Costa Rica Roundup – Part Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Costa Rica Roundup – Part Two

We spent a quiet Tuesday morning, breakfasting at a great cafeย (so good we ended up eating there three times), taking in the beautiful views and watching a few locals get their downward dog on in a beachfront yoga class.

Good food, stunning view...happy, happy :)
Good food, stunning view…happy, happy ๐Ÿ™‚

Our adventure for the day was a zip lining tour, high up in the hills near the Osa mountain village. After a very bumpy and very steep ride on the back of a truck we arrived at the start of the course…a rather high zip line stretching off into the distance. “We’ll take the kids for the first one and then they can do the rest themselves”, I was cheerily told by our instructors. Um…I don’t think so!

Getting ready to fly.
Getting ready to fly.
I had to eat my words. Olive was immediately zipping away all by herself...
I had to eat my words. Olive was immediately zipping away all by herself…
and Edie was not far behind her. They even had to control a brake and slow themselves down before reaching the platform at the end of each line. Once again, very impressed with my girls!
and Edie was not far behind her. They even had to control a brake and slow themselves down before reaching the platform at the end of each line. Once again, very impressed with my girls!
It was so much fun...even I loved it.
It was so much fun…even I loved it.
Edie making her way down to the ground.
Edie making her way down to the ground.
Enjoying the rope swing at the end of the course.
Enjoying the rope swing at the end of the course.
And just in case you thought our wonderful pool wasn't getting any use...this is how every spare moment was spent. Edie would dash from the car, strip and jump straight in!
And just in case you thought our wonderful pool wasn’t getting any use…this is how every spare moment was spent. Edie would dash from the car, strip and jump straight in!

We spent Christmas Eve on a horse trek to the beautiful Nauyaca Waterfalls. I have to admit to being somewhat nervous as it had been a very long time since I’d been on the back of a horse and I wasn’t sure how the girls would get on. Once I’d reconciled myself to the fact that my horse had to be at the front of the pack, regardless of who she had to push out the way, or how fast she had to move to get there, I managed to relax and enjoy myself. Edie didn’t like it at all to begin with but after we’d had our first rest stop, she announced that everything was ok as she could now “communicate with horses”. Whatever she said to herself or to the horse, clearly worked because she loved every minute of the rest of the trip. Olive took to it like a duck to water and Richard, mounted on the dubiously titled “Tequila”, declared it one of the more boring activities he’d taken part in! What the…?

Saddled up and ready to hit the trail.
Saddled up and ready to hit the trail.
We made two stops for a traditional breakfast and lunch and were treated to some spectacular wildlife.
We made two stops for a traditional breakfast and lunch and were treated to some spectacular wildlife.
In the words of Dora the Explorer, "Senor Toucan!"
In the words of Dora the Explorer, “Senor Toucan!”
Me and my Speedy Gonzales!
Me and my Speedy Gonzales!
Oooo...this would be good for a Christmas card...one year I'll get around to sending some!
Oooo…this would be good for a Christmas card…one year I’ll get around to sending some!
Beautiful.
Beautiful.
One of our guides climbing the waterfall to set up the jumping station...you can guess who was suddenly not so bored any more...
One of our guides climbing the waterfall to set up the jumping station…you can guess who was suddenly not so bored any more…
hope his expensive teeth are still in there!
hope his expensive teeth are still in there!
During the lunch break it was time for some entertainment monkey style.
During the lunch break it was time for some entertainment monkey style.

Another exhilarating and exhausting day. Time for a very quiet Christmas ๐Ÿ™‚

Costa Rica Roundup – Part One

In my previous post I did promise to write about every day of our Costa Rican adventure but in all honesty I was too whacked at the end of each fun filled day to attempt anything more than drinking a glass of wine and documenting the range of visitors that turned up in the grounds of the house after dark. I told myself I would write when we got home but, as many of you know, we arrived home to discover some pretty serious water damage…as a result my focus was somewhat diverted!

So this is my cheat’s version. I’ve been through the hundreds – I kid you not – of photos that we took, and picked what I think are the best. I won’t hit you with all fifty odd of them at once. Some today, some tomorrow and maybe some the next day. Hopefully they capture what was a wonderful holiday.

Our nest adventure after surfing was a snorkeling trip. We met the boat crew at the Ballena National Park, where the entrance was surrounded by lots of colorful buildings.
Our next adventure after surfing was a snorkeling trip. We met the boat crew at the Ballena National Park, where the entrance was surrounded by lots of colorful buildings.
It was beautiful - lush greens and palm trees galore.
It was beautiful – lush greens and palm trees galore.
You get the picture?!
You get the picture?!
Loading up the boat.
Loading up the boat.
Highlight of the whole day - seeing dolphins galore. Amazing!
Highlight of the whole day – seeing dolphins galore. Amazing!
En route to Cano Island National Park.
En route to Cano Island National Park.
The girls had lots of fun finding interestingly shaped coral on the island.
The girls had lots of fun finding interestingly shaped coral on the island.
And doing their best to promote Billabong!
And doing their best to promote Billabong!
As Cano Island is a National Park we weren't allowed to take anything with us. If we could ave, these two would have been in my pocket.
As Cano Island is a National Park we weren’t allowed to take anything with us. If we could have, these two would have been in my pocket.
With Eric, our very cool snorkeling guide.
With Eric, our very cool snorkeling guide.

I didn’t get any photos whilst we snorkeled – Edie absolutely loved it, Olive not so much. I made the mistake of screaming out “shark!” excitedly, as a small one swam below us…and that was it…couldn’t get her back in the water. I was very impressed with both of them though. We weren’t snorkeling in the shallows near the island – they had to jump off the boat into deep water, not something I would have done at their age.

It was a great day. By the end we were all exhausted and, sad to say, somewhat sun burnt! I’m sure all our dreams that night were full of the dolphins, sea turtles, exotic fish and even the sharks we had seen…in Olive’s case, nightmare might be the more appropriate word ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Surfin’ Costa Rica

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that it has been over six months since I posted. That has the dubious honour of being a record for me since I started blogging over four years ago. I’ve been away from this space for many reasons – which I won’t go into here!! Suffice to say that as our Costa Rican adventure drew near, I knew it was now or never. If a dream holiday in a stunning destination couldn’t spur me into action then I think all would have been lost for onthecroadagain. The messages I also received, politely asking just what in the hell had happened to the Croad family, were also a much needed kick in the pants. So here we are – surfin’ Costa Rica!

Just in case you'd forgotten what I looked like...here is the obligatory "I'm on a beach in Costa Rica" selfie :)
Just in case you’d forgotten what I looked like…here is the obligatory “I’m on a beach in Costa Rica” selfie ๐Ÿ™‚

We are here in Costa Rica for Christmas largely because of a set of teeth – Richard’s to be precise. He was in great need of some pretty major dental work but the quote given to him by a dental group in Winchester was…to put it politely…somewhat on the high side. Richard was not impressed when the dentist quipped, “hey, it’s only a new car right?”.

And this is the kind of new car the dentist was referring to...new set of teeth or Audi...new set of teeth or Audi...Audi??!!
And this is the kind of new car the dentist was referring to…new set of teeth or Audi…new set of teeth or Audi…Audi??!!

Being the resourceful chap he is, Richard was soon furiously researching other options and lo and behold, it transpires that Costa Rica is a great place to go if one is in the mood for a spot of dental tourism. I have to admit to experiencing some trepidation at the thought of a) Richard heading off to a tiny central American nation to have his mouth transformed and b) a significant change in the way he looked. My only experience of anyone having major dental changes was when my Dad (and I’m sure he won’t mind me mentioning this – right JBG??) had a new top plate thingy put in and it took everyone months to get used to the dazzling white teeth that emerged every time he opened his mouth.

Ok...I'll admit...this is not JBG...but the pearly whites are pretty spot on!
Ok…I’ll admit…this is not JBG…but the pearly whites are pretty spot on!

When the Costa Rican quote came in at a significantly cheaper rate – second hand Ford focus anyone? – the deal was sealed. In late June, Richard made his first trip down here, and it was anything but a tropical vacation with a bit of time in the dentist’s office on the side. The phone calls home were miserable, chronicling nine hour stints in the dentist’s chair, needles, crowns, implants….ugh. But by the end of the week, Richard had endured all the prep work and had made a firm friend in Guillermo – a taxi driver who helped endear him to the seemingly haphazard Tico lifestyle in the mixed bag metropolis that is San Jose.

Richard needed about six months before his return trip to complete all the work, and as that coincided with late December, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity and make his return to Costa Rica a bit of a family adventure. Richard went on ahead of us to get the final work done on his chompers and on Friday the girls and I flew down to join him. (And just in case you are wondering he looks just like the same…ahem…old Richard…and he’s been thrilled with the overall result.)

Ok...not Richard...Ed Harris and his smashing smile. On our first trip to Paris ten years ago, an American couple approached Richard and asked him "are you that famous actor?". We stupidly never asked which actor they were referring too, but we are pretty sure it was Ed.
Ok…not Richard…Ed Harris and his smashing smile. On our first trip to Paris ten years ago, an American couple approached Richard and asked him “are you that famous actor?”. We stupidly never asked which actor they were referring too, but we are pretty sure it was Ed.

We stepped out into the gloriously warm city of San Jose late on Friday afternoon and rendezvoused with Richard in the early evening, after he got the sign off from the head honcho at the dentist. Saturday morning was spent hunting down a few necessities – flip flops and sunscreen – then we hopped in our car and began the drive to Dominical. On our way there we had our first encounter with some of the abundant Costa Rican wildlife. We made a stop at a bridge which crosses over the Tarcoles river. There were souvenir stalls set up and lines of people making there way to the middle of the bridge, cameras in hand. As we passed one of the stalls we got an inkling of what we were in for…

bet they have good looking teeth.
bet they have good looking teeth.

We followed the lines of people and once at the middle of the bridge, leaned carefully over. We were met with this sight…

yes, it's a river full of crocodiles! Welcome to Costa Rica!
yes, it’s a river full of crocodiles! Welcome to Costa Rica!

On our arrival in Dominical we met up with Neil, originally from London but an avid surfer, hence his relocation to Costa Rica. We followed his car to the start of a very rough and steep looking dirt track, at which Neil let out a cry of “yee hah!” and we began our ascent to Gorde Vista, our home for the next week.

I think we are in for a pretty great week!
I think we are in for a pretty great week!
Mmmm...suspect we will have difficulty getting the girls out of the house to explore Costa Rica.
Mmmm…suspect we will have difficulty getting the girls out of the house to explore Costa Rica.
Looking up at the house from the garden. Just beautiful.
Looking up at the house from the garden. Just beautiful.

After much admiring of the house and garden, swimming, unpacking, swimming, grabbing a few groceries, swimming, popping out for a quick bite at a local seafood restaurant and more…you guessed it…swimming…it was time to hit the hay. We had to be up bright and early for the first of our adventures – surfing lessons for the girls at Dominical beach.

Monday morning was a scorcher. We met up with Steven – authentic Californian surfer dude – and the girls began learning the key steps to hanging ten…

first it's paddle, paddle, paddle...then pull yourself up into cobra pose...
first it’s paddle, paddle, paddle…then pull yourself up into cobra pose…
then pop up and adopt cool surfer stance...after that it's time to grab your board and head into the ocean.
then pop up and adopt cool surfer stance…after that it’s time to grab your board and head into the ocean.
Edie surprised us all by instantly getting the hang of it.
Edie surprised us all by instantly getting the hang of it.
My favourite picture of the day - love that concentration and determination.
My favourite picture of the day – love that concentration and determination.
Surfin' Safari!
Surfin’ Safari!
Olive in action.
Olive in action.

After all that excitement and action we spent the afternoon at home watching the monkeys playing in the trees next to our house…

I feel the need for a David Attenborough voice over as we encounter all this wild life!
I feel the need for a David Attenborough voice over as we encounter all this wild life!

and getting acquainted with some of our other neighbours…

Perhaps it will transform into Ed Harris if I kiss it!!
Perhaps it will transform into Ed Harris if I kiss it!!

Right – my word count tells me I have written over one thousand words which means this is in danger of resembling a university essay. We have had another action packed and animal filled day today…about which I will attempt to write after tomorrow’s action packed day. I suspect I will need another vacation to recover from this one!

American Girls

In 1986, educator, writer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Pleasant Rowland, began designing and producing a range of 18 inch dolls. An avid history lover, Rowland was inspired to create the dolls by a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. She believed that young girls might become interested in history by exposure to dolls associated with historical events and periods. Each doll she designed related to a specific historical time period and was accompanied by books, clothing and other accessories.

One of the first "American Girls".
One of the first “American Girls”.

Rowland’s company was a runaway success. From dolls, the line expanded to include clothing for both the dolls and their owners, books, dollhouses, furniture…you name it. She set up stores in major cities and held events centered around the dolls. Mattel came along in 1998 and bought the Pleasant Company – now renamed American Girl – ย for $700 million…yes, you read that right!! Today American Girl sales are second only to Barbie.

I was vaguely aware of the American Girl phenomenon before we moved to the US. One of the American women I met in Antwerp ‘warned’ me about it but I still didn’t really grasp the overwhelming marketing juggernaut that is American Girl. Olive and Edie were introduced to the dolls at the homes of our neighbours’ and through conversations at school. After doing a bit more research I endeavoured to keep them out of the house as long as possible!! But when Edie’s birthday rolled around this past January all she wanted was…you guessed it…an American Girl doll. ย Richard and I begrudgingly acquiesced. At least we were confident it would get played with – Edie is legendary for the amount of dolls, stuffed animals, figurines, pieces of paper…and all manner of other bits and bobs that get roped into her elaborate games. Olive, on the other hand, has never been a doll or stuffed animal kind of girl…but once she clapped eyes on ‘Isabelle’, carefully cocooned in that giant red box, we knew just what she’d be asking for come April 13th. And so despite my best efforts, we know have two of the blasted dolls – Isabelle and Lillia.

Isabelle is the girl of the year - in another stroke of marketing genius, a special doll is released for only one year...only 365 days to buy the clothes, ballet shoes, dance studio...aaaaaaaaah!!!
Isabelle is the girl of the year – in another stroke of marketing genius, a special doll is released for only one year…only 365 days to buy the clothes, ballet shoes, dance studio…aaaaaaaaah!!!

Today the girls and I made the big drive into the mega mall that is Tyson’s Corner, home of the American Girl store. I had promised them a “this is only ever happening once and will never be repeated again” day at the store which included…I’m embarrassed to type this…getting the dolls hair done (!), lunch in the AG bistro and a chance to ooh and aaah over all the, not on the cheap side, merchandise.

Well my butt was never going to fit in that chair!
Well my butt was never going to fit in that chair!
Isabelle looks like she has been dragged backwards through a bush. Must have a word to Edie about her grooming standards...
Isabelle looks like she has been dragged backwards through a bush. Must have a word to Edie about her grooming standards…
Yes - what you are seeing  did actually happen!
Yes – what you are seeing did actually happen!
"Mum...you have to take a front and back picture!"
“Mum…you have to take a front and back picture!”
Isabelle scrubs up pretty well.
Isabelle scrubs up pretty well.

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Julie from the 1970's is totally cool. She even has her own VW!
Julie from the 1970’s is totally cool. She even has her own VW!

After the hairdos and the racing around the store it was time for lunch in the pink, flower bedecked bistro.

Must make sure the most important guests can sit up at the table.
Must make sure the most important guests can sit up at the table.
I think I am the most popular mother in northern Virginia right about now :)
I think I am the most popular mother in northern Virginia right about now ๐Ÿ™‚
My special highlight - a hook for your doll so she can accompany you whilst you pee - genius!
My special highlight – a hook for your doll so she can accompany you whilst you pee – genius!
Can now tick that one off the list.
Can now tick that one off the list.

Back home the girls played for hours. There was a school set up and cubbys and funny voices and outfit changes and then videos made of all the fun. Best part though was the sound of two sisters playing happily…mmm…perhaps those dolls aren’t too bad after all??

 

 

Take me out to the ballgame…

The game of baseball is believed to have originated in England. Both baseball and rounders were played in England and are thought to be regional variations of the same thing – the name, I guess, depending on which part of England you were playing in. Whether you referred to it as rounders or baseball, the game is thought to have derived from a fifteenth century English sport known as “Stoolball”. This somewhat scatological term is nothing to do with number twos (!) – it’s actually a reference to the milking stools that were used as wickets, because stoolball was traditionally played by milkmaids. (By this point in my research I was laughing out loud. Stools, milkmaids…I think I would pay good money to see that!!)

Unfortunately this was the best image of stoolball I could find - apologies for the lack of buxom milkmaids.
Unfortunately this was the best image of stoolball I could find – apologies for the lack of buxom milkmaids.

The early form of baseball was brought to North America by English immigrants, where it is first officially referred to in a 1791 bylaw from a town in Massachusetts – the game was not allowed to be played near the town’s new meeting house. By the early 1830s, games of baseball were popping up all over North America, but it wasn’t until 1846 that the first officially recorded baseball game was played in the United States. On June 19th in Hoboken, New Jersey, the New York Nine defeated the New York Knickerbockers 23 runs to 1. The Knickerbockers were responsible for putting some structure around the game – establishing rules around the number of innings, types of pitches allowed and type of ball that could be used.

New York Knickerbockers
New York Knickerbockers

In the mid 1850s, New York went baseball crazy and the game started to be referred to as the “national pastime” or “national game”. Leagues and associations were formed and admission was charged at the big games. Today, I’m told, it’s NFL or American Football which holds the title of national sport or game, but baseball is still very popular, based on the crowds we witnessed at Nationals Park last Sunday.

Our neighbours invited us to watch the Washington Nationals play the Texas Rangers. This was a pretty big deal as our neighbour is from Texas and it’s not often that the Nationals meet the Rangers on the field. This is due to one of the many confusing aspects of baseball. In the US there are two leagues – the National League and the American League and each of these leagues is split into East, West and Central divisions. Because the Nationals are in the National League and the Rangers are in the American League, it’s rare that they face off against each other, so it was a particularly good game to see. Plus they didn’t just play one game – they played Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Another confusing aspect is just how many games there are…I won’t go into that because I’ve probably lost many of you!! I’ll just get back to the game we watched!

Nationals Park...home of the Washington Nationals...who up until five years ago used to be the Montreal Expos and were based in Canada...I promise that's the last confusing thing!!
Nationals Park…home of the Washington Nationals…who up until five years ago used to be the Montreal Expos and were based in Canada…yet more confusing things!!
We made sure we donned appropriate Nationals attire.
We made sure we donned appropriate Nationals attire.
Baseball sculpture thing inside the stadium.
Baseball sculpture thing inside the stadium.
First pitch of the game.
First pitch of the game.
"Mmmm...not a patch on an All Blacks test!"
“Mmmm…not a patch on an All Blacks test!”
The Ranger's secret weapon is their Japanese pitcher. Baseball is one of the most popular sports in Japan - the first team was established in 1878.
The Ranger’s secret weapon is their Japanese pitcher. Baseball is one of the most popular sports in Japan – the first team was established in 1878.
Keeping the crowd entertained is an important part of a baseball game. This is called the President's race!
Keeping the crowd entertained is an important part of a baseball game. This is called the President’s race!
Thomas Jefferson was the winner and he strolled around showing off his winner's belt.
Thomas Jefferson was the winner and he strolled around showing off his winner’s belt.
Edie indulging in some ice cream dippin' dots. Other important baseball snacks are peanuts and Crackerjack - kind of like caramel popcorn.
Edie indulging in some ice cream dippin’ dots. Other important baseball snacks are peanuts and Crackerjack – kind of like caramel popcorn.
The Nationals mascot wasn't too happy. After nearly three hours, the Rangers were victorious - two home runs to nil.
The Nationals mascot wasn’t too happy. After nearly three hours, the Rangers were victorious – two home runs to nil.

I have to say that my personal highlight came halfway during the seventh innings. This is when what is referred to as “the seventh innings stretch” takes place. Everyone stands, stretches and then sings Take Me Out To The Ballgame…felt like I was in a movie!! We sounded nothing like this…

So all in all it was a very fun afternoon. I don’t think we’ll be rushing out to buy season tickets but I’m sure if the opportunity presents itself we’ll be happy to venture out again to the old ballgame!

Special thanks to Tim, Corene, Madison and Chase for being such wonderful hosts and for patiently answering all my dumb questions ๐Ÿ™‚

 

 

 

 

 

Tuckered out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some official pics of the race…

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 hereย you can check out the album I made, as well as photos from our trip to New Zealand over Christmas, which I finally got around to uploading!

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

 

 

Gettysburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

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

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

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

Take care everyone xxx

 

 

The Candy Man

Milton Hershey was born in 1857 on a farm outside of Derry Church, Pennsylvania. He spent many of his early years trailing around after his father who, by all accounts, was something of a dreamer – always on the lookout for the next big opportunity but lacking the perseverance to stick anything out. By the time Milton was ten, his father was out of the picture and his upbringing was taken over by his strict Mennonite mother, Fanny, who instilled in her son the importance and value of hard work.

Fanny Hershey - clearly not one to be messed with!
Fanny Hershey – clearly not one to be messed with!

After dropping out of school at the age of fourteen, Hershey expressed interest in candy making and became an apprentice to a confectioner in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Four years later, Hershey borrowed some money and set up his own candy store. Despite working hard and pouring everything he had into the business it was not a success, so he sold up and headed west, reuniting with his father in Colorado. Here he learned about caramel and how it can be made with fresh milk. This became his new obsession. He started businesses in Chicago and then New York but both failed.

Milton Hershey on the left as a teenager.
Milton Hershey on the right as a teenager.

Hershey returned to Lancaster still convinced he could run a successful candy company. He started the Lancaster Caramel Company and finally success was his. Soon he was shipping his caramels all over the world.

Caramels

At an exposition in Chicago in 1893, Hershey was introduced to the art of chocolate making and he was hooked. He was particularly interested in milk chocolate, which was seen as a delicacy and something only the Swiss could make. Hershey was determined to find a way to mass produce and distribute milk chocolate candy.

In 1900, Hershey sold his caramel company for a staggering one million dollars. Three years later he began construction on a huge, modern candy-making factory near Derry Church. As the Hershey Chocolate company flourished, Hershey began to create a model community in his home town. He built schools, parks, churches, housing for his employees, and the town that sprung up around the factory became known as Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Hershey factory in the 1970's.
Hershey factory in the 1970’s.

We made a quick visit to Hershey last Thursday evening. It was very much a visit for Olive and Edie – neither Richard or I are fans of Hershey chocolate. Quite frankly it’s not a patch on a block of good old kiwi Whittaker’s and after consuming a fair amount of Belgian chocolate in Antwerp, it kind of ruins you for anything else! We stayed a night in the big old Hershey hotel (I was handed room keys and four blocks of chocolate!) and then spent Friday morning making our own chocolate bars and having our minds boggled by the size of both the Hershey store itself and the bars of chocolate in it!!

Note the Hershey kiss shaped lamp posts!
Note the Hershey kiss shaped lamp posts!
Just what every mother wants for Mother's day...a huge block of sugar!!!
Just what every mother wants for Mother’s day…a huge block of sugar!!!
Stylish chocolate making outfits were compulsory.
Stylish chocolate making outfits were compulsory.
The girls were fascinated...to say the least.
The girls were fascinated…to say the least.
Designing your own packaging was an important part of the process...and on a side note...aren't we all just loving Richard's beard net :)
Designing your own packaging was an important part of the process…and on a side note…aren’t we all just loving Richard’s beard net ๐Ÿ™‚
Then we took a ride into the world of Hershey chocolate...girls loving it...Richard suitably unimpressed!
Then we took a ride into the world of Hershey chocolate…girls loving it…Richard suitably unimpressed!
My favourite part was all the old packaging and advertising.
My favourite part was all the old packaging and advertising.

There is an amusement park in Hershey too but…alas…it hadn’t yet opened for the summer season. The girls were quite happy with their personalised blocks of chocolate and Richard and I were very happy that we can now cross Hershey off our to do list!

From Hershey we headed to Gettysburg, where we had a fascinating time, about which I’ll write later!

And for those of you who are interested I’ve done a very long overdue update on what the girls and I are reading at the moment.

Take care everyone – sending all our love xxx

 

The Handley March

John Handley was born in County Wexford in Ireland in 1835. He emigrated with his family to the United States, becoming a citizen in 1850. Handley worked as a carpenter, before studying law and working in Washington DC for President James Buchanan. He settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania where he practiced law, eventually becoming a judge.

Judge John Handley
Judge John Handley

Handley showed great concern for those less fortunate than himself and was known for his charitable actions and the many donations he made, which helped students in many schools and universities complete their educations. During the Civil War, Handley sympathised with the South and was a great admirer of Stonewall Jackson, one of the best known confederate commanders. Jackson was based in Winchester for several months during the course of the war and I’m assuming this is the reason why Handley made many trips to Winchester and grew to love the town and the friends that he made here.

On his death in 1895, Handley bequeathed $250,000 dollars to the city of Winchester. The money was invested and when the estate grew to the value of $500,000 dollars it was to be used to build a library for the people of Winchester.

Handley Library, built in 1913.
Handley Library, built in 1913.

Handley stipulated that the remainder of the estate be used to build schools for the education of the poor. In 1922 construction began on John Handley High School, using funds from Handley’s estate.

John Handley High School
John Handley High School

Handley’s love of Winchester was so great that he purchased a burial plot in Winchester’s Mount Hebron Cemetery. He wanted his final resting place to be as close as possible to the many soldiers who lost their lives in and around this area during the Civil War.

Every year, in honour of Handley’s bequest to Winchester and his particular interest in the education of the city’s children, a parade is held from the centre of old town Winchester to Handley’s grave in Mount Hebron Cemetery. Children from the six schools that make up the Winchester Public School district, are selected to take part in the march. Dressed in their very best clothes, carrying flowers to lay at the memorial, the children parade solemnly through the town to Handley’s grave, where they listen to various school officials pay tribute to the man who helped make their education possible.

This year a little Kiwi joined the parade…

Edie all ready to join the Handley March. Olive somewhat miffed that she wasn't chosen!
Edie all ready to join the Handley March. Olive somewhat miffed that she wasn’t chosen!
One of Edie's great friends was on the march too...made it even more exciting.
One of Edie’s great friends was on the march too…made it even more exciting.
Due to my new role as a working person, Richard joined the parade and acted as official papparazo...
Edie loved having her Dad walk alongside her and take plenty of pics for Mum!
I think Judge Handley would have smiled as he watched this lot marching...
I think Judge Handley would have smiled as he watched this lot marching…
Edie's floral tribute.
Edie’s floral tribute.
Mount Hebron Cemetery.
Mount Hebron Cemetery.
Final resting place of Winchester's number one fan :)
Final resting place of Winchester’s number one fan ๐Ÿ™‚
Our very solemn and respectful Edie!
Our very solemn and respectful Edie!

If you were hoping to read all about our trip to Puerto Rico…apologies…am still sifting through photos but promise to share something soon. It’s Apple Blossom this weekend and the town is already abuzz. We have decided to take advantage of the long weekend and head away. We are going to Pennsylvania to visit two very iconic but very different American attractions – Hershey World and Gettysburg. That might need two separate blog posts!!

Take care everyone. Hope you are all well xxx