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.
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.
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!
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…
Olive and Edie laboured hard too…
We sampled a couple of other traditional American treats…
And we attempted to take nice pictures with our children…
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…
And I was utterly gobsmacked to see this…
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
Apple Blossom 2013 kicked off for Richard and I last Wednesday morning at the Bloomin’ Business Lunch, held in a big tent on a parking lot out the back of our local hospital. We were there as guests of the Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission – something of a mouthful but as you can probably guess they support and advise new business ventures in the area. Richard could only stay for an hour which left me holding the fort for Taura. Fortunately no one asked me any curly questions about ultra rapid concentration or emerging snack markets in Asia, so I could relax and enjoy my lunch and the presentation by Tim League, founder of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. He was a great speaker and the story of how he started his business was very interesting, but the thing I liked the most about Tim League was his oh so subtle and uber cool apple blossom outfit – slightly minty green, 1970’s cut suit with coordinating pastel pink shirt and interesting green tie. Very much the outfit for someone in the movie biz.
Thursday night saw us all heading over to the Apple Blossom Carnival which the girls absolutely loved. We ate awful fried food and spun around on a few rides then dragged the girls off home to bed.
Friday was a big Apple Blossom day for us with the coronation of Queen Shenandoah and the kids Bloomin’ mile run. The girls and I got ourselves suitably pink and green and joined a packed crowd at John Handley High School to take in the coronation. It was incredibly formal and English and pink and I was expecting to hear the theme song from the Tiwghlight Zone at any moment! Olive and Edie loved it and I later learned that a couple of English kings were crowned at Winchester cathedral in England which is one of the reasons why a coronation is reenacted as part of the festival.
At the conclusion of the ceremony we were treated to a performance by the Handley High School Glee club and it was just like on tv – I half expected Rachel and Finn to emerge from the back and start belting out Don’t Stop Believing!
I got in the usher’s bad books by leaving before everything was finished – apparently noone was supposed to exit before the queen, but after all that processing and crowning and knighting, this little colonial had had enough. It was very strange to watch such an overtly royal display in a country that fought so hard to become independent of a monarchy.
We switched our attention to the Bloomin’ Mile which was conveniently located in the grounds of the high school. It was huge – over 1300 children aged between 6 and 14 raced around the one mile course with the fastest boy finishing in 5:03 and the fastest girl in 5:53.
Richard and I were thrilled Olive was taking part but were a little unsure as to how she would get on. She had been doing a little extension class at school called Run 4 Fun but at no time had they ever actually completed a one mile circuit. She ran a one kilometre race in Belgium and found that pretty challenging even with Richard running alongside her, and had refused all our offers to go out for a few practice runs with Mum and Dad. We talked lots about how great it was that she was taking part and that it would be okay to walk if she needed, but all our well meaning words were met with slight eye rolls and “yes I know Mum!”. So it was me who was a bundle of nerves as she lined up with the other 6 and 7 year old girls. She dashed off when the horn blew and I proceeded to start chatting to my neighbour, not expecting Olive to emerge for a good while. But then out of the corner of me eye I caught a glimpse of the side ponytail and there she was sprinting for the finish line whilst I stood there with my mouth hanging open – fortunately I had the good sense to give the camera to Richard or we would have had no pictures.
After I had dried my tears we joined our neighbours at the home of one of their friends to watch the Firefighter’s Parade. This was a collection of vintage fire trucks, interspersed with the marching bands from the surrounding middle and high schools, and all the celebrities who had been invited to the festival.
When the sun went down Richard took the girls back down to the high school for the fireworks display. Old Nana Croad stayed home and went to bed – am finding being outside in the sun for long periods of time really exhausting and not great for my sinuses which have decided they are a teeny bit allergic to all the Winchester blooms!
Richard was up early Saturday morning to take part in the Apple Blossom 10k race. Unfortunately the chilli dog he ate at the parade the previous evening did not have the desired carbo loading effect so he didn’t do as well as he would have liked – for him that means a time of 47:39 – 224th place in a field close to 1500 runners. Pretty poor effort really!!! Plus on the official results he was recorded as being 58 years of age!
We decided to bike into the city to watch Saturday afternoon’s grand feature parade. It was great to back on my bike – even though the terrain in Winchester has somewhat more of a gradient than the lowlands of Antwerp. We got lots of looks and friendly comments – Olive biked the whole way there and back, showing no signs of tiredness from her race the day before.
The parade consisted of princesses, queens, marching bands, beauty queens, tractors, beauty queens, military, beauty queens, community floats, beauty queens, steam engines, beauty queens, a few celebrities…and did I mention the beauty queens?!!
We headed home after almost three hours – the parade was still going – but Edie had called time on the proceedings and we were all quite happy to disappear home. On Sunday we spent a couple of hours at a family fun day held in one of our local parks – food, face painting, craft stalls and classic cars.
By Sunday evening we were all exhausted and completed bloomed out. Now that we have pretty much experienced everything the Bloom has to offer, next year we can be a bit more selective about what we do or maybe we’ll just go away for a long weekend! Somehow I don’t think that will go down well with Olive and Edie 🙂
There are a bloomin’ ridiculous number of Apple Blossom photos if you click on the Flickr link and I have done captions for all of them. Just in case you need to see a few more beauty queens!
Take care everyone. Missing you all and sending our love xxx
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
By Sunday morning the snow had stopped falling and we were greeted with blue skies and sunshine. The temperature was a balmy 2 degrees (to everyone else in these parts that would be a balmy 36 degrees) so we decided to load all the wet weather gear and the sled into the car and go play in the snow.
Our destination was Lost River State Park in West Virginia, yet another wonderfully equipped recreational area a short drive from home in Winchester. Driving into the park after two days of steady snow fall was like driving into a winter paradise. Little log cabins nestled amongst the snowy trees, trails for hiking and horse riding, heated public toilets, a great playground and lots of super powdery snow on the ground.
What I loved about today was how, for an adult, snow does wonders for bringing out one’s inner child. Coming from a city where snowfall is incredibly rare I get a real kick out of being in the snow and soon we were all immersed in play – throwing sticks at the frozen water in an attempt to break the ice; trying to pelt each other with snowballs; barrelling down the hills on our trusty plastic sled; rolling around on the ground making snow angels; there was even a spot of gymnastics!
Click here to check out some video of Olive and Edie hitting the slopes.
Richard channelled his inner botanical photographer and got some great arty snow shots.
We finished with a good old snow ball fight. I know I probably shouldn’t utter these words in our liberated age, but I completely throw like a girl and couldn’t hit anything. Although, having said that, Richard wasn’t too flash either!
We are heading away this weekend to hopefully do a wee bit of skiing (gulp) and to celebrate my birthday. Poor Olive now has to wait a good three months before there is another celebration in our household!
Take care everyone. 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
Just over two weeks ago we touched down at Dulles Airport in Washington DC. One of the first things I noticed – apart from the heat – was a star spangled banner fluttering in the light breeze. I noticed several more as we located our rental car and started driving to Winchester and so I began to count. It takes about seventy five minutes to drive from Dulles to Winchester and as we reached the outskirts of the city I stopped counting. We had passed no fewer than 87 american flags!
I’m pretty sure there is a New Zealand flag flying from the top of the Beehive in down town Wellington but I’m racking my brains to think of where you would see another one, even if you did drive north of the city for seventy five minutes. Most of the flags I observed on the drive to Winchester were not positioned in front of civic buildings or large office blocks – the majority were out the front of ordinary homes. Admittedly we were in town close to the 4th of July Independence Day holiday, but I suspect that most of the flags we passed were on display year round (my American friends, please jump in and correct me if I’m wrong!).
I consider myself to be a proud kiwi – in fact I’d go so far as to say my pride has grown since moving overseas – yet I would never consider flying our flag outside my home. I’ve never donned a t shirt decorated with the southern cross or the silver fern. We do own a New Zealand flag but that was only purchased as a decoration for Olive’s children of the world birthday party. The most patriotic pieces of clothing in our house are the black t shirt emblazoned with a white kiwi that Richard bought to wear in the New York marathon, and the girls’ traditional Maori outfits.
We all know that the United States has a reputation for patriotism but seeing all those flags hammered home just how great that pride is. And it made me feel very foreign. Dorothy’s famous words seemed to reflect my feelings perfectly – “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Whilst I share a language with the inhabitants of our new home I do not share a culture, and I don’t say that to be negative. There will be many differences to learn about and explore, and hopefully I can share some of my culture too.
My kiwi above doesn’t look too happy does he! That’s not a reflection of how we are feeling. Whilst there is a good deal of stress and anxiety, there is also excitement and anticipation in our little family. Our mantra at the moment is most definitely “kia kaha” and we are counting on all your aroha and support as we embark on this big adventure!