We spent a couple of hours this afternoon at the 65th running of the Blue Ridge Hunt point-to-point races. If you are thinking that all sounds very equestrian, then you would be right. There is a great deal of horse country around Winchester – you might remember our trip to Middleburg to watch the hunt parade in early December – and many people in the surrounding counties own, train and race horses.
Point-to-point or steeplechase races, are for hunting horses and amateur riders and involve racing over fences.
Most of the spectators had paid to do what is known here in the United States as tailgating. That means parking your, usually, big vehicle in a prime viewing spot and hosting a mini party from out of the boot – or trunk as we call it in these parts. Groups of suitably horsey attired folk had chairs and tables set up alongside their cars, laden with food, drink and even beautiful flower arrangements!
Olive did an excellent job of consulting the program and telling us the names of each horse and rider. She particularly enjoyed matching up the descriptions of the color and patterns worn by each jockey as each horse made its way into the arena. “Oooo look that’s Zoe with the blue top that has a pink V on it and a blue and pink riding hat”. (Zoe went on to win her race which brought great delight to the girls!)
It was lots of fun and the girls found it very exciting, especially when two riders fell at the first jump. There was even a blow by blow commentary via loudspeaker and the traditional bugle call to announce the start of each race…
If it hadn’t been for the cold we would have stayed for all the races…might have to return next year for a spot of tailgating!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
Over the last week fall has suddenly appeared. I love how the trees go through such amazing colour transformations in this part of the world – that was also a great thing about autumn in Antwerp. It’s not just the leaves that are proudly displaying their autumnal garb though, you can find the colours of fall in many places. On Saturday we spent a fun few hours immersing ourselves in fall colours that were a wee bit closer to the ground….
Wayside Farm in Berryville is the perfect place to go and celebrate the arrival of the cooler months. We knew that there was an Angry Bird themed corn maze at Wayside, but did not realize we would also find a myriad of pumpkin themed activities that would keep us entertained for hours!
There was a pumpkin playhouse, pumpkin bowling, pumpkin tic tac toe, pumpkin swing ball, have I said pumpkin enough yet…yes! To balance out all those pumpkins there were pig races, hayrides and a combine harvester slide.
We were beginning to think that we’d never get the girls into the maze but we managed to drag them away from all things pumpkin. Dotted throughout the maze were multi choice questions and your choice of answer determined which direction you turned in. Most of the questions had an Angry Birds theme and the young girl who gave us the question sheets glanced at the girls and said “you’ve got those two so you’ll be fine”…um…no…we don’t play Angry Birds in our house – I am suspecting we are one of the few houses who don’t? Despite our lack of knowledge we managed to find our way round, no need whatsoever to call in the “corn cop”.
After our hayride we headed for the pumpkin patch and got down to the serious business of pumpkin selection.
Sunday afternoon was spent carving the girls’ pumpkins. It felt very significant as carving pumpkins was one of the first “American” things we did after moving here last year. This Thursday it will be exactly one year since we arrived – wow!
Lots more pumpkin fun pics if you click on the link to my Flickr photos…and I just want to send very big birthday wishes to my sisters Helen and Sarah who have both just celebrated their special days. Thinking of you both very much and missing you xxx
Take care everyone – off to start planning Halloween costumes!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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 😦
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
Lots more pics from a great day out if you click on the link to my Flickr photos.
Last Friday we took the girls out of school early, loaded the bikes on the car and made our way the furthest south we have ever been since moving to “the south”. Our destination was Hungry Mother State Park, one of the original six state parks built by the CCC during the Great Depression. Hungry Mother is a popular family getaway as it is surrounded by beautiful trees, has a 108 acre lake in the heart of the mountains, a sandy beach, camping grounds, cabins, fishing spots and biking trails.
According to legend, when Native Americans destroyed several settlements along the banks of the New River , a woman named Molly Marley and her small child were among the survivors captured by the raiders and taken to their base north of where the park is situated. Molly and her child escaped and wandered on through the wilderness surviving on only the berries they found along the way. Molly eventually collapsed but her child bravely soldiered on, wandering down a creek until he found help. The first words he uttered on encountering help were “Hungry Mother”. By the time the rescuers reached the foot of the mountain where Molly had collapsed, she was dead. This mountain is now known as Molly’s Knob.
We’d chosen to stay in one of the cabins. It was very cute – nestled in the trees and equipped with everything we could need. We cooked a quick dinner and headed for bed as we had to be up early for our adventure on Saturday.
We were up and out the door early on Saturday morning, heading for the town of Damascus – and no there weren’t any great religious epiphanies along the way! What’s important about Damascus – or Trail Town as it is often referred to – is that four scenic trails converge there. The Appalachian Trail, US Bicycle Route 76, the Iron Mountain Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail, all cross paths in this tiny town of only 981 official residents. We had our sights set on the Virginia Creeper Trail – a 35 mile hiking, cycling and horse riding trail – that up until 1977 was a railway line.
It took about 25 minutes to drive up to Whitetop and from there we had about 13 miles of downhill riding ahead of us. Once you got started you really didn’t need to pedal, so it made for a very relaxed and enjoyable ride. We took lots of breaks along the way to admire the scenery. It was beautiful. The trail follows along next to Laurel Creek and there are several bridges to cross whilst coasting down to Damascus.
There was an open ice cream store conveniently located at the end of the trail and it was full of cyclists refueling after their tough downhill ride. We headed back to Hungry Mother so that the girls could play on the beach and have a dip in the lake. It was Memorial Weekend in the US – the weekend that traditionally signals the start of summer – so it was the first day of business for many public pools and beaches.
We headed back to Winchester on Sunday morning as we’d been invited to a Memorial Weekend pool party later that day. The girls couldn’t wait to throw on their swimsuits and eat hot dogs with their friends!
We’re looking forward to another pool party this weekend. On Saturday we’ll be taking part in our neighbourhood’s 14th annual Yard Sale and Block Party – two quintessential (at least in my book) American experiences. I will keep you posted 🙂
Hope everyone is well and surviving the wintry blast hitting New Zealand at the moment. Thinking of you all and sending lots of love xxx
It’s official – Spring is finally here and not a moment too soon! Much as the snow was beautiful and such a novelty we were getting a bit tired of it. Edie’s words on our last snow day – even though it meant a day off school – were “I’m sick of snow!” Those 5:30am automated phone calls from roboto lady saying “Winchester Public schools are closed today” were getting a bit old too. Thirty degrees today and we are still a couple of months off summer!
Our first taste of a change in the weather came on our way home from Spring break in St Michaels. We took a detour to Great Falls National Park, not far from DC. The sky was blue, the sun was bright and we were treated to the amazing spectacle of the Potomac River building up speed and forcing its way over a series of steep, jagged rocks and then on through a narrow gorge.
On Saturday we spent another sunny afternoon at nearby Sherando Park for the annual kite festival. We had great fun flying our own kites and watching those flown by avid kite runners. One of these kites was decorated in a traditional Maori kowhaiwhai pattern. When the MC for the day asked the children gathered around him if they knew where the Maori people came from, the general consensus was “China”! He clearly couldn’t hear us hollering out “New Zealand” from the other end of the field 🙂
On Sunday we hiked (that’s what you call tramping in these parts) up to Buzzard Rock. Both girls coped really well with the climb and we were treated to spectacular views.
This weekend we will be celebrating a very important milestone. Hard to believe but our wonderful Olive Mia will be turning seven. Stay tuned for the obligatory birthday report! Take care everyone. Missing you all and sending lots of love xxx
I was seventeen years old when I experienced snow and skiing for the very first time. With a great deal of anxiety and trepidation, I joined my church youth group for a trip to Whakapapa in the August school holidays. Nobody in my family skied. I didn’t have any of the right gear and had to borrow a lurid yellow ski suit from a colleague of my father’s. To make matters worse my boyfriend had been skiing pretty much since he could walk. It didn’t add up to a very confident beginning.
Unfortunately there was not much snow on the ground when our bus pulled up at the base of the mountain. This meant that the nice flat learner’s slopes were not an option. Instead I found myself standing on a field that to me resembled the terrifying gradient of the Matterhorn. My boyfriend gave me a bit of a shove and I was off. It was horrible. Both my skis flew off, my poles disengaged themselves from my hands and went flying, and I ended up in a crumpled heap. As I lay there, humiliated, a child of about six confidently whizzed past me…on one ski! With that my foray into skiing was officially over.
Since we’ve been in Virginia we’ve been lucky to experience quite a bit of snowfall and Olive, particularly, has embraced the white powdery stuff. She has spent hours outside – sledding, building snowmen, rolling down the hill…even riding her bike in the snow. It was becoming plainly obvious that now was the time to give her a try on skis and with the help of our neighbours we were able to find a magical place to do it.
They told us about The Homestead, a resort in the middle of the Allegheny Mountains which has been standing for nearly two hundred and fifty years.
This grand old hotel and spa is located in the town of Hot Springs, and has a golf course and an alpine ski resort, the oldest ski resort in Virginia. I figured if I had to face my skiing demons, this seemed like the right place to do it!
Snow was falling lightly as we arrived late on Saturday afternoon. Tea was being served in the great hall as skiers and snowboarders of all ages and descriptions returned to the hotel after a busy day on the slopes. I have to admit to feeling that sense of dread again at the sight of all that ski parephanalia, but the beauty of my surroundings completely won me over.
After a quick unpack we donned our swimsuits and made a dash for the heated outdoor pool. Steam was rising off the water as we splashed around and basked in the hot pools adjacent to the swimming pool. Very cool to be swimming outside whilst snow is falling all around you.
The rumbling of our bellies drew us inside to dinner. We avoided the fancy dining room and opted for a pop up buffet that had been set up to take pressure off the supposedly busy dining room. Someone had obviously miscalculated the need for the pop up buffet, as we were the only diners in a very huge room complete with a pianist for entertainment! The waiting staff were wonderful – we were treated like royalty – and we ended up having a great chat with one of the waiters about the state of cricket in New Zealand. He was from Jamaica and a passionate cricketer. He also produced a birthday dessert for me, complete with candle – it was very sweet.
Before retiring for the night we arranged a ski lesson for the girls and I for the following morning. I actually wasn’t planning to do any real skiing – more like just standing around and encouraging the girls when needed. But when we reached the ski lodge on Sunday morning our Kiwi-ness conspired against me. It turns out the manager of the lodge spent many years teaching skiing in Vail with a fellow instructor who was from New Zealand, and when he heard that I was planning to just butt in on the girl’s lesson, he would have none of it. Carter was summoned to take care of me for an hour or so. I’d joked with Richard in the shuttle bus on the way over that perhaps the ski instructor might be some hunky young German Hans type. In reality Carter turned out to be anything but. He was not much younger than my father; very kind, patient and funny; and prone to calling out “where is your smile Christina?” – in short he was exactly what I needed.
It was fabulous! Yes I fell over and there were quite a few scary moments but mostly it was so much fun. I felt especially chuffed when Carter said to me about half way through our lesson, “you are not being challenged enough. We need to go higher.” Richard admitted to being quite shocked when he saw us heading for the chair lift. And I don’t know if he was just saying this to humour me but Carter insisted that he rarely took first timers up that far. By the end of my lesson I was skiing upright and even managing a few turns. All in all it was the complete opposite of my first skiing experience -phew! Olive and Edie had a great time too and Richard got the chance to get a few runs in on the steeper slopes.
After the euphoria of my skiing success it was time for more swimming and a spot of ice skating, then I took a walk into the little village of Hot Springs which was very picturesque.
Dinner that night was in another old, historic building. We headed to Warm Springs where we had a great meal at the Waterwheel Restaurant. As it was Superbowl Sunday, we once again had a restaurant to ourselves and were again treated to very attentive service.
Back at the Homestead we all fell into bed and after a quick look at the Superbowl Halftime show – go Beyonce! – we all fell fast asleep. No chance of a birthday sleep in for me – the girls were so excited that they woke up very early on Monday and jumped into bed with me – not a bad way to be woken up I must admit.
After opening my gifts and enjoying coffee and pastries in bed it was time to pack up and head for home as Richard had a plane to catch. We left very reluctantly – it had been a fabulous couple of days. Thanks to my wonderful family for ensuring that I had a great birthday celebration 🙂 And special thanks to our neighbours for giving us such a great tip.
Lots more Homestead photos if you click on my Flickr link and a short video clip of the girls in action on their skis.
Hope the return to school is going well for everyone – special shout out to my niece and nephews Molly, Matthew and Tom – all starting new schools this year. Missing you all and sending lots of love xxx
We’ve had an unseasonably warm weekend with temperatures getting up into the low 70’s – that’s my newfound Farenheit knowledge talking! For those of us more used to celsius, this means we’ve had a couple of days in the middle of winter where the temperature has gotten over 20 degrees. The perfect opportunity to get outside and do some more exploring.
There are 25 state parks in Virginia and over 500 miles of hiking, biking and horse riding trails. In 2012 over 8 million visitors took advantage of the wide array of spaces looked after by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. We thought we’d do our bit for the 2013 visitor numbers and make a trip to the Shenadoah River State Park. This park is only 30 miles south of Winchester and boasts a mix of easy and challenging trails. Richard is really keen to get the girls used to riding off road as early as possible and Olive is particularly keen to become a mountain biker just like Dad. Edie still rides with her bike attached to Richard’s but we hope it’s not too long before she is flying solo.
The carpark was at the top of our chosen trail, which meant a short burst of DH – that’s mountain bike speak for down hill- before the track flattened out. Olive did amazingly well – got off and walked her bike if she felt it was a bit too scary – but by the end of the DH section she was staying on much more than she was getting off.
The scenery was beautiful and did much to distract me from my nerves – whizzing around the streets of Antwerp on my Dutch bike cannot be compared to navigating a mountain bike down a bumpy trail but I acquitted myself okay and was still on my saddle by the time we reached the bottom.
Down by the river we heard the tapping of a woodpecker on one of the trees – I had to resist the urge to break into the theme song from the Woody Woodpecker Show – and later on we saw one up close. The girls are becoming very keen bird watchers helped in no small part by the bird feeder we have set up in the back garden. For the past couple of days we have had a pair of cardinals stopping by for a snack.
The park is very well equipped, with campsites, RV sites and cabins, so we are definitely going to come back and stay for a weekend when the weather warms up.
As I write we are only two sleeps away from the birthday of the century – yes it’s the big five for Miss Edie Cate – a birthday she has been desperately awaiting. Check back here after Tuesday to see how she celebrated.
And you’ll be pleased to know I survived my first quilting class – if you’re interested, I’ve written about it on my How to Make an American Quilt page.
Take care everyone. Sending lots of love to you all xxx
The Shenandoah Valley stretches 200 miles across the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains. It is often referred to as The Big Valley and has been immortalised in song, dance, film and television. The valley is home to nine counties and ten cities, one of which is our new home of Winchester. It is an area rich in fertile land, stunning scenery and has an important place in American history. A short drive from our house you will find a museum dedicated to showcasing the art, history and culture of this great valley.
The museum is made up of the building above, six acres of gardens and historic Glen Burnie House which dates back to the 18th century. As you can probably guess from all the white stuff in the photo above, we weren’t able to explore the gardens but easily whiled away a couple of hours in the main building.
I really enjoyed looking at the many quilts on display – some of which dated back to the early 1800’s. The orange and green Orla Kiely-esque one pictured below, was inspired by the peeling of an orange!
Olive and Edie’s favourite part of the museum was the miniatures gallery where we viewed an amazing collection of furnished miniature houses and rooms. They are part of a larger collection by R. Lee Taylor, who helped to create the gardens which we will return to visit in the spring time. As there were very few visitors at the museum, one of the guides gave the girls a private tour, pointing out all sorts of things for them to look at. They were thrilled, as were Richard and I as we got to look at the “boring” exhibits in peace!
For a “small town” museum we were very impressed. The museum also offers many lecture series and programmes for writers, gardeners, artists, musicians…and many of the programmes are aimed at children and young adults. We took an annual membership as we expect it is a place we will visit often.
We are heading into birthday season in our house as Edie, Richard and I are all approaching our special days. Edie is beside herself about becoming a big five year old – where has my baby gone?! – and I promise to post a full report about her celebrations.
This weekend sees me embarking on a beginner’s quilting course. I am both excited and nervous. When I went down to the shop to choose my fabric today, I saw the piece of work I will be attempting to construct – gulp! Keep an eye on my How to Make An American Quilt page where I’ll keep you posted on how I’m doing.