My Peaceful Christmas Season

christmas nativity

I turned my shopping cart down the aisle in the big box craft store and felt tension immediately creeping into my neck.  It was September and I was staring at trees, lights, ornaments and wrapping paper in an explosion of green and red.  That tension was a sign that I was bracing myself for the stress that usually overcomes overs me in regards to the holiday season.  Only this year it was already starting in September.  The stress was also known as Christmas.

The holiday season is often a silent scream that is aimed at adults, often times moms who seem to often orchestrate the magic that surrounds the holidays.  TV commercials, Facebook event reminders, school events all become reminders of the traditions and magic that should be created each year.  As a mother and wife I took that responsibility on, to make the season magical for my loved ones.  Pinterest and Instagram brought the expectations to a whole new level these past few years.

christmas

I can sit and reflect on past years where gifts, stockings, hosting parties, decorating the home, taking the perfect photos, all left me feeling empty and breathing a sigh of relief on the December 26.  But this year as I sat at a recent MOPS meeting, watching a video about this exact stress, I decided that this year Christmas would be different.

Christmas is about love coming down to Earth.  It is the story about a mother and her baby.  In particular I am reminded of the verse “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke, 2:19).  I look at my three beloved children and am reminded every day of how quickly they are growing.  About how limited my time of actually having them under my roof really is.  It is all fleeting moments and I am determined to not let the stress take over my holidays anymore.  Instead I have made a conscious decision to limit our commitments, and choose family and quality time this season.

nativity

My husband and I have decided to focus on three festive events this Christmas season.  Beyond that we are not stressing about fitting everything else in.  If we can squeeze in a few extra events, great!  If not, no big deal.  We actually took out our calendars over Thanksgiving and scheduled in activities to make sure that time was blocked out.

meadowlark

For our family, the first event we chose was experiencing the lights at Meadowlark Botanical Garden in Vienna, Virginia.  This spectacular display of holiday lights that you can walk through has been on my list of things to do for 10 years now.  By strategically planning our time we were able to accomplish this event and were lucky enough to pair it with a visit with great friends.

meadowlark

If you are planning on going to Meadowlark make sure to go online and purchase your tickets earlier in the week.  The time slots do sell out on the weekend.  There are often discounts offered weekdays through Certifikid or their Facebook page.  Dress warm as you will be outside for an hour or so.  We brought the stroller which worked well for our 17 month old.  Even though it was 7, his bedtime, he was so distracted by the beautiful lights that he was fine.  At the end there is a stand to purchase hot cocoa, smores supplies to roast by the fire, and popcorn.  If you are looking for a good quick dinner before or after, try Church Street Pizza.  It’s delicious, in particular their white pizza and meat lovers.

How do you manage the holiday stress?  Are you starting any new traditions this year?

 

Continue Reading

Family Bike Ride: Mason Neck State Park

mason neck bike ride

Many of my favorite memories from childhood revolve around my pastel colored bicycle.  Bike riding provided a type of freedom as a child that I craved, and this love has carried into adulthood.  With 2 older children that are pretty good at riding, I was patiently waiting for my baby to be old enough to pop in the seat attached to my bike.  Mason Neck State Park was the choice for our family bike ride on a beautiful fall day.

mason neck nature trail

This past weekend was our first family excursion with baby in tow, on our bicycles.  And Mason Neck State Park in Lorton, Virginia was the perfect location to go ride and be outside to enjoy the beautiful fall scenery.  Mason Neck State Park, along with Pohick Bay is tucked into the corner of Fairfax County, Gunston Hall to be specific.  It’s right next to Lorton, and just down route 1 from Woodbridge.  A quick turn onto Gunston Hall Rd. and you feel like you are way out in the country.  You will pass some large horse farms that look straight out of the movies.

mason neck family bike ride

If your children are older and can handle a longer ride, I recommend actually parking at a pullout on Gunston Hall Rd.  and riding on the awesome paved trail into Mason Neck Park.  Seeing as this was our first attempt with the baby seat, we actually drove a little further, into the actual park and nature preserve, to park at the trail lot.  Your other option is to drive all the way to the education center on the water, and park there.

mason neck family bike ride

The best biking is done on the High Point multi-use trail.  It is rated easy, and is paved which makes for great riding.  The awesome thing about this trail with kids is that it is pretty much flat, just a few rolling hills, and you basically have the trail to yourself, even on a beautiful fall day.  In over an hour on a Saturday, we only had one other cyclist pass us.  With that being said, I wouldn’t ride this trail alone for obvious safety reasons.

mason neck family bike ride

Along the High Point trail are a few picnic tables as well as restrooms.  At the Visitor Center you will find rangers ready and willing to answer questions, some interactive displays, and life size bald eagle statues.  There is a children’s learning room with lots of items for them to feel and touch, as well as some aquariums with fish and frogs.  Outside of the visitor center has bird houses set up which make for great viewing,  And if you are lucky you will spot some Bald Eagles on your trip.  Take some time to look at beautiful Belmont Bay, it offers some peace and quiet from the business of Northern Virginia.  Looking for other weekend outdoor fun, check out my guide to Great Falls hiking with kids.

mason neck visitor center

 

Wildlife Viewing

Though exploring the refuge is restricted to established nature trails, you’ll find that these winding forested corridors are rich in nature and history. Visitors to the refuge can enjoy hiking our 4 miles of trails to view birds and other wildlife, or simply enjoy the solitude.

Download the bird list (pdf)

mason neck hiking trail

Hours of Operation

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round, including federal holidays, from 7AM – 5PM October 1- March 31 and 7AM-7PM from April 1 – September 30. Staff temporarily closes the refuge during managed deer hunts in November and December. Call the headquarters office or check this website for scheduled closures.

 

Location

The park is in southern Fairfax County, about 20 miles from Washington, D.C. Access to the park is via U.S. 1, then five miles east on Route 242 (Gunston Road) to the park entrance.

Its address is 7301 High Point Road, Lorton, VA 22079-4010

OVER TO YOU

Have you been to Mason Neck?  Where else do you go biking in Virginia?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  I’d love to hear from you!

ENJOYED THIS POST?

Make sure to check out and follow my Pinterest Boards on other fun fall activites.

I send out blogs like this often, offering my expertise and useful tips for parents about all things related to Virginia, child learning, reading instruction, and the occasional recipe or DIY project.

If you sign up for my email updates, I’ll send exclusive content straight to your inbox!

P.S. PASS IT ON

Like this post? Share the love and send this to a friend who might enjoy it too!

 

Continue Reading

Great Falls : Kid Friendly Outdoor Recreation and Nature

 

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

Perfect weather on an October weekend in Virginia meant we were taking it outside to a favorite destination, Great Falls National Park.  Great Falls is a unique treasure so close to the urban center of DC.  A trip to the waterfalls and hiking trails makes you almost forget the traffic and fast paced life of the surrounding areas.  The Great Falls National Park is nestled right off the beltway.  The national park encompassing over 800 acres along the Potomac River in Virginia and Maryland boasts some of the most majestic nature and stunning vistas in the DC area.  It also provides  excellent opportunities for outdoor recreation and historical explorations.

The Virginia side is officially named Great Falls Park, while the Maryland side is actually part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park.  The main attraction, which is the gorgeous cascading water of the Mather Gorge, visible from both sides, makes it all considered Great Falls. And it absolutely lives up to the name.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

Activities available at the parks include hiking, rock climbing, biking, horseback riding, fishing and kayaking.  Both sides of the park have their own Visitor Centers which is nice to stop in with children.  There are interesting exhibits and hands-on activities for discovering more about the nature, wildlife, and history of the local area.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

The Billy Goat Trail on the Maryland side is the most well known in the park.  It is just under five miles, winds through trees, outcroppings of large rocks, and along  paths in the area between the C&O Canal and Potomac River. This fun yet rugged trail offers awe inspiring views, but it tends to get crowded and includes parts that could be a bit difficult for young children.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

There are designated overlooks of the falls on both sides Great Falls Park. In Maryland, there is lookout  just a short walk from the parking lot, where you can take in views of different parts of the Mather Gorge. In Virginia, overlooks with views of the gushing rapids and falls are right off the trail, not far from the Visitors Center. Both offer equally beautiful views of the Gorge.

As with many activities near DC, there can be crowds.  On a nice weekend the parking lots tend to fill up early and there can be a line of cars waiting at the entrance.  If possible try and visit on a weekday, or at least arrive early on a weekend.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

Some useful tips to note if planning a visit;

  • wear good shoes for hiking, there are rocks and uneven footing on the trails
  • restrooms are located at the Visitor Center on both sides of the park
  • swimming is NOT allowed
  • Concessions are available but it is much more fun to bring a picnic

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

Great Falls Park is open daily from 7am to 30 minutes after sunset. The Visitor Centers are open 10am – 4pm. The Snack Bar is open March through October 10am – 4pm. Admission, good for three days, is $10/vehicle, $5/individual on foot or bike. Entrances are located at 9200 Old Dominion Drive in McLean, VA, and 11710 MacArthur Blvd in Potomac, MD

Looking for other day trips to take, check our apple picking guide in Virginia and a review of Great Country Farms.

OVER TO YOU

Have you been to Great Falls?  Where else do you go hiking in Virginia?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  I’d love to hear from you!

ENJOYED THIS POST?

Make sure to check out and follow my Pinterest Boards on other fun fall activites.

I send out blogs like this often, offering my expertise and useful tips for parents about all things related to Virginia, child learning,   reading instruction.  and the occasional recipe or DIY project.

If you sign up for my email updates, I’ll send exclusive content straight to your inbox!

P.S. PASS IT ON

Like this post? Share the love and send this to a friend who might enjoy it too!

 

Continue Reading

Apple Picking: Guide to Orchards in Virginia

apple picking at orchard Great Country Farms

I never really went apple picking at the orchard growing up.  However now as a mom it is definitely on my bucket list each fall.  Virginia has some of the best apple orchards around.  I just love all the fall smells, the crisp air, the beautiful photo opportunities, kettle corn, and of course, the delicious apples.

There are also some pretty cool facts about apple orchards that you can share with your kids.

Farmers love to share their knowledge.

If you are not sure what type of apple is good for a recipe, ask the farmer.  If you’re not sure what color a ripe apple should be, just ask the farmer.  They are usually more than happy to chat and share all of their knowledge.

Most pick your own farms grow dwarf trees.

You can reach for the apples without climbing a tree.  Apples also ripen from the outside of the tree to the inside, so preschoolers can easily pick their share.

Most pick your own farms have lots of other activities.

As shared in yesterday’s post on Great Country Farms, there is plenty to do at the apple orchards.  There may be tractor rides, barn animals, jumping pillows, rope swings, corn mazes and play areas.  Check the websites to see what is offered.

Picking and caring for the fruit is the perfect multi disciplinary lesson.

There are so many opportunities for learning when going to the apple orchard.  What color is that apple?  How many apples are in the basket?  Don’t drop the apple, it may bruise.  How much do all these apples weigh?  How much will the apples cost?  Try reading a book or two before you go to the apple orchard to get your kids excited.

Apples by Gail Gibbons,  How do Apples Grow by Betsy Maestro , and Ten Apples Up On Top! by Theo LeSieg.

Great Country Farms – Bluemont
Apples are $1.29/lb and are available for u-pick http://www.greatcountryfarms.com/index.php/u-pick.html from 9am-5pm daily. Weekday admission is $8/child and $10/adult and weekend admission is $10/child & $12/adult; admission includes all the farm activities (playground, slides, farm animals, wagon rides, and more).  Later in the season you also can pick pumpkins and greens.  Also see their special events including the Fall Harvest Festival and Pumpkin Chunkin’.

Hartland Orchard – Markham
Pick your own apples including Gala, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, and Jonagold at this family working farm with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hours are 9 am to 5 pm daily. You can also pick peaches and pumpkins.

Crooked Run Orchard – Purcelville
Pick your own apples including Gala and Golden Delicious (you also can pick pears and blackberries).  Note: the orchard’s Facebook page is updated more frequently (and has more information) and the website directs you there for updates.

Mackintosh Fruit Farm – Berryville
Pick your own apples daily (8 am-6 p) during the active growing season, which usually goes through late October.  Apple varieties include Ginger Gold, Gala, Honeycrisp, Blondee, Golden Delicious, York, and Fuji.

Marker-Miller Orchards – Winchester
With 325 acres of apples in the orchard and more than 20 varieties to choose from, you’re bound to find something you like here. Their online chart that tells you what you can expect when. The orchard also has a playground, cow train, and wagon rides.

Have you gone apple picking?  Where have you gone and did you like it?

Continue Reading

Annual Apple Picking Trip at Great Country Farm

close up red and yellow apples

This past weekend marked our annual apple picking trip.  The weather was perfect on Sunday, especially after a really gloomy Saturday.  So we hopped in the car, rain boots and all in case of mud, and drove out to Great Country Farms.

Weekday Admission: $8/child & $10/adult
Saturday/Sunday Admission: $10/child & $12/adult
540-554-2073
18780 Foggy Bottom Road, Bluemont, VA 20135

We were meeting up with friends at the apple orchard which made the trip extra awesome.  My friend over at Lightning Bug Designs told us about Great Country Farms two years ago.  I find it makes the perfect apple orchard adventure for several reasons.  It’s a little over an hour from Prince William County.  There are several routes out, but we always take the most scenic which makes for an awesome Sunday drive.  Great Country Farm s really big and fun for all ages.  And if you are military they waive the admission fee which is amazing and means more money on this apple picking trip for donuts, apples and kettle corn!

apples in box, peck, bushel

Activities on the Farm

Our group had kids ranging from ages 13 months all the way up to 12 years. They all had fun at the apple orchard, like alot of fun.  Most fell asleep on the ride home from the exhaustion of playing and picking apples all day.

When you get to Great Country Farms, go ahead through the main gates to get your bracelet which gives you unlimited access to almost everything on the farm.  There are wagon rides, a giant jumping pillow, putt putt, animals in the barn, tractors to climb on, farm play area, corn mazes, and a fishing pond.

Ninja Course and GaGa Ball

Worth special mention is the new Ninja Course geared towards 12 and under.  And a GaGa ball pit.  The dads were so excited about this, as they all felt they had become experts at scout camp this summer.  It was super fun to watch them play!

baby counting apples in orchard

For a small additional fee at Great Country Farms there is a super cute cow train for the little ones and a gem mine sluice.  This is a big hit with my kids.  You buy a bag of dirt with hidden items in it like arrowheads and rocks, then they take it to the sluice and mine for treasure.

Lunch

There are lots of food choices or you can bring a picnic.  If you want to buy lunch there are chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, pulled pork, donuts, ice cream, and kettle corn all available while you listen to live music on Sundays.

jam and salsa at apple picking farm in mason jars

Wagon Ride to the Orchard

We decided to head out to pick apples in the orchard after playing for several hours.  You hop in a wagon for a quick 5 minute ride, and the wagon driver will let you know which orchards are open for picking that day.

Plan on spending the day playing and apple picking, because your kids won’t want to leave.  They will be begging you to come back soon to pick some pumpkins.  Grab some donuts for the ride home, and plan out some recipes to make with all your apples.

apple pie homemade from apple picking, lattice on top

We went with the apple pie this year, after much debate.  Although I still have a ton left, so it’s on to apple crumble, baked apples, and apple sauce next.

Come back tomorrow for a roundup of Northern Virginia’s Best Apple Picking Farms.

 

Continue Reading

National Book Festival- Children’s Guide

The 17th Library of Congress National Book Festival kicks off September 2, 2017 at the Washington Convention Center.  This annual festival is an awesome event.  If you have never made it downtown with your kids, you should definitely consider going.  Meeting your favorite author is pretty special, and you may just get to hug some of your favorite characters.

There is so much to do, and I have created a plan that can help you tackle most of the event.

Follow these 5 tips for a truly spectacular experience:

 

Download the 2017 Children’s Guide

Once you print out the guide sit down with your child and make a list of your must do activities.  You can then add activities that would be nice, but if missed would not cause any extra tears.

Scavenger Hunt

Completing a scavenger hunt in any new situation is a fun way to really get the lay of the land.  Some things to collect on this scavenger hunt include finding an author from your home state at the Pavilion of States.  Another is to find all three Waldo cutouts and then complete a Waldo postcard to enter a contest.  Try and find Dog Man, Ned the Newshound, or Clifford the Big Red Dog and snap a picture.

Author Talks

When listening to a favorite author, remember that some do book signings before their talk.  Check the schedule.  If you are hoping to ask the author a question after the talk, sit near the center aisle.  As soon as the talk is finished, get in line for the microphone because they get big quickly.

Play Eye Spy with the official poster

This year’s poster was created by Roz Chast, who is a cartoonist.  There are lots of details and it’s fun to try and find some of the sillier ones.

  1.  Find all the books with boots on.
  2. How many animals can you find?
  3. How many books do not have any hair?
  4. How many colors of books are there?

Visit the Pavilion of States

Grab a passport and try to get stamps from each of the states.  Along the way learn about some great books from different areas of our country.  Collect a prize at the Junior League booth.

Now go print out the guide and make your list.

Check back for Part 2 of this series, with more tips and tricks for the festival.

 

 

Continue Reading

The Ultimate Fall Lactation Cookies

Honestly I didn’t think I would be eating lactation cookies 13 months into my third baby’s life!  I’ve been going back and forth about when to wean.  But this past weekend he came down with a fever, a really really high fever.  Like 103.9.  He didn’t want to eat.  Would not drink water.  And was so lethargic.  But he would nurse, and nurse, and nurse.  And to quote my dear friend it was “Nursing for the win!”.  I knew he was getting nutrients and staying hydrating so it helped me to worry a little bit less.

However the problem was that my supply of milk had really diminished during the last couple months as nursing sessions decreased.  So my body was trying to keep up with the sudden demand, and I was struggling.  So I dug up my favorite lactation cookie recipe, and gave it the perfect fall boost.  Pumpkin and chocolate.  I also threw some all spice and cinnamon to really kick it up a few notches.  Honestly I had never tried this combination in a cookie until last fall.  My friend made the most amazing cookies that I seriously hoarded in my bedroom and wouldn’t share with my kids.  Or my husband.

The great thing about my recipe is that they are actually pretty healthy for you.  And it makes a really large batch so it actually lasts a couple days in my cookie loving household.  I actually encourage my kids to eat them since they have a pretty great nutritional punch.

Don’t worry, the milk ingredients won’t affect the other people who eat them.  But they will help a nursing mama.  I usually eat three the first day, then 2 each day after and then magic, milk supply increases!

 

The milk enhancing ingredients are Brewer’s yeast, flaxseed, and fenugreek.  All of these items can locally be found at Wegman’s or MOMS Organic.   They can also easily be ordered from Amazon.  You can usually find flaxseed and fenugreek at places like Walmart, Target, local food store.  The oats in the recipe are also an ingredient to help milk supply, so having all 4 in one recipe should be golden.

So go ahead and make some for your family, yourself if you’re nursing, or a a new mama who needs a special treat.  Experiment with different add ins such as nuts, chia seeds, spices, let me know how they turn out.

Make sure to Pin this recipe so it doesn’t get lost in cyber space.  Pinterest seems to be the only way I can keep track of awesome new recipes I want to try.

 

Print

Pumpkin chocolate chip Lactation Cookies

These work!  These lactation cookies really help boost your milk supply thanks to key ingredients.  They are freezer friendly, delicious, and a breastfeeding mama's best friend.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 36 cookies
Author Nicole

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp flaxseed meal
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup brewer's yeast (main ingredient for milk production)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 8 capsules fenugreek empty and discard capsules
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla or orange extract
  • 3 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. 1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit

    2. Mix flaxseed meal and water; set aside

    3.  Stir together flour, brewer's yeast, salt, baking soda, fenugreek, chia seeds, all spice and cinnamon, set aside.

    4.  Blend coconut oil, sugars, and pumpkin puree well.  Blend in eggs.  Stir in flaxseed mixture and vanilla, mix well.

    5.  Add dry mixture.  Mix until combined.  Stir in oats and chocolate chips.

    6.  Scoop 2 Tbsp of dough, 1 to 2 inches apart on a silicone lined baking sheet.  You may want to flatten dough slightly.

    7.  Bake for 9 to 10 minutes.

    8.  Once cooled wrap in plastic wrap and place in container in the freezer.  Eat at least 2 cookies the first day, and one each day afterwards.  They can be rewarmed quickly in the microwave.

Recipe Notes

*Recipe altered from Dinnernowdessertlater.com

Warning: Consult with your doctor before making and eating this recipe.  Discontinue use and consult with doctor if there are adverse reactions.

 

Continue Reading

Potomac Nationals Baseball Game

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, outdoor

We had some last-minute fun this weekend at the Potomac Nationals baseball game.  My son breathes and lives for baseball.  He is one of those kids that always has a ball in his hand, no matter what size, and has been known to fall asleep with one.  It is his passion and truly makes my heart happy to see his enthusiasm and love for the game.  We are fortunate enough to live only 5 minutes away from the Minor League Stadium for the Potomac Nationals, one of the farm teams for the Washington Nationals.

Going to a Potomac Nationals baseball game at the stadium is really a great event, as there are always affordable seats and plenty of giveaways that make it the perfect family outing.  What is even better is that occasionally the Washington Nationals will rehab some of their players here due to the close distance from DC.  This is generally a last-minute addition and liking their Facebook page provides the much-needed insight.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, child, shoes and outdoor

So I was thrilled to find out that Jayson Werth and Trea Turner were both going to be appearing in Potomac Nationals baseball games all weekend.  Even better the first game started at 5pm which is perfect when trying to get there by myself with three kids, one of which was being toted around on my back in the Ergo.

This is always a great opportunity for my kids to see some great baseball, in a really low-key environment.  You can get right up to the fence, sometimes talk to the players hanging out in the outfield, catch foul balls, and of course get signatures.

Image may contain: stadium

Both Werth and Turner surprised us by playing in the full Potomac Nationals baseball game, as often times the major league players will only play a set amount of innings.  They had some good hits as well as plays on the field.  What always strikes me as interesting is you get a pretty good feel for the players personalities and approach towards fandom.  Some seem much more reserved, focused only on playing, and not that into the whole signature thing.  Others go above and beyond connecting with the fans, signing, taking picture.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and outdoor

Jayson Werth was fantastic.  He took every opportunity he had to reach out to the fans, sign as many balls and hats as possible, and overall make everyone’s day.

I had a little boy who tried his hardest to wiggle up to the fence and get an autograph, but unfortunately just missed out.  Still he had a smile on his face for such an awesome up close experience.

Image may contain: 2 people, outdoor

I cannot recommend attending some Potomac Nationals baseball games enough.  And you may want to hurry up next season and do so, as it is looking like the team will be building a new stadium elsewhere.  Insert sad face here, as I will be so bummed to see them go.

So many memories with Uncle Slam and lazy summer evenings, thankfully all captured in pictures and my mind’s eye.

Continue Reading

Ten lessons learned about parenting in Northern Virginia

  1. There will be traffic.  For real, there is traffic ALL THE TIME.  Ask anyone about their first impression of the area and they talk about the traffic.  But here’s the thing, you get used to it.  For me it took a couple years, but I did and found ways around it.  Regardless of how close a playdate or activity may seem, give yourself an hour.  I’m not kidding, it could be three miles away and take close to 45 minutes.  It helps to avoid rush hour, which around here is like 6 hours.  That means roughly 6:30-9:30 am, and 3:30-6:30 pm.

2.  Number two kind of goes with number one, but it is to make the WAZE app your best friend.  Download it now onto your phone and never leave home without it.  If you have never used it, I swear it is genious.  It is like a crowd sourced, real time traffic, program to give you directions to your destination.  There will be several route options, toll options, time estimates, accident updates, pretty much everything you could think of.  So go download it now, and start using it!

3.  There is so much history around that it is almost hard to not see a historical marker on a drive or hike.  We are so fortunate to live in a state that has places such as  Old Town Alexandria, Mt. Vernon, Fredericksburg, and Manassas just to name a few.  There are tons of great sites and attractions in these locations, but a quick tour of any local area will leave you with a history lesson and probably an opportunity to walk where George Washington may have been.  Case in point, our first rental house in Lorton was across the street from the Pohick Church where George Washington used to attend services.  How cool!

4.  There will be allergies, and lots of them.  Even if you are someone who has never suffered, I would say start the allergy medicine and buy some tissues.  Some people say you get a free pass your first year here, but everyone I know seems to be pretty miserable at various points throughout the year.  The glass half full take on this is that Virginia is beautiful and so many flowers, trees and shrubs bloom with the most amazing vibrant colors so get your cameras ready.

5.  You would be hard pressed to find a more patriotic place to live in the country.  Everywhere you turn there are reminders of our brave men and women who protect our country.  Flags fly proudly all year long, not just on holidays.  Our children recognize the fact that freedom often comes at the price of a deployed parent, and are proud to talk about their service member parent.  Odds are if you aren’t connected to the military, then your neighbors are and you will be there for them at the drop of a hat.

6.  There is an endless variety of activities to have your children try.  Now sometimes it’s nice to not have a crazy schedule, I’m the first to admit that.  But it’s also great to know that if your child asks to try gymnastics, or soccer, or horseback riding, that a quick Google search can locate an option that won’t be too far away (use WAZE!)

7.  The schools are pretty great.  They can be big, sometimes huge, but are pretty great.  When looking for a home near a great school, make sure to check the Virginia Department of Education site.  You are looking for the school report card section.  This quick fact sheet on each school will give you some important information when trying to figure out where you want your children to attend school.

8.  There are wineries.  Lots of them.  And there are wineries that are kid and dog friendly.  Now that’s a pretty awesome combination if you ask me.  One of my favorites is Barrel Oak Winery.  It is a pretty quick hour drive that makes you really feel like you are out in the country and can escape the hustle and bustle.  Ask for the kid scavenger hunt when you get there, this will keep the kids busy for a while.  There is plenty of space for the kids and dogs to stretch out, make noise, eat food, and overall have a great time.

9.  You will never have to pay for a museum visit if you don’t want to.  I didn’t realize how amazing this perk was until we visited Chicago and had to pay an arm and a leg to get into a pretty great museum.  That’s because we are totally spoiled with the Smithsonian Institute Museums.  There are so many options, events and exhibits that you could live here for years and still go experience something new each time.  You do have to plan whether you will drive or metro into the city.  That’s a whole other topic, but weigh the options to see what would be best for your family.

10.  There are lots of ways to connect with other mom’s, but you do need to put yourself out there.  I wasn’t so great at this 10 years ago.  But I’ve become better now that I have three kids, a husband that travels, and a dog and cat to take care of.  I really can’t do it all, believe me I try.  But I need my mom’s, even if its just for a quick chat at the bus stop.  So try to figure out one way you can connect, and come back to read some surefire ways you can start to grow your tribe.

Continue Reading

New Beginnings

Today is the day for new beginnings.  I am launching my blog.  I am allowing people into my life.  This is scary, but this is also exciting.  I am a deeply private person.  I am an extroverted introvert.  I am a wife, a mom, a teacher, a southern transplant, an Army wife, a friend, and most of all a person ready to share my story.

My story is just that.  Mine.  But I am choosing to share in hopes that some of the wisdom I have garnered over the years can offer hope or help to others.  Maybe a smile or laugh some days.  Maybe a mutual tear.  We are not in this alone, and it has taken me a long time to realize that.

Making this blog public scares me to death, but the adventure ahead is bright and promising.  I am looking forward to what is to come!

Continue Reading