the huge diversity that exists in this group of peoples that often get lumped together under the term ‘Native American’.

One of the current exhibitions features dolls dressed for 'The Grand Procession'.
One of the current exhibitions features dolls dressed for ‘The Grand Procession’.
All incredibly detailed and richly colored.
All incredibly detailed and richly colored.

In the activity center the girls tried their hands at balancing in a kayak, testing snowshoes, exploring different types of housing and listened to a presentation on weaving.

Testing our knowledge at the quiz station. Olive, no surprises, was the winner.
Testing our knowledge at the quiz station. Olive, no surprises, was the winner.
Trying out the kayak.
Trying out the kayak.
Tipi girl.
Tipi girl.
Finding out which plants produced good dyes.
Finding out which plants produced good dyes.

I have to admit to being guilty of thinking only of North American Indians when hearing the term Native Americans, but there was so much to learn about the people of Central and South America too.

There was a brilliant display of Aztec, Myan and Quecha artifacts.
There was a brilliant display of Aztec, Myan and Quecha artifacts.
Lots of gold on display.
Lots of gold on display.
Artifacts related to Dia de Muertos or the day of the dead.
Artifacts related to Dia de Muertos or the day of the dead.
Ceramics from Central America was the focus of one of the exhibitions.
Ceramics from Central America was the focus of one of the exhibitions.
So much to see and learn from.
So much to see and learn from.

After eating at an Ethiopian restaurant on Saturday night and then spending Sunday immersed in the indigenous cultures of America, we were feeling very multicultural, and so lucky to have these amazing opportunities. We had such a great weekend that we’re thinking of squeezing in another trip to DC this weekend. We’re hoping to pay a visit to Christmas in Middleburg which is held in a gorgeous village not too far from Winchester, and then continue on into DC for the annual boat parade in Alexandria. With all that is going on at the moment we may be trying to do too much (!) but our adventures this weekend hammered home just how much there is to experience here.

Tomorrow is a very exciting day for the girls. They will be singing on a float in the Winchester Christmas parade dressed as characters from Charlie Brown. I will be sure to see you back here with a report!

Lots more pictures from our weekend if you click on the link to my Flickr photos. Take care everyone – 12 more sleeps!!

Busy…

It feels like forever since I have been here! Sorry for the big gap – things have been just a wee bit busy. Richard has been travelling lots, I’ve started a bit more volunteer work at another school plus I’m coming to the final days of my first paper – add in to that mix a little bit of house painting, Thanksgiving and a wee upcoming trip to NZ and I’m exhausted already!

We survived our trip to Disney World. We’re glad we did it but definitely will not go back. If you click on the link to my Flickr photos you can see some of the things we got up to. The highlights were catching up with friends from Belgium who moved back to the States a few months before we moved here, and being served ice cream in the Disney ice cream parlour by a young man from New Zealand! When he found out we were from Wellington his reply was, “I’m from Levin! That makes us practically cousins!” Too funny!

Richard’s off to Belgium on Sunday, arriving back home on Thanksgiving evening – I’m going to attempt to cook something festive!

And on a braggy note here’s what I managed to do this morning…

Ok so it's not me but I did a classical headstand this morning! When I started yoga I'd look at people doing headstands and say to myself "I'll never be able to do that!". Today I am eating my words!!
Ok so it’s not me but I did a classical headstand this morning! When I started yoga I’d look at people doing headstands and say to myself “I’ll never be able to do that!”. Today I am eating my words!!

Hope you are all well..we are counting down the days, hours and minutes till we get on that plane…yay!

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…

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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!!

Last days of summer…

The first Monday in September is when the United States celebrate Labor Day – yes I am using American spelling! It is meant to be a yearly tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength and prosperity of their country. (In New Zealand, Labour Day is celebrated on the fourth Monday in October.)

As so many people have a day off work, Labor Day has become an important sale weekend for many retailers which results in around 24% of American workers having to not only work on the holiday but often work longer hours too – unfortunately it’s the same in New Zealand.

GAP's Labor Day enticement.
GAP’s Labor Day enticement.

Most Americans now celebrate Labor Day as the symbolic end of summer. In days gone by Labor Day was the last day of the year when it was appropriate to dress in white.

white after labor day

Labor Day is marked by get togethers with family and friends; outdoor activities such as boating, street parties and cook outs; and there are often fireworks displays. It’s typically the last day that outdoor pools are open for business so we made sure the long weekend included a trip to our favourite swimming spot at Cacapon State Park.

We began our celebrations with a get together at the home of one of our neigbours on Saturday evening. It was a chance to meet some new people and partake of a staple of southern cuisine known as the Lowcountry Boil. This one pot dish originated in the low country of Georgia and South Carolina. As the story goes a national guardsman by the name of Richard Gay had to prepare a meal for one hundred people. He whipped up an old family recipe – basically boiling up potatoes, sausage, corn, crab and shrimp with a bit of seasoning – and it was a huge hit. The best way to serve a lowcountry boil is to tip it out of the pot onto sheets of newspaper – makes for a super easy cleanup!

Out of the pot...
Out of the pot…
and onto the newspaper - kind of like fish and chips?!
and onto the newspaper – kind of like fish and chips?!

It probably will never win prizes for being the most attractive looking meal, but the lowcountry boil sure tasted great. Everything could be dipped into little bowls of melted butter and then rolled in Old Bay seasoning. – yum!

Today we headed to the state park at Cacapon to take advantage of the last day that the beach would be open to the public. There were only one or two groups of people when we arrived mid morning, but by the time we left the beach front was packed. The girls had a great time both in and out of the water and I even managed to get some work done…

though I find it a bit of a stretch to call reading about picture books, publishing for children, the history of art techniques and new ways of creating children's literature, work. Let's just say I'm loving it :)
though I find it a bit of a stretch to call reading about picture books, publishing for children, the history of art techniques and new ways of creating children’s literature, work. Let’s just say I’m loving it 🙂

Olive and Edie laboured hard too…

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We sampled a couple of other traditional American treats…

chilli dogs...
chilli dogs…
and orange dreamsicles!
and orange dreamsicles!

And we attempted to take nice pictures with our children…

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Let’s just say the family portrait needs some work – where’s Jo Frances when you need her! (Watch the slideshow – we’re in there!)

On the way home from the beach we called in at the Shawnee Springs market where the girls were thrilled to see this…

only two months to go!
only two months to go!

And I was utterly gobsmacked to see this…

it's only the second day of September!!
it’s only the second day of September!!

All in all it was a very enjoyable first Labor Day celebration for the Croads. Now we start counting the days to Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then…HOME!

Take care everyone. We miss you all and send 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

Under the Mountain

Virginia is one of only of six states in the US with over 2,000 known underground caves, and there are eight places that you can visit for a guided tour of what lies beneath. For whatever reason, six of these eight venues are not too far from Winchester, and on Thursday the girls and I paid a visit to the closest – the Skyline Caverns.

Getting ready to descend - scavenger hunts in hand. They needed to find, among other things, a place where people get married and a place that will drive you crazy!
Getting ready to descend – scavenger hunts in hand. They needed to find, among other things, a place where people get married and a place that will drive you crazy!

In the late 1930’s a retired geologist from Winchester named Walter Amos, was contracted by private and government agencies to search for caves and caverns. Skyline Drive  was due to open and more ways of attracting people to the area were being explored. In December of 1937, on the site of the cavern’s parking lot, Amos discovered a sinkhole. There was no water in the sinkhole which meant there had to be a drain nearby – most likely a cavern.

Going down, down, down...
Going down, down, down…

Amos found an opening and began digging out the first room in the caverns. He discovered a large system of connected rooms, most of which were navigable and clear of obstructions. Ninety percent of the caverns were easily accessible and, in addition to the entrance, only ten percent needed to be dug out. It wasn’t all plain sailing though. The cavern floor was lined with fourteen inches of mud and clay which had to be removed before the caverns opened to the public. It took over a year but on April 13, 1939, the caverns welcomed their first visitors.

Aaaaah! The Wilberforces!
Aaaaah! The Wilberforces!

There were seven of us on the tour. We were instantly of interest because A: we come from New Zealand, B: we were the only tour members to have been in an underground cavern before and C: the underground cavern we had visited previously was in Dinant, Belgium. Once the lovely young tour guide stopped saying “wow” we made our descent.

Dotted throughout the caverns were coloured lights which made everything look even more impressive.
Dotted throughout the caverns were coloured lights which made everything look even more impressive.
A broken stalactite which was okay to touch. Apparently the oils in our hands spell certain doom to growing stalactites and stalagmites.
A broken stalactite which was okay to touch. Apparently the oils in our hands spell certain doom to growing stalactites and stalagmites.

The Skyline caverns are notable because of the fact that they required so little human intervention to be accessible to visitors, but also because of the discovery in the caverns of anthodites. Anthodites are perfect six-sided crystalline strictures made of pure calcite. They are protected by law and you could be looking at a jail term of up to four years if you try to break any of them off!

Step away from the anthodites!
Step away from the anthodites!
The fines are bad too. Several thousand dollars for every inch of anthodite you break.
The fines are bad too. Several thousand dollars for every inch of anthodite you break.

As we wandered from room to room the girls dutifully ticked off the places that were on their scavenger hunt list. But one place was eluding them – wherever it was that made you go crazy. Our guide explained this part of the hunt by turning off all the lights and letting us experience just how dark it really is down there. We all held our hands up right in front of our faces but could see nothing. If a human stays in that degree of darkness for just two weeks, they will have lost their eyesight and their mind. Getting back into natural light will restore eyesight over time but your sanity…well that just might be gone forever. Standing in that utter pitch black I could easily imagine going round the twist.

Apparently there are bats down deep in the caverns. On days when there are lots of visitors they often emerged - a bit freaked out by all the noise.
Apparently there are bats down deep in the caverns. On days when there are lots of visitors they often emerge – a bit freaked out by all the noise.
Buddha type rock formation and lots of dark!
Buddha type rock formation and lots of dark!

It was a great trip. We all learned a great deal and it was nice to be exploring the area a bit closer to home. We finished our day with lunch at Element Cafe in Front Royal which I can highly recommend.

One more week of holidays to go! On Thursday afternoon we will head up to John Kerr Elementary to say hello to Olive and Edie’s teachers. They are both so excited about the start of the new school year. Until next time, take care everyone xxx

White Oak Canyon

Sunday dawned clear and crisp. Blue sky as far as the eye could see and a temperature probably best described as balmy. We filled the CamelBaks, grabbed some snacks and drove south for about ninety minutes. Our destination was White Oak Canyon, a very popular hiking trail near the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Ready to start hiking. I have suggested to the girls that they start an outdoor clothing line entitled "Fashionistas Hike!"
Ready to start hiking. I have suggested to the girls that they start an outdoor clothing line entitled “Fashionistas Hike!”

After a quick chat with the friendly park ranger – dressed just like the ranger from Yogi Bear – we made our way across the bridge and into the cool and quiet of the forest.

Beautiful.
Beautiful.

There are five waterfalls, and numerous cascades and pools along the trail, and our goal was to get the girls to the first set of major falls. It was not a difficult hike and Olive particularly loves being out in the bush. She charges along stopping to admire anything and everything as well as climbing on anything that looks mountable. Edie can find things a bit tougher but we find that if one of us walks right next to her and keeps up a continuous stream of conversation she soon finds she has gone much further than she thought was possible.

With a natural sculpture which they declared looked just like a moose.
With a natural sculpture which they declared looked just like a moose.
Olive the mountaineer.
Olive the mountaineer.
We all ended up doing a wee bit of climbing.
We all ended up doing a wee bit of climbing.

The flow of hikers was steady but the track was by no means crowded. Dogs are allowed so the girls had many opportunities to stop, pat and “oooh” over many four legged hikers.

Lots of opportunities for a bot of fun too - push!
Lots of opportunities for a bit of fun too – push!

Soon we were at the falls – the busiest place on the trail. Groups of people were sunning themselves on the rocks, eating picnic lunches and some brave souls were even sliding down the natural slides formed on the rocks.

No surprise that one of them was Olive!
No surprise that one of them was Olive!
Even Edie thought it was all worth it when she saw this...
Even Edie thought it was all worth it when she saw this…
and it was straight into the water!
and it was straight into the water!
View from the top of Olive's slippy slide...rather her than me!
View from the top of Olive’s slippy slide…rather her than me!
Splash!
Splash!

After a good old splash around, we dragged the girls away and began heading back to the car. Since our visit to the serpentarium in Edisto Island we’ve had a lot of conversations about seeing a snake in the wild and the right way to act, never really believing that we would actually see one. (This is despite the fact that some rather big black snakes were regular visitors to our neighbor’s back yard last summer!) Richard and Edie were walking ahead whilst Olive and I talked about what we should do if we saw a snake – not to panic, just leave it alone and all that – when out of the corner of my eye I saw Richard waving and pointing…you guessed it…

ssssssssssssssssss
ssssssssssssssssss

We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect follow up to what we learned at the serpentarium. We all stood quietly, had a bit of a look and then moved on. The snake didn’t move a muscle. The girls were thrilled and secretly so was I. Thus far Richard has had all the wild animal action with his bear cub sighting whilst out mountain biking. I think now we can call it even.  (I still live in fear of a snake dropping out of a tree onto my head – doubt very much whether I could stay calm and composed in that scenario!)

After a snake sighting, the rest of our descent was rather uneventful, except of course for just how beautiful it all was. As we drove away from the trail we encountered a lemonade and cookies stand manned by two little girls. So cute. We had to stop and give them some business.

The perfect pick me up after all that wilderness.
The perfect pick me up after all that wilderness.

We headed north to the small town of Flint Hill and a well deserved early dinner at the Flint Hill public house. It had a great outside area complete with hammocks and games of corn hole to keep the girls amused, whilst Mum and Dad sampled a bit of Virginia wine. The food was good too – a wonderfully relaxed end to our special Sunday.

Corn hole in action.
Corn hole in action.
Tired but happy at the end of a lovely day.
Tired but happy at the end of a lovely day.

Lots more pics from a great day out if you click on the link to my Flickr photos.

Take care everyone – sending all our love xxx

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.