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 –  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.  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 🙂
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 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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 🙂

 

 

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 🙂

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 🙂
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 🙂
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