Tuckered out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some official pics of the race…

OliveMTB

EdieMTB

RichMTB

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

Bloomin’ Marvellous

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.

Nice suit Mr League! He's being interviewed by the head of the business school at Shenandoah University - one Miles Davis!
Nice suit Mr League! He’s being interviewed by the head of the business school at Shenandoah University – one Miles Davis!

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.

Edie and I snapped this view of the carnival as we took a ride on the ferris wheel.
Edie and I snapped this view of the carnival as we took a ride on the ferris wheel.
"Mmmm - what shall we do next?"
“Mmmm – what shall we do next?”
We resisted the urge to try one out - and I thought Scotland was bad with its deep fried Mars Bars!
We resisted the urge to try one out – and I thought Scotland was bad with its deep fried Mars Bars!

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.

This really was the highlight of the show for the girls: Olive's good friend W holding the Queen's train and looking very dapper!
This really was the highlight of the show for the girls: Olive’s good friend W holding the Queen’s train and looking very dapper!
All hail Queen Shenandoah.
All hail Queen Shenandoah.

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!

Lots of jazz hands!
Lots of jazz hands and surprisingly lots of young men.

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.

Olive and her first official race bib. Ever the fashionista you will note the requested side ponytail.
Olive and her first official race bib. Ever the fashionista you will note the requested side ponytail.

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.

Storming to the finish line - 9 minutes and 7 seconds and no stopping at all!
Storming to the finish line – 9 minutes and 7 seconds and no stopping at all!
One of the many proud Mums in Winchester on Friday.
One of the many proud Mums in Winchester on Friday.

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.

Refuelling with pizza and cotton candy. Most houses along the parade route set up chairs ouf front from which to view the parade.
Refuelling with pizza and cotton candy. Most houses along the parade route set up chairs ouf front from which to view the parade.
A very Addams family looking fire vehicle.
A very Addams family looking fire vehicle.
Marching band from Daniel Morgan Middle School.
Marching band from Daniel Morgan Middle School.
Washington Street is a beautiful tree lined road with many grand old homes. Here are the grand marshals of the Firefighter's Parade - Jep and Jessica from the hugely popular Duck Dynasty reality tv show.
Washington Street is a beautiful tree lined road with many grand old homes. Here are the grand marshals of the Firefighter’s Parade – Jep and Jessica from the hugely popular Duck Dynasty reality tv show.

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.

All ready for the big parade - Richard's new office in the background.
All ready for the big parade – Richard’s new office in the background.

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?!!

Queenie!
Queenie!
Cotton candy, stars and stripes...my little kiwi is turning American!
Cotton candy, stars and stripes…my little kiwi is turning American!
Pink, pink and yet more pink.
Pink, pink and yet more pink.

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.

What have they done to those apples?!
What have they done to those apples?!
The finest local cuisine was on offer.
The finest local cuisine was on offer.
No sign of Michael J. Fox but his car was there.
No sign of Michael J. Fox but his car was there.

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

Lost River

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.

Anyone for Pooh sticks?
Anyone for Pooh sticks?

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.

Lost River State Park - even has a cute red post box :)
Lost River State Park – even has a cute red post box 🙂
We've got our eyes on cabin number two for a return visit. The pile of logs neatly stacked off to the side suggests a nice little wood burner inside - toasty.
We’ve got our eyes on cabin number two for a return visit. The pile of logs neatly stacked off to the side suggests a nice little wood burner inside – toasty.
When one has the right gear, snow is no obstacle to having a great time outside.
When one has the right gear, snow is no obstacle to having a great time outside.

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!

Forty-one next week...impossible!
Forty-one next week…impossible!
The smile says it all.
The smile says it all.
Extra hard Pooh sticks needed to break the ice!
Extra hard Pooh sticks needed to break the ice!
Weeeeeeeeeee!
Weeeeeeeeeee!
Even more fun when there's two of you :)
Even more fun when there’s two of you 🙂
Two kids at play.
Two kids at play.
Edie and her angel.
Edie and her angel.

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.

I should have asked Richard to devise suitably arty captions - Snow Variations I perhaps?!
I should have asked Richard to devise suitably arty captions – Snow Variations I perhaps?!
Tree with flecks of snow? Am really scraping the bottom of the barrel here!
Tree with flecks of snow? Am really scraping the bottom of the barrel here!

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!

Game on!
Game on!
Future Yankees pitcher perhaps?
Future Yankees pitcher perhaps?

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

Harpers Ferry

About a forty-five minute drive from Winchester in West Virginia, you will find the historic town of Harpers Ferry. This gorgeous little town – population 286 – is found at the meeting place of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, and it’s also where the states of West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia meet.

High Street, Harpers Ferry
High Street, Harpers Ferry

Richard’s colleague from New Zealand is staying with us while she does some work at Taura North America, so we decided to show her one of the numerous interesting places to be found in this part of the US. It was a great day to go as Harpers Ferry was all decked out for Christmas and there were Civil War displays, craft activities for children and even a visit from Mr and Mrs Claus.

The girls tried out some gingerbread from a little bakery.
The girls tried out some gingerbread from a little bakery.
And bought some candy from a shop specialising in all the famous "old school"
And bought some candy from a shop specialising in all the famous “old school” American sweets.

We wandered the streets enjoying all the historic architecture and took in the awesome views down by the river.

The Potomac river.
The Potomac river.

Throughout the town we saw people attired in dress appropriate to the Civil War era. Harpers Ferry played a vital part in the origins of the Civil War. It was home to one of only two United States armories, the other was located in Massachusetts. These two facilities  produced most of the small arms for the US Army. In October 1859, the abolitionist John Brown led a group of 21 men in a raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry and it was this raid that was a catalyst for the Civil War. Harpers Ferry went on to change hands eight times between 1861 and 1865 and after the war arms production ceased.

Civil War soldiers outside the building which became known as John Brown's Fort.
Civil War soldiers outside the building which became known as John Brown’s Fort.
Civil War era fashionista with Kiwi fashionista.
Civil War era fashionista with Kiwi fashionista.

St Peter’s Catholic Church is another site of historic importance in Harpers Ferry. The church was built in 1833 in a Gothic style which it was able to keep throughout the Civil War – it was the only church in Harpers Ferry to avoid destruction. Inside the church we listened to a beautiful choir rehearsing for a Christmas concert later in the day.

Carols ringing out inside St Peter's.
Carols ringing out inside St Peter’s.

We could have spent much more time exploring this very significant part of our new neighbourhood, but we had to get the girls back to Winchester for a birthday party. They did have time, however, to stop and have a chat with these two…

Tourists from the North Pole.
Tourists from the North Pole.

We ended our weekend at the Wayside Theatre in nearby Stephens City to watch a production of Glory Bea! A Shenandoah Christmas Story. Our neighbours’ parents were hosting a special showing of the play for their co workers and friends, and they very kindly invited us  along. Our host was a member of the US Navy and visited New Zealand in 1964 aboard the USS Bainbridge. He was thrilled to learn that a very young Richard Croad, accompanied by his father and older brothers, drove from Palmerston North to Wellington for a chance to look at and step on board the vessel. After a long wait in the queue, five year old Richard was denied his chance to go on the big boat because he was too little, and stood crying on the wharf whilst his brothers got to step aboard 😦

Talk about a small world!

We have a busy week ahead as all the Christmas festivities kick into high gear. Richard’s Christmas work do, a visit to Santa’s workshop, our neighbourhood carolling party…moving to a smaller town has certainly not dimmed the lights on our social calendar!

Take care everyone and if you are keen to see some more of Harpers Ferry, click on the link to my Flickr photos.